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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Don't Limit Yourself

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I've written for months in these posts about the actions that people can take to lose weight. The knowledge is out there and everyone understands what is necessary. So why are 66% of the population either overweight or obese? Why do so few people do the things that they know will result in losing weight? Some more common excuses...ahem...reasons:

  • "I don't have the time to ."
  • "I know what I need to do...I just don't want to do it." (Well, at least that one is honest!)
  • "I don't have the money for a gym membership." (Who says you need a gym membership to be healthy?)
  • "I don't have the energy to exercise."
  • "I'm not an 'exercise' person."
I hear these all the time, and I've already posted reasons why these are really just excuses, and most readers would agree. As I speak to more people, I'm beginning to understand that these are really different manifestations of something else...self-imposed limits.

Willpower is self-fulfilling. If you believe you are a machine with Zen-like discipline focused toward achieving your goal...you will be. If you believe you can only go so far, then you certainly won't achieve any goals greater than your self-imposed limitations.

The first step toward overcoming personal limits is to stop the negative self talk. If you are making progress toward living a healthy lifestyle, acknowledge it. Don't berate yourself for not doing more. Small steps add up over time and acknowledging your progress, no matter how small, is great motivation to continue.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Soreness - Is it OK?

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photo by JustABigGeek

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Muscle soreness is common for people just starting out with an exercise program. The painful feeling that you get after a particularly hard exercise session is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS and is the result of tiny muscle tears. These muscle tears cause localized pain and inflammation. This is a normal phenomenon and is short-lived. After a week or two the discomfort will subside as your body becomes acclimated to your new regimen. How do you know if you are suffering from DOMS or doing something that may lead to an injury? Here are some pointers:


  • Discomfort peaks 2 days after the exercise that caused it
  • Dull pain with "stiffness" in the effected area
  • Discomfort is reduced by performing the same exercise that caused it, but at a lower intensity level
  • May be tender to the touch
Possible Injury
  • Any movement overwhelmingly painful
  • Bruising not caused by impact (could be a serious muscle tear)
  • Sharp, piercing pain
  • Tearing sound
  • Pain that worsens each exercise session
If you suspect that you do have an injury, it is prudent to lay off of exercising until it heals, or see a doctor. It is better to take off a day or two in the early stages of an injury, then to continue to increase the injury and be forced to stop exercising for weeks as a result. Listen to your body...if you need to take off a day or two, then do it. Just don't use that as an excuse to not start up again.

Getting sore never goes away completely, but as you progress beyond the beginning stages of an exercise program, it changes in nature. The intensity of the discomfort lessens and you will get accustomed to it. That being said, even experienced exercisers occasionally overdo it and end up on the sidelines.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Obesity: A Problem That is Getting Worse

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A recent report from Harvard suggests that the obesity epidemic may be worse than originally thought. It seems that the statistics were generated from an epidemiological telephone survey asking people their height and weight. Really? The geniuses at Harvard have discovered that women tend to underestimate their weight and men tend to overestimate their height. I NEVER would have guessed that. The result is that more people are obese (>=30 BMI) than originally thought...up to 37% in some states, mostly states in the deep South. Where can some of the blame be placed?

More cheap calories available

People are consuming hundreds of calories per day more than Americans in previous generations. More money is spent eating out at restaurants, than is spent on groceries. Portion sizes are many multiples above and beyond what they should be. We simply eat more and we eat more calorie dense foods. It isn't some mystical change. When McDonald's started serving hamburgers and fries in 1955, the only sizes on the menu were regular hamburgers and small fries; what we would consider a "kid's meal" today.

Movement systematically engineered out of our lives

Since the majority of the population moved to the 'burbs, most walking has been eliminated from our daily lives. To walk even a block to go somewhere is considered strange. We drive everywhere. Few people choose to take the stairs as opposed to using an escalator or an elevator. The only way to get enough activity into your day is to set aside time to do it...or consciously choose to take stairs, park further away from stores, etc.

Over-reliance on processed foods

We've outsourced a large portion of our health to companies that exist to make money. I don't want to sound like I'm a conspiracy theorist, because I'm not, but food producers stand to make the most money by producing food using the least expensive, least healthy components, not by providing healthy food. It's not a conspiracy...it's good business. It just happens to benefit the companies more than you or I. These foods are higher in fat, calories, and highly refined carbohydrates than home cooked meals. By relying on these foods, you are eliminating healthy variety from meals and replacing with homogeneous components that originate in large part from only 2 plants...corn and soybeans.

Poor choices

Even with all of the above, consumers still have the responsibility to make better choices. No one forces the 60% of Americans who are overweight or obese to eat junk food and sit around and watch television.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Quick Tips for Healthy Grocery Shopping

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Buy most of your food from the outer perimeter of the store

Most grocery stores have basic staple items around the perimeter of the store. Produce, dairy, meats, and bread can usually be found by avoiding the store aisles. The aisles house the things that most people should avoid...processed, boxed, and canned goods. The exception is frozen vegetables. They do tend to be located in the frozen food aisles. Pick up those frozen vegetables, but avoid the frozen pizzas, etc. What about canned vegetables, you ask? Of the three choices, fresh, frozen, or canned; canned should be at the bottom of the list. Canned vegetables tend to have lots of extra sodium added to them and they leach water-soluble vitamins and minerals into the water in the cans, which is typically thrown away. Stick with frozen or fresh vegetables.

Don't go shopping while you are hungry

This is a no-brainer. If you go to the grocery store while you are hungry, you are more likely to buy things that you don't need...and those extra items tend to fall into the junk category, i.e. high fat, high sugar items. By allowing yourself to get hungry, you will crave foods that provide a quick jolt of energy and the last place you want to be when that happens to you is in a grocery store with an "unlimited" supply of such foods for purchase.

