How to navigate the Christmas holiday without wrecking your fitness progress. 

Once the calendar turns to November, we often find ourselves facing the big three of Western/American holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Eve. While for most of us these holidays can mean joy, celebration, and the company of loved ones, it often has a catastrophic impact on any progress we’ve made toward a particular weight loss or exercise goal, leaving us in despair and looking forward to January 1 as the day where we can be “born again” in the image of zombie Jesus himself, albeit as a well-behaved and honest gym goer who eats all of their vegetables.

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To know how to defeat the holidays (provided Thanksgiving hasn’t broken our spirits already) before they defeat us, we first need to know how the culinary temptations of the season approach us. Imagine for me, if you will, a typical family Christmas gathering, replete with all sorts of indulgent side dishes and desserts:

”Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house

The family was gathered to feast and to grouse

Mom in her apron and I in my bib, she did the serving while I ate some ribs

The main dish was turkey but I wanted pork, so this was my appetizer with no need for a fork

The dishes were laid cross the table with care and no doubt that the platters would soon all be bare

Each place setting held a mountain of food with beer and wine at the ready to liven the mood

After hours of chewing, swallowing and guffawing, the family was splayed in their chairs close to yawning

Mom left pies as she took the stairs out of sight: “I did the cooking, so you clean! Now good night!”


Thanks for getting through that, it was fun for me! So what are the strategies we can employ in order to tackle the holiday eating without going overboard? It’s pretty simple, really. Here are a few tips to ensure your holiday gathering doesn’t get the best of you:

  • Prioritize lean meats and veggies (and not veggie casseroles) over cheesy, starchy dishes.
    • It’s very easy to overload your plate with all kinds of delicious foods (including five kinds of potatoes, casseroles, and others). My advice is to prioritize the ham or the turkey that are high in lean protein in addition to basic vegetables that are full of healthy vitamins and minerals and give yourself smaller portions of mashed potatoes and casseroles that are highly caloric and can send you crashing and make you bloated.
  • Pick your poison: Is the holiday about guzzling wine or having an enjoyable meal with the family or your friends?
    • It’s easy to fall in the trap of a family wine or beer binge when the beverages are flowing and there’s cause for celebration. Simply put, alcohol is the quickest way to ingest a ton of calories that do nothing but make you fatter. If your goal happens to not get fatter, limit yourself to a drink or two. You can still enjoy friends and family and the celebrations of the holiday season, especially if you can remember it.
  • There’s always the one indulgent dish you wait all year for, so in keeping your goals in mind, go for a single, smaller slice of Nani’s pumpkin pie instead of half of it!
    • This is where I fall prey to the holidays. Though I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth, there are always some delicious casseroles and pies this time of year that aren’t really available any other time. Instead of loading plate after plate with these items until they’re coming out of your ears, allow yourself to indulge in a small portion of one or two of the items and take your time enjoying them.

With that, you can count on not dashing (or dancing, prancing, or vixening) any of your fitness goals and put yourself ahead of the game come New Years Day.

As always, thanks for reading and head over to http://www.tanktoptraining.net for workout and nutrition programs, online coaching, nutrition consultation and more!

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Before you set your New Year’s Resolutions, READ THIS!

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Every year, you, me, and everyone we know sets out to make this year different and to finally, once and for all, realize our fitness potential. How can we make this year different? What can we do this year that we haven’t done in years past to make sure we hit our goals once and for all? Tank Top Tony is here to tell you about some novel new ways that I’m positive you’ve never tried to knock off that nasty holiday weight and be ready for summer in no time flat.

Be sure to adopt the latest diet you saw on the news or read about in a magazine.

Bonus points:  it requires you eat crazy foods or less than 1000 calories in a day. 

If I know anything, it’s that diets are most successful when they’re most untenable. So that’s why I suggest you choose a diet that doesn’t in any way resemble what humans eat. Weird, gritty shakes that you can only drink with your nose pinched closed? Perfect. A juice or lemon water fast that results in you getting as many calories per day as the recommended dietary allowance for an insect? Phenomenal!

