Newsletter - October 2009
Written by Neil Hansen, Owner, MAT Specialist, RTS, CTA Life Coach
Since the day Fitness Werks opened its doors back in May of 2000 it has been my intent to bring our patrons the latest, up-to-date, leading edge information that will allow you to get your goals faster, easier, safer and with more joy. The following information is intended to help you understand what we’ve been learning and working on for the past year and the direction we are heading as a facility in the hope of continuing to bring you the best our industry, education, and resources have to offer.
For as long as I have been in the training business the basic model to get lean and healthy, which is by far the top goal of almost all our clients, is to eat less and move more. After having applied this formula to clients for over fifteen years I can say this formula does not have a high success rate. This is because there are many other factors involved in how the body manages and maintains weight than just calories in/calories out.
The more research we do on how the body works from a neurological, chemical, energetic, and mechanical aspect, the more we are starting to uncover what it takes to have long-term success when it comes to having a lean and healthy body. We now understand that in order for someone to easily attain and maintain the body he or she wants there must be more things at work than just eating a certain amount of calories and doing a certain amount of exercise.
We acknowledge that exercise (resistance training and cardiovascular training) and diet are important, but we now know that how you train and what you eat play a huge role in getting the body you want. However, the way you think plays almost as big a role as both eating and exercise combined. In this and the next newsletter we will discuss the three parts of a balanced approach to getting the body and health you want so you can get to your goals with ease and with much more fun. Those three areas are the physical (exercise), the chemical (nutrition), and the mental (thoughts/emotions). Because the mental sets the tone for the other two, we will start there in this newsletter. The physical and chemical (written by Lewis Balentine) will be in the next newsletter.
Ninety-eight percent of what we understand about the brain has been discovered in the last twelve years and much of that information has just barely made its way to the general public. I have had the opportunity to study some of the most leading-edge material on how the body is affected by our thinking. One of the biggest things I have learned is that every thought you have creates a chemical reaction in the body that ultimately programs your body and causes it to behave in a very specific way. What one must understand is that the body is designed, first and foremost, for survival. It is equipped to be able to combat environmental threats—the same threats our ancestors had to endure for thousands and even millions of years—meaning, our bodies have worked the same way for a long time. It has only been a short time that we have lived in this environment where we do not have the same physical threats of our ancestors, but these same survival mechanisms are still intact.
When considering how weight gain and weight loss would play a role in our survival we have to consider a few scenarios where these would be helpful. When in the past our lives depended on the ability to escape danger or to catch prey it was a survival need for us to be lean and strong. A smaller and stronger you helps in your ability to catch prey or run from being prey (the fight or flight situation). With that, your body would naturally want to balance what you ate and how you moved to maintain an appropriate level of size and strength. Your appetite and desire to move would be affected by this programming (crave less, be fuller on less, and move more).
On the other hand, the survival scenarios that would create the need for you to store body fat would be food deprivation and extreme cold. When your body was in either of these scenarios it was more protective for your body to store body fat. When in the cold it would add a layer of warmth. In a time of famine it would store fat so it could use it later, and when you did eat you would gorge so you could stock up on energy. It would also slow down the metabolism so it could use less energy as well as causing your body to want to move less so you burned less. (If you don’t like exercise, this might be why—laziness may be more of a factor of programming than will.) These are all programming assets that allow your body to survive in less-than-ideal circumstances.
So now we have to look at why your body would want to be in a fat storing, food craving, and slow moving state now, especially if it wasn’t in a state of famine or extreme cold. What we now understand about how the brain works (the hypothalamus in particular) is that emotional stress can create the exact same chemical signals that starvation does. The hypothalamus, which triggers the chemical cascading that results in the release of cortisol (and ultimately blood sugar), doesn’t know the difference between physiological stress and psychological stress. So, every time you judge your body in a negative way you are potentially sending a signal to your hypothalamus that says you are starving. Even if you are eating an abundance of food you could be constantly retelling the body it is starving every time you think about or relate to the body you don’t like (even if you are only frustrated with your body—any negative judgment causes a negative chemical response). And just think about how often you think about or relate to your body. Since your body is the center of your worldly experience—meaning, it is how you identify with yourself, how the world identifies with you, and how you experience everything in your physical environment—it is not hard to conceive that your thoughts (whether you are conscious of them or not—most of them you are not aware of) are relating to your body in some way or another fifty to a hundred times a day (and for many, much more than that).
