Tell a friend
They say that time changes things,
but you actually have to change them yourself.
5 Simple Steps to "Reprogram" Your Weight
By Steve Edwards
Your body resists change, even when it's good for you. This irritating little survival trait has led to a passel of colloquial words that we use when referring to how to deal with it. These include survival mode, starvation mode, periodizational training, plateau-ing, and set point. Today we'll tackle the latter, which is a term we use to explain why our bodies impede our results whenever we get close to our target weight.
"Set point" is not a real term in a medical sense and, thus, its meaning is often misused or misunderstood. A common "definition" found on the Internet states "Set point is the weight range in which your body is programmed to weigh and will fight to maintain that weight." While more or less accurate, its use of the word "programmed" is misleading because it insinuates that you have no control over the programmer, which is, in fact, yourself.
This is further exacerbated with the sentence "everyone has a set point and just like you have no control over how tall you will be, or what color your eyes and hair will be, you also have no control over what your set point will be. Your body is biologically and genetically determined to weigh within a certain weight range." While this sentence has some true elements, it's also fatalistic and sounds as though you're doomed to live a life that's predetermined. You have a lot more control over what you weigh than your height and what color your eyes are. If this wasn't true, Beachbody wouldn't have all the Success Stories that we do.
What the creators of the term "set point" have done is to combine the meaning of the word homeostasis with the fact that there are different body types. Homeostasis is your body's desire to stay regulated under varying conditions. Since it's a point your body likes to maintain, it is, in a way, a set point. Except that it's changeable. Body type is not changeable. However, how your body looks, no matter what type, is easily altered. If that weren't true, bodybuilding would be a sport with only one body type, and it's not.
So let's get down to the business of how to change your set point. Since "set point" isn't even a real term, but more of a myth, it shouldn't be too difficult. We change myths all the time.
- Step 1: Change whatever you are currently doing. If you don't believe that your set point can change, try Morgan Spurlock's experiment and super-size all of your meals at McDonald's for the next month. (Read our review of the Super Size Me DVD if you haven't seen the film yet.) Most of you can visualize this pretty well. If you overeat like crazy, you will gain weight. By just understanding this one thing we've myth-busted the legend of the set point. You can gain weight and, therefore, you don't really have a set point as defined.
But you probably don't want to gain weight; you probably want to lose. So let's look at how this works. Your body likes wherever it is right now. Even if that state is sick or overweight or out of shape, your body tries to hang on to this state because the reactionary state of your body is that change is bad. It's a survival mechanism that kicks in because, no matter how unhealthy, we're currently still alive and all change has some risk associated with it. But we are reasonable beings and have the ability to offset our reactionary state (that we might want to refer to as our "amoeba state"). So when we understand that something is good for us, we can force our reactionary body into doing something it doesn't want to. The easiest step of all is to simply change what you are currently doing.
When ultra-runner Dean Karnazes made the decision to become a runner, he was in a bar. He stopped drinking, went out into the night, and ran 30 miles. At that time, his set point was that of a guy who sat in bars and not someone who would run 50 marathons in 50 days. He had to change it, which he did in sort of an extreme manner. But my point is that he did change it. And it didn't happen on that first run, which I'd imagine was quite miserable. You've got to force change on your life; otherwise your body will revert to its state of homeostasis.
- Step 2: Clean up your life. Step one is easy; this one takes more work. Nothing you can do will help you as much as changing your lifestyle to a healthier one. Eat less junk, get plenty of exercise, stay hydrated, eat more whole foods. It doesn't sound all that hard, but we wouldn't be having this discussion if it were easy. (Refer to Michi's Ladder for help in choosing good, healthful foods.)
This is a roundabout step because it won't necessarily change your weight and, hence, your set point, but it will change you inside. It's the most important step because your body will get healthier and run better. Eating good food changes the way your body metabolizes, especially when you add some exercise. And your metabolic process is what this entire set point issue is about. When you change your body's foundation for the better, it will more easily accept future changes.
- Step 3: Zigzag your diet. To lose weight, you generally need to eat less. But while randomly eating less can be effective, the best strategy that you can use is to zigzag your calories.
Don't confuse zigzag dieting with yo-yo dieting; they are completely different. Zigzagging means to eat more on different days in order to keep your body's metabolism working at its set point while you are under- or overfeeding it. It works both waysyou can zigzag down and zigzag up.
Your goal is that your overall calorie expenditure is either down or up. Most of you probably want to lose weight, so let's use down. Say you weigh 200 pounds and want to weigh 150. Your body wants to eat around 3,000 calories a day in order to maintain its weight (or its current set point). But you want to lose weight as quickly as is safe and you're psyched to starve yourself to do it, so you're willing to eat 1,200 calories a day. If you do, however, your body thinks that you are starving and, over time, begins to lower its metabolism. There is some lag time in your body's ability to react, so you may lose a lot of weight in a week or two eating 1,200 calories a day but then it will slow down. Furthermore, your slower metabolism will negatively affect your ability to work out hard, especially the fitter you become.
