Health and the 300-Pound Man

A large portion of a new lifestyle is getting your crap together. By that, I mean deciding that enough is enough and making the effort to change your way of thinking and living. Although hard, it is not as difficult as you may think, once the initial “lethargy” ends after your body readjusts. The hard part is facing the shaking heads, the tuts and clicks of tongues, from people who at first ask you how your losing so much weight, and then when you tell them how, proceed to tell you how that is not going to work, despite having proof right in front of them to the contrary.

It is amazing to me the reaction you get from people, especially those closest to you when you try to share with them what you have been doing to lose weight. It’s as if they take offense to the fact that you are improving yourself like they are being personally attacked. They tell you all sorts of things:

You’re neglecting your family!

You’re obsessed and that is not healthy!

You’ve become a zealot!

They don’t see the full picture.

I do not feel 55. It is shocking to me to think I am in my mid-50’s. I look in the mirror and do not see an old man. I have very little gray, and the gray I have is in my beard. I have a full head of hair. I have no wrinkling. The man looking back at me cannot be 55!

But, alas, he is …

And this is where my concern for friends and family come in …

When you go through life you expect certain things to happen. You expect at some point to bury your grandparents. You expect to bury your parents. But as the oldest in my generation, I do not expect to bury sisters, brothers, cousins, children, etc. I should be the first to go. Now, I know life doesn’t work that way. I am not naive. The older you get, though, no matter how you look or feel, the more you are faced with the reality of your own mortality.

At the age of 46, I was 313 pounds. Something clicked one day, and I decided that I was not going to be 300 pounds anymore. My younger brother, Michael, who has always been active, said it best to me once.

“If I am going to die young it will not be because of something I could have prevented.”

As I stood looking at myself in the mirror that day I understood what he meant. At this point, we had both had our cancer scares (mine was thyroid, his testicular). The only difference being that mine did cause weight gain. The wrong part was that I used that fact to explain my laziness and slothfulness and to dismiss it as an effect of cancer.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone that has had thyroid cancer, or even hypothyroidism, will attest to the fact that it really screws you up. You feel tired all the time. You can’t focus. The last thing you want to do after working all day is to get on a bike or go out for a run. The “will” may be there, but not strong enough to get over the lethargy that sets in. But the result in my doing nothing was a weight gain of 120 pounds.

Shortly after this decision to end this spiral I was driving home and heard a radio show with a local doctor talking about the thyroid issue and its effect on testosterone production. Even though he was not in my insurance plan, I made an appointment and paid out of pocket for the test and consultation. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Not only was my thyroid meds out of whack, but my T level was also 97. So after adjusting the Thyroid and adding T Therapy, the weight started dropping. He was also the one that initially suggested that I sign up for a triathlon that was a year away (Escape from Fort DeSoto 2011).

I did.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

My weight leveled off for a year, and that’s where I discovered, though my Triathlon Coach, the Vinnie Tortorich podcast and Jon Smith and Debbie Potts on Fit Fat Fast (Debbie is now solo at The Whole Athlete podcast), and through that the books “Wheat Belly”, “Good Calorie Bad Calorie”, “Fat Chance” and a few more. After changing my eating lifestyle to No Sugar and No Grains (#NSNG) the weight started falling off again. In addition, my energy levels shot through the roof, and I was finding that my body was recovering from workouts, even long strenuous ones, much faster.

So, a breakthrough, and one I should share right?

That did not sit well with a few people. They try to poke holes in the eating method. They say it won’t work. “Calorie in calorie out” is the only true method, they posture.

The problem is that, even though I am standing right in front of them as proof that “calorie in-calorie out”, while indeed based on sound science, is not the only factor, it doesn’t phase them in the least. They stick to their food pyramid. You can show them the science, point them in the direction of numerous studies and academic papers explaining how wheat and sugar increases fat storage in the body, and they still stick to the old thinking.

“Go to a long distance Triathlon or Marathon, and after all the svelte and elite runners come through, wait and see the runners crossing the finish line at hour 7, 8, 10. They’ve all put in the work. They have finished their race. And the majority are still overweight.” ~ Vinnie Tortorich, Fitness Confidential

That was paraphrased, by the way.

