Lifestyle Change: Return to Simplicity

Read time: 2.5 minutes 

Every now and then, when I suffer cognitive arrest, I wander onto blogs and forums about diet and weight loss. (And each time I emerge dumber than I already am.)

Of course, there are some very useful blogs written by some intelligent individuals. But often the discussions that ensue in the comment sections are a glimpse into the deep confusion surrounding diet.

Readers of these blogs leave comments — sometimes in the form of rhetorical questions — that imply their well-read perspectives, or that suggest a single resolution to weight loss. Never mind that there are bio-individuality, epigenetics, psychology, and multiple other factors.

Complex mechanisms probably exist and contribute to our culture’s expanding underbelly, and I’ve read about some compelling evidence even among the weakest of hypothesis.

But I’m not here to debate for or against them. I’m here to tell you that, while blogs and forums crackle with debate and reek of pedantry, it’s time for us to take accountability for our own weight loss.

No single diet works for everyone. But the one that seems to work really well is the classic one that grandma told us about: Eat our vegetables, and don’t snack because it will ruin dinner. (There’s nothing cutting edge about it.)

What grandma was saying is this: eat mostly whole, real food, and don’t eat more than we need. And she might have even said: eat less if we’re getting “a little pudgy.” (Her description, not mine.)

It was that simple.

But in today’s free market, mass consumption permeates our environment, courses our blood, and covers our dinner plates. Two-thirds of our population have allowed it to expand the waistline and the hips, and in effect facilitated a billion-dollar market of diet books and weight-loss programs, unwittingly burying grandma’s simple advice like a dandelion in a hurricane.

It’s no longer easy to hear and to follow grandma’s advice. If we want to get back to those days of simplicity, we now need a lifestyle change:

  • Purchase mostly whole, real food
  • Don’t frequent places that sell crap food with low-quality ingredients
  • Don’t go down the aisle that sell packaged calories
  • Go for a walk rather than go for a snack
  • Have a “walk date” rather than a lunch date
  • Keep yourself busy (create something, build something, do your work)
  • Limit internet time
  • Slow down and enjoy your meal
  • If you can’t slow down and enjoy your meal, then don’t eat it
  • If you’re going to eat your sinful dessert, then thoroughly enjoy it
  • Whether you finish your dinner or not, there will always be starving children somewhere (change your belief)
  • Stop reading hypothesis and theories on what makes you fat, and do what makes you lean
  • Exercise a little, move a lot
  • Watch less TV
  • Get up more often
  • Be positive in life
  • Get more sleep
  • Live a balance life
  • Be kind
  • Enjoy each other

You need a lifestyle change that brings you back to the basics of consuming less and of losing weight.

While losing weight is simple in concept, it isn’t easy in practice — and that’s probably why so many fail: an absence of a long-term lifestyle change.

This is what makes dietary debate of today so addictive: in it we are guaranteed to find an excuse for our failure, whether they’re real or not. (Oh, it’s my broken metabolism. Oh, it’s the carbs.)

Let’s take on accountability. Make a long-term lifestyle change. Eat mostly whole, real food. Don’t overeat. Eat less if you’ve become “a little pudgy.”

Let them debate, and let us lose weight.

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Posted in Dietary Habit | Tagged , , | 51 Comments

Photo Update: July 4th, 2011

Read time: 30 seconds

Hi Everyone,

This picture was taken late morning today (happy Independence Day!).

My wife and I were enjoying a cup of coffee in the sun, 14 hours into my intermittent fasting, and I decided to grab the ol’ leather ball to do some casual wood-chops. Nothing vigorous. Just stimulating vascular flow and cellular respiration — the stuff of good health.

Regular movement — be it formal exercise or just incidental activity — helps with energy regulation, and is a strong predictor of health and even longevity.

Long-term readers of TLS know what I’ve said for years:

Eat mostly whole, real food. Do intermittent fasting. And move more. It’s that simple.

Posted in Exercise and Physical Activities | Tagged , | 37 Comments

No Excuse

Read time: 3 minutes

Yes, this blog is still alive.

From Jonas Peterson's Photos

I’ve been studying the basics of fatherhood, which is probably a good idea since in about a month someone tiny will make her way into the world and call me daddy. I’m trying to give myself the best chance to earn that title.

