A Holiday Challenge!

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Help Me Undo A Holiday Binge

I need support and I’m asking for your help. If you are familiar with me you probably know I find sugar and grains highly addictive. I love the Thanksgiving holiday and all the wonderful food, especially stuffing (made with bread), sweet potato casserole (which seems to be mostly sugar the way we make it), mashed potatoes, rolls and buns (for those turkey sandwiches), and of course, cookies and pies.

This Thanksgiving weekend I decided, from Thursday until Sunday, I would eat and drink anything and everything the holiday had to offer–and I did. Boy did it taste good–but I also didn’t feel very good at times. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it seems I just feel better when I eat clean and drink plenty of water.

Look at the other thing that happened–my weight shot up 5.4 lbs:

weight-gain-2015-11-30

A bunch of this is water weight, as I tend to retain water when I deviate from my version of Primal/Paleo eating, but I can also feel my clothes fitting tighter and my gut has expanded.

ketonix-11-30-21056

I did not perform my normal ketosis test all weekend until this morning and I only registered an “8”–anything under 25 means I’m not in fat-burning mode. I can pretty much bet I never came close to a ketogenic state based on the very high carbohydrate and sugar load I bombarded my body with over the four days.

Clean Eating Challenge

Now, to get back on track, I’m going to try to eat clean until Christmas, roughly three weeks. My goal is to stick close to my version of Primal/Paleo eating and shed the body fat. On top of that, I’m going to commit to my weight lifting routine so I’ll be lean and ripped :)

I could use your moral support in this endeavor! I am weak when it comes to eating at times, especially when I workout consistently–I get so hungry and I tend to slip and eat the bad things.

So who’s with me? Anyone else want to take the challenge and roll into Christmas lean and shredded…let’s do this and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Growing My Own Food

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ht-plants-2015-04-23

Growing My Own Food

Growing up in Ohio, our family always had a garden where we grew our own vegetables. We ate what was in season and my mother canned or froze what we didn’t eat for the winter.

I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I don’t have fond memories of all the work associated with growing your own food, especially weeding the garden or adding cow manure to the soil once a year. Talk about mind numbing boredom for a kid (the weeding) and extreme odor (the cow crap)! :)

In high school, after we moved to Florida, I remember once trying to grow something (can’t remember what) in a little patch on the side of our house. Weeds, pests and my short attention span (I abandoned the project as I recall) resulted in a failed attempt at gardening.

Hydroponics: The First Attempt

A few years ago, after the kids had outgrown their little playhouse which had become termite infested, I decided to rip it down (since they no longer used it) and replace it with a greenhouse. I found a 30′ X 15′ kit which I purchased on-line and went to work constructing the floor and then assembling the greenhouse on top. Here are a few pictures of the construction:

Completed Floor & Beginning The Frame:

gh-floorCompleted Frame:

gh-frameConnecting Water Supply:

Here I am connecting into my irrigation system which is fed by our well.

gh-water-hookupElectric, Water, & Beginning Walls:

gh-walls-1Completed Walls:

gh-walls-4Beginning The Roof:

gh-roof-4-roatatedCompleted Greenhouse:

gh-completedHomemade Flood & Drain System:

Now that I had the greenhouse completed, I build my own hydroponic system. I chose to do a “flood and drain” technique. The system uses a pump submerged in the nutrient tank (blue container) which circulates the nutrients to the roots of the plants in pots sitting in the black trays above. The pump is on a timer that kicks on for 20 minutes or so four to five times per day. Every seven to ten days, the old nutrients are removed from the tank and fresh water and nutrients are added.

hp-flood-drainNotice each of the grow trays (black tubs on top) have a white PVC pipe going into the bottom and a black tube coming out of the bottom and back to the blue nutrient tank. The pump in the bottom of the tank pushed the liquid nutrient into the black tubs where it floods the pots (and therefore the plant roots).  When the feeding is over after 20 minutes or so, the tubs drain back into the nutrient tank to be used again at the next feeding.

Starting Plants From Seed:

I start my plants in little blocks of rock wool.

hp-starting-in-rockwoolOnce they a couple of inches tall, the baby plants, still in the rock wool blocks, are placed in pots filled with the grow medium, which consists of little pebbles consisting of expanded clay aggregate. This stuff allows the roots to grow and supports the root structure. Here are young tomato plants in the pots situated in the grow area of the flood and drain system.

hp-tomato-plantsIn the beginning, it all seemed to work pretty well. Here are young squash plants starting to blossom:

hp-squash-blossomHere are some baby tomatoes:

hp-young-tomatoGreens, like lettuce, kale and herbs did very well!

hp-herbs-greens

Soon the crops took over the greenhouse. The squash blossomed beautifully:

hp-cropsThe tomatoes plants literally grew out through the roof of the greenhouse:

hp-huge-tomatosThe first crop of tomatoes were fantastic and tasted unbelievable:

hp-ripe-tomatoBut, I began to have problems. I started getting blossom end rot on the tomatoes and squash. Then in the summer, despite having three fans running, the greenhouse was just too hot! The experts told me not to try growing in the summer. So I tried a new batch in the fall after temps cooled and got infested with white flies which ruined the crops. This winter I tried growing in soil and have had little luck as the plants seem to have contracted a fungus and are dying from the bottom up.

On top of all of this, I kept having to buy very expensive nutrients and was really not getting very much of a crop for the expense. I decided there had to be a better way!

