I have come to realize that something remarkable happens when we hit a certain age: Apparently, we can get all the calories we need from air.
Everything else makes us gain weight.
No kidding, I used to be able to scarf down a big old piece of cake, go for a run, and it was as if the cake had never happened. I got spoiled.
Now, as my daughter’s wedding approaches and I face the thought of being immortalized in numerous photographs that will forever be on display, I am shaping up. It’s not easy, but it’s happening.
You may not know that I have two blogs, reflecting my two different lives; this is one, and the other, because I am a health and science writer by trade, is a men’s health blog called vitaljake.com. Recently, I wrote in that blog about my battle to be Fit and Trim, which is also the name of a dog food. These blogs don’t usually cross over, but this is consuming my life, so it’s spilled over here because I want to share it with you, in case you’re in the same boat.
There was a Woody Allen movie a long time ago, I forget which one, and this man is cradling a large chunk of earth in both arms like a baby. “I have a little plot of land,” he says. “One day I hope to build on it.” Well, I don’t have a little plot, but I have a little pot. This is where my body likes to store fat. I don’t have “junk in the trunk,” or thunder thighs or back fat. No, instead, my body wants to put on fat right in the tummy, where it causes the heart to work hardest. So yeah, I’ve got heart attack fat. It’s not much, but it’s more than I want.
You know how they say the only things left after the apocalypse will be cockroaches and Twinkies? Well, I can add one item to this list: belly fat. It’s the guest who came to dinner and decided never to leave. It’s ring around the collar: you’ve tried soaking – you get the idea.
So that’s what I’ve been working on, and I have to say, I am seeing results. The tummy is getting smaller. If you think about the belly button as the equator, the tummy is going down from the North Pole and moving up from the South Pole. It’s shrinking. Today, I was really excited about how far it had come, and I showed my husband, who happens to be a gastroenterologist.
“Look at this!” I crowed. Then I added, “Although I still have heartburn. I had hoped that would get better.”
He cast a professional eye, and said, “There’s still a good bit left, and because it presses right on the stomach, you need to lose more of that before the reflux will go away.”
Thanks, Hon! That was a good talk. Very inspirational.
Still, it’s happening.
The Struggle is Real, but Not Real Hard
My kids got me to start going to the gym a few years ago. Then I stopped doing weights and started running, but although I enjoyed it, I got plantar fasciitis and was hobbling around every morning when I got out of bed.
Then my daughter sent me a link to this great website called Bodybuilding.com. After doing just weights, and then switching to just cardio, I have finally figured out that it’s better to do both. (I also want to state publicly that my daughter tried to tell me this, years ago, but I didn’t get it. I do now.)
None of this is as hard as you might think. Here’s the routine I have been doing: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/randy29.htm
I don’t even do all of it! It starts with crunches. I don’t do them! I go to my local YMCA, and frankly, the floor is gross. They have mats you can use, but they’re gross, too. I don’t want to be on them. This is not your fancy clientele, as evidenced by the sign over the water fountain telling people not to spit in it. Sometimes people don’t read the sign, that’s all I’m going to say. (There are also a lot of guys who are heavy groaners; they do their exercises and grunt so much with each one, it sounds like they’re dying. I struggle not to have inappropriate laughter, which would not go over well, I’m sure.)
There are 12 exercises, and before you think, “oh, Lord, how long will that take,” let me reassure you that each one just takes a few minutes. And again – I don’t do them all! It’s not that bad.
I start with the “barbell bench press.” I do 40 pounds. Don’t laugh; it used to be 30. That’s okay. If 40 gets easy, I will move up to 50. Baby steps, people. Then I do the dumbbell shoulder press. I do 12 pounds each; again, you could laugh at the girly lack of weight, but it used to be 10 pounds. One-arm dumbbell row, 25 pounds; it used to be 15. Wide-grip lat pulldown: I do 55 pounds. It used to be 40. Seated cable rows: I do 40 pounds. That hasn’t changed, but I was doing it wrong at first, and now that I’m doing it right, that’s a good weight for me. Barbell curl: I don’t do it, but I do the dumbbell curls instead; 15 pounds, used to be 10. Triceps pushdown: I do 45 pounds. I used to do 40. Barbell full squat: The pole that holds the barbells weighs 45 pounds; I add 50 to that. Leg extensions: I do 50 pounds; used to do 30 when I started. Lying leg curls: I do 50 pounds. I don’t like them, so I often don’t do them. And that’s okay, because I’m doing the other stuff.