The proof, as grandma would say, is in the pudding.

But you still read Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds, about people “carb loading” before a race (which has been proven NOT to work), or indulging in bad eating because “they burned it off during their workout”.

It’s all BS.

A wise woman told me once that I cannot take it personally when people listen to you and still go the other direction. All you can do is offer advice, and hope they listen, but if they don’t, then that’s their choice.

It’s a good way to think, and easy to do when it’s the odd man on the street or casual acquaintance. Not so easy when it is someone you care about. I want these people around me for a long time still. I don’t want to see them in a box. I’d prefer, as is the course of life, for them to see me in the box. I don’t think they understand that this is the place I am coming from … maybe selfish on my part because I don’t want them to leave me that way … but it comes from a true place.

All Sizzle and No Steak

I hope this post doesn’t turn into a rant, but I have a sneaky suspicion it will, so I should apologize for any hurt feelings, but I won’t, because if you think I am talking about you, then I probably am. 🙂


The more I have gotten into blogging and podcasting the more I see instances of so-called “fitness experts” hawking either their own products or something they are paid to sell, no matter what the underlying healthiness of said product is, and it is getting ridiculous. I actually saw a post once on a healthy (at least it was advertised this way) eating site titled “recipe of the day” …

It was for DEEP FRIED STRAWBERRIES.

Seriously?

Now if you are someone who is so in shape and have the metabolism of a housefly that you can afford to eat deep fried anything, well, good for you. Congratulations. But the majority of people are not that lucky, and to see a post on healthy websites or blogs touting something deep fried like it’s a “new twist” gives the impression it’s healthy. It’s not, and it’s misleading to present it as such. Why does anyone need to deep fry a strawberry?

We see this all the time, especially from the celebrity trainer types like Gillian Michaels. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Gillian Michaels, or at least I used to, but she constantly is pushing food and supplements that are one, not healthy, and two, usually not needed, and the problem with that is, alongside others like Bob Harper, are people listen to them.

They buy the DVD’s, watch the shows, follow the diets, and when it doesn’t work for them they feel like they have failed.

No … you have not failed …they have failed you.

An older post I wrote touched on this issue also, but was more geared toward those out there that complain and complain about their weight yet you see them posting on Facebook “checked in a 5 Guys Burgers”. There is NOTHING healthy at 5 Guys Burgers. Period. If you want to eat at McDonald’s, or 5 Guys, or wherever, that’s fine … it’s your life. Just please refrain from complaining about how fat you are afterward. The same issue happens with people completing about GI issues during runs and bikes, yet when you look at their nutrition they have downed numerous packets of sugar-filled GU’s and Gels.

But don’t DARE suggest they lose the sugar! Oh God no!!

The blogs I read or tweets I see that are re-tweeted? The majority say nothing of value … it’s all just fluff meant to self-promote. The people behind most of these blogs and tweets (the ones I KNOW at least) rarely are found out at 5:00 AM running or making a mad dash for Flatwoods after work to get a couple of loops in. And most of those that ARE out there, don’t blog or tweet (which I find amusing), though they ARE good at Facebook entries, which I think is great!

I know there are some people that hate people posting their recent workouts or meals. I personally find it motivational, especially when I know they are out there giving it all they can. The frustrating thing, for me, is when much credence is given to those that are not out there. Personally, I am out there 4-5 days a week and I was questioning how much I should write about or post/tweet because, well, I am still overweight. What right do I have to write about my training and nutrition when I am still in the shape I am in?

I liken it to someone I used to work with. We were measured in the number of “projects” we had on our plates. At one point I had 13 open projects. They had 3. Yet, they are the one singled out for recognition, presentations, etc., because the 3 they work on are high visibility projects. The funny thing is that the work associated with them is all phone time; selling basically, and once the WORK needs to be put in on development, or authoring a white paper it gets handed off to someone else (me in many cases).

He was all sizzle but no steak.

