Monthly Archives: March 2011

Dieting and my new appreciation for food


A while back, I hit a point where I just stopped being excited about food. I mean sure, there were some meals that were good, but really good food was expensive, and I figured that if I wasn’t going to have really good food all the time, I’d just kinda try to eat healthy food not caring about how it tastes. I even tried looking for substitutions for real food so I could get all of the nutrition I’d need in the form of smoothies (for convenience). Cake, cookies, chocolate, candy, sushi, steak – they all really didn’t mean much to me.

This is a really depressing way to live.

Fast forward to the present where half the week, I’m eating a low calorie, low carb diet. I aim for roughly 1500 calories a day and no more than 50g of carbs. I eat a lot of salad, lean meat, and for dessert, I have string cheese. After several days of dieting + intense workouts, I’m finding that I LOVE MEDIOCRE FOOD AGAIN AND IT’S EXCELLENT.

Last night, I was walking by the patient family waiting room at the hospital where I volunteer, and all I could smell was cafeteria food, and it was awesome.

To begin my carb loading, I decided to hit up this local Chinese buffet that’s known for mediocre-at-best reviews, and it was amazing. Little things like donuts make me happy again.

So final thoughts: dieting – it not only helps you lean out (provided that you do it right), but it’ll also help you appreciate your food more.

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Dieting–a look back at Full House

250px-FullHouseLogoDo you remember the episode of Full House where DJ develops body image problems and decides to go on a crazy diet and exercise routine? She pretty much stops eating and instead exercises really frequently. Toward the end of the episode, she passes out on the exercise bike, and the moral of the story is that it’s okay to be fat.

Looking back, that episode really bothers me. DJ’s diet and workout routine were just really not thoughtful, and it makes the entire dieting community look bad. Here are my complaints:

  1. They make it seem like it’s bad that DJ passed out on the exercise bike. Is this actually a bad thing? I mean, I usually don’t pass out, but I’m usually pretty nauseated by the end of my workout (if I’m working out hard enough), and generally at the end of my dead lift sets, I will see stars or get tunnel vision. If you’re serious about lowering body fat (without eating disorders), that’s just what you do. DJ probably should’ve just lowered the intensity or got some water or something until she was used to the higher intensity workout. If body image is something she really cared about, maybe she should’ve just toughed it out.
  2. DJ was just doing stuff that didn’t make sense. Huge calorie deficit + exercise bike? I don’t even understand why someone would do that. I mean, I suppose it could work, but if I were to go on a huge calorie deficit and attempt lots of cardio, I’d probably do exercise bike in the sauna (to cut water weight) or just run outside for a better cardio/full body workout. I’d also be very prepared to feel miserable all the time and on the brink of passing out during the workout. And why was she eating frozen ice pops? (Like actual ice cubes, not flavored stuff). That’s not even filling. I mean, okay I can imagine that Dexatrim may not have been readily available back then (or at least to minors), but ice? That doesn’t make any sense.
  3. Oh let’s all blame genetics! Okay, so I don’t actually remember the ending of the episode, but I’d imagine that it went like this: Danny walks in and says “DJ, you’re beautiful on the inside.” Everybody hugs and while nobody notices, DJ grows up to have an eating disorder. I mean, I’d agree that it’s probably not healthy for a girl DJ’s age to be working out and dieting that hard, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a legitimate goal to take fitness seriously and keep body fat low.

So yeah, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve actually seen that episode, so I probably got it all wrong, but uh… yeah I don’t know. The episode just bothered me.

And on that note, I’m just going to end this post. I actually wrote an additional paragraph, but it got a bit ranty, so I’ll just leave it here.

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Is your diet stupid?

Changing my diet/workout routine, I pretty much have just one goal: get leaner while sustaining (or building!) muscle. It’s been approximately a week, and I’m about the same weight, maybe a bit leaner (I’ll have to compare photos later), and I probably had one of my best gym days in months. I completed my sets on the bench press (at a weight where I’ve been stalling for the past few weeks) and set new personal records on Squats and Deadlifts. But does this mean that my diet/routine was successful?

I often hear people tell me about how they swear by these diets that make no sense. Or sometimes they do make sense, but it’s really common sense (reducing calories + more cardio? Amazing!) added to some stupid fad that makes no sense. For this post, I’ll be asking myself questions that I’ll normally ask dubious dieters.

