No wonder it’s so hard for people to lose weight these days!
I'm at a point in my life where I have to work harder to maintain a lean look. And over the past decade I have noticed, in my admittedly nonscientific, anecdotal way, that certain people at the gym on those stationary bikes or on those runner belts, and certain people in dance classes and other activities, though they are definitely strong, have more endurance than I do, and are in reasonably good health, do not seem to get any thinner – year after mystifying year. I’ve wondered about it.
In dealing with my own metabolic changes, due to age (and having accepted the fact that I’m just not cut out for endurance sports, such as long-distance cycling and the like), I’ve been doing some new research into nutrition and exercise. Naturally, you have to be very careful about anything you read about health, especially on the Internet, and I had certainly never gone online for this before, because I didn’t think I could trust what I would find.
My basic rule is, if it’s popular it’s probably a fad, and all fads are scams.
99% of what you hear and see these days in the media is unbelievable garbage, just utter crap (another thing that has significantly changed in the past twenty years). I simply can’t stand mass media today, because now practically everyone is speaking in that overbearing, Dr. Phil-esque, obnoxious, revivalist-tent snake-handler drone. (Even on PBS: “Are PREDATORS out there COMING for your CHILDREN?” Dude, do you HAVE to TALK to us like we're STUPID?) Most of what talking heads say on television “news” programs is jaw-droppingly outrageous (and I'm glaring in your direction too, Dr. Sanjay Gupta!).
Therefore, when I stumbled upon one of the cheesiest-looking websites I’ve ever seen, touting an equally cheesy-looking book offering “The Truth About Six Pack Abs,” I rolled my eyes. Another snake-handler. (I roll my eyes anyway whenever I see anything about “abs.”) But I kept encountering the book, and the website.
So I researched this book – and came across testimonial after testimonial praising its exercise program and its dietary advice, including people who identified themselves as fitness trainers and physicians. (“I thought at first it was another gimmick at first, but…” Well, that’s just another gimmick, isn’t it?)
Finally, I got ahold of the book itself (for free – it’s there if you look, but don't violate copyright) and read it. And then I got a hold of a copy of the book to keep as a reference. I’m going to be one of those people who say, “I thought it was just another gimmick…”
Not only did Michael Geary’s information dovetail with much that I had learned in dance classes, from personal trainers at the Y, and from doctors, etc., what he had to say specifically about conditioning the abs shocked me and made a lot of sense. To whit:
1. Endurance training and endless moderate cardio repetitions (hours of cycling, jogging, swimming, walking, Stairmaster, etc.) do not trim your waist and may actually reduce your metabolic rate to the point that you burn muscle. I never liked the Stairmaster, preferring to take actual stairs, which I do every day as part of my routine. And I never jog or run anymore – it’s not good for most people’s joints, and I was told outright to quit. So that first point made sense.
2. Under an hour of “stop and go” anaerobic exercises, involving short bursts of intensity (wind sprints, short-interval intense weight training, and playing sports such as tennis, football, basketball, karate, any kind of boxing, etc.) 3-4 times a week will trim your waistline much better than hours of cardio training.
I always felt guilty about not being able to ride my bike for long distances, but now that I think about it, I never thought that long-distance runners and bikers looked that healthy! Compare them to sprinters next time you see them. Sprinters look buff – marathon runners/bikers, with some exceptions, look stringy. Strange, huh?
But think about it – we (as did all animals) evolved to perform “stop and go” activities, not to read magazines on the stationary bike for hours. Even gerbils won’t run a wheel that long. Humans are the only animals to force themselves to perform endurance activites – and for most people they’re actually harmful.
3. Carbs do not make you fat. (I knew this.) Fat does not make you fat. (I didn’t know this.) Processed carbs and fat make you fat. In other words, olive oil is better for you than corn or soybean oil (I knew this), butter is better for you to cook with than margarine or vegetable oil (I didn’t know this), and coconut or palm oil are also better for you than margarine or vegetable oil (what?). Saturated fat isn’t the problem – processed fat of any kind is! (Okay, pick your jaw off the floor.)
And there I was feeling guilty because I gave up both margarine and vegetable oil, because I can’t stand them, for butter! I figured I could “cheat” this way because I cook almost exclusively with olive oil – which is also very good for you. Well, as it turns out, popcorn (a complex carb) with butter (a natural saturated fat) is good for you! (Claps)
4. Eggs are good for you. (I knew this.) Meat and dairy fat is very good for you (gasp!) as long as you consume free-range grass-fed meat and
*The FDA and the CDC do not recommend the consumption of raw milk, so until I find more recent research by these organizations I do not recommend it, either.
