Something is happening.
Following the trends that everyone else has laid down, I’m moving the Agreeable Comics shop over to BigCartel. We’re also going to start offering digital versions of our webcomics collections and to kick things off, the horror short “Copy Protection” is just $1.
Real talk about your goals.
You may want to set up a plan for yourself so you have a path. The maximum amount of healthy, sustainable weight loss is generally considered to be an average of 2lbs a week, at least according to people whose careers involve thinking a lot about nutrition and physical fitness and have names like Doctor Sexy and Nurse Handsome.
(And aside: The gibbering nutjobs who tell you to only eat six steaks a day and bam, it all melts away are more about selling you a book than helping you find a way to be healthy and they can do a lot more harm than good because they cloak their bullshit in the same sort of pseudoscience that holistic practitioners and their ilk have been using for years. Think about the healthiest people you know – how’d they get that way? Not by ignoring basic science.
You may choose to wing it like I have. I’ve not been weighing myself for purely psychological reasons. First of all, I can see myself getting really, really paranoid about those numbers and sabotaging myself. Also, I don’t like metrics like that and am instead aiming for the overall goal of feeling better and having more energy, which is directly tied to weight loss. This is what works for me but I know a lot of people out there love the weekly and monthly goal game because they get pride out of it, so hey, different strokes.
You’ve been slothful and that needs to change.
Let’s be frank: you’re not exercising. You may think you get some exercise when you walk to your local comics shop or take a stroll around the mall to pick up your Pokemans or whatever, but exercise is the conscious act of moving your body in an effort to improve your overall physical well-being. The problem is, of course, that the conscious act of moving your body in an effort to improve your overall physical well being sounds like work, which is exactly what it is a lot of the time.
I had to learn to suck up and deal, and so are you if you want to shed weight and keep weight off. To be clear, I’m not talking about developing a Bruce Wayne-like physique or turning into a whip-thin, ab-based engine nicknamed The Situation, but just fine-tuning what you’ve got in a way that allows you to burn calories more effectively. Of course, I have to do the obligatory “you should talk to a doctor before you embark on any exercise plan, especially one espoused by a guy who thinks Speed Racer should be put in the National Film Archives,” but c’mon, you know you need to work up to bench-pressing the rear axle from a ’57 Chevy instead of trying that on day three, right? Right.
In other words, go light at first!
If you’re anything like I was before I started out, you’re a bunch of bones in a flesh sack with things that are only called muscles because “gristle tendons” is not in the AMA guidebook. Getting everything moving again requires a bit of patience and the ability to resist leveling up too quickly out of boredom.
I started off by just taking a morning walk, just 30 minutes, then 45, then an hour along a local trail. The goal wasn’t to be the best or fastest at walking the little route I did, the goal was to elevate my heart rate consistently for a long-ish period of time and work to make it so I wasn’t dying when it was done. The nice thing about walking on the trail is that I learned to measure my improvement in distance, not necessarily time, which is a nice bit of mental trickery.
Honestly, for a lot of people, just walking is going to be enough. They’ll start improving their distance and time pretty quickly and maybe even work up to jogging or running because they’re not four tons of Hutt in an Ewok-sized sack. However, for those of us who have been seismically gifted through our careful observance of the slacker principles, there’s a…place that we’re going to have to talk about.
Go ahead and wince.
The gym is not your enemy.
A lot of people seem to hesitate about going to the gym because they’re not in shape already. I’ve found two things: 1) people are too self-involved to give two golden shits about you; 2) you’re at the gym and trying and that’s good enough for them, even if you’re just starting.
I live in Boston and don’t have access to a car, so my gym options are limited to the Boston Sports Club or places that involve a 30-minute bus ride. BSC runs right at $70 a month. The thing is, since I’ve changed my diet, I’m spending a lot less on unhealthy meals out, so I have a bit more loose change rattling around than I did before even after the new expense, so it works out. I’m not sure how other gyms handle it, but I set up an appointment with one of their guys, where we did some basic fitness tests and he gave me some suggestions about how to proceed, which I combined with my usual habit of just Googling The Living Fuck out of something to come up with something that seems to work for me.
What I do. You may want to do something different. That’s cool.
Currently, I alternate between intense cardio days (an hour on the treadmill, hard walking at 3.5-4 miles per hour at a 5% incline right now – which started as 30 minutes going 3 miles per hour at a 3% incline in September, so, you know, progress) and about 45 minutes to an hour of weight training with a half-hour on cardio. My current schedule is three days on, one day off, two days on, one day off because I like to fit things within a 7-day week.
