So as I share my story and what I've done, in no way am I saying I made all the right choices but the experience and research I did along the way is helped form my opinion and the suggestions herein. I tried things that worked great, didn’t work at all and had some that had disastrous results. I want to share with you what I WOULD have done if I knew then what I know now. I want to save you the trial and efforts, pain and suffering (ok, it wasn’t that bad…) and point you down the path that will build upon itself and yield great results.
As I narrate my journey, most importantly I want to share what helped my mindset which is the basis for healthful living. There is a saying that “Abs aren’t made in the gym, they are made in the kitchen”. Actually, I believe first they are made in the mind. If you don’t truly shift your thinking to adopt the new path to health and fitness you will just be dabbling, testing, trying it on for size and most likely go back to the “comfortable” old ways. You need to pivot and move down the new path. One of my mentors, a kindred spirit, person that I am yet to meet but greatly look forward to the day I do, is a man by the name of Aubrey Marcus. Aubrey is most notably the founder and past CEO of Onnit, a nutrition and fitness industry giant. I have listened to Aubrey’s podcast “AMP” for years now and in addition to his fitness knowledge and the guest interviews within that space, he truly is and has very mindful, psychologically stimulating guests that speak of “The Hero’s Journey”, spirituality, mindset and a plethora of other topics that I have been able to absorb and incorporate into my healthful lifestyle. I mention this because of a very recent podcast (AMP #257) with an Olympic Weightlifter and poet, Jerzy Gregorek, who's philosophies really struck a chord with me. Jerzy implements a process that he calls micro-progression. As I listened to the discussion I was like, YES!, exactly what I, by happenstance, have done over the past several years and what I feel like created the achievable and sustainable process of my healthful change. I highly recommend listening to this podcast but my takeaways from this podcast are as follows. First, you have to fully reposition your thinking into the state of living the life you want. Jerzy made a statement to the effect that “...if you are a pianist, you are a pianist.” No one can tell you that you are not and no one can change that as a priority in your life. If you truly want to be healthy, make that your priority and your life choice. Now, does this mean going into the pantry and throwing out every bad item, dumping out everything in the liquor cabinet and completely flipping your life upside down day one? This style of radical change, and all too common advice, is so extreme it will be almost impossible for most to sustain, long term. As I shared in my “Where to Start” blog, find your first step of fitting exercise into your life. This first step will ultimately lead you to incorporate more healthful practices and perspectives. You can begin working out while you still eat a less than perfect diet… but you won’t want to for long as it makes achieving results that much more difficult. The concept of Micro-progression is incorporating small steps day by day, week by week, year by year that evolves into such a radically different life that you will look back in the years to come and be amazed by how much you have changed. As I have taken years to get to where I am, I truly appreciate the process as much as the change. Gregorek tells the story of an alcoholic that is drinking daily and is living a life that will ultimately lead to her demise. As he counseled her she went from drinking throughout the day to just one drink a day. Because she was an alcoholic, she looked forward to that one drink. But over time that one drink became norma she cut back again to every other day. And, over time cut it back to only one drink on Friday and Saturday. This took her a couple of years to accomplish but she did it. Just think if he had told her to stop her habit of multiple drinks throughout the day to only one on Friday and Saturday. This shift would have been so huge that the likelihood of success would have been almost zero. Now, thank God I don’t suffer from this horrible disease as I can’t imagine how truly difficult this must have been for her. And, I know that there are counselors fuming that she’s an alcoholic and still an alcoholic and shouldn’t be drinking at all… I’m not supporting this or encouraging others to take this path, but it worked for her. My point is if such a hugely overwhelming challenge can benefit from a micro-progression process that the implementation of this into your workout and diet, can and will work. Make small, calculated better choices every time you go to the store, every meal you consume and before long your diet will be completely, radically better.
So depending on your goal there are numerous paths that you can take to achieve the outcome you desire, but for the purpose of my narrative, I will go over how I modified my diet and workouts to achieve fat-loss, muscle tone and a general state of great health.