Hydroponics: The Second Attempt

A few years ago a friend told me about her very successful hydroponic system in her back yard. She mentioned the nutrients were quite inexpensive with fantastic production. Once my soil experiment failed, I decided to go to the place where she got started and attend their hydroponic gardening workshop.

The place hosting the workshop is called Hydro Harvest Farms–check out their web site and the pictures of their hydroponic “farm,” it is absolutely amazing! After sitting through the workshop and looking around I became intrigued to say the least. I went back the next day and purchased a four tower system. I’ve documented building the hydro towers and the progress so far.

Building the Hydro Towers:

Here are the parts I bought on March 22, 2015 including the posts, bases, pots, nutrient barrel, feeding lines, ground cloth, quarter cinder blocks, grow material (vermiculite and perlite), nutrients, and automatic timing system.

ht-hydro-towers-partsNext I picked the spot for the system behind the existing greenhouse.

ht-spotThen I mapped out the site:

ht-mapping-spotNext I started putting in blocks making a retaining wall:

ht-start-wallHere is base level of the wall completed, the ground cloth and blocks positioned:

ht-finish-wallNext I pounded the pole bases into the ground:

ht-setting-pole-basesNow the blocks are positioned around the pole bases:

ht-block-poleNow I add the bases and poles:

ht-adding-bases-and-postsHere are the bases and poles set:

ht-bases-polesNow I pour the two bags of grow material into the nutrient barrel to mix them together:

ht-mixing-nutrientsNow roll the barrel all over the yard to mix:

ht-mixingNext I add the pots onto the poles. The far tower on the left are for tomatoes, the middle two are for leafy greens like lettuce and kale, and the right tower will have various pepper and cucumbers. The bases will have zucchini, yellow swash, eggplant, and spaghetti squash.

ht-pots-addedBut before I can plant the seeds, I had to fill the pots and the bases with the grow material consisting of vermiculite and perlite and then immediately wet it down so it won’t blow away.

ht-pots-filledNext the feeding tubes are added to the top of the towers. Here you can see the liquid nutrients coming out of the tube and into the top pot of the tower. The liquid filters down through the tower of pots and down to the base, feeding the plants.

ht-feed-tubesThe nutrient barrel on the right holds 50 gallons of nutrient. A pump in the bottom is activated by an electronic timer three times a day to feed the plants. The pump runs for six minutes at each feeding and pumps a quart of nutrient liquid into each tower. The feeding times are 10am, noon, and 3pm. The barrel holds enough nutrient for two weeks.

ht-finished-systemThe nutrients are simple! There are two packets, a white one and a blue one:

ht-packetsAll I have to do is add the white packet to a gallon jug of water and the blue packet to another jug of water. To reload the system, just fill the barrel up with water (50 gallons) and then put one ounce of white per gallon water and one ounce of blue per gallon of water (so 25 oz. of each) into the barrel. The last step is to add two tablespoons of Bio Nutrient into the barrel as well. That’s it!

ht-nutrientsI planted the first seeds on March 27, 2015. Here is what the hydro garden looks like on April 23, 2015:

ht-plants-2015-04-23Pretty cool! I’ll be providing updates as my plants mature–let’s hope the bugs and critters leave my crops alone. :) As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

 

I Love Fitocracy (What’s that?)

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fitocracy-logo-with-fred

“What the heck is Fitocracy?” you ask. On the surface, it is a web site and app that turn fitness into a game of sorts. From the website:

Fitocracy’s mission is to make fitness a more fun, more addictive experience. Play Fitocracy to beat challenges, push your boundaries, and show your friends who’s boss. Get addicted to your fitness.

WOWI find many more benefits beyond the “game” aspects–we’ll get to them shortly. But first, I love video games. At one point in my life I was addicted to World Of Warcraft (WOW), which is an MMORPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, where you start a character and, along with thousands of other players on the internet, explore an on-line fantasy world, participate in quests, and earn achievements. I spent hours upon hours playing this game, promising myself I would quit and go to bed after just one more quest or as soon as my character achieved the next level.

After 10 years or so, I had to stop playing the game because I needed to spend my leisure time doing more productive things and my addiction to this game helped prevent that. So when I heard of this web site called Fitocracy that combined fitness with aspects similar to WOW, I had to check it out.

This post is brought to you by Vitamix–the official blender of IMFITOVER50.COM

Sure enough, like WOW, Fitocracy let’s you log your workouts, either on the web site or via the app (iOS/Android) and you are rewarded with points. As you accumulate  points you achieve levels. This is where it gets fun because, like WOW, the early levels are easily achievable, but they becomeincreasingly harder as you progress–it’s addictive! To give you an idea, in the first 15 days of using the site I went from Level 1 to Level 11. I am now at Level 43 and it took me 170 days to get from Level 42 to Level 43! The same addition I had when leveling up my video game character is now being used to motivate me in the gym! “How many pull ups will it take for me to get enough points to hit the next level today?”

fito-questThere are also quests, achievements and duels. Quests motivate you to do a variety of different fitness activities by awarding you extra points when you accomplish certain tasks. For example, there is quest called “The Squat Isn’t So Scary!” which simply requires you to perform a single barbell squat and will earn you an extra 10 points. There are simple ones like that and some more difficult, like “Monkeying Around” which will earn you 300 points if, in a single day’s workout, you can do 10 pull ups, 5 wide-grip pull ups, 1o chin ups, and 10 parallel-grip pull ups.

fito-achievmentAchievements are also awarded for social activity on the site as well as exercise milestones.  For example, if you receive 100 props (props are similar to a Facebook “Like”), you will receive the “Feeling The Love” achievement. Similarly, if and when you are able to do a bench press for at least .9 times your body weight then you will earn the “Push It (Barbell)” achievement. Achievements are cool and motivating for me!