The worldly things that once mattered — horsepower in cars, friends on facebook, weight lifted, wine on the list, literature and art, price of gas, peace in the Middle East — have all been overshadowed by something still in utero.  My concern for all matters expansive or contractive in the entire universe pales in comparison to the hope that my daughter arrives safely into this world and takes her first breath.

Baby Changes Everything

As I face fatherhood, my perspectives are changing. Everything now takes a backseat to the little bundle of the self-insufficient human being that will be my daughter, whose delicate flesh I’ll sacrifice myself to keep safe.

This primal devotion can often trip a typical new father into shell shock and descend him into self-neglect. Perhaps this is why a new father tends to settle for a steady diet of increasing girth and declining health.

Surely it’s good intention, in light of his endless social, professional and financial obligations. Ten, twenty, or 40 pounds of excess body fat is a small price to pay to keep his child warm, safe and fed, and to maintain a roof over her head. A parent will sacrifice much to shield a child from the rain of the literal and the proverbial kind.

I forecast this paternal path for my own fatherhood and I must admit I’m worried about the health and fitness I’ve earned and enjoy (in possibly their final months). Fatherhood means severe sleep deprivation, poor food choices, and utter sloth. It means changing a diaper instead of changing the pin on a weight stack. It means the dreadful creeping of bodyweight and diminishing health.

A Reminder: Simplicity

But as I clicked through the archives of The Lean Saloon, it slowly came to me that everything I’ve written within shall be the ultimate saving grace as I enter the lockdown schedule of fatherhood.

This blog has breathed simplicity into an exercise and diet lifestyle that otherwise has been encumbered with modern information and obsession. The ease of use and the simplicity within The Lean Saloon makes weight loss and weight management realistic and hassle-free.

Less Obsession, More Time for Important Stuff

Less obsession on diet and exercise leaves us with more time and resource to dedicate energy to other pressing matters of life, without sacrificing body, health, and relationship. This leaves me time to be a father while preserving my physique and health.

If you want a lean body with a rational amount of muscle, there’s little need to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes doing formal exercise. That’s a western gimmick.

If you want to stimulate muscle, then create muscle tension through physical activity. In other words, get active, lift something, accelerate something… even if it’s just your body. Or an old medicine ball. Do them with genuine effort.

If you want to have less body fat, then eat less. Do intermittent fasting to make eating less simple. Eat mostly whole, real food; but also enjoy the delicious essence of culture.

Getting lean, staying that way, and becoming healthy cannot get simpler than that.

What I’ve Been Doing and Why There’s No Excuse to Stop

In the past 6 months, my primary exercise equipment has been a trusty 9-pound leather medicine ball. It’s a classic beauty that can be displayed in the living room without looking out of place — it’s a decor item when not in use. But when it’s in use, it takes a beating like… well, an old leather medicine ball.

The Classic Leather Medicine Ball that I've used almost daily. It's like an old buddy. Everyone should have one.

Five days a week for the past 6 months, I simply grab this leather medicine ball and accumulate 100 wood-chops. I do them in segments of 25s, four times through the day, or all at once. I typically do them at high speed. (Force = mass x Acceleration.)

I don’t consider the 100 reps of wood-chops formal exercise; I look at them as purposeful incidental activity. I just do them. This gets me out of the chair to metabolize some fat and sugar. This allows me to let go of the cultural urgency and obsession placed on formal exercise.

As for formal exercise: I perform some bodyweight exercises periodically, and lift a barbell infrequently. Sometimes I go for weeks without formal exercise. It’s because I know that leanness is more about staying active through the day and not overeating.

Focus On the Meaningful Stuff

Don’t complicate and obsess in areas that can be kept simple. There are other things deserving of greater work from us. Counting carbs and counting reps aren’t them. Keep this part simple. Enjoy that part of life that won’t be around forever.

My awesome lovely wife, Lori, 8 months and counting.

With our 5-year-old boxer, as energetic as she was at 5 months. Yes, she does intermittent fasting quite naturally and intuitively.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Johnny at The Lean Saloon without the impromptu shirts-off shot. (It's nice to just whip the shirt off and look decent without having to obsess with diet and exercise and all that ridiculous preparation.)

