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michael phillips

The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

A few weeks ago, something dawned on me while my girlfriend and I were strolling through our neighborhood in the Sunset. We passed by our favorite local ice cream joint (which is located directly across the street from our gym by some twist of cosmic irony) and were overcome by temptation for the second day in a row. Normally we exercise more restraint, but alas, the ice cream won that day. Jokingly I said, “Well, as long as we workout more times in a week than we eat ice cream, we'll be okay.” I then realized that for most folks, they eat out far more often than they exercise. From that, an idea was born.

Here in San Francisco - where we take our food very seriously - the old adage of ‘move more and eat less’ isn't shown enough love. A lot of people engage in some amount of regular exercise, but the amount of it relative to the volume of food consumed isn't in the best proportion. I realized that most clients I have worked with go out to eat quite a bit more than they engage in vigorous exercise. As such, this version of the ‘move more and eat less’ challenge was born: on a weekly basis, try to get in the gym and perform vigorous exercise more times than you go out to eat.

Every challenge needs some guidelines to be effective. Although I don't want to make a rule set that's overly-specific or restrictive, some structure is needed to adhere to the spirit of the challenge. I'll make some suggestions below to help guide this process.

  1. The exercise session needs to be a minimum of 45 minutes in length, and it needs to be hard. Something like walking through the city doesn't count. Honestly, many forms of yoga or pilates wouldn't really qualify either. I'm not saying they have no value, but the level of energy expenditure is simply not high enough for our purposes. The exercise should increase your heart rate significantly and make you sweat (and not just because it's outside in the heat or in a hot room). If you can't engage in vigorous exercise for some reason, exercising to the level of a brisk walk for 90 minutes would also suffice.
  2. As far as whether or not a meal is considered “eating out” is a bit more subjective. However, a good rule of thumb is if you're selecting your meal based purely on taste, then it should probably count as eating out. If the meal is selected in an attempt to make it balanced and nutritious (and reasonably portioned), then it doesn't add to that count. So, if you cook a giant bowl of fettuccine alfredo at home, that's still “eating out.” Conversely, if you get a grilled chicken breast salad at the lunch spot near work, that's not “eating out.” I think you get the idea; it's about the spirit of how the meal is composed, not the technicality of who prepared it or where it was consumed. Additionally, every 3 drinks (1 beer, 1 glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) you consume in a week is considered eating out. So, if you drink a beer or glass of wine every night with dinner, that's 7 drinks or 2 extra counts of eating out for the week. If you go out to eat and drink a few drinks, then you just ate out twice. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I consider it so impactful that I felt it was worth using our imaginations a bit.
  3. Tally up both of these things, and try to make sure the number of exercise sessions is greater than the number of times you eat out in a week - it's really that simple. Start by trying to do this for a month, but you can aim to make it more of a long-term lifestyle choice as well.

The beauty of this challenge is that it helps you understand just how much exercise is required to counteract poor nutrition habits. For most people, the sensible choice is to change both habits a bit: exercise a few more times per week, and eat out a few less times per week. However, if eating with tons of freedom is important to you, then you do have the option of trying to balance that out with a massive volume of exercise. As well, if you really don't want to exercise much (I recommend against this option the most) or have health issues that prohibit this, then you can be very strict with your eating habits. Try it out and see how it goes!

Hopefully this arms everyone with yet another tool in the battle to enjoy the finer things in life while staying healthy. If nothing else, it will provide you some perspective on your lifestyle. That's all for today… Cheers!


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Earn Your Carbs

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Earn Your Carbs

As much as people argue otherwise, ultimately, the most important piece of being successful in altering body composition is energy balance (i.e. how much energy do you expend relative to the amount that you intake). There are a lot of variables that alter energy balance and create some nuance in truly figuring this out, but the old adage of "move more and eat less" is basically true - assuming your goal is fat loss.

