fitness-594143_1280I love the line in Pitch Perfect when Anna Kendrick’s character tells Brittany Snow’s character to “Make good choices.” Of course its in reference to Snow’s character getting a little buzz on at a party, but its also just good life advice, particularly when it comes to eating and exercise (and Kendrick, the Tony and Academy award nominated actress delivers it so well, but I digress).

“With every bite and drink we take, we make a choice. We can select something that is net positive and benefits our health or we can choose something that is a net negative,” — Tom Rath (71).

I’ve spent the better part of my life working out. That doesn’t mean I’ve always looked like the cover of a P90X CD, it just means that the value of physical fitness was instilled early in my life and I don’t like looking overweight. I also enjoy having physical energy, mental focus and emotional wellbeing that comes with physical fitness. As for the actual act of working out, it’s a “like,” at best, a “tolerate,” definitely and certainly not a “love.” If I could have the benefits of working out without the exertion or time spent, I’d certainly skip it as I’m sure many other would, but we do it because of the other benefits we get.

Since I’m writing this blog shortly after last weeks’ Super Bowl, I’m also ‘paying’ for some choices I made during the game — keep in mind I live in Denver so I’m a Broncos fan so there was certainly some stress eating going on as well (can you blame us). Turns out there is science behind the fact that it’s not just alcohol that can give you a hangover. New research suggests that a single meal high in saturated fat reduces are arteries ability to carry enough blood to our bodies and brains, leading to a “high-fact hangover.” (Rath 71).

Remember the old AlkaSeltzer commercial where the guy says: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” That’s what a high-fat hangover feels like, but as Rath says in his book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements a basic awareness of foods that are bad for us is not going to conquer our diabetes or obesity (Rath 72). After all, is there anyone alive today who doesn’t know that a diet high in saturated fat and sugar, leads to these situations and that you die earlier when you don’t eat well and exercise? Just like anyone who smokes – you think they are astonished when they see a warning label that its actually bad for them? Of course not. The problem isn’t that we don’t understand the long-term consequences of these actions, it’s that there are few short-term consequences and fewer short term rewards. They are there, we just have to pay attention to them.

“To make major lifestyle changes, we need to understand how a poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle affects us today. When we see the connection between short-term incentives enabling us to make net positive decisions in the moment, it helps us reach our longer-term goals.” Rath (72).

The food industry isn’t helping us either. There are well-known issues with the way food ingredients are described on the side of a package and some of the foods we eat, even some of the “low-fat,” options, are tricking our body into thinking it needs more fat – when we eat meals that are high in carbohydrates and sugars, it damage our appetite-control cells and sends a message to our brain to consume even more food, even if you don’t need it (Rath 76).

We can also benefit from just 20 minutes of exercise every day (Rath 78). Just 20 minutes of exercise improves our mood for several hours after we finish working out – how’s that for a hell of an ROI?! As a Mayo Clinic publication stated: a lack of energy often results from inactivity, not age (Rath 78). Just 11 minutes of lifting weights can increase metabolic rate (Rath 79).

I’ve seen my weight spike up many times over the course of my life. It hits a threshold and then I get serious again about dieting and bring it back down. Also, I’ve had to change my eating habits as the years go by because my metabolism continues to slow down. While there are plenty of books out there on physical fitness and health, let me give you my take.

First, do what works. Makes sense right? So what’s that. Well, what works is what works for you.

Your plan should be sustainable and should actually work. It should be healthy and not rely on pills, voodoo and conspiracy theory science, and everything else that sounds to good to be true. The program should make sense and allow for some cheating from time to time. 

The math is simple. Burn more calories than you eat. While I don’t like Atkins, I do agree that your diet should be protein heavy and carb light (but not carb-zero!). I’ve seen some diets that have you only eating 20 grams of carbs in a day? Are you serious? Look, if it sounds ridiculous or impossible, it is. If it sounds like you have to do calculus, run the other way. If it sounds like you’ll need a personal chef or three free hours to cook meals every day, find another program. Even if these programs actually work, you won’t stick with them because they aren’t sustainable by the average human living an average life.

Not every diet is for everyone. Some people have great success with Weight Watchers and its methods are proven, but it doesn’t work for me. I did it, but I can’t sustain it, particularly when I travel, which I do quite a bit. I once had a sandwich at an airport restaurant and it equaled my total allowed “points,” for the day.

