Monty Python and the Holy Abs

Okay Monty Python, grab your coconuts, load up your “horse,” and get started on your quest for those rock-hard abs you’ve always wanted.

I’m going to guess for most of you, abs are the Holy Grail of physical fitness.  Ryan Reynolds had abs that were so defined on Blade 3 that one writer assumed he had ab implants.  The actors in 300 became famous not just for their biceps and pecs but more for their abs that looked painted on.  Everybody is after them, but nobody can find them!

So what’s the deal? Are people looking in the wrong place?  Or are some people just genetically blessed with abs and others aren’t?  Let’s get one thing out of the way first.

95% of all Fitness Marketers are Full of ****

Think of the last 10 infomercials you’ve seen on TV (Weezer Snuggies don’t count).  I’d guarantee 2/3rds of them are designed to “give you a flatter stomach” in just a few minutes a day, three times a week!  Let me know any of these sound familiar:

These are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.  They’re all designed to “target your upper and lower abs, work those obliques, and build a set of sexy abs you’ve always wanted!”  New ab machines pop up every other day, and unfortunately people keep buying them!  You’re like Sir Galahad, chasing the Holy Grail into a building of ridiculously attractive women: sure it might make you feel better about yourself in the short term, but it ain’t gonna get you what you really want in the long run.

So why don’t these machines work?

Muscle is Different from Fat

If you’re a female, you’ve probably said “I want to tone up” at some point in the past.  If you’re a dude, you probably want to get “ripped.”  Here’s how it works: you have your bones, then muscle on top of your bones, then on top of the muscle you have fat, and then on top of the fat you have skin.

These are completely different materials.

Your muscle doesn’t turn into fat if you stop working out, and your fat doesn’t turn into muscle if you exercise all day long.  If you just eat better, you WILL lose fat but you won’t build muscle.  If you eat like crap but lift weights like crazy, you could have a body like Ryan Reynolds trapped inside a body that looks like Jabba the Hutt.

Suck.

What this Means for your Stomach

It is 100% impossible for you to spot remove fat. If you have fat on your gut, doing crunches all day long will NOT get rid of the fat.  Depending on your genetic makeup, your body stores fat in various amounts in certain locations.  For chicks, it’s usually thighs and butt.  For dudes, it’s usually the gut.  You have absolutely NO control where the fat gets stored, and you have no control where the fat comes OFF your body once you start eating right and exercising.

You know what that means? 10,000 crunches a day will do almost nothing to reduce your beer gut (other than help with the calories you’ve burned doing the exercises).  The crunches will build up the muscle under your fat, but the fat isn’t really going anywhere.  So what’s the secret?

Ehhhh, I don’t want to spill the beans…

Get on with it!  Yes, GET ON WITH IT!

Okay, I’ll tell you.  Your abs are a direct correlation of your body fat percentage!  (Boring, I know).

  • Guys, unless you have a body fat percentage below 10%, you won’t see your abs.
  • Girls, unless you have a body fat percentage below 12-14%, you won’t see your abs.

You probably have a great set of abs right now (if you do any sort of weight lifting), you just can’t find them underneath all the fat.  This means that if you’re interested in “toning up” or “getting ripped” it is 95% DIET.  If you’re serious about developing a good looking stomach, it all comes down to what you eat.  Because you need to get to a really low body fat percentage, you need to be extremely dedicated with each meal.  It’s boring, it’s a lot of work, and it’s really difficult.  This is why most people don’t have abs.

Here’s my advice for all of those ab machines: don’t spend a single dime on an ab machine EVER. It is a complete waste of time.  Planks, side planks, and crunches on a stability ball are more than enough to work your abs.  Exercises like squats and deadlifts work your abs and core like CRAZY.  These are the only two exercises I do to work on my abs.

Enough about exercises though, let’s talk about what you’re eating.

Here’s How to Fix Your Diet

Analyze everything you eat, and find out where you can cut calories. (Remember 500 less calories a day = 1 lb of body fat loss per week). You can’t target specific areas of fat on your body; as you exercise more and eat healthier you’ll lose body fat all over.  It’ll probably come off your stomach last, so be patient and stick with it.  Once your body fat percentage drops into the single digits, you’ll start to see those abs you’ve quested after for years.

Okay so lets review what you need to do if you want a good lookin’ stomach:

  1. Eat less. Seriously. As they say “abs aren’t made in the gym, they’re made in the kitchen.”  Which is a really dumb phrase, but 100% true.  If you want to see them, you need to drop your body fat below 10%, so start by eating less!  This is 90% of the battle.  More important than eating less…is eating healthier.  You can do so by:
  2. Cut the crap out of your diet. No processed foods, no liquid calories, lots of veggies and lean meats.  Fruits and nuts are good too.  Follow a Paleo Diet to drop your body fat percentage the quickest.  I cut my BF% almost in half in three months, from 11% down to 6% following this type of diet.
  3. Sweat more. So you want to impress chicks on the beach huh?  RUN.  Better yet, SPRINT on days you’re not lifting weights or doing a body weight workout.  Have you ever seen an Olympic sprinter not have crazy abs?  Interval training for the win!
  4. Build your core - Squats and deadlifts work your core like crazy.  If you’re not a fan of these two exercises (and you should be), do exercises like planks, side planks, stability ball crunches (not crunches on the ground), and jumping knee tucks.  Notice there isn’t a single mention of a normal sit up or crunch.  Your abs are muscles too, so don’t work them two days in a row, they need to recover.  Honestly though, these exercises are such an afterthought compared to your diet when it comes to your abs.

How can you tell when you’ve got abs? The easiest most accurate way to determine if you have abs is this: look in the mirror.  Do you see abs? You have a body fat percentage below 10%.  Don’t see abs?  You DON’T have a low enough body fat percentage yet.  It’s science.

Now, if you’re looking for a more accurate measurement of your body fat percentage, I recommend picking up an Accumeasure Body Fat caliper.  It’s super cheap, and it works just as well as any of the other way more expensive methods.

Good luck in your quest, brave knight.

-Steve

###

photo: JoeBone

New post coming soon

Hey guys,

So I know Monday is usually the day I post a new article, but I’ve been on a boat for the past four days and due to some freak weather issues, I didn’t have any free time to finish up the post I was working on.

If you’re curious about how The Rock Boat went, check out the lastest posts on Sixthman’s Blog.  I thought about rushing to finish an article, but I figured it was better to wait and post something actually worth reading and sharing.

I want to thank you all for the comments and emails about the message board.  I have another cruise coming up in a few weeks and I have some paper work to fill out about getting my LLC set up, but I’ll be reaching out to most of you as soon as possible when I get one set up.

Thanks for your patience guys!

-Steve

Would You Join A Nerd Fitness Message Board?

Hello from the Port of Tampa!

Later on today, I’ll be headed out to sea on The Rock Boat X.  For those of you who aren’t aware, I work for Sixthman, a company that specializes in producing floating music festivals.  It’s one of the best jobs in the world, and I am a lucky s.o.b.  If you’re interested in following our adventures at sea, you can read about it (starting with my post Friday morning) on Sixthman.net/blog.

