My Take on Weight Loss

Many of my personal training clients and martial arts students come to their training with the goal of losing weight.

Here’s my overall take on weight loss: adopt a clean, whole-foods based diet, do high-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes 3-6x/week, and get some kind of moderate physical activity every day.  Be patient, be compasionate with yourself, and be consistent.

The best book I’ve ever seen on weight loss is Jordan Rubin’s Perfect Weight America.  If weight loss is a goal of yours, I strongly recommend you check it out.  For great recipes and a deeper discussion of many of the nutritional ideas presented here, get Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions.

Step 1: Begin Dietary Makeover
The most important element of a weight loss plan is diet.  Take a look at my “First-Steps Diet Makeover.” If your dietary habits are pretty entrenched, go step by step through the program and be patient with yourself if you suffer lapses.

Begin to center your diet around real, whole foods, primarily fruit (between meals or in place of meals for best food combining), vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy.  Whole grains are good, but steer away from starches and sugars.

Have soup made with a real bone broth at least once per week.  Snack on seeds and nuts, and incorporate them into your meals (salads, soups for example) as much as you can.   Eat some natural fermented foods to maintain healthy intestinal flora.

Avoid estrogenic foods like soy, and chemicals from plastic water bottles, sunscreen, etc.  Incorporate some anti-estrogenic foods and spices (and supplements if necessary) into your diet.

Natural fat in the food you eat is not your enemy, as long as you are in touch with your body and know when you are full. The Weston A. Price Foundation offers a lot of good information on following a holistic diet.

I believe in enjoying life, and enjoying food.  I don’t take a reductive approach to diet, counting grams of this and that.  I can trust my intuition about eating, but I understand that years of emotional eating may have alienated people from their instincts about food.  That is why I recommend that some people go on a cleansing fast at some point in a weight loss process.

Optional:  The Cleansing Fast
As I posted before, I no longer believe in the legitimacy of many of the bowel cleansing programs and supplements sold by New Age hucksters like Richard Anderson.  I think that the main benefit of going on a long-term (3-10 day) cleansing fast is to get to know yourself deeply, and come to terms with your relationship with eating.  This may be a way to kick off your diet changes, or you could do it part-way through your weight loss program to reaffirm your committment or overcome a plateau.

I did a 30-day cleanse (the Arise & Shine program sold by Richard Anderson) back in 2000, and the greatest thing I took from it was learning how much of my eating was social and emotional.  Since going through that experience, I now know when I am craving food because I am bored, stressed, upset, etc. versus when I am hungry.  That’s not to say that I never, ever eat for emotional reasons, but when I do I am aware of it, and I do it abstemiously.  I’m also able to avoid a downward spiral, the attitude of “I’ve already screwed up now, so I may as well finish that cake.”  I know the difference between what I call food, that which nourishes us, and the trash we eat for comfort and entertainment.

If you decide to do a fast, structure is extremely important.  That’s why it can be appealing to buy into someone’s program, buy their supplements, follow their charts, etc.  The cheapest cleansing fast is the Master Cleanse, and there is plenty of free material available on that.  I don’t recommend it because I don’t think it offers enough nutrition.

I’d advise a fresh vegetable and fruit juice (that you make yourself with a juicer) cleanse, possibly with added herbal supplements.  Psyllium powder (like you find in Metamucil) in water will help fill your stomach to avoid hunger pangs.  This is basically the Arise & Shine program that I followed, but without the “chomper” herbs and the bentonite clay.  I think that the bentonite, herbs, and psyllium are what create the so-called “muciod plaque” that the colon cleansing gurus claim is mucking up your intestines.  The downside of taking the psyllium is that it pushes out your healthful intestinal flora, which will have to be replaced with probiotic capsules and healthful fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, etc.

Intermittant Fasting and “Cheating”
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, whose genetic makeup we have inherited, lived in a feast-or-famine environment, and our bodies are healthiest when our eating is patterned after theirs.  If you want to lose weight, I advise you to fast or undereat once a week.  There are many health-promoting fruit and juice fasts that you could do:  eat only grapes, or watermelon, fresh juice, or raw vegetables and seeds, or chicken soup, once per week, depending on the season.  Do some research on what kinds of weekly fasts would be best for you.

The fun, flip-side to this approach is that once a week you can go a little overboard, and break one or two of your new dietary rules.  When you restrict calories on a weight loss regimen, your body begins to scale down your metabolic rate because it believes that you are in a famine environment.  By over-indulging a bit once a week, you reset your metabolism and your body begins to burn calories more freely.  I advise always avoiding junk foods and indulging in natural treats like butter, honey, chocolate and other nutritious high-calorie foods.  But I understand that improving the diet is a gradual process.

