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A Framework for Fitness

Here are the bases for developing a strong framework of health and fitness:

–         Eat 1,500 calories per day: This should be spread out over 4-5 meals to properly nourish your muscles, keep your energy levels up, and expedite fat loss through insulin control and avoidance of “spillage.” This number is average.  Please consult with me with a more accurate # for you and your goals!

–         Minimize “spillage” with 300-350 calorie meals and snacks: “Spillage” is the overflow of calories from a large meal that goes straight to fat deposits when your body cannot adequately use the calories provided at one sitting.  Your body can only normally handle around 300-400 calories at a time – the rest of the calories eaten go straight to fat storage.  This is one of the biggest reasons why people gain fat and feel tired – they eat too infrequently resulting in fat gain from large meals and tiredness from not eating over many hours.

–        Drink a minimum of 80-100 ounces of water per day: I know this one may be difficult to track.  I suggest you start your day with a gallon jug of water and then work to finish off 3/4 of the jug.  Or, you can use individual water bottles and then keep count of the bottles you drank.  Either way, put as much effort into drinking water as you will into sticking to the meal plan – the payoff is the fastest, easiest way to lose fat and keep it off.

Why do I need to eat so frequently (and in smaller quantities)?

–          Given everyone’s busy schedule this question comes up more often than most others.  Simply put, we need to eat frequently and in sufficient quantities to avoid triggering the body’s survival mechanism.  When the human body does not receive food every 3 hours or in inadequate amounts it perceives an oncoming “famine” and begins to store away fat and lock down existing resources.  It prefers fat as an emergency resource because fat has 9 calories per gram (as opposed to protein and carbohydrates, which each have 4 calories per gram) and thus is more important for survival.  Moreover, in this mode your body’s metabolism (the rate at which it burns calories and thus fat) slows down to further protect its vital energy resources.  So, by not eating frequently enough you: (1) slow down the rate at which you burn fat, and (2) lock down your fat stores, making it harder for your body to burn existing fat for energy.  Not eating frequently enough is one of the biggest hidden reasons why people have difficulty losing fat.

Related to how often you should eat is the size of each meal – this idea is more intuitive but it’s worth mentioning to emphasize its effect on your body.  Basically, the average woman’s body can only absorb/use around 300-600 calories per meal (depending on her size, weight, lifestyle, etc) – any excess calories the body cannot use “overflows” and is immediately stored as fat.  This is why it is so important to eat slowly and “listen” to your body’s signals that it is full and has had enough food.

More often than not people first entering this program eat more calories than they should at each meal – as a result, their bodies may be used to more food than they really need at one sitting.  You’ll know if this applies to you if you initially feel the meal portions to be too small.  But, don’t worry too much because you will be eating more frequently and the foods you will be eating will satisfy you for longer periods of time.  Also, over time as you continue to follow the plan your body will readjust itself and you will no longer experience this feeling.

Is drinking enough water really that important?

Yes, it is.  Let’s dig a little deeper here to understand why water is so important.  First, some facts:

  1. The human body contains up to 60% water
  2.  The human brain is composed of 70% water
  3.  Blood is over 80% water
  4. Lean muscle tissue is 75% water

So, how does this relate to your health and fitness endeavors?

(a)    ALL FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY WILL SLOW DOWN WITH EVEN MINIMAL DEHYDRATION-this means your metabolism will slow down.

(b)   Sufficient water will help you to lose fat.  When you don’t drink enough water your kidneys can’t adequately flush toxins from your body.  As a result, your body will rely on your liver to help.  This borrowed capacity means that less of the liver can function to carry out one of its main jobs: metabolizing (or burning) body fat.  So, when you don’t drink enough water you actually burn less fat, keeping more on your body.  Bottom line: drink sufficient water to expedite fat loss.

(c)    Sufficient water intake will help you to efficiently tone your body and lose fat by developing your muscles and increasing your general strength levels.  [Important note: The more muscles you can target in a workout the higher your metabolic rate, and the faster you burn body fat.]  As muscle cells are largely composed of water it is logical that water plays a role in their development.  Water facilitates the contraction of muscle cells in order to safely and properly exercise the muscle.  Visualize a fresh piece of meat at the supermarket on the one hand and a piece of dry beef jerky on the other.  Which one do you think is easier to develop with exercise while avoiding injury?

(d)   And, after your workout water plays a large role in flushing the muscles of built-up toxins, promoting their recovery and speeding up development.  The faster your muscles can develop the more quickly you will rev up your metabolic rate to burn fat and help safeguard against future injury.  Bottom line: drink enough water to efficiently develop your desired level of strength, muscle tone, and ultimately fat loss.

(e)   Sufficient water is vital for overall health and energy.  Water allows for proper digestion of foods and delivery of nutrients along with also facilitating the backend functions of waste and toxin removal from your body.  Water also regulates body temperature and helps you to avoid fatigue caused by dehydration (note: your general energy levels are directly related to your state of hydration – recall the last time you spent the whole day at the beach or outdoors with insufficient water – you were tired from dehydration).  All of this, in addition to helping you to lose body fat, tone your muscles and develop your general level of strength should help close the case on whether water is really that important for you.

Coffee is Fine (just keep it in moderation)

Like anything, coffee is a drink that a lot of people enjoy on a daily basis.  There’s a lot to be said for brewing up a nice hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  So, I would never recommend totally giving up your morning joe because abstinence is just not natural and therefore not a lifestyle solution.  With that said, I would like to mention a few things to think about as you begin this nutritional journey.

