Tuesday, January 27, 2015

the Starvation Diet

Imagine not having enough food to eat. I'm not talking about saying no to that third slice of pizza; I'm talking about literally not having any food to eat. Think of being lost in the wilderness, or stranded on a deserted island. My guess is you'd get pretty skinny, pretty quick.

deserted island
image credit to idr solutions (I couldn't find the original source of the image.)

Experts say that as long as you can stay hydrated, you can live for a long time without food. (which makes sense, since every pound of fat inside your body is 3,500 calories' worth of energy just waiting to be released from storage.) You could survive for 1-2 days per pound of body fat, depending on personal factors and your physical exertion rate.

I bet it wouldn't be fun, and it wouldn't be by choice either, but if you didn't have a food source available you would lose weight, very fast.

Is there any way we could take that concept and apply it to the real world?

I don't think any expert in the world would advise that actual, long-term starvation is a good idea, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. But what about a very low-calorie diet? You could still feed your body healthy nutrients and keep normal body functions in place, but force your body to burn fat for fuel. I decided to give this a try.

My Goal

I wrote not long ago about gaining some weight in the second half of last year, which culminated in my right knee aching badly. I was about ready to go see an orthopedic about my knee, but I decided to try losing weight first, and given the pain and annoyance involved I wanted to lose the weight quickly.

I set a 2-step goal for weight loss: First I wanted to lose 9.5 pounds as fast as possible, which would put me at 1 pound less than my normal carrying weight. Then I would lose an additional 3 pounds more gradually over the course of the spring. The result would put me at my super-trim racing weight from when I was running triathlons.

My Plan
  • I would try to limit myself to less than 1,000 calories per day. (Hopefully this would lead to rapid weight loss, which would be self-reinforcing.)
  • I would weigh myself everyday, using the brand new high tech scale at the gym, and chart my results. (Hopefully a downward sloping graph would be an exciting reward.)
  • I would continue with moderate exercise. (Hopefully this would keep my metabolism high and help my body keep processing normally. I didn't want my body to shut down functions or slow down my metabolism.)
  • I would drink A LOT of water, since all those survival guides say hydration is far more important than eating for short-term survival. (Hopefully this would help keep my body functioning properly.)

My Process

The process involved being hungry, pretty much all the time. A typical day looked like this:
  • Breakfast - a bowl of frosted mini wheats, without milk, and a cup of coffee. This gave me 200-300 calories in the morning, depending on the size of the bowl. I sometimes substituted half a bagel w/ cream cheese or a couple pieces of fruit.
  • Drinks - I added 2-3 oz of cranberry-grape juice to 12 oz water, and drank several of these throughout the day. I probably consumed 150 calories of fruit juice per day.
  • Lunch - a slice of pepperoni pizza, a small plain cheeseburger, or a small ham & cheese sandwich (or something similar - yummy, small, and not necessarily a "healthy" option), worth about 350 calories.
  • Water - a couple glasses of water w/o fruit juice in the afternoon.
  • Dinner - a few bites of whatever our family's dinner was, along with a medium sized salad. (I skipped dinner on nights when I went straight to coach soccer practice.)
  • Snacks - none, most days.

pepperoni pizza

My Result

As of this morning I am 1/2 pound away from achieving my first-stage goal. Hopefully the scale is cooperative tomorrow or the next day, and I'll finish this thing off. Then I can add food back to my diet and drop the last few pounds over the coming months. I'll probably settle in at about 1,800-1,900 calories per day, which should still allow me to lose about a pound per month.

I lost about 1/2 pound per week during the Holidays, and about 2 pounds per week since then. (Note - I couldn't stay under 1,000/day during the Holidays - too much good food and good family cheer.. Whatchagonnado?)

Oh yeah, and that knee pain? It's pretty much gone. I don't have the knees of a 20-year old anymore, but I did put away the orthopedic's phone number..

What I Learned:
  • This was very difficult to do - having the will power to simply not eat when there is food everywhere you look (and you're really hungry), is not for everyone.
    • Knowing that it was only for a short time period helped; I don't think I could have held up for an extended battle of wills against all food.
    • Seeing the rapid weight loss on my daily tracking sheet helped a lot; looking forward to tomorrow's weigh-in was enough to help me power through some of those tough decisions.
  • This is not a lifestyle change, since it's not sustainable. And if you don't have a game plan for what comes next you'll be very likely to put all that weight back on. And that would suck.
  • Your body does become more efficient at burning fat. I had big-time hunger headaches at the beginning, but they mostly went away as time progressed. This was my body realizing that it couldn't trick me into feeding it a bagel, so it just went to work at burning some fat cells instead.
  • Your body doesn't function exactly normally on so few calories. I noticed some changes - both mentally and physically - that I had to adjust to. (More on that in a future post..)

