Monthly Archives: November 2010

Fat or Not?

You know what’s messed up? Fat people get pissed off if  you say they’re fat. You know what’s even more messed up? Skinny people get pissed off if  you say they’re fat!

Case 1: Commenting on someone’s height

You go to Miss A. She is 4’9″ and 200 lbs.

You: Ummmm… you’re short.

She: Well yea. Nothing I can do about it… but hey the best things in life come in small packages right? (or some other lameass joke followed by a hehehehe)

You go to Miss B. She is 5’8″ and 120 lbs.

You: Ummmm… you’re short.

She: No. I’m actually 5’8″ which is 6″ more than the average height.

Fair enough right?

Case 2: Commenting on someone’s weight

You go to Miss A. She is 4’9″ and 200 lbs.

You: Ummmm… you’re fat.

She: I know it!! You’re a rude moron for saying it to my face though! (This is followed by 3 days of stuffing her face with every kind of junk food available.)

You go to Miss B. She is 5’8″ and 120 lbs.

You: Ummmm… you’re fat.

She: I know it!! You’re a rude moron for saying it to my face though! (This is followed by 3 days of starvation, 5 hrs on the elliptical each day and of course throwing up whatever little bile that is secreted)

Why this madness? Well… because people don’t know if they are fat or not. You would think it’s pretty straight forward but a lot of people don’t have a damn clue about their position on the weight chart. A recent study done on 2,224 women shows that 25% of overweight women perceive their weight as normal and 16% of normal weight women perceive themselves as overweight.

But how does this matter to me as a fitness/nutrition coach and why do I give a crap?

Well… a bunch of people who are fat don’t think they’re fat and another bunch of people  who are skinny  actually think they’re fat. This means that the first bunch will read fitness blogs/news, continue to eat junk and make fun of other fat people and the second bunch will end up starving themselves or practice some form of bulimia because some random guy called them fat or most probably said something like ‘would you be more comfortable on the couch?’

Why is this the case?

Because ‘fat’ is the new ‘normal’. Everyone around you is fat. When I was a kid, spotting a 300 lbs person in a crowd was like seeing a snake. Everyone went ‘Damn! That guy is fat!’. Today, TV commercials have fat guys with hot girls, there are TV shows dedicated to ‘big people’, kids in movies and commercials are chubby, doctors are pre-diabetic/diabetic and overweight nutritionists go on junk food diets to lose weight.

Doctor, can I take my pills with a box of cookies just like you do?

Basically, even without your knowledge, you are comparing yourself to these folks. So, though you are fat, you look at the people around you and think ‘Ah! I’m not fat. I’m like this guy and definitely skinnier than that guy!‘. But ‘this guy’ is fat and ‘that guy’ is obese. So that makes you… drum roll… fat!

Moral: Stop comparing yourself to Oprah and read on.

How to find out if you are fat?

As ridiculous as it seems I am now going to teach you ways to find out if you are fat.

  1. If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is greater than 25 you are considered overweight which means ‘You’re fat’ and if you’re BMI is greater than 30 you are considered clinically obese which basically means “Holy shit! You’re a fat fuck!’. Calculate your BMI here. (Note: If you are a 200lb bodybuilder the BMI thing doesn’t apply to you)
  2. If you are a bodybuilder or strength athlete, BMI doesn’t really mean much to you. Body fat percentage will be your measure. If you are man/woman with above 20%/29% body fat, you’re fat.
  3. Stand with your back against a wall. Look down by tilting your head only (do not bend forward). If you can’t see your toes, you’re fat.
  4. Stand in front of a mirror. Shake your mid-section. If you see stuff jiggling uncontrollably you’re most likely fat.
  5. If you don’t do strength/resistance training (and you are not a teenager) and gained weight, you can safely assume you put on fat.
  6. If the above five methods don’t work, use the following free service:

Email your picture to raj.hbfser@gmail.com and I will gladly tell you if you’re fat.*

Realizing you are fat is the first step. Please check your ego at the door, try to find out if you are fat and if you are fat, realize that it is not just about looks. Fat** people (overweight and obese) are at a very high risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, arthritis and other metabolic syndrome diseases. I’m not kidding here. Excerpt from the link:

Metabolic syndrome is a name for a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms: Extra weight around your waist (central or abdominal obesity)

Stay fit folks. It’s pretty dangerous out there.

Note:

* This service is available to everyone except my girlfriend.

** The person who perfectly guesses the number of times I said ‘fat’ in this post will win a free year’s supply of Oreo cookies.

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Why am I not losing fat here?

Though my readers are all from different countries, eat different foods, play different sports, believe in different theories and react differently to diet and training I get one common question from almost everyone.