While I’m out slaving away on a cruise ship in the Caribbean (w00t!), I wanted to get your opinion on something.  After seeing the great success and awesome community that has formed over on Art of Manliness, I’m considering creating a message board section of Nerd Fitness.  This will be a place where the NF Community (temporary name until we decide on a bad-ass one) to interact with each other, ask questions, post success stories, and really get to know each other.

I’ve gotten a chance to know most of you through email, but I want you all to get to know each other. I know a giant supportive community can/will make us all better people: pick us up when we’re down, encourage us when motivation is lacking, and push us all to level up our lives every day.

However, there’s an ugly side of message boards that I’m familiar with too: trolls, spam, stupid fighting over useless ****, name-calling, and sometimes an unwelcome vibe towards newbies and outsiders from the long-timers.  These are the things that make me scared to start a message board.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this. I also want to know if this is something you’d actually consider joining.  If you’re reading this, and you have some opinions on message boards, please leave a comment below.  What I want to know:

  • If you’re interested in joining a message board
  • If you have suggestions on how to keep the community tight but inviting
  • Suggestions on how to keep out the trolls
  • If you’d be interested in beta-testing the boards
  • Your experiences with message boards in general.

I’ll take the number of comments I get as a rough estimate of people who’d want to help get this community started, so please just leave a quick comment if you have any interest.  I think a few dozen passionate posters is more than enough to get things off the ground, so I’m interested to hear what you have to say.

Peace out, it’s Rock Boat time!

-Steve

###

If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness” and please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

photo: source

Become A Jedi: How the Force Can Help You Get in Shape

Want to learn the ways of the Force?

Good, you’re in the right spot.  Here is your step-by-step guide to using to becoming a fitness Jedi master.  Yes I realize this might sound a bit ridiculous, but hear me out.  Instead of light sabers and billowy robes, I’ll be discussing how to get you in the best shape of your life…and into pants that fit.

You must unlearn what you have learned

Unfortunately, there is a lot of crap information out there when it comes to losing in weight and getting in shape.  If your idea of a balanced breakfast is a bagel and a glass of orange juice, we have a lot of work to do.  What about exercise?  Let me know if this sounds familiar:

  • Spend 30-45 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical
  • Wander over to a few machines, crank out a few reps on various exercises
  • Go do some crunches on a mat
  • Drive home, drink a Gatorade, and feel good about yourself

Your heart is in the right place, but it is misguided.  You might think lifting weights will make you bulky, hours of cardio is the best way to lose weight, and drinks like Gatorade and Vitamin Water are good for you.  Young padowan, you have much to learn, so let’s start by forgetting whatever you thing you know (unless you’ve been getting your info from Nerd Fitness…you can keep that info).  Luckily, there is hope for you yet.  Once you’ve cleared your mind, I’d start your re-education here:

Find your Yoda

Screen shot 2009-12-26 at 3.14.35 PM

Mentors are invaluable. Obi-Wan had Qui-Gon Jinn, Luke had Yoda, and I have Mike Rickett.  Every time Mike (a fitness guru with 20+ years of experience) comes into town, I learn more from him in an hour over dinner than I could learn in a week of reading any fitness book.  I’m glad I have Mike to teach me new exercises, new routines, and push me to be a more well-rounded and balanced individual.

You need to find your own Yoda.

If you want to run marathons, find somebody who has run multiple marathons and borrow the best parts from their routine.  If you want to be a better Ultimate Frisbee player, hop on some message boards and find the best players in your local league and how they prepare for events.  If you want to be a better weight lifter, if you want to make sure your form is good on your exercises, ask around and find a great trainer to get you started.  If you want to lose a LOT of weight, find others that have been successful in doing so.

I understand a lot of you guys probably work out in your house and don’t have others to look up to.  If this is the case, shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll gladly do what I can for ya.  If you need motivation, have questions, or whatever, please don’t hesitate to ask.  My emails are starting to pile up these days, so it might take me up to a week to get back to you, but I WILL get back to you.

Learn the ways of the Force

The Force is responsible for everything that a Jedi does and how he acts; it’s the life force that binds everything together.  When getting in shape, you need to learn the ways of the Force and understand how everything in your life is interconnected:

  • Your bad diet can and will affect your performance in the gym.
  • Your poor sleeping habits can and will affect your weight loss.
  • Your daily exercising can and have a positive influence on how you eat.

The Force affects everything around you. Exercising every day but eating and sleeping poorly will NOT give you the results you want (“these aren’t the results you’re looking for”).  You need to find a good balance in your diet and exercise, focusing on actionable goals and results.  Once you learn that everything is connected, and that everything you do affects everything else, you are one step closer to becoming who you want to be.

This journey will change your life.  As you start to change your diet and begin exercising regularly, you will start to sleep better and feel better.  You’ll have a new found sense of confidence, which will allow you to exercise more in public and eat better in public.  Every action you take will either lead you closer to the dark side (boo) or the light side (yay).

Once you are armed with this information, the choice is yours.

This is some rescue. You came in here and you didn’t have a plan for getting out?

“I’m Luke Skywalker.  I’m here to rescue you.”  Remember that great scene?  As it turns out (and Princess Leia so readily noted), Luke only KIND OF had a rescue plan; luckily R2D2 bailed everybody out of the compactor.  If you don’t have a walking trashcan to help keep you in line, you’re going to need a good plan if you want to succeed.  Most importantly, you need to be like a Jedi – direct and specific.

  • “I want to get in shape” is half-assed. “I want to lose 20 pounds by June 2nd” is a plan.
  • “I’m going to work out today” is half-assed. “I am going to do 4 sets of squats, 5 sets of bench presses, 3 sets of pull ups, and then do 3 sets of planks” is a plan.
  • “I’m want to eat better” is half-assed. “I am going to cut all of the processed carbs out of my diet and give up soda” is plan.

The more you can plan ahead, the less you’ll have to improvise along the way (and the less chance you have of ending up in a trash compactor).  If you want to be a kick-ass Jedi, you need to plan out your workouts (sets, reps, time of workout, etc.) before you walk into the gym so you know exactly what you need to accomplish to advance your training.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

Screen shot 2009-12-26 at 7.00.18 PM

The Dark Side sucks.  Okay it’s actually pretty awesome (which is why people always want to play as the Sith in any Star Wars game), but for today’s lesson we’ll assume that it’s bad.  When it comes to getting in shape, you can either choose to take the path of the Jedi (hard work, common sense, awareness, dedication, and a strong balance), or you can choose the seemingly faster, easier path of the Dark Side:

  • Diet pills
  • Useless ab machines
  • Trendy diets
  • The next “miracle weight loss cure”

These are products and plans that somebody would try to use only if they wanted to cheat the system and get results without putting in the effort.  These things are a waste of time, a waste of money, and/or extremely dangerous to your health.

You don’t need supplements, you don’t need pills, you don’t need training aids, and you don’t need to buy an expensive system that promises results in 4 weeks.  You need hard work and dedication.   The Dark Side currently runs the fitness industry and it’s only getting worse as this country gets fatter and lazier.  You need to join the good guys.

Avoid practically every advertisement you read on Google Ads, every commercial that promises results with minimal effort, and every product that sounds too good to be true.  As General Akbar would say, “It’s a TRAP!”