A more advanced application of these principles is Ori Hofmeklar’s Warrior Diet, an approach that works well for me given my schedule and my night-owl inclinations.  Hofmeklar, a former Israeli commando, recommends undereating during the daylight hours, snacking on fruit, nuts, raw vegetables, and high protein snacks like beef jerky.  Eat a full meal during the day only after exercising.  The main meal of the day takes place at night, where you are free to indulge and make up for the day’s fasting.  Digestion is a process of the autonomic nervous system that takes over while you sleep.  This approach might not work for everyone, particularly if you suffer from acid reflux.

There are many interesting articles on this topic at Dragondoor, just paste Hofmeklar in the search field on the top right of the screen.  You can also check out their diet and nutrition forum.

Exercise: High Intensity Anaerobic Training and Increased Physical Activity
Many of us are still clinging to outdated notions about diet and exercise.  The lowfat diet and aerobic training models that gained popularity in the 1980s have been long-abandoned by elite athletic trainers, but it takes awhile for the new, improved protocols to trickle down and change the perceptions of the general public.

It’s now well-established that the best endurance training and weight loss exercise is high-intensity, anaerobic interval training.  That means relatively short periods of all-out exertion punctuated with even shorter intervals of rest.  The Tabata Protocol was developed by Japanese sports scientist Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.  It consists of 20 seconds of all-out exertion followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds, a total of 4 minutes.  You can tweak the times depending on the exercise (that will still make it interval training, but not specifically Tabata).  The 2:1 ratio for exercise and rest is a good template.

High intensity training is anaerobic: the muscles must work furiosly in an oxygen-depleted environment. Anaerobic training raises the metabolic rate causing you to burn more calories after your training is done, unlike aerobic training, where the calorie burning stops when you stop exercising.

I advise doing your interval training maybe three times a week, possibly as a post-script to anaerobic strength training (slow, high-difficulty bodyweight exercises or weight training) or other exercise.

The other element I’d add to a weight loss exercise system is increasing regular physical activity and structuring it into your daily life.  Pedestrian- and public transportation- based cities have lower rates of obesity than sprawling, car-based cities.  See if you can reduce your carbon footprint with more human-powered transportation and other forms of physical work like gardening.  You can help your health and the environment at the same time.  That can be a long-term goal as you confront various decisions throughout your life as to where to live and work.

In today’s society, we are very concerned with our appearance and we are impatient for results.  Be compassionate and patient with yourself.  Consistency is the key when it comes to weight loss.  Take the long view with your health foremost in mind.  Deepak Chopra says that our bodies completely regenerate themselves every seven years.  If you change your habits today, and stick with it, you will have a completely new body generated by your new heathful habits in seven years.  I think the science there may be questionable, but it is a very helpful fiction that helps you maintain your patience and disciplilne.

Students and clients should feel free to contact me if you have questions about structuring your weight loss program.


~ by nolashaolin on August 28, 2008.

6 Responses to “My Take on Weight Loss”

  1. […] read the rest of this blog post here… My Take on Weight Loss Share this post with your friends: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers […]

  2. Joseph,

    It was really great seeing you this past weekend; I just wish that we could have tested together and kept parity! Lemmie know if you need help with your material… Let’s shoot for February for you to test, shall we? 😉

    I really like reading your blog, since you manage to cut through the BS and new-agey stuff that seems to cover so many traditional martial arts schools like a fine patina.

    Over the past six months or so, I’ve been experimenting with various dietary/exercise plans to see how well I can optimize the human machine (within reasonable limits). I find that you and I have gone on mostly parallel courses through independent study, which I find interesting (and it’s also nice to have a corroborating data point!). I’ve been met with almost complete success with the plan I’ve been on, so I have been preaching the gospel to whoever will listen.

    I think you’re absolutely right to focus on diet as the ultimate arbiter of success vis-a-vis physical (and in my mind, mental) fitness. I have heard really great things about the Warrior Diet. The only thing that turns me off is the concept of “being on” or “going on” a diet.

    My preference was to find a life way that would result in a long, happy, healthy life, as well as great physical fitness. There has been a large amount of controversy surrounding the diets of world-class athletes such as Steve Redgrave or Michael Phelps, athletes who are literally eating their way to type-II diabetes. Therefore, top physical performance doesn’t necessarily mean one is “healthy”.

    I’ve found a few different resources that have helped me find what is in my mind, an awesome way to maintain bodily health and terrific performance in my martial arts classes. My diets are largely formulated around the “Evolutionary Fitness” paradigm established by Art DeVany, and I’m starting to come up with exercises tailored around his workout theories that are optimized to martial arts performance as well. Another great site is Mark Sisson’s Mark’s Daily Apple blog. Mark espouses something called the “Primal Blueprint”.