5. The two evils in our food supply are not cholesterol (which is healing) and fat (which is necessary), but High Fructose Corn Syrup and Trans Fat. Check out the labels on all packaged food you buy – HFCS is in frigging everything, including “healthy” no-fat fruit juices and tomato paste. And what is trans fat? Well – margarine, for one thing, and vegetable oil, which is used to fry most of our restaurant foods – you know, the crap that all this popular propaganda tells us is “good for us.” Great. That is what has changed in the past twenty years.
In Europe, they don’t cook with vegetable oil or spread margarine on their bread – they cook with butter and animal fat. They don't use HFCS. Yes, their portions are smaller (and it helps that their food certainly tastes better ), probably due to the fact that supermarket chains never caught on over there, and so, they get their meat and dairy from (all together now) grass-fed animals on local farms. This was all coming together for me.
In Europe, I certainly didn’t see people cycling for hours on a stationary bike. Instead, they walked or biked around doing small errands, carrying items to work or home, and then went out to the café or the park. Hell, Europeans do quite a bit of sitting and talking, and a lot of drinking and smoking, and eating paté and such – and yet they’re quite thin, and apparently healthy and energetic. Americans seem to be slogging along (we’re overworked and underpaid, for one thing) without a lot of energy. What gives?
As Geary points out, man has eaten meat, eggs, and dairy for thousands of years, whereas heart disease and cancer became a major problem only with the rise of margarine and vegetable oil, and a sedentary existence, in the Twentieth Century. Yes, this was all making sense to me.
Also, a lot of European town are hilly, which helps. Doing cycles of running uphill and walking down for 15 minutes beats hours of cycling.
6. What you need to do to trim your waist (or maintain it when you’ve got it) is not hours of ab crunches and cardio exercises, but intense weight training 3-4 times a week (then 1-2 times a week for maintenance), plus some wind sprints (spurts of uphill or short distance sprinting or cycling so that you breathe heavier, alternated by moderate running or walking, or biking), and a diet that avoids processed food – even “healthy” foods such as canned veggies and juices – and a few ab exercises, not more than 5-10 minutes of them. And that’s it. If you’re going to do ab crunches, hang from a bar and lift your legs (keeping your back rounded – don’t arch your back) instead of just doing those frigging dancer sit-ups (which I’ve always hated, anyway - and from which I can no longer get a burn after years of doing them).
Well, I loved that. Lift your lower body more, rather than your upper – because your lower body is heavier! Duh! Why didn't I think of that?
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Portion control is important – as is eating simple carbs at the right time, and weekly overfeeding! (Huh?) Well, so here I go…
I thought this book was just another gimmick, but…
I do want to say something about Susan Powter’s program, however. I have used her fat calculation (multiply the number of fat grams by 9, then divide by the total number of calories to derive the fat percentage, and eat nothing with over 10% fat) ever since she came out with “Stop the Insanity” in the 1990s, and I still love her program.
Michael Geary is down on all “fad” diets (and rightly so), including low-fat diets, but in truth, Susan Powter’s program, which she touts as a “low-fat” diet, is very similar to Mr. Geary’s.
After you’ve eaten whatever’s left that is packaged and consists of only 10% fat (which cuts out almost all processed food, definitely a good thing), you’re going to want to snack – because you’ll be hungry – and you’re going to snack, as she suggests, on nuts, seeds, carrots, fruits, whole grains, etc. – thus getting most of your fat from unprocessed sources, just as Mr. Leary advocates. Susan Powter’s program is not a “fad” diet, and that was her whole point.
I think Susan Powter did women a great service in the 1990s by exposing the absurdities in the aerobic exercise industry and also in pointing all the crap that is in our food supply. (“You’re being lied to.” Yes, and we still are!) Her program was the closest thing I ever came to “dieting” in my life – and to be perfectly frank, her program works even if you don’t follow it rigorously. (Indian and Middle Eastern food has a lot of fat in it, and we eat lots of both). I read and loved her book, and I still recommend her program. However, I heartily recommend Michael Geary’s weight training exercises and dieting advice as well. Plus, as Susan Powter did, he explodes a lot of myths:
MYTH: Eating late at night makes you fat. Wrong! Geary even has a menu in which he suggests late-night snacks. (Claps) It does not, however, include late-night nachos, so I’ve cut that out.
