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How to Get in Shape

In the New York Times article, “It’s Hip to Be Round,” Guy Trebay, author, and Aaron Hicklin, editor of homosexual magazine Out, both agree that “What once seemed young and hot – [six-pack abs] – for gay and straight men alike, now seems passé.” In this brave new world, the protruding tummy is attractive.

Are Trebay and Hicklin correct? Do aging men no longer have to worry about their pluming potbellies? Conversely, do young women no longer have to agonize over their waist size? Are the cosmetics, tanning, apparel and breast-implant industries about to take a hit? With all due respect to Trebay and Hicklin, their approval of the bulky belly is due for the same destination as cat-eyed glasses and dog shawls: the forgotten past.

The cosmetics and fitness industry is rollicking and rolling; voluptuous women and brawny men remain more popular than ever. Fitness and health are not fads and they are not leaving. Thousands of muffin tops, love handles and wheezing staircases are due for judgment. Interested? Thought so.

Let’s stop the yammering and yakking and start sweating and striving; let’s get in shape.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with the First Step

Sven Goran Ericksson stated, “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.” Success begins in the mind by denying the power of fear. The mind must be made ready to transform the behavior of the body. Hundreds of ingenious scholars, authors and DIYs (do-it-yourselfers) have crafted tried-and-true strategies for changing behaviors. Let’s examine a few of them.

According to Peter McWilliams …

Peter McWilliams, author of New York Times number-one best-seller, “Do It! Let’s Get off Our Buts!” believes that harnessing emotions is the key to living your dreams – or in this case, losing a muffin top. He presents several tactics, including the subsequent three:

1) Harness fear. McWilliams contends that, “Fear is the energy to do your best in a new situation.” What mother-of-four has not embarked on the post-pregnancy weight loss regimen without anxiety? Take that apprehension and use it as motivation.

2) Grab guilt. According to McWilliams, “Guilt is the energy for personal change.” Where did those youthful promises of eternal health and wellness depart to? Reclaim those early dreams.

3) Hurt helps. “Hurt feelings remind us how much we care,” argues McWilliams. Disappointment in your physical condition is the ultimate impetus to seize health, improve your physique, and embark on a journey to fitness.

According to Stephen Covey …

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, asserts that change is a choice, not a chance. Victory is driven by “Your chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing.” People direct their lives. They decide to be healthy or unhealthy.

Here are two essential habits for success.

1) Be Proactive. He writes, “Proactive people focus their efforts in the circle of influence – they work on the things they can do something about.” Rather than injecting yourself with new genes, change your behaviors.

2) Begin with the end in mind. Kendall Harrell, personal trainer for Life Time Fitness, agrees, adding, “It’s a lot easier to make it to the finish line if you have the goal in sight.” Goals must be determined beforehand.

According to Anonymous …

But that’s not the only prerequisite for proper goal-planning. There are six other factors for success.

1) Form a time-frame. Losing ten pounds in ten weeks or in ten months results in two distinctly different exercise regimens. All plans should have a precise time-frame.

2) Make it measurable. As Lord Kelvin noted, “When you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.” Declaring, “I want to be skinny!” is not a measurable concept. Determining measurable goals is an essential step to success.

3) Be accountable. Employ a spouse, co-worker, fellow fitness freak or personal trainer as an accountability partner.

4) Pick the process. Anyone who strolls into a gym and casually asks herself, “What do I want to do today?” is actually lamenting, “Why don’t I have a workable plan that I can rely on to accomplish my goals?” Determine the specific method[s] (e.g. running, dancing, weight lifting, croquet, swimming, etc.) required to achieve your fitness goals.

5) Make milestones. Each achievement is cause for celebration. While gorging on pizza and milkshakes is not recommended, a night out with friends or new pet is a great celebration choice.

6) Keep records. Log meals, exercises and days off. Records serve dual purposes: when all is rainbows, leprechauns and pots of gold, they propel you forwards; when all is thunder, hail and disappointment, they drag you onwards.

Where Are You At Mentally?

Fitness does not begin with a 45-lb barbell; fitness starts with a piece of paper and a pencil and a furrowed brow. Planning is essential to success. Proper preparation asks two questions: where am I at; where do I want to be? Use the following six-tiered behavioral change model to determine your current status.

Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

1) Precontemplation. If you are in this stage, then perusing this document is accidental. The precontemplation stage occurs when an individual has not yet begun to considering change. This is a dead-end path.

2) Contemplation. In the contemplation stage, individuals are considering changes in behavior but have yet to act upon them. Many American comfortably reside in this arena. They are content to remain in limbo, aware of their shortcomings but unwilling to change.

3) Preparation. In the preparation stage, individuals gather information, begin networking, and start planning.

4) Action. So the journey begins: the first bench press, the first mile, the first diet. Adrenaline and dopamine run high during the action stage, propelling the individual onwards towards the next step.

