Monday, January 14, 2013

The Special K Challenge

I have a lot of plans for this blog. Pretty soon I will do a few posts about marketing strategies that companies use and how to recognize them, but that's going to take some research on my part. Hopefully I get the first one out sometime this week. Right now however, I thought I'd tackle The Special K Challenge since I have been seeing the commercials for it a lot lately.

The Special K Challenge promises that you could lose up to six pounds in a week. If you've been following me so far, you know that this isn't safe. You also know that it's hardly maintainable. I filled out the information on the first page, and it gave me a nice little meal plan. Here it is in a few screen shots (yes, I have Facebook open. Don't we all?)

First things first, what do you consider yourself? I chose foodie, because I love to cook:

So, after filling out when I wanted to get started and what type of meals I wanted, it gave me my customized meal plan. Let's look at what it's telling me to eat. Breakfast is Special K Fruit and Yogurt Cereal for 272 calories. 

Ok, not too bad I guess. Kinda boring in my opinion, but to each his/her own. Next up, the morning snack (good, because after cold cereal for breakfast I'd be ready to eat my shoe by 10am.)

Huh. A Special K Blueberry Cereal Bar for 90 calories. Another cereal related meal. It looks tasty, albeit a bit sugary. I'm sure lunch will be nice and filling since this will keep me satiated for about five seconds.

Oh, another meal bar. Fun. Oh, but LOOK! In the tiniest letters it says, "and vegetables!" Well, that's cool. I'll have a glorified granola bar and steamed vegetables for lunch. Oh, man. I'll be ready to fight anything after this!




Ugh -- why am I so hungry!? Thank the gods my snack is on the horizon! Let's see what wonderful, delectable snack Kellogg's has planned for me! After all, I did say I was a foodie and this is a personalized meal plan.

Woooow. Crackers. Seriously? Special K brand crackers. At least they tried to appeal to my foodie nature by giving me the "Savory Herb" ones. Dinner better be good.

Oh, dear god! My first real meal of the day! This is the most exciting moment of my life (almost as exciting as the fact that I have a Facebook notification!) This seems like a nicely balanced, well rounded dinner. Too bad I didn't taste it as I was scarfing it down out of pure, ravenous hunger.

Ok, so joking aside, this is the most boring meal plan I have ever seen. Sugary cereal for breakfast. A sugary cereal bar for snack, a sugary meal bar for lunch, crackers, and then an honest meal for dinner. I'm sure you will lose weight after the first week, but it doesn't tell you that you'll also lose your lust for life. Also note, that every meal up until dinner is a Kellogg's related product. I'm sure their motives were incredibly pure when drawing up this personalized meal plan, don't you?

Let's tally up the calorie total, shall we? 

Breakfast -  272
Snack #1 -  90
Lunch    -    267 
Snack #2 -  100
Dinner     -  493 


Calorie total: 1,222

Yikes. This is more than 100 calories below my BMR and I'm a healthy weight. For an overweight person, this is most definitely below their BMR. This is dangerous and unmanageable for any length of time.

Note: The website does say you can eat as much fruit and vegetables as you want throughout the day however, it's hard to find. I actually went back to try to find where it says that again and I can't find it for the life of me. I'm almost positive that a lot of people will follow the recommended meal plan to the "T" in order to take advantage of it's effectiveness which will only bring you up to the 1,222 calories.

Is it effective? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes when you aren't eating enough, you won't lose weight. Your body interprets it as starving and holds onto those calories consumed more tightly. This is one reason people might hit a plateau. If it does work, and you do lose weight, how long must you stick to the eating plan? Well, forever if you haven't taught yourself how to just eat normally and healthfully. I would want to strangle somebody if I had to subsist on different forms of cereal forever. I'd much rather eat a wide variety of satisfying, healthy foods throughout the day. Maybe an egg white and veggie omelet with toast and fruit? Or a whole wheat english muffin with peanut butter and some cantelope and greek yogurt, etc. 

Maybe even those sound scary and unsatisfying giving the way you are eating now, but you have to admit, they sound an awful lot more satisfying than cereal for most of the day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Aspiration Therapy . . . wait, what?

I have recently come across something that immediately sent me flying to blogger. I am not an expert when it comes to bariatric surgery by any means, and although I recommend eating healthy and exercising over getting something as invasive as surgery, for those people who are severely obese and in serious health danger, surgery might just be their only option.

