Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mutare Tu Mente I: Reconstitute!

Anyone who's known me for a significant length of time knows that I don't do New Year's resolutions. Instead I go on either a 2-week or 1-month detox from all the lovely vices that for the most part aren't too terrible as long as they are not abused: No alcohol, no caffeine, no smoking (though that last one gets easier and easier to stop for far longer). Woof.

This new year though, a couple people I know are going to be doing some major body reconstitution and I'm on board to help. I figure, since I'm helping I might as well jump on the band wagon. Body reconstitution is a pretty popular New Year's Resolution (most people call it weight loss), so I thought I'd blog about some of the things I'll be doing in case it'll help anyone else out on the internets with their own resolution.

The first thing I'm working on is a mindset issue. Most people who go to the gym have a certain goal weight in mind, like, "I weigh 215, but I want to weigh 185 like when I was in high school." For someone like me, that was 17 years ago. As an issue purely of time, I gained (with minor fluctuations either way) 30 pounds over a span of almost 20 years. That's a long period of time that includes hundreds of small lifestyle changes. For instance, I'm stronger in the arms and chest than I was in high school, but weaker in the legs (I'm actually much more balanced now). If I start talking about  getting back to a weight I was in high school, I don't want to lose the muscle mass I've gained in my arms and chest, so really in order to reach my "goal weight" I need to be considerably more healthy than I was in high school.
So while a "goal weight" is not a bad route to go, it may not be the best route. When a person goes to the gym, they are not only burning fat, they are gaining muscle. And if they aren't making correct diet choices and using the equipment properly, the fat they burn and the muscle they gain come in extremely inefficient amounts. This causes most people who make a New Year's Resolution to give up after a month, because they aren't losing in a matter of weeks what they've built up over decades of time.

This is why I focus on the term "body reconstitution". For practically everyone, 20 pounds of body reconstitution is an immediately noticeable "holy shit, what have you been doing with/to yourself" reaction from others. But that 20 pounds doesn't necessarily reflect the changes happening when you step on a scale.

A couple years ago, I weighed about 225, the heaviest I've ever been. It was not healthy weight, either. I decided that my goal weight should be under 200 pounds, based on height and age and profession. I worked really hard and got down to about 210 pounds, and frustrated as hell that I was plateauing there. But everyone who saw me was saying how much more healthy I looked. For a birthday, everyone bought me food or restaurant gift cards because they thought I wasn't eating enough (though I was).
What had actually happened was that I reconstituted about 25 pounds.
I lost 20 pounds of soft, blubbery fat. But I also had gained 5 pounds of leaner, harder muscle. The scale was telling me I'd only lost 15 pounds, but visually I had changed by 25 pounds, a huge difference! At the time, I figured there was either something I was doing wrong or I'd never get below 200 ever again. But really, I was doing something right, and my weight-plateauing was from some other lifestyle issues.

What I think a focus for most people (including my friends making their resolution) should be is to reconstitute 20 pounds: Burn away 15 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle, a change on the scale of 10 pounds.
I've heard plenty of people complain that they've gone to the gym regularly for 2-3 weeks, and gave up when they saw their weight wasn't going anywhere when they stepped on a scale, and they weren't seeing any visual differences.
5 pounds of body reconstitution is not going to make a big visual splash at all, but I'm nearly positive that most of those people who were giving up had lost some amount of fat and also gained some amount of muscle. It's entirely possible to burn 2 pounds of fat in 2 weeks, which is an amazing, healthy stride! It's also entirely possible to pack on 1-2 pounds of muscle in 2 weeks, also an incredibly healthy stride. But there isn't a huge visual change and the scale says there hasn't been any change. So people get frustrated and give up.

So all you internet folk out there, consider this your step one for "weight loss". Don't think about it in terms of pure pound reduction. Think about it more about how you want to reconstitute the weight you have.

Over the next couple weeks, I want to post some of the other mindset issues that people have about health and fitness, and where I think they could be doing things better. Stay tuned...
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