“Weight training” sounds terribly intimidating and might make you think of those Danish guys who throw kegs over things on ESPN 5, but it’s basically about making sure you have more muscle to make doing everything else easier and as long as you’re willing to admit that 10lbs is heavier than you thought and you’re not going to try to be a hero, you should be fine. ExRx.net is a fine no-frills resource that’s aimed at the science of doing things with things and even features a nice collection of animated .gifs that show you what to do as the text helps explain what the basics are and why you should do them.
Free weights are perfect for curls and laterals and other basics, but beginners looking to advance (especially those without partners) seem to do better with weight equipment as it keeps their motion “honest” and helps develop your muscles properly. Also, I have always, always, always hated crunches and the Butterball I’m smuggling in my torso makes them even worse now, so I appreciate that the Nautilus-branded equipment dedicated to working the abs and back make it easier to focus on doing the work instead of spending my energy hating the movement.
Yes, I am just that petty.
Also, seriously, don’t be afraid to ask the people who work at the gym how to use something. That’s their job. Let them do it.
The unpleasant part.
Buy the right clothes and underwear for your workouts. If you’re a dude, the underwear you usually wear are probably just gonna bunch up and do horrible things as you do work out, even if you’re just taking a speedy walk. Good running underwear keeps certains things in place and keeps other things from rubbing against other other things and you just wear it under your regular shorts and go. I personally recommend avoiding t-shirts and the like with graphics on them as they can get particularly heavy when they’re sweat laden, but maybe you want everyone to know that you really like Spider-Man when you’re lying on the ground, gasping and praying for Crom to give you strength.
Chicks, just, you know. The same thing, but you’ve got other things going on. Talk amongst yourselves.
The most important thing.
Stick to it. Stick to all of it. It’s worth it. Trust me. I’ve been there. I’m still there. I’m working on it and feeling better ever day and I’m a lazy son of a bitch, so I’m pretty sure you can too. Really, though the secret of weight loss is exactly what I said at the beginning: burn more than you take in, and make it easier by taking in the right things.
(And for real: if you have questions you don’t feel comfortable asking in public or just want boosterism and some attaboys, feel free to email me about this junk – firstname.lastname@example.org. I won’t bust your chops or tell anyone else you’re trying to join the Sweathogs. )
An artifact is unearthed.
Let’s talk quantities and when and how and all that.
How much you should eat varies for every individual and depends on their height, gender, age, current weight, occupation, e-meter readings, favorite color, preferred Star Trek series and overall goals. There’s a number of calorie calculators out there, but I’ve found that about.com’s multi-question guide does the best job of zeroing in on what your total calorie count in any given day should be and gives you information about how to best adjust your intake for your activity level. Since we’re going to talk about exercise in the next post, you’re going to want to bookmark that.
To figure out what you’re doing when you prepare and eat food, you’re going to have to familiarize yourself with basic calorie counts but thankfully, there’s the internet and a swath of applications that can help you figure out how many calories are on a plate. You’re also going to want to make sure that you eat enough with each meal that you don’t end up snapping and devouring an entire frozen pizza at 7pm because the hunger in you makes Sinistar’s look positively Pac-Manian.
Yes, this means you’ll need to eat breakfast.
Yes, I know you don’t like it.
Suck up and deal, because the cliché is true: you need it and the more protein you can have earlier on, the more full you’ll be through the rest of the day. I’ve found that Greek yogurt with honey and some cereal and coffee fills me up nicely at about 400-500 calories and gives me something to take my horse-pill multivitamin with. I’m pretty sure you can be sensible about the rest of the day, but I recommend more in your first two meals so you’re ok with going a bit light on dinner and wake up wanting breakfast.
(Also, a little hint I heard from a friend of mine about breakfast and not liking eggs or what have you: try eating a peanut butter (or turkey or whatever) sandwich or something equally stick-to-the-ribs for breakfast.)
If you need help figuring out what to eat and when, about 15% of the internet is devoted to sites that help you set up a meal plan. You’re smart. You can find them. I trust you.
I heard there were going to be snacks involved?
You’re right. I usually have a protein bar or the like (which goes against my no-prepackaged-food rant earlier, but it works so shut up) between breakfast and lunch. I’ll have an apple or orange or something in the late afternoon to keep me going until dinner, which is usually around 8pm in our household. I tend to go for protein or something with a lot of fiber for a snack because they make me feel full and less grumbly, but I understand that some people enjoy rice cakes and claim they’re great for that, even if I’ve never been satisfied after eating one or two or an entire tube of them.
But what if you want really, really want to eat badly?
Don’t fret when you go off-plan, but, you know, try some moderation. A friend of mine has a weekly day off from his plan every week and a nutritionist (with a PhD in psychology) I know recommends an 80/20 approach. The latter seems more sensible to me as you can spread your lapses over the course of a 7-day period and compensate more easily on either side of the Extreme Pizza Explosion at TJ McSpanglers.
