Beating the Plateau 101

Beating the Plateau 101

I have been seriously working at losing weight for about 3 months and change. I have had my ups and my downs, but I have more or less stayed the course. I have lost fat, gained some lean body mass and generally am starting to feel better. However, I recognize I still have quite a bit of distance left in this race. Getting healthy is a marathon after all, not a sprint. Even harder in my case,  when you know just how far you have let yourself go.

For the last week or two, I haven’t really seen the fat loss gains I had expected. I realize that I burned through the initial 5-7 easy pounds that we can all throw off right away, and that things would slow down after that. I had thought I was beyond that point, but I guess I was wrong. I was wrong for other reasons though. And as a result I was in a plateau, neither gaining nor losing. In this battle, if you aren’t losing, you aren’t “winning”.  I can’t afford to have to spend another calorically depressed month languishing in this rut, mentally grinding myself down. I needed a way out.  I needed to figure it out.

At work, I am an Analyst. It’s what I do. I look at a problem; figure out common failure modes, causes and factors, then devise a course of corrective action. That is exactly what I needed here. So first, I sat down and with the help of the internet, brainstormed out the top reasons why someone in my situation would fail to lose weight. I had to debunk some myths and toss out some really non-quantifiable stuff along the way. The once I narrowed down my list to the most probable, I went through each one by one and picked out those that fit. Most I could easily prove or disprove. The more data you have or lack the easier it is to figure out what the problem is.

The next cut was out of all of the applicable causes, to select what I believed were the five that would have the most impact if I could correct them. Five seemed like a good number. I had more than that, but you can’t fix everything at once, and out of the top five that I selected, two of them were minor at best but they were contributors.  Someone else may try this and only find one or two which is a pretty manageable number.

Now in case you want to try this for yourself, here are the most common causes and explanations for each one:

