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Friday, April 07, 2017

Ruminations on a Middle-Aged Man's Diet and Exercise Program, Part I

I lost a bunch of weight about 15 years ago, only to gain it back incrementally when I told myself that eating ice cream with the kids wasn't so bad and that I could keep it off if I wanted to.  The problem was that once you ate a little, you started to eat more.  And then your life was so pediatric in nature that juggling spousehood, parenthood and work was too much to provide time to exercise.  To stay awake, you ate foods to sustain you, usually of the variety that tasted much better than they offered nutritional value.  I also lost a bunch of weight several years back, but suffered a few injuries that prevented me from exercising, and, yes, the incremental eating came back.  Mind you, I tried, but I didn't have a nutritionist, coach, workout partner, healthcare professional or anyone helping me. 

I was tired at the end of 2015, stiff, out of shape and weighing about 25 pounds more than I thought I should.  I contemplated what to do next.  I have a membership to a good gym, and I also have some good equipment to work out with at home.  I went on line and read, enough at least to find a good diet app at the Mayo Clinic and to watch my portions and habits.  It's been over a year since I started, and I'm down 25 pounds and in very good shape.  I still have about 8 to go to get to my dream weight, and the final pounds are the hardest to lose and keep off.  Especially when you need to socialize and are a foodie at heart. 

So what did I do? 

First, I did the right things diet-wise.  I didn't go on a gimmicky diet.  But I did cut down on fried food, sweets and red wine.  I found that getting processed sugar mostly out of my diet, along with the alcohol, made me feel more relaxed and enabled me to sleep better at night.  I also made sure that I ate plenty of fruits and vegetables; my daughter remarked that within the past 15 months she's seen me eat more fruit than she had during the time she's been on this earth.  Typically, that can mean berries at breakfast, a banana with lunch, an orange or apple in the afternoon and some melon at night.  Four servings, perhaps five, all good.  I'll touch more upon the diet later.

As for exercise, as it turned out, I wasn't doing a great job of it.  I did a lot of cardio and some stretching, but no weight training.  By a lot of cardio I mean either 30 minutes on a rowing machine and then 20 minutes of a fixed bike.  But I went at it either leisurely or very hard; no in between.  I lost some weight because per the Mayo Clinic app I cut down on my portions and what I was eating.  That was good.  Then I went for a comprehensive physical.

As it turned out, I was doing too much cardio, not enough weights, not enough stretching, and not the right type of cardio.  So, I adjusted my exercise program to start out with a few minutes of cardio to get the blood pumping, a solid stretching routine focusing on core exercises (I pulled a few exercises from a yoga class I had attended), and then interval work on a fixed bike or on the rowing machine.  I worked out with a medicine ball and resistance bands, then lifted weights at the gym and did pushups at home.  The goal was to take weight away from the midsection and to elevate it to the chest muscles.  That coaching session with a personal trainer -- came with the comprehensive physical -- put my workouts on a good course.

As for the diet, I'll offer the following (all geared to try to eat about 1800 calories a day):

Breakfast -- nonfat yogurt with cinnamon, with a portion of flax flakes and a portion of low-sugar granola mixed in.  A portion or two of berries.  Water.

Work -- decaf coffee or green tea, drink more water.

Lunch -- salad with veggies, chick peas from the salad bar at a local supermarket, low-cal dressing.  A piece of fruit.

Snack mid-afternoon -- piece of fruit.

Dinner -- some protein (fish, chicken mostly), perhaps more salad and then steamed vegetables.  Also a change for a sweet potato every now and then, a small portion of whole-wheat pasta or a piece of bread.  Some fruit after dinner, sometimes a banana, sometimes some cut melon.

Snack (if needed) -- small piece of dark chocolate or some unsalted, unbuttered popcorn.

The key things are will power (to keep up the impetus to exercise) and discipline (to stay focused on the diet and on exercise).   Sure, you can have a steak to celebrate something and a piece of birthday cake every now and then.  You just cannot do that or have a drink routinely. 

I feel good -- stretched out, in shape and ready to go out into the world.  Sure, it can be fun to have ice cream sundaes or brownies or both daily, but as we age our metabolism changes and health problems can magnify.  I want to be one of those people who takes long walks when he is in his 80's and is flexible enough to keep moving and stay active.  There's one way to do that -- take care of yourself.


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