Honestly, I can’t imagine the food hangover that a day of eating poorly would leave me with at this point and I think dedicating 24 hours to going all broken arrow on my plans would make it easy for me to backslide, but maybe you have Hal Jordan-like willpower and steely resolve. (And if you do, ask the residents of Coast City how that worked out for them.)
(Also, if you’re aiming at a weekly calorie deficit of 3,500-7,000 to lose 1-2 pounds a week and you spend an entire day being a glutton and wrap it up with a 2,000-calorie pint of ice cream just because you can according to the “system” you’re using? Yeah, I just can’t see that working, as that’s another 3 hours on the treadmill I don’t have time for.)
Next Up: The E Word.
In the meantime, feel free to leave comments and questions and maybe I’ll talk about them in a wrapup post.
If you’ve not, go read part one here.
So, what should you eat?
The food pyramid does a good job of explaining ratios and such, but if you’re a shopper with bad habits, it can be confusing when you set out to change what you eat.
Breads: I completely avoid white bread now and this piece from Vegetarian Times (yes, I know. Just read it, OK?) does a good job of explaining why. The short version is that whole grain bread is much more nutritious and actually burns more calories while you digest it, so why bother with the weak shit?
Fruits and Vegetables: Suck up and deal because you’re going to need to make sure that you get at least one in every meal and no, french fries don’t count. I’m quite fond of broccoli, asparagus and a lot of leafy greens, so I was pretty lucky, but you may have more luck with frozen peas, corn and carrots. Also, a baked potato makes every meal feel special, no lie, and they’re actually worth a damn, nutritionally. You’ll also want to learn how to eat a veggie-centric salad that’s not weighed down with dressing and “toppings” that create caloric bloat.
Fruit is great and nutritionally very sound. Every once in a while, I’ll see some thin, shrieking harpy on TV tell people that they shouldn’t eat a lot of it because it has sugar, but just eat some. Nobody ever got fat from eating apples, you know? (Juices, however, are another matter that I’ll go into in a bit.)
Meats: Let’s be honest, meat is delicious and the increasing fetishization of it thanks to schmucks like that Guy Fieri makes it even more difficult to avoid wanting to shove it all down your gullet, but you seriously need to cut your intake by at least half. That’s why you need everything else on the plate: so you end up feeling full after eating a 6-ounce pork chop or ribeye.
Given the choice, I’ll stick to dark meat when it comes to poultry, but hey, roasted chicken and turkey breast is actually pretty OK, especially when it’s seasoned well. No matter what, though, I try to throw away most of the skin. (Yes, I said MOST. I always have a little bit because it’s so delicious, geez, ok?)
Fish, you know, it’s good for you. The end. (OK, yes, that basket you get at Long John Silver’s is not very good for you, but it’s deep fried. C’mon.)
Dairy: 1%-2% milk is fine. I don’t drink skim because it’s bullshit and if you’re doing any kind of exercise, the fat from it is negligible. Other “milks” made from beans and nuts and grains tend to have fewer calories, as long as you don’t go with the sweetened and flavored alternates. Me, I like milk.
Yogurt’s a great source of protein, but that crap that Dannon glops into a plastic container and flavors until it resembles German Chocolate Cake or whatever is, again, bullshit. I love plain and Greek-style yogurt sweetened to taste with honey (or, rarely, jam) and just avoid the wackadoo bullshit flavors whose ingredient lists read like a nerve gas formula.
I use a lower-fat butter from Trader Joe’s on my morning toast, but I am fine with the regular stuff to cook with, because I try to avoid pulling a Paula Deen when I add it to something. Just show some restraint, people. (I guess if you like that fake butter stuff, good on you? I guess?)
Also, cheese? Go light on it, OK, but it’s not the worst thing in the world if you don’t wolf down a pound of Havarti with crackers while watching Maury. A bit here and there can really liven up soup, salad or what have you, in case you never figured that out.
Sugars and Fats: I have a fucking monstrous sweet tooth and have learned to cope by just avoiding sweets altogether around the house. It bites, but again, that “filler” argument does wonders when it comes deciding to not buy a gallon of marshmallow whip. Also, by avoiding sweets most of the time, I really get to enjoy it when I’m out and opt for dessert or a bite of something. The same, for the record, goes for alcohol, which leads us to the next bit, but let me tell you about fats first.
You need them. Your body needs them. Even if you’re trying to burn off the fat you have, you need to take in fats to make sure your pipes run like they’re supposed to. Just be sensible. Look at the recommendations and knock off a chunk. Boom, there. I’m a scientist.
