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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weight Lifting for weight loss

In my last post I talked about why I think cardio is less effective for weight loss. Still. I do believe in exercise, and in the next three posts I will cover exercises that I believe ARE effective: heavy weightlifting, HIIT and yoga

Weight lifting. I learned about heavy weightlifting from Jen, personal trainer friend. I was already lifting weights, but she taught me a whole new concept. Instead of lifting 8 or 10 or even 15 pound dumbbells over and over and over, she taught me to lift heavy weights with less reps (repetitions). When she introduced me to this concept, I was used to teaching the S.E.T. (Strength Endurance Training) class at 24 hour fitness. We would lift weights for 3 minutes straight (followed by 3 minutes of cardio endurance). I would use about 20 pounds when I was squating for 3 minutes. With Jen's help, I worked up to squating 105 pounds-- and I definitely don't do it for 3 minutes straight!

The whole point of weight training is to tear muscle fibers so you can rebuild a stronger muscle. These tiny muscle tears happen when you add resistance-- or in other words, it has to keep getting harder!
When I was lifting a lighter weight over and over and over, I was working my heart, I was sweating, but after a while, my muscles got used to that kind of a workout. I wouldn't even get sore! With heavy weightlifting, I am always sore afterward, if I do it right. That's because I progressively add weight, or add a few more repetitions.

Weightlifting builds muscle. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn, even at rest. Or in other words, more muscle means a faster metabolism. That's what we're going for, right? Building muscle turns our bodies into calorie-burning machines.
When I was teaching aerobics, people would always ask me which burned more calories: cardio or weightlifting. The answer I would give was that cardio burned more calories during the hour you were doing it (usually not by a huge margin), but weightlifting burned calories while you were doing it and kept on burning calories afterward to feed the muscle you just built.

Weight lifting increases your metabolism because you force your body to build more muscle.

If you have never lifted weights before, it would be a great idea to have a personal trainer, or someone at the gym show you how. You want to make sure your form is correct so that you don't injure yourself. If you have done a little weight lifting in the past, here is a very basic workout that works all your major muscle groups and can be done in about 20 minutes. This is the workout that I always come back to if I'm in a hurry. It works the largest muscles in your body, making it efficient AND effective.

Warm up:
Squat (with no weights), 5 reps.
Chest Press with 5 lb. dumbbells, 5 reps.
Bent over row with 5 lb. dumbbells, 5 reps.

When doing heavy weightlifting, you want to try to lift at a weight that you can maintain for 10-15 reps. If you can do more than 15 reps, your weight is too light. If you can't get to 10, take some weight off.

Squat with barbell., 10- 15 reps.
Chest Press with barbell, 10-15 reps.
Bent over row with barbell or heavy dumbbells, 10-15 reps each side.

Repeat this workout 2-3 times.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Former Aerobics Instructor is Now anti-Cardio

I went to a Jazzercise class last week with some friends. Jazzercise is basically aerobics, but each song has its own choreography. It was a lot of fun, and quite similar to what I used to do as an aerobics instructor. But it was interesting listening to them, and doing all this cardio when... I don't believe in it.

Let me just say first of all, that moving your body is good. Doing jazzercise, or aerobics, or jogging does keep your heart pumping and makes you feel good. But for weight loss (the reason most people exercise), I believe cardio is the least effective form of exercise.
Here are the reasons why I no longer believe in cardio:

It's not as simple as "calories in, calories out."  The instructors at my class today reminded us of how many calories we were burning. ("One class can burn up to 600 calories, ladies!")  But scientific studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise makes you hungrier. Your body wants to replace those lost calories. Basically, with cardio, you are fighting your body to lose weight. Dr. Stephan Guyenet uses a great analogy that helped me to visualize this. (You can listen to the entire podcast here.)  He said that losing weight by doing cardio is like having the a/c on in your house. But when it gets too cool and you want to warm it up a bit, you open the front door. Well, you know what happens then, right? The air conditioner works hard to cool the house, requiring more energy. With cardio, you are burning more calories (working harder), so your body will crave more calories for energy too.
If "calories in, calories out" worked, then you would exercise (calories out) and eat less (calories in). But that is missing one very simple physiological process: hunger. You can only fight your body's hunger signals for so long.

Cardio can do harm to joints and cause overuse injuries. During the weight portion of the class, we worked very specific small muscle groups over and over and over. Jumping and running definitely have their place in an exercise regimen, but all you have to do is look at the number of runners with bad knees to know that overuse injuries occur. Often.