Apparently, there is a new form of surgery being done by a company called Aspire Bariatrics, where a tube is implanted into the stomach and connecting to a port on the outside of the skin giving you the ability to drain a portion of your food into the toilet to save calories.

Notice, the website also explains (emphasis is mine), "The AspireAssist is used in conjunction with a lifestyle modification program, and requires careful and comprehensive medical monitoring."

What scares me the most about this is the fact that ports can be susceptible to infection and the fact that eating more than your body needs and dumping a third of it into the toilet isn't teaching the person anything about how much food they should actually be consuming. I don't know what this company provides regarding lifestyle modification and coaching, but it seems rather backwards to install something that still allows a person with a food disorder to eat more than they should be.

The website also claims: "Patients can eat and drink normal amounts and types of food with the AspireAssist. Although patients will learn healthier behaviors over time with lifestyle counseling, no sudden diet changes are required to achieve weight loss."

I really don't know how I feel about this. I suppose if it's more affordable, and someone doesn't mind having to deal with the seemingly uncomfortable process involved, it might be a more viable option for severely obese patients that need to drop the weight for extreme health circumstances. However, I worry that this will become a new go-to for people who aren't within that danger zone. Another quick fix that doesn't solve the root cause of their weight issues and, not to sound dramatic, but my brains first screaming reaction was that this sounds like doctor supervised purging. Not to mention that a company saying "no sudden diet changes are required to achieve weight loss" sounds like they are using a marketing strategy.

Like I frequently see with others who have gone through surgery, quite often the weight creeps back on when the stomach expands over time. What happens when a person achieves their goals through aspiration and is once again thrown back into the real world? I just hope the counseling to go along with the procedure really helps the patients taper off and gives them the support and knowledge they need for the rest of their lives.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Biggest Loser (of muscle, water, and motivation.)

It's that time of year again. The Biggest Loser time. I'll admit that The Biggest Loser helped inspire me to work out when I had my daughter and needed to rid myself of those ten extra pounds. The stories are definitely inspirational. They are heart wrenching and real and very similar to a lot of other people who wish for the help that the show provides the contestants. I love watching people change themselves. I love watching them discover what a healthier lifestyle can do for them and I think it's good to expose the issue of childhood obesity in the latest installment. The show helped me initially entertain the idea of becoming a trainer and I won't pretend that it didn't.

The show, however, is very unrealistic for the majority of the population and perpetuates a few dangerous and shameful untruths.  The first one is the emphasis on pounds lost at each weigh-in. The danger of a show like this, and it's been spoken about constantly since it first aired in 2004, is the game show aspect. Let's not forget that these contestants are there to win money. Yes, a healthier life is a big goal as well, but the money is the carrot at the end of the stick. Anytime a big prize is used to inspire people, sacrifices are made in the name of health and well being and Jillian Michaels will be standing right there to give you the stink eye when she feels you haven't done enough.

The contestants weigh-in every week. The most anyone should ever lose in one week is two pounds at absolute max. In the beginning, it's understandable to lose a bigger number as water bloat is shed with exercise and change in diet, but as a regular amount of weight to lose consistently, 1-1 1/2 lb should be a healthy goal. In the show, we see people lose double digits, sometimes every week! Most people don't get overweight or obese in a very short amount of time. The idea that you can lose it all in such a short amount of time is dangerous and unrealistic. Like I've said before and will continue to say again and again, slow and steady wins the race. By taking your time, and making sometimes a multiple year commitment to lose the weight, you will insure that one, you get accustomed to a new way of life and two, you don't lose muscle mass as you lose weight.

People tend to focus so much on fat loss and the number on a scale, that they completely ignore muscle.

Which is why The Biggest Loser is so dangerous. When you start losing more than a pound and a half a week, you are at risk of losing muscle mass instead of fat. Once your body consumes the calories easily available, it can start to react as if you are starving and it will hold more strongly onto the calories you consume. Your body's functions will force you to hold on to the best available calorie storage (fat) and start stealing it from your muscles. For someone who has spent years crash dieting, it's possible a lot of the weight lost over those years has come from muscle instead of fat. If this is you, it can take a long time working at building your muscles back up (and one reason why you have a slow metabolism.) It's a very slow process and even resistance training (the best way to help get it back) takes a long time with consistency and results are variable. So the most important thing I can tell you is to lose weight slowly and DON'T LOSE MUSCLE. In The Biggest Loser, a man can lose 50lbs in the course of two weeks. Ideally, this should be what you lose in a year. After all, muscle is what makes you move and the stronger your muscles are, the more efficient your body will become at moving. Balancing will become easier, working out won't take as much of an effort and you'll benefit from a little extra calorie burn from the muscle in place of the fat.