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.

If you want to be a Jedi, it takes a ****-load of training, studying, learning, and dedication.  There’s no weekend Jedi course at the local community college.  You can’t take an online light saber webinar.  These dudes are 100% dedicated to their cause, always learning and improving.

If you’re going to get in shape, it takes a ****-load of training, studying, learning, and dedication. Okay, so it’s really not as tough as becoming a Jedi, but it certainly will take dedication.  A few weeks at the gym and a special diet  for a month isn’t going to cut it.  If you’re expecting results without actually having to do anything, click the red X in the corner of this page because this is clearly not the website for you.

Being a Jedi isn’t a profession: it’s a way of life. Getting in shape is no different.

If Obi-Wan wanted to stop being a Jedi, he couldn’t exactly walk up to Yoda and say “here’s my two weeks notice.”  He is a Jedi, and that will never change.  This is the mindset you need to have when beginning your path towards fitness: it’s not a job, it’s who you are.  The choices you make and the actions you take will sculpt your future.

Choose wisely.

Do or Do Not. There is No Try

This is one of the best quotes ever, and one of the cornerstones of the Nerd Fitness philosophy. You can either lift the x-wing out of the swamp, or you can’t.  You can either lift that weight, or you can’t.  You can get in shape, or you can’t.

Every January, gyms are filled with the misguided hopes and dreams of people who try to get in shape but don’t put forth their full effort.  Sure, they try eat better for a few weeks but don’t really want to give up junk food.  They try exercising but quickly give up when it’s cold, or dark, or they’re sleepy.  Listen, if you’re not gonna go at this “in shape” thing with your full dedication, don’t bother wasting your time.  You can’t half-ass being a Jedi, you can’t half-ass being in shape.

Now, I’m not saying your only option is to start exercising for three hours a day and completely change everything you eat. Instead, you need to pick one or two things every month and then DO those one or two things without fail.  Whatever your one change is, do everything in your power to make that one change a habit, and then do everything in your power to make that habit part of who you are.  Try one of these:

  • Give up soda - these calories are absolutely detrimental to your weight loss, even if it’s diet soda.
  • Get up 30 minutes earlier and exercise in the morning. Get your exercise in before your day even starts.
  • Give up fast food during the week. Eventually, work towards giving it up completely.

May the Force be with you

You now have the tools at your disposal to change your life if you are willing to work for it.  I didn’t want to make this post too long, and I tried to stick with just references from the original trilogy, but I’m sure there were some glaring metaphors that I missed.

Any Star Wars fans out there want to chime in?

-Steve

P.S. This is the last post for 2010, see you back here for a new post on January 3rd, 2010!

###

picture: PasuKaru76, Andres Rueda, Star Wars Blog

Nerd Fitness: A Look Back and A Look Forward

Yes, I realize every other website out there has done one of these articles in the past week, blah blah blah, shut it!

Did THOSE articles have a picture of kick-ass fireworks?  DIDN’T THINK SO!  Ahem.  Let’s start with a quick look back at how this site started, and then move onto where it’s headed in 2010:

Nerd Fitness Begins

I won’t go into too much detail about what my goals were for 2009 because I really didn’t have any.  Way back in January, I made the decision to start writing this blog simply because I wanted to bring a unique perspective to the online fitness community which was oversaturated with super-generic, give-me-your-money websites.  This was my “plan”:

  • Write every day
  • Figure out what the hell I was doing later.

I spent 9 months executing part 1 of this plan to perfection: I spent all of my free time writing and none of my time doing any marketing or relationship building because I simply didn’t know any better.  Part 2 of the plan didn’t come into play until September – Josh over at WorldsStrongestLibrarian.com wrote an article saying he’d write a guest post for any fellow blogger that wanted one (and he ended up writing like 50 guest posts in a few months…Josh is the man).

This was the ah-ha moment I needed.

I nervously emailed Josh asking him for a guest post on Nerd Fitness and instantly received an email back saying he’d love to write one.  This was my first experience with a well-respected blogger and I realized he was a lot like me: hard-working, honest, and eager to connect/help.  A few weeks later, I wrote my first guest post ever for his site, 7 Life Lessons we Can Learn from Where the Wild Things Are, and things have snowballed since then.

The best decision I ever made for this site was changing my post-frequency from five relatively generic articles a week to two well-researched, unique articles that are actually worth reading (I hope). Now that I don’t have to focus on publishing an article every night, I can actually take some time to build relationships with NF readers (that’s you) and other writers out there.  Not surprisingly, Nerd Fitness’s growth and my own happiness have increased incredibly since I’ve made this change.

Time to Grow Up!

Now that I’ve hit my stride and started to connect with a lot more people, I want to take Nerd Fitness to the next level.  I don’t mean that in a corporate “think outside the box” kind of way (which would be super lame), but actually level up this website like an RPG.  I have a great feeling that 2010 is going to be the best year yet. This is what I expect to accomplish:

  • Create an LLC – Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to you guys, but I’d like for this website to bring in a steady income some day (gotta pay the bills, right?).  I still plan on writing two kick-ass free articles every week until forever, so don’t worry.  I feel like ads would kind of devalue the site, so plan on getting creative to bring in the dough.  One of the biggest ventures will be to…
  • Create an E-book available for purchase - Expect a more in-depth post on this in the near future complete with all the details on what will be in it.  I received such a great response from my free E-book that I fell like this is the next logical step.  Now, a big reason why I’d like to start bringing in money through the site is that I want to…
  • Completely redesign NerdFitness.com - I’m currently using a stock WordPress template, but I’m getting to the point where a custom design needs to happen – this page needs more personality!  I have a great vision in my head and it will certainly cost money to make that vision a reality.
  • Create a Nerd Fitness Army/Militia/Clan/Guild - I’d like to start keeping track of all people interested in being a part of the Nerd Fitness community, yet I have no way in getting in contact with everybody right now.  Chris has his small army, Baker has his Militia…I just need to come up with a kick ass name for the NF Community.  Suggestions are welcome!
  • Earn At Least One More Training/Fitness Certification – I am not a fitness expert.  There are far more qualified and experienced individuals out there who could give you scientific, biological explanations for exercise and diet.  I don’t have that type of background: my degree is in Economics and my day job involves the production of music cruises.  I just happen to love fitness, I have a thirst for knowledge, and I really enjoy helping people get in shape.  I do have a basic personal trainer certification, but I want more and I want to learn more.  In the meantime, I fortunately have some friends in the industry with over 20+ years of experience – they’ve been nice enough to offer their advice and answer any questions I might have when writing articles or filming videos.  Thanks guys.
  • Increase my subscriber count by at least 400% -  Why 400%?  Why not!  I think this is a goal within reach if I continue to produce inspirational/educational/comical content worth reading.  I feel like I’m doing a lot of things right and helping a lot of people turn their lives around(I hope so anyway), so I just need to find a way to get in front of a bigger audience.  To do that, I plan to..
  • Write at least 6 Guest Posts on Other Prominent Sites – I already have one guest post in the works for one of my favorite sites that I can’t WAIT to finish.  Moving forward, I plan on targeting great websites with strong active followers that have nothing to do with fitness.  I’d imagine most of you guys would never in a million years visit a generic fitness website, so I’d rather try to snag the intelligent blog readers from awesome sites that want to get in shape but are turned off by all of the crap that exists out there in the fitness industry.

