Body Accounting and The Quantified Self

March 3, 2009

Thinking about one of Kevin Kelly’s blogs, The Quantified Self, has me thinking about what those of us who start to get serious about our personal fitness begin to do. We take up some forms of body accounting, maybe starting with using a digital scale to record our weight each morning, or a tape measure around the waist. I record this data for reference and to create a trend line as to where my body mass is going. I also weigh and measure much of the food I eat, or at least gage the calorie amount. This is entered in a sort-of double entry bookkeeping model in my head, where I know that if I fill my body beyond a certain energy level, it will begin to store fat for my future needs. I track my sets and reps and poundages at the gym, and when I do steady-state cardio I record the times and settings. I know there is a dose-response effect curve with exercise, and I measure how much I need verses fatigue and mood variables. Sleep also gets measured, at least in terms of hours in bed.

I suppose I am becoming more of a self-tracker, and I plan to do more of that as technology improves. If better tools existed, we could reach more of our human potential. Check out Kelly’s site – it will give you something to think about.

Not sure how I missed the release, but there is a new book out by Doug McGuff and John Little, who are prominent advocates of high-intensity (single set to failure) weight training. It’s called Body by Science and it looks like it might be worth checking out. Not sure when I will have time to read it, but I will post a review when I get a hold of a copy.  I’m partial to many of the HIT tenants, although I am “self-experimenting” with slightly higher volume right now. One thing I think about every day: I wish I could exercise in a professional noise-free, effort-focused environment like the ones the HIT and SuperSlow advocates favor. The local gym chain where I work out is full of distractions and multiple blaring TV sets, and idle conversations. Not to mention equipment picked for its low cost, and not its superior functionality.



October 12, 2008

Some visitors end up here by searching for the Italian fitness fad Slowfit.  Sorry about that. When I came up with the name for this blog I didn’t know it existed.  Like the fitness company from Italy, I was inspired by the Slow Movement.  If you don’t know about Slow Food yet, it started as a reaction to a McDonald’s hamburger restaurant opening in Rome.  There is no central body governing the Slow Movement, and no really clear definition of what it’s all about.  The movement seems to center around a return to traditional values in areas like food production, cooking, and food consumption. It’s tied in with the popular locavore and organic movements often talked about today. That seems like a good thing, and the quality of restaurants I have eaten in that subscribe to the Slow Food philosophy has been high.

What about Slowfit?  Slow Fitness, to me, means not following fads and trends, but making instead incremental improvements, encouraging safe and productive physical activity, focusing on what is achievable and sustainable in terms of fitness and exercise.  What I don’t care for about the Italian movement, also known as the Fausto di Giulio method, is that it appears to be yet another marketing based fitness method. This time focusing on a stuffed triangle that the exerciser sits or lies on while performing movements.  It’s like the physio-ball or yoga ball idea, but with a triangle instead of a circle under you.  I’m not sure how that relates to slowing down, moving back to basics or back to traditional patterns of exercise and movement.

So, if you have arrived here looking for the Italian Slowfit site, you will be dissapointed in the lack of photos of pretty models stretching and moving on triangle bean bags.  But, take a look around and you might find something helpful in the archives.  Take a minute to reflect on what Slow Fitness really might mean to you, before you move on to check out the name-branded method.

Physical Activity Guidelines 2008

October 9, 2008

The US Department of Health and Human Services has released government guidelines for physical activity.  Nothing groundbreaking. The recommendations for adults:

  • strength training 2 days per week, 8-12 reps for each major muscle group
  • aerobic activity: if moderate, 2.5 hours per week; if vigorous 1.25 hours per week

Moderate is basically going for a walk, something like the daily 30 minute after dinner walk Ellington Darden recommends in his fat loss books. Vigorous activity includes traditional cardio activities, like running, jogging, biking, but also karate and fast dancing.

I have been thinking more about getting a pedometer to wear all day and have some feedback as to my activity level. I walk and move a lot at work, but I rarely get out to exercise in the evenings, other than my strength training.  The best pedometers for me would be small and simple, I really only care about the number of steps I take each day.

More on the guidelines to follow.

