Sometimes I receive complex meaning-of-life questions that prompt me to write essays. Sometimes I get simple rapid-fire questions that I can answer with two sentences. Those don't normally turn into Q&A material, but I had a whole slew of them this week, so hey, let's just post them.
Q: I read your Starvation and Flab article about how you crash dieted to lose weight and ended up losing all your muscle. It was a scary story. How long did it take you to get lean and get your muscle tone back after that?
A: It took me ten years to get my muscle back after starving it all off. Of course, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I went the trial-and-error route and became a fat vegetarian. Now, I know how to lose fat and gain muscle effectively, but back then I was bumbling.
Q: What made you get started on Body for Life.
A: I started Body for Life by accident. I was stuck in a long line at Border's Books and there was a BFL display next to the line. I became mesmerized by the before and after photos and couldn't put it down. I bought it, did it, and everything changed for me. I'd struggled with food and fitness for so long. Finally all of the pieces fell into place.
Q: Did you always have amazing abs? I would really like to get awesome abs but I've never had them, even when I weighed my lowest.
A: Ha ha HAAAA! at the thought of always having amazing abs. No, I was a major muffin top. And then I went from muffin top to flat like a cookie sheet - no flab, but no definition either. Getting defined abs requires a low percentage of body fat. It doesn't matter what you weigh, only how "thin-skinned" you are. Achieving the low body fat requires challenging strength workouts, intense interval cardio, and small healthy meals. And you need to train your abs like any other muscle group - use challenging resistance, kill them, and then let them fully recover before hitting them again. No doing hundreds of useless crunches every day.
Q: What time do you eat your last meal of the day? I heard that you weren't supposed to eat within a few hours of going to bed.
A: I usually eat my last meal after midnight and fall asleep five minutes later. Don't pay any attention to those "you'll turn into a pumpkin if you eat after seven o'clock" dimwits. I still wish I knew who's idea that was. I blame Oprah and that little ferret Bob Greene. That silly rule doesn't apply to anyone who's training hard and following a sound program of balanced meals and controlled portions. It only applies to clueless ninnies who would eat Cheetos in front of the television all night if they weren't given a cut-off time. Your last meal before bed is one of the most important. It's what fuels your muscle recovery and repair during the night, and also your morning workout. If you have a scheduled meal left, eat it no matter what time it is.
Q: How do you stay motivated and on track? I tend to lose steam on a new program after the first week or two.
A: Motivation, as in being all rah-rah excited, doesn't happen to anybody, or if it does, it's fleeting. I'm not motivated to workout. I do it both because it needs to be done and because I'm emotionally invested in it. Very much like bathing and brushing my teeth. I may not always enjoy the process or the time it takes, but I do it at the start of every day because it makes me feel good about myself and gives me confidence. I don't want to be all scary and stinky and have people run from me. :-) However, at no point do I feel "motivated" to haul myself out of bed in the morning and get in the shower. I just do it and don't entertain the idea that I might not. I'm someone who bathes. You can be someone who exercises. It's just that matter-of-fact.
In the beginning, until your cruise control kicks in, you can focus on the emotional investment part of it. Find a dream or aspiration that you want to make real and then spend as much time as possible visualizing your new life. How will it feel? What will you look like? What will you wear? What will people say? What will you do? What will you eat? What will your day be like? That's powerful stuff because it creates the mental shift necessary to pull off just about anything. Without the mental shift, you can make as many lame-ass attempts as you want, but nothing will ever stick. Your mind has to change before your body can. You have to know that this new reality is possible, and you'll know it's possible because you'll see it every day in your head.
Q: How do you eat every 3 hours if you're visiting family or other people on a three meal a day schedule? Isn't it hard?
A: How hard is it to pull a piece of string cheese and a few dried apricots out of your purse? Or a handful of nuts? Or a protein bar? Or to eat a little of what everybody else is having? There are protein and carbs everywhere. Not hard.
Q: What do you think about sweeteners besides sugar, honey, and molasses (like stevia)?
A: If I want something sweet, I prefer sugar or honey. Favorite fake stuff is Splenda in the yellow box. It measures and pours just like sugar and it only causes itching and mild psychosis. I have no faith in stevia. It tastes weird and messes up hamster fertility or rat testicles or something. :-D
Q: Do you go to the grocery store like once a week and load up on fresh produce? Can you have canned fruits/veggies (not in syrup)?