Your body adapts to cardio. This means that doing the same exercise becomes less effective over time. Your body adapts to the exercise--  that's why it gets easier. Your body is becoming more efficient at the exercise. Good for the body, but bad for weight loss. That means that to do exactly the same exercise, you will be burning less calories after a month than you were when you started.

So maybe you know someone who started doing cardiovascular exercise and lost a lot of weight. Maybe you know a lot of people who have done that. But what if it wasn't the exercise at all?  What if, like my instructor said today, "after I've done a class, I don't want to go eat that cheeseburger. I worked so hard to burn those calories, I don't want to put them back in."  Maybe cardio exercise changes our psyche more than our figure, causing us to make other changes, like in what we eat. Or maybe, when we start working out, we are burning so many calories that our body has a hard time replacing them all through food. But as time goes on, and our bodies adapt, we burn less calories and our exercise is less effective at helping us lose weight.

Coming up: In my next post I will detail what I believe in instead of cardio and how to work with your body to lose weight.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wheat Berry Salad

This is one of my favorite warm weather recipes. I first tried it at a party at my sister in law's house. It does make a great party food when you're doing Mexican or Southwestern, but I love to make a batch and eat it all week for lunch. The flavors go so well together-- it's easy to pack in a lot of nutritous veggies when they taste this good! Another perk is that the only cooking is done in a crockpot, so it doesn't heat up the house.

Wheat Berry Salad

4 cups cooked wheat berries (see below for directions)
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1-2 cups corn, fresh or frozen and thawed
1-2 cups black beans

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime (or lemon)
1 Tbsp. raw honey
1-2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt

Whisk together and pour over chopped vegetables and wheat. Mix all together.

Wheat berries:
Combine 4 cups wheat berry kernels, 10 cups water, and 2 tsp. sea salt in crock pot. Cook on low 8-10 hours. Drain off any excess water. Chill. Wheat berries can be frozen for up to a month, keeps a week or more in refrigerator.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays and Two For Tuesdays.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Giveaway winner!

You wouldn't think it would be that hard to get to the computer, enter some numbers in at and choose a winner for the Organic Manifesto Book Giveaway! But somehow, it's taken me a week to actually do it! Life has been busy around here, but I have finally chosen a winner...

Entry #11: Alex from A Moderate Life

Alex, I'll need your contact information to send you this great book. I hope you enjoy it!

More posts coming up soon...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

60 days with no sugar: what I learned

Going sugar free for the past couple of months was really eye-opening for me. My main motivation was to speed up my weight loss-- and I think it did-- but I learned some other things in the process.

Baked goods can be enjoyed without sugar. For the first month, I stopped making muffins for my family for breakfast. (I probably make muffins about once a week or so.) I didn't think they would taste good with no sugar, and I didn't think any substitutes would work quite as well. When I finally did try my banana nut muffins with honey, all wheat flour and coconut oil, they were great! I used honey in El Torito's sweet corn cake recipe, and no one even noticed the difference.

I have learned to like things a little less sweet. I use less sweeteners now, because I taste them more. As a culture, we not only eat sugar too often, but we eat too much of it when we do. A little sugar goes a loooong way. When you slowly cut it out, you change your taste. I used to live in Taiwan where I was a missionary. The Taiwanese people don't like things very sweet. They eat slightly sweetened beans for or fruit for dessert. Even the Snickers bars they sell in 7-11 have less sugar, because they just don't like things overly sweet. You can train yourself to like things less sweet.

The less you eat sugar, the less you crave sugar. And the opposite is also true. I think that's a good thing to remember if you are trying to cut sugar out of your diet. It will be hard at first, but will totally get easier. When those sugar cravings DO happen, it's usually your body telling you that you need fat. Have a few nuts and wait a little while and your craving WILL go away.

Most sugary foods aren't worth it anyway. Think about it for a minute. Most of the time, when you talk about sugary food, it's things like store bought cookies or ice cream... some may be okay, but most are not amazing. And most don't make you feel great afterward. Except for a little piece of dark chocolate. That does feel good on my stomach.

Cutting out sugar helps you lose weight. Studies have been done on this, but I will just add my own experience: my baby weight came off faster and easier while I was not eating sugar. I certainly didn't cut my caloric intake; I ate what I was hungry for, plenty of fat and protein and yes- carbs too, but no sugar or white flour. And my weight loss sped up. I am now within 10 pounds of my goal!

Be sure to check out my giveaway ending this week.
This post is part of Fight Back Friday, wholesome whole foods, and Vegetarian foodie fridays.