New Program for Fall

September 3, 2008

Inspired by Ellington Darden’s article Florida Dreamin’, and his book Flat Stomach ASAP, I’m setting out to do something similar.  If you like Dr. Darden’s writings, check out his short piece called Chiseled Abs: A Little Understanding Means A Lot. He tells it like it is, no b.s., which is unusual in the “abs industry.”  If you don’t know Dr. Darden’s writing, he is associated with the Nautilus and Med-X fitness equipment companies, and most recently with the Bowflex, and has been writing books about fitness for years. His perspective is from the high-intensity training school of strength training, where usually a weight lifting exercise is done for a single set until the trainee can’t lift the weight anymore.  This approach is not the mainstream, but it is consistent with the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine.  Except for the fact that Dr. Darden does not recommend cardiovascular exercise for slimming.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if one of his clients were active, walked or played some recreational sports, though.  

So, what am I up to. I will lift 3x/week, a single set to muscular fatigue of: leg press, leg curl, machine crunch, chest press, seated row, overhead seated press, cable pulldown, seated chest flyes, preacher biceps machine, triceps pushdown.  10 exercises, with three seconds of lifting and three seconds of lowering, for 8-12 reps each (increasing the weight when I can get over 12). After the initial workout or two, I will lift as many times as I can until fatigue even if it goes over 12 reps. Then I will increase the weight in the next workout.  Since I get hardly any activity outside of work and exercise, I will start each session with 5 mins on a bike, do my lifting, then return to the bike for whatever time makes it a 20 minute total session.  As long as my heart rate stays elevated, I will comply with the basic exercise recommendations of the AHA/ACSM.  Keep in mind that this is not what Dr. Darden would advise, based on my reading of his works.

Diet plan will be 1500 calories per day. Less than the 1900 in the Florida Dreamin’ article, because I am older, fatter and less active.  It will be as follows:

Breakfast (400 calories): 2 large omega-3 eggs, 1 packet instant oatmeal (TJ’s Heart Healthy flavored brand), 1 cup strawberries, coffee, 1/2 cup skim milk.  Alternative: 2 frozen TJ’s blueberry waffles, 2 T maple syrup, 1 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup skim milk, coffee

Lunch (400 calories): 2 slices 100% whole wheat bread, 3 oz deli chicken/turkey, 1 oz slice Jarlsberg lite, 1 T sweet pickle relish, 1 T light mayo, 2 tomato slices.  Alternative: 2 slices whole wheat, 1 T light mayo, 1 T relish, 1/2 can tuna, 1/2 apple, 1/2 cup canned corn (recipie from Dr. Darden’s site)

Dinner (400 calories): choice of frozen meal: for example TJ’s Kung Pao Chicken Rice Bowl, or Lean Cusine Comfort Classics Chicken Parmesean + 1 1/2 slices whole wheat bread (to make the calories up to 400), etc. See this article by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for a list of better frozen meal options.  I realize this isn’t for everyone, but for a time pressed bachelor it makes sense to enable having some variety and calorie control with no waste, cooking, cleaning, or time wasting.  I stole the idea from Dr. Darden’s article.  It’s hard to be too specific on the meals right now, depends on what’s in the store or on sale.  Alternative if I want to cook: 1/2 cup dry whole what pasta, 3 oz grilled chicken, 1 cup broccoli, 1 t olive oil, 2-3 T pasta sauce.

Snacks (300 calories):  2 string cheese sticks, apple, orange.  May substitute in some almonds, yogurt, etc.  Right now I have some string cheese to use up.

Shortfalls?  Well, obviously there isn’t enough vegetation.  It probably technically hits the 400 gram “five a day” standard but mostly because of fruit.  Right now I am going for convenience, and a way to avoid calorie bombs when I get home late and feel wiped out. Usually I order some take out, and have some beers. Frozen entrees are not necessarily health food, but I am looking for improvement not perfection. I will be looking to make it more healthy after I pick up some momentum.  

The other shortfall is so little exercise. We’ll see how it goes. The scale and the mirror will tell the tale, and I can adapt from there.

