There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that obesity is a huge epidemic that affects millions of Americans. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:
- More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
- More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese.
- More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity.
- About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese.
- More than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese.
These are facts that are not in dispute despite the rise of gym memberships, fad diets, fitness crazes, et al. Simply put there is either a seeming misunderstanding of how the body works, there is a gross level of intake of toxic foods, or there is an inestimable level of increasing laziness. Most likely it is a strong combination of all of the above. This implies that there must be something else going on that prevents us from bringing our obesity levels down.
My Personal Experience
In “Being True — Body (Diet)” I outlined the lifestyle by which I am currently eating and finding happiness with. I don’t consider it a fad. I don’t associate with a group of people who eat just like I do. I don’t “lord” it over people that I am eating the way I do. It is very much a personal decision I made based on what “synched up” with me best. While some may purposely misinterpret the statements in both articles as permission to eat all the junk food they want or to exercise as little as they would like. Both urges actually act in violation with our own Will’s desire to strengthen body, mind, and spirit. The Truth is that giving into urges of pleasure over health leads to stagnation. In stagnation there is only Death.
I would like to address the issue of exercise and the body with a few anecdotes. I did not grow up as an obese child. In fact I didn’t grow up as an athletic child either. Most of the food which I ate was gained through “commodities” and consisted of white rice, canned fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches, and some meat. When payday would come for my parents we might have splurged by ordering Little Caesar’s pizza. True healthy eating was never something learned though. My weight stagnated until my first trip to the hospital for depression at age 17 where I had put up 10 pounds moving from 155 lbs. to 165 lbs. Fitness was only learned after a desire to emulate Chuck Norris spurred me to join Karate. Eventually I would learn about weight lifting too but I wouldn’t be able to really embrace lifting until my 20’s due to lack of equipment and innovation. During these years my weight was comfortable but I never achieved the same fitness results that my closest friends did. Eventually marriage and children would lead to weight gain. Being surrounded by friends who were much more athletic than I was certainly increased the amount of stress involved in being overweight. Thus I found weightlifting and loved it.
I made my first foray into ketosis early on but with a lack of education it didn’t go well and while I lost weight it was unsustainable as I felt like I was continually starving myself. At that time I was able to drop from 220 down to 195 but quickly ballooned up again. Later I would train with my closest friend in Muay Thai over the course of a summer. I was again on a restricted calorie diet and was training for up to 12 hours a day. Over the course of that summer I dropped 50 lbs. going from 235 to 185. It was again unsustainable as I could not maintain eating nuts, chicken, and oatmeal ad infinitum. The third foray into weight loss I had moved away from my hometown and decided to go less “crazy” about lifting and dieting. I weight roughly 225 pounds at the time and limited my exercise to lifting 3 days a week with cardio on the other three days. My diet was better, but not perfect, and could have been sustainable except for some stressors that were later added. I was regularly losing 2 to 3 lbs. per week. It’s very important to note before I move on that I did less exercise then and was more consistent with my weight loss. In fact when I had gotten through several stressors over the next two years I again ventured into strengthening my body but was living out of a hotel for work and thus was limited to resistance band training and running. I lost thirty pounds easily and only ended up gaining the weight back after I was fired from my job. When I finally moved back to my hometown I decided to kick mental illness and obesity in the ass and start a strict pattern of eating and lifting with exercise occuring seven days a week for maximum calorie burning. I plateaud quickly at a 20 lb loss after 16 weeks. This led to a mental breakdown which ultimately ended up with the suicide attempt I have mentioned in other writings alongside two additional hospitalizations.
Before I go into my hypothesis on why weight loss and good health have not been permanent for me I would like to give some anecdotes I’ve observed in others. There is a woman at the martial arts studio I’m associated with who is absolutely beautiful but really is very unhappy with her body. She ate well. She worked out at the YMCA likely about 5 days a week on top of doing several programs at the studio. I’d watch as she would just be so unhappy about her body on some days. From an outside perspective she really had nothing to worry about. However our demons are always within. Eventually the weight did begin to melt off, not when she changed diet or routine, but rather when she began dating.