There are a ton of diets out they're preaching all kinds of food restrictions. There’s paleo, which suggests you need to eat things that we’ve been eating as a species for some arbitrarily long amount of time. You have intermittent fasting, which basically suggests you skip breakfast and eat only in a small window of time during each day (or sometimes fast for entire days). You’ve got ketogenic diets, which restrict you from eating anything that has more than an insignificant amount of carbohydrate in it. There are, of course, many many more. What do all these diets have in common? They cause you to decrease net caloric intake. Paleo causes you to ingest fewer calories by mostly consisting of foods that are very satiating and have a lower amount of processing, meaning that the thermic effect of food is higher (it’s harder for the body to digest, and thus, it takes more energy to do so). Intermittent fasting simply makes it such that you don’t ingest as much food because it’s hard to overeat in such a small eating window. Ketogenic, or low carb, dieting is the one most relevant to the topic today. It succeeds by removing a massive source of calories in our modern, plentiful diets.

Carbs get a bad rap, and for misguided reasons. I do think removing carbohydrates from your diet works for fat loss, but it’s not because carbohydrates are "bad for you." The problem is that carbohydrates, especially in some of the forms we find them today, tend to be our greatest source of empty calories. Think about the things that people overeat: pasta, rice, breads, desserts, soft drinks, etc. All of these things are primarily carbohydrate-based. In my opinion, there are a few reasons this tends to happen. First of all, we have simply been conditioned to recognize what actually amounts to several servings of carbs as being a single serving. I’m not sure how or why this has become the norm over time, but usually the amount of rice or pasta we put on our plate, or the serving size found at a restaurant, is actually several servings of carbs. Second, the type of processing carbs are subjected to means that they’re a great way to sneak in a lot of extra fat and/or sugar into a package of the same size. A great example is french fries. Potatoes are actually a very healthy food, but if you deep fry them, they absorb a huge number of extra calories from the oil. Additional processing can also reduce the thermic effect of food by “pre-digesting” some component of the food (so your body doesn’t have to expend as much energy to digest it) and can also make it less satiating (so you feel less satisfied, likely leading to overeating). Another great example is a pastry at a coffee shop. You can easily find a muffin at Starbucks in excess of 700 calories. For a small and sedentary female, that might be half the intake, or more, she needs to consume for the day to successfully lose fat. A Starbucks muffin does not keep you satiated for very long, either - the tradeoff between calorie consumption and nutritional value/satisfaction is very poor. Finally, carbs are a great vehicle for sauces, which is another large source of extra calories. In a place like SF with a great food scene, you find tons of aiolis, gravys, and cream sauces. While they may be delicious, they’re usually very calorically dense. The vehicle on which you often find these things is some form of carbohydrate.

I’m not telling you to stop eating carbs, but I do want to a propose a solution. Because these foods tend to be the most dense source of calories out there, I suggest “earning your carbs.” What I mean is this: don’t feed yourself starchy carbs unless you earn them through expending a decent amount of energy. Otherwise, stick to fruits and vegetables for carbs. So, if you go on a hike, hit the gym, walk 3 miles home from work instead of taking the train, or something along those lines, allow yourself some starchy carbs. This does two things: it only allows the most calorie-dense foods to be consumed when you balance out the other end of the energy balance equation (energy expenditure), and it promotes being more active. Do you want to stay home all day on Sunday and watch Netflix and chill with your significant other? Fine! However, you’ll be eating only protein, fruits, and veggies for the day - you didn’t do enough to earn anything more than that. Let’s flip it and say you’re traveling and hike for several hours to see a beautiful view of the town you’re visiting. Great! You expended a lot of extra energy, so go enjoy that pasta dish you’ve been wanting to try later that night. Let’s say you do something somewhere in the middle. Your day is largely sedentary, except you get in the gym and do some weight training for an hour. Alright, you weren’t totally lazy today, but you didn’t go on an epic all-day hike either. In this case, the meal after you work out can include a sensible amount of starchy carbs in it. For some kind of reference, jogging or walking a mile expends around 100 calories (This does vary pretty significantly, depending on body weight). So, in order to work off the 700 calories you consumed with that Starbucks muffin, you need to walk or jog about 7 miles. Keep that simple rule of thumb in mind next time you succumb to an impulse food purchase like that.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule. I don’t like giving people overly restrictive suggestions when it comes to cleaning up their diet. Most of the time, I think that’s a recipe for failure. However, I do think this strategy is a useful proxy for balancing energy expenditure with energy intake, hopefully helping you lose fat or maintain your weight if that’s what you want. Go forth and sensibly include delicious carbs in your diet, and I’ll catch you in the next blog!