  1. Unrealized weight loss: Fat is not as dense as lean muscle tissue. It is possible that fat was lost while muscle was gained, and thus the scale doesn’t move. This can be especially true if you are doing heavy resistance training. The easy solution is to track measurements such as waist as well as weight. I selected this as one of my top 5. Waist measurement every time I weigh myself.
  2. Am I eating too many calories: Are my daily caloric requirements accurate? This is the foundation upon which many of us build our weight loss houses. Go back and check your original figure. If that is correct then is it still appropriate? Gradual weight loss will move that total down over time, so the original number should change. Also, activity level has more than likely increased, which affects that base number. Solution: check it and make sure what you are using is still applicable.
  3. Am I accurately tracking what I am eating? Science has proven that people who track with a food diary will generally lose more weight. But over time we get sloppy. Have I been fairly consistent and accurate with what I have been tracking. Take a hard look back at your logs or diaries. Solution: If you don’t have one, then start one. I currently use MyFitnessPal, but there are other alternatives such as MyFoodDiary.com or My Plate by Livestrong. Even a spiral notebook if you want to go low tech.
  4. How much of my diet is clean? What is the quality of what you are eating? If you are eating mostly prepared foods from bags or tins, then you need a change. Whole food is the key. It doesn’t have to be organic, but it shouldn’t be made in a lab or a factory. These foods are high in chemical additives, sugar and excess sodium, and low in natural dietary fiber. They can also lead to chronic inflammation. Solution: Make the switch, as much as possible. 100% clean is not really doable consistently, especially in modern society. Strive for 80-90% clean.
  5. Am I getting enough protein? Lean protein intake is important ad cannot be overlooked. No matter what your goal, you really can’t go wrong here. High protein intake boosts your metabolism by upwards of 100 calories a day. It also helps to reduce cravings and contributes to satiety. Protein helps to prevent metabolic slow down which can occur when you are calorically deficient over a long period, and helps preserve lean muscle mass. Solution: Keep your protein intake to around 25% or higher of your total calories. Also on my top five. A review of the daily macros in MyFitnessPal showed quite a few days where my protein intake dropped below 30%. Protein intake now gets more attention and should be above 30% every day.
  6. How high is my carb intake? For those of us with a lot of weight to lose or a diabetic condition, low-carbohydrate is beneficial. How low is a subject for some debate. Low glycemic index foods are the goal here. The higher your percentage of carbs, then the lower your percentages of protein and fat which can be counterproductive. Solution: Depending on your goals, keep your carbs as low as you think you need them.  It should be below 60% of your caloric intake.  Avoid excess high-glycemic carbs such as excess fruit, fruit juice, and refined grains. Another item on my top 5. For me low cab works well. My daily carb intake is now lowered to 25% of my daily calories.
  7. Am I eating too often? The theory that eating small meals more often can speed up your metabolism, which in turn leads to burning more calories. There isn’t any definitive science to support this. Plus, eating smaller but more frequent meals keeps you almost continuously hungry. Solution: Once you know your caloric and macronutrient requirements for the day, prepare standard meals, and use some snacks in between to balance out your macros.
  8. Is there any “binge” eating going on? Even with healthy foods, binge eating leads to consuming excess calories. It’s also damages our mental perception of food, as we see it as a form of comfort instead of fuel for our bodies. Junk foods are easy to binge on because of their high caloric content. But then again so is a healthy bag of trail mix. Solution: Ensure you are eating satisfying meals, and keep a healthy snack nearby. Like a protein bar in the purse, desk or car.
  9. Drinkable sugar: This stuff is everywhere, especially in “fitness culture”. Drinkable sugars come in many forms. Healthy-minded folks will take a pass on a can of Pepsi, but we won’t hesitate to get out our juicers and consume several hundred calories of high glycemic carbs in the form of fructose from all the oranges and pineapple we just juiced. Or we have that post-workout Gatorade or Vitamin Water to replace all those electrolytes we think we just used up. Think of this, that bottle of Gatorade just erased 15 minutes of treadmill time. Solution: Unless you are a professional athlete or are training consistently in the heat multiple times a day, stay away from sports drinks. And beware juicing. When juicing, mix in green vegetables and avoid excess sweet fruits.
  10. Do you eve lift bro? Does your exercise routine include progressive resistance training? All cardio, all the time, only serves to make you “skinny fat”. If you are going through the trouble of losing all that fat, make sure you find something good underneath otherwise, what is the point? Resistance training counteracts metabolic slowdown. Also, increased lean muscle mass means you burn more calories at rest. Solution: If it’s not part of your current workout plan, add it in. Even if it’s just a whole body workout once a week; heavy resistance training also improves performance in many endurance sports as well.
  11. Are you doing cardio? Exactly the same, yet opposite problem as the previous cause. You cannot live by lifting alone. Cardio is more effective at burning off visceral fat faster than just resistance training. You should have a couple of cardio sessions programmed in weekly, either with your resistance training or on days when you don’t do any weight training. Solution: If it’s not there, add it in. This is item #4 on my top five list. I was doing cardio in between strength days, but IA started slacking off early on because I was seeing results.
  12. How are you sleeping? You need sleep. It helps the body recover, grows muscle, and allows you to process the events of the day. Not sleeping well places stress on the body and the mind, which in turn alters your Cortisol and Leptin levels. Both of which help regulate normal body fat levels. Fatigue also results in lackluster fitness performance, and gives you one more excuse to skip your workout. Your body operates on a noticeably higher level when it is well rested. Solution: First, track your sleep. If you are not consistently getting at least 6.5 to 7 hours a night, you need to make some adjustments in your life. If not sleeping is not by choice, there are a lot of natural as well as doctor prescribed solutions. Also, similar to the concept of e re-feed, consider a sleep-in day, or going to bed really early one night a week.

13 Are you drinking enough water? How much is adequate? Who knows. More than likely you don’t need to drink a gallon a day. That will just over-flush nutrients out of your system. And who wants to run to the bathroom that much? Somewhere between 48-64 ounces of water seems to be the norm. That’s water, NOT  LIQUIDS.  Solution: If you can find a better way to track it, do so. But you may find you need some sort of reminder that you need to drink a few extra big bottles of water every day. I had not been tracking my water, and after some reflection, I realized that I haven’t been drinking near enough water. Now I am tracking ad requiring 64 fl. oz. daily.