There are also duels, where you can challenge another Fito (what we call ourselves) to contest of sorts, like who can log the most push ups in a 30 day period.

Fitocracy _ PaleoFor me the points and other “game” aspects of Fitocracy are cool and motivating, but another, and maybe even more important benefit, is being part of a positive community of like-minded people interested in health and fitness. There are groups you can join where people with specific interests (not all directly related to fitness) can connect, like “The Fit Bookworms” group, the “StrongLifts 5×5” group, and the “Paleo” group, to name a few I’ve joined.

The site is really a very targeted social media platform that I find incredibly supportive and motivational. Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t trolls lurking around that try to spoil things, but I find the folks at Fitocracy do a pretty good job of policing the site and keeping it positive and (mostly) troll-free. This is a diverse community as well, with folks that are just beginning their fitness journey, to highly accomplished athletes, personal trainers and everyone in between, including men and women of all ages and races across the planet.

fit-perfAnother great benefit I find from the site/app is it easily allows me to log my workouts. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, tracking my progress against goals is a key for me to stay consistent with my workouts. The app allows me to see my history and personal best for any exercise I have logged in the past. I love having that data on my phone and at my fingertips! If you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker! 😀

I have no affiliation with Fitocracy whatsoever (in fact I have chosen to support the site monetarily because of the value it brings me). So why am I telling you this? Fitness can be a lonely journey. It helps me to have a like-minded community supporting me and motivating me. In my life, workout partners come and go–rarely do they last more than a few months–but Fitocracy has been there for me since I joined nearly three years ago. Part of the purpose of this blog is to relate how I stay lean, athletic, and young, and Fitocracy is an important tool!

If you use Fitocracy, I’d love to connect–I’m “danthebucsfan”. Please leave feedback in the comments and I’d love to learn tools you use in your journey. As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and beast in the gym!

My Fancy Workout Shoes

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chucksThey say, “Clothes make the man/woman.” Ever heard this? It turns out this phrase originated from Shakespeare in Hamlet, where the character, Polonius, is giving fatherly advice to his son, Laertes, before he leaves for Paris. He tells him:

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Among other things he is saying something along the lines of don’t be a poser, don’t buy stuff you can’t afford to impress people, and the clothes you wear matter! More on this here if your interested…

Well my “not so fancy,” old school shoes are important too, but for a much different reason. Certainly you can go to any high school and see the kids wearing a version of my classic “Chucks” to make a retro fashion statement, but I assure you I wear them to the gym for a completely different reason… :)

running-shoesFor most of my life I wore other types of athletic shoes, either basketball or running, to lift weights, after all, I never thought footwear had anything to do with weightlifting. This included the 20+ years I spent wandering around the weight room doing split routines, you know, chest/shoulders/triceps on one day, them back/biceps the next, and legs once a month! 😀 A few years ago I changed my weight lifting philosophy to a simple, compound barbell program which includes squats and deadlifts (DLs). Adopting this program, based on StrongLifts 5×5, took my focus away from the weight machine area of the gym to the free weight area. Here’s where I noticed some really strong folks lifting heavy weight and many of them donning old school “Chucks.”

I still didn’t get it! I remember seeing these guys and thinking, “these guys/girls are wearing those shoes to show everyone in the gym they’re hard core iron pushers. Showoffs!” As the weeks and months wore on, and my program called for heavier and heavier weights for the squat and deadlift, I began to struggle, unable to progress with more weight. I wanted to get stronger and lift heavier, but these exercises are technically difficult and, as you know, form is everything!

So I started asking for advice (oddly enough from mostly dudes wearing “Chucks”) and doing a bunch of reading. A friend of mine, who had become very proficient at deadlifting, suggested a book titled, Deadlift Dynamite: How To Master The King of All Strength Exercises. Boom, there it was, right on page 121:

Do all your DLs and DL-related training barefoot or in minimalist shoes with a flat and thin sole. This is essential for safety and performance.

The light bulb went off and I immediately purchased a pair of “Chucks!”

Did my squat and deadlift performance increase? Absolutely! The question, the same one the Mars Blackmon character asked in the Air Jordan commercials, to be asked, “Is it the shoes?”

Like Jordan in the commercial, I can’t come to the same conclusion Mars famously comes to, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” However, I do believe the shoes play an important part in helping both my squat and deadlift form, which ultimately helps me lift more weight and thus makes me stronger!

chucks-squatHowever, as I’ve repeated many times on this blog, everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. I see people in the gym all the time wearing running shoes with big cushioned heals squatting and deadlifting huge amounts of weight–double and triple what I can do. In fact, I know one guy in my gym who not only wears running shoes but also puts a pair of 10 lb. weights under his heals when he squats (and he can squat over 400 lb.). Isn’t that exactly opposite of the above? How is that possible?