Overall I'm still not a big fan of "diets", as I'd much prefer a long-term change in habits which will lead to a lifetime of better health. But seeing fast results is very rewarding as well - a way to kick-start yourself down the road to a smaller you. Maybe there's room for ultra-calorie-reduction in the weight-loss arsenal after all...

- Chris Butterworth

Like this article? You might also enjoy:

On Amazon - here are a couple diet / nutrition / food books I've enjoyed flipping through:


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

coming back from injury - attitudes and expectations

The second half of 2014 wasn't my best year. I fractured my ankle in June, and then pulled my groin in November. And I don't have a specific injury to site, but my knee has been tweaky and just hasn't felt right.

Add in the extra time commitments from coaching soccer and the holidays, and I had gotten off track (to say the least) on working out. I've even gained some weight from the lack of activity.

So, I get to the end of the holidays feeling a lot better, and wanting to get back into the swing of things, but still a little concerned about my knee. What's a good game plan for getting back into working out when you're not 100%? I decided to find out.

Aerobic Activity - I went for a jog with some interval runs mixed in - not full-out sprints, but a good running pace - and I felt ok. I went about 2 miles; not an endurance feat by any means, but enough to know whether my body would feel pain from the repetitive motion. Nope - so far so good.

Sports / Games / Competition - Next I played a VERY slow game of soccer. I did not push myself to the breaking point, selling out my body to save a goal or anything like that. I played mostly at jogging speed, with a few bursts of exertion to make a forward run or to get back on defense. No injury setbacks to report - check.

Weight Lifting - Finally I did a kettlebell workout, but I used my wife's 15 lb bell. It felt funny to use something so light, but it felt great to be able to get through the motions and put some stress on my body. I did swings, cleans, snatches, figure 8s, around the worlds, presses, and lawnmower pulls, and when I did them quickly and without rest I was able to get a great sweat going. Any pain? Nope - just some muscle soreness the next day, which was to be expected. Ok to continue.

It can feel a little scary working out again after injury, wondering if your body will hold up. It also takes a bit of a mental reset - you have to give yourself the ok to not max yourself out or hit a PR. In fact, if you're not ready for it, it can feel discouraging to run so slowly or to lift such light weights. But it also feels great to get back to exercising. Time will tell whether I ever get back to my previous levels or not. If so, great! If not, great - I'll set new PRs and new expectations.

I'm sure age plays a role as well. When I was in my teens and 20s I would have demanded a full recovery to previous levels from myself. Today, in my 40s, I'm happy to settle for fitness.

I'm looking forward to seeing where I can go from here - hopefully continued improvement without any setbacks. Cross your fingers for me..

- Chris Butterworth


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Football vs Football

The New England Patriots win the NFL!

Well, maybe not yet, but let's imagine a couple changes we would see if American football leagues (NFL and College) were more like English Football (Soccer, and the English Premier League).

League Champion

League champion in the EPL is determined by the best regular season record, and then by goal differential as the first tiebreaker. That's it. Done. No playoffs, no wildcards, no elimination games. Nada.

The NFL ended this regular season with 5 teams sharing a 12-4 record: New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers. But the New England Patriots have the best point differential with 468 points scored and only 313 points allowed, for a +155 dif.

As we sit here ready to head into my favorite football weekend - the Divisional Playoffs, with 4 games on the slate, each of which has a win or go home at stake (Not to mention the first ever college football playoff championship game on Monday..), I couldn't imagine having already crowned a champion. That would be a travesty.

Even worse would be those seasons where a dominant team finishes 15-1 or 14-2 and wins the League Championship with two weeks left in the season. Yuck!

Promotion and Relegation

On the flip side of no playoffs is the most awesome system for rewards and punishment ever created.

Finish at or near the top of your division, and you get promoted up to a higher division. Finish at or near the bottom of your division and you get relegated down to the next lower division. This is the exact opposite of giving the first draft pick to the worst team. Instead of rewarding ineptitude, you kick it out of the league and bring in another team who has shown they can be successful.

This would be difficult for the NFL to do, because they don't have a minor league. But imagine the college football landscape:

In the PAC-12 Conference this year, Colorado finished 0-9 and Oregon St was 2-7 (tied with Washington St but WSU won the point dif tiebreaker), so CU and OSU would get relegated to the Mountain West Conference next year, while Boise St and Colorado St would get promoted from the Mountain West into the PAC-12 after having finished 7-1 and 6-2, respectively, in the Mountain West.