A: I go once a week. I get lots of fresh fruits and vegetables but I also get canned and frozen. Frozen cherries and berries are great in shakes.
Q: Do you ever feel guilty after a free day, or do you hardly notice it?
A: Guilt, what's that? I never feel guilty about food. I love the stuff. I don't do free days anymore. I tend to eat healthier meals during the week and I enjoy more fun stuff (10% meals) on my weekends. But if pizza or chocolate cake appear mid-week, I'll usually partake. Note: I'm not trying to lose any weight.
Q: When you first started doing Body for Life, did you do it to lose weight or did you do it to try and build muscle only?
A: I did my first BFL challenge to lose weight. I only lost like 5 pounds but I dropped from a size 12 to a size 6. Not bad, eh?
Q: Is it ok to do extra cardio on weight days?
A: Extra cardio won't make any real difference in your results, but you can do it if it makes you happy.
Q: Do you feel cold when it's a normal temperature out or other people feel fine?
A: I'm always flipping freezing. I don't know if it's a thyroid thing or a lack of body fat or what.
Q: I'm planning to walk on a treadmill every day for 30 minutes at a moderate pace. What do you think?
A: Walking on a treadmill every day for 30 minutes? What are you, a lab rat? Saying you're going to workout (any workout) every single day leads to either failure or obsession. You miss one day so you've failed. Or you have strep throat, but you're still trudging along at 1.5 mph with a cough drop in your mouth trying not to get your bathrobe caught in the treadmill belt. Why not say, "I will be active for 30 minutes most days?" That way you might, I don't know, go outside, do some yoga, ride a bike, breathe fresh air, take a day off. Don't turn your new non-obsessive workout structure into more rules and drudgery.
Q: There are so many different programs available and sometimes they contradict each other. How do you know which one to do or which one is right?
A: All of the good programs have a lot more similarities than differences. The basic principles are the same. The important thing is to pick one program and give it everything you've got. Follow the instructions, plan the meals, schedule the workouts and go for it. Don't start second-guessing or combining bits and pieces of conflicting plans. Keep it simple. There's so much nutrition and fitness information out there that when people listen to all of it, they become paralyzed and give up. Cultivate some laser vision. Stay focused and give your new program time to work before you tinker with anything.
Q: How do you make sure you're not eating too much every day if you don't measure or count anything? Do you just go by clothes fitting/weight gain?
A: I don't measure my food, I measure myself. If my weight is the same, my clothes fit, and my arm dents look good, what is there to worry about? Being a slave to calorie counting, food scales and nutrition software is no way to live. And I can say that because I was at their mercy for years. At some point all of the obsessive counting becomes a trap and not anything positive or helpful.
Q: I want to do something that I can commit to and not keep yo-yoing. Is it really feasible to do this for your whole life? What about when you're old and can't work out as hard (don't want to shatter your pelvis or anything)?
A: Yes, your whole life!! Stay fit, stay strong, stay in good health, or you have nothing but hospitals and nursing homes to look forward to. Cultivating an active lifestyle and a strong body is SO important, and it's not something where you can just kick back and start mall-walking when you reach a certain age. It's the heavy lifting that keeps your muscle mass and bone density at optimal levels. Being able to do a squat is what determines whether you can get up off the toilet by yourself or not. It's the difference between being a feisty old coot living in your own home or being frail and helpless in assisted living. That's definitely a major incentive for me! Keep training, and you can be doing tumbling runs onstage in a bikini well into your 80s. I about blew a brain gasket at the pelvis breaking comment! Maybe you should e-mail these women and warn them to take it easy. :-)
Flex Appeal: at 86, great-grandmother Morjorie Newlin keeps pumping iron
Reflections of a 77 Year Old Bodybuilder
Marty Webb: Fitness Champion at age 60
Jackie Lee: Figure Competitor age 77: photo 1, photo 2, photo 3
Now, if those women don't inspire you to make fitness a lifetime pursuit, I don't know what will. :-) Yo-yoing is only for dieters. Become an athlete and you won't have that problem.