So, everyone, when you read blogs, or tweets, or Facebook, please use some discretion on whose opinion you put a value on. I know I put stuff out there all the time, but I try to stay informed, and I am quick to point out that I am by far not an expert and that everything I post or say is MY point of view and from MY experience. I am a lifetime student and I gather information from everywhere I can and filter what works for me and what doesn’t.

You Are What You Eat

As I have progressed through the last 7+ years from a 300 pounds couch potato (mmm potato) to a more active athlete the biggest change I have made has not been in the amount of activity I have on a weekly and daily basis (though that has been significant), but more about the way and what I put into my mouth every day.

It has not been easy.

There are days that a pizza calls to me like a siren calling a sailor to his death. When I walked out of the gym where I used to swim, directly across the parking lot is a 5 Guys Burger.

Damn, I really wanted that burger.

But, for the most part, I have been able to push these cravings aside and eat sensibly. I have made some missteps here and there. I am only human. But the trick I have found is not to fall off the wagon and stay off. You need to get right back on that wagon, not the next day, but immediately after you do it.

As most know my weight issues started with my cancer diagnosis in 1994. I went from 180 pounds and peaked at 313. At 313 pounds I decided that enough was enough. I could blame it on cancer, and continue to not try to stop the progress, totally give in and stay on the couch, eating my potato chips that were balanced on my ample gut, and watch The Biggest Loser. I actively sought out a doctor that specialized in weight management. I was tired of hearing the same old story about how my body would never be what it was and that I needed to take the Synthroid and learn to cope with what I was dealt.

No. Not any more.

I was given a full panel of blood work and they found that not only were my TSH levels all out of whack, but my Testosterone levels were at 165 (they are currently at 212). I addition, what little T I had was being overly converted to estrogen, which basically put me in starvation mode and made me hoard fat.

Not good at all.

So I was switched to natural thyroid, put on a weekly regimen of T injections, and given medication to block the estrogen production. Immediately I dropped 25 pounds, and I mean within two weeks. I felt better even at a heavyweight of 270. I completed my first triathlon at that weight, but all it really did was give me the boost I needed to not only maintain my new activities but to strive for that goal weight of 200 pounds I thought was out of reach.

The weight continued to drop until I reached a low point of 236 in the Winter of 2011. By January 2012 I was again 255 pounds, and I am currently at 275. The frustrating thing is that I am doing nothing different than I was initially; I am actually eating even better than I was, I work out 4-5 days a week, and have completed a marathon, a number of half marathons, and 5 half Ironman and 70.3’s. My calorie deficit each day averages 750, which means I should be losing 2 pounds a week. But I am not. I am gaining weight.

I think my body is just very temperamental. I tried juicing and was told by some that juicing is not as good as I thought. I tried Fitlife Foods, which are actually very good meals but can’t afford to keep doing that. Am I doomed to just battle this every day until I can no longer compete, then just gain all the weight back and end up at the end no better off than I was when I started?

It is very discouraging, to say the least, more so because I feel I am doing everything right at least 90% of the time but not getting the results. I have still yet to find someone who can explain to me how a small slice of cake weighing less than 3 ounces turns into 1.5-pound weight gain the next morning.

I mean, how is that even mathematically possible??

Another issue with nutrition is finding what works for you. Those of you currently competing in triathlons, or other endurance races, know that the supplements are not cheap, and if you dole out $50 for a vat of protein powder that you don’t like, or worse that doesn’t like you, well … that’s a lot of money to just throw down the toilet (pun intended).

So, as far as nutrition goes, I keep trying to learn as much as possible. Reading books. Watching documentaries. Talking to fellow athletes. Anything I can to pick up on a tip or two. Everyone has an opinion, and so many contradict each other (Carbs bad! No! Carbs GOOD!) but what it comes down to is eating well and finding out what works for YOU.

  • Eat natural foods that are full of color.
  • If Man had a hand in it, leave it alone.
  • No fast food.

Pretty simple rules …

Now if only the weight would follow …

Thoughts on Getting Older

Somewhere between 1991 and today, a weird thing has occurred.