Taking it a step further, UNLV finished 1-7 in the Mountain West and Wyoming was 2-6 (so were San Jose St and New Mexico, but we'll use the point differential tiebreaker again), so they could be relegated to the Big Sky Conference next season, while Eastern Washington and Montana would get promoted from the Big Sky into the Mountain West.

Next season in that system you would have Montana playing against Colorado as a conference game! Wow, and if only...

Eventually the perennial doormats would end up in the lower divisions, while the dominant programs would have more challenging competition. Even better, every team would have the same opportunity to reach the top of the pyramid through successful hiring, recruiting, facilities development, and teamwork.

I'm enjoying soccer more and more every year. It's not football yet, but it's a good watch and it has some ideas to offer that could make our football even better. Just a little something to think about as we head into a great football weekend.


-Chris Butterworth


Monday, January 5, 2015

the over-crowded gym - new year's resolutions in action

New Year's Resolutions. Lots of people make 'em. Few people keep 'em. And most of the time they're the same resolutions over and over - lose weight, exercise more, quit a vice (smoking, drinking, whatever), be a better person, etc. (I'll talk more about how to be successful another time; today I'll hit a different point of view...)

To all of you who have shiny new resolutions about going to the gym this year - come on, who are we kidding?

This morning I went to the gym - I had to park further away and then deal with extra crowded facilities.

Yesterday my wife woke up and decided to sign up for a fitness class at her gym, but they were all booked out - no openings for the whole day.

It's annoying.

To each of you, individually: I really, truly wish you success. I hope you are able to make the lifestyle changes you're after - losing weight, getting fit, and being healthy.

To all of you new gym-goers as a group: can we please hurry up and get to February, so I can have my sparsely populated gym back?


Chris Butterworth


Friday, November 14, 2014

working through a nagging injury

This sucks. 12 days ago I pulled my groin while playing soccer. (What someone my age was doing playing full speed competitive soccer with a bunch of 30-year olds is an entirely different question - one that still needs to be asked, by the way.) I even warmed up and stretched out really well before playing. But this groin thing - this is becoming a sobering experience.

image credit: microsoft clipart

My Story

I've had my fair share of sports-related injuries. Let's see - I blew out my left knee senior year in high school soccer (torn mcl), then I rehabbed it just enough to blow it out again my freshman year of college (torn acl). I broke my wrist skateboarding on a rain-dampened sidewalk, and I tore ligaments in my thumb catching a football at the beach. (Don't ask how that one happened, because I'm still trying to figure it out myself.)

All of those were painful to various degrees, but none of them lingered - I sustained an injury, the injury healed or was repaired, and then I was better. It makes for a boring story, actually. But this one feels different, and I'm getting nervous about where it's headed.

2 nights ago it felt great - no lingering pain, no soreness - so I allowed myself to goof around a little bit at Jason's soccer practice. Not running, or playing, or anything close to full speed - just moving a little more freely. Oops, turns out that wasn't very smart. Yesterday it felt sore again, and today it hurts as much as it did in the days right after I injured it.

Looks like it's time to crawl into a bubble for the next few weeks - no activity for me through the holidays, then I can re-evaluate.

Learn from my story

So let's talk about pain and injuries - when should you "play through" the pain and when should you stop working out?

This is a good time to remind you that I am not a doctor, and I am especially not your doctor. What follows is my own personal opinion after many years of exercising, playing sports, and reading hundreds of articles on various injury topics. Do not take my opinion as licensed medical advice.

Soreness, Pain, and Injury.

When you feel pain, take a minute to listen closely to what your body is telling you. Are you sore from yesterday's lunges? Or did you pull something more seriously?

Does your body "warm up" and feel better as the workout goes on? Or do you find yourself gutting it out through every step?

The sharpness of the pain can also be an indicator. If you get a sharp pain when you move your body a certain way, that's probably more than muscle soreness.

If you take a couple-few days off, does the pain go away?

Some things in your body (muscles, inflamed tendons) will heal themselves given time and rest. Other things (torn ligaments or tendons) may require medical intervention. You might also find a physical therapist &/or a chiropractor who can provide relief and further education about stretches and exercises you might need to be doing to avoid further or repeat injuries.

Bottom Line

We all want to stay fit and healthy, and to get our workouts in. Make sure to warm up before your heavy exertion, and listen to your body regarding pain. Seek out professional advice (doctor, physio therapist) if something doesn't seem right and/or isn't healing on its own.

It's better to take a little bit of time off now and return to full speed, than to be stuck at half speed (or worse) for an extended period of time.

Personally, I'll keep you posted from inside my frustratingly boring bubble. Wish me patience.

- Chris Butterworth