Friday, January 7, 2011

4-Hour Body

The last thing I needed was another "diet" book.

I have many weight loss/fitness/lifestyle books lining the shelves of my bookcase.  South Beach, Total Metabolism, Atkins New Diet Revolution, The Primal Blueprint, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy...even Richard Simmons and Susan Powter (who I love).  I've taken bits, pieces and helpful pearls of wisdom from each and incorporated them into my daily lifestyle.  Some are better than others, and some methods I have extracted have helped me immensely.

I've tried a number of "diets" over the years...starting at age 8 when my mom decided we were going on a weight loss plan.  We decided to weigh and measure ourselves each week and stood in the living room dutifully performing arm circles, torso twists and side bends. We danced in front of the T.V. to "American Bandstand."  ("you can do side bends and sit ups, but please don't lose that butt!")  My mother was well-intentioned and was trying to help me lose weight, but sadly, I got fatter and more discouraged...even when I tried to slim down by eating instant oatmeal, low fat turkey sandwiches and frozen diet dinners.  I just couldn't stick with it - because I was always ravenous.  I would quickly return to my breakfasts of Cream-of-Wheat with heavy cream for breakfast, fattening and nutritionally-devoid school lunch at noon, afterschool snacks of buttered popcorn and bowls of Cap'N Crunch, and good old fashioned Minnesota hot dish for dinner - usually topped off with pudding or ice cream for dessert.  Meanwhile, I continued to damage my metabolism and decrease my insulin sensitivity.  Although I never checked, I am guessing I was pre-diabetic.  Not surprisingly I got fatter and fatter...existing on all these empty carbs and convenience foods that pack the shelves of the American grocery store and keep the insulin (fat storage hormone) flowing.

This continued until 8th grade - when I decided I was sick of being fat.  I was convinced that the best and fastest way to lose weight would be to starve myself - so I put myself on a ridiculous near-fast that consisted of 290 calories per day.  I ate yogurt, apples, diet Shasta and sugarless gum - and that was about all.  I stuck to this eating plan with militant self-control for about 2 months and rapidly lost 25 pounds. As you can imagine, this "lifestyle" was nearly impossible to maintain. I was constantly starving and obsessed with food.  In 10th grade, after getting down to an all-time low of 120 pounds, I learned to binge and purge.  I guess I did not meet criteria for bulimia as I only did this maybe 1-2 times per week, but it wasn't healthy by any means.  I also experimented with syrup of Ipecac to induce vomiting, but the after effects were so distressing that I only did this a couple of times.

After high school, I got a job at a convenience store and was introduced to the world of stimulants. We sold a product called Ephedrine (truck stop speed), and some of my co-workers took it to stay awake during their night shifts.  I had gained most of my weight back through a steady diet of Deli Express and Little Debbies and found a pleasant side effect of ephedrine - no appetite.  I rapidly dropped weight again.  I then began experimenting with all sorts of products containing ephedrine - from Diet Fuel to Hydroxycut to the famed ECA stack.  Of course, I saw rapid weight loss and was down to 113 pounds in no time.  However, I was weak, irritable, anxious and definitely not healthy.  Still, I thought ephedrine was heaven-sent - and was completely convinced that I would need to take it for the rest of my life.

I only maintained my 113 pound body for about a year - despite my stringent efforts. Much to my chagrin - I started GAINING weight.  I couldn't figure out what was wrong.  Looking back, I can see I was deluding myself - I was drinking 3-4 nights per week and eating fast food at least a couple of those nights. I was still taking ephedrine, but it no longer produced the desired effects because I had built such a tolerance.  Even 12-15 pills per day produced little to no effect.

I stuck my head in the sand and stopped weighing myself, as my life spiraled out of control.  I bought "forgiving" clothes like exercise pants, leggings and shorts.  I didn't want to know how much weight I had gained.  This went on for a year. Of course I could tell I was gaining weight - but I didn't realize HOW MUCH.  I stepped on the scale in November of 1999 and was delivered a shocking revelation.  I weighed 185 pounds.  I was completely horrified. How had this happened???

Well, after that I decided to try "Body for Life" by Bill Phillips.  I was completely transfixed by the before and after pictures of the people who had completed the program...and was determined to follow his plan to the letter.  I did - and lost 22 pounds - but then I quit. 

Blah.  I stayed "stuck" until September of 2003 - when I started running, and this kick started my weight loss once again, but as I will discuss later, somewhat became an obsession of sorts.  The running starting moving the scale and the measuring tape down - 30 pounds or so over a couple of years - then it plateaued once more.  Hmmm... "must do more exercise," I told myself, but it didn't seem to be working.

Weight training? The whole, "build more muscle, burn more fat" motto???  I got P90X in February of 2009 and completed two back-to-back rounds.  It is an awesome program, and I saw great results. I continue to incorporate some of my favorite workouts each week.  My only gripe with P90X is that it is somewhat of a time investment, and I don't always have an hour or more to work out each day.  I want to do the most I can do in the least amount of time and see the best results I can.  Does that make sense?  "Don't do as much as possible. Do as little as necessary."  Less is more.

