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Where I think about how I got here.

by John on December 9th, 2014

After 40 minutes of pedaling, I was a sweaty mess thinking “I can’t believe I used to do this all the time.”

See, I haven’t been doing much in the way of cardio lately. Heck, I’ve barely been doing any cardio. But, it was a Monday, my legs were sore, I had over an hour to kill between work & symphony, and taking myself out to dinner that entire time would have meant over-eating (because I don’t trust myself with spare time on my hands), so I chose to try some relatively-light cardio to see if it might alleviate the ache in my legs (it did, somewhat, but that’s not what this post is about).

It used to be that I’d head to the gym, do a 30 minute “isolation” circuit: 10 stations of muscle isolation “station” exercises for a minute apiece, 10 stations of stair running for a minute per station, 10 minutes of rest (broken up into 20, 30 second intervals between the machines and the step) before sitting at an exercise cycle or elliptical machine for whatever time I had remaining, making myself good & sweaty.

I was telling myself, in my sweaty state, that, well, “if I only knew then, what I know now, I’d have done everything differently.”

But, well, that was wrong. Because I don’t think I’d have had any success if I had been doing what I do now, back when I started getting serious.

In January 2013, I weighed over 250 pounds (and wouldn’t even look at the body fat reading on my bathroom scale) and joined a weight-loss challenge. I lost weight – a fairly drastic amount, if I’m honest, by logging everything I ate (I’d turn it into a game by logging what I planned to eat before I ate it). By cutting caloric intake and doing a lot of cardio, I created a sizable calorie deficit; I dropped weight.

And the scale showed it. There was near-instantaneous feedback . . . every week, on Wednesday, I’d step on the scale and it would show a number lower than the previous Wednesday. And I was happy. And I continued.

But the mind and the body have a funny way of playing together as you work toward a goal. As the weight stopped dropping as quickly, I was feeling “skinny fat.” Simply, there was less of me, but I wasn’t feeling all that much better (though, well, I was able to climb the steps while carrying both children without getting winded . . . so I should have felt better than I did before I started – but it’s easy to look past stuff like that when you’re caught in the now). However, I knew I wasn’t following a sustainable plan. My days were getting busier and busier (funny how kids and a job do that), and I had already had to cut cardio from 4-5 hours a week to less than 2 hours/week. I was still logging my food – but I wasn’t eating at a deficit . . . I was getting hungry more often, and when you factor in the reduced amount of time that I was doing cardio, well, I stopped losing weight . . . and there were times that I started adding weight.

So I started research to see how I could make my working out more efficient – and it looked like strength training was the answer. So, I left that circuit behind and learned how to squat. Suddenly, instead of having to carve out, at least, an hour for the gym, to make it worth it, a gym session that lasted a full hour, even when combined with a shower, was the exception. My weight . . . it stayed right where it was. But I started to get stronger. It appeared that my body was more than happy to burn fat and build muscle.

And then I started karate with CJ.

And with that, I read a little about Bruce Lee, and his workout philosophy, and his diet, and how he eschewed refined flour & sugar, well before the term “paleo diet” was even a gleam in a young marketer’s eye, because their calories were empty. I thought I’d try kicking refined flours and sugar for a little while (well, I’ll allow myself a glass of wine most nights . . . so I’ll have some sugar), just to see what happened.

Over the past three months, I’ve stepped onto my scale every morning — this is a scale that sends an electronic pulse through your body to try to determine your body fat percentage. Over these past three months, I’ve seen my body fat percentage, according to this device1, drop from 17% to 13%. All along, the times that I actively feel “hungry”? Well, that’s happening far less often than when I was dealing with a strict calorie deficit.

The hardest part of this change has been trying to ignore the amount of fat I’m ingesting . . . living in a “low fat/no fat” world, it’s difficult to wrap your brain around “eating fats doesn’t necessarily make you fat”.

My fitness plan, at present, is as such: focus on strength training and only do cardio (and light cardio, at that) if I have time on my hands2. Worry about the quality of calories, as opposed to the volume of calories (though I continue to log everything). Avoid processed foods as much as possible, making whatever I can (just to ensure that I know what’s in it; besides, I enjoy cooking).

And a big part of me wishes I had been following this plan since January 2, 2013.

But, with this plan? The weight shown by my scale? Well, I don’t worry about it nearly as much. That drop in body fat percentage? 4% over 3 months, if that’s accurate, that’s a fairly sizable jump in a relatively short amount of time — but on a week by week basis, there would, barely, have been movement. And with the finicky nature of my scale, there are weeks that it’d show in the wrong direction because of Chinese take-out the night before, or something, despite a mostly on-target week. If I were following my current plan, when I first started, the lack of immediate results would have discouraged me to no end; I would have quit..

It’s easy for me to say “what I’m doing now is better than what I was doing yesterday . . . but if I hadn’t done what I was doing yesterday, I’d have never gotten where I am. I know that . . . and, it’s entirely possible that, tomorrow, I’ll find something that works, even better, for me.

TL;DR;: do what works for you, adjust accordingly. Accept that others are doing what works for them, unless you happen to know where they happen to be on this fitness journey.