Instead, eat between 2,500 and 3,000 calories two or three days per week and 1,200 on the others. This way your body doesn't have the time to react, resulting in negative calorie days that force your body to more efficiently use its stored body fat as fuel for energy. While your caloric consumption for a week is a few thousand calories higher than if you were eating less, your higher metabolic rate allows you to work out harder, exert more energy, and burn more calories. Over time, the calorie burning will increase beyond what you could hope to achieve by just eating less.
As you lose weight, your upper-end caloric consumption can drop. But be careful because your body composition is changing. With more muscle and less fat, your caloric needs increase, even as you are losing weight. There is no exact scale to use for this, but a muscular 150-pound person can burn more calories than a fat 200-pound person. So never drop your high-calorie days too much.
- Step 4: Eat more! Assuming you've followed the above steps you will reach a point where you need to eat more in order to continually lose weight. The reason is that a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet isn't enough to feed a highly active person of any weight. If you're small, 1,200 calories may be fine during times of inactivity, but an hour of intense exercise burns at least 500 calories and an active body can't live long (at least in a fit state) on 700 calories a dayit's starvation mode central. For this reason, adding calories is probably the number one piece of advice we use on the Message Boards to get our members off of weight plateaus toward the end of their programs.
This concept throws a wrench into the original idea of the whole set point theory because if your body's "set point" is, supposedly 160 pounds, is it 160 pounds at 15% body fat or at 30%? The difference in how these two bodies will look couldn't be starker. It's like the difference between Gabrielle Reece and Roseanne Barr. How you look is far more related to your body composition than your actual weight.
- Step 5: Periodize your diet. In other words, eat for what you do. Food is fuel and you don't put gas in your car when it's sitting in the driveway. It's much the same with your diet. You need far less food when you are sitting all day then when you aren't.
Periodizational dieting is, basically, just planning your diet around your activities with your goals in mind. Much the way you do with your workouts. For example, Beachbody exercise programs are all programs, meaning that you do certain exercises and workouts over a given amount of time, usually 4 to 12 weeks. Then you're "done," at which point you re-evaluate your goals and do something different. This is exactly how your diet should work.
For example, each of the above four steps could be a "period" of dieting. Each time you change what you were doing before, you go through a period of adjustment as your body resets its set point to reflect your new lifestyle. Once it's reset, you again change what you are doing until you get your body to the point where you want it. At this point, your set point becomes your friend because, due to homeostasis, your body always wants to maintain the point it's currently at.
If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at email@example.com.
Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.
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Onions, Garlic, and Leeks: Our Stinky Friends!
By Joe Wilkes
Onions, garlic, and leeksthe bane of the romantic evening, but the balm for so much else. These aromatic and pungent stars of the vegetable world are all members of the allium family and have a myriad of health benefits, both real and purported, not the least of which is all those germs you'll avoid when nobody will kiss you after you've eaten them. So, let's take a moment to salute these beautiful, bountiful bulbs which are delicious and nutritious, with a smell that's slightly vicious.
The onion (Allium cepa) has been a culinary staple for thousands of years. Many civilizations even worshipped them as symbols of eternity, because of their concentric rings. Ancient Greek Olympic athletes consumed onions before exercise, as it was believed they cleansed the blood. They were also taken along on long sea voyages by many cultures, as their high levels of vitamin C helped prevent scurvy. Onions have also been applied topically as home remedies to relieve congestion, fever, gout, and arthritis, as well as to speed healing of scars and burns.
In modern times, many studies have turned up evidence that there are some genuine health benefits to eating onions. Onions can help lower levels of LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol that is responsible for clogging arteries. They are believed to lower blood pressure. They have been found to have antibacterial properties which can help kill salmonella and E. coli. They can reduce clotting, which can aid the circulatory system. They have anti-inflammatory properties which can help alleviate cough and cold symptoms, and onion extracts are even used in some asthma medications to provide bronchial relief. They are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. And they are among the cheapest vegetables available, which is healthy for your pocketbook.
It's an extremely versatile vegetable, which can be sharp and tangy when raw, or sweet when cooked. Another great thing about onions is that almost none of their nutritional value is lost when cooked. One medium onion only has 44 calories, no fat, and 2 grams of fiber. A half a cup of chopped green onions only has 28 calories, no fat, and 4 grams of fiber. So for those of us keeping an eye on our diet, onions are a great way to get a lot of flavor for very few calories.
Cooking tip: Onions contain all kinds of different sulfur compounds. When the vapor from the sulfur hits your eye, sulfuric acid is created, which is why onions can make you cry. The best way to avoid tears is to rinse the onions after you cut off the ends. The milkier the juice oozing from the onion, the stronger the acid. By rinsing this off, you'll have fewer tears, and the onion will be less bitter in the recipe. Also, make sure you use a very sharp knife. This will help ensure that the juice stays in the onion instead of on your cutting board, and ultimately in your eye. Less juice, less vapor, less crying.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a spicy relative of the onion. Unlike the onion which is a discrete bulb, a head of garlic is a clump of bulbs, each clove an individual bulb. It has also been harvested for thousands of years for its flavor and also is one of the earliest known plants to be cultivated for medicinal reasons. It was thought by ancient cultures to be a great purifier, i.e., anything that smelled that bad had to kill whatever bad was inside you. And garlic is a frequent component in folk remedies throughout the ages, purported to cure impotence, madness, and tuberculosis. And anecdotal evidence that it wards off vampires and werewolves is very persuasive.
