Orient Expression

17 July, 2008

Wait reduction

Filed under: Uncategorized — pyrotyger @ 3:11 pm
Tags: ,

Vanity, vanity – it’ll be the death of us all.

My increased Mr Motivator activity at the gym – combined with an improved diet – has given me significant benefits of strength, fitness, stamina and (to some extent) muscle bulk. These are all good, healthy things and not to be sniffed at.

However, as with all good things, one always wants more. I can flex the old cannons in a convincingly rippling manner these days (although that’s something I’d be loath to do in public) but now I’m starting to wonder if I can tone up properly. I’ve just about halted the “going-to-seed” process that most men seem to undergo after the age of 25, but why not reverse it? Why don’t I bash that keg back into a six-pack, for example? There must be one under there somewhere… unless that’s just indigestion.

I know these things happen over time, with consistent effort. There’s no quick-fix, no magic, and wishing with all your heart just makes you look constipated. Anyone with half a brain will tell you the two obvious facts:

  1. You can’t do it overnight.
  2. It has to be a permanent change in lifestyle – if you revert to your old ways, so will your body.

That being said, the harder you work at improving your diet and increasing your exercise, the faster and more significant the change will be. That’s just common sense. And I don’t want to hang around forever waiting for my body to get the idea…

With that in mind, I’ve been complementing my gym-fix with a marked improvement in diet. No junk food, less fat, more protein, more fresh fruit & veg, and an overall reduction in calorie-intake.
And yet, my weight has done something very bizarre. Having lost about a stone over a couple of months through increased gym activity, when I sorted out my diet as well, I started to gain weight.

I gained a stone and a half in 6 weeks.

There’s little doubt in my mind that this is mainly my muscles bulking-up. The resultant increase in metabolism should make the fat-loss easier too, but it’s not happening at any significant rate. I’ve maybe lost half an inch on my waist-size since the diet-change, but the fat isn’t shifting.
To put it bluntly, I’m getting more compact, but my shape isn’t changing how it should.

So I decided to take a more scientific approach. I figured I should research the issue of calories in order to get to the bottom of this. Here are some important facts worth knowing about burning calories:

3500 (kilo)calories is equivalent to just under 1lb of fat.

The common rule-of-thumb often inferred from this is that reducing your daily intake by about 500 calories will cause you to lose 1lb per week. Massively simplistic though this is, it’s useful to know if you have a regular diet, and helps to draw some kind of measurable relationship between diet, exercise and weight.

Your body will burn muscle before it burns fat.

I still have no idea why this is, and it sucks. Still, it’s a fact, and one that men need to know when, as Kevin Spacey said, “we want to look good naked”. In my experience, most women don’t care how toned they are as long as they have the right figure. For a guy though, even if he’s as strong as an ox, that beer-belly can always sway the house when passing the Laws of Attraction.
It’s important, then, that you help your body to burn fat rather than muscle by doing the right exercises, and to rebuild any muscle it does burn by eating more protein, especially before and after heavy exercise.

Running sucks.

Running burns calories, not fat, and it is particularly effective at burning muscle. It’ll get you as fit as hell and skinny as a whippet, if that’s your aim, but don’t expect it to be any kind of short-cut to trimness. It’s like asking to have your trousers taken in by 2 inches, and returning the next day to discover that they’ve been let out by 2, died purple and had sequins sewn on the pockets. Unless that’s what you wanted, it’s done more harm than good – and you’ll have paid for it.
Saying that…

It’s really,
really important to do cardio-vascular exercise.

Apart from decreasing the risk of heart-disease etc, increasing your overall fitness and improving your energy levels – all of which are worthy results in themselves – it will boost your metabolism. Doing 30 mins of 2-min interval training (high-power, rest, high-power, rest…) will do much more for your fitness than 30 steady-minutes of running, and will elevate your metabolism for something like 34 hours. This means you’ll burn more calories even when at rest or sleeping than you would otherwise.
To that end, it never hurts to do a decent stretch on the rower or cross-trainer (Nordic skiing) every other day, as these are great for intervals, and use several major muscle-groups which makes them most effective for boosting metabolism.

There are loads and loads of important scientific facts about this sort of thing – hell, it is a science – but those are just a few facts that I thought would have been useful for me to learn right at the start rather than garnering them by browsing reams of anecdotal dross.

Which brings me to the subject of anecdotes and experts, and one point in particular:
Don’t believe everything you read, even if it looks reputable. There is more to wisdom than having letters after your name.

Ah-ha, I hear you muse, I believe there’s a story behind this…

And you’d be right. I’ve been idly occasionally tallying my calorie-intake to see if it’s generally high or low, and today I had cause to google for calories in a banana. I’m sure you can imagine why (it’s a little over 100, since you were wondering).
Now there are a lot of resources out there, most of them aimed at specific food groups or retailers, or subscription-only, or limited in range. It’s a bit like panning for gold – but then, when dealing with the interwebs, what isn’t?

