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On becoming healthier

Becoming fit and healthy is probably THE most desired thing in the western world. These attributes are often related to physical attractiveness (as they are in the animal world) and people go to great lengths to achieve the body of a Greek statue. Even though the ideal body has changed since the Jane Fonda fitness videos, there is always the ideal of healthy looking body that we want to have. Of course, not everyone is able to achieve this. The biggest obstacle for people becoming fit is the lack of discipline and dedication to long-term goals. Most often this is because they lack the TRUE desire to become fit - often these urges come from motivational boosts read from magazines or observed in a fitness TV series.

Being fit can be defined in several ways, but for most people it means:

a) not having too much excessive fat
b) having a decent threshold for aerobic exercises
c) having visible muscle profile

As you can imagine, getting fit is different for people who are overweight or obese and for people who have a normal BMI. In this blog post series, I will help you achieve all of these with a disciplined program that takes almost all kinds of body types into consideration. Of course there are other factors, such as family and work life, but those are out of my reach. First of all, we have to determined our starting point, our goal and how are we going to achieve it. Here are the starting points, pick the one that fits your situation best:

a) "I am overweight/obese, want to lose weight and be healthier."

The most basic model, no emphasis on the daily level of activity. This is almost 100% diet-based change.

b) "I am overweight/obese, I want to lose weight, be healthier and start exercising."

Another basic desire. With this model, a light exercise (often walking, jogging or swimming) is done together with a diet.

c) "I am overweight/obese, I want to lose weight, be healthier, have good-looking muscle profile and start exercising."

This is probably the most challenging one, as there are several goals which all take a LOT of self-discipline. Based on research, 90% of people who attempt this fail in the long run. This often includes strict diet, heavy weightlifting and moderate to heavy aerobic activities (running, crossfit, etc.) and is very heavy on the body. I will tell about the hurdles of the method and why I feel it is not very good later on.

d) "I am normal weight and I want to be healthier."

Easy to start, difficult to make into routine. Changing your diet and integrating light exercise as a habit is a great start.

e) "I am normal weight and I want to be healthier and have a good-looking muscular profile"

Like previous one, but more changes to diet (protein!) and changing light exercise to weightlifting.

f) "I am already fit and want to stay that way."

Most people already know what to do at this point. They already know the basics and just need to keep up the good work.

As you can see, I haven't included elite athletes or massive bodybuilders in this equation. I am not expert on training either and they often already have the knowledge how to achieve their goals.

Once we have your starting point and your goal, we have to determine the methods with which we get to the goal. First of all, weight control is 95% diet, which is why you have to do some careful planning with your dietary plans. I'm pretty sure that you already know which foods you have to cut from your diet, but here's a short summary of what's bad for weight loss:

  • White and brown sugar in all forms. This includes candy, soda, breakfast cereal, cookies, pastries, etc.
  • High fat foods combined with shitty carbs. Chips, ice cream, french fries, etc.
  • Drinking calories. Not really unhealthy (unless you drink sugared soda or juice), but it is very easy to "overeat" with drinks such as milk and juice
  • Excessive amounts of non-whole wheat
  • Alcohol. LOTS of calories, nothing much else.

That's pretty much it. If you are eating a lot of these foods, reducing or removing them from your diet will make you lose weight. Easy enough, eh? But we all know that in the society of abundance, the mind is weak. Unless we have trained to be disciplined, avoiding these foods will be very difficult for a long time. That's why I have something much better in mind - don't do any conscious effort to stop eating these, but ADD something healthy to your diet every week. A recent study concluded that the neurons in our gut send messages to our brain about the food we consume. Once the gut gets used to particular types of food, they send the brain messages that this food input should be increased. When these signals are combined with the dopamine release we get from those unhealthy foods, we have a pretty powerful system telling us what to eat - our brain. But if it works with unhealthy food, it should also work with more healthier ones. Therefore I present the EAT MORE DIET (EMD).

In EMD, you add one healthy food item to your diet every given time interval. A week is a good starting point. Now, say your first addition would be a tomato. Tomato is fantastic food because it is very low on calories (20-30 calories per tomato), a little bit of fiber and whole lot of vitamin A and C and folic acid. It also has a lot of beneficial nutrients which I won't be listing here but the point is: a tomato is fantastic food. Every day, hopefully starting today, you eat a tomato. Week goes by, and you want to add another food. A fruit maybe? An apple? Again, great food! About 50 calories, some carbs to give you energy, more vitamin C, some fiber, B-complex vitamins, calcium, potassium and so on. Now you eat one apple and one tomato every day, with an added total calories of maybe 100, but you also get fiber and some vitamins. You still eat your pizzas and hamburgers for lunches, but I promise you: after a few weeks you start noticing some changes.

The idea with adding these healthy foods is that you start slowly adjusting your gut to these new ingredients and this gradual change makes it easier to succeed because these are small changes you barely notice. For most people, those 500 kcal per day soup diets might feel like a good idea for the first two weeks, but after your initial motivation wanes, you give up.

Here's a list of good foods to add your diet:

  • 2 dl of oats (beta glucan-fiber which lowers cholesterol, selenium, magnesium, zinc)
  • Fatty fish like salmon or saithe (Omega 3's, protein, Vitamin A, D, B6, B, E, calcium, iron, zinc)
  • Blueberries (fiber, Vitamin C, B6, E, A and K)
  • Avocados (monounsaturated fats, protein, Vitamin K, B9,6,5, C and E2, and yet again, fiber)
  • Almost any kind of nuts (protein, good fats, fiber, Omega 3)
  • Broccoli, which I DON'T eat (tons of Vitamin C, fiber, also Vitamin A, K, B's and zinc)
  • Yogurt (protein, probiotics, B-12, potassium and calcium)
  • Eggs (protein, good fats)
  • Bananas (vitamins, fiber, potassium)

Notice a pattern here? Most of these items are high on fiber, which is a type of nutrient the body can't digest, so it just passes through your body, and doing some awesome stuff on the way, like reducing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, constipation/diarrhea and colon cancer. It is also very good for keeping hunger at bay. But fiber should be added to your diet slowly, which is why EMD is perfect system for raising your fiber-intake to recommended levels (25-30 grams per day).

Notice how there are no calorie counting in the EMD. This can be easily added, for example MyFitnessPal is a great way to count your calories and it has a huge database of food items from all around the world. You can also scan barcodes and add your own foods to said database. EMD is a system where you shouldn't weight yourself very often (once a month should be enough) because it's a really slow process of changing your diet for good. There are no miracle cures, just hard work and discipline. Good luck, and if you need any help you can leave a comment below.