The name of the game is struggle! So once you hit your weight loss goal after starving yourself for a few weeks or months (provided you don’t fall off the wagon and binge on a “Crave Case” of White Castle cheeseburgers), you know full well that you now have the strategies in place to maintain your goal weight without still starving yourself. Right?

Go out with friends at every opportunity. How else do you expect to know how bad you really want to change unless you tempt yourself at every turn?

Bonus points: bitch and moan at your friends having tasty beers and savory, starchy foods and really drive home how much you’re suffering. Complaining and suffering burns extra calories. 

It always seems that when one is trying to lose weight or attack some other fitness goal, their friends and loved ones come out of the wood-work to make plans and try and break our will. In addition, we all know how hard it is to just tell your friends you can’t go or set other, less indulgent plans… I mean, we’re not monsters or super-humans with iron-clad determination to see our goals through. Every chance you get to go out and drink and chow down on nachos is fortifying your friendship. And your waistline, but we can get to that next year.

If you do somehow manage to make it through a night out with friends without ingesting 2000 calories of food and drink, be sure to bitch and complain about how hard it is to maintain your discipline. People really appreciate it when you lord over them about how strong and determined you are at bettering yourself. It truly makes the night more enjoyable.

Spend a lot of cash on a personal trainer. Spend more cash on pizza, beer, and ice cream.

Bonus points: set a goal to consume a certain number of slices of pizza pie and pints of ice cream this month. Beat that goal next month! Progress!

We all know personal trainers are expensive. They help provide us with motivation and accountability when it comes to working out. So why not show them how much we appreciate their attention and expertise by instantly incinerating the results they deliver us and indulging on junk food?

While eating right and working hard is nice and all and allows us to see progress towards our goals, everybody knows that you’re truly not enjoying your life if you don’t flip the bird to your weight loss goals and have those extra cocktails or junk food dinners. Life is miserable without pizza and gin and beer. Healthy blood chemistry, a strong and able body, and longer life just aren’t worth it, am I right?

In Closing…

So, to truly ensure that this upcoming New Year really does result in a New You, be sure to do the things above! Which is to say: set goals you have no intention of putting in the hard work to achieve, BS yourself and your trainer (if you hire one) by telling them you’re eating right and doing all the exercise you can (when you’re not doing that at all! Sucker!). Finally, tempt yourself whenever possible by losing any and all backbone when friends demand you meet them for a night out of binge drinking and late night burritos. Those goals will achieve themselves and you probably burned a couple hundred calories on the dance floor and shivering on the way to the gastropub, right? Happy New Year!

**If you enjoyed this post, please use the social media buttons below to like and share with your friends!**

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“Christ, is this workout bullshit over yet?”

The Science Behind Food Allergies

The idea occurred to me following my anti “gluten intolerance” article to break down the true meaning of the terms “food allergy” and “food sensitivity”. It seems to me that everyone seeks to find a reason to be important or special these days and that fact does not change when it comes to what a person can and cannot eat. I personally hold the belief that there are a lot of vegans or vegetarians out there dig on that lifestyle because it was cool at some point in time, but that’s a different story for a different time. I want to talk about true problems that people have with food, what the response is expected to be like, and how to tell the truth from nonsense.

When I was making my way through the dietetics program at Purdue University, it was often stated that legitimate and true “food allergy” was limited to 8 foods: peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, dairy, fish, wheat, and soy (And the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology still name checks these foods). The described response caused by these foods was similar to those that accompanied traditional anaphylactic shock: swelling, vomiting, cramps, hives, etc. Much like someone who is allergic to bee stings, the person ingesting these foods would be at great risk of any or all of these symptoms and possibly death.

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Typical food allergies and signs that might be found on food labels.

 

Fast forward to the late 2000s and I remember a client (who we will call Nicole) telling me that she was allergic to unusual and somewhat innocuous things such as tomatoes and chicken. “Nooo waayyy” and “bullshit!” were two things that immediately came to mind, though I kept them to myself. I didn’t think it was possible and I expressed as much to Nicole. It just didn’t make sense to me as to why something like a tomato could cause the immune inflammatory response that a bee sting could. What was in a tomato that was so bad? It didn’t make sense to me, but even then I speculated that it could possibly be a result of food molecules (not your typical carbs, fats, and proteins) entering the bloodstream and causing an immune response.