I have gotten older.

Yes, I know we all get older, but it is something that has become strikingly apparent to me over the course of the last year. It wasn’t an immediate thing that has made me notice, it has been gradual. Aches and pains that used to go away in 24 hours now linger for days. A hard run on Monday night that I could shake off by Tuesday I can still feel on Thursday.

The saying goes that aging is in your head, and I can hear some of you reading this thinking the same thing right now, but the hard fact is that it’s not true. Yes, we don’t have to be old in our minds. My mind is not that of a 55-year-old man (though I am starting to notice some memory loss at times, which is irritating). It is a very different thing to feel young, act young, and to actually be young.

The changes are happening and are evident. Wrinkles are showing in my forehead. My beard is gray. Though my hair is still on my head it is thinning everywhere else (my legs are almost hairless at this point for example). My skin is like sandpaper in places. I wake up to use the bathroom three or four times a night. My eyes refuse to focus unless I have a lot of light. Slow, but sure, signs of a body entering its last phase.

And I am not liking it one bit.

My problem, though, is not that I am mad about getting older. It really doesn’t bother me to be in my 50’s. What bothers me is regret. Regret about the 21 years I wasted being unhealthy. When I left the Navy at 27 in 1991 I was reasonably fit. Even though cancer was a year away, I could still run well, had a few aches or pains, but could hold my own in a beach volleyball game if I was called upon. But then, I just gave up. My weight started climbing and by the time I was 40 I had gone from 185 pounds to 300. Part of this was that my thyroid had shut down and we were just discovering this and the cancer that followed but, and I am ashamed to admit this now, I used this as an excuse to turn into a lazy, couch dwelling, potato chip eating slug. I wasn’t happy with where my life was and where I saw it heading, and instead of strapping up my boots and doing something about it I let life happen to me. So when I woke up at 48, 21 years later, the damage was done.

Seven years later I can say that I am better than I was, but the hard truth is that I cannot reclaim 28 years of sloth. All I can do is stop the tide from getting deeper. Nearly all research that has been done on aging and athletics has shown that you can expect certain declines with age, regardless of fitness level;

  1. Aerobic capacity (VO2) will decline
  2. Maximal heart rate will be reduced
  3. The volume of blood pumped with each heartbeat decreases
  4. Loss of muscle fibers results in loss of mass and decrease in strength

These are all subjective of course. Someone that has been a runner all their lives will not see the decrease a sedentary person will see. The majority of aging studies have also been conducted on what is defined as a general representation of the population; sedentary, overweight, unmotivated. Athletes, especially those that have not had an “off period” will not be represented in that population. So what this is basically saying is that you can think young all you want, but aging is going to get you at some level.

I know I am in better shape and better health today at 55 than I was at 41, and even 31. I have completed 70.3 triathlons, numerous sprint triathlons, a marathon, and a number of half marathons. I could not have done that ten years ago. I don’t eat sugar and limit grains, which has made me healthy on the inside as well. I know all of this, but when I cannot remember a word I want to use, or the names and birthdays of my children and grandchildren, no amount of exercise or diet is going to fix that. No matter how many miles I log on the road running, the aches and pains of psoriatic arthritis are never going to get better, and most likely are going to get worse.

The thought of being “stuck” at 30 is one thing, but being stuck at 55 is a truly scary thing

I feel like I am running out of time. I know it’s a bad way to think, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am obsessed with mortality. It’s not the case. But I also have to be aware of it. In a best-case scenario with the health history and family history, I probably have 15-20 years left. I look at Facebook pictures of people I went to high school with and am shocked at how old some of them look, then I realize I am the same age. I have been lucky to have inherited the Italian genes I have, and I think most would be hard pressed to look at me and say “yes, he looks 55”. The thought of being “stuck” at the age of 30 is one thing because you have so much time to right the ship, but being stuck at 55 is a truly scary thing. We can all read this and say “don’t think that way, you have all the time in the world” but that’s not the truth. Time is fleeting and seems to move faster the older we get.