  1. Sir, have you been drinking? Alcohol can seriously retard weight loss efforts on many fronts. Empty alcohol based carbs, excess calories, the beer bloat, hangovers sapping motivation, dehydration, etc. etc. You can’t be serious about your fitness and over consume alcohol on a regular basis. You can however, make allowances for it in your diet. Stick to spirits or red wine, hold back on your carb intake throughout the day prior to drinking. There are lots of things you can do. However, if you find yourself constantly re-arranging your diet to accommodate your drinking, it should be obvious where the problem lies. Solution: First, alcohol can be a part of your life under controlled circumstances. You have to keep your relationship with it in the proper perspective. Most tracking apps have most common alcoholic beverages in them, so that can be a timesaver and eliminate the guess work.
  2. Supplemental problems: Last, take a hard look at all that fitness industry related crap you may be pouring down your food hole. I am in no way saying you do or don’t need it. But all those fat-burners, protein powders, recovery shakes, pre-workout’s and BCAA’s can start to add up. They can actually be a hidden threat and hamper rather than help. Solution: Know what you are taking. Read the labels. Don’t use it if you can’t find out what is in it. Especially with all these “proprietary” blends of things. Count the calories in your daily total. And if you are not 100% sure why you are taking it, and exactly what it is actually doing for you., then save money and stop taking it.

That’s it. A lot I know! But if you are stuck, take a look at this list. Find 3-5 items that you believe are applicable to your situation and execute your recovery plan. Sometimes the shakeup is enough to knock your body out of the rut. One last word, I didn’t mention it in my list, but make sure your expectations are realistic. Maybe you have lost some, but you just don’t think it’s enough. Don’t go to extreme measures to satisfy some unrealistic goal. Be reasonable.

Thanks, enjoy…….

Keep moving, stay Sharky!

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Morning Coffee with Mickey

Morning Coffee with Mickey

“During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

-Mickey Mantle

Lesson: Success is a matter of perspective. You have to step back and look at the bigger picture.

All is well

Well, I was sick. Now I am not. Apparently, it wasn’t meant to be. A quick sniffle and that was all she wrote. I would like to think that  getting rest, fluids, lots of zinc and vitamin C, and a well timed workout  turned the tide. Yes, I worked out while sick. Sometimes you just hve to knuckle down and knock it out. I took a hefty swig of pre-workout, did a good warm up and had at it.

As it turns out, it was a good workout after all. Today I am fully back on track. nutrition, water, cardio day, the whole nine yards.  Firing on all cylinders again. Now watch, after all that, I will relapse……((((knocking on wood))))).

I did a bit of a diagnostic on myself today. My weight loss hasn’t been as steady as I would have liked. So after some reflection and a bit of googling, I came up with 20 common reasons why this could be. All logical and applicable to me. Then I went through and eliminated all those that were most likley not the problem. This is why you track what you eat, drink, and lift. It allows for objective proof. Something may have gotten missed and you might not notice it. But if you go back and look at the data,  you can see patterns. Sometimes you need to step back a bit and take a broader view.

I narrowed it down to a list of five suspects, and I will be watching them all very closely in the short term. First, I relied too much on weight and not enough on waist measurements. Second, I haven’t been drinking near enough water, and I haven’t been tracking it. Third, I haven’t been as vigilant as I could have been tracking my food. I winged it quite a bit.  Fourth, my protein intake has been too low. Fifth, my carbohydrate intake has been too high.

So since I had the data to look at, I know exactly how I want to correct. I made up a little weekly cheat sheet that I can use to make sure I am hitting ALL my goals on a daily basis. That may seem a little anal retentive, but this is a game of inches after all. Little victories can be easily erased by equally little defeats. I am giving these changes a few weeks to see if I get results. I believe I am on the right path, I must need some tweaks and some focus.