Then I do 20 minutes on the treadmill; I used to run, now I walk briskly. I also have Molly, my Chocolate Lab who is insane, and I take her for long walks, too. Combining both the weights and the walking really has made a huge difference for me.
Another thing: I have changed what I eat. This has been difficult, because God help me, I love comfort food. I love macaroni and cheese, the kind you bake in the oven that gets the crust on it. I love meatloaf. I love mashed potatoes, and then I like to take green peas on my plate and bury them in there – a surprise in every bite! I love bread. I love cookies and cakes and pie and custard.
I grew up in the South, and when I go to South Carolina to visit my family, I gravitate to fried chicken, fried okra, fried catfish… notice a theme here? Fried foods – well, it’s not what they serve in the health spas, okay? It’s not very good for you.
Also, sweet tea is the house wine in the South. I am now drinking my tea straight, without the cup of sugar in each gallon. My relatives are still speaking to me.
My point here is that I’m eating food that is better for me, and in return, I actually feel better for it.
You may find a diet that is perfect for you, and if that’s the case, more power to you. I have found that slow and steady wins the race.
Every Little Thing Makes a Difference
Here’s my best tip: Every single little thing you do makes a tiny difference. Have mustard instead of mayo. If you get a sandwich, skip the cheese. Get it on whole-grain bread.
Don’t get chips with it. If you say, “No way, I’m getting chips,” of course that is your right, and it’s your life. How about maybe you get the small size instead of the “sharing size?” At least there are fewer chips in there. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Chicken has fewer calories than beef.
Drink only water or something with no calories, like unsweetened tea. Avoid soda like the plague. Alcohol has a lot of calories. You could start to lose weight right away if you just cut back on that. Watch out for juice; it has a lot more calories than you think. Eat a piece of fruit instead. If you go to Starbucks, get a Refresher, which only has about 35 calories, instead of a Frappucino. Don’t rely on diet drinks; that’s a whole ‘nother blog post, but they still make your body crave sweet things, and this does bad things to your insulin receptors.
Make the effort to limit processed food. Yes, when you’re tired and you just want to eat something fast, it’s a pain to cook from scratch. I know this. I have never been one to make a bunch of meals ahead of time, so I can’t recommend that approach, although a lot of people do it. But it’s not that hard to get a piece of chicken and cook it. You can buy frozen brown rice and microwave it; it takes three minutes. Or cut up that chicken and stick it on top of a storebought salad mix, then add a simple vinaigrette dressing.
Fast food is bad. Now, you may say, “But I have no choice, I’m on the road, I can’t carry food all the time.” Keeping in mind that you actually could carry granola bars and fruit, I’ll say, “Okay, then watch your calories.” McDonald’s posts the calories right on the sign. If you just have to have a burger, limit your portion size, as the doctors say. Get one of their original small hamburgers, not a cheeseburger. Get a small fry instead of a large. For God’s sake, don’t get a soda. Your insulin receptors will thank you. It’s not great, and I wish you would do something else, but at least you will save hundreds of calories right there. (I will note here that some nutritionists would say I’m being a traitor to the cause: “Eek! Fast food burgers and fries are evil! Shun them! Get a salad instead.” But a lot of people feel that when their doctor gives them a diet, it’s “my way or the highway,” and if they leave the highway once, they might as well just stay off-road. I am hoping you will stay on the road for the long haul.)
Speaking of salads: Salads are good, but if you load them up with a creamy ranch dressing, lots of cheese and croutons, maybe some ham or bacon for good measure, with a big side of bread and butter, you are defeating your purpose.
Take the stairs.
Don’t drive circles around the parking lot looking for that lazy spot right in front of the store. Park farther away from the store and walk.
When you start to exercise, don’t start with heavy weights. Work up to it. Don’t get on the treadmill, run fast and then poop out after two minutes. Start by walking slowly. In my opinion, it’s better to walk slowly for 20 minutes than speed-walk for five. If you don’t have access to a treadmill, set a timer and walk for 20 minutes, at any speed you choose. Anything you do is more than you would accomplish by just sitting still. Trying means a lot.
Don’t get discouraged. The worst thing you can do is try something, decide it’s too hard, then quit because you just know it’s never going to happen, and that you’re a loser, or whatever you might say to yourself. You’re not a loser, because you’re trying. No judgment, only encouragement. You are making the effort.
If I can do this, I know you can, too.
© Janet Farrar Worthington