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Texans Fitness Corner

Welcome to Dan Riley's latest installment of Texans Fitness Corner. The response continues to be overwhelming. We will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to fitness@houstontexans.com.

NOTE: Before engaging in any new physical activity, always consult your physician.

What advice would you give a 46-year old man who has let himself get way out of shape? I am 6'1" and weigh 252 pounds. I do not have time to work out in a gym. I went on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet 3 years ago and had good but only temporary results, plus I feel like I lost some significant strength in the process. My doctor just tells me to watch what I eat. He said he doesn't know anything about nutrition and exercise. I am not looking for someone to tell me what to do, just a little advice on something I haven't thought about.

-- Steve (Houston)

It is easier to stay in shape than it is to get back in shape. The best advice I can give you (and any other overweight and out of shape adult) is don't let yourself get out of shape. And if you are out of shape don't let it happen to your children.

Parents are primarily responsible for allowing their children to become fat. There is an out of print book, authored by Joseph Wilkinson, titled, "Don't Raise Your Child to be a Fat Adult." I wish all parents had access to this book before they had children. Some children are born with a genetic predisposition for getting fat.

Wilkinson states that the likelihood of a child becoming obese works out like this:

Two obese parents: 80 percent.

One obese parent: 40 percent.

Two normal weight parents: 7 percent.

Your problem Steve, may have started when you were a child. There are three periods in a child's life when excess fat cells can be added. Two of those periods are critical.

They are the final three months of pregnancy, and the first two years of life. These are critical periods because the child has no control over his or her life at this age. Children are forced to rely upon their parents to help them from becoming a fat child (and eventually a fat adult).

Wilkinson states, "Even before he is born, a child can develop extra fat cells if his mother is overweight. And fat cells once developed, never go away."

A child continues to add fat cells until the age of ten. During this period there are two major factors that help to determine if a child becomes fat. Those factors are, too much food and not enough activity. Where do children learn their eating and activity habits? From their parents.

Most parents exhibit extreme care and caution regarding the well being of their children. Unfortunately when it comes to preventing childhood obesity many parents are failing.

Some school systems are de-emphasizing physical education. Our children need just the opposite. In our society today, daily vigorous activity is as important to our children as learning how to read and write. It won't make any difference how smart they are if they're in poor health or dead by the time they are 40.

I apologize Steve for using part of your question as a soapbox to sound the alarm for parents to become more concerned about their impact on child obesity. However it's become an epidemic. Today children are fatter than ever, and the problem continues to worsen. Remember, these fat children will soon become fat adults. They will inherit all of the health problems that are associated with being overweight.

Somewhere between 25 and 30 years old, the aging process begins. Our metabolism slows down and we begin to lose muscle. Combine this with the pressures of earning a living and a sedentary lifestyle, and it's no wonder so many adults are overweight and out of shape.

Steve, you will not succeed in losing weight and improving your level of fitness if you look upon this as a short-term project. Your behavior modification must be long-term …. the remainder of your life. You must begin by addressing each of the areas listed below.

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  1. Modify and monitor your eating habits.

  2. Engage in a total body muscular fitness program.

  3. Perform aerobic exercise with some degree of frequency.

I was impressed with the comments your doctor made regarding his lack of expertise in nutrition and exercise. Most doctors are untrained in the area of nutrition.

In the area of nutrition you'd be better served seeking the advice of a Registered Dietitian (R.D.). They spend four years studying a specifically designed and very rigorous nutrition curriculum. They earn a degree from a reputable institution and pass a standardized test to become certified. In addition, they are members of the American Dietetic Association, a well-respected professional organization. I'd strongly encourage you to find an R.D. for all of your nutrition guidance.

I'd also encourage you to take an active role in gathering sound and reliable information about nutrition and exercise. Don't expect to find factual information from the tabloids located at your grocery store. Listed below are some of the resources I use.

University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter, P.O. Box 420148, Palm Coast, FL, 32142, (386) 447-6328

Bailey, Covert; The New Fit or Fat (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1991)

I am not a Registered Dietitian, but I will pass on some basic concepts from the nutrition community that we give to our players. First and foremost, avoid dieting. Dieting is temporary. DIETS DON'T WORK. If any one diet did work, there wouldn't be any fat or overweight people. Monitoring what you eat, how much you eat, and how often you eat, is a lifetime commitment.

Restrict calories (any diet) and you will lose weight. How much of that weight loss is muscle, how much is water, and how much is fat? Most people regain any weight lost from dieting.