We shall see. Right now I am just thankful to be well again. 

Weekly Ramblings 3/25/16

 

 

First an Update:

So I decided to end the month, and at the same time celebrate the start of spring by catching a cold. It started as what I thought was a minor sore throat and shot right up into my head. Yay! In an effort to speed recovery, I skipped my planned workout for Saturday, and am making today a “zero” day as well. Lot’s of Zinc and vitamin C on the horizon for me. As well as lots of rest. I know there really is no “cure” per se, but I will do what I can to shorten its duration. I am trying to look on the bright side too, as the lack of appetite makes it easier to stick to my nutritional goals. I am not worried about a calorie deficit as I doubt I would have even gotten close to a non-deficit level.

Next up, goals

Goals are important but getting there isn’t always fun. I will always try and set specific and measurable goals. If you don’t what’s the point? And how do you know you have arrived?

I usually add an additional “incentive” for myself along with it. Something public and challenging. The first time I did this, I committed myself to doing my first Tough Mudder. What better way to keep my self on track than signing up for that? Plus I signed up as part of a team. So there was the added peer pressure associated with backing out. It worked. I dropped weight. got into much better cardiovascular shape and in the end I earned my first orange headband.

This time I set a goal to lose weight and gain strength in specific areas, but I never gave myself a “why?”. Losing weight and getting stronger should be “why” enough right? But I like to have the added pressure of a challenge to help me stay motivated. Right now, my goal is to lose a bunch of weight but maintain my muscle mass just so I don’t feel like a fat slob when I go to NYC in September for vacation. I don’t really consider myself a fat slob, but you get the point. I need something in line with that. I may do something a little more progressive than normal and possibly tied trail riding this season. My goal was to log a lot of miles on the mountain bike this year, and I think that will coincide nicely with my weight loss goals.

No matter what I will have something decided by next Sunday.

Onward to fatness America!

I heard about a recently published story on talk radio this week that really peaked my interest. The conversation started when one host asked the other to guess just what percentage of Americans are actually “in shape and healthy” according to a recent study. The answer:

3%

What? That can’t be. Probably exactly what you are telling yourself right now. Now anecdotally, if you look around at your fellow citizens, you will start to realize that, well, science may be right?

This story was found on OregonLive.com. Originally this was a published study done by the Mayo Clinic . And it’s 2.7%, NOT EVEN 3%! Take all this with a grain of salt people. I will explain further.

The study was pretty sizable. They looked at about 4800 people. That’s a good sample size. And they made some real effort to make sure it was geographically dispersed. Overall, the study looks at what  percentage of people have 4 specific key healthy lifestyle characteristics that put you at lower risk for cardio-vascular disease. So when they say “healthy”, that is what they mean. Only 4 factors? Yup. Consider that a measure of your healthy lifestyle does not need, and shouldn’t take into account family medical history. This is strictly behavior based. Even the body fat factor. Yes, I said it.

This study looked at four key factors of people with low cardio-vascular disease risk. It also quantifies in the study what level is necessary to be considered for that category. They are:

  1. Being Sufficiently Active
  2. Not smoking
  3. Healthy Eating
  4. Healthy body fat percentage

First, they looked at physical activity. Participants were given Actigraph accelerometers and told to wear them for four days. Their activity patterns were then analyzed. Researchers were looking for how many minutes of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity(MVPA). There is a lot of language in the study about how they determine activity, but the short answer is, 150 minutes of MVPA weekly. So if you engage in 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous activity a week you can check that box. If you think about that, a lot of Americans can say they do that. But how many really do?