If given a “do-over” would I choose the same path I chose at 17?

I often joke that “when I grow up I want to be a rock star”. The point is I wonder what my 16-year-old self would think of me today. I can imagine me looking in the mirror in 1979, long curly hair, silk shirt, Napoleon Dynamite glasses, seeing me sitting in an office with lots of fancy degrees, working at a job I do not enjoy for a salary well under what I should be getting in order to pay for things I don’t like, need, nor desire. If I knew then what I have come to learn, would I take the same path? Would I have joined the Navy at 17 instead of staying in high school and going to college? Would I have married so young (19)? When did I start to compromise my needs and wants in life to accommodate others, and would I do it again if granted a second chance?

I know, it’s the pondering of an old man and not productive, but I was hit with a dose of mortality recently and it got me thinking about it, so grant me the time to work through some of it in writing. It’s what I do. The bottom line is that I am trying to get “better” and to make the most of the time I do have left. No one knows when we will be called. I say I have 15-20 years but I could be gone tomorrow, or live another 50. We don’t know.

All we can do is make the most of what we have in this life with the hopes that we don’t make so many mistakes that we are reincarnated as a dung beetle.

That’s all we can really hope for right?

Skinny Fat

Ever heard of this term?

Most people have a different idea of what the term means. On Urban Dictionary, the term Skinny Fat is defined as

A person who is not overweight and has a skinny look but may still have a high fat percentage and low muscular mass. Usually these people have a low caloric diet, that’s why they are skinny, but are not involved in any sports activities or training’s and that’s why they don’t have any muscle. Since between the bone and the skin those people only have fat, the skin can be deformed easily because the skin layer is on an unstable matter (fat).

I am not sure I buy that description. When I think of the term Skinny Fat I think of people who are thin, and appear in shape but eat or behave in such a manner that, metabolism aside, would make an average person overweight. We all know these people. These are the runners who average 8:00 miles and post all over Facebook and Twitter how they scarfed down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s as a “reward” (how undoing all the work you just did is classified as a reward is beyond me). They are the ones that scoff at your No Sugar No Grain effort because, well, it doesn’t affect them in the same way.

The body is a lot like a database … Garbage In Garbage Out

What these people don’t realize is that looking in shape and being able to perform at a high level, the way they are inside, fueling themselves with unhealthy food, is affecting them in ways they may not see for decades.

Listen, folks … according to research stated in several sources (“Wheat Belly”, “Fat Chance”, “Good Calorie Bad Calorie”), only 20-25% of people can process sugar correctly. That means for every 4-5 people you know, only one can afford to eat sugar filled food and process them in a way that it will not affect them health wise. In a triathlon with 3,000 people that is 600. And most of them are the elites at the start of the race. Want proof? Go to a longer distance triathlon (Olympic or a 70.3) and watch the finish line. The elites are coming in under three hours, and they are all fit, fuel with sugar (not all, but most), and train like animals. Then near the end, you see the rest of us. We train hard also, we struggle through the race and finish, but we are overweight.

And where did we make our mistake?

We make mistakes by trying to emulate the professional triathletes eating and training habits. Pick up a magazine and leaf through it. Most are filled with “Training Plans of the Top Pro’s at Kona” or “Mirinda Carfrae’s Nutrition Plan”. We eagerly scoff this stuff up and fix our plans to match the pros.

And it fails 80% of the time.

I was (am) one of these people. Through my first season (2011) I ate like I had been eating to lose the initial weight and dropped from 313 pounds to 236 (between May 2010 and September 2011). Then, because I was now a “triathlete”, I changed my eating and fueling habits in Season 2 (2012) to match what the elites did. I started using sugar filled crap to refuel (chocolate milk anyone??) and added carbs back to my diet. My races got progressively worse through the season and I went from my low of 236 back to 263. Today I am at 278.