One survey reported that out of every 200 people who go on any diet, only ten lose all the weight they set out to lose. And, of those ten dieters, only one keeps it off for any reasonable length of time - a failure rate of 99.5%.

You should become more concerned with your body composition, not the weight on your bathroom scale. For the rest of your life your motto must be, "What percentage of my bodyweight is muscle - and how much is fat?"

Your new goal should be to speed up your metabolism. Restricting calories (dieting) can slow your metabolism down. It's called the "Setpoint theory." In their book, "The Dieter's Dilemma, Eating Less and Weighing More," William Bennett, M.D., and Joel Gurin, describe the Setpoint theory.

"The Setpoint theory holds that fatness is not an accident. Each body 'wants' a characteristic quantity of fat and proceeds to balance food intake, physical activity, and metabolic efficiency in order to maintain that amount."

Oversimplified the theory states that you have a mechanism in your body that regulates the amount of fat maintained by your body. If you severely restrict calories (diet) the body will respond by slowing down your metabolism and burning fewer calories (store more fat).

Once you stop dieting and return to eating normal, you regain the lost weight and then some, because your metabolism has been slowed down. Yo-yo dieting can lead to additional weight gain each time you terminate a diet.

In his book "Diets Don't Work," author Bob Schwartz, Ph.D., writes, "Diets do work. They work in reverse. Weight-loss diets make most people gain weight in the long run. They're the best method for gaining weight ever discovered."

Dr. Schwartz reports about skinny people he placed on diets. Initially they lost weight. He took them off the diet and they gained some weight. He states, "Over and over, I would put them on the same diet. Eventually they didn't lose any weight at all while on the diet. But when I took them off the diet, they gained. I kept doing this - one step backward, two steps forward, until they gained all the weight they wanted."

Dr. Schwartz studied thin people. He observed that naturally thin people do five simple things that overweight people don't do.

  • A naturally thin person eats only when their body is hungry.

A naturally thin person eats exactly what they want to eat.

A naturally thin person enjoys every bite of food they put in their mouth.

A naturally thin person stops eating when their body is no longer hungry.

A naturally thin person never diets.

The Setpoint theory advocates eating frequent (smaller) meals. Fat is stored energy. The body stores fat for future use. Restrict calories (diet) and the body responds by slowing down your metabolism. Your body will resist losing fat as a protective mechanism.

Eat frequently and the fat regulating mechanism in your body realizes it doesn't have to store fat. We teach our players to find out how much food they can eat and lose weight, instead of how little food they can eat. I suggest you ask your R.D. about the Setpoint theory. I think you'll be surprised at how much good quality food you can eat and continue to lose weight.

You mentioned your high protein low carbohydrate diet and the temporary success you experienced. Most nutrition experts claim that some of the weight lost on a high protein/low carbohydrate diet is from water.

The body retains 2-3 grams of water for each gram of carbohydrate consumed. Cutting back on carbohydrates is a form of dehydration. Eating more carbohydrates is a form of hydration. Get off your high protein diet and go back to eating more carbohydrates and your bodyweight increases (retains more water).

You mentioned a loss in strength and probably a corresponding lack of energy. Protein is a poor source of energy. Carbohydrates are an excellent and efficient source of energy.

I recently attended a fitness seminar hosted by the Houstonian. The speaker was Dr. Len Kravitz, Professor of Exercise Science at the University of New Mexico. It was an outstanding and informative presentation. During his lecture Dr. Kravitz addressed the limitations of diets in general, to include high protein diets.

He listed six significant negative effects from using a high protein diet.

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  1. Lack of energy.

  2. Form of dehydration.

  3. Strain on the kidneys.

  4. Extra strain on the liver.

  5. Electrolyte imbalance.

  6. Has not been shown to cause a lasting weight loss.

Dr. Kravitz is also an excellent source of reliable information. I'd suggest you visit his website at www.drlenkravitz.com.

In your question you mentioned your busy schedule prohibits you from joining a gym. It is essential for you to begin a strength-training program. The purpose of this program must be to regain lost muscle due to the aging process and inactivity.

Adding muscle will help speed up your metabolism, burn more calories, help to improve the quality of your life, and firm and tone muscles.

A report regarding Men and Osteoporosis, appeared in the September issue of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. It states that a man over the age of 50 has a greater chance of suffering a fracture as a result of osteoporosis than of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Adding and maintaining muscle should become a priority for all adults 50 and over.