Phew! I realize that sounds like a lot to accomplish in the next twelve months, but I think these are all goals within reach if I continue to bust my ass.  If you have any concerns, comments, or questions about where Nerd Fitness is headed in 2010, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly talk to you about it.

When I started this website I never expected to feel so good about helping others, and I never expected to bring together such a kick-ass group of readers. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know a lot of you extremely well, and I look forward to getting to know the rest of you (email me!).  Thank you for making Nerd Fitness what it is today, and thanks for coming back.  I’m going to make all of you proud in 2010.

Everybody have a great Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus), and we’ll see you on Monday!

-Steve

###

If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness” and please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

photo from Bob Jagendorf

How to Guarantee Victory Against the Motivation Monster

Today marks the the shortest day of the year.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re currently dealing with minimal daylight, decreasing temperatures, crappy weather, and probably a strong desire to channel your inner brown-bear and just hibernate until Spring.  Some of you might think this is due to stuff like “seasonal depression” or the “winter doldrums” or whatever.

Nope.

It’s all the Motivation Monster’s fault.

What the hell is a motivation monster, you ask? It’s this tiny little monster that lives inside of you, surviving only on your wasted motivation.  He gets hungry early in the morning, after long days of work, definitely on weekends, and especially during the winter months.  Want to know the worst thing about him?  Feeding him only makes him stronger and hungrier.  Skip a workout here, take a few days off to stuff your face there, and suddenly that little monster is all grow’d up and hungry for more.  Next thing you know, it’s March, you’re up 30 pounds, and in even worse shape than when you started.

Yep, he sucks.

Luckily, I’m going to arm you today with so much freaking motivation and determination that you’ll be able to kick the Motivation Monster square in the crotch and keep the “level up my life” train a’rollin!  Here’s exactly how you do it:

Give Yourself Something to Look Forward to

Want to know the greatest anti-”motivation monster” movie ever?  The Shawshank Redemption, hands down.  If you’ve seen it then you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about: Andy Dufresne spent 20 years in jail before finally breaking free, moving to a beach in Mexico, fixing up an old boat, and filming Corona commercials (I imagine).  I’ll never forget what Red (Morgan Freeman) told Andy earlier in the movie:

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

You see, at this point in the movie Red’s motivation monster had already got the best of him.  Luckily, by the end of the movie Red got his ass in gear, made it out of prison, and found this note from Andy before joining him down on the coast:

“Remember Red.  Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Motivation Monsters HATE hope – it’s their kryptonite. Andy never lost hope; he had a distinct future in mind that he fully expected to live, and then spent every day working towards that future.  It was his incredibly strong willpower that allowed him to survive all the bull**** and eventually get everything he ever wanted out of life.

As Jimmy Valvano famously once said, “Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.”

What specifically do you have to look forward to? What do you hope will happen in your future? Do you have a vacation coming up in February?  How about a 5/10/20-year high-school reunion to go back to where you can show all of your classmates how much weight you’ve lost?

Whatever it is, paint a picture of your future and be as specific as possible.  David Turnbull wrote a great post last week on how to design your future and work towards it.  You’ll be surprised how effective this is at keeping your motivation monster at bay.  Visualize this future, and find a way to do one thing every day to get closer to it.

Form New Habits

Humans are creatures of habit.  These habits can be positive or negative, pushing you closer to the life you want or holding you further back.  It’s your job to determine which of YOUR current habits are beneficial and which ones are feeding the monster.  Once you know which ones you need to change, it’s your job to get started.

Luckily, Leo over at Zen Habits wrote a great post on 29 ways to successfully ingrain a new habitHere it is in a nutshell:

  1. Write down your plan.
  2. Identify your triggers and replacement habits.
  3. Focus on doing the replacement habits every single time the triggers happen, for about 30 days.

Although Leo’s plan will work for ANY habit (and I encourage you to use it as a guide for whatever you need), I specifically want to discuss exercise in this post – I know for a fact that once exercise becomes a regular habit for you, the rest of your life will start to fall in place as well: you’ll have more energy, you’ll have a better outlook on life, and other habits will start to change more quickly.

Keep Your New Habit Rolling

Every single day for the next month, you’re going to schedule a 30 minute block of time for exercise and NEVER MISS IT. I don’t care that Christmas and New Year’s Eve is right around the corner: use those 30 minutes to sweat out the gallons of Bud Light you drank.  Your body will thank me later.

Newton taught us that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  If exercise is a brand new concept to you, it’s going to be a pain in the ass to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling – you’re so used to feeding the motivation monster that it won’t go quietly.  However, put in a week or two of consistent exercise, drop a few pounds, and that inertia that once kept you stopped will keep you going.  Science ftw!

A lot of people ask “when’s the best time to work out?”  And my response is always, “whenever works best for you.”  If you want a more specific and personal answer however, I would go with first thing in the morning.  At the end of the day, it seems like there are ten times the number of obstacles and distractions trying to drag you down:

  • Traffic jams
  • Staying late at work to finish a report
  • Problems with your kids’ homework
  • Wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend wants to go out to dinner to celebrate some anniversary that you probably forgot (whoops)

For these reasons, I’ve found that exercising first thing in the morning works best.  Obviously, this requires waking up at least 30 minutes earlier which probably sounds like the worst effing thing in the world to you right now.  You know what? For the first few days, yeah…it is pretty crappy.  That monster is extra hungry, your bed sheets are extra nice and warm, and forgoing sleep for sweat sounds stupid.

For all of you saying “I’m not a morning person,” when was the last time you gave it a shot? I’m not talking a day or two of “early rising” and then calling it quits either.  Give yourself a full week of waking up early before you give up.

Now, if you’re willing to give the morning thing a shot, there are a quite few tricks to getting up earlier that help a whole lot.  Medhi over at Stronglifts.com has written an incredible post on how to wake up early – I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  If I had to single out one tip that has saved my ass more times than I can count, it’s this:

Put your alarm clock ACROSS the room.

Ever since high school, my alarm clock has been as far away from my bed as possible.  I can’t reach up and hit SNOOZE so I have to physically GET UP and out of bed to go turn it off.  If you’re a snoozer and you want to start waking up earlier, this will probably change your life.

Now, let’s say you’ve managed to crawl out of bed 30 minutes early…what the heck do you do now?  Get your heart pumping: jump rope, do the Nerd Fitness beginner body weight workout, walk the dog, go for a run, etc.  Whatever it is that gets you moving, do it.

This is now your new habit, and soon enough it will become part of who you are.