I learned my lesson, but here in 2018, I am still struggling to find what I lost in 2011. My weight is still in the 280-pound range and refuses to budge (though most of this is my own fault). The difference is that I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2014 and it has affected my training load. So, even with my healthier eating lifestyle, I am gaining weight. I am finding more and more that even a little bit of processed food, no matter how healthy I think it is, affects me in a negative way. My energy levels have fallen and I find it harder and harder to get it there to train unless it’s a weekend and I have a team obligation, and even then I am finding it harder.

So what is the takeaway?

The people you see running these amazing race times and scarfing the sugar crap may be part of the 20%. And if they are not, it will catch up to them at some point. Some of these people may never be fat or overweight. They may go through life judging their fitness by what they see in the mirror and on the race clock, oblivious to the damage they are causing internally until they drop dead of a heart attack at age 45. Stick to your guns and stay the course. Don’t be swayed by the ads and the magazines. If these athletes and/or celebrities were honest they would tell you that they don’t really use half the crap they are shilling.

Have you ever seen a pro scarfing chocolate milk right after a race? Didn’t think so!

Yes, there are people who are reading this and saying “there’s nothing wrong with sugar. Your body needs sugar. I eat sugar all the time and never have a problem!”, and more than a few that will comment on how they, in fact, use chocolate milk. As I have said, there are people who can do it. There are also people who smoke their whole life and never get cancer. Doesn’t mean that smoking is healthy.

The problem is that most do not see sugar addiction as a valid addiction

As an ending note, I am not talking about anyone specifically. In these types of posts inevitably someone I know thinks I am talking about them. I am not. If you want to eat crap and feel it’s OK, then have at it, but please … PLEASE … don’t characterize it as “healthy” or “OK”.

This is what my base issue is. On a social media post, someone who was having trouble with sugar cravings posted that it bugged them that a gym (in this case Lifestyle Family Fitness, now currently out of business … go figure) would have donuts on Wednesday for their patrons, and how she felt it was detrimental to those struggling. A valid point, and one that I share. Of course, there is always one person who chimes in with the “eyes on your own plate” metaphor. The respondent’s point (and I quote) was “if you want a doughnut just eat a damn doughnut. One doughnut won’t kill you”.

And there is the problem. People do not see a sugar problem, or over-eating, as a real “addiction”. If someone had written “I am a recovering alcoholic and seeing booze all the time is really bothering me” you wouldn’t tell them “hey man, eye’s on your own plate. If you need a drink then have a drink. One drink won’t kill you”.

Or would you?

I think the point is if you think I am talking about you, then maybe you need to really read what I am saying.

Stress and the Modern Human

Stress can be a hard thing to describe to people, especially if they are one of the few that either (a) handles stress well, or (b) has very little stress in their life.

Most people can do neither, and those that are (b) are known as psychopaths.

We ALL have stress in our life. To say we don’t would be, as they say these days, #FakeNews.

Stress is a silent killer. It causes all kinds of problems physically and mentally, but the thing with stress is that it takes a long time for it to kill you. Often it sneaks up slowly over the course of years. People that report having little to no stress are often the most stressed when tested.

But also, while stress is inevitable for all of us, suffering is not.

Our bodies are built to handle stress. When a threat is perceived, the amygdala surveys the scene and determines your response, be it curling into the fetal position or just “letting it go”.  When the amygdala detects a threat it activates the sympathetic nervous system or SNS. The SNS can raise blood pressure and blood sugar to prepare your body for that stressor being perceived. So, like a chain reaction, the amygdala alerts the hypothalamus, which alerts the pituitary, which tells the adrenal gland to release cortisol.

Cortisol is your friend and your enemy. Acute, short-term release of cortisol is necessary and actually good for you. It increases vigilance, memory functions, and immune functions, and redirects blood flow to the muscles, heart, and brain. Our bodies are designed to accept this release is short bursts and small doses. This is what allowed our ancestors to escape attacks from wild animals. But what has happened these days is the stressors are constant. We no longer have wild animals to worry about sporadically, but we have 8-10 hour jobs and endless lines of creditors calling between the hours of 7:30 AM and 9:00 PM. Because fo this constant barrage of stress, our adrenals are pumping cortisol into our bodies without rest. This is what can kill you. Your blood pressure remains high, your brain on constant alert. Eventually, even the fittest person will succumb.

