Friday, September 25, 2009

How (Perennially) Fat People Diet: Part 6: At the Gym

In part 1, I described how lots of (perpetually) overweight people approach (perpetual) dieting. We've been going down the list and finding the mistakes (read all previous entries in reverse order). Now we're up to this:
At the Gym: Hammering Away
Few fat people keep up consistent gym regimens, but those who do tend to hammer away at some part of themselves. They do 30 minute grueling death marches on the stair master or relentlessly work their abs on those great big plastic balls. You'll find few fat weight lifters at the gym, and few on the treadmills for more than a visit or two. Pilates classes, however, are full of fat folks - none of whom ever seem to slim down. They flock to pilates because they feel that by Crunching! Away! Again! And Again! at the muscles beneath their swelling tummies, they'll melt away The Problem.
Lots of problems here:

Failure to keep up consistent gym regimens
Establishing a regular gym habit requires taking steps to ensure that exercise feels like a good, pleasant thing to do. The trick is to carefully pace your first few workouts (or the first few workouts after a long break). I had some suggestions in Exercise Workouts: The "Wuss" Strategy

Hammering away at yourself
Fat people starve themselves by skipping breakfast and/or lunch. They abuse their bodies with cycles of gorging and fasting. They eat foods that leave them feeling lousy, and their perennial diets feel like suffering. And those who go to the gym tend to punish their bodies with unpleasant, highly repetitive workouts. Can you spot the pattern?

You got into this problem via blithe insensitivity to your body's natural balances. Your body has many ways of maintaining health and harmony, but you've been overriding them from the get go. Your weight issues are not the result of lazy capitulation to an evil, sinning body with which you're at odds. They are the result of your having stubbornly overrided, again and again, your body's efforts to right itself. So the solution isn't to punish your body further by forcing it into yet more relentless extremes.

I've already explained that you should never feel hungry.....that hunger and cravings are the result of failure to give your body what it needs (regular and modest meals of "clean" and well-balanced nutrients). Dieting is not a stoic enterprise; it's a return to normalcy. And the same is true of exercise. You don't correct extremism via the converse extremism (starvation diets, obsessive workout schedules). The opposite of imbalance is balance!

Exercise the way I've suggested dieting: gently, smartly, and consistently. This works. Slowly...and sustainably.

Pilates classes are full of fat people who never get thin. If you're a pilates addict, it's time to wean. I understand the scorn you feel for your protruding belly, but you can't rage away that fat via furious stomach crunching. There's no such thing as spot reducing; "working" the abs doesn't make your body prioritize the burning of abdominal fat. Fat comes off in a predetermined order - inevitably with your most worrisome parts slimming LAST (just remember you're in it for the long haul ). Eat smart and exercise smart and the fat will slowly take care of itself.

Pilates is great in moderation, but don't practice it as a means of expressing disappointment with your abdomen's appearance. Your body has, all along, only been trying to accommodate you. Don't punish it; work with it!

Weight Training
You need to lift weights. Here's yet another thing body builders know but the rest of us do not: the more muscle mass you carry, the higher your resting metabolism (i.e. calories burned while you simply sit around). Think of it this way: muscles burn calories!

Try for a well-rounded workout (resting each muscle group at least one day between workouts), but put extra emphasis into larger muscles, which account for more of your overall muscle mass. These are muscles like glutes, quads, and lats - the ones that require more bricks on the weight machines. Do an extra set or two of these. Fat people inexplicably do the opposite, men concentrating on biceps/triceps and women on inner thighs (speaking of women, many worry about putting on too much muscle mass and looking freakish, but it's simply not that easy to pack on muscle; it's so gradual that you'll have ample time to notice if you're growing overbuilt). And always work to failure - i.e. don't stop after a predetermined number of repetitions, but only when you absolutely cannot do one more.

If you regularly lift weights, be sure to increase your protein (see this entry for suggested amounts). And always drink a protein shake (I like Nitrean) immediately afterwards.

When it comes to cardio, if you're getting stabbing pains and gasping for breath, you're working out too hard. It's vastly better to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes four times per week for months than to kill yourself trying to jog, creating an aversion that makes the gym an evil place to avoid (see that entry linked to above: Exercise Workouts: The "Wuss" Strategy for more suggestions on easing into a workout regimen).

Weight loss shouldn't hurt. Dieting shouldn't feel like sacrifice. Exercising shouldn't feel like punishment. Your body doesn't require penance for bad behavior; the bad behavior was its own penance! Establish good patterns over time, ease in, and understand that the body's habits and patterns aren't obstacles to fight, but, rather, a system of hooks and ladders available for your use in getting healthy.

Continue to Part 7

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