“Raj… I’m not like the others you deal with. I have a unique problem. I’m not overweight, I run almost everyday, I do some lifting and I eat clean per your guidelines but I never seem to get rid of fat in the abdominal area. I can see that I am losing weight and my strength is slowly increasing but my abs are still not visible. Is there any specific exercise and/or diet plan that will target that area and make my abs visible? Please help!”

Having received this type of email in numerous occasions and having answered every single one of them I decided to write this post today so I can just point to this post the next time someone asks me this question.

Before I address your ‘unique problem’, let me explain the science behind fat and fat loss.

Fat is nothing but the body’s way of storing energy and from a evolutionary standpoint, fat is awesome. Each pound of fat contains a whopping 3,500 kcal which means that a meager 10 lbs of fat can fuel a starving person adequately to cover ~ 350 miles by foot before he runs out of energy and start cannibalizing cardiac tissue. Why is this important?

Long long ago, so long ago…

I heard this guy did the Twinkie diet to lean out

When we were still bearded barbarians crashing in caves, food was not constantly available. Just so you know, we didn’t have vending machines that pooped out boxes of Cheetos and Pringles during the paleolithic times. The situation back then is best described as ‘feast or famine’. There were periods of little to no food (famine) and periods of an abundance of food (feast). During ‘famine’ we fasted and continued to live our lives without obsessing about food. During ‘feast’ we stuffed our faces with all the food we could lay our hands on and then chilled out in our awesome little caves. In order to handle such a roller-coaster feeding pattern our body developed this amazing ability to store the excess calories and use them later on when food was unavailable. This ability to store excess energy for later is an extremely critical adaptation without which we would have never survived.

In the now…

The result of millions of years of this phenomenon is the body that we posses today. But now, we live in a world where food is available in surplus and can be acquired with the greatest of ease. We are taught, and in most cases forced, to eat less! Never has there been a period wherein any species had to eat less in order to survive! A shame is what we are to the animal kingdom… but I digress.

A little too much energy storage don’t you think? May be we need a fuckin famine!

Fortunately, we don’t live in a world where famines are a common occurrence any more. Unfortunately, the body hasn’t evolved enough to adapt to this situation of constant abundance of food yet. This basically means that every time we eat more than what is required, it is stored… as fat. In other words, if you ate a 1000 kcal breakfast and sat on your ass all morning, most of the 1000 kcal will be stored as fat. But say you go for a run before lunch. Your body uses the previously stored calories to fuel the run. Clear?

So if you needed 2000 kcal per day in order to fuel all your activities (sleeping, breathing, excreting, exercising, muscle repair etc.) and you ate 2200 kcal per day, the extra 200 kcal will be stored as fat. Hypothetically say you did exactly this everyday for a year. That is a surplus of 73,000 calories and that results in ~ 21 lbs of stored fat. Not realistic? How about if you ate an excess of 50 calories (half a slice of bread or half an apple) everyday for a year? That will result in a fat gain of ~ 5.5 lbs in one year. Too realistic eh?

Clearly the reason you, I and 6_pack_4u@yahoo.com from above have body fat today is because cumulatively (from birth to this moment) we have eaten more than what we require. And here’s the shocker… the body loves this! Let me explain. Your body is constantly expecting a famine to occur and in turn expects you to be left without food. When that does happen your body wants to be as ready as possible and so any extra calories that you throw at it, it will very happily store (as fat).

Question: Why am I fat?

Answer. Because you ate (energy in) more than you burnt (energy out).

Question: How can I lose fat?

Answer: By eating (energy in) less than you burn (energy out).

Question: If I eat less than I need how will my body function properly?

Answer: Since you ate more than you need all your life, your body has successfully stored all the excess energy as fat. Now when you eat lesser than you need, your body will burn the stored fat to release energy to fuel the different activities.

Your ‘unique problem’ is not so unique

Notice how I used “cavemen”, “we”, “the body” and did not use “one caveman”, “he”, “his body”?

That means we are all basically the same with respect to fat storage, mobilization and utilization. The degree of each might differ from person to person but the phenomenon is the same. Whoever you are, if you eat too much you will get fat and if you eat too little you will get skinny. Again, the ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ might be different for different people (based on activity levels, base metabolic rate and muscle mass) but the result of ‘too much’ and ‘too little’ is the same for every one. While we are at this, it might be interesting to note that fat people always underestimate the calories they consume  and skinny people always overestimate.

Notice how I denoted ‘fat’ as a general term and didn’t associate it with any specific area in the body?