It turns out how one performs these complex lifts depends greatly on one’s body type, bone length and other physical factors. One of these factors, depending on the person, can be the shoe. This video does a great job in explaining the mechanics of the squat and how all these factors play a roll. I would encourage you to watch the whole thing, but at 2:35 he specifically talks about how a raised heal affects the knee and hip.

Fascinating stuff!

Now you know why I wear those “not so fancy” but ever so flat shoes when I squat and deadlift. I truly believe they help! If you find your knees pressing forward and you’re having trouble getting your hips to parallel, might be time to pay attention to your footwear. Before I actually bought my “Chucks” I experimented with squats and DLs in bare feet. I immediately felt a big difference and I knew I needed flat shoes. I would love to do those lifts in bare feet, but my gym won’t allow it for safety reasons.

Any other “not so fancy” shoe wearers out there? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Saturated Fat & Cholesterol, Not My Enemy

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big-breakfastIf I asked you what causes heart disease, the leading cause of death (according to the CDC), what would your answer be? I’d be willing to bet many would say something along the lines of, “artery clogging cholesterol.” Five years ago that would have been my answer too because that’s what has been pounded into my head pretty much my whole adult life. If I asked you what causes this “artery clogging cholesterol?” I would guess many would blame dietary fat–specifically saturated fat.

That message certainly made sense to me and here’s why. What do butter, tallow, and lard all have in common? These saturated fats are solids at room temperature. The heart surgeons, flooded with bypass patients, show videos of blocked arteries and it’s easy for me to believe that eatingclogged-artery too much fat, especially this solid, sticky saturated substance, would cling to artery walls, eventually harden, inevitably creating a blockage and then a heart attack. In fact, you hear the doctor blaming the patient in the video linked above blaming the fat in the burger and the “butter fat” in the cheese and the ice cream/milkshake for clogging the poor guy’s artery. Pretty convincing, eh?

Our so called experts were so convinced that saturated fat caused obesity and heart disease that in 1977 the low-fat diet was recommended to all Americans. This was the precise time that Americans began suffering from the obesity epidemic. Hmmmm, coincidence? french-friesThe war on saturated fat even forced McDonald’s to switch from using beef tallow to make their fries to vegetable oil in the 90s.

Now, 40+ years later, our population is fatter and sicker than ever! None of this made any sense which is why, after much research and self experimentation, I made the switch to my version of a Primal/Paleo diet. As a result I eat butter, bacon, and homemade french fries fried in 100% grass-fed beef tallow (just like the McDonald’s fries from my youth :) ). I’ll admit that going directly against conventional wisdom was a concern, especially after all those years of being told saturated fat is bad.

deadlift-featuredWell, I no longer have those fears and here’s why. My waist size is the same as it was in high school. According to my FitBit Aria Smart Scale, my body fat % is around 11% give or take. I am in the best shape of my life at 50 years of age and lifting the heavier weights than in my 20s! I’m no expert, so don’t go by me, this is a great article on cholesterol by Chris Kresser if you are interested.

But what about my heart? Eating all that fat–especially saturated fat–shouldn’t my cholesterol numbers must be through the roof? We’ve been warned to keep that total number below 200 or you get to take a pill daily, right? My research leads me to believe cholesterol is a good thing, given the right mix of HDL, the so called good kind, and LDL, the alleged bad kind. This blog is all about transparency, so here are the lipid results from my latest blood work taken on December 23, 2014 as part of my annual physical.

lab-12-23-2014As you can see, my total cholesterol (TC) is 170, the “good” or HDL number is 59 (the recommended level is >39), and my triglycerides are 43 (well below the high number of 149). My VLDL, which stands for Very Low Density Lipoprotein (these are the tiny particles that are very bad because, usually due to inflammation, can stick to the artery walls and create blockage), is 9, nice and low in the range of 5 – 40. Here is another good article on how to interpret cholesterol numbers.

I would bet many physicians look primarily at the metrics above, but my research, like this article from Mercola.com, leads me to look at a couple of ratios to better understand my lab results. The first, is the HDL:TC ratio which is calculated by dividing HDL by TC and then multiplying by 100. Dr. Mercola states in the article:  ”

Generally the HDL ratio should be above 25 and preferably in the 30s. If it is in the 40s, that nearly guarantees immunity from heart disease. Whereas if it is below 15, and certainly below 10, a heart attack is inevitable.

Let’s see if I will live based on my latest lab results! :) My ratio is 59/170 or .34, then multiply by 100 to get 34. Looks like I’m not “guaranteed immunity from heart disease,” but I think I’ll probably live.

Similarly, the Triglyceride:HDL ratio, according to Dr. Mercola, should be below 2.0 (and the lower the better). So, 43/170 comes out to .25–again, I’m pleased with those results.

Clearly a diet high in saturated fat, while avoiding trans fats and industrial seed oils, like vegetable oil, hasn’t resulted in terrible cholesterol numbers, so what does? My theory is excess bad carbohydrates–refined sugar, grains, and processed food–is what drives up VLDL and, when combined with systemic inflammation and oxidation (also caused by bad carbs) is a recipe for arterial damage and potential heart disease.

man-on-wheel

The junk food loop?

I’m not a lunatic about consuming fat–if you look at my food diary you probably see I eat lots of fat at times and not so much other times. Hopefully I’ve learned to listen to what my body needs and feed it what it’s hungry for.