    Both Art and Mark’s theories revolve around the concept of humans as civilized hunter-gatherers. That is, what diet and activities would prehistoric man have? It makes sense to me.

    In terms of diet, I follow a largely paleolithic diet, which means lots of fat and protein, with what carbohydrates I get on a daily basis coming from fruits and vegetables. I do not keep grains around the house, whole or otherwise. I snack on nuts and other nutrient-rich but energy-moderate foods (beef jerky, avocado, what have you). The reasoning for this is simply control of insulin levels, skyrocketing levels of which are the reason why we as a culture are so obese.

    I am also a HUGE proponent of intermittent fasting. I myself use Brad Pillion’s Eat-Stop-Eat protocol. Two nonconsecutive days a week I go 24 hours without food intake (right now I’m on hour 19 of my 2nd fast day of the week). Other excellent IF programs are Fast-5 and Leangains. The great thing about IF is that I have just given three different IF protocols that are all terrific, and one is bound to work regardless of one’s lifestyle. It’s important to note though, that fasting will result in muscle wastage unless the faster does resistance training about three times a week (which they should be doing anyway).

    In terms of exercise, I love to mix it up. I teach a conditioning class on Fridays, where I cycle in different exercises and exercise theories on a semi-randomized basis. I like to keep everyone challenged and their bodies off-balance. The Tabata protocol played a huge role in my class. Right now we are rotated away from it, but consider this a wholehearted endorsement of it!

    As I’m primarily a martial artist, I try and do exercises that accentuate the attributes needed for it. That is, I avoid anything having to do with long, slow cardio (running, long-distance biking), which is muscle-wasting anyway. I do bike to class 1-3 times a week (randomized, of course), but treat it like a series of sprints with low-intensity rest periods in between.

    The bottom line for me is results. Doing the above things, I feel younger and am light-years beyond in health and wellness than I was five or even ten years ago. I haven’t gotten sick in months, even when exposed to people who were. Subscribing to Art’s blog is $20 a year (i highly recommend his DVD set too, which is more), and the Eat-Stop-Eat e-book is a little bit of money too (Fast-5 is free), but how can you put a price on the wellness, health, and happiness that a positive change of life will give you?

    I look forward to any thoughts you have on supplements (As I have a few of my own).

    I hope you guys stay safe through the upcoming storm, please lemmie know if you or any of your students need shelter, if they come as far as ATX.



  3. Ryon,
    Thanks so much for the awesome and detailed comment. I’m definitely planning to take you up on the offer to train the Huas, etc. Maybe I can make a trip out there in September (hopefully, Gustav won’t make the trip mandatory and long-term).

    I’ll look into those links you posted. That “primal challenge” on Mark’s Daily Apple looks like fun. I wish I had more experience with outdoorsy sports. Unfortunately New Orleans is not a great town for fitness or the outdoors. Aside from the oppressive climate, we don’t have rocks to climb or hills to sprint up. Rowing a pirouge in the bayou just isn’t the same level of intensity. Helen and I have done some sprinting up the levees. Insert Corps of Engineers/ flimsy levee joke here.

    On the topic of elite athletes with unhealthy diets, I plan on writing a post “health vs. fitness.” I think that the Michael Phelps 12,000 calories a day story is a gross exaggeration. I don’t think the human body can metabolize that much food in a day, and if you could eat like that you’d look like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python.

    Art de Vany has been fairly influential on the development of my exercise and nutritional thinking, though I think his blogger persona sometimes comes off as very a-holish (i.e. posting pictures of his bulging triceps so his adoring commenters can fawn over him). Add to that, his politics can be as Neanderthal as his diet (winky smiley face dealie).

    I get some of my DeVany info-fix filtered through the wry wit of Nassim Taleb, who has a more breezy, affable authorial persona better suited to my taste.

  4. […] bookmarks tagged in defense of food My Take on Weight Loss saved by 1 others     tiff0725 bookmarked on 08/29/08 | […]

  5. Joseph,

    Hope you and Helen are getting the hell outta NOLA right now!

    Yes, DeVany is an arrogant libertarian wacko, which just makes it that much more annoying to me that every piece of advice of his I’ve followed about nutrition and exercise has turned out to be absolutely right! Oh well, you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, I guess.

    I’ve been thinking about starting up a blog similar to yours. I’ve got a lot of stuff to share. I’ve adapted some CrossFit workouts to Shaolin and what have you, as well as a hell of a blogroll.

    Stay safe!


  6. […] to appreciate the subtle sweetness of natural foods like sweet potatoes and winter squash. My overall recommendation on diet is to major in natural, whole foods and steer away from highly processed or industrially-grown food […]

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