Posted in Dietary Habit, Exercise and Physical Activities, weight Loss | Tagged , , | 72 Comments

Simplicity: Why Intermittent Fasting is so Damn Effective

Read time: 50 seconds

On The Lean Saloon I don’t discuss complicated theories of energy-regulatory feedback loop, because mostly they’re unproven. But I do believe that weight gain and weight loss are affected by hormonal regulation, genetics, diminishing incidental activities (pdf), food choices, environmental factors, and internal and external cues. Yes, it’s complicated and they all lead ultimately to overeating and weight gain.

So the much discussed feet or fork, the chanting of eat less, move more, or the basic calories-in, calories-out are all based on oversimplified concepts. They’re like soundbites for dummies, but they may actually help the process of losing and managing weight.

Look, the drivers of overweight and obesity, as well as the hurdles to weight loss, are incredibly complex, so we have to find simple solutions. It doesn’t make us dummies — it makes us smart humans.

Intermittent fasting is wonderfully effective at helping those wishing to lose the extra weight. In the face of pedantic discussions on the multifactorial drivers of the national obesity epidemic (or the stubborn fat you want off your ass), intermittent fasting is the simple and practical solution.

No matter which factors drive the overeating (which may be different from person to person), the simple conscious decision to turn off the valve for a predetermined period makes eating less a little more manageable.

Intermittent fasting. Simplicity to overcome complexity.

Move toward Goodness. You won’t regret it.

Posted in Dietary Habit, weight Loss | Tagged | 42 Comments

Modern Gospel: Fitness Info We can Live Without

Read time: 2 minutes

A butterfly flaps its wings in Toledo and creates a hurricane in China. It’s a theoretical concept that describes a causal effect within a nonlinear system, like that of the weather.

The same effect can be seen in the popular media system — from magazines of the past to the internet of today.

Schwarzenegger’s chugging of milk became the Weider’s supplement spark, a dietary concept that spread through the bodybuilding subculture and eventually pervaded into today’s popular culture of health and fitness enthusiasts:

Ya need to consume massive protein and carbs after your workouts, for hope of building a little muscle on that pathetic pile of shit you call a body.

It’s the gospel driveled by The Church of Bodybuilding Supplement — or for short, The Church of B.S.

The Church of B.S. makes its home in a multi-billion-dollar industry, preaching that an ounce of muscle is built on a tub of protein. The Church of B.S. elaborates on this further with quazi-scientific minutia such as when, why and how much protein and carbs you must consume.

Of course, as living, breathing, and functioning organisms that like to boink and reproduce, we do require a sufficient intake of protein and other macro- and micro-nutrients. That much we learned from a textbook in high school biology. Unfortunately, The Church of B.S. pushes for excess, a profitable exaggeration beyond normal biology. (But then a textbook doesn’t seek to sell us a cement bag of Mega Mass 2000.)

The sweaty flapping of the “Schwarzenegger Wing” has created an industrial hurricane that dispenses a modern gospel of strict exercise routines and rigid eating rules — a doctrine having its utility in perhaps the obsessive subculture of bodybuilding freaks, meatheads and the boyz and girlz of Jersey Shore, but it’s excessive for the rest of us average folks whose only hangup is whether our hair-gel or spray is making us look a bit too much like The Situation or Snookie. (If in doubt, leave your oversized sunglasses at home.)

Hardcore muscleheadz with your neck originating from your inner-ear canals, exit stage left with your doctrine tucked under your pec. Your sport requires impressive work, no doubt, but it’s not the feature of TLS.

The rest of us who merely want a healthy, sharp-looking, muscularly defined body, let’s abandon the convoluted and overzealous discussion of meaningless gospel, and let’s start doing the work.

  • Lift things
  • Sweat a little
  • Don’t overeat
  • Go live life

After each workout, don’t go into a head-spin about whether we should eat this or that. Eat if we want. Don’t if we don’t. Going for several hours without a post-workout meal will not make or break us, as normal, non-obsessive healthy people merely in search of a fabulous physique.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if we’re not competitive bodybuilders (like the monsters hired by supplement companies to promote their protein powders, in between abuses of Dianabols and at the completion of a Winstrol cycle), then rest assured our muscle manufacturing process is turned on by the strength training stimulus itself, and that favorable protein turnover lasts for up to two days.