  1. Are you sure that the gains in strength weren’t caused by other things? Like being well rested or eating more? I don’t think that I was actually better rested since I normally bench maybe once or twice a week. This week, I hit the gym 4 times for weight training. I may have been better rested since I skipped all of my fighting stuff this week, but the underlying principles of the diet actually accounts for that. As for eating more, that’s pretty much what I did in the carb load phase. However, I did the lifting at the same weight as I did last week when I stalled, so you couldn’t really argue “oh he’s just stronger because he’s put on more weight.”
  2. Could it have just been the placebo effect that pushed you to the new PRs? Well, I guess realistically the answer is “yes” since I have no way to disprove that. I will admit that I’d been exciting about this diet and my workouts all week, so it’s probably a good chance that my attitude helped me. 
  3. Could your weight maintenance be explained simply by calories in = calories out? Probably. I tried doing the math, but there were enough gaps from guesstimating that the margin of error for my calories in and calories out is pretty large. I will say though that this diet doesn’t profess to make calories magically disappear as much as it attempts to help you lose stubborn body fat. The real test is whether I’m actually leaner down the road.
  4. Are you sure it’s not just a fad on top of really simple dieting principles (like adding exercise and eating less?) I’m pretty confident that this isn’t a fad. There aren’t lots of grossly simple analogies that explain how it works, and there’s no promise that it’s easy. It’s a hard diet, the workouts are brutal, and you’re never really just adding exercise and eating less.
  5. Do you naturally have a strong metabolism? Are you sure other, simpler diets wouldn’t work for you? I can’t answer the question about the metabolism because I don’t know, but I’ve never really been fat or thin, so I don’t think I have an especially fast metabolism. I will say though that I’ve maintained caloric deficits with cardio/strength training in the past, and I was able to lose some weight from that, but I stalled at the weight that I’m currently at.

So to conclude, is this diet effective? It’s week one, so it’s really hard to say. I’ve been pretty enthusiastic about it, so that probably helped me push a little harder on the workouts, and realistically, since it’s only the first week, I’m still trying to get used to the work outs and dieting, so it’s possible that I’m not even doing it right (and getting gains completely on enthusiasm!) I think I’ll have a much better idea of how my body reacts this diet after a few weeks of sticking to it.

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Dealing with the unpleasantness of dieting

A lot of dieting programs will try to give you tips on how to deal with hunger. They say stuff like “drink lots of water to keep your stomach full” or “eat high fiber foods which will slow down gastric emptying and keep you feeling fuller longer.” Well, this blog post isn’t like that. My advice: do stuff that’s much worse than dieting, so in comparison, the hunger doesn’t feel that bad.

Here are some things you can try:

  1. Fight someone better than you when you’re already tired. There are few things more demoralizing than sparring with someone and getting your ass handed to you. You’re covering your head, but your opponent’s getting around your defenses, and you’d like to fight back, but you’re tired, so you’re not thinking straight, and you go back to covering your head and rolling, which hasn’t been working. It sucks.
  2. Run a really long distance with friends. Specifically, around friends that motivate you. For me, it’s generally workout buddies that don’t let you give up or girls that are cute that you just don’t want to look weak in front of. Despite having legs that felt like bricks and being out of breath, I think I pushed myself for an extra 2 miles because I didn’t want to give up and walk. It was pretty awful.
  3. Do a Krav Maga belt test. This was easily one of the most physically taxing things I’ve ever done in my life. 5 minutes in, I was sure I was going to throw up from the intensity of the warm up. 5 hours and 55 minutes later, I was running on fumes, I could barely raise my arms, and the instructors kept pushing me to keep going. Meanwhile, my partner was choking me. I spent the entire next day lying on my couch unable to stand up because my entire body was sore.

Any time I feel hungry, I think back to those experiences, and I think, “meh, all I have to do is not eat like a pig? This isn’t so bad in comparison.”

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Adventures in Dieting—an intro post!

I’ve recently started a new diet + workout routine after reading Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0 to get ready for beach season. Since then, I’ve had some interesting observations about dieting in general, so I thought I’d start blogging about it as well. Rather than start with a boring intro post framing what this diet’s about, I’m just going to jump right into my observations.