Stay Inspired

Once you have something to hope for, something to look forward to, and a habit you’re going to fix, the next thing you need to do is find a way to STAY motivated.  The monster inside you never sleeps and is always hungry, so you need to constantly fill yourself up with motivational awesomeness so the well never runs dry.  I’ve found that the best way to stay motivated is to have a “go-to” library of quotes and videos for whenever the situation requires it. Here are some of the quotes and videos that keep me going:

  • “Get busy living, or get busy dying”I have this quote hanging on the wall in my bedroom.  It’s the first thing I see every morning before going to work and it’s the last thing I see at night before going to bed.  It reminds me to be thankful every day for what I have, but to constantly strive for more.  It’s this quote that keeps me writing for Nerd Fitness, and it’s this quote that helps me push myself beyond my limits.
  • Where the Hell is Matt?I watch this video on a weekly basis.  There is a whole world out there for me to see, and that working as hard as possible at Sixthman (my day job) and working as hard as possible at Nerd Fitness will eventually allow me to see these places and have stories of my own.  If you have any desire to travel and/or start a small business, I also HIGHLY recommend reading Chris Guillebeau’s blog as he is one of the best in the business at travel-hacking and inspiring people (myself included) to create legitimate small businesses.
  • 300 – If I have time, I’ll watch the movie.  If not, I’ll just watch the trailer.  These dudes are in such peak physical condition and kick so much ass that after watching, all I want to do is lift weights, train in the wilderness, and yell things like “THIS IS SPARTA” when kicking people into bottomless pits.  This movie has shown us what’s possible in terms of human physical perfection if you’re willing to work for it.  As they say, “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”
  • 40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes – If there were an Oscar for “editing awesome movies into awesome YouTube clips, Matthew Belinkie would have my vote.  This video is guaranteed to immediately inspire you while simultaneously beating down the motivational monster in you.

Remember folks: there’s more to this life than sitting behind a desk until you’re 65. Life is happening right now, not tomorrow.  Life doesn’t care that it’s cold, or dark, or rainy.  Therefore, you can’t either.

How do You Plan on Winning?

What’s your defense against the motivation monster?  What do you do to make sure you get your exercise in every day?  Care to tell me that this is the corniest thing you’ve ever read?

Whatever it is, let’s hear it.

-Steve

###

If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

photo from: Jelene

Advanced Body Weight Workout – WARNING: This Will Kick Your Ass

If this little dude can get in shape without a gym, what’s your excuse?

Most gyms these days are loaded with chumps, meatheads, pushy salesmen, and people who suck at working out.  (If you DO go to a gym, make sure you DON’T suck at it).  Luckily, you can burn fat, build muscle, and get a great workout using just your body weight.  Most of you saw the Beginner Bodyweight Workout I posted last week.  If you didn’t, I’d recommend starting there before moving onto this routine, because this is uber-advanced and designed for nerds looking for a brutally difficult challenge.

Are you ready for this?

NF Advanced Body Weight Workout

Warning: this workout that will have you sweating like a pig and leave you sore all over the next day. If you’re just moving beyond the beginner body weight workout for the first time, this workout might seem ridiculously difficult.  That’s because it IS ridiculously difficult – the first time I did this routine, taught to me by fitness guru and mentor Mike Rickett, I wanted to throw up afterwards and couldn’t walk straight for two days.  You’ve been warned!

Obviously, if this routine is too tough, there are quite a few variations you can make to lessen the difficulty and then build your way up to the real deal. Remember, it’s important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but safely.  Don’t try to do too much or you’ll just end up hurting yourself.

NOTE: I do use a pull up bar in this routine. If you don’t have one at your home, you can head to a park and use their pull up bar, or substitute inverted body weight rows until you are strong enough to do pull ups and chin ups.  I include a video of how to do these inverted rows in your home at the end of this post.

Before you start, WARM UP - Never ever ever ever forget to warm up.  If you’re strapped for time, cut short your workout, not your warm up.  You can run in place, jump rope, do a few push ups, pedal on a stationary bike, jog up and down your stairs, etc. 

Here’s the NF Advanced Body Weight Workout:


Nerd Fitness TV – Advanced Body Weight Workout

If you want to write down everything, here it is:

  • 10 one legged squats – each side [warning super-difficult, only attempt if you in good enough shape]
  • 20 body weight squats
  • 20 walking lunges (10 each leg)
  • 20 jump step-ups (10 each leg)
  • 10 pull ups [or inverted body weight rows using your kitchen table]
  • 10 dips – bar stools
  • 10 chin ups [or inverted body weight rows with underhand grip]
  • 10 push ups
  • 30 second plank

That’s one complete rotation.  If you’re up for it, try to do 3 complete circuits.  Stop when you need to, get water when necessary, but try to finish it as quickly as possible while still practicing PERFECT FORM.  The first time I went through this routine it took me right around 18 minutes.  What is it with me and 18 minutes of hell?

You can cut short the number of repetitions, but never half-ass a rep.  If you can only do five or six pull ups, bring a chair over to the bar, hop up above the bar and lower yourself down.  If you can’t do a plank for 30 sec, hold it for 15, and work your way up to 30.  If 20 body weight lunges is too many, only do 10 and work your way up to 20.  Challenge yourself safely and within reason.

Can’t Do Pull Ups? Do These Instead

I’m going to guess that the most difficult exercise for most people in this routine will be the pull ups and the chin ups. If you don’t have a pull up bar, or if you’re not strong enough to do pull ups yet, here is a video on how to do Inverted Body Weight Rows using just your kitchen table.  Most importantly, make sure your table is strong enough or you’re going to snap it in half.  It isn’t optimal, but it’s better than nothing, and a good step up from the dumbbell rows in the Beginner Body Weight Circuit.  Inverted body weight rows are certainly tough, but not as tough as pull ups and chin ups.  Attempt these at your own risk!


Nerd Fitness TV – Inverted Body Weight Rows

How to Scale Your Routine

As I said earlier, this whole routine is scalable based on your ability. For example, here is a sample routine for somebody who has conquered the beginner workout but can’t do the full routine above:

  • 10 Body Weight Squats
  • 10 Walking Lunges
  • 15 Jump Ups
  • 3 Pull Ups (or 6 inverted body weight rows – overhand grip on table)
  • 8 dips (or 10 decline push ups if these are too tough)
  • 3 Chin ups (or 6 inverted body weight rows – underhand grip on table)
  • 10 push ups
  • 30 second plank
  • 30 jumping jacks

Whatever your fitness level, find a way to push yourself a litter harder, get better, be faster, and grow stronger (thanks Daft Punk!) Keep track of your exact routine, how long it took you, which exercises wore you out, exactly how many reps you did, etc.

Then, the next time you do this routine (make sure you wait at least 48 hours before attempting it again), try to do the whole routine with one or two more repetitions or with less down time between exercises.

Your thoughts?

There you have it guys.  I would love to hear what you think! I got a lot of great comments on the Beginner Body Weight video, and hopefully those of you who are looking for more of a challenge are getting it here.

Do you want to see more routine-based videos? More videos like the Inverted Body Weight Row videos showing you how to do specific exercises? Let me know what you want to see, and I’ll make it happen.

-Steve

PS – For any of you who plan on doing this routine during the next few days, I apologize in advance for how your whole body will feel the next morning!

###

 

photo: eyeliam

Daft Punk’s Kick-Ass Guide to Fitness

Whenever I head into a gym, out onto a field, or attempt to do any sort of physical activity, I try to ask myself one question:

What would Daft Punk do?