That is because fat is lost in sheets. Spot reduction of fat does not exist. Pills/ointments/lotions/shakes/exercises/diets that promise spot reduction will only reduce the fatness of your wallet. The only way to lose fat is to burn more calories than you consume and this can be done in many ways – eating less, increasing activity, increasing muscle mass, fasting etc. There is no one exercise or diet that will burn fat in just your abdominal area or your butt or your love handles.

Make no mistake, we all have problem areas. By that I mean the areas which are first to store fat and the last to lose. Women tend to pack the pounds in the butt and thigh region and men tend to do the same in the abdominal region. (The reason for this isn’t completely understood yet but natural selection, once again, is to be blamed. Women have wider pelvises since they are design to give birth and hence need a lower center of mass. This results in fat accumulation  lower in the body.) Once enough fat is lost all over the body, then the problem areas will be targeted. At that point the stored fat will be mobilized from these areas and utilized for energy. If the abdominal region, for instance, is your problem area you need to have leaned out in all other parts of your body (forearms, back, legs etc.) before the fat from your abdominal region disappears.

In other words, there is no magic here. Eat less, move more, look great. Patience and consistency will give you the sexy beach body you are after.

For those who don’t like my advice, here is an option – Continue to eat the way you eat and sooner or later women will evolve enough to be attracted to tubs of lard.

Peace.

The Prof. Mark Haub Nonsense

This is not Prof. Mark Haub by the way. He’s got enough media attention I decided not to put up a picture of him. Yea I’m an ass. What else is new?

Ok I’ve had enough with people sending me emails with links to Prof. Mark Haub’s successful junk food weight loss journey and so I decided to slay the monster today. For those of you who don’t know who the hell Prof. Mark Haub is, click here to read about his credentials and below is an excerpt from the CNN article about him which will give you an idea as to why I am even writing this blog post.

“Over the summer Kansas State University nutrition professor Mark Haub decided it was time to drop some weight. Considering his profession and expertise, you’d think he would do it by ditching crummy foods and loading up on healthy stuff like fruits and vegetables. But Haub had other ideas.

He had a theory that simply cutting back on calories would be the key to weight loss, not the nutritional value of what he was eating. So for 10 weeks, Haub consisted on mostly Twinkies, Doritos, Oreo cookies, Diet Mountain Dew and other treats. He did mix in some carrots, green beans, celery and a protein shake as well. He limited himself to 1800 calories a day.” [Emphasis added]

I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the article and so here are some highlights.

On his “convenience store diet,” he shed 27 pounds in two months.

Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub’s pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal.

He now weighs 174 pounds.

Haub’s “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent

His “good” cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent.

He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.

Haub’s body fat dropped from 33.4 to 24.9 percent.

Two-thirds of his total intake came from junk food. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.

Some information from Dr. Haub’s Facebook page and basic math gives us the following numbers.

  • Haub stands 5 ft 10″ tall. (Calculated using his weight and BMI)
  • He started this 2 month journey at 201 lbs.
  • He lost 27 lbs in 10 weeks which equals a weight loss of 2.7 lbs per week.
  • 23.8 lbs of the 27 lbs he lost was fat mass. (Calculated using total weight lost and corresponding drop in body fat %)

Now for my thoughts.

1. The respect

First things first. Among the thousands of people who claim a diet does work or does not work without actually trying it, he decided to self-experiment which is commendable.

2. The craziness

Mark Haub is a 41 yr old nutrition professor with great educational credentials (MS in Exercise Science & PhD in Exercise Physiology) and respectable experience. But he started this 10 week ‘convenience store’ diet at 201 lbs and 33.4% body fat at a BMI of 28.8? Are you kiddin me? Why would anyone listen to this guy? Would you get financial advice from a guy who has a $ 100,000.00 debt? Then why would you get nutritional advice from a guy who is a fat ass himself? Craziness!

For those who can’t picture this.

3. The calorie conundrum

The article states that he ate less than 1,800 calories per day and that a man his size generally eats ~ 2600 calories to maintain his weight. If that is accurate then Haub was on a daily deficit of 800 calories at least. If we assume that he ate 1,800 calories/day, that would add up to a weekly deficit of 5,600 calories. A pound of fat is 3,500 calories and so he should have lost 1.6 lbs every week. But the article says he lost 27 lbs in 10 weeks. This works out to 2.7 lbs of weight loss per week. Considering that 23.8 lbs of of the 27 lbs lost was fat, there was little to no water loss. Also, there is no information available about any form of exercise that might have burnt any considerable amount of calories.

Hence clearly he was on a daily deficit of much more than 800 calories. As a matter of fact, in order to lose 2.7 lbs per week he had to be on a calorie deficit of ~ 1,350 calories. Assuming the 2,600 calorie number is accurate, Haub should have eaten ~ 1250 calories per day for 10 weeks in order to lose the 27 lbs!