For years I counted calories, but that’s annoying and takes a lot of time (for me anyway). There are good apps out there but it takes a lot of guessing in trying to figure out how many calories everything is (yes, there are books out there but with food labeling being a work of fiction allowed by the USDA those aren’t always accurate either). Mainly, for me it’s just not sustainable, and it stresses me out. But, if it works for you, then do it – it’s one of the proven methods out there.

Here’s a hint: when you’re starving, go for a rice cake or some protein, then wait about 20 minutes. It takes that long for your brain to realize that you’re full.

I did the “eat naturally” diet for awhile and just continued to gain. Sorry Jillian, your program didn’t work real well either for me. I spent a lot of money on organic and natural foods, and still couldn’t lose the weight and your workouts don’t travel well – I can’t carry dumbbells in my suitcase. However, Jillian Michaels’ books do have some good programs there and they do work for many people, so it may be worth a try. I wouldn’t dismiss it, particularly if you don’t travel and you like cardio. At least its based in real science, not science fiction.

I recently did Slimgenics, which I found to be very flexible. It worked – even for someone like me who has IBS and for which veggies are a big trigger (veggies are a big focus in Slimgenics). The coaches always figured out alternatives (I also have a little hypoglycemia and they worked around that too) and helped me find good food options when I travel, plus the snacks are very good (no kidding here — my wife started eating them too and she started losing weight just due to the change in my eating habits). The nice thing with Slimgenics is they have an app to track food intake, (food journaling is one of THE best ways to watch the weight regardless of the program), and coaches are there to help you with food selection. Plus, they teach you how to eat so you can move on eventually without monitoring.

My dad had me in the Nautilus Gym (remember them?) back in the early 80s. He and I have always been “workout guys”, but more out of necessity than desire to hang out with sweaty people, particularly the gym rats that look like 200 lbs of steroids on steroids, leaning against the piece of equipment I need, while they make time with the local talent.

I found that P90X is an excellent program. While it’s billed as Extreme, there are enough modifiers that most anyone can do this program. Their latest program, P90X3, in which all workouts are just 30 minutes are perfect for the traveler or the person who doesn’t have a lot of time in their lives (and who does?). You still get your 20 minutes of exercise in (and a bit more). You can also do their 10-minute trainer workouts, which are good but you get tired of the same routine all the time (I try to do at least two of them in the morning on the road). Just be careful when you call Beachbody or hit their website to order a program — with all the upsales you’ll try to buy one thing and end up buying 10 (or, you DO want to get the free disk replacement plan, that way if a CD gets scratched the replacement is free).

Normally I try to buy the best programs and equipment. You get what you pay for and when you buy crappy workout equipment it breaks all the time and you can get hurt. This plan doesn’t always work out though. I enjoy cycling when the weather is good (or at least decent). When the weather is bad, I do have a ProForm Tour de France bike in my workout room but I DO NOT recommend buying one. It’s been a maintenance pig the entire time I’ve owned it. The company replaced it entirely once (shortly after buying it) and has since replaced every movable component in the past year and a half. And I don’t use it a ton so I shouldn’t be on a first name basis with the maintenance contractor but I now know more about his family than I do my own! I have no idea how that company stays in business. Get a good spinner if you want a home bicycle, or mount your bike on a trainer (careful, they eat up tires). Treadmills and their variants are good, but P90X3 has plenty of cardio, or you can do T25 which is all cardio in 25-minute blocks of time (also by Beachbody).

I used to do Krav Maga and play hockey for my exercise but both activities just take more time than I have – plus any injuries I get from any of this stuff lays me up and prevents me from traveling which means I can’t earn money for the family. Less risk in playing golf, but not as much of a calorie burn unless I walk the course, which is sometimes an option (depends on who I’m playing with).

Since I get bored easily, I also have my home gym set up with a DVD player and my awesome collection of home movies. My workout time is also my private time so I can get take care of my body and re-energize mentally and emotionally.

Every day is an opportunity to make a new workout choice. Skip a day and that’s a day without as much energy as you could have had and a mood that isn’t as good as it could have been. Same thing with meals, when you grab the Reece’s (as I’m known to do now and again) instead of the rice cake, you’ve made a choice. While it’s easier to say now to the high saturated fat big-ass meals (which ironically creates a big ass on you), because you know you’re going to pay the piper in a few hours or even sooner, it can be easier to grab a quick little chocolate something something and rationalize, but even that will have a small immediate impact on your mood and make you hungrier sooner. Either way, the choices you make right now are not just going to impact you in ten years, they are going to impact you in 10 minutes. So, make good choices.

Rath, Tom, and James K. Harter. Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. New York: Gallup, 2010. Print.

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