To help explain why this might be, let’s talk about the mechanism of disease in Celiac, which is a disease that is classified as an immune reaction to eating gluten. What happens in Celiac disease is the lower bowel becomes severely inflamed due to the immune response. This can causes severe discomfort in the form of cramps and other issues. In extreme cases, something called bowel perforation can occur, where a hole in the intestine is created and gut contents can leak through. However, there are other causes of this syndrome, often referred to as “leaky gut”. Junk food binges, drug or alcohol abuse (even antibiotics) , GI tract parasites, and more can all result in a situation where food particles can reach the bloodstream.

The thing that makes the immune system so proficient about removing hazardous things from our bodies is that it never forgets. Once it encounters a foreign object or virus or bacteria, it will attack that thing with a vengeance for the rest of our lives. So when a certain type of food particle – say mushrooms or chicken or tomatoes – enter our blood, the immune system will attack it thereafter, inciting the familiar “allergy” symptoms: itchiness, throat swelling, redness, irritation, etc. So people can indeed develop “allergies” to food, though these differ from a typical allergy that develops from some sort of genetic component that some of us are born with.

We can see here how in Celiac patients, gluten molecules can leak past the intestinal wall, inciting an immune response.

We can see here how in Celiac patients, gluten molecules can leak past the intestinal wall, inciting an immune response.

In closing, I want to address those out there who talk about their food “allergies”. Having an upset stomach and other minor symptoms simply do not count and this is more in line with what I professionally consider a food sensitivity. Second, if you weren’t born with the issue, you likely fucked up at some point and handled your health in a way that caused the food to reach your bloodstream, because unless you have a genetic predisposition to bowel perforation or otherwise trend to intestines like Swiss cheese, food should not enter your bloodstream. Third, stop handling your health poorly and doing the things (poor food choices, alcohol/drug abuse, etc) that caused you to develop the allergy and make more considerate choices in general when it comes to food.

 

You Are Not Gluten-intolerant

Today’s post is about getting back to basics. In the modern fitness world, there are so many opinions on how we should eat that it is enough to make your head spin. Gluten-free, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Atkins/Ketogenic, Zone, GMO-free, Organic, etc. all have de facto spokespeople (some even among us) telling the average American that in order to be healthy, you have to adopt their manner of eating. I’m here to tell you that they are all DEAD WRONG.

I will tell you upfront that I have tried practically all of these methods of eating, and I have a bit to say about each of them, with not much being good. However, I will begin by saying the best thing about all of them: They force you to think about the food that you are putting into your body. Nearly all of them make you consume more fruits and vegetables as well as other foods loaded with health boosting vitamins and minerals. In addition, with the exception of Atkins and Zone, they all force you to get away from eating with convenience as your primary goal. Unfortunately, that is about where the positives end.

The problem with all of these approaches to eating is that many of the people who abide these eating “styles” (as I will call them) will all tell you that their way is the ONLY way. Any other plan will lead you on the path to fire and brimstone and eternal damna… whoops, wrong subject! Joking aside, you can see the similarities here between religion and the conviction some folks have with their diet. Everyone thinks their diet is the one and only way to perfect health when that simply is not the case. I can tell you for certain that for 95% of you out there, you are completely okay on a diet of lean meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts (and other healthy fats – olive/coconut oils, avocado, etc) and a small amount of dairy. Eating in this fashion you can lose weight, you can gain weight, you can train hard, you can run far, you can have healthy blood parameters, you can do it all. No tricks or gadgetry needed. Just show up and do the work (that means close the GrubHub and get in the kitchen or order meat and veggies when you go out).

What's that you say? Paleolithic man ate all the bacon? And nary a grain?

What’s that you say? Paleolithic man ate all the bacon? And nary a grain?