I also use fat consumption as a tool–when I get cravings for “bad” food (and believe me, I battle this all the time), I try to fight them off by eating “good” fat. Many times I succumb to the cravings and eat garbage and this, more often than not, leads to more hunger and then more junk food–a bad loop to get caught in. However, when I use fat to combat cravings I feel satisfied and can better avoid the junk food loop.

Incidentally, the biggest objection I get from people when I describe my dietary habits is consuming saturated fat. Given our country’s low-fat nutritional history, I completely understand that fear. I’m not an expert or a medical professional, but my n=1 experiment shows that my high(er) saturated fat, low carb diet works for me and I have the lab results to prove it. But, everyone is different! Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on saturated fat and cholesterol and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Enter 2015 & New Year’s Resolutions

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happy-new-yearIt’s a new year. For many of us a time to checkpoint our lives, evaluate the previous year and, you guessed it, make the all popular New Year’s resolutions. It is estimated that about 45% of us usually make them but research shows that only 8% of us are actually successful in achieving our resolution(s). That’s right, 92% of us fail!

Here are the top five resolutions for 2014:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Getting Organized
  3. Spend Less, Save More
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
  5. Stay Fit and Healthy

No surprises, right? Interesting that two are directly related to fitness and health, #1 and #5, and I would argue these are both keys to #4!

Why are we humans so consistent at being inconsistent when it comes to permanently changing our lives for the better? What good is it to make these resolutions year after year when the overwhelming majority of us never achieve success? Should we even waste our time, effort, and resources on this silly tradition when, for the most part, we all will fail?

My opinion is a resounding yes!

I have met some amazing people who, for many different reasons, made the decision to change and, more importantly, have successfully followed through with their decision!

My buddy Rhonda's transformation is amazing! Check her out on FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rhondas-Fitness-Fandom/331249303743362

My buddy Rhonda’s transformation is amazing! Check her out on FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rhondas-Fitness-Fandom/331249303743362

In the context of health and fitness, some desire change because of the doctor’s warnings, some wake up in the morning and don’t recognize the stranger they see in the mirror, some endure the lose of a dear friend or relative and realize they could be next, some get tired of watching their children climb into the seat of amusement park ride, crying inside because are forced to watch from afar, unable to participate. The catalyst doesn’t really matter–what’s important is that people who achieve these amazing life changes all have one thing in common: they each make the decision and commitment to change their lives.

gym-peopleSo the first step in achieving life changes is to simply make the decision and commitment to change for yourself and for no one else. Seems like this is no different from making the annual January 1st resolution, right? It appears making the decision part is easy since nearly half of us successfully accomplish this each year through our resolutions. But what makes 92 out of 100 of us fail on these decisions, in my opinion, is the other critical part, commitment. I see this every year at my local YMCA where I work out. During the first few weeks of January there is a huge increase in folks packing the gym, eagerly sweating–they’ve undoubtedly made the decision, through their New Year’s resolution, to change. You know the story…by mid-February the vast majority of them are gone until next January. My theory is that their decision lacked the necessary commitment to go along with it!

Commitment to these decisions/resolutions is critical because life changes, like losing weight and becoming fit and healthy, can be very difficult. I don’t have to tell you that getting up at 4:30am to get your workout in three times a week isn’t easy–it takes commitment! Skipping the drive-thru and cooking and eating real food isn’t easy–it takes commitment! Skipping that 90 minutes of American Idol and The Real Housewives of Blah Blah and getting off the couch and walking instead watching TV isn’t easy–it takes commitment! I think you catch my drift. :)

drunk-guyI also think resolutions are often times poorly defined and that can make attainment difficult. It’s pretty easy at 2am on January 1, with your head buzzing with booze, to declare, “This year I resolve to lose weight and get fit and healthy!” Those seem to me to be fairly general goals. How much weight? What exactly does “fit and healthy” really mean? I believe these types of nebulous goals can be terribly overwhelming, especially if a person needs to make significant progress.

What has been effect for me when setting goals is to steal from the business world and employ a technique called setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, a S.M.A.R.T. goal is defined as:

  • Specific: the goal should include the What, Why, and How and in some cases Who and Where as well.
  • Measurable: the goal needs to include metrics or measurements for success.
  • Achievable: the goal should be challenging but also attainable.
  • Relevant:  the goal needs to consistent with an overall mission or effort.
  • Time-bound: the goal must have a reasonable deadline.

This is how I would attempt to rewrite our half-drunk New Year’s resolution, “This year I resolve to lose weight and get fit and healthy!” into a S.M.A.R.T goal:

By my annual Memorial Day beach trip I will be able to confidently wear my red bikini on the beach by eliminating sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet and implementing the Starting Strength weight training program on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and walking two miles every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in order to reduce my risk of disease and increase my happiness and self-esteem.

red-bikiniWhew! Let’s see how I did. Is my goal:

  • Specific? Did I answer the What, Why, and How questions?
    • What: “confidently wear my red bikini on the beach”
    • Why: “to reduce my risk of disease and increase my happiness and self esteem”
    • How: “by eliminating sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet and implementing the Starting Strength weight training program on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and walking two miles every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday”
  • Measurable? Is the goal measurable?
    • By the beach weekend I either will or won’t be able to “confidently wear my red bikini on the beach,” so, I believe the goal is measurable.
  • Achievable? Is the goal realistic?
    • Okay, this example makes the assumption that I’ve worn my red bikini before confidently and, through some hard work, I can get my body back to that state.
  • Relevant? Is the goal consistent with the overall effort?
    • Transforming my body through better nutrition and exercise will ultimately reduce my risk of health problems, make me happier, and boost my self-esteem, so, this goal is relevant.
  • Time-bound? I have to get this done by the end of May!