MYTH: If 30-45 minutes of weight training is good for me, 2 hours is even better. WRONG! You’ll just start burning tissue. As with all exercise, it’s important to know when to stop.
MYTH: You should cut out all simple carbs. Again, WRONG! In fact, you should consume some white grains and/or bananas and/or cooked carrots after your weight training routine, because that’s when you’ll need that insulin rush (like cholesterol, insulin has gotten a bad rap). In fact, you need to overeat carbs one day a week, so that you won’t plateau due to a drop in your metabolic rate (a common problem people face when trying to lose weight – suddenly they can’t lose anymore). And let’s face it, you need to eat a ton of carrots to get diabetes, so forget the low-carb thingie.
Myself, I’ve never really focused on weight. (After I hit my thirties my weight was always high, even when I was at my leanest.) Your body fat index is a better indicator, since muscle weighs more than fat, and everyone is going to deviate from those government standards anyway. I see absolutely no reason to cut out any major nutrient, such as carbs, from your diet.
Therefore, I cannot comment on Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, because I’ve never gone that route. I’m not comfortable with actual “dieting,” which all too often seems to consist of mind-games such as, “I ate a piece of celery for lunch, so now I get to have that cupcake.” WTF? Don’t do that! (I am not saying that Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig advocate this, I'm just saying that that's what I consistently hear from women who are "on a diet.")
However, I will say that “Lean Cuisine,” energy bars, and other such foods are a total scam in my opinion. (Look at the label and do Susan Powter’s calculation – eeek!) Powders, pills, and most supplements are scams, too. I don't use them.
Another “stop and go” exercise that I recommend that often gets overlooked is figure skating. That, hockey, and rollerblading are excellent sports, because they, like the sports listed above and free weights, work your stabilizer muscles. Stationary bikes and weight training machines actually do too much of the work for you, and you risk injury due to the atrophying of your stabilizing muscles (including the abs, which you’re trying to work on in the first place).
Instead of walking on a conveyor belt, I recommend carrying your groceries home from the store if you can, and doing other short errands on foot. Let’s face it, nobody wants to exercise (unless you enjoy the high from workouts, as I do), so if you “trap” yourself into having to finish frequent errands on foot, that’s the best way to sneak it in.
Also, I’m pretty skeptical of those aerobic workout videos, but Angela Lansbury came out with an excellent one that included low-impact stretching and strengthening that, again, duplicates what I’ve learned in various dance classes. It is important to know how to protect your back and joints when you’re trying to get into shape – otherwise you risk injury. She does a good job. (I’m not fonda the more famous video.)
Lastly, Michael Geary solidified my respect for him when he assured his female readers that they won’t “bulk up” in some unsightly manner from weight training. That is the most nefarious myth about burning fat in my opinion, because when women are scared away from weights and resistance training, they spend their time on the stationary bike in front of the television, wasting their time, wondering why they’re not getting any thinner, and feeling guilty (and probably end up bingeing, because they’re frustrated and depressed).
To put it simply, you cannot get leaner without working with free weights. You need to carefully traumatize your skeletal muscles so that your metabolism works round the clock to repair them (which means you need to rest a day in between, or do some limited cardio on those days). Also, weight training is especially important for women to prevent osteoporosis.
A stability ball and some adjustable dumbbells or barbells are all that you need. No fancy clothes, no yoga mats, no cutesy feminine accessories. (I approve of yoga but it's become too commercial as well, with all the trapping you're supposed to buy, when in fact true yoga teachers are not supposed to accept payment for their instruction.)
Having said all this, my two rules are:
1. Never perform an exercise that you truly hate (I always loathed long distance cycling, so I never became good at it), and
2. Never choke down “healthy” foods that you just can’t stomach. (I detest peas, and nothing will change that.) Don’t turn your exercise/eating program into another “repent for your sins” ordeal. Make it yours, and enjoy it. You’re supposed to enjoy it!
(P.S. Michael Geary says that anyone, despite their genetics, can have well defined abs. Well, I don’t know about that – I never had them, even back when I weighed 95 pounds and did cross country running with ease. I’m not sure I want an insectile six-pack, but what the heck, I’m using his routines now and we’ll see what happens.)
SECOND UPDATE: This book gets some facts wrong.