Second, researchers looked at smoking status. Now they didn’t just ask “do you smoke?”. They tested each persons serum cotinine levels by testing saliva. So no hiding there. My only beef with how they did this, is the level they used for men to consider them smokers. First, the threshold level they used for men is 50% of what they used for women. Men’s serum cotinine level above 1.78 considered them a “smoker”, while for women it was 4.47. That’s levels that are 200% higher for women. That makes absolutely no sense. Cotinine level is not relative to body weight. If a man and a woman smoke the same number of cigarettes daily, they should have similar serum levels. I looked at some other cotinine studies and found that routine exposure to second-hand smoke can cause you to have cotinine levels as high as . Which is generally the low-end cut off. Which takes non-smoking women who are exposed to second hand smoke out of play for the study, but not men. So you could have some bias and over-counting in this category. Second hand smoke exposure is bad, and an most likely put you at risk, but surely not the same level as actually smoking. Smoking is o the decline in America, so the percentage of people who  have this healthy trait is only expected to improve.

Third is healthy eating. It’s actually second in line in the study itself, so take that into account if you follow the link and read it. They used USDA indicators of dietary quality (which makes me immediately suspect because we all remember the flip-flopping food pyramid, and the fact that what they consider healthy is based on which industry pays them the most money). Each person in the study gave two 24 hour recall assessments, in other words they basically listed out what they ate in the previous 24 hours for researchers. For each person, the two periods were combined. Each participant was given a Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score based o those USDA requirements. The maximum score  possible was 100. The higher the score, the closer your adherence to a “healthy” diet. Researcher considered the 60% HEI to be the cut-off. So HEI’s of 61 and above were considered “healthy”. It seems logical at face value, and it sort of is. My issue is with their dietary requirements. There is no such thing. Yes, you need certain amounts of protein , fat and carbs along with micro nutrients to be healthy. But there is nothing that dictates where this has to come from. That is an invention of he food-industry subsidized government. For the sake of argument, let’s say the USDA’s HEI scale is properly weighted where it should be and is correct.   It’s sort of believable if you look at what most people eat. Just look  in carts when you walk around the grocery store.

Last up is number 4. Body fat percentage. Researchers used whole-body x-rays to determine body fat percentage. Something that it s not usually done. Impressive. Even though they had to “guess” with 21% of participants based on similar types, because there was no X-ray data available for them. So really, they x-rayed 89% of the research sample and took a SWAG at the rest. The benefit to using x-ray instead of pinch testing or tape  measurements, is that it truly takes into account lean muscle mass. You can be “skinny fat” and beat most measurements. But you can’t hide what you really have on the inside.

The results? The good news is 71% of subjects did not smoke. Think of what that number would have been 20 years ago? And where it will be 20 years , even 10 years from now. 39.7% consumed a healthy diet (according to the lobbyists). 9.6% had a normal body fat percentage. This part is the most disturbing of all. I can’t look at someone and tell they smoke, or what they eat, or how much cardio they do. But body fat percentage is pretty obvious, no matter what you wear. 49.6% of the sample do not get enough physical activity.

There are various percentages of people who exhibit 1, 2 and 3 of the four characteristics but in the end, only 2.7 of us are supposedly healthy. At first, I thought this number was waaaaayyyyyy of. But now that I think about it I start to change my mind. Increasingly sedentary lifestyle, increased fast food consumption, increased junk food consumption, lack of exercise and god knows what else I messed are all going to start to add up. I bet that even though smoking goes down (which increases the number of people who can say they have that healthy attribute), the number as a whole will continue to creep down.

My prediction is that the gap between those who are healthy and those who aren’t will widen. Just like we see with the income gap between middle and lower class. As we increase our dependence on mobility assisting devices instead of mobility we will get fatter. We insist that being fat (morbidly obese) can be a fabulous lifestyle and we further legitimize unhealthy behavior. We use made-up concepts such as “fat shaming” to keep others form helping us be accountable, which we are apparently not able to do on our own. We continue to use gimmicks and yo-yo dieting instead of activity and healthy lifestyles to “quick fix” ourselves. Surgery and pills instead of discipline and exercise.

Why wouldn’t then number go down? Read the article ro the study if you get a chance. Then look around. It may not be as crazy as it seems at first.