Liquids: I live by a very simple rule nowadays when it comes to things I drink – if it’s not alcohol, it better not have any calories. This means I don’t drink sodas (even diet ones, whose use has been linked to obesity by real science types) or sweetened coffee or tea. As far as the last one goes, I’ve found that spending money on good coffee does wonders for increasing its drinkability without additives. (I’ve always taken my tea black (even iced) so I really don’t know how to help you out there, sorry.)
Juices are a tricky matter. Fruit juices are usually vitamin-heavy and a convenient way to put things in you that your body wants, but calorically, they’re a sugar bomb and they’re missing one of the most essential things that fruit gives you: fiber. Vegetable juices are definitely better for you, but who drinks those, anyway? I mean, really.
Boozewise, I’m just not drinking as much as I did before. Yes, I’m much less fun now. Just ask any of my friends.
Finally, and it’s going to sound like I’m bullshitting you when I say this, but eating healthily has slowly changed my cravings. For instance: I’ve learned to replace the spicy tuna roll (600-700 calories) at my favorite sushi joint with a tuna-avocado roll (150-200 calories) that I actually look forward to and I sometimes will actually deeply desire a big salad loaded with vegetables. Yes, I know what that makes me in the eyes of Junk Food Nation.
Got questions? Ask ‘em in comments and I’ll get to them in the big wrapup post later this week.
Before I kick off this series of posts, I want to confess something. I’m still fat. I’m technically obese by the standards set forth by the sort of people that do that sort of thing, and I am in no way an expert at this, but people have asked about my recent weight loss and heck, I have a blog, so i’m going to write about what’s worked for me and what might work for you. Over this series of posts, I’m going to type a lot and it’s all going to basically boil down to one thing: you need to exert more calories than you take in.
Or, in math terms, CALORIES BURNED > CALORIES CONSUMED.
Boy, that looks easy, doesn’t it? It’s a crying shame that for most people, it involves reworking how they view and treat both food and physical activity.
Honestly, I think “diet” is a dirty word, particularly in our culture where there’s dozens of branded ways to permanently break your relationship with food. It’s a crutch, a word that can be blamed when you fail. Now, I’m not going to spend any time trashing things that work for other people — Weight Watchers, in particular, seems to have helped a lot of people I know — but I’ve found that diet alone just doesn’t do it. it creates an adversarial relationship where I end up hate-fucking every meal you choke down until I finally cheat and rediscover the world of delicious, fat-laden foods that aim directly at the pleasure centers of my tiny monkey brain.
So, yeah, none of the “d-word” here. Now let’s get started.
Food Is Not The Enemy
Let’s not demonize the thing that keeps us functioning, OK? Food is pretty fantastic because it allows us to actually enjoy putting fuel into our bodies, something that only the Sex Shuttles of Alpha Proximi get to claim as well. However, there are things that we eat and digest and excrete that look, sound, and feel like food but aren’t: they’re filler.
The quicker you stop viewing things that are handed to you by a jaded high schooler in a drive-through window as something that should be eaten, the quicker you can start getting serious about losing weight and feeling better. For the record, this also includes pretty much every shelf-stable, prepackaged food item out there and thus eliminates 95% of the stuff available in your local convenience store. Yes, it sucks.
Trust me, I would gladly murder any of you for the chance to eat a bag of Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar potato chips without consequences, but those delicious starch wafers are not food, and neither is the Star Crunch snack cake I’d throw into my gaping maw afterwards to cleanse my palate. I’m not even going to pretend that an orange or a baked potato is as delicious, but they’re demonstrably food and not a bundle of empty calories.
You need to look at maximizing the value of what you put into your body, or to explain it in comic book terms, you’re looking more for Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues than Steampunk Palin.
Yes, it takes more time and energy to eat well, but the changes you experience when you forgo convenience foods and actually start ingesting what your body wants while ignoring your stupid brain’s plea for Tacos After Midnight-Flavored Doritos are worth it, trust me.
Bite sized version: food is your friend, filler is your foe.
A gravestone on a gray day.
An older gentleman talks.
Computers, am I right?
Here’s a sneak peek of tomorrow’s installment of FIGHT!, the Agreeable Comic I do with Tracie Mauk. It’s goofy superhero superheroics that more people should be reading because Tracie is a wonder. If you’ve not yet, you can start reading here.
I avoided the reprint hardcovers because our apartment is currently choked with massive archival tomes, so the Bloom County app for the iPad has been a real godsend. Outside of a few issues with sizing — there’s some jaggies that are very apparent in the lettering at its default size — it’s a perfect example of content and pricing* hitting a sweet spot with $8 getting you a year of the strip, a much better value than the $2-3 that’s generally being charged for a single issue of Wolverine: Origins or whatever.
So, you know, recommended or whatever.
* Especially considering the fact that IDW’s oversized books retail at $40 a pop and collect two years of material.
Lydia says what needs to be said.