I find writing S.M.A.R.T goals can sometimes require a bit of effort, but that extra effort gives me a better chance for success.

I also think many of the folks who charge into the gym the first week in January and pound the weights without following a program or take off running long distances without easing into it will most likely wake up so sore they can barely walk and this can lead to frustration and ultimately failure. Ditto with radical changes to one’s diet. Quitting sugar and processed carbs “cold turkey” is a sure fire way to fail. Enthusiasm is great, but working toward goals at a reasonable, sustainable pace will help with consistency which is the key to permanent lifestyle changes. The old cliche, “It’s a marathon not a sprint” is applicable in my humble opinion!

Another important factor in achieving life changing goals for me is getting educated and using the right techniques and tools that work. Everyone is different and unique and what might be highly effective for me may not work at all for someone else. I know this from years of self-experimentation with my diet and exercise routines. The point is, I have and will always be learning, testing and adjusting in my search for optimal health with the goal to be fit, active, and thriving for the next 50 years.

I would love to get comments on your New Year’s resolutions and goals for 2015 and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Happy “No Stress” Holidays

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

2014-Holiday-PostI want to wish everyone a happy and joyous holiday season–I love this time of year! For me this season is all about family and making memories, however, the holidays and everything that comes with it can be overwhelming for me, for sure. Some years I deal with the stress better than others. I can get caught up in a self-imposed pressure cooker of deadlines to complete an endless to do list:

  • put up the Christmas tree,
  • hang the lights outside,
  • shopping for gifts,
  • wrapping gifts,
  • send out cards,
  • going to and hosting parties,
  • and on, and on, and on…

This year I decided to not stress about the holidays and to make a conscious effort to enjoy. That’s right, I said I’ve made a choice to enjoy this season and not let the stress of all the things I “should do” or “need to do” that I clearly “don’t want to do” or “have time to do” ruin this great time of year.

To be fair, circumstances greatly aided me in making this choice as I will have traveled for work each of the first three weeks in December and am traveling for pleasure the final week of December. Yep, on a plane at least once each week in December. Instead of stressing about cramming in all the normal, mostly fun activities (see list above) and doing them without joy because I really don’t have the time or motivation, I’ve just made the choice to skip it and not worry. I sort of sound a bit like Luther Krank in John Grisham’s book, Skipping Christmas: A Novel, which I enjoyed! :)  Now I will say I had full support of my wife and kids on this–if they had insisted I get up on the ladder and hang the lights on the house, I would have (but they didn’t :) ). Plus, I have publicly thank my wife who, knowing my schedule has been demanding, took on ALL of the holiday tasks including all of the shopping, wrapping, Christmas cards, handling the kids’ parties…everything! Thanks, Babe!!!

I plan to carry on this choice to not stress as it applies to my eating habits throughout this season as well. You will see me eating and drinking all kinds of bad stuff over the next week while on vacation and I will consume this junk without apology! :) Furthermore, I refuse to stress about this decision. Now, come the week of January 5th if my food diary is full of pizza, pie and Guinness, then I hope you fine folks will stage an intervention, but hopefully it won’t come to that! :)

I am incredibly fortunate and thankful for this wonderful life of mine. I thank you for taking an interest in my life by reading this blog. I wish you and your family a most joyous holiday season–a time of minimal stress! Eat and drink some bad things if you want (unless that causes you stress). Whatever works for you and makes you happy, I encourage you to make those choices and limit stress and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Walking Is So Underrated!

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

walking-men-featuredI have rediscovered the simple act of walking—what the Oxford dictionary defines as:

Move at a regular and fairly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at one.

I have fond memories as a youngster of walking, specifically, hiking! Growing up with a father who taught high school, our family took long car trips across the country in the summers, seeing the sights, especially our nation’s landmarks and national parks. We did these wonderful trips by tent camping, meaning we would drive from destination to destination (following our AAA TripTik, remember them? The Google Maps of the 70s :) ), pitching our tent and setting up our campsite, then immediately wandering off to investigate the area. With six family members, we weren’t able to take our bikes, so we used our legs to hike all over the campgrounds and parks we visited. These are some of the best memories of my childhood!

Jenny-Lake-MapAt the age of about 13 our family moved to Florida and the suburbs. To get anywhere I had to get a ride in a car or ride my bike. Once I turned 15 I bought a motorcycle and walking nearly ceased! :) From a fitness perspective, I still exercised by playing sports, but the simple act of walking began to taper significantly as I gained access to motorized transportation.

My first "real" job in 1982

My first “real” job in 1982

Then I got my first “real” job at the end of my senior year of high school–game room attendant at Chuck E. Cheese’s! :) Now walking was a major part of this gig since my entire shift consisted of monitoring (walking) around the enormous game room making sure the coin mechanisms worked and cleaning up. I’m sure if the FitBit One tracker had existed in 1982, it would have shown my clocking many, many miles. In college I got a job waiting tables and I remember being on my feet during my entire shift–on Friday/Saturday nights this would often be from 4pm until well after midnight! Again, I’m sure I walked countless miles a night and remember being completely exhausted at the end of those long shifts. During that time, as a full time college student and working as a waiter, I had no time for exercise, yet I remember being physically fit. Could all that walking have been a factor?