The following are two things that I’m doing for my diet that I never thought I’d do:

  1. Take pictures of myself shirtless in my bathroom. Now, if you’re a serious dieter or bodybuilder, this is actually a really legitimate thing to do to measure your progress. It’s recommended that you take a picture of yourself from different angles at the same time once a week so you can measure your progress. However, thanks to the recent activities of Greg Oden, Brett Favre, and a bunch of other creepy people who were important enough to end up on the news, it just feels dirty. I will not be posting any of these pictures on the Internet… but I’ll consider sending you a copy for the right price.
  2. Pee on a strip of paper to measure the ketone content of my urine. Part of my diet involves going into a state of ketosis where your body starts producing ketones from fatty acids due to the lack of glucose. One way to see if your body has entered ketosis is to pee onto ketosis strips. Now, the first time I read about ketostrips was from a friend’s dieting blog, and after reading it, I emailed him telling him that it was disgusting. I also read that there’s tons of variables (ketone concentration in the urine may vary due to muscles burning them up or being well hydrated), making the actual results of the test less interesting. However, the more I thought about it, the more curious I was, so I bought some.

And that’s that for my intro post. Next topic: dealing with hunger.

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Leaving the milk out

Leaving the milk out in the United States is completely unacceptable. It’s disgusting! Some people are even paranoid about milk not being in the deepest, coldest part of the refrigerator so it doesn’t go bad. I once put milk away in my cupboard with my protein powder instead of refrigerating it (I don’t always think so good when I get back from workouts), and when I finally found the milk again, the jug was all puffed out like a balloon, and disposing the milk (gotta recycle!) just completely stunk up my sink.

In a hostel in Italy, a couple other travelers (I think they were American) were telling us about how you’re not supposed to refrigerate European milk or orange juice. They said it was due to some “pasteurization process.” I put two and two together (they’re Americans so they get confused and don’t realize it, and they use vague scientific sounding phrases that they probably don’t understand) and just assumed that they were just confused. As it turns out, however, they were right! Europeans don’t refrigerate milk and orange juice, and it is due to their pasteurization process.

So on that note, isn’t it kind of ironic that pasteurization in Europe yields milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated while milk in the US still needs to be kept cold? Isn’t the whole idea of processing and preserving things for better shelf-life a very American concept? Isn’t that why foreigners find our cheese so offensively bland (all the bacteria’s dead!)

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Making sense of tipping in Europe

IMG_5214In Amsterdam,  you tip.

Which doesn’t seem like a big deal to Americans because we’re used to tipping being normal, but there are a lot of countries in Europe where waiters are well-paid and tipping is seen as rude (unless they’ve given you an hj or something). This is inconvenient for Americans who want to be assholes by saving their money.

So Andrew and I were at this Italian restaurant in Amsterdam where I ordered the pasta Carbonara (because that’s just about what I did everywhere). The waiter seemed kinda out of it (he may have been high), but the service was overall good, so we were going to wait until he came back to ask if tipping was customary.

Then, from nowhere, a fat guy comes to our table, picks up the bill with our money in it, and then asks us why there’s no tip.

Now, had this guy either:

  1. Came from inside the restaurant. (He literally came from the street)
  2. Worn somewhat nice clothes as though he were at work (I think he may have been wearing a tank top)

we would have just given him the benefit of the doubt, assumed he worked there, asked him if tipping was customary, and then provided a reasonably generous tip.

However, he met neither of those two criteria, and Andrew and I were just kinda thinking, “who the f* is this guy? Are we getting scammed?” We told him that we weren’t going to give HIM the tip (we could tip the waiter directly to make sure we weren’t getting scammed). He then starts making a big deal about it, hands the bill/money to our waiter, and then just walks away (back down the street).

And so that was pretty awkward. So what’s my advice for what you should do when a vagrant comes up to you from the street and asks for money? Just assume he works there and give him the money… I guess? I don’t know!