Working out to achieve a healthy physique that is maintainable was my ultimate goal. I am continually impressed by true athletes in the fitness world. From Crossfit to Bodybuilding there are some truly exceptional athletes in this world. They are amazing, bad-asses in their own right but make extreme choices and implement regimens that are hardly sustainable by most. In addition, they have to support their efforts with diets, exercise and supplements that over the long term can be damaging to longevity (living a long, healthy life). For most, a healthy physique that you can be proud of can be attained and managed through the micro-progression process.
When I began working out in my early forties I had some experience in the gym but by no means had the knowledge base to walk right in and implement a program that would have been very effective. I also wasn’t in a place where I could afford a personal trainer to build a system for me and continually manage my progress. I found a tool that was very helpful when I began my workout routine which was the Bodyspace app built by Bodybuilding.com. This is a GREAT app that has tons of workouts that have either been developed by users or professionals that you can follow. You can add them to your “calendar” then simply open the app and do the workout of the day from the selected program. It can be a great tool if you are looking for a gym-based program. For what it is worth, I have found that my home workout program has been as effective, if not more so simply due to convenience, than the amount of money I’ve spent on memberships and hours (and hours) at the gym. Bodyspace can also be a good tool to find alternate exercises to mix into your routine and most have a “how-to” video on the proper form and technique. When I was in my late teens and twenties, the last period of my life where I really worked out, the old-school process of “pyramid sets” to failure, typically lower rep (12 - 4) range and a push-pull or two body part workout was the norm. What I have found over the past year or so is that this process of killing a body part and letting it recover for a week before working it again wasn’t the only way to go and, frankly, didn’t provide better results than my current process. This past year I have begun doing a full-body routine three or more days per week based on how I feel. There is evidence that a full-body program yields higher fat-loss, greater hormone increases, and even slight strength gains as compared to a similar split-body protocol when both programs utilize the same basic exercise reps/sets. My take is that if I can reduce the soreness and recovery time and have better fat loss doing the same quantity of workout days, why not!? This is all about the best results for the effort expended, right? Also, it is very easy to enhance results for a specific body part within a full-body program by adding one or two additional exercises per day per body part. For example, on Mondays, I like to really push legs (why not get the week going with the most difficult part of the program?). More on my psychology of this in another blog… So on Monday, I will add one or two additional quad, hamstring and glute exercises to the day’s plan and hit every other body part with just one exercise. I proceed through the week doing the same for each body part, i.e. three exercises for shoulders and arms on Wednesday and three for chest and back on Fridays, etc… And, once you’ve built up your strength and tolerance, you can easily bump up this program to 4 or 5 days per week and just hit one body part extra hard each day. This has yielded some of my best results yet in muscular development AND keeping my body fat very low. This has been my micro-progression process up to where I am at today. Killing individual body parts once a week to the point I could barely move them the next day and doing cardio to lose body fat to now utilizing a better program where I can work out every day without the accompanying soreness, still build muscle and control body fat without the arduous cardio has been awesome. Yes, sorry to those of you who love the elliptical, stair climber or are road warriors… That’s just not my thing. It’s great for some but that type of cardio takes too much time and can be bad for so many things from hormones to soft tissues.
