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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ab-by Normal

As I said in a previous post, Americans’ bodies have changed significantly, and alarmingly, in the past twenty years. But what I have learned since then is how much even “healthy” processed food in America has changed in the same amount of time.

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 raw milk that is not homogenized or pasteurized. If your meat is from a slaughterhouse or your milk is homogenized and pasteurized, go with lean meat and skim milk. Well, that’s not what they told us in Home Ec class (which for me was over twenty years ago).

*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.)

UPDATED: The latest book I'm reading.

SECOND UPDATE: This book gets some facts wrong.

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Anonymous JimV said...

Thanks for another informative post. This one didn't seem too long, but I would have recommended breaking up some of your previous long posts into two or three segments. There is something about scrolling through several screen's worth of stuff on a computer that bugs me. Maybe it is because I feel more pressed for time with more things to do on a computer than when I am reading a book, or maybe it's just me.

May 29, 2008 2:27 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Point taken. I used to use the "span class" function, then got too lazy.

May 29, 2008 2:31 PM  
Blogger Forthekids said...

Good article! I've just joined the Y for the summer (awesome special rate for summer sign up).

I've always noticed that if I switch off doing both aerobic and weight training I get in shape much faster than doing only one or the other.

May 29, 2008 5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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May 29, 2008 10:17 PM  
Blogger jeffox said...

Oh ya ya! Everbody knowzat da bes food fer ya is walleye an' wile rice, eh! Ever see a fat finlander? er, er, er, well, it comes off inna sauna, eh!! :)

'Course, in Minnesota, da bes exercise is fishin', fer sure, eh! Well, sometimes huntin', too. Ya ya, beats workin' anyways. . . :)

May 29, 2008 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked your post Kristine as it shed some light on things I too was misled (or plain ignorant)

Personally I've been using simplefit as it's a quick and simple way on getting results and it follows some of the guidelines you mention here.

I also checked out the site you linked to but, in all honesty, I found it horrible. Even if the guy is right with what he is saying, the ridiculous marketing talk he is using plus the intrusive ads make it very dislikable.

Which is why I'm glad I could read the gist if it though your blog ;)

May 30, 2008 6:00 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I also checked out the site you linked to but, in all honesty, I found it horrible. Even if the guy is right with what he is saying, the ridiculous marketing talk he is using plus the intrusive ads make it very dislikable.

It's repulsive. That's why I can't stand mass media today - everyone is SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS. Ugh. He doesn't do that in the book, though.

May 30, 2008 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Chris Nowak said...

Whoa, a book that actually has the right information!

I just got into heavy weightlifting recently - down from 16% to around 12% body fat in just 2 months, not doing TOO much cardio. Cardio is good to supplement creating a caloric deficit, which is how you lose fat/weight - you need to burn more calories than you consume (weightlifting is better though, you burn more calories overall with lifting, even though you burn less in the 1/2 hour you are actually doing it). But yeah, doing too much of it means you can lose muscle (which is why a lot of distance runners resemble cancer patients).

I take issue with one thing you said though:

"Never perform an exercise that you truly hate"

I don't know if the article gets into the specifics of weight training - but the weightlifting exercising that are the best for you (compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench press) are the really hard ones that people tend to hate but they are also absolutely the best for you.

Lifting weights is key to fat loss but doing it right is important.

If you have only 1.5 hours a week to work out, lift weights 3x a week for 1/2 hour. If you have more than that, supplement with interval training (like the wind sprints described). More than that, maybe do some cardio since it can help you recover from lifting. More than that, just rest (recovery is most of the battle when lifting).

May 30, 2008 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked at the site and thought it was terrible! Are you getting paid by them or something? I can't believe you're criticizing the media, even Dr Sanjay Gupta, who has actually pointed me in the right direction, and then you are selling us on this crap. Shameful.

May 30, 2008 8:04 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

the weightlifting exercising that are the best for you (compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench press) are the really hard ones that people tend to hate but they are also absolutely the best for you.

You're right, Chris, and that's exactly what he outlines - with photos and everything. It's new to me but I do enjoy it. The single-joint exercises were always boring, so I'm enjoying these more.

But yes, you should do them even if you hate them.

Are you getting paid by them or something? I can't believe you're criticizing the media, even Dr Sanjay Gupta, who has actually pointed me in the right direction, and then you are selling us on this crap. Shameful.