Relax. For us, there’s no such thing as a post-workout eating window (unless we’re planning on doing another workout in 3 hours). A study, among others, suggests that protein synthesis does not indicate actual muscle growth.  Here’s a statement from the abstract:

Ingestion of only small amounts of amino acids, combined with carbohydrates, can transiently increase muscle protein anabolism, but it has yet to be determined if these transient responses translate into an appreciable increase in muscle mass over a prolonged training period.

Note also, that it doesn’t say you must consume a buffet banquet of grass-fed Wagyu or a cement bag of protein powder, either. Quite the opposite: “… only a small amount of amino acid… can transiently increase muscle protein anabolism…”

But that’s a mute point, given the closing remark: “…but it has yet to be determined if these transient responses translate into an appreciable increase in muscle mass…”

Keep it simple. Don’t obsess. Lift, sweat, and eat a little; and then go live a lot.

Posted in Dietary Habit, Exercise and Physical Activities | Tagged , | 40 Comments

Tweeting: Space Junk

Read time: 2 minutes

This post is more like a tweet that exceeds the 140-character limit, with no intention of saying anything of greater value than 99.9% of the tweets out there in social space.

I am at the end of a 32-hour fast, accompanied by several workouts throughout. Yesterday, near the start of the fast, I did a strength workout with a barbell, then several hours later I did an endurance workout on a Concept2 indoor rower, and then this morning I did an intense metabolic workout with a medicine ball. And to top it all off, I washed, waxed, and detailed my car for a few hours in the sun (before, of course, it rained).

The point is this: Throughout the fasting period, all that high muscle tension, heart rate variability, and energetics depletion have not caused me to pass out or to lose control and kick my neighbor for letting his Jack Russell pee on the hydrangea. I am feeling great.

At some point, glycogen metabolism was replaced by fat and ketone metabolism. Fat, ketone, and protein substrates also contributed to gluconeogenesis for further glycogen metabolism. The body is amazing at meeting energetic demands, if given the chance for this adaptability. But that’s all pedantic — useless in the real world where all we want is a better body.

People on various internet forums fret, discuss at length, debate, and advise about meal timing and exercise. You can follow the various practices discussed. Eat after your workout. Get some branched chain amino acid before, during, or after. If you’re skinny, you need to focus more on eating surrounding your workouts. You need X amount of protein to build muscle. etc, etc, etc. And these concerns aren’t even on bodybuilding forums.

Of course, you’re free to try them all; sometimes the practice is complicated, but most often you’ll just end up complicating the practice.

Unless you’re a competitive bodybuilder whose sole existence in muscle mass is at the fringe of genetic potential, where meal-composition and meal-timing may contribute merely another 1%, the rest of us wishing to achieve a normal, muscularly defined and healthy body probably don’t need to complicate life with issues reserved for the freak show at a bodybuilding circus.

Sure, if you’re a tinker of exercise methods and a gearhead of nutritional supplements, by all means zip up your space suit and step out into the vacuum that is the internet and capture among the space junk the golden Pythagorean theorem of muscle mass, fat burn, and health. (If you don’t get impaled by a meteorite that is a frozen chunk of astronaut waste discarded from the space station.)

But if you want liberation from complication or obsession, then stop worrying about the relationship between exercise and meal-timing.

In the end, you can step out into the vacuum of the internet and slip into an orbit that is, in all practice, a perpetual free-fall. Or you can put simplicity back into action and achieve the body you want in this world by:

  • Eating mostly whole, real food to be healthy
  • Eating less if you want to lose body fat
  • Lifting more weight if you want to build muscle mass
Keep it simple. Keep your feet on the ground.
Posted in Dietary Habit, Exercise and Physical Activities | Tagged , , | 40 Comments

TLS Trivia Question #6

TLS Trivia Question #6


Question: True or False, weight training lowers the risk of all injuries.

Answer:  Weight training may help reduce the risk of many injuries. The general mechanisms of risk reduction involve: improved structural strength in muscle, connective tissue and joints; improved overall balance and reaction to perturbations (faster feet, etc.); force development to resist force application.

However, it must be understood that many injurious forces can have peak impact rate that exceeds the speed at which your muscles can contract to resist the damage. And, of course, many injurious forces are simply higher than the strength of your muscle and other tissues.

The answer therefore is False, because although weight training improves your body’s structural and functional strength, it does so for up to a point.

Be smart, be careful.

Posted in Dietary Habit | 2 Comments