Once I graduated from college and started my career as a programmer/analyst, I spent most of my day sitting in a chair in front of a computer screen–walking, again, faded from my life. I did many other forms of exercise–weight lifting, basketball, tennis, etc.–but not walking. At this time, the mid-eighties, running seemed to be the fitness craze, and I’ve never really enjoyed running. In fact, I can remember feeling guilty about my lack of running and thinking I really should be out there putting in the miles and pounding the pavement in order to be fit and healthy. Based on some of the research I’ve read, I may have accidentally done my body a huge favor by avoiding “chronic cardio” in the form of running!

runnersIf you Google for articles comparing the health benefits of walking verses running, there are thousands of articles and posts and, like most “arguments”, there seems to be evidence on both sides as to which form of exercise might be superior. For me, there is no one “right” answer and, since we all all different, what might be best for me certainly doesn’t mean that works for everyone else. Tim Ferriss, author of the The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, said, in the context of dieting, something along the lines that adopting a “perfect” diet that is nearly impossible to sustain is much less effective than adopting an effective (not perfect) diet that the dieter can maintain over time. I think this applies to me and running verses walking–since I dislike distance running I have never been able to maintain any type of consistent running regime. On the flip side, if a person loves to run and it works for them, they should run!

beach-sunset

I rekindled my love of walking a few years ago on family trips to the beach. I would get up early and just walk, enjoying the splendor provided by the white sands and the Gulf of Mexico. My favorite hike is just under eight miles and I’ve listened to many audio books on these walks! When I began focusing on the Primal/Paleo lifestyle, I began listening to health and fitness related podcasts and eventually stumbled on a podcast on blogging which gave me the idea for this blog.


One piece of technology has pushed me to increase my walking on a daily basis: my FitBit One tracker. As I’v written before, consistency is key for me, and having goals and tracking my progress against those goals is highly motivating. Right out of the box, my tracker had a default goal of 10,000 steps per day, and I really try to exceed that goal as many days as possible. And this doesn’t mean that I have to set aside time in my day to “go for a walk.” Instead, I make it a point to get out of my chair and move during the endless conference calls as each one of those steps gets me closer to my goal. When I fly through Atlanta I now walk between terminals instead of taking the train. If you are like me and a type-A, competitive, goal oriented individual, adding a tracker has been a huge enabler for increasing my day-to-day walking.

I’m happy that I’ve rediscovered walking as it certainly benefits my health, but it also allows me an opportunity to broaden my horizons through audio books and podcasts or just to experience to the waves lapping against the beach helping me to decompress from my stressful life. Do you use walking as part of your fitness routine? Please let me know your thoughts and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

 

2014 Holiday Foam Roller Giveaway

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

Multiple Chances To Win!

roller

Can you believe Thanksgiving is over and the holidays are just weeks away? I’m celebrating by giving away a 6″ x 36″, EPE Black High Density Foam Roller, Round, 1.9 lbs per cubic foot, just like the one I use nearly every day. You may have read on this blog how important the foam roller is for my mobility and muscle pain management. For me, there is no better treatment for delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, than spending quality time with my foam roller.

The winner will be determined by a drawing to be held on December 20, 2014.

There are a few different ways to enter and you can earn multiple entries:

  • Sign up to receive the free Fit Over 50 Newsletter to earn a chance to win. Anyone already signed up will automatically earn a chance–no need to do anything.
  • To earn additional chances, simply refer your friends–for each person you refer that voluntarily signs up you will earn an additional chance in the drawing. The person you refer MUST sign up in order earn the additional chance. These is no limit to the number of chances you can earn!
  • Like” the Facebook page. Anyone who has already “liked” the Facebook page will automatically earn a chance–no need to do anything.

 

Thanks for entering, good luck and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

My Twisted Relationship With Gluten

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

bread-pasta-glutenLet’s face it, being gluten free is in! You and I probably can most likely name several people we know who are avoiding or giving up gluten and the internet and supermarket tabloid headlines are full of gluten free celebrities. Everyone seems to be talking about gluten–some calling it evil, others defending it and their choice to enjoy it. I heard a news story on the radio stating something along the lines that most of people, including those who are going gluten free, can’t articulate what gluten is. Sound like a fad?

What is gluten? According to the Celiac Disease Foundation:

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.

Make no mistake, gluten is extremely harmful for those with celiac disease, which is a genetic, autoimmune disease affecting about 1% of the United States population. From celiac.org, the following describes how gluten affects those with celiac disease:

When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.

So, my question, “Is gluten bad for those of us not diagnosed with celiac disease?”

homemade-pizza

One of my best homemade pies :)

Why am I so concerned? For one, I absolutely love the taste of foods containing gluten:

  • breads, cookies, cake, pies, donuts
  • pizza
  • beer
bread-machine

My never used bread machine

I own a bread machine and at one time played around with growing my own yeast dough. I have many pizza cookbooks, baking pans and stones. My house has not one, but two beer keg/taps! It’s safe to say I’m a major lover of gluten and gluten-containing foods.

Not one, but two beer taps...