Chronic stress affects your ability to think also. We all have the part of the brain that keeps us out of danger or subconscious, but when constantly under stress and being pumped with cortisol the ability to reason is effected, allowing you to do crazy things that, in a normal state, you would not do. Did we have road rage incidents in 1960 or 1970? Probably, but I am betting that there were much fewer examples, but now when someone cuts you off in traffic or snags a parking spot, or even cuts in front of the line the instinct is now to “lash out” instead of “letting it go”. This is due to stress building up and preventing self-control from taking over.

It also causes the loss of cognitive control, or the ability to inhibit the drive to seek pleasure. This is why those under the highest amounts of stress, usually the lower socioeconomic classes, are the most likely to become addicted to drugs. It is no shock to learn that those lowest on the socioeconomic scale have the highest rates of disease and of cortisol levels.

Now, this is the bad part. Readers of this blog and listeners to the podcast usually have found us because they are either an athlete or aspire to be one. As stated earlier, our bodies are built to accept short bursts of cortisol to remove us from danger, but what if we elevate our blood flow on a constant basis by engaging in endurance sports? You bombard your body with stress, in this case, both mentally and physically, which releases cortisol on a constant basis through long training sessions and 7+ hour events. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, and that can take a while to recover from fully.

But I am not saying you need to stop. What I am saying is that we need to be aware of these issues, and to find balance in our lives. We cannot work 10-12 hours days in a high-stress job, only to leave and put our bodies through 3-4 hours of high-intensity training sessions and not expect that eventually, our bodies are going to quit on us. Be smart and find that pleasure in your life to counter the stressors. Saying to remove stress is a fool’s errand. It cannot be done, and for me to write a list stating that “these are the highest stress-related activities”, though you can find a few of those online, is all ridiculous because stress is a very personal thing. We all perceive it differently.

Be kind to yourself.

The Best Way to Lose Weight

Disclaimer: This is one of those posts that people reading either scream “YES!!!!” or scream “What an Idiot!!!”. Let me start off right away by stating this … if you disagree with anything I am about to talk about, or if it doesn’t jive with what you have seen or experienced, let’s take it at that and move on. Everything … and I mean everything … I write about on this site or on my various social outlets are an n=1 issue. 

I will start by saying this … I have been having a hard time with my weight again … and it has gotten to the point where I have had to take a hard look at what I have been doing vs. what I was doing when my weight was dropping in 2012-2013. After reading through my past logs and postings, and comparing them to what my current practice is, I have found some large differences, and the bottom line is that it all comes down to self-sabotage. I knew what worked in the past, and I have actively gone against what worked, for whatever idiotic reasoning has been in my head. It is time to halt this train and get my head straight again, and this posting is part of that, so bear with me as I share what I have found works and doesn’t work, for me.

The Best Cardio for Losing Fat

Here it is in a nutshell. If you are training for a long course event, say a marathon or long course triathlon (70.3 and up), you are going to have a hard time losing weight. These events and burning fat do not go together. Long form cardio is not effective as a foundation for a weight loss program. Many people and sources have told me this over the past 8 years, from Vinnie Tortorich personally, to books by various authors, but I have fought this concept. I have fought it at my own risk. When my training went from sprint triathlons and half marathons to marathons and 70.3 triathlons I started gaining weight again. Not only did I start gaining weight, I also started getting injured, and the heavier I got the closer I was to getting hurt at some point. A vicious circle.

So what is?

The exact opposite.

The first two years all I was doing was the sprint and Olympic triathlons, and my weight was dropping. My weight was dropping because my training program consisted of 20-mile bike rides vs. 40-50 mile rides. It consisted of swim workouts of 100 meter splits to “long sets” of 400 meters. Runs were 3 miles, not 6-10 miles.

And you know what else I was doing?

I was lifting weights.

But more on that in a little bit.