Now, let’s get back to diet… Still in the “old school” mindset when I returned to the gym, I was eating a high (really high) protein, moderate carb, low-fat diet. This can provide results in fat loss and muscle building but the problem comes in with what the macros are made up of. The biggest issue? You probably already know… Carbs, and more specifically, grain-based carbs. I did make progress on this diet but I would plateau, I still had digestive issues and although I was looking better I wasn’t really feeling better. As I continued to read and study I began to realize that it was likely the carbs that were part of my diet weren’t doing me any favors. I began studying the Keto realm of diet programs and decided to give this a go. And go I did! I went full bore, eliminated almost all carbs, started eating all the glorious steak, BACON, cheese, meats, butter (on and in everything) and full-fat dairy I could consume. My body responded really well. My fat dropped to astonishingly low levels pretty quickly, I was constantly in ketosis, I wasn’t excessively hungry like on other plans and I maintained muscle mass. I stayed hard-core Keto for about 6 months, and then... something just didn’t seem right. I began to get sluggish, I wasn’t sleeping as well and had weird digestion issues (I’ll spare you the details). I dug back into the research and realized that my overly exuberant elimination of all types of carbs to stay in the ever “important” keto zone was having negative effects. I did a gut biome test through the company Viome and when I got the results back it was pretty shocking. My gut biome was virtually dead. What!? I was lean, muscular and loved the food I was eating but my body, more specifically, my gut biome wasn’t happy. I had eliminated all the important prebiotics that the good gut bacteria thrive on. Your biome needs some starch to feed on and replicate, but the right starches are key. This is when I found a couple of books that corrected my diet and made such an amazing difference in how I felt. More on this in a moment… First my thoughts on recommending Keto. I absolutely DO recommend most people do a ketogenic diet, properly and only for a short period of time. Going “Keto” is a great way for our western adapted biologies to shift from a carb/glucose-based energy source to a fat/ketone burning machine. This type of diet trains your body to have metabolic flexibility. Your body utilizes ketones very efficiently and will begin using the fat stores for fuel. I’m not going to get into the weeds on this process in this blog and there are great resources available these days on all things Keto. Metabolic flexibility is THE key here. We are so accustomed to the western diet that we have made our bodies lazy with all of the easy energy in the forms of sugars and starches that it takes a while to retrain them to a more ancestral type of eating that could adapt to a variety of energy sources, including our own fat stores in time of need. Metabolic flexibility is crucial for good health and going Keto will make that shift so that your body relearns how to work with a variety of foods, or none at all like during a fast. The person I really admire and appreciate as a Keto guide is Mark Sisson. Mark has been in the fitness industry since the ’70s and most recently really developed the best program(s) for going Keto the right way. Mark’s book, The Keto Reset Diet, is probably the best book I’ve read on how to transition into Keto and get your body utilizing this highly efficient diet. His system incorporates the right kind of fats, proteins and complex carbs that give your body, and most importantly, your biome, the nutrition you need to be Keto AND healthy. So, how long do you stay “Keto”? My personal take is just long enough to get comfortable with this style of eating. That may vary from person to person and is different for men and women. Men tend to do better on Keto than women for a longer period. Studies have shown that women on a long term ketogenic diet begin having hormonal issues and isn’t ideal for periods longer than a couple of months. Even for men, I would say that a really diligent keto diet for about four months is more than long enough. Like I said before, you will get noticeable results rather quickly (especially if you are carrying a few more lbs than most) and you will experience a diet that is very satiating without all the damn starchy carbs we’ve all become so accustomed to consuming. After you’ve developed your new view of what foods you should and like to eat, transitioning to a cyclical ketogenic-type diet is a very good long term program. Another great author and pioneer in this space is Dave Asprey. Dave is best known for his Bulletproof Coffee and coining the term “Biohacking” and being an all-around guru in longevity. Dave’s book, The Bulletproof Diet, outlines a keto-based diet that also incorporates “non-keto” days. This type of diet maximizes the body’s utilization of a broad range of foods to meet all nutritional needs and, in general, make you a healthy, well rounded healthful human.
I strongly recommend picking up both of these books and implementing them. I would first follow Mark’s thoughtful, well-developed approach to going keto and, once you have achieved ketosis and regained metabolic flexibility for a couple of months transitioning into the Bulletproof diet for the long haul. Incorporating both have made a huge difference in my health and fitness.
In this “long story long”, I have shared the key details that have made the biggest impact on my healthful state to date. I am 100% confident that as you follow my posts and blog and incorporate the items I share in your life you will also feel better, look better and have a healthy way of living that you will really (REALLY) enjoy.
This is my wish for everyone I reach through this process of blogging and sharing my story.
To your most Healthful life possible,