Make a grocery list before you go...and stick to it!

I would even suggest you take it a step further and think about planning a few meals for the week. This will let you easily create a grocery list of items that you need, you will have a few of your meals planned and you will be less likely to get home and say to yourself, "I don't know what to cook tonight. I think I'll just hit the chinese buffet down the street." Stick to the list and you might even save a few dollars by avoiding the temptation to buy things that you don't really need.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

What Is Going To Be Different This Time?

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You may have noticed that I haven't written anything about New Year's Resolutions. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of that annual ritual. People treat it more like cleaning the attic out once a year just so they can get back to piling up crap again. Most resolutions lack commitment and frankly, resolve.

At any given time, 20% of the population claims to be "on a diet". That number is even higher at the beginning of each year as new members flood the place in a rush to undo a year's worth of bad habits. If you have resolved to lose a few pounds this year, let me ask you this: What are you going to do differently this time? Is this the year that you are going to make lasting changes, or are you going to get back on the hamster wheel and spend an entire year "dieting" only to end up right where you started?

"Do or do not, there is no try."
-Yoda, the Great

Friday, January 11, 2008

Proximity Snacking

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Believe it or not there have been actual studies that test whether having food close to you increases the chances that you will eat it. Um...DUH! In related news, smoking pot has been conclusively connected to getting high. Wow, that's profound! I can't believe tax dollars were spent on this, but since the money is already spent and the research is done, we might as well get some benefit from it. The study followed groups of secretaries who had candy dishes placed at different distances on their desk and on nearby shelves. The candy dishes that were physically located the closest to the workers got the most visits. I don't know that this is earth shattering news to anyone, but most people wouldn't think twice about taking a candy or two (or ten) during the course of a day.

So you think that a single Hershey's kiss each day doesn't matter? Well, one kiss contains approximately 26 calories. Over the course of one year, eating only one per day, will result in a weight gain of 1.9 pounds.

Get the jar of candy off of your desk!

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fast Food 4-1-1: Chili's

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While not technically a "fast food" restaurant, Chili's is very popular and has some whopping, high-calorie offerings that everyone should know about. So I'm going to take some artistic license and give my picks and pans from their menu.

McDonald's Big Mac

Worst Choices*

Awesome Blossom w/Seasoned Sauce**
Texas Cheese Fries w/Jalapeno Ranch Dressing
Caesar Salad w/Chicken and Caesar Dressing
Country Fried Steak w/Sides
Chicken Crispers
Fajita Chicken Quesadilla
Grilled Shrimp Alfredo Pasta w/Garlic Toast
BBQ Ranch Burger w/Fries

Best Choices

Guiltless Salmon***
Margarita Grilled Chicken****
Firecracker Tilapia
Pita - Chicken Fajita

* There are so many items on the menu with more than 1500 calories and with more than 100 g of fat per serving that I lost count. I've included a few items from several menu categories, i.e. Starters, Salads, Chicken, etc.

** According to Men's Health magazine, this is the worst appetizer in the ENTIRE COUNTRY from a nutritional standpoint. Yikes!

*** The Guiltless Grill items are all pretty good choices.

**** I'm biased about this one. It's my favorite thing on the menu.

I like Chili's as much as the next guy and there are some decent choices on the menu. But there are also some land mines lurking, as well.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

What to look for in a workout partner?

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A workout partner can be a great motivating factor to continuing exercise. Whether you are a runner or workout in a gym, knowing that someone else will be there waiting for you can be a great motivator when you just can't seem to get moving.

Similar schedule - A good workout partner must be available to workout at your selected time. Always fighting to try and meet up for a workout is just another barrier to getting to the gym. It's far simpler to try to find someone whose schedule fits yours.

Reliability - It goes without saying that reliability is essential in a workout partner. Someone who misses more workouts than you won't exactly be a great motivator to get out the door.

Personality - The perfect workout partner for the mild-mannered cubicle dweller may not be the clown pants wearing, do rag loving, obscenity screaming muscle guy. Try to find someone who matches you workout style, whatever that may be...unless your workout style is 5 minutes of reading a magazine while sitting on the recumbant bike followed by a trip to Cold Stone Creamery to reward yourself. If that's the case, maybe you could use a few workouts with do rag guy.

Similar goals - It is easier to make progress if you have someone to workout with who is trying to achieve similar goals. A runner who lifts weights occasionally probably would not be a good workout partner for a powerlifter interested in deadlifting at his/her maximum capacity.

Similar fitness level - While not a necessity, similar fitness level will allow workout partners to push each other, but not overdo it.

Take my advice...if you find someone who meets all of these criteria, hang on to them for as long as you can. A great workout partner is priceless.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Should You Workout While Sick?

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Well, this is the time of year when everyone gets sick to some degree. While you won't get a cold from going out in the cold, you do have a much greater chance of catching one from your co-workers or children because more time is spent indoors during the colder months. If you do come down with a case of the sniffles, should you continue with your workout even though you feel lousy or just skip it until you feel better?

The usual advice given is this: If the symptoms are above the neck, i.e runny nose, sinus congestion, sore throat, etc., then it's OK to workout. If the symptoms are below the neck, i.e. chest congestion, stomach problems, fever, chills, then skip the workout and focus on getting better. With most minor respiratory illnesses (above the neck symptoms), exercise can actually relieve the symptoms if you can overcome the initial lousy feelings and do it. My suggestion is to do your usual workout even if you do it at a lower intensity.

Another thing to remember, for those who exercise at a gym or other public facility, is to consider other gym-goers. Even though your symptoms are minor, you may want to consider an alternative workout to avoid spreading your infection.

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