After publishing my secrets on losing weight in my late forties, one question I got asked most was how I fought hunger. The question is straightforward. If you ate only 200 calories worth of fruits for lunch, wouldn’t you feel hungry in an hour or two? Yes, you would. What you then do is to take a snack of say 100 calories — a banana, for instance, or 10 cashew nuts (yes, you do need to count them). Trust me, it gets easier. Another way to fight hunger is to drink a lot of water. You need water anyway. Personally, I am not very font of tap water; I like Perrier. (I know, snobbish, right?) When I run out of Perrier, I can take tap water with ice as well. What is most important is to try to stay away from all other forms of beverages, even the light or zero-cal variety, and even the healthy fresh-juice kind. They all have calories.
More important than any of these tips and tricks is to develop an ability to listen to your body. If you suddenly find yourself craving for something like a juicy steak or lamb chops, it may be that your body is telling you that it is running low on proteins. You’d better do something about it. On the other hand, if you feel like a snack when you have a truckload of work to get through, it may be that you are trying to procrastinate. You have to develop an ability to know the difference. If you are trying to get away from work, don’t use a snack as an excuse; just take a break, a short power nap or whatever rocks your boat. Don’t use food as a filler. If you really need to use anything as a filler, use exercise as one!
Losing fat and getting in shape is a dynamic process. You have to modulate your exercise and diet regime as you make progress. In the beginning, it may be important to just lose weight. Apart from the obvious medical and self-image-related benefits, it gives you an added advantage in exercising itself. In my case, after I lost 10 kilos (20 lb.), I found it a lot easier to do the 100+ pushups, and said goodbye to that knee pain after a vigorous session of badminton. Losing weight when you are overweight does mean tons of cardio (running, swimming, treadmill, cross trainer etc.) and a strict diet. But you cannot keep losing weight at a steady, fairly drastic rate of a kilo a week and then suddenly stop at your target. You have to kind of soft land when you reach your target. That means less cardio, and perhaps a different kind of diet.
One thing you may notice as you lose weight is that you are losing muscles as well. My web research seems to indicate that it is most likely an illusion, although too much cardio and too strict a diet can make you lose muscles too. Apparently, that happens only at near-starvation levels. But it is a good idea to ramp up your resistance training as get closer to your target weight because what you want to lose is fat, not weight in the form of muscles. Right now, my exercise time is roughly 50% cardio and 50% strength training. I plan to make it progressively more strength, perhaps up to 70%. But it used to be almost 90% cardio in the beginning of the year. The best form of cardio for me is what they call high intensity interval training (HIIT). In this mode, after a short warm up (of two minutes), you go flat-out for 30 seconds and then slow down for a minute, and repeat the cycle. Flat-out in my case means I get my heart rate up to what they consider the maximum (which is 220 minus your age). So I oscillate between the heart rates of 170 for 30 seconds and 140 for a minute. I think this is a pretty drastic cardio regime; I could do it because I have always had some level of exercise ever since I was a teenager. Your fitness levels may call for a different regime. So please be careful if you decide to take up this HIIT formula. If you have any doubts at all, please talk to your doctor first.
Finally, what about those six packs? Are you ever going to get those? The honest answer is, it is unlikely, especially if you are a man. If you are woman, and you really want the six pack, it may be easier for you. Let me explain. We all have good abs muscles. It is just that we have layers of fat covering them. It reminds me of that time twenty years ago, when I was trying to get my then housemate in Ithaca, NY to join me on a long bike ride. This big fellow (over 250 lb.) wasn’t budging, and I tried to egg him on, “C’mon Roger. It will be a fun work out! Get the body you always wanted.” His sleepy reply from the couch was to the point, “I got the body I want. And then some!” That extra “some” is the problem hiding your six-packs. In order to begin to see them, you need to bring your body fat level to less than 10%, or less than 20% if you are a woman. Given that the body fat level for a reasonably inactive, but healthy, man is about 30% (and 40% for woman), the target level for a six pack is pretty far off. My own body fat percentage, according to my last medical, was over 35%. Now it may have come under 30%, but still pretty fricking far from okay (to paraphrase Marsellus of Pulp Fiction).
Having said that, I will try to get there because I like impossible odds and lost causes; I always did. Here is the plan: first thing to realize is that there is no such thing as a “targeted” fat loss. You cannot lose fat just from your tummy. And there is no way you can do countless crunches and get a six pack, which is why you don’t see a six pack on a guy with puny, pencil-like limbs. It is an all-or-nothing deal, part of a package. You have to do a lot of strength training on your major muscle groups (legs, back, chest, hands etc.), which will then act as fat burning machines getting you closer to your target of low body fat percentage. This is precisely what I plan to do for the rest of the year.
I think I will have one more post on this series, describing some exercises that I consider good, and sharing some tips. And describing the results of my protein shake experiment, which I am getting into this week. I don’t want to make this blog anything like a lose-weight, build-body, live-strong kind of site because I am just not qualified enough to talk too much about these things. This fitness craze of mine is perhaps only a passing fancy. Then again, my life has been a series of passing fancies, which I guess is as good a way to live it as any. Probably even better than most.