Basically, if you are losing a large amount of weight in a week, you are working too hard and/or eating too little. This will ultimately lead to muscle loss and burnout. It's just not maintainable.

My life has been surrounded by people who crash diet and lose a large amount of weight only to gain back from half, to double the weight. A diet/exercise regimen is not something that can be done for a short amount of time and than stopped once the goal is achieved. Diet and exercise is a lifetime commitment you make for yourself. You have to change the way you live and the slower this is done, the more permanently it sticks. The Biggest Loser helps perpetuate the myth that by going to the campus, being forced to eat and work out a certain way, the pounds will melt off (and they will, while you are there) and life will be 100% fixed afterward. It won't. They make a huge deal in the show when one of the contestants gains the weight back. The contestant didn't fail The Biggest Loser, The Biggest Loser failed them. They didn't treat the root of the issue, which is teaching people how to become a new person. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT. If you have an addiction, or a bad habit you have had for decades, 9 months isn't enough to fix it. Nine months of intense training isn't going to help the emotional stumbling blocks either. It takes a long time and dedication, but it can be done successfully. People fight and overcome everyday.

The Biggest Loser is the fitness equivalent of Celebrity Rehab. It's interesting, it can be inspirational, but it's TV and will always continue to operate on what will get the best ratings. Pay attention to all of the shameless plugs throughout that show. It's ridiculous. Will a show that depicts people losing weight slowly and successfully last on NBC year after year and continue to make money for the company? Of course not. A show where people lose a drastic amount of weight where we get to see a great before and after photo in the course of one season? Well, we already know the answer.

 You don't need to workout until you throw up every day to see results. You don't need to run a mile the first day to see results (this is actually a really horrible idea and shame on The Biggest Loser for that as well.) If you're going to watch the show for inspiration, go for it. I completely understand and I still find myself watching it from time to time. Just understand that this is far from realistic and that you are not failing because you can't do what they do. You most probably shouldn't do what they do. It took years to get where you are and it will take years to get it off, but it can and will happen with determination and belief in yourself. Go easy on yourself and make one small goal today, and when that's accomplished make another, and then another. You'd be surprised at how well that works.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Case Against Insanity

You've seen them all. The infomercials; slamming you in the face when it's too early for SyFy to play what you really want to watch. You are stuck, brain dead, in the wee hours of the morning, hating yourself. Trim bodies. Crazy workouts. With enigmatic names like P90x or INSANITY, they slam into your optic nerve with promises of strong, slim physiques and enough energy to finish a triathlon, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and punch a grizzly bear in the face, all in one sunny afternoon.

The thing with these is, they are for people who are already fit. So many times I have watched as untrained people buy these tapes, perform their workouts trying their damnest to mimic the instructor only to injure themselves in some way, or give up because it's far too difficult.

I've tried Insanity. I've done the workouts. I can not do them at the instructors pace, and it would take a lot of time in order to do so. The majority of these exercises are plyometric (fast, powerful movements) which are great forms of exercise, but for someone who is new to exercise, or just new to plyometric training, these tapes should be done under supervision. If done incorrectly, you are setting yourself up for a major injury, and then where would you be?

Now, they do mention in the videos that the movements should be done right and at your own pace, but nowhere in the video do we see someone at a level of just starting out. The commercials show people who were overweight or obese who supposedly lost it all through Insantity, and I find it a little dishonest to portray this regimen as if it's in anyway ok for someone to spend the hundreds of dollars and do this at home as their first introduction to exercise.

Another problem I have with P90X and Insanity, aside from the possibility of injury, is how difficult the workout is. Again, someone who is athletic or more accustomed to plyometrics might actually get something out of these videos, but for someone just starting out and not used to a large amount of physical exertion, these can seem a bit daunting and extremely strenuous. My workout/weight loss philosophy tends to be "slow and steady wins the race." You want to create permanent change in people and you can't do that if things seem ridiculously hard. Small changes over time will soon become a normal way of life. As is generally the case, quick weight loss will be followed by a gradual weight gain. You have to fix the problem first, or you can slide right back to old ways of thinking.