To take a step back for a moment, the title of today’s post refers to the massive public repulsion to anything containing gluten, especially when it comes to the Whole Foods crowd. You see, there exists among us this belief that when we don’t see results immediately as we eat healthier, that we absolutely must be doing something wrong. The psychology of fitness and nutrition can do a lot of damage to individuals with a goal, especially if that goal is weight loss. The fact is that a majority of us do not have an intolerance to gluten. Gluten is in all likelihood not the reason you are or perhaps remain fat. Celiac has a large presence in my family, and that is just about the only reason that you or anyone has to be gluten-free… Because you have a genetic predisposition that causes your large intestine to practically eviscerate itself from inflammation when you have bread.

I hate to break it to you, but you do not need to eat in any special way to be healthy. One is not better than the rest unless your body literally revolts at the presence of a certain food inside of it. GMOs won’t kill you. Paleolithic man did not eat only olives, meat, and plants… not all over the world, anyway. Organic foods have a negligible difference compared to non-organic foods when it comes to our health (now wrap your noggin around the idea of how much produce is wasted on either side due to grocery stores catering to varying tastes). Eating a vegan or vegetarian diet does not necessarily make you more healthy, nor is it better for the environment. Any dietitian will tell you that a balanced diet and an exercise routine are all you need. Hopefully they’ll then tell you the food guide and MyPyramid are bullshit, presuming they’re worth their salt.

That does it for me today, folks. Hope you have a happy and healthy week.

-Tank Top

Weighing in on CrossFit

If my readership were a bit larger, I might have to worry about a flame war on my hands with this post! That’s right, it’s time to talk about CrossFit, that much maligned and much adored training program designed by Greg Glassman ages ago in a garage in California. It’s another one of those things that irks me a little but I’ll be damned if I can’t argue with the results. My problems with CrossFit boil down to three major issues that I’ll discuss in order.

  • teaching and prescription of the deadlift
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Silly exercises

The deadlift

The deadlift itself is an incredibly difficult exercise and teaching of the deadlift is not a first try, 30-second run down and then off you go. No, to the contrary. In my teaching of clients, the methodology has always focused on repetition. I pride myself on almost never injuring my clients, so you can bet your ass that I’m not going to rush through the process of teaching a complicated, multi-joint movement like the deadlift. Deadlifts work the trapezius, lattisimus, gluteus, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius muscles at the very least. The joints at work include the shoulder, the vertebra, hips, and knees. With all of the things at play here, how can you demand a person do as many reps as possible (AMRAP) of this move in a limited time? How can you expect their central nervous system to maintain the signals firing through the end of the workout? Furthermore, how can you expect both of the issues raised in these two questions to not result in a sacrifice in the form of the movement and promote a training situation primed for injury? The answer is you simply can’t.

This is not to invoke the image of some sort of injury boogeyman when doing metabolic conditioning work involving the deadlift. It is however meant to suggest that the way CrossFit teaches the deadlift (a very quick breakdown over four minutes) to newbies, the volume of repetitions being prescribed (let’s look at Linda, shall we? That’s 55 reps of 262 lbs for an 175 lb individual such as myself), and the joints involved (desk jockey Americans have enough problems with lower back pain) create a bit of a perfect storm when it comes to risk for injury.

Rhabdomyolysis

Let’s go through a little language lesson. Rhabdo- is of Greek origin, meaning “rod” or “wand-shaped” and is of little importance here. Myo- however refers to muscle cells and -lysis is the cleaving or destruction of these cells. Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially fatal condition that CrossFit practically considers a badge of honor. Muscle tissue breaks down during workouts, this is something we all know. However, with Rhabdo the process and soreness (due to much higher stress and intensity) is a bit more intense and the muscle cells are destroyed, causing proteins present in the cells to enter the bloodstream where they have the potential to damage kidneys to the point of inducing kidney failure. And CrossFit makes a cartoon out of the issue. What. The. Fuck.

Silly Exercises

This is the point in the article where I sound like most other CrossFit critics and bitch about exercises and movements that are just absurd on their face. Kipping pullups don’t count, people! That said, I could run down a laundry list: kipping dips, glute-ham situps (which are what gave a former client rhabdo, if you happen to care), poorly done box jumps and deadlifts, and finally whatever this is:

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Muscle Ups are still hard as shit, though. They can stay.