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Making sense of European mass transit

Traveling through Europe, Andrew and I had a lot of trouble with mass transit. In fact, we probably did a lot of unnecessary walking so we wouldn’t have to deal with mass transit systems, but hey, it was a backpacking trip, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

When we were in Brussels and Amsterdam, before we gave up on mass transit, we’d buy "tickets,” but we couldn’t figure out what you were supposed to do with the ticket. We were able to get on and off trains without having to do anything with the tickets. This was particularly scary because we saw signs that roughly translated to, “yo, if you’re freeloading, we’re going to bust you up.”

Later in Amsterdam, we realized that there was a box where you were supposed to punch your ticket with a timestamp, but we couldn’t figure out how to get the timestamp to show up in the boxes. Apparently, the mass transit system is part honor system, part IQ test.

So what’s my advice on dealing with European mass transit? You really gotta be ready to fight. When people with official looking hats come asking for your ticket, start acting like it’s in one of your pockets. Meanwhile, look for the path of least resistance to the exit. When you reach into your pocket, rotate your shoulders to cock your punch back. When you take your hand out of your pocket, form a fist, and BAM, right cross to the face! Then RUN LIKE HELL! And while you’re running, always look both ways, because those trams come from NOWHERE.

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Al Down South–Queue Jumping

This is the first post of my new "travel category” called Al Down South. It’s a blog about travel, written mostly without traveling. My first topic: Queue Jumping.

Before I went to Europe, a bunch of my friends warned me that Europeans really don’t like queue jumping. This is pretty unfortunate as it conflicts with the fundamental American need to jump queues.

Andrew and I ran into this problem when we were in a train station in Amsterdam, and we needed to get our Eurail passes validated or something. We went to the office and stood in line. However, we had no idea where the line ended, so we just picked a place that looked like the end and stood there. A woman then came to us and said, “excuse me, the line actually ends back there.”

I know, pretty obnoxious of her right?

So what’s my advice? When you’re in Europe and looking to jump queue, just be ready to fight. They totally don’t expect stuff like that. Hit the lights-off switch with a left hook, and then just RUN. Then say "sourry aboot that” so they blame it on Canadians.


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Housewives’ tricks and flying first class

I don’t know how this was ever appropriate to talk about in elementary school, but I have memories of being told by elementary school teachers about how housewives would split large purchases across multiple credit cards and cash. This would make a large purchase appear to be a series of small purchases, so it wouldn’t look bad to their husbands when they’re paying their credit card bill. I never understood why you’d ever really need to do this (husbands can’t possibly be stupid enough to not catch how much money their wives are spending), but I recently gained new insight into it as I was booking my tickets for a flight to Hawaii.

Now, to provide some history, I grew up with the understanding that normal people don’t buy first class tickets. These are either funded by companies paying for airfare, really rich people who really don’t need the money, or normal people with first class upgrades. Unfortunately, I was never given a free first class upgrade, and I was thinking that while I was going big on a Hawaiian vacation, it might be nice to make my flights first class as well.

So what does this have to do with housewives splitting purchases across multiple credit cards? Well really, splitting purchases isn’t just about lying to your husband. Like justifying the purchase of first class airplane tickets, it’s about lying to yourself as well (in addition to the perversion of a basic principle of economics).

And how exactly did I justify it to myself? I used the following process:

  1. Buy coach tickets. You’d have to do this anyway.
  2. Go to SeatGuru and get a nice big, fat list of reasons why first class would be better than coach. This step is an integral part of creating the delusion of value.
  3. Upgrade the outgoing flight to a first class seat. Look at the price of the upgrade in isolation, convincing yourself that the already spent money is a “sunk cost.”
  4. Upgrade the return flight to a first class seat. Look at the prince of the upgrade in isolation, convincing yourself that the already spent money is a “sunk cost.”
  5. On the flights, order enough alcohol included in the airfare to recoup most of your upgrade costs. Tell yourself that you might as well because the airfare is a “sunk cost.”
  6. Justify the cost of the upgrades by the amount of alcohol you drank. You pretty much SAVED money.
  7. Arrive at your destination, completely drunk and well rested, and start a fight with a local about the definition of “sunk costs.” You will have the advantage because drinking enough to recoup the costs of first class upgrades should sufficiently render your face impervious to pain. Then again, you’ll probably have alcohol poisoning, so maybe it’s not a great idea.

So there you have it. Now go do some irresponsible and justify it by citing that it was “sunk costs.”

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