Now, I realize this sounds bat-sh** crazy, and it probably is, but hear me out. Today, you’re going to learn how two kick-ass French DJs in robot costumes can teach you how to level up your life.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” (this video is part of a full-length cartoon by the way, which is awesome). Whenever you head out onto the field of battle (read: get exercise), you need to ask yourself, “WWDPD?”  You have four choices:

  • Push yourself HARDER
  • Get BETTER
  • Move FASTER
  • Become STRONGER

If you don’t have one of these goals in mind when exercising, you’re just spinning your wheels and wasting your time.  Luckily, Daft Punk is here to help!

Harder

If you go into a gym and do the same routine every time, with the same amount of weights, you will NEVER get any stronger. If you run on a treadmill at the same speed for the same amount of time every day, you will NEVER get any faster.  Your muscles and your body adapt to the stress applied to them, which means what was once challenging will become the norm.  There’s only one solution to keep your body from becoming complacent:

You need to constantly push yourself a little bit harder than the day before.

Let’s take the most important muscle in your body: your heart – Heart attacks happen when your heart faces a sudden high level of stress and pressure, freaks out, and then shuts down.  Suck.  To keep this from happening, you need to find a way to push your heart safely outside of its comfort zone on a consistent basis.  By pushing it further and harder each time, your heart’s range of “acceptable stress before shutdown” will continue to grow and you’ll be at less risk for heart complications.

How does one accomplish this? Interval training. You can read all about interval training in this previous post; but to summarize: you essentially screw around with your heart by sprinting then walking, or running then jogging instead of simply running at a constant pace for the whole time.  By keeping your heart guessing, it grows accustomed to these rapid changes in beats per minute and after a few weeks will become more versatile, adapt quicker, and get stronger.

Win.

Here’s how to make sure if you’re pushing yourself harder:

  • Write it all down: keep a journal or sign up for an account over on DailyBurn.com and keep track of all of your workouts as accurately as possible.  If you’re running on a treadmill, record your times and speeds.  If you’re doing a workout like the nerd fitness beginner body weight workout, remember how long it takes you to finish.  Then, the next time you’re doing that same routine, find a way to do it faster (while still keeping perfect form).
  • Compete with others: Crossfit is built on this principle. Each routine has a specific number of exercises that need to be completed as quickly as possible.  If you’re Mario and you found out Bowser did a routine in 15:00, I guarantee you’ll do everything in your power to finish in 14:59 or less.  Competition will make you work harder.

Better

Let’s talk video games for a second – the first time you play a new game, you probably die every three minutes as you figure out the controls.  Eventually with enough practice, the tough levels become easier, bosses start to fall on the first try instead of the tenth, and so on.   In this giant video game we call life, things are no different.  When you pick up a new hobby, it’s going to take a while for you to level up:

  • If you’re doing yoga, you should be getting more flexible with each session. I suck at yoga, but I know if I started taking classes eventually I could be doing the Warrior and Downward Dog poses with the best of them (I think those are yoga poses anyway).
  • If you go to a rock climbing gym - you can either climb a particular route, or you can’t.  As you gain experience and get stronger, you’ll find routes and holds that weren’t previously accessible, and then you’ll eventually succeed.  At this point, you’ll pick a new, more difficult route and work on conquering that.
  • How about jumping rope? If you haven’t done it since you were a kid, your coordination will probably keep you from getting more than one or two jumps before you mess up.  Soon enough you’ll be jumping rope without errors for minutes a time.  As you get better, you’ll simultaneously improve your hand-eye coordination and endurance.  There’s a reason all boxers jump rope.

Not surprisingly, the only way you’ll get better at something is to do it repeatedly. Once you find an activity that makes you happy, find a way to get better at it.  Ultimate frisbee, karate, free running, beer pong (just kidding), whatever.  Just get better.

Faster

When being chased by a bear, they say you don’t need to be faster than the bear…just faster than the guy next to you. I don’t expect you to get chased by a bear any time soon, but if it does happen, wouldn’t you feel better knowing that you’re the fastest piece of meat he’s chasing?

Here’s how to tell if you’re getting faster:

  • Run a distance and time yourself.
  • Run that same distance again, and see if you can run it faster than you did before.
  • If this is too complicated for you, just give up.

Applying the two previous goals, by getting better at an activity and pushing yourself harder, you will also get faster as a side effect. For example, the first time I did the 300 challenge, I sucked at doing floor wipers and I completed the challenge in like 90 minutes.  After spending a few weeks getting better at floor wipers I was able to complete the challenge in 46 minutes, essentially chopping my time in half.

One of the best ways to get faster is to train with somebody who is faster than you. A few weeks back I ran a 5k along with my friend Joe who is in better shape than I am. Because I forced myself to try and keep up with him, I finished probably two or three minutes faster than if I had run by myself.  Sure I was exhausted, felt like crap, and wheezed my way across the finish line, but I survived and felt much better about myself afterwards.

Stronger

I hate running, but I love lifting weights – I’m fascinated with the concept of being able to pick up something that I couldn’t lift just one week earlier.  It’s a great way to see if I’m leveling up: either I can lift more weights or do more reps than last time or I can’t.

As Henry Rollins says, “200 pounds is always 200 pounds.”

You get stronger by pushing your muscles safely outside of their comfort zone (just like your heart). They constantly need a new challenge or they become complacent:

  • Stronger legs means faster sprint times, stronger ligaments and joints means less uncoordinated adventures and less injuries.
  • A stronger heart means less risk of a heart attack.
  • Stronger lungs means longer workout sessions, longer sprints, and better marathon times.
  • A stronger desire to succeed means more triumphs in the face of adversity.  Giving up is no longer an option.

Once again, you need to be keeping track of exactly what you did last time at the gym or in your house, or you won’t know if you’re getting stronger. Let’s say you’re doing the NF Beginner Body Weight Circuit on a consistent basis:

  • You can now do 20 body weight squats easily? Next time wear a backpack full of text books or give your 3 year-old a piggy-back ride and then squat.  Still too easy?  Hold the bag way above your head; I wouldn’t recommend this tactic with the kid, unless you want to spend the next week sleeping on the couch.
  • If you can do the dumbbell rows with a milk jug 10 times and it’s not a challenge, make it tougher! Take your carry-on suitcase, fill it up with encyclopedias and text books and use THAT for your dumbbell.  Get creative.
  • Every time you do the plank, keep a timer right in front of your face, and go for ONE MORE SECOND than before.

A Few Things to Consider

By concentrating on just one or two of the four goals above when exercising, the other two (or three) will improve as a side-effect:

  • By getting stronger at pull ups and chin ups, you are setting yourself up to be better at rock climbing.
  • By pushing yourself harder on your morning jogs, you will run a faster 5k.
  • If you get faster at running sprints, your legs, lungs, and heart will all be stronger.

You need to keep track of what you’re doing or you’ll never know if you’re improving. I bring a small notebook with me to the gym and write down a few things:

  • Time of workout – what time I got to the gym, how long my workout was, how long I spent on my warm up and cool down.
  • Sets and reps for each exercise – How many warm up sets, how many reps, how much weight, if I’m ready to go up in weight for the next routine, and so on.
  • Any notes I have – If I worked out in the morning, did I eat breakfast before?  If I worked out late at night, was exhaustion a factor?  These things are super important to help you figure out why your workout went well or sucked.