Think of weight loss as a marathon run. If you run at breakneck speeds as soon as the gun goes off, you are going to be done before you even hit the first mile. If you start slow, warm your muscles up and keep your energy stores, soon you might be able to pick up speeds until you hit a nice rhythm, then watch the others fall behind.

Lastly, meal replacements and supplements. I HATE meal replacements and supplements (and will be another topic for longer discussion in the future.) Here is a nice article from Consumer Reports answering some FAQs regarding supplements. As far as meal replacements are concerned, they are just ways of making more money. Outside of genuine conditions under a doctors supervision, meal replacements don't do anything more for you than a balanced meal, the latter being much more satisfying throughout the day. I'll almost guarantee to anybody that you'd be better off taking the time to prepare meals (and there are a lot of ways to do this that take little or no time) than to just grab a replacement drink. The process of chewing and swallowing does a lot more for your brain than just drinking and the soluble fiber in real food can help keep you fuller longer, more satiated and . . . well . . . regular. Meal replacements will help you lose weight fast, but if you don't plan on using them FOREVER, you most probably will gain the weight back when you start getting sick of them.

P90X and Insanity will work. They do exactly what they claim to do if done correctly and with regard to safety. However, many other workout routines will have the same results. Some might take more time than others, but the longer it takes, the longer it will stick. My advice would be to weigh where you are regarding your own fitness and judge whether or not this is something you might feel comfortable doing or if it's something you can do consistently. If you are in any way unsure, contact a trainer and as always, talk to your doctor before beginning any sort of new regimen.  Don't get me wrong, you need to hurt a little for any change to occur, but it has to be the right type of pain and it has to be a goal that can be realistically accomplished. Realistic goals bring real results.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Start of Something New

This blog is going to take more work than I initially thought. When I set out to build it, it was after acquiring my first certification and purchasing training sessions in a major gym on a whim. The initial idea was to go incognito and observe how the trainer treated me as a client. I wanted to observe the questions he asked, the fitness tests he had me take and his overall attitude when dealing with a first time client.

I was not impressed. Never did he once ask for my personal goals and he zoomed through the tests without telling me why I was taking them. What scared me the most though, was when he set up my nutrition portion. After filling out a long question-ere online regarding my eating habits, the printer spit out a goal of 1200 calories a day.

I will go into this topic more in a later post, but just to express the utter absurdity of this calorie goal, my BMR is around 1372 calories per day. This is the amount of calories I would burn if I were in a coma. My body, just by performing it's major functions, burns 1372 calories a day. A person should never consume less than this amount. According to BMR calculations and various other equations taking fitness level and lifestyle into account, I should be consuming 1887 calories per day to maintain my weight (and I'm only 5'4!) That's 687 calories more than the trainer recommended. That's an extra, nice sized meal or three to four more snacks! It's no wonder people are constantly fighting to lose extra weight only to fail!

It hadn't occurred to me until then how important skepticism and education is regarding fitness, diet and weight loss.  In a country with increasing obesity rates and eating disorders, correct (or current, at least) information is crucial. Everywhere you look there is a new fad diet book, a new cleanse, a new workout machine that promises fitness and weight loss through increasingly less effort. Most of it is crap. The majority of what you find out there is there to get your attention and your money. It makes me sick, and it should make you sick.

So, here I am. I'm starting an adventure. This blog will be about deconstructing the new fad of the month, as well as expressing my own fitness philosophies. An important thing about skepticism is that you maintain an open mind - not to keep it open for bullshit - but to let in the right information. Don't blindly take my word on any of this. I COULD BE WRONG. New information is always being thrown out there (that's the beauty of science) and despite my efforts, I could get something incorrect, or even just slightly correct. If I do, I need to know. If I find an error in anything I have said, please, PLEASE, write to me. I will do my best to address it and correct any false information.

Until then, I leave with a quote (and hopefully, I'll get off of my rhetorical butt and get back to you sooner rather than later!)

"Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism." - David Suzuki

And, because the holidays are drawing to a close, a quote I quite like from the Fat 2 Fit Radio podcast:

"It doesn't matter what you eat between Christmas and New Years, it matters what you eat between New Years and Christmas."

So don't feel guilty, but get moving!