Editor’s Note: The following post has been sitting around for a number of months. I finally decided to publish it because it is something others can relate to and maybe it will inspire you to continue with your own commitment to being fit in 2009.
On the Last Episode…
I had completed my third week of bootcamp and was headed to ATL for work. The events that followed were truly unexpected and actually managed to mentally put me in a dark place which is why I’ve been completely absent for the last couple months. So, let’s begin at the beginning.
The week I was in ATL I returned to NYC on a Thursday night. The following day I was supposed to have a follow up appointment with my doctor. He wanted to go over my EKG/ECG results. I was told that my shortness of breath was a result of putting too much stress on my heart to the point that it was not recovering to rest mode in time. I was told that I should suspend the high impact workout regimen and instead do weight training combined with a controlled eating regimen. Needless to say I felt like the air had been sucked out of me (this time without the running around). Two thoughts went through my head. First, “Great! Another project in my long list of Unfinished Life Items. Christ! I couldn’t even stick it out past 3 weeks!” The other thought was, “Christ! How much damage did I do to myself that I can’t even put up with a bootcamp program! What am I, 80 years old!” Neither thought was particularly inspiring. I simply felt like a failure.
I emailed the group and retreated into a hole without telling anyone what happened. I kept it to myself and just walked around sulking and feeling pitiful. In the weeks that followed I caught a cold that gripped me for 2-3 weeks. I was in hell. One thing I noticed about myself was that my mental well-being was inextricably woven into how I felt about myself physically. This doesn’t mean that I have to look fit in order to be happy. Yet, I have to feel as though I am at least doing something to keep physically active — whether it’s going for a brisk walk a couple of times a week or the occasional weight lifting on my bench at home. That would distinguish me from the garden variety couch potato. However, during the two months that followed I did no such thing. I pretty much faded to black.
That brings us to last week when I finally came to. It was no “Ah ha!”epiphany moment or anything like that. My brother signed up at Planet Fitness on Lenox Avenue. He asked me if I wanted to join him since he liked the layout of the gym and the customer service. I went because I saw that he really wanted me to support him. When I got there we did some walking on the treadmill and then we went into some upper body weight exercises. With each exercise I felt a bit better about myself. By the end of the workout I felt as though I had shed some old skin. I felt re- energized and happy about myself. It’s then that I had realized that the whole bootcamp setback was just that – a setback. I had been here before (cue the Wayne’s World time machine). The first time I started working out in high school it was because I had hay fever and shortness of breath. I had been prescribed an Albuterol inhaler. I found that when I dieted and exercised I had no use for the inhaler. So, here I was again. The road felt familiar except this time I was grown-up with a social life (though still a nerd).
I have to retread a slightly new road this time, but first a couple of pieces of good news. During my time at bootcamp I did lose 10 pounds which is pretty remarkable considering that I wasn’t really implementing any strict eating habits. Second, I’ve miraculously managed to keep it off. This time around I’m going to employ the gym and my old diet toolbox. This means circuit weight training 4 days a week with interval cardio on the days in between. And on the eating front this means cutting down on refined carbohydrates and sugars by consuming a lot more protein and vegetables. Some people call it “low-carb” eating. I’m an old graduate of low-carb eating done right, However, I’ve met folks who did nothing but stuffed themselves with burgers and bacon throughout the entire process. That’s not true low-carb eating! Amping up veggie and protein intake and eliminating starchy carbohydrates temporarily eventually reintroducing healthy carbohydrates as you reach your goal weight is the proper way to go. Just to clarify, this is not meant to be a low-carb blog posting per sé. But I will go over some of the fundamentals and some of the pitfalls of low-carb dieting. I promise the subsequent blogs will not be this long.
1. Define which low carbohydrate approach you’re taking to eating: There are a couple different incarnations of low/controlled carb eating. You have the South Beach approach, Zone, Atkins, etc. I was introduced to Atkins towards the latter years of my high school experience. I was 17 and weighed 240. A friend of mine had come back from the summer term 40 pounds lighter and I asked him how he did it. He told me to buy Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution book. I am grateful I did this because most people who claim to do Atkins have NEVER read the book and then simply piece together what they think the diet entails from reading web articles. You MUST read the book. Your health depends on it. The Atkins diet actually involves four phases, though most people only know of the most restrictive phase called “Induction”. This is actually the first phase. It is the “detox phase” for lack of a better term. You basically consume no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates daily. Your carbohydrates basically come from non starchy vegetable also known as salad vegetables even though you have eggplant, cauliflower, and broccoli also as part of low-carb vegetables. During this period you basically forgo any type of bread, pasta, anything with flour or sugar in it. You will getting your proteins and fats from meats, fish, protein, eggs, and just about any type of cheese.
The way your body uses up energy is that it uses sugar for energy stored as glycogen. When your body needs energy insulin is released from your pancreas and it signals the cells to accept sugar through the lover or fat cells. The idea behind low-carb eating is that if you restrict carbohydrates from the body it depletes the stored sugar reserves the body usually turns to and instead turn to fat as the source of energy. In fact, this actually happens to some extent in any diet you start whether it’s low-cal, low-fat, or low-carb. In the beginning phase of the Atkins Diet you are purposely limiting your carbohydrate intake so that your body can switch gears into burning fat as its primary source of energy.
2. You must set up a workout plan: One of the issues most people had when doing low-carb dieting is that in losing weight they were also losing muscle mass. You don’t want to lose muscle mass because the greater amount of muscle the more efficient your body is overall as burning calories. So you have immediately begin weight training and you must also get a hold of multivitamins . Of course, before you do any kind of drastic changes to your eating or exercise, make sure you’ve discussed it with a medical professional.
So that’s the basic intro. Eating low-carb is about planning your meals and always keeping your meals varied, otherwise you’ll get bored with the foods. One of the drawbacks about low-carb eating is that you will be doing your own cooking for the most part. I personally prefer this in the short term as it saves money.
With a new road to fitness being forged, these are my goals. Right now I weigh 282. My goal weight is 190. So I have about a 100 lbs to lose. This means I will remain in the stricter phase of the diet for a longer period until I am within 30-40 lbs of my goal. At that point I will begin to introduce other foods and good carbs. That means the last 30-40 lbs will go down at about 1-2 lbs a week as I get closer to 190. Once there I will be eating more complex carbs, fruits, dairy, and even starchy foods (in moderation) but my body will be better at processing these foods. That’s the last long term strategy.
Keeping it Real
You might be asking, “If you knew this all along, why didn’t you just do this from the beginning?” That is a fair question. The answer is that New York is a tough town to do low-carb. In this city we glamorize going out to different restaurants and trying different foods. I wouldn’t have been able to review any new spots in Harlem or in the city for that matter. By the same token had I simply watched myself more carefully I wouldn’t have had to choose between one or the other. But at this point due to my health I have to pick stricter eating options until I can get within throwing distance of my goals. I particularly enjoy the challenge. I’ve scanned through “low-carb” sites, blogs, and forums. The once thing you’ll notice is that most people writing about it are in the suburbs or in cities less robust than New York. So, I think it’ll be refreshing to offer an East Coast POV to it all. What I will try to do here on UF is just give a report of what my main challenges are and my progress. I apologize to all that I left hanging. I hope it’s not too late continue this journey together.