You may also want to consider that every time you think about your body you release a little cortisol that produces blood sugar—blood sugar you don’t use, which then gets stored as fat. Your body now knows it used raw resources to produce this blood sugar, which it now needs to replace. You then have cravings so you will eat to replace the lost calories, which your body usually tries to replace with calorie-dense foods (often the things you crave). Add in the fact that your body thinks it is in a state of famine (created psychologically), so when you do eat those calories your body is programmed to store them. In the event that you don’t heed the call of your body to replenish calories (because you are on a calorie restricted diet) your body will also be in a state of physical starvation, which makes it want to store the next food you eat as body fat even more. Not to mention, it will want to slow down the metabolism even more.
You can see why it may be so hard for some people to lose those pounds even if they are doing activities like weight training and cardiovascular exercise. I see someone’s weight gain (or inability to lose weight easily) as more a function of programming than a matter of doing the right activity or eating the right foods. The great thing is once you align the mental aspects toward success (and turn off the fat-storing program), then the desire to eat right and exercise will change accordingly. They will be things done to make progress happen even faster, not to combat the negative thinking already being done (and most likely that you are not even aware is being done). All in all, the way you look, your cravings, and your desire (or lack thereof) to exercise are more of a function of your thinking than anything else.
All the trainers at FW are now equipped to help you troubleshoot your mental approach to see if you have any point of focus that is causing you to work against yourself. Since most of us don’t know when we are working against ourselves it is helpful to have a trained individual help you through the process. I am also working on an online program that will guide users through mental exercises designed to troubleshoot their thought process so they can identify and correct any programs working against them. This program is currently in a trial state so if you would like to participate for free, please let me or your trainer know and we will get you involved right away. All I ask for in return is feedback about the process.
In the next newsletter we will discuss the physical and chemical aspects that are needed to create the most advantageous environment for change in your body and health.
One of the main intentions of people exercising (resistance training and cardiovascular exercise) is to change the ratio of body fat to lean muscle, which is done more by re-creating the aspect of the fight or flight response that triggers your body to want to be leaner than it is by burning calories. Your body doesn’t know the difference between doing an interval and running from a bear or doing a push up and pushing a rock off yourself. The idea of exercise from this standpoint is to mimic the stress of survival so that the body realizes it failed at doing something by reaching its threshold and creating the need to make improvements for survival. As the body repairs from the stress, it rebuilds itself stronger and leaner (as well as improving other things such as cardiovascular output and joint stability). The question is: are you doing exercises that stimulate this type of adaptation?
In regard to resistance training, for the most part, it is not that important to go to a level of failure to make change (increase lean tissue) as challenging the muscles in a slow and controlled environment and coming close to failure should place enough stress on the tissue to cause a small amount of change.
As for cardio, however, doing the traditional long distance, steady-paced cardio is not as advantageous as we once thought. In fact, doing traditional cardio may actually cause you to store fat and reduce your overall cardiovascular health. When you do an elevated activity (elevating your heart rate) for any duration more than a few minutes, you do get into “fat burning zones,” but the downside is, once your body recognizes that it is going to be doing this activity on a regular basis (adaptation process), it then goes into conservation mode. When it enters conservation mode, it actually wants to store more of the energy it uses (in this case it is fat) during its elevated activity when it is not in the work mode. This means that your body will become more efficient at storing fat since it knows that it is going to need the extra fat for fuel when doing your cardio. Not only does it store fat but it reduces the amount of lean muscle you have in an attempt to become more efficient (smaller muscles are more efficient—this includes your heart and lungs). These are the same muscles you are working to build up while doing resistance training. So what’s the solution? It’s interval training (alternating intensities).
Unless you are training for an event or sport and you don’t mind sacrificing your body for that purpose, I wouldn’t suggest wasting any more of your time or energy doing any long-distance, elevated cardio (working in a “fat burning zone”) if you want a healthier and leaner body—unless that cardio is something like walking or riding a bike at low exertion levels. Your cardio sessions don’t need to last any more than fifteen to twenty minutes, tops. Think of your cardio sessions like resistance sessions in that you are trying to challenge cardiovascular threshold by going to failure—you should be ready to finish right before you get to the end of your interval time frame. Your recovery times will depend on how quickly your body can get down to a low heart rate (like 100 bpm) in that you won’t do your next interval until you have fully recovered. Your trainer can help you design a training program that is right for your conditioning level and body needs.