1 I debate the actual reliability of this device — depending on time of day and the amount of salt/water I’ve had over the past previous 24 hours, this reading can appear quite different . . . but I do trust the trend of the numbers.
2 For example, last night, I was home with a whole hour of unscheduled time . . . so I sat on my spinning bike and played video games. And it felt wonderful.
12 Comments
  1. Tracey Shaver permalink

    I’ve been debating this lately as well. Seems I’m going backwards at the moment, since I can’t do my functional training class with an injured hamstring.

    • Injuries really, really suck . . . especially since I know you’re someone who thrives on the social aspect of the classes – somewhere along the way, I got myself into the habit of working out solo, mainly because I didn’t need to worry about letting anyone down, aside from myself, if I couldn’t make it to a class (the idea of taking up a spot in a class, but not being able to go, but possibly having someone not be able to attend because of my missed reservation makes me incredibly timid about agreeing to attend any class)

  2. I struggle with the “quality calories” issue.

    I’m genetically predisposed to a fast metabolism so I can eat my fair share of crap and not gain weight. But I don’t feel good when I do.

    I also do not NEED to exercise a whole lot to maintain my weight but I don’t feel good when I don’t.

    Blessing/curse.

    I know most people would say BOO HOO and I have to agree with them.
    It’s the least-bad problem to have when it comes to fitness, I suppose.

    Still, I worry that I’m not feeding my family as well as I can and that in the long run, my body (and my kids’ bodies) won’t be as healthy.

    So.

    I’ll keep trying to work on the ‘quality’ of my calories.
    And I’ll keep reading your posts because you’re an inspiration.

    • I’m truly honored that you read me. Truly.

      The problem I have is that I’m not quite disciplined enough to say “I did this & I felt that way.” I use the reports from my fitness tracking report to say “this is how my weight/body-fat tracked” and “this is how much I worked out & what I did when I did work out” and “this is what I ate” and, well after the fact, I can start putting together data correlations (and, to be honest, I like working with data, so it doesn’t feel nearly as arduous as I’m likely making it sound). What I’m basically saying is, if I lose the “log everything, religiously” aspect of what I’m doing, it would all fall apart, I fear.

  3. I joined the gym, and my attendance is still sporadic, but I am working on logging what I eat. I haven’t yet decided exactly what to do with the information (well, it’s only been a week), but I think it’ll be useful to have.

    • It will be useful – it may just take a long time to figure out how to use it. I think I’m somewhat unique because I can point to a specific day and say “here, here is where I got serious,” but, even looking back over charts of calorie intake and weight and body fat percentage, I can figure out “this is when I tried this or that”. Now, I’m at a place where I feel like I’m, somewhat, on auto-pilot, as far as planning goes.

      • Tragic Sandwich permalink

        I have no problem with it taking a while; it took me at least a year to figure out how I wanted to use Twitter.

        I have noticed that while I blow through my counts in most categories, I tend to eat less sodium that they recommend. Over the past few years I’ve noticed that I can’t eat salty things the way I used to, so this seems in line with that.

  4. Man, you and my husband could have some conversations. He is always talking about how ingesting real, full fats has helped him. I don’t disagree, but he will talk and talk and talk about it.

    My problems are a) I depend too much on the fact that I am about to start *real* training (any day now….) for a half in March and not enough on the quality of my food intake; and b) I blow off cross training like an old boyfriend. I KNOW these are my faults. I think I’m just too lazy to be a REALLY fit person. But I do remember how great I felt when I was at my most fit the last time I trained. I’m just having a hard time getting back into the habit after such a long hiatus.

    • Yeah — I’ll admit that when I switched to making coffee with butter & coconut oil, I started really sensing a change in my energy levels through the day along with an overall sense of “being less hungry”. And if given the opportunity, well, I won’t shut up about it.

      As far as training . . . yeah, working your way back is . . . tedious and difficult and annoying and horrible – there’s no two ways about it. The fact that you can’t do x now doesn’t change the fact that you know you once could do x, so the baby steps required to get yourself back to doing x, well, they feel stupid.

      All I can say is, well, they’re worth it when you’re about to do x+y.

  5. Ok so how does your running/racing play into this? You say only do what fits in with time, I know you do fit in a lot of time, but when you are training for something bigger than a 10k, how do you make that work when your focus is on strength training?

    • Honestly, Jess? I can still pull a half-marathon out of my ass — truly. If you showed up on my front door tomorrow saying “let’s run a half marathon” and, provided that I hadn’t worn myself out the day before, I’d be up for it — likely running a 1:50-1:55.

      A full marathon? Well, last November, I managed one with my focus, still mostly, on strength training. What I did was show up early & leave early from work on Mondays, spending between 1 & 2.5 hours on a trail, running. It, ultimately, was insufficient — I should have gotten more running in. My next marathon is April 11 . . . my hopes are to trade a day or two of strength training a week, in the mornings, into 40 minute runs. Then, do the same thing to fit long runs into Mondays between work & symphony.

      • Awesome. Well do some type of live tweeting or something. We’ll cheer you on. And I’ll just shoot for a marathon in 2016.

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