A great way to expedite fat loss is to aim to pare your daily intake of caffeine to “1 cup” of coffee, replacing the other(s) with green tea – the antioxidants (in tea) alone make the switch more than worth it.  Notice however that I put “1 cup” in quotes – well, today’s super-size-me culture has led to larger and larger quantities as being accepted as normal.  Remember, that 8 oz is considered one cup.  So, please keep this in mind when tracking your intake of caffeine.  I emphasize caffeine because this is the real culprit to coffee having any negative effects on your fat loss endeavors; admittedly, it’s also why most of us really drink the stuff (i.e. it is an energizer and mood enhancer)

Now, you may have heard that caffeine can help with weight loss.  And, if you continuously drank it all day (before the buzz wore off) to artificially raise your metabolic rate then it could theoretically help out a bit.  Caffeine is thermogenic in that it artificially raises your metabolic rate.  This has the effect of burning more calories – but, only temporarily (until the buzz wears off).  And, caffeine taken before exercise can enhance the release of free fatty acids, helping you to use some of your fat stores as energy – but, again this is temporary.  So, caffeine can have a limited benefit to your endeavors.

But, it’s when you back up and look at the big picture that you see how caffeine can be problematic to losing body fat.  When you consume caffeinated drinks the caffeine impairs insulin activity thereby raising your blood sugar levels.  Elevated blood sugar levels, in turn, tell your body to release even more insulin – it is the raised insulin levels that impede fat loss by signaling to your body that it has plenty of glucose for energy and that it should store more of this than it needs to in the form of fat.  This then causes too much sugar to be stored away, producing sugar cravings and a vicious cycle of repeat.

Besides helping you to store more fat and produce sugar cravings caffeine, as a diuretic, dehydrates your body, stealing away some of your liver function to help the kidneys flush your body of toxins.  With one of the liver’s main function being fat metabolism, or burning of body fat, you can see how this negatively impacts your ability to burn fat.

Again, I am not recommending total abstinence – rather, I think it would really help you to lose fat if you pared down the coffee and replaced it over time with green tea.  The idea is to make it easier for you to lose body fat – so, if this is your goal there’s no sense in putting up a barrier (e.g. drinking more caffeine than you really need) to helping you achieve this end.  And, if you are worried about losing energy (from the caffeine buzz)  – you won’t!  In a few weeks your body will adjust – more importantly, as you shape your body and lose fat your natural energy will go through the roof (like being a kid again).

Going Out to Eat and Social Situations

Eating out is an enjoyable activity that can and should be a part of everyone’s life.  It’s a social and cultural norm that plays a big part in familial/social celebrations as well as transacting business affairs.  Therefore, the smart and healthy lifestyle approach is to learn how to responsibly eat out.

When it comes to eating out, especially at once-a-year events, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, I advocate a simple, practical approach.  Of course, you want to enjoy yourself and would never think of offending a host by nibbling your meal – so, an effective strategy is to pre-empt the urge to splurge.  Specifically, before you leave to eat such a meal have a quick shake or protein bar to tide you over.  Eat/drink this around 20 minutes before you sit down to the meal.  This will help to take the edge off and cool uncontrollable urges to splurge on everything and anything (it’s really tough to not salivate when the warm aromas of a Thanksgiving feast fill your nostrils with delight).  Being less emotionally drawn to the aromas and sight of favorite foods you will be more able to make smart conscious choices.

If you don’t want to “ruin” your appetite in this way (since Thanksgiving, for example, only happens once a year) then I suggest you strategize your meal.  If appetizers are served then try to pick those that are more vegetable-protein oriented and steer clear of only consuming heavily carb-laden choices.  Similarly, when you sit down to eat first tackle the vegetables and proteins.  The fiber from the vegetables and the protein from the meats and/or fishes will not only quell your hunger but also help to slow up the assimilation of the carbs that are sure to follow.  By slowing up their assimilation you reduce the risk of insulin shock and help avoid the dreaded sugar rush/fat gain.  By strategizing like this you can enjoy the meal in a healthy manner without tipping off your host.  Of course, it also helps to eat slowly and/or engage in conversation – when you do this you give your body time to signal you are full, thereby helping to avoid overeating.

When planning to eat out it helps to know ahead of time what you may be getting yourself into.  In this case, it is best to do a little planning by researching a restaurant’s menu prior to eating.  Visit websites like HealthyDiningFinder.com or CalorieLab.com to find those dishes that have the healthier ratios of fats to carbs to protein and lower total calories.  As well, many restaurant websites have the nutritional information of their entire menu.  It’s a good idea to bookmark your favorite restaurants and begin to learn their menus – this acts as good practice for making estimations when you haven’t properly planned and are faced with ordering a dish you aren’t familiar with.

When you haven’t researched a restaurant’s menu beforehand or are eating at a mom and pop joint ask that they prepare the meal to your liking (i.e. steam the vegetables, light or no butter in sauces, dressings on the side, etc.).  Bottom line: every little bit leads to better, healthier choices.  (note: you will be astonished at the calorie, and fat levels of some of your favorite “healthy” dishes – cooking foods in fat and/or stirring fat straight into sauces is a common practice – remember, their bottom line is to make food taste good so that you return, period.  Also, keep in mind that even when a restaurant dish claims to have “x” number of calories more likely than not the cooks are more focused on quickly getting a dish out than in preparing it exactly according to a formula that will result in “x” number of calories.  And, since consumers have gotten used to larger portions the cook will rather err on the side of more than less – again, a happy customer means repeat business.)

Quickest way to remove 150 calories per meal is to get everything without cheese.  You won’t notice it missing on most things (sandwiches, salads, burgers).

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