If you don't have time to join a gym I suggest you explore the home gym market. The only product I'm familiar with is a product called the Power Block. It is a tray of dumbbells that range from 5 pounds up to 125 pounds. It's too difficult to describe. To get information call 800-446-5215, or, www.powerblock.com.

It comes with a multi-purpose 0 degree to 90 degrees bench. You can perform a wide range of exercises with this equipment and it is reasonably priced. I have one of these units in my home.

I'd also recommend purchasing a Gym Ball. It is a large air filled ball that can be used to perform exercises for the midsection and lower body. A very versatile product for less than $30.00. Call Power Systems for information: 800-321-6975, www.power-systems.com.

Last but not least is aerobic exercise. Find the time to walk. Walk whenever you can. Ideally 30 to 45 minutes daily. If you can't do this on a regular basis do it as often as possible. Find ways to walk more during the course of your workday.

If possible park your car a ¼ mile from where you work instead of right outside the office. Do the same when you go to the mall. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. While waiting in the airport walk. Activity is essential.

You'll need an attitude adjustment about eating and exercise. Eat to live - don't live to eat. View exercise as a welcome part of your lifestyle - not drudgery.

During the Renaissance Period people lived off the land. They grew their own food, built their own homes, and developed a respect for the physical qualities needed to survive. Statues and paintings of the men and women from this era depicted rugged muscular physiques.

The Industrial Revolution removed people from the land and moved them into the factories for work. Tractors and machines performed the physical labor once done by people.

Changes in technology have led to a better quality of life for most of us. Today few adults perform manual labor. Children are less active and fatter than ever. Unfortunately we have become a society that doesn't like to be uncomfortable. If it's hot we turn on the air conditioner. If it's cold we turn up the heat. We drive our children everywhere. We circle the parking lot until we find a parking space within a few feet of the store we are shopping at.

Meaningful exercise has become more important than ever. Too many people are sold a bill of goods about becoming more fit. Getting in shape and staying in shape isn't easy. People should be told, "Diets don't work, it's hard to lose fat, and exercise requires you to leave the comfort zone."

It's never too late. Anyone can become more fit if you are willing to invest a little bit of time, energy, and discipline for the rest of your life. This increase in fitness will pay dividends by improving the quality of your life.

We are a gullible public. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look for scientifically sound information.

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Conclusion **

In your question you asked for some thoughts or ideas that you may not have considered. I strongly urge you to consider the following:

  • Consult with a registered dietitian regarding nutrition advice.
  • Eat frequently - Setpoint theory- avoid dieting.
  • Find out how much quality food you can eat - not how little.
  • Eat 5 pieces of fruit each day/at least one vegetable.
  • Drink at least 8 (8 ounce) glasses of water daily.
  • Begin a total body muscular development program.
  • Exercise aerobically/become more active whenever possible.
  • Long term plan - no more than a ½ to 1 lb. fat loss/week.
  • Enjoy the challenge ahead.
  • Periodically visit your doctor to evaluate any changes.
  • Compliment your doctor on his willingness to acknowledge a lack of expertise in the area of exercise and nutrition.

I hope that I have provided you with some information that may help stimulate the interest, desire, and commitment, you will need to achieve the goal you desire.

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References: **

Bennett, William, M.D., Gurin, Joel, The Dieter's Dilemma - Eating Less and Weighing More (The Scientific Case Against Dieting as a Means of Weight Control), Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1982.

Beller, Anne Scott, Fat & Thin A Natural History of Obesity, McGraw-Hill, Toronto, 1977.

Kravitz, Len, Ph.D., Journey of a Fat Cell, Presentation at the Houstonian, August 4, 2001, Houston, Texas.

Remmington, Dennis, M.D., Fisher, Garth, Ph.D., Parent, Edward, Ph.D., How to Lower Your Fat Thermostat - The No-Diet Reprogramming Plan for Lifelong Weight Control, Vitality House International, Inc., 1997.

Riley, Dan, Arapoff, Jason, Washington Redskins Strength & Conditioning Guide, Spring 2000.

Schwartz, Bob, Ph.D., Diets Don't Work (Stop Dieting! Become Naturally Thin - Live a Diet-Free Life), Breakthru Publishing, Houston, Texas, 1996.

Wilkinson, J.F., Don't Raise Your Child to be a Fat Adult, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., New York, 1980.

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