And so I came upon this article. And I nearly wept. Written for thebodymindandsoul.com by Imogen Caterer BSc(Hons), Dip ION, BANT, Nutrition Consultant no less! This little gem of gallingly ill-considered misinformation would have any sane pedant foaming at the mouth, and give any decent Nutritionist an ironic ulcer.

This bint makes the rather bold claim that calorie-counting doesn’t make sense, and the central argument that has given her cause to doubt the basic scientific equilibrium-equation of energy input and output is this:

“Eat one less banana a day and you’ll disappear”
Take calorie counting to its logical conclusion, and that’s what you have to say. Here’s the “logic”. A banana is approximately 100 calories, so if you eat one less banana a day you’ll eat 36,500 less calories per year. One pound of body fat is about 4,000 calories. You’ll lose 9lb. In five years that’ll be 45lb and you’ll vanish completely in 15 years – all by eating one less banana a day. There you go. The claims of low calorie diets don’t make sense.

What?? WHAT??? *slap* I can understand someone making that argument – it has a certain 10-year-old-armchair-philosopher logic, much like “if we banned people from making guns, it would stop war”.
I can even understand someone being so smug about their little Eureka moment that they’d have a philanthropic urge to publish it online, for the benefit of all mankind. I’d still be annoyed by it, but I could understand it.
But you, Ms Caterer (ohhh, and I bet your name is just a hoot around the office – a Nutrition Consultant called Caterer! How ripe!); you with your Bachelor’s in something presumably nutrition-related *slap*; you with your many qualifications and impressive accreditations *slap*; you with your venerable office of Nutrition Consultant for NQ Nutrition *slap*; you who were given the heady responsibility of penning an article for the enlightenment and edification of neurotic diet-obsessed women everywhere, who sponge this crap up like a white shirt sucks at Bolegnese sauce *slap*!

I must ask you: How could you climb so high, while being so utterly bloody incompetent???

You have taken a clear anecdotal premise: the fact is that eating the equivalent of one less banana a day will not, as you rightly point out, cause you to disappear in a matter of years. It can never have such a significant impact.
Where have gone so vary badly, dangerously wrong is completely misunderstanding why this is not the case. You seem to be labouring under the illusion that the energy balance between intake and expenditure is fixed and immutable.

Imogen, let me – as a rank amateur in the field – present an alternative explanation for the banana conundrum.

Base Metabolic Rate

Here’s a curious thing: pretty much every website you can find that gives information on daily caloric requirements for maintaining body-weight uses some variation on the Harris Benedict equation (or sometimes its more recent equivalent) to calculate your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR), and then apply some multiplier based on your daily activity level. The key components of this equation are:

  • Sex (tee hee)
  • Age
  • Height
  • Activity Level

Let me stress that for you again, Imogen: Weight is a key factor in determining your daily caloric-intake requirements. In other words, you chumbly prat, as you lose weight (or more specifically, as you lose lean-mass) your body needs fewer calories!!

So, eat one less banana a day, and what happens? Your body will indeed lose weight – but only to the point where your body needs 100 fewer calories per day! That’s the nature of metabolic equilibrium. All other things being equal (metabolic rate, activity level etc), that sustained reduction in intake can be the equivalent of 10lb weight-loss, although it’s obviously a lot more complicated than that.

Imogen Caterer, you’re a god-damned charlatan, or at best an idiot.

I fully understand that I’m making a lot of broad-brush statements and simple assumptions, but the principles are sound. If you’re interested in the Harris-Benedict equation, the cleanest resource I’ve been able to find online includes a very honest critique of the equation, and some useful reference-graphs to give you an idea of how the whole equilibrium thing works.

In summary then – and this is for your benefit, Ms Caterer BSc (Hons) – there are 5 key factors that affect weight loss, which are interconnected:

  • Calorie intake
  • Nutrition (what sort of calories)
  • Calorie expenditure (activity level)
  • Metabolism
  • Current weight

If you didn’t learn this by lesson 3 of Nutrition 101, I don’t know what makes you think you’re qualified to advise others on their diet.

Practical change

So, if you’ll excuse me for stating the obvious, a sensible way to address all those points is to:

  • eat a little less
  • eat more healthily (high protein and fibre-rich carbohydrate)
  • do some form of moderately intense exercise REGULARLY to boost your metabolism and increase your calorie expenditure
  • make sure that it’s a diet and a regime you can commit to. If you can’t imagine still doing it in a year, you need to rethink.

I’m preaching here, I know – I’ve only just started down the road myself – but as with most things I find it helps to clarify and strengthen my own ideas if I express them. That’s why I’ve also cobbled together a rather nifty spreadsheet that takes your sex, age, height, starting weight, activity level and a start-date, and produces a calendar into which you enter what you’ve eaten each day and what exercise you’ve done, and your current weight if you’ve weighed yourself.
It then uses the Harris-Benedict formula to tell you what your calorie-balance is for the day, and produces a couple of graphs.
Not perfectly scientific, but I’m hoping it’ll be a very useful tool for spotting trends and patterns in your lifestyle. I’ll consider posting it in this blog if I’m happy with the results.