Not one, but two beer taps…

But, does gluten love me? :) Looking back at my childhood, I don’t remember chronic digestive issues but I definitely experienced occasional GI discomfort which I though was just normal. As an adult I never felt like I had any symptoms pointing to a chronic digestive problem as I consumed massive amounts of gluten routinely. I’m talking about eating an entire pizza at one sitting or killing a box of donuts myself. Let’s not even talk about beer! :)

The point is, there were no obvious signs at the time that gluten affected me in any way. In May of 2014 I decided to conduct an experiment and try my hardest to go gluten free (there was a specific reason for this n=1 experiment which we shall get to shortly) for at least 90 days. I know I wasn’t completely gluten free because it turns out gluten is in just about everything! For example, I had no idea soy sauce had gluten in it, but many brands do, so I ate sushi for lunch and inadvertently consumed gluten. During those 90 days I would estimate I was 99% gluten free and I have to say I seemed to feel noticeably better both physically and mentally. This is clearly an observation based on correlation and I have no way to prove causation (meaning I can’t scientifically prove that removing gluten from my diet actually caused me to feel better). The mind is a powerful thing and who knows if I just felt better because my brain thought I should feel better, the classic “placebo effect.”

Regardless, if I felt better physically and mentally because of actual physiological reasons or merely because my mind “believed” it, the result is the same and I achieved a favorable outcome. The experiment, however, surfaced a much bigger benefit for me–something that is key to my larger nutritional goal, let me explain…

Why Gluten Free Works For Me

I strive to achieve my version of a Primal/Paleo eating pattern which I have been attempting and refining over the past few years. In a nutshell, I try to avoid:

  • refined sugar
  • grains–especially wheat
  • processed food

When I first started I tried very hard to adhere to the the 80-20 rule, stick to the plan 80% of the time, which I feel is a good way to ease into any kind of restrictive behavior change. I would estimate nearly 100% of the 20% of the time my eating fell eating outside the pattern probably included some food or drink with gluten. As I have repeated many, many times on this blog, sugar and grains are highly addictive substances for me and a tiny bit has the potential to turn into a binge which can lead to complete failure. So the 80-20 rule and the concept of “cheat” meals can be problematic for me. What I found when attempting to go gluten free–I mean really applying myself–is I began sticking to the plan much greater than 80% of the time!

Let’s go back to why I decided to conduct the gluten free experiment back in May of 2014. About a 15 months prior I had injured my ribs and, as a result of a CT scan, the radiologist found a nodule on my thyroid gland. There is a family history of thyroid issues including three immediate family members who currently take a thyroid medication. One of my top health goals is to never have to take a prescription medication long term, and it seems, for the most part, once on thyroid medication, always on thyroid medication. I began going back into my blood work history, looking at my TSH and I noticed a concerning trend–my TSH levels had begun to creep up, which can indicate the thyroid gland isn’t working properly.

Keep in mind I have no symptoms linked with a malfunctioning thyroid and my TSH and other thyroid blood levels were still in the acceptable range, but I saw them trending in the wrong direction. I began looking for possible explanations, one of which is Hashimoto’s disease, which is condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and destroys its ability to function. Can you guess what the treatment for this is? That’s right, take a thyroid hormone replacement drug–exactly the outcome I want to avoid!

What causes Hashimoto’s disease? According to the Mayo clinic:

Doctors don’t know what causes your immune system to attack your thyroid gland. Some scientists think a virus or bacterium might trigger the response, while others believe a genetic flaw may be involved.

Further research beyond the established medical community and “conventional wisdom” revealed a strong connection between celiac disease and Hashimoto’s disease and:

Gluten can also trigger the very autoimmune reactions that cause you to have Hashi’s, since supposedly, the cells of your thyroid are similar to the cells of gluten, i.e. an attack on one is going to make your ripe for the attack on the other.

This was the basis for my 90 day gluten free experiment–I wanted to see if eliminating gluten helped with my thyroid hormone numbers. I have subsequently been tested and, thank goodness, do not have Hashimoto’s disease (I am in the midst of figuring out the whole thyroid issue, more on this in an upcoming post). What I did notice while trying in earnest to go gluten free is, when I permitted myself no wiggle room and treated the situation as if I had celiac disease and a single molecule of gluten might be harmful, I found myself eating clean with much less effort and struggle. I no longer had to contend and struggle with the “what’s one bottle of beer going hurt” scenario! Outside of sugar, the most tempting foods that cause me to stray from my preferred dietary pattern seem to include gluten. So, when I treat gluten almost as if it were a life-threatening poison (as it can be for severe celiac sufferers), I seem to not only eat more cleanly, but I do it with much less stress!

For me, aggressively attempting to avoid gluten has become a key tool in maintaining my preferred eating pattern and, more importantly, helped me reduce the stress associated with keeping the pattern and therefore increasing the consistency and sustainability of the diet. Is that to say I will never eat pizza, have a piece of birthday cake, or drink a beer? Hell no! :) I am still going to enjoy my life!

Do I care about the eye rolls that occasionally happen when I pass on bread at the restaurant? Nope. My goal is to try my hardest to use avoiding gluten as a tool to pass on foods containing grains and sugar as well as processed foods. It scares me when I encounter folks who tell me they are gluten free and then say, “It’s not so bad, I really like XXXXX brand of gluten free brownies, they taste great!” Replacing gluten containing products with other forms of processed garbage and full of sugar doesn’t fit my strategy at all–eating real, whole unprocessed food is my goal.

Please comment on your relationship with gluten. Does gluten overtly affect you physically? Do you think the gluten trend is hogwash? I want to know and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and beast in the gym!