Another fighter at the studio came back from not training as a heavy set “big & tall” guy. He begins training and the weight begins melting off with a few changes to his diet. Overall he lost over 80 pounds and as recently as last week he was talking about finishing off his current diet with binging on cheesecake. This shows that weight loss affects different people in vastly different ways and is less influenced by the “calories in-calories out” mentality that we are accustomed to.
Anthropologist Herman Pontzer, a researcher from Hunter College in New York, visited the Hadza tribe where its members are “on the high end of physical activity for any population that’s been looked at ever.”
Using several different methods to determine calorie expenditure he discovered that in the Hadza tribe “the energy expenditure among the Hadza was no higher than it is for people in the US and Europe.”
The Culprit: Cortisol
When we factor in the above evidence and analysis it seems that healthy and permanent weight loss occurs when we adhere to a regimen that is True to our individual Self. While this is a very spiritual way of looking at weight loss there is a certain level of science involved in it as well. That science involves the hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is commonly referred to as a stress hormone that actually regulates several functions within the body. Metabolically, prolonged elevation of cortisol leads to a breakdown of proteins meaning that muscle tissue is ultimately broken down. This leads to a physically weaker individual. Additional studies have shown that excess cortisol leads to suppression of fat burning. Considering that the methods of lowering cortisol include mental and spiritual activities that I will discuss later there is a direct correlation between the health of the mind and the health of the body.
Cortisol has several negative effects which we are going to focus on temporarily. Positive effects that it has are not important to this article and are maintained at basal levels anyway. The first and most important thing to note about cortisol is it’s increase on blood sugar levels within the liver. This is easily the fastest way to gain weight. Next is its reduction of bone formation. Weaker bones will have a negative impact on both strength and mobility. By increasing the amount of free aminos in the blood serum cortisol further inhibits protein synthesis. As part of stress response cortisol actually reduces wound healing. The negative impact in regards to any resistance training is that cortisol is essentially preventing our muscles from healing after we have inflicted them with the trauma of the load.
How Cortisol is Raised
Clearly excessive cortisol levels have a negative impact on physical growth and thus we need to examine how cortisol is raised so easily before going into reduction methods. The three primary areas I want to focus on in which cortisol levels are elevated are sleep deprivation, prolonged intense aerobic training (herein referred to as “overtraining”), and severe trauma or stressful events. Personally I have suffered with sleep apnea my entire life. Only recently was I diagnosed with severe apnea. Severe is defined as 30 incidents of the breathing stopping per hour. I had 40 incidents. I know I’ve always had apnea but cannot speak to how bad it was prior to the diagnosis. However the lack of sleep that comes with apnea does explain a whole host of problems I’ve encountered that can also be linked to increased cortisol levels. Overtraining is another issue in which I’ve struggled.
Prescribing to “calories in, calories out” training philosophy I would blur the line between starvation and burning as many calories as I had eaten in a day. The way training would look is this: Monday I would work legs and abs. Tuesday would follow with arms and abs. Wednesday would be chest and abs. Thursday I would work back and abs. Friday I would move back to legs and abs followed by arms, chest, and abs on Saturday and Sunday. Everyday would include a minimum of 50 minutes of cardio with some days including up to 2 hours of cardio. A part of me loved working that hard, but I didn’t feel like I was growing in any way, shape, or form. I didn’t move better out in the woods. I didn’t run better with my friends. I started getting sick physically, losing sleep, and launching headlong into depression as I described above. Likely my cortisol levels were as high as they ever would be.
It was actually during that period of time, where I was confused by the lack of progress I was making, that I had stumbled upon some research that seemed to indicate that a CPAP would help with fat loss far more than supplements and fat burners would. At the time I was only partially sold on the concept and, for reasons unknown, still very resistant to seeing a doctor or having a sleep test done. The seed had been sown though and eventually I would get that sleep study. Everyday I would struggle with sleep despite having lost a little weight. The apnea wasn’t improving, cortisol levels rose, and weight loss plateaud at 20 lbs. — the worst weight loss I had ever gone through.
