Your metabolism is like a vintage car. If you keep using it, fueling it, caring for it, it will loyally keep running for you. But if you assume that since the car is older than it once was, it can’t run, well then, you’ll leave it in the driveway where it will rust. The choice is yours.
People do crazy things to avoid gaining weight during the holidays. As a personal trainer, I’ve watched the same bad habits wreak havoc on my clients over and over again. If you want to survive the holidays without gaining a pound, you're going to need a much more scientific approach.
There's a huge misconception when it comes to the obesity pandemic in America. Not everyone who is obese is obese because they eat too much. Not all fat people are gluttons. In fact, some of these people aren't eating enough. Let me explain.
The Problem + Its Effects
First of all, to understand obesity, first we need to understand what the word means. Medically speaking, obesity is a condition associated with having excess body fat. It can be measured using a Body Mass Index—and if a person's BMI is over 30, then that person technically qualifies as obese.
The risk factors associated with obesity are also widely understood. From hypertension, sleep apnea and heart disease, to some cancers, diabetes II, and stroke—living with obesity is dangerous, not to mention uncomfortable. Add to all of that a huge societal stigma, and it's no wonder that individuals who qualify as obese are 20 percent more likely to have symptoms of depression. It's hard for researchers to tell which comes first, depression or obesity, but there is no contesting—there is a strong correlation between both.
We may know what obesity is. We may be able to measure it and identify it and list all of its risks. But what becomes much more difficult is explaining why it's happening in the first place.
This is probably where you stop and say, "Come on Joe, let's be real. People who are obese are just eating too much. If they stopped eating, they'd lose weight. And if they'd lose weight, they'd stop being obese."
Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy? But it's not.
One issue is the role of certain hormones in the body. One such hormone is Leptin, a protein hormone produced by fat cells that travels through the blood to the brain and shuts off appetite. If leptin is a thermostat, then every human being is a separate climate, with its own "average temperature." The number of fat cells a person has varies from one individual to another. Therefore Leptin output varies as well. If a person doesn't produce leptin, or is leptin resistant then no matter how much or how little the individual eats, the satiety centers in the brain will continually feel that more food is needed.
But faulty hormones only impact a very small percentage of people.
For the majority, one of the most significant underlying causes of obesity is inactivity, and many inactive people don't eat enough calories. Let me explain. Your body burns a specific number of calories a day—a figure based on your age, height and weight, and oxygen consumption called your resting metabolic rate, or RMR. When someone eats less than the calories their body needs to get through the day, the RMR will slow 10 to 25 percent, in order to protect the existing fat in your body. For someone who was starving, that would be a life saving alteration. For someone who is obese, it is counter-intuitive, frustrating, and can lead to binge-eating, after periods of under-eating don't provide quick results.
Just because you "skip" meals, doesn't mean you'll lose weight. Like I've said before, people who are obese don't eat often enough. Experts estimate that more than 18 percent of Americans skip breakfast every day. That means by the time those 31 million people sit down to their first meal, it's late in the day—and the normal satiety rhythm of the body is already off. The fittest people in the world don't eat two meals a day. They don't even eat three meals a day! They eat five or six small meals every day, with a set number of calories in each meal.
Now let's talk about what's in those meals. One of the leading causes of obesity in America is the prevalence of the "cafeteria diet." Think about it. What's available in the typical American cafeteria? Or the center aisles of the grocery store? Trail Mix? Chips? Gatorade? Kool Aid? Processed lunch meats? When I was in graduate school, I worked with a set of lab rats to prove that it wasn't just caloric intake, but our calorie choices that matter.
One rat test group was fed a normal amount of pellet made of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and water—what we called a typical "rat chow" diet. The other group was fed the "cafeteria" diet. We filled the water bottle with Kool aid and fed the rats the exact same amount of food as the "chow" group, only this time—the food was the kind of junk food you'd find in a store. What we found was absolutely remarkable. The rats on the "cafeteria" diet not only gained weight and became obese, but they also lost the ability to regulate their hunger. While the rats in the chow group would leave some food uneaten in the bowl, the rats on the cafeteria diet never would.
There are no easy solutions for obesity—because every single individual is different. But that doesn't mean there's nothing we can do about it. Stop saying obese people should stop eating. The truth is, we must regulate the choices we make, investigate our hormone levels to make sure everything is working properly, and eat not too little, but just the correct amount of food each day. These are the steps to take to make progress. And real progress is possible. Just check out some of my client's before and after pix. You'll see what I mean.
For many clients, one of the hardest things to do is to walk through my door. And I don't blame them. Getting started is one of the biggest obstacles to fitness, but it doesn't have to stay that way. Here's what I'll want to know when you arrive day one, and what you should ask yourself before lacing up those tennis shoes...
1. Why are you here? (In other words, what are your goals?)
I'm glad you're here... but I want to know why. Do you want to lose weight? Strengthen a certain area of your body? Be challenged and pushed further than you've gone before, athletically? If you don't have a destination, then the journey doesn't feel as exciting. I want to know where you want to go, so I can create the roadmap to get there.
2. What's your lifestyle?
There are as many answers to this question as there are guys wearing denim in Nashville. Do you travel for work? Stay at home with kids? Work from 6 am to 7 pm every day? Do you work from home and need a break from being in the house? Everyone has time to workout. It's a matter of protecting that time, so you can.
3. What are your habits—good and bad?
it's time we own our habits. Both good and bad. When I was younger, my bad habits were probably drinking and hanging out too late, a result of growing up in NYC. But by the time I turned 23, I knew it was time to put my energy into developing myself mentally and physically. No matter what your background, it's vital to take an honest look at your habits and know when it's time to make a change. Do you live to cook? Eat out more often than in? Does the manager at Bobbie's Dairy Dip know your name, and the name of your dog, too? No judgement here. But the more honest you are with yourself, the sooner we can get to the good stuff.
4. What are your obstacles?
Since my background is in anatomy and physiology—I care about my client's medical history, past and persistent injuries, and anything else. It all matters. Because you matter. Many women I've trained have faced issues ranging from thyroid function to menopause to regaining strength during and tone after pregnancy. For men, health concerns can range from elevated cholesterol to diabetes, or even cardiac issues—many men are plagued by old sports injuries. There are ways to work around obstacles, through them, and beyond them. That's what I'm here for.
5. Are you ready to put you first?
After you've taken a hard look in the mirror, it will be much easier to address what needs to change. But even then, only you can decide to show up. I believe it's important to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. To be the best friend, father, mother, mentor, wife or worker you can be—you have to put you first. Are you ready? I thought so. Let's get started.