For those who are not able to picture 1250 calories that is equivalent of one McDonald’s Chicken Club Sandwich with medium Fries and a medium Soda. So yea.. 1250 calories isn’t much and this proves that Haub went on an extreme low calorie diet which is definitely not sustainable for most people.

4. The results

His “bad cholesterol” or LDL dropped by 20% – His LDL dropped from 153 to 123 which isn’t much at all considering he lost a whopping 27 lbs. Also, judgement on this is reserved until the particle size of his LDLs have been measured. A high (processed) carb low calorie diet reduces your LDL but converts them into small dense particles which are lethal.

His “good cholesterol” or HDL increased by 20% – Once again this is not much at all. His HDL went from 37 to 46 which is not remarkable by any standards. I compared my blood work from the days of low-fat grain based eating to my blood work after starting to eat a low-carb, real food based diet (paleo/primal) per diet guidelines from Mark Sisson, Robb WolfRichard Nikoley and Martin Berkhan (IF). My HDL increased by a whopping 85% (39 to 72) for a weight gain of ~ 5 lbs!

He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent (120 to 75). – When you consume a surplus of calories (fat or carbs or protein), the body uses what it needs to fuel your activities and converts the rest to triglycerides (and subsequently stores it as fat). But when you are at a calorie deficit you are consuming lesser calories than is required by your body. This means that the body has no surplus calories to convert to triglycerides. As a matter of fact, your body taps into the body fat stores for energy resulting in fat loss.

So, once again, a 39% drop in triglycerides for a 27 lbs weight loss is shameful. I, once again, compared my blood work from the days of low-fat grain based eating to my blood work after starting to eat a low-carb, real food based diet (paleo/primal). My triglycerides dropped by a whopping 83% (170 to 29) for a weight gain of ~ 5 lbs!

The point I’m trying to make is that any time you lose weight your blood work improves. Period. The reason for this is that your body is at a calorie restricted state and there is little to no inflammation at any point of time. All the calories that are ingested are used up to fuel different activities and no surplus calories are available to cause any damage so to speak. This explains why Haub’s blood work improved but my beef here is that the improvement observed is extremely low considering the amount of weight loss (27 lbs out of which 24 lbs were fat!).

5. The media stunt

Now I obviously don’t know Dr. Haub personally and he’s probably a good guy and he probably meant well when he started this 2 month nonsense. He says his goal was to emphasize the importance of portion control and wanted to test if food quantity mattered more than food quality when it comes to fat loss. That’s awesome Mr. Phd but you need to use your head before you do such a public stunt. You need to think deeply about the effect this will have on the lay person before you embark on a journey to junktown. Whether you like it or not, whether you intended it or not most people seem to have taken home this message – “Eating junk food is not bad for me! I can eat twinkies and kit kats and sugary cereals and still get healthier by the day!”.

6. The concern

I’m obviously not worried about the health conscious folks out there who will take this with a grain of salt but I’m definitely petrified for the average fat diabetic who reads the title “Junk food diet that works” while he mindlessly browses the internet at about 3 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. The guy may be won’t take the article or it’s contents at face value but headlines like “Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 lbs – CNN.com” and “Mark Haub’s twinkies diet amazes with results” stick and they appear as newsflashes in front of his eyes every time he is tempted to eat junk food (which we all know is an everyday happening these days!). This results in him convincing himself that it is OK to eat junk which results in, well, disaster!

7. The truth

  • The junk food diet works. But only when the consumer remains at a calorie deficit (an extremely high deficit in Haub’s case). Any calorie restricted diet, for that matter, works. There is a reason why “calories in should be less than calories out” is called the golden rule of fat loss.
  • Junk food (sugary treats and highly processed foods) have an addictive effect on the consumer that is even higher than cocaine.
  • A diet dominated by junk food does not nourish the body with the required vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants which might result in long term internal damages which might prove to be irreversible and even fatal (cancer etc.).
  • Calorie restriction while on a diet which is high in empty calories is extremely hard to stick to and most people will fall off the wagon very quickly (at least when they are not the center of media attention!)
  • A diet built around high quality ingredients is extremely satiating in addition to adequately nourishing the body and hence sustainable in the long run.

8. The verdict

  • Food quantity (portion control) is an integral part of fat loss but in no way more important than food quality, especially when it comes to keeping the weight off and staying far away from the diseases of civilization.
  • High quality foods (even in a maintenance diet) reign supremacy over junk food (in a fat loss or maintenance or mass gain diet).
  • The take home from this study – “If junk food is all that is available, exercise extreme portion control.”
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