In August, I gave birth to my third child, a beautiful baby girl.  Within days, I started back on my exercise/restriction bandwagon - and it worked beautifully for a few months.  I lost all the baby weight and more - plus got down to new lows of weight and fat percentage - but then plateaued.  And not only that, something was STILL wrong in my head.  I kept asking myself, more and more, can I live my life like this, counting stupid calories/carbs, running miles and miles around a track, resigning myself to NEVER overeating (must not enjoy anything "off limits" - as it will surely lead to disaster)???

It didn't even seem like my body was even changing anymore, despite all my hard work and effort.  I'm sure you've all heard the saying "insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results."  That's exactly what I was doing.  For six weeks, NOTHING moved... not the scale, not the tape measure, not the body fat.  Still, I didn't deviate from my stupid regime - I just ran more miles round and round the track.  STILL NO CHANGES.  I was afraid to do anything differently!!!

Here is where "The 4-Hour Body" comes in. 

The week of Christmas, I was shopping in Barnes and Noble to pick up some books for my kids.  As I walked to the front of the store to check out, I passed by a large table of glossy books and paused momentarily to glance over them. I reminded myself that I wasn't "shopping for me," but still this "4-Hour Body" book caught my eye.  I picked it up and flipped through it while waiting to check out.

The line on the front cover caught my attention.  "A practical crash course in how to reinvent yourself."  Ok, now you've got my attention.  I flipped open to a chapter called "Damage Control."  "preventing fat gain when you binge." HUH?  I decided I was going home with this book. 

Other chapters which captivated me:

The Minimum Effective Dose (for exercise).
Everything Popular is Wrong
The Slow Carb Diet (I and II)
The Four Horsemen of Fat Loss (PAGG stack - like the ECA stack but NONSTIMULANT!)
The Glucose Switch: Beautiful Number 100

And many more.

I started the "slow carb" diet 2 weeks ago. I eat basically organic meat and eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, nut butter, spinach and other vegetables 6 days per week. I eat every few hours, as much as I want to be satisfied.  On the 7th day, your "free day" you eat WHATEVER you want. No limits.

"Body for Life" had a free day, too. I have always been afraid of free day, that it would thwart all my hard work. As explained in the 4-Hour Body, it is important to spike calories once a week because it causes a "host of hormonal changes that improve fat-loss, from increasing cAMP and GMP to improving the conversion of the T4 thyroid hormone to the more active T3."

Common concerns:
"Don't you need fruit???" No. Cavemen didn't eat fruit year-round either, and weren't feasting on fat Florida oranges in the middle of January.  Too much fructose = triglycerides (via the liver) = fat storage. (the exception to this would be consuming fruit in the 30 minute window following an intense workout).

"Don't you eat dairy?? What about calcium?!"  Interestingly, the calcium in milk isn't that readily absorbed - even though everyone always touts the wonderful benefits of milk. Not to mention milk being heavily pasteurized. To tell you the truth, I have hated milk since I was a child, and quit drinking it when I was 2 (according to my mother..LOL)  A cup of spinach (which I eat frequently) has almost as much calcium as a cup of milk, and almonds are a great source, too.
Oh, there are many other concerns... but my hands are getting tired of typing, so I will address those at another time.

Anyway, I had a huge food fest on Christmas Day, and enjoyed every minute of it.  I then started the food plan (I won't call it a diet) Dec. 26. I lost 1 pound the first week, then had another cheat day on New Year's Day, then lost 3 pounds the second week! 

I know some of you are thinking, "why are you trying to lose weight."  I'm not, necessarily. I want to lose fat and to get ripped, so if you want to fault me for that, go ahead.  I want a superhuman body, a body that performs better than it ever has at the age of 38.  I want to run a 6:30 mile. 

Where I am right now - I've been here before.  I want to go where I've never been. Six (or pack I come.  Am I starving myself??? NO.  In fact, I am eating way more than ever, AND exercising LESS.  That's right. I am now doing H.I.I.T. (high-intensity interval training) instead of my usual "chronic cardio." My average workout session is 30-45 mins, every other day.  That's it.  I have long read about the benefits of HIIT but have been too afraid to deviate from my mindless running.  Now I can see that it works, because I am already faster than before - in just two weeks.  There is a study in the book that compared 280 seconds of HIIT to 6 HOURS of long-distance running... and the effect was almost the SAME.  Holy festivus!

And the cheat day.  What glory. To actually be able to enjoy "bad" food and not have horrible guilt afterwards.  It's awesome.

As you can see - I've had a lifelong battle with weight, food, exercise and restriction - and have never quite been able to find balance in these worlds.  I think I've finally found the answer to a problem I've been struggling with for 30 years -  and quite frankly I am ecstatic!!!

My yo-yo dieting has caused me much heartache and grief over the years... and being fat is no fun for anyone.  Many of you know about my alcohol-abusive past - but my history of overcoming being fat and inactive is perhaps even more noteworthy.  It's hard because a person can quit drinking alcohol - but you can't stop eating!  I am sharing the information in the 4-Hour Body because it has helped free me from some of my obsessive behaviors.

I never thought in a million years that I could be fit and athletic.  It's never too late to change your life...and there's no reason to fall back into old habits. The key for me was finding something reasonable that I could live with.  It may seem restrictive to some - but for me, following the food plan all week long is no problem when I know I've got a "cheat" day waiting at the end of the tunnel!