As with onions, garlic contains a high number of sulfur compounds, and when a clove is broken or chopped, the chemical reactions create a very pungent smell. Allicin, a sulfur compound found in garlic, is both an antibiotic and antifungal compound. It is also what gives garlic it's hot, spicy flavor. It and other sulfur compounds have been credited with researchers for a number of health benefits, including lowering of LDL cholesterol levels and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels; lessening atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries; reducing clotting of the blood; stabilizing blood sugar levels; and possible anti-cancer benefits. Studies have even shown that babies tend to breast-feed better when their mother eats garlic which shows up in her milk. And a clove of garlic only has 4 calories and no fat, so you can season your food to your heart's content.
Cooking tip: To get rid of garlic breath, chew some parsley. To get rid of the smell on your hands, wet your hands and rub them against the blade of a clean stainless steel knife (but don't cut yourself!). To get rid of the odor in your plasticware, freeze the offending item overnight. When you take it out of the freezer, the smell should be gone!
Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) are also members of the onion family. Usually they are eaten for their white and light-green base, and some are cultivated for their bulbs, which are marketed as "elephant garlic." Leeks have enjoyed a long history, especially in Europe. In Wales, the leek is the national emblem, a symbol of courage and independence. They require much more care in their cultivation, as they are a biennial plant, like asparagus, and are therefore a little more expensive than their bulbous cousins.
Leeks recently received some good ink in Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. In the book she revealed her recipe of Magical Leek Soup, a simple leek broth, which she would eat on a two-day fast to jump-start her diet. (We prefer our own 2-Day Fast Formula®). Their high content of manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, and iron make them an excellent food for helping to stabilize blood sugar, probably the reason Ms. Guiliano's fasts are successful. (For more about the French diet, read Monica Ciociola's "How French Women Stay SlimWithout Starving.") Also, like garlic and onions, leeks are good at raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels while lowering LDL (bad) levels. There has also been some evidence that they lower blood pressure. At 38 calories per leek, with no fat, this is another great light vegetable.
Cooking tip: Because leeks must grow through two seasons before they are harvested, there is a fair amount of dirt, grit, and sand hidden in their folds. Before chopping your leeks, soak them in a sink full of cold water, so that some of the sand and grit will float out. Then chop from the white to the green, and rinse again, as needed.
If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Test Your Metabolism IQ!
By Joe Wilkes
- FALSE: Your metabolism slows drastically because of age. People's metabolism does tend to slow a bit as they age, about 5% per decade, but the biggest change isn't because we're getting older, it's because we're becoming more sedentary. As we age, many of us enter a vicious cycle of decreasing our activity, which causes us to gain weight, which causes our metabolism to slow, which causes us to have less energy, which causes us to be more inactive, which causes us to gain more weight, etc. The reason you didn't gain weight as easily when you were younger is probably because you were more active. If you can maintain a comparable level of activity into your golden years, you can keep your metabolism as high as it ever was, or higher.
- TRUE: Your metabolism is genetically fast or slow. But this doesn't let us off the hook. Sure, a lot of us were dealt some bad cards genetically, but our genetic predisposition is only a fraction of what influences our metabolism. Behavior, in terms of what you eat and how active you are, is many times more important then the metabolism you were born with.
- FALSE: Heavier people have a slower metabolism. The good news for heavy people is it takes a lot more energy to haul that carcass around, so heavy people will actually have a much faster metabolic rate to produce the energy they need for day-to-day activities. The bad news is that in order to lose weight and maintain long-term weight loss, they will have to make greater and longer-lasting changes in diet and exercise to keep the weight off (see Steve Edwards' article on "reprogramming" your body above).
- TRUE: Men metabolize alcohol better than women. This has nothing to do with the fact that men may be bigger or have a higher tolerance because of their vast experiences at keggers. It's because men produce an enzyme in their stomach that women do not. This enzyme is responsible for metabolizing alcohol more quickly, so only about half as much alcohol enters the bloodstream of a man as a woman. So in that famous scene from The Thin Man when Nora Charles asks the bartender how many drinks her husband Nick's had and requests he line up an equal number for her, she's actually setting herself up to get twice as drunk as Nick. As tolerance grows, both genders will metabolize alcohol faster, so the ladies could conceivably catch up, but they start at a huge disadvantage.
- TRUE: Eating certain foods can speed up your metabolism. But eating any food will speed up your metabolismat least in the short term. Some studies have shown that some food and drink such as hot pepper, green tea, and caffeine can give you an extra short-term calorie-burning boost, but for a long-term change to your metabolism, overall improvements in diet or exercise are necessary.
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