If you don’t feel like bringing a notebook with you, set up a simple word doc or excel sheet with all of your data.  If you’re lazy and don’t feel like doing that, you can track your workouts on DailyBurn.com.  NF reader Jacob took the time to set up the NF beginner body weight workout on DailyBurn, so you can now track that workout on there as well.  Thanks Jacob!

If you’re not lifting weights or running, tracking your progress might be a little tougher, but it’s still important to find a way to keep track of your improvements.  Whether it’s flexibility in yoga, number of minutes you can run on the frisbee field without getting winded, or whatever, you and only you will know if you’re putting in the work to get better.

Random tip: want to get better at losing weight? Tired of sucking? Keep track of  every single calorie you eat for a week or two and I guarantee you will lose weight.

What Are You Working On?

Right now, I am working on getting stronger and more flexible. I’ve had chronic back problems (thanks to a summer job 8 years ago), so I’m doing tons of exercises to strengthen my lower back and improve my hip flexibility, which is helping me get stronger with my squats and deadlifts.  As for my exact routine, I just picked up a copy of Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” and I’ve gone back to the basics.  If you want to know my exact workout, you can check out this Starting Strength Wiki and download the free excel sheet – I’ll be doing the advanced beginner routine for the next few months.

Tell us exactly what you’re working on in the comments. I want to hear answers like:

  • I want to improve my time by 1 minute in my next race.
  • I want to be able to bench press my body weight by June.
  • I want to look better in a bathing suit by next summer.
  • I want to get better at Karate by obtaining the rank of black belt.
  • I want to lose 100 pounds in 2010.

Next time you ask yourself “WWDPD,” what will your answer be?

-Steve

###

Here are some other popular posts you might like:

picture: ComicCultureWarrior

Beginner Body Weight Workout: Burn Fat, Build Muscle

So you want to get in shape, but you have no gym membership.

That’s fine, screw gyms!

They’re loaded with chumps, meatheads, pushy salesmen, and people who suck at working out.  (If you DO go to a gym, here’s how to make sure you DON’T suck at working out).  Luckily, you can burn fat, build muscle, and get a great workout using just your body weight.  Learn why cardio is one of the least efficient methods of burning calories, and how you can get a lot done in a little bit of time.  By doing body weight circuits, where you complete one exercise right after the other without stopping, you’re both building muscle and getting a cardiovascular workout.

Why Body Weight Circuits Kick Ass

What makes body weight circuits work so well? Every exercise involved utilizes multiple muscle groups, gets your heart rate pumping, and burns tons of calories.  Check out this interview from Jason Ferruggia and Alwyn Cosgrove, two fitness gurus whose opinions and research I highly respect.  Essentially, circuit weight training burns more calories than interval training, which burns WAY more calories than steady cardio.  Essentially, if you’re trying to lose weight, spending hours doing cardio on a treadmill is a really crappy use of your time.

I’m going to take you through a basic workout today that can be completed in your house, apartment, out at a park, in your parents’ basement, wherever.  As always, make sure you are cleared by your personal physician for physical activity before attempting these exercises.    Proceed at your own risk!

Beginner Body Weight Workout

This is a basic body weight circuit. In a circuit routine, you’ll do each exercise in succession without a break in between (if you’re able).  Once you’ve finished all exercises in the circuit, you do it again.  If you’re still able after the 2nd run through, go for a third.  Because all of these exercises come one after another, you’re bound to get tired.  It’s better to stop and take a break than to do an exercise incorrectly.  If you can’t do all three circuits without stopping, that gives you something to build towards.

Before you start, WARM UP - Never ever ever ever forget to warm up.  Make sure to get your heart rate pumping and get your muscles warm or you’re just asking for injury.  If you’re strapped for time, cut short your workout, not your warm up.  You can run in place, jump rope, do a few push ups, pedal on a stationary bike, jog up and down your stairs, etc.  Don’t wear yourself out completely, but get your heart rate elevated and little bit of sweat never hurt anybody.  After the warm up, here is exactly what you need to do:

Beginner Body Weight Circuit Video

And so you can write it down, here is the write up for the exercise routine.

  • 20 body weight squats
  • 10 push ups
  • 20 walking lunges
  • 10 dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug)
  • 15 second plank
  • 30 Jumping Jacks

After you’ve completed your workout, make sure you stretch. All of your muscles have been contracted from lifting and need to be stretched back out and rebuilt.

For either the body weight squats or lunges, if you can’t do them properly yet, it’s okay to put your hand on a support to keep your balance.

For the body weight squats, think of it like sitting back into a chair. If you can sit down onto a chair, and then stand immediately right back up without having to lean forward, you are in balance.

For the lunges, keep your eyes ahead and your upper body completely vertical. I had a slight bend at times in the video due to trying to exercise and explain at the same time.

I used a milk jug for my dumbbell, but you can use whatever is heavy enough for you. Find something that is challenging to lift 10 times in a row.

Do this routine 2-3 times a week, but never on consecutive days.  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting.  Generally I follow a pattern of strength training on one day, then 20 minutes of interval training on the next, then strength training, then interval training, and so on.  You never want to do a strength routine two days straight (of the same muscle groups), as your muscles haven’t had time to recover.

Along with this routine, you need to make sure you’re eating properly! A good workout and crappy diet will not get you anywhere.  Lots of real foods (fruits, vegetables, lean meat, nuts, etc.).  Eat natural, whole foods whenever possible, and leave the soda, candy, and junk food out of your system.  Your diet is at least 80% of your success or failure.

Help Me Help You

Leave a comment and let me know how it was for you, and your fitness level (total n00b, beginner, some experience, etc.). If you can get through all three circuits, let me know how long it took you.

If you have a YouTube account, you can subscribe to the NerdFitness channel, which will alert you any time I put out a new video.

If this routine is too easy for you, I have an Advanced Body Weight Circuit too.  You’ve been warned :)

-Steve

PS: If you’re looking for a little more direction, high definition video demonstrations of each exercise, more than a dozen more workouts, and a full guide on how to eat properly, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy!  I’m really proud of what we’ve put together.

###

picture: Joe Shlabotnik

Organic Food: Is it Really Worth It?

How many of you buy organic food?

In the past six months, I’ve started to put some serious consideration into what I put into my system. After reading the Paleo Diet, Mark’s Daily Apple, and Vin Miller’s Natural Bias, I’ve realized that I was completely unaware of where my food actually came from and what was in it. Up until recently, I was completely okay with this. In fact, I often went out of my way to stay ignorant and oblivious purely out of spite. Let me explain why:

I Hate hype

I hate hype, I don’t like fads, and sometimes I go against what’s popular simply because it gives me something to do. When this organic trend started a few years back, I figured it was just an evolution of the previous food fad: Low Fat! Take out the fat (most of which is probably good for you), add sugar and other super-processed ingredients (which is all bad for you), call it “healthy choice,” and then watch the money roll in. I didn’t buy into that fad, and I didn’t plan on buying into this “fad” either. I mean, come on: they sell organic pop tarts.