So when doing shorter, higher intensity, work I went from 303 pounds down to 235 pounds. Then I started adding distance events, marathons, 70.3’s, even attempting to train for a 140.6, and my weight started creeping up again. The most frustrating thing? I KNEW better.

So, What Should I DO to Lose Weight?

So if long course training should not be the foundation, what should be?

The exact opposite. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This means a short burst of energy with short breaks in between.

This means an hour bike ride that is broken up into bursts of 10 minute, out of the seat, sprinting followed by a 1-minute spin, and then hitting it again. This means 1:00 running as hard as you can and followed by a 30-second walk, and then going again. It means sets of 100-meter pool sprints with a 15-30 second rest in between while maintaining race pace as best you can throughout each set.

It also means WEIGHT training.

When I was going to Powerhouse with a co-worker at lunch a couple of years ago, my weight was dropping fast. AND I was getting stronger very quickly. When my psoriatic arthritis flared up for the first time I stopped going, and my weight has been a struggle ever since. I am starting to think that the foundation of a weight loss program should be strength training, even before HIIT. But it has to be done correctly.

I have a history of lifting. It started back in my days playing football and as a member of the weightlifting team, but continued well into my naval service as a way to escape the monotony of being at sea for 6-7 months at a time, and the funny thing is, the lessons that were taught to me back then are proving to still be the most effective.

Muscle hypertrophy is when the metabolic effect happens, and subsequently, weight loss occurs, so the idea is to get into that state and stay there. Hypertrophy happens when the muscle is under tension, so “time under tension” (TUT) is the key. What this normally means, for most people, is the following:

0 – 20 seconds – strength is being built
20 – 40 seconds – strength is being built with the beginning of muscle hypertrophy
40 – 70+ seconds – no strength is being built and the muscle hypertrophy is constant

So, if you load up a bar with 200 pounds and bench press it three times, you are building strength and strength only. If you load the same bar with 100 pounds and bench it to failure, say 30 times, you are into hypertrophy and are starting to burn fat. It’s the old “High Weight Low Rep” to get strong method. Still seems to work.

The additional point is TIBS, or “time in-between sets”. Most people in gyms take forever in-between a set. They lift the weight for 30 seconds, then talk, or text, for 4 minutes before doing the next set.

This accomplishes nothing.

In order to “keep the burn” on, your TIBS should be under 45 seconds.

OK, So I Need to Lift Weights … What Weights??

This is easy …

When you walk into a gym and see all the fancy equipment lining the walls … ignore them… and head straight back to the free weights.

I know that is scary because that’s where the monsters live, but trust me … you only need 5 exercises to gain strength and lose weight.

  • Bench Press
  • Dead Lift
  • Squat
  • Barbell Row
  • Overhead Press

Yes, there are machines where you can do these exercises, and in a pinch, they will work, but free weights not only give you the weight to lift, they also cause you to balance the weight, which makes it a better exercise all around. Machines take the “feel” from you.

When I was going to Powerhouse we split these 5 exercises into two workouts. They were:

  • Workout A: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
  • Workout B: Squat, Overhead Press, Dead Lift

The key, as is true with most thing, is FORM. Make sure you have the form down before adding more and more weight to the bars (and one more reason to use free weights over machines). This might mean lifting only the bar itself, but in the long run, it will save you from injury. If you feel unsure about asking for help, YouTube (and Endurance for Everyone has our own channel HERE) has plenty of video’s showing form and function. Kelly Slater is a valuable tool on there.

So .. That’s ALL There Is?

Of course not. As I stated in the beginning, everyone is different, so feel free to play with this a bit. The core is sound, however. Long Course Training should not be your base for losing weight. You will end up frustrated and injured. I know this for a fact, even if I don’t practice what I preach.

You also MUST watch what you eat. Just like a computer, if you put crap in you will get crap results. Eat no processed food, including sugar and grains (I know I will get comments on that one). Naturally occurring sugar, like in fruits and vegetables, are fine but cut out the artificial sweeteners, the Dixie Crystals, etc. If you need carbs, then fine, but it doesn’t mean eating pasta unless you can lead me to a pasta tree.

I hope this helps some of you.