9 Ways to Save Money and Eat Healthy

August 7, 2008
  1. Start the day with breakfast at home. No expensive and fattening bagels or muffins on the run to work. Even on weekends, you don’t really need that lumberjack special, have something better for you, home made. At least you can have real maple syrup on your frozen waffles like I do.
  2. No coffee out. I wish I would consistently follow this one myself. Most of my pocket cash goes to these sellers of adrenalin by the cup. Not that coffee is so unhealthy, just expensive unless you make it at home. And you can take it with you.
  3. Brown bag your lunch. Try the eBags Lunch Cooler, or something similar. I usually bring a sandwich, with quality nitrate-free fillings which are much better than what I would get at a deli or cafeteria. Bring along some fruit for a side. If you have the patience to get it ready, a big salad with some chicken on it can work as well.
  4. No take out! This can be a diet and a budget killer. Nothing like ordering out after a long and hard day at work. Think instead about easy, lazy cook at home weeknight meals. If you are a crusty bachelor consider adding some quality frozen entrées to your regimen.
  5. Rely on frozen vegetables. After a completely unscientific analysis of where my wastage was going in the kitchen, these were the findings. From my greengrocer, into my refrigerator, into my trash. Plans change, and produce goes bad quickly. Quality frozen vegetables are pre-washed, precut, and cook up fast in the microwave. Some butter or olive oil, some spice, and you have a healthy side dish.
  6. Plan and eat three meals per day, not an endless array of grazing and snacking. You will be surprised at how much you can save in terms of cash and calories by not keeping snack food on hand.
  7. Eat the same things over and over again. Admit it to yourself. Even if you are nowhere near as repetitive as Slowfit, you probably have a limited number of things you eat for your meals. When you hit the grocery store, do it with a plan.  Run through your typical meals in your head and make sure you have enough of the usual not to run out for a few days.
  8. No nutritional supplements. If you feel compelled to waste money, a cheap store brand multi-vitamin may be a lesser evil.  You will find more and more people pushing these on you, since they are a high margin, recurring purchase. Say no!
  9. Be careful of organic and local, artesian products. I love the idea, too, but they are often 50-150% more expensive than mass produced varieties. Stick with what you can afford, and what you enjoy. A trip to Whole Foods can blow a middle-class food budget in no time at all.

Why don’t French women get fat?

August 4, 2008

I was reading the fabulous and elegant Lissa over at Slenderizing and I noticed she has a link to Mireille Guiliano on her sidebar. If the name doesn’t wring a bell, she was popular a few years ago for a book called French Women Don’t Get Fat.  She recently retired from her position as CEO of the luxury brand Veuve Clicquot, and seems to now promote her books and Champagne to the world.

Even though I’m not French, nor am I woman, I like the idea of the book. It focuses on hedonism, getting pleasure from our food and drink, which I heartily approve. She does suggest writing things down, keeping some sort of record of what you eat for reflection later. Along with the usual stories, recipies, and other filler, she suggests smaller portions of real food, and paying attention to the taste and qualtity of our food to increase satisfaction.

She reminds me of some humorous advice I read on a blog recently, that you should always eat like you are on a first date. [If you wrote this, let me know, so I can give you due credit.] Not mounds of food, but good food in reasonable amounts, and not so much to drink that it crosses over from pleasant relaxation into drunkeness.

The No S Diet

August 2, 2008

While looking around the Internet, I came across a great site written by librarian turned programmer, Reinhard Engels called Everyday Systems. He’s best known for his diet meme, The No S Diet, which can be summarized in 14 words as follows:

  1. No Sweets
  2. No Snacks
  3. No Seconds
  4. Except Sometimes on days that begin with S

He doesn’t really talk about what kinds of food you should eat, just portion control, with the No Stacking rule.  In other words, you can only have one plate of food at a meal, and you can’t stack things on your plate to get extra.

This is the type of diet advice that even my grandmother could understand and adhere to. It aims to bring us back to our culturally determined, normal meal patterns.  There’s nothing to buy, and even a bulletin board on his site for you to get advice. He did write a book called The No S Diet: The Strikingly Simple Weight-Loss Strategy That Has Dieters Raving–and Dropping Pounds, but between his site and the support out there on his message board you probably wouldn’t need it unless you are having problems getting to a normal pattern of intake.

Mr. Engels has put together a few other systems worth taking a look at.  One is called Glass Ceiling and entails having a moderate amount of alcohol as your maximum daily intake. Others include ideas for not spending too much time surfing the web, and working out with a sledgehammer at home.  I’m not joking, besides the No S Diet, he’s probably best known for his Shovelglove.

While it’s only codified common sense, it has been a kick in the pants to a number of people, and has them going in the right direction: portion control, good habit formation, moderation, flexibility, and accountability. The founder is adamant that to make progress, a regular exercise program should be maintained. Food choices and serving sizes would also have to depend on one’s size and objectives, as would the S day excersions away from controlled intake.