Awwww! No, I am not being paid by anyone but my employer. Are you fucking Dr. Sanjay Gupta or something? Is he paying you? My congratulations.

I'm doing this program - no one's forcing you to. I think I've said that the website is awful. Did you read the information or just look at the pictures?

Do trolls have to be a troll about everything I post? Get lost then.

June 02, 2008 9:14 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Sanjay Gupta is a fraud.

June 02, 2008 10:17 AM  
Anonymous Laeli said...

Anonymous, she says that you can get the book for free!


June 02, 2008 11:10 AM  
Anonymous T. Bruce McNeely said...

I am really disappointed that you appear to endorse the consumption of raw (unpasteurized) milk. The "raw milk movement" promotes dangerous pseudoscience. The health claims for raw milk are not proven, and some of them are nonsense. The dangers are real - spread of diseases such as Campylobacter and Salmonella enteritis, and E. coli O:157 infections (hamburger disease).
The rest of the recommendations sound OK from what I know, but the raw milk advocacy is just wrong.

June 02, 2008 11:12 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, I'm getting conflicting information about raw milk. Myself, I don't have access to it, so I'm drinking skim pasturized and homogenized. I am aware, of course, why we started pasturizing milk in the first place.

That's the problem when you start researching this yourself. I'm going to explore this question some more. I certainly don't want to promote pseudoscience.

June 03, 2008 8:58 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Okay, the FDA does not recommend it.

"Ingham says that pasteurization will destroy some bacteria that may be helpful in the fermentation of milk into products such as cheese and yogurt, 'but the benefit of destroying the harmful bacteria vastly outweighs the supposed benefits of retaining those helpful microorganisms. Plus, by adding the microorganisms that we need for fermentation, we can assure a consistently high quality product.'

Science has not shown a connection between drinking raw milk and disease prevention."


"The FDA allows the manufacture and interstate sale of raw milk cheeses that are aged for at least 60 days at a temperature not less than 35 degrees Fahrenheit. 'However, recent research calls into question the effectiveness of 60-day aging as a means of pathogen reduction,' says Sheehan."

I have had raw cheese. I didn't notice a taste difference at all.

June 03, 2008 11:05 AM  
Anonymous T. Bruce McNeely said...

Raw milk cheese appears to be safer than raw milk, and the public health restrictions are less. It has been implicated in the spread of Bovine Tb, with 1 fatality. I'd be inclined to let it pass (with appropriate safeguards), but would never personally eat the stuff.

June 03, 2008 12:23 PM  
Anonymous DarrinG said...

Interesting post.. I may need to check out that book.
I highly recommend "the omnivore's Dilemma", and the recent "in defense of food" both by Michael Pollen if you're really interested in a detailed look at your food. His works have a fairly broad breadth, from food production, to the farm bill, to more specific nutritional tips. These are not at all typical "diet books", but they contain the complete story that will help you understand what you're eating.

Apologies if these have been mentioned / blogged about previously, I just came across this blog.

June 03, 2008 1:35 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thank you both. I've been hearing about The Omnivore's Dilemma, and was going to check it out next!

June 03, 2008 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Chanelle said...

I agree with JimV - it's best to have posts broken up so it seems easier to read (for us lazy people, lol) Great post though.

December 09, 2009 5:07 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, I've been doing his weight-training program and have lost weight, but my thighs bulked up! They look great, but I'm beginning to wonder if I can fit back into that pair of jeans once my waist is back to abby-normal. After 40, the body really changes - even before I gained some weight I could not fit into certain blouses anymore, because the circumference of my ribs was larger. However, I now have my waist back. Once upon a time, I could eat anything and not lose weight! *Sob* (Actually, I tended to drop weight in a snap - which I hated, because it could have caused cardiac arrest. I prefer having a little flesh on my bones.)

December 14, 2009 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Rambo said...

Great post! yesterday i found another great video post about body building. Here is the link
best ab exercises

June 09, 2010 7:40 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

A lot of these restaurants like McDonalds is serving high calorie and unhealthy burgers for $1 which contributes to Americans getting fat. We need to change our eating habits and exercise more than we are. Technology can also be a factor as we tend to get lazy. Nice post.

belly fat

July 01, 2011 11:13 PM  
Anonymous Truth about six pack abs said...

amazing information like the whole data

April 08, 2012 8:47 AM  

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