 


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What Are YOUR Priorities?

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What Are YOUR Priorities?

Everyone has a choice. In a given situation, your choices may be limited, or it may be unreasonable by most standards to choose certain options, but the choice is always there. If you are being robbed at gunpoint, you can choose to acquiesce and hand over your money, or you can resist. For most people, it is not worth the risk to fight for your money, but it is still a choice you have to make in that situation.

I have heard the words “I can't” more times than I can count in the context of discussing an exercise or diet regimen. Almost always, this is completely untrue, and not just from a semantics perspective. Typically, it's a matter of prioritizing other things instead: relaxing after work, doing work, family time, going out on the town, etc. It is not my job to judge people for the choices they make and how they prioritize their time. Rather, it is my job to help people understand which choices make achieving their goals more likely, and simply to help them realize that it is, in fact, a choice they make.

One of my first clients I worked with after I moved to the Bay Area is the CEO of a company that was acquired for about a billion dollars. He has a lot of employees depending on him to keep the company successful, and I doubt anyone would suggest that his job isn't demanding. However, he really enjoyed exercise, numerous times providing unsolicited feedback about how happy he was with the changes he saw both physically and mentally. In the 2.5 years I worked with him before I left that facility, I think he cancelled our session for work reasons only once or twice on short notice.

My former client flat out told me once that he prioritizes going to the gym more highly than his job, and that proved true the vast majority of the time. Again, it is a choice, even when it seems unreasonable to follow certain paths. In this case, a lot of people might deem his priorities as unreasonable, but ultimately that is completely a matter of opinion. In the end, it even proved beneficial for his work, as increased productivity is something he cited as a benefit of the regular exercise he was doing.

Next time you set a goal for yourself, be realistic about what you want, and what it's worth to you. For example, let's take the goal of having a visible six pack. Some people might think they really want this goal, but thinking about it this way has its issues. Most importantly, it ignores what you give up or change to get there. Make sure having a visible six pack is worth those changes to you.

If I told you that to get a six-pack you would have to eat out infrequently, prepare your meals in advance, stop drinking alcohol almost entirely, get 7+ hours of sleep every night, eat a specific number of calories each day, and work out most days of the week for months, would you still want to reach that goal?

For some, the answer is still yes, they want to reach this goal at all costs. For others, they realize that they don't want a six-pack as much as they think they do. More specifically, they prioritize certain behaviors more than having a visible six-pack. Either choice is fine by me, as long as you understand that you are making that choice.

Next time you make a choice, phrase it as such in your mind when you make that decision. For example, don't think to yourself “I want a six-pack.” Instead, think to yourself, “I want a six-pack more than I want that third piece of pizza.” Next time you want to skip a workout, don't think to yourself “I really want to go home and watch Netflix.” Instead, think to yourself, “I want to watch Netflix more than I want to get in shape.” Once you pose the question or idea to yourself like that, you can truly make your decision. Maybe you choose slice #3 over the six-pack. Fine by me, as long as you realize that's what you're doing! Just don’t keep saying you want something, but instead choosing a different path whenever an opportunity arises for your actions to reflect this desire.

To wrap it up, this isn't really an article about how to help you achieve your goals. Rather, it is an article about being honest with yourself and choosing goals that make sense for what you want. Special thanks to my former client referenced earlier; a conversation we had largely inspired this article. Until next time… choose wisely!


 

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