How Cortisol is Lowered
What’s really great is that cortisol levels can be decreased in some really fun ways. Magnesium and Ashwagandha root supplementation help. If you are on a ketogenic diet like I am then you had best be already doing this anyway. Consider this a 2-for-1! Omega-3 fatty acids do the work as well and even contribute to aiding against depression. My own psychiatrist, who admires the fact that I hate meds (believe it or not), prescribes omega-3’s. Just be careful to avoid omega-6’s. Music therapy helps a lot. I have recently moved away from listening to heavy metal music and instead prefer to listen to soundtracks and classical music. My current pandora playlist has a “sacred feminine station” which has some excellent composers and artists for soothing comfort. Massage therapy, while expensive if done regularly, is great at lowering cortisol. Laughing, according to the FASEB journal in 2008, does the same! In July 2009 and article published in Music and Medicine indicated that dancing the Tango would reduce cortisol as well. Certainly that applies to all forms of dance. This information will most certainly make my capoeira friends very happy!
Ultimately we still need our exercise and the Kadza tribe mentioned earlier consists of some of the most athletic people on Earth. Yet living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone and Americans need something that they can do that they enjoy, gets them moving, and doesn’t create an environment in which cortisol levels are elevated.
The Solution: Not What You Think
Originally I was going to write about Dave Asprey’s “Bulletproof” method of lifting. However after joining the YMCA yesterday and trying it I found that it was far too basic for me personally. I’ll mention it in detail here for those who prefer starting off with something like this and maybe easing into the program I’ll refer to that I am (which is still basic-intermediate, but more tailored to actual body transformation).
Dave Asprey’s “bulletproof” exercise is designed to be done in 25 minutes. This amount of time is perfect, but the use of machines, doing the exercises only once or twice per week, and working to failure go against my own lifting philosophy. The idea is to do each exercise at roughly 75-80% of your “one-rep max.” Do each set to failure meaning you can no longer do another rep. Use machines to avoid endangering yourself while achieving failure. Each set should take roughly 90 to 120 seconds. This essentially means that it is six seconds on the lift and another six seconds on the negative. Again this may be something that helps with weight loss but it is not conducive to lifting for power or athletics.
1x Seated Row To Failure
1x Chest Press To Failure
1x Pull Down To Failure
1x Overhead Press To Failure
1x Leg Press To Failure
The following method is the one I am going to use and was developed by Bill Phillips in his “Back to Fit” program. I have had a long standing respect for Bill since the 1990’s when I first started my foray into bodybuilding with his “Body-For-Life” program. His Muscle Media magazine was the best overall fitness magazine of the day beating out all the Joe Weider publications that seem more geared towards rhoid users than towards the average joe or athlete. When it comes to fitness I will trust Bill Phillips more than any other fitness personality out there because his stuff works! Why hasn’t it worked for me? Only diet has been unsustainable for me and choosing to go off weights when diet tanks is what has killed my health.
The program is a 6-day program and is geared to be completed in 25 minutes per day. I like this split better than Dave Asprey’s “split” because it includes movements that I just flat-out enjoy whether or not they are inferior to full-body mechanical movements. Each lifting day I’ll be doing a circuit of 5 lifts for 10 repetitions, resting for two minutes, followed by a repeat of the circuit until it has been done five times. I’m not sure how this math works out to 25 minutes as every time I have done 5 circuits of 5 exercises it has always gone longer than 25 minutes. Cardio follows the same principle. I’ll pick whatever cardio my body feels like it needs that day. For two minutes I’ll “walk” and for two more I’ll “jog.” The fifth minute I’ll run. This is treated just like the lifting circuits The split is as follows:
Day 1: Lower Body
Day 2: Cardio
Day 3: Upper Body
Day 4: Lower Body
Day 5: Cardio
Day 6: Upper Body
Day 7: Rest
Either method is guaranteed to work for you as long as you can relate to it and it suits your sense of self. Both methods will allow you to spend only a brief time “exercising” allowing you to spend the remaining amount of time engaged in play. If you want to spend two hours at the gym like I do then you can really hit the sauna, or swim laps in the pool, or punch and kick the heavy bag. The world is now your oyster. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer engaging in other activities then by all means read a book (improving mind after body), write poetry (improving spirit after body), walk along the lakewalk, or do whatever. Be True to your Self. Be True to your body. It is the temple that houses your spirit after all.