You should notice once you are done with your interval training, whether you have done one interval or five, that it will take a while for your body to recover (though not your heart rate). This is because you will be in a state of what is called Exercise Post-Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), or what most of us refer to as afterburn. When we exercise, we throw the body into a form of chaos. Once the workout is over, our bodies expend calories to get the body back into its pre-exercise state. Since your body worked at such a high rate in a short time (much like that of running from a predator) your body will have burned through a lot of resources to do this activity. In extreme situations your body can be in a state of afterburn for up to forty-eight hours, but it’s more likely to be for an hour or two. Even if it is for only a half-hour afterward, your body will still be working much harder than if you were still doing traditional cardio. Not to mention, you won’t be forcing your body to want to store fat as an energy source later.
The key here is, less is more. Not only will you be challenging yourself in a shorter amount of time and getting more results from a energy expenditure standpoint but you will also be improving your lean muscle mass (this type of cardio acts like resistance training, because your muscles will be close to their thresholds, just as much as your cardiovascular system will be), your heart strength, and your lung capacity. Lastly, you will also be sending signals to your body that it is in immediate danger, as the parts of the brain that receive the messages about what is going on do not know the difference between you sprinting on the treadmill or you running from a bear. With this type of cardio activity you will be telling your body that it needs to be leaner in order to survive. Note: all stress creates the release of the stress hormone cortisol but when it is released in short amounts the chemical cycle is shut off. When left on because of chronic stress (like emotional stress) the cycle never shuts off and that creates a major imbalance in the body. Stress in small doses is a good thing.
The Chemical — written by Lewis Balentine
Whether your goal is to drop a few pounds, feel better, or control your blood sugars, the food you take in will have a significant impact on your rate of success. We have all been to the bookstore and seen the multitude of diet books that are available. In fact, if you search “diet” at amazon.com you will get more than 396,000 results. With so much information available one would think that we would be a lean and healthy society. However, with all of the material available to us I believe we are suffering from what noted psychologist Barry Schwartz has termed “the paradox of choice.” That is to say that there are so many options that we become paralyzed by the sheer number of alternatives. The fear of making the wrong decision as well as the oftentimes contradictory opinions masquerading as fact causes us to doubt our ability to make the best choice. With that said, let’s get back to the basics.
We do not eat in order to simply take in calories. We now know that the reason why most diets fail (some studies say it is as high as 95 percent) is because they focus largely on calorie consumption alone. “If you consume less and work harder, your body will need to use its fat stores for energy and you will become leaner and healthier” has been the mantra for many years. Recent research shows that it is much more complex than that. Simply restricting the amount of food you consume can have devastating consequences. A calorie-restricted diet tells the body that it is in a time of famine. Since the body is always in survival mode it will want to convert any incoming food into long term storage, that being fat. It will also work to slow down its metabolism as a means of conserving energy. Lean muscle mass may be decreased in order to further limit the amount of energy required and bring it in line with the number of calories/nutrients coming in. What usually follows is going to the health club and working out. Working out is a form of stress. Stress produces cortisol. One of the main functions of cortisol is to raise blood sugar levels thus raising insulin levels. Insulin increases the storage of fatty acids. It is conceivable that your best intentions are serving to make you fatter.
While we all have the same basic nutritional needs, not everyone’s body responds well to the same nutritional program. The proper ratio of nutrients is different for everyone. Some people respond well to high protein diets (Atkins, for example) while others thrive on a vegetarian lifestyle. What is right for you? The best thing I can tell you is to start by paying attention to what your body is telling you—your body can tell you what it needs better than any book out there. And your body is always telling you what it needs. Being attuned to how you feel within an hour or two after consuming a meal can tell you a lot. A well-fed body will be energized and satiated. If you are hungry (your body is asking for more nutrients, not calories), bloated (you ate something that your body is having a hard time processing), or lethargic (you ate something that was lacking energy), you have not nourished yourself. To help you figure out what your nutritional needs are, Fitness Werks has invested in a leading-edge online nutritional program called Vitabot.
Vitabot is not just about losing weight--it is an educational tool to help clients learn what their basic nutritional requirements are. The program’s main feature is its patent-pending Interactive Report Card, which grades users from A to F based on how the foods they eat meet their nutritional guidelines (both macronutrients as well as micronutrients like vitamin A, D, Potassium, Omega 3s, etc.). Once you have gone through the initial set-up, Vitabot will tell you which of your favorite foods (as well as portions) will give you the nutrients your body needs to reach your goals.
Please feel free to talk to me about getting started on Vitabot. I offer several different levels of involvement and am happy to sit down with you for a half-hour session to assess your current nutrition and talk about how you can bring this vital aspect of health into alignment so it supports your goals.
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