Thursday, July 26, 2007

From Weight Loss to Real Fitness: Reflections at the Crossroads

I’ve been traveling, meeting the new grandson, attending my 40th high school class reunion, and taking care of some things that I can’t attend to during the school year. Now I’m back and my blog will change its focus from weight loss to weight maintenance and bodybuilding. I will still concentrate on, and share, my low fat, and low sodium recipes.

Who I am and How I Got Here

I am a 57 year old male and the chair of the computer department at a small rural community college in Arkansas. I live on 60 acres in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Arkansas with my wife Sandy, two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Sheets and Jackson, and several cats. When I stepped on the scales at the fitness center January 3, 2007, I was shocked to find that I weighed 10 pounds more than when I had previously thought I was really fat, 210.25 pounds. More importantly, my blood pressure was 181/118 and this was the lowest of three measurements by three different people. I have never been a dieter but this time I set as my goal to see whether I could lower my blood pressure through diet, weight loss, and exercise.

Initially my target weight was 155 because that would have put me at the pre-1998 Body Mass Index (BMI) normal level and, as I work out regularly, I felt the current BMI was inappropriate to measure of my progress. I have since shifted to using body fat as measured by skin-fold testing to set my goals. On that basis, my first goal was 159 pounds and I am now shooting for an 18% body fat percentage which, by the way, may be accompanied by an actual increase in weight but a drop in body fat (muscle weights more than fat). On May 18 my body fat was 22.4% (I weighed 166 pounds), and on June 19 at a weight of 160.3 pounds, my body fat was 20.9%. My weight reached 155 pounds in early July. My blood pressure is now low normal without medication as well.

My Weight Loss Program

I have never trusted fad diets and felt that as I needed a combination of low calorie, low sodium, and low fat to meet my health goals, I would have to come up with my own program. I consulted the Mayo Clinic weight calculators and they recommended 1400 calories per day for me for weight loss. I decided to try to keep my daily sodium intake under 1500 mg and the percentage of daily calories from fat under 20%. In order to keep track of all this, I devised my own spreadsheet using Excel. I used, and continue to use, the USDA nutrient database. I have since discovered that there are a number of good web sites where you can register for free and keep track of these nutrients online. This program fit my head-on style and allowed me to take complete control over my diet and my health.

Now that I have reached my goal, I have increased my calorie limit from 1400 to 1800. I am actively increasing my daily protein intake from an average of about 70 grams per day, to a body builder’s 160 grams per day.

Exercise Program

I enjoy walking, gardening, and yard work but because of the focused nature of my program, I followed a more structured regimen at the Ouachita Rehabilitation and Fitness Center, working out 3-5 days per week. My workout consisted of a 10 minute warm-up on the treadmill followed by two circuits of strength (weight) training and ending back on the treadmill for 20 minutes followed by a 5 minute cool down. I spent a total of 35 minutes on the treadmill and alternated days of strength training focusing on upper body one day and lower body the next. This workout took about an hour and ten minutes.

After being referred to as “small” twice in one week, I decided that I needed to add some significant muscle. I hadn’t been called small since public school days. The real benefit of muscle is that it is more metabolically active than fat and takes more calories to maintain. With the advice of my exercise physiologist, I have changed my strength training from “strength-endurance” to strength. While the cardio (treadmill) portion stays the same, the strength portion involves three sequential sets of decreasing repetitions (12, 10, and 8) and increasing weight at each machine, while allowing recovery time between rep sets. My workout now takes over an hour and a half. When school starts next month, I will probably have to make some modifications.

The most insidious obstacle I face is my own head and my body image. I continue to struggle with the person in the mirror. Until recently I saw myself as still fat and large, and have had to overcome the cognitive dissonance created by my perception and the perceptions of the outside world. I have been called “small” and “the incredible shrinking man” by acquaintances. I wear size 34 belts and slacks rather than the size 40s I wore for decades, and my shirt size has gone from extra large to medium. If I don’t get in synch with this new reality, my subconscious has the power “solve” the dissonance problem by sabotaging my weight loss. Body building is one way that I can still be substantial while at the same time healthy. Stay tuned.


To get my protein consumption up to one gram per pound of body weight, I am spacing chocolate whey protein shakes (23 g protein per scoop) mixed with water, as needed throughout the day. This will feed muscle growth. I have also added 5 g of creatine split between pre and post workout along with amino acids (taurine, arginine, and a few others) and dextrose. The creatine helps increase endurance, muscle fiber size, and decrease recovery time. After a workout, the sugar is needed to replace the glycogen stores in the muscle and the spike in insulin helps transport the nutrients (creatine and glucose) to the muscle fibers. I have a significant protein meal after working out as well, and I haven’t noticed any negative effects on my blood sugar from this diet.


As I have reached my goal, I will no longer be posting my daily recaps. I do have some great recipes coming up including the best diet blue cheese dressing ever.