– Tank Top

In Defense of “Fad” Diets

Anyone who has worked with me has probably heard the story of my last cut. I basically got lean with intermittent fasting, a quasi paleo diet (still love me some craft beers), heavy lifting, stair climbing, and calorie restriction. I figure I got down to somewhere around 10% body fat and for the first time in my adult life was able to see my abs for the first time. There’s a very small percentage of the population that will get there and know how to maintain it. I didn’t. Mainly because I was still subscribing to the old bodybuilder philosophy of bulking and cutting cycles to get most muscular, but I’ll save that story for another post.

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I don’t tell this story to promote intermittent fasting, paleo or other fad diets, or to get myself a few pats on the back. I tell it because it’s a bit personal and helps explain that I am aware of the struggle that persists among those who seek to reach their fitness potential. I personally think that the hardest part of reaching a goal – and this goes for things outside of fitness as well – is maintaining the discipline. Calorie counting is easy. Going to the gym a few times is no sweat (ha!). Even cooking for oneself, avoiding delivery food, etc can be maintained for a little while. However, the day will always come when temptation will show it’s face or that voice will enter your head that says, “C’mon, you’ve been good all week… it’s ok to let yourself go for one night.” That voice isn’t wrong, per se. The problem comes with getting back to the diet right after that. And that’s where most of us falter. Or we let our friends or family discourage us and break our streak of good habits. However, we’re not entirely alone and there are certain things we can do to turn the tables a bit more in our favor when “clean eating” can be harder to maintain.

This is where “fad” diets prove their worth. Because most are able to be maintained. On Paleo you can have the bacon and the butter. Ketogenic and Atkins style diets allow you to go crazy with meat, cheese, and the like as long as you keep your carbs low. Even juice diets and the like taste pretty good. I personally don’t back juice diets since they tend to completely eliminate multiple macronutrients and this results in severe calorie restriction. This leads to weight loss on a high level but not of the ideal type. Juice diets or fasts tend to result in a bit more muscle loss, and if I said it once, I’ve said it a million times: more muscle on your body means more fat loss. You lose it and you’ll have that much harder of a time dropping those love handles.

Look at all that delicious grub up there! How can anyone say no to that?

Look at all that delicious grub up there! How can anyone say no to that?

Now, if you’re having trouble staying consistent and developing real, tangible results, I suggest giving a keto or paleo focused diet a chance. Same thing if you’re rocking a bit of the “skinny-fat” look. These diets are high in protein as a rule, allow you to occasionally “cheat” (pizza is all good with keto, just skip the dough!), and are easily maintained. This last step is crucial because of the psychological aspects we discussed earlier. My personal favorite is the Paleo movement, not because I think it is how we as humans should biologically eat. I like it best because if followed diligently it forces a person to include more fruits and vegetables in their diet. In a country that is battling the obesity epidemic, I think more home grown fruits and veggies are sorely needed. That said, the higher protein will allow for muscle retention while the low-to-no starch content will make water retention more difficult. For anyone struggling to drop weight via traditional methods, I suggest doing some research on the Paleo diet (among others) and seeing if it can’t yield some results for you. Robb Wolf runs a blog that is a great place to start, the film “Fat Head” reviewed in my last post is a nice layman resource as well.

In summation, I won’t say that these diets are the way all people should be eating nor am I saying they are guaranteed to make you fit, skinny, healthy, whatever the hell you want to be… but they shouldn’t be discounted outright. In this day where temptation sits on every corner and even neighborhood grocery stores that have a reputation as healthy are chock full of junk food, we shouldn’t turn our nose up at proven results. Eating pretty much lean meat and vegetables got me into kickass shape. Maybe it can do the same for you.

Takeaways:

  • Weight loss is hard. Even consistent effort can be dashed with a single binge. “Fad” diets like keto and paleo may provide the tools necessary to survive the necessary calorie restriction.
  • Tank Top Training backs these two diets in particular. However, I cannot in good conscience support any diet that is trying to sell a product. Atkins, South Beach, etc. come to mind.
  • Try as I might, I can’t argue with results. Dieting and the psychology associated with saying no when everyone and everything around you is telling you to cheat makes it hard enough. “Fad” diets can be a shortcut; a tool in your arsenal!