When I combined my general skepticism, inherent ability to rebel against certain things for no reason, and the truckloads of money brought in by the organic food business ($52 billion in 2008), it’s easy to see why I refused to jump on the bandwagon.

Then, yesterday happened.

Food Inc.

Yesterday I finally watched the documentary, “Food, Inc.”

I won’t go into great detail about the movie as that can be found anywhere on the net (Read Ebert’s really good review here). Just go rent it or watch it on instant queue through Netflix. After all the reading I’ve done, books I’ve studied, and people with whom I’ve conversed over the past year, I was already tipping in this direction – the movie finally put me over the edge: I’m going to start eating more organic foods. I’ve come to this decision for a few main reasons:

  • My health – All of the various outbreaks and diseases and recalls come from food products that are heavily engineered and loaded with all kinds of artificial/dangerous crap. If I’m going to put something in my system, I’d like to know what it’s made of and where it came from.
  • Competition is good – Right now, a few big companies control the food industry in this nation. McDonald’s is the world’s biggest buyer of tons of products, giving them incredible influence and power. Supporting local farmers and organic food is sort of like supporting Linux over Windows. Everybody loves a good underdog story; here’s your chance to be a part of one.
  • Primal Reasons - We’re designed to eat naturally grown fruit, vegetables, and meat. Adding chemicals and pesticides, and genetically engineering our food isn’t natural and can’t be good. Not enough studies have been done to prove that these changes we are making to nature aren’t going to come back and bite us in the ass.
  • My spite was misdirected – Turns out eating organic food is how to go against the trend, considering the rest of this country is eating poorly, getting sick, and becoming more overweight by the day. I had it backwards.

What does Organic Mean?

When you walk into a supermarket, you see all kinds of stuff that are labeled “organic.” Other than the higher price tag, do you really know what you’re getting? I certainly didn’t, so I did some digging. Here is what’s required in order for food to be labeled organic:

  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo.
  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo
  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo
  • What about meat? Every piece of meat these days is labeled with some term that insinuates “good and healthy,” but it’s pretty unclear what all of these things mean. Fortunately, Tim Ferriss over at the 4 Hour Workweek broke down what these different labels mean, and which ones you should be looking for: (“humanely raised,” “certified humane,” and “biodynamic” are the ones to look for). There’s a lot of marketing terms thrown around when it comes to meat, so you need to be careful:

    We can’t be sheep – I came across a great article over on Vin Miller’s “Natural Bias” site, discussing the issues with the “organic” labeling system. It’s up to us to actually take the time and understand what we’re eating instead of blindly buying into the hype. This is a “for profit” industry, which means there will definitely be people out there trying to exploit it. Yes, doing so requires a few extra minutes reading a label or finding out where the food came from. In the long run though, a few extra minutes here and a few extra bucks there could mean a world of difference for your health.

    Are these companies selling out? Or scaling up? As it turns out, the major food makers are buying as many organic companies as possible (here’s a great PDF showing what’s up). Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me thinks these companies are just looking for the cheapest way to take over the organic food industry too, while the rest of me thinks this might be a good thing – by operating under these big umbrella companies, the smaller brands (as long as they keep their standards) will have better access to a larger market with improved channels of distribution.

    What’s Important to Buy Organic? What Isn’t?

    Is it important to eat EVERYTHING organic, or can you get away with just some stuff? Once again, I had no clue, so I set out to find the answer. Research FTW!

    FRUITS AND VEGETABLES – According to the Environmental Working Group, these thirteen fruits and vegetables purchased from normal stores had the most toxins and pesticides in them. That means you should be buying organic whenever possible:

    • Peaches
    • Apples
    • Sweet bell peppers
    • Celery
    • Nectarines
    • Strawberries
    • Cherries
    • Lettuce
    • Grapes (imported)
    • Pears
    • Spinach
    • Potatoes

    If you have a tight budget (and who doesn’t these days), you can get away with not spending more for organic versions of the food fruits and veggies listed below:

    • Bananas
    • Kiwi
    • Mangoes
    • Papaya
    • Pineapples
    • Oranges
    • Asparagus
    • Avocados
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Broccoli
    • Onions

    There’s a pretty good read up on Smart Money on how to not break the bank when buying organic food. They discuss which foods to buy, which to avoid, and where to look to get the deals. They also explain why some fruits/veggies should be organic and others don’t need to be.

    MEAT – After research, meat is clearly one thing that absolutely needs to be purchased from organic sources. Your options are to either buy from a local butcher or search out meat that is “humanely raised,” “certified humane,” and “biodynamic.” In case you missed it earlier, here’s a link to how to read meat labels properly.

    DAIRY – From what I’ve found, it sounds like it’s a smart move to buy organic eggs. However, the jury is still out on organic milk. According to MSNBC, the benefits don’t really outweigh the cost. I found this other controversial article where a veterinarian advises against buying organic milk for other reasons. I still don’t know if organic milk part of the organic hype machine or is there enough benefit to outweigh it’s incredibly high price. (More about this at the bottom.)

    My Plan

    I’m still a skeptical S.O.B., but I think this is a good move. I’m going to have to be creative with my money, decisive on what I decide to eat organic and what I continue to eat normally, and I need to make sure I cut through the BS and buy the stuff that is ACTUALLY good for me. Here’s the plan:

    • Make a list of everything I eat, and determine what I need to buy from where. I eat a lot of apples, strawberries, lettuce, and spinach. After reading about how these are four of the most pesticides-filled fruits and veggies, I’m definitely going organic for these things.
    • Visit a Whole Foods. I have never been inside a Whole Foods, and I’m actually a little scared to go in there. I like the safe confines of my Kroger right down the street, but I feel like I need to at least walk into one Whole Foods to see what it’s all about. Also, I want to see if the prices are really as bad as everybody says.
    • Hit up Trader Joe’s more often – I drive right past a Trader Joe’s every day to and from work, but never go in because it’s so freaking busy. However, the one time I did make it in there I found tons of products with reasonable prices and a stronger emphasis on being of really high quality. It might be worth an extra trip late at night when it’s not so busy.
    • Find a solution for all the chicken I eat. I eat a ridiculous amount of chicken, so I’d like to find a way to eat a ridiculous amount of HEALTHY chicken.  Looks like I need to do more chicken research. [CHECK THE COMMENTS - good discussion on "Free range" chicken and what that really means]
    • Farmers Markets – I realize that I’ve missed the window for farmer’s markets…but I found one that’s located right down the street from me and operates from April through November. Come April I’ll be prepared to start making it a weekly visit. Eat better+ support local farmers = win.
    • Research Organic Dairy – I’m not much of an egg guy, but I do love me some milk. At this point, I really don’t know if it’s worth the extra money to buy organic milk. From a health perspective it looks like it might not be, but I need to do more research. Your input on this would be extremely helpful.

    I Need Your Help!

    I’m a total n00b on this stuff, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you eat organically, what do you do during the winter months when your favorite foods are out of season? Is Whole Foods full of it, or is it priced high for a good reason?  Is organic milk worth it?  How would you change my plan?

    Let’s hear it. I need your help!

    [edit - if you're just reading now, make sure you check out the comments.  Lots of good discussion in there]

    -Steve

    ###

    photo from NatalieMaynor

    Previous Next View Archive