I’ve spoken to a number of health-professionals – some friends and some in a professional capacity – about my weight. When I first started out, I was interested in the issue of Body Mass Index (BMI) as this is an oft-mentioned measure of healthy weight, and I figured it would be a good idea to ensure I was within the healthy range.

The consensus was surprisingly unanimous, but here are some paraphrased remarks on BMI and general weight-loss from a particularly close friend, who is a Senior Physiotherapist:

  1. BMI is a pile of w*nk. No professional pays it any mind as it takes no account of build or body-type, and you can tell more about someone’s relative weight-health from one quick glance than you can from their BMI. Even a moderately muscular man with little excess fat will have an “overweight” Index
  2. It takes 1-3 months before any exercise regime has an effect on body-shape. You’ll notice effects on fitness and energy levels long before you have to take your trousers in.
  3. Weighing yourself every day or so does not provide an accurate picture. Water contact, time of day and all sorts of other things can have a dramatic impact, and it can be very demotivating. Once a week is more than frequent enough.
  4. Skinny and super-fit people are often not healthy. Be damned sure of what you want to achieve – and why – before undertaking any regime, or you’ll end up pursuing pointless or even damaging goals. Health should always be top of the list, as nobody wants to sleep with an attractive corpse (well, you know what I mean).
  5. Perseverance is the key. If it’s not a committed lifestyle change, your change in body-shape will be just as temporary. It takes a long-haul effort to achieve long-term effects.

As a final point, feel free to have a look at the UN FAO’s (Food & Agriculture Organisation) general reports on each nation provide some interesting figures on diet and nutrition. As at 2004, it seems that the average caloric intake of a UK resident (PDF warning) is something around 3500 calories. Meaning on average we each consume the energy-equivalent of a pound of fat every day. This is the maintenance-requirement of a highly active 16-stone man.

Is it any wonder we’re getting fatter…?


12 July, 2008

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.

Filed under: Uncategorized — pyrotyger @ 5:16 pm
Tags: ,

“Free wine, you say?!”

Wait, let me go back a bit…

I row. Nothing fancy, just regular sessions on the rowing-machines at the gym.
I feel I can say, with some confidence, that I’m pretty good. Not world-class by any stretch, but I’ve got a good reputation at my gym. I think it appeals to me because:

  1. I have a passion for most things nautical
  2. It’s a great cardio-vascular exercise that doesn’t require much from your feet (mine are flat)
  3. More than most cardio-exercises, it demands fitness, strength and a sheer bloody-minded determination to push harder in spite of the pain.

The machines are Concept 2 indoor rowers, and the company has all sorts of incentive schemes set up. There’s a new “challenge” issued every month – set time, distance, whatever – and people from gyms all over the country log their best attempts each month online on the Challenge Leaderboard.
I’m on there as Little Phill2 (not my choosing) on the Banana Boat 1, and now usually rank somewhere between 50th and 100th nationally, 1st or 2nd locally. I’m pretty pleased with this, even if Little Chris does regularly kick my arse in spite of being a light-weight…

Anyway, couple of weeks back I went into the gym one Sunday to discover that a rower had been set up on the raised platform. One of the gym instructors immediately bounded over to me with a clip-board:

Mo: You’re into your rowing, aren’t you?
Me: (enthusiastic as ever) Yep.
Mo: How do you fancy doing a slot on the rowing-marathon for St. Andrew’s Hospice? Can I put you down for 20 minutes? Someone hasn’t showed…

So, I did my bit. 20 minutes on the rower. I don’t try to be competitive, but seeing that clipboard with everyone’s distances on it… well, I just had to go for it.

Several Blue Man Group tracks got me through it at a decent pace, and I poured out of the seat and tried not to throw up. It’s lucky I hadn’t played Audioslave instead, or I may have ruptured my aorta. As it was, I managed something over 5km; I couldn’t see straight so I didn’t see the exact figure.

Cut to this morning, having my first crack at the latest challenge: 8x500m sprints, with 3m rests in between. This is interval-training at its cruellest, and a quick route to a heart-attack if you don’t take it steady (which of course I didn’t).

Chris, the gym manager, spots me and walks over. I haven’t seen him in several months, ever since the poor bastard got promoted out of the gym and into the office. I’m halfway through my fourth break, which means my hands have just had time to uncurl from the claws they inevitably form, and my heart-rate has just dropped to the point where I can hear through the pounding. He sits on the rower next to me and says:
“Thanks for doing the rowing marathon – you got a great distance. So now I have to ask: Red or White?”

He’s getting me a bottle of wine for getting the best distance of the day! Hurrah! Red, naturally.

I knew this fitness-lark would pay off somehow. Still, I’ve only got a couple of weeks to finally get rid of my dwindling spare-tyre before the Big Chill Festival. About which, more later…

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