5) Maintenance. Fitness freaks, successful athletes, and health addicts joyfully thrive during this stage. The maintenance stage occurs when the action becomes fully converted into a lifestyle.

6) Termination. For most fitness purposes, the sixth step is an anomaly. Health and fitness are never fully terminated. However, certain programs or types of exercises may need periodic replacements, depending on age, gender, and other external circumstances.

For the Desperate …

Unfortunately, for some, following a six-step goal-planning chart is laughably ineffective. Mere willpower and knowledge cannot propel them on the path to health. They are obsessed. They are addicted to food.

Because food releases pain-numbing endorphins and pleasure-causing dopamine, food may become a drug for obsessive-compulsives or the depressed. Food addiction sends desperate individuals spiraling down a pit of self-inflicted injury and depression. For these people, motivational speeches and colorful graphs are inadequate.

The organization “All About Life Challenges” asks, “Do you eat when you are not hungry? Do you eat in secret? Do you feel guilty after eating?” If any of the listed questions apply to you, consider seeking professional help.

Other individuals are uncontrollably obsessed with their body image. Due to the profusion of skeletal models dotting the pages of fashion magazines, many females feel forced to deny themselves essential nutrients to remain skinny, and therefore stay popular – or employed. These women may suffer from food disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. These are addictive disorders. And as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, “We were powerless over alcohol” – powerless over their addictions. Similarly, individuals suffering from food disorders require assistance to overcome their obsessions.

Where Are You At Physically?

Now, you are psyched, hyped, excited and exhilarated. But unfit, you still are. Fitness is physical. It is also a personalized state of being. Find out where you stand in the fitness arena using the following methods:

Body Fat Percentages

Many dieters are interested in losing weight, and for good reason. Obesity is linked to coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, colon cancers, prostrate cancer, breast cancer, gallstones, thromboembolic disorders, skin disorders, degenerative joint disease, heart failure, respiratory impairment, and increased mortality rates (Osama Handy). With such grotesque consequences, why wouldn’t someone want to lose unnecessary fat?

There are several methods to determine body fat percentage.

1) Hydrostatic weighing. Known as the “gold standard” of body composition analysis, hydrostatic weighing is based on the theory that fat floats and muscle doesn’t. The method: after exhaling completely, individuals are fully immersed in water and then weighed. The problem: according to Len Kravitz, Ph.D. and Vivian H. Heyward, Ph.D., hydrostatic weighing assumes “relative amounts and densities of bone, muscle, and water comprising the fat-free mass are essentially the same for all individuals, regardless of age, gender, race or fitness level. It is now known that this is not the case.” However, hydrostatic weighing is typically correct within 2-3%.

2) Skinfold measuring. Using a calibrated tool, a skilled technician measures the thickness of skinfolds at 3-9 standard anatomical parts, taking 2-3 measurements and recording the mean. Measurements are generally only on the right side to ensure consistency. Skinfold measuring is capable of 3-6% accuracy, except for obese people, for whom accuracy is reduced.

3) Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA). This nifty device is held in both hands in front of the torso. It shoots an imperceptible current of electricity from one hand to the other, measuring elapsed time. The theory: water (contained in muscle) conducts electricity and fat does not. This method is generally true within 3-5%.

These methods require skilled assistance or instruction. For that reason, many turn to a simpler, albeit less accurate, method: the BMI.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

The BMI, invented by Austrian Adolph Quetelet, relates height to weight. Its obvious deficiency is the irregularities in peoples’ bodies despite their height similarities. For that reason, measurements are merely estimates, and should be taken with a few grains of salt.

The BMI equation is weight(kilograms)/height^2(meters). An individual may fall into one of six weight categories:

• Anorexic/Below 17.5
• Underweight/17.5-18.5
• Optimal/18.5-25
• Overweight/25-30
• Obese/30-40
• Morbid Obesity/Over 40

You know where you stand; the mind is prepared; the body is ready. It is time to embark upon the third stage of the transtheoretical model of change: action. So tighten your belt, flash a grin, and mutter a Hail Mary, because this coach potato is about to mashed.

A New Lifestyle – And Two Gods

Switching from an apathetic, irresponsible, unhealthy routine to a fit, capable, proactive lifestyle is nearly akin to swapping religions. Bid adieu to the weak deities of the past and welcome two robust gods, both of whom demand your allegiance. They are called: “Diet” and “Exercise.”

One Half: Diet

What is a diet? Despite the myths of popular folklore, dieting does not demand pain, sadness, or inordinate sacrifice. In the modern world, dieting is commonly associated with severe deprivation and a reliance on smoothies, carbohydrate-free food and an overarching abundance of Omega-3 fats, B vitamins and sugar-less (i.e. tasteless) cuisine. These are, in fact, not diets.

The Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “diet” as: “Food and drink regularly provided or consumed.” As such, many so-called “diets” are, in fact, frauds and falsehoods; they are structured systems of temporary starvation. A diet is a habitual selection of foods and nutrition. A proper diet must be long-term, result in health, and make the dieter happy. Without these criteria, the diet has failed.

What does a proper diet include?

According to the USDA …

The USDA Food Pyramid is as American as apple pie, July 4th and, unfortunately, fat people. Undergoing a transformation in the spring of 2005, the new Food Pyramid is more flexible than the previous rendition. It is based on a 2,000/day calorie diet, which is appropriate for a cubicle worker, but not much else. The Food Pyramid is split into six culinary categories:

1) Grains. There are two subsets of grains: whole and refined grains. The former tends to be healthier, although the latter may undergo two possible processes, known as enrichment (adding original nutrients) or fortification (adding unoriginal nutrients) to restore health. Daily recommendation is 6 oz. – although for anyone more active than Homer Simpson, more is required.

2) Vegetables. Vegetables are the epitome of gastronomic health. Dark green leafy vegetables are chock-full of nutrients; beans and peas are full of hard-to-get vitamins and minerals; and carrots may even improve night vision. Daily recommendation is 2.5 cups. Tip: iceberg lettuce, celery and artichokes are more for psychological benefits than for hale and hearty health.

3) Fruits. The more color the better. Try apples, pears, bananas, lemons, cantaloupe, melons, peaches – the list goes on, and so do the delectable flavors. Recommended daily amount is 2 cups, though ravishing more certainly will not hurt you.

4) Oils. A smidgen of legume, fish and vegetable oils is appropriate, but counting margarine or mayonnaise as “acceptable” sources of oils is, at best, a fallacy, and at worst, responsible for an up-and-coming heart attack from clogged arteries. Recommended daily amount is close to zero.

5) Milk. A perennial children’s favorite, skim, 1% or 2% (for growing children) milk is high in calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other nutrients. The milk category also includes cheese and yogurt. Recommended daily amount is 3 cups.

6) Meats & Beans (and Eggs). Certain types of unprocessed meats, such as chicken, turkey, beef, ham, pork, veal or venison, are healthy – and for sprinters, required – in limited amounts. However, in the modern industrial world, most meat is a grotesque, unhealthy product of manufacturing, barely comparable to its organic state. A McDonald’s© hamburger does not count as a healthy protein selection. Beans, farm-fresh eggs, and seeds are other sources of healthy proteins. Recommended daily amount is 5.5 oz – roughly the size of a deck of cards.

However, the USDA Food Pyramid is just a guide. Almost all athletes and active individuals require more than 2,000 calories per day. Also, bodybuilders need gargantuan amounts of protein to build and maintain muscle mass. The lesson learned? Adjust your dietary habits to fit your needs and lifestyle.

The Other Half: Exercise

It is perfectly possible to chuck the blub without daily exercising. Achieving fitness, however, is another matter. No successful athlete or shredded Adonis-type model attained his or her goals through dieting alone. There are two types of fitness: aerobic and anaerobic.


The term “aerobic” means: with air/oxygen. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as: “Any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.” Aerobic activities are long-lasting, low-intensity exercises that utilize the body’s respiratory and cardiac systems. The ACSM recommends 20-60 minutes of continuous aerobic activity 3-5 times per week.

What are the benefits of aerobic exercise? Lisa Balbach, in the article, “Why Is Aerobic Exercise and Why Should I Do It?” notes that “Aerobic exercise conditions the heart and lungs by increasing the oxygen available to the body and by enabling the heart to use oxygen more efficiently.” Aerobic exercise may lower blood pressure, burn fat, decrease LDL cholesterol, increase resistance to fatigue, aid in sleeping, regulate electrolytes and reduce risk of heart disease.

Aerobic exercises can be further divided into high-impact and low-impact exercises. High-impact activities place stress on the bones and joints, while low-impact exercises are much gentler. For example: while running is middle-to-high impact activities, cycling is a low-impact action. Age, bone health and muscular strength are factors in deciding which type is appropriate.

Running claims the crown as the preferred aerobic exercise. Generally speaking, any race over 800 meters (approx. 0.5 miles) is considered an aerobic exercise. Other popular and effective aerobic exercises include cycling, swimming, dancing, skating, cross-country skiing and skateboarding.


In contrast to aerobic activity, anaerobic exercise means “functioning without air/oxygen.” Anaerobic activities are typically short-lived and intense in nature. They develop speed, strength, and power.

Anaerobic exercise is responsible for type II muscle fiber growth, motor neuron development and coordination, bone strengthening, lowered glycogen, developed tendons and ligaments, and increased water storage.

Bulk-building weightlifting reigns as king of anaerobic exercises. Sprinters, body-builders, football linebackers and martial artists all rely on anaerobic strength to gain mastery over their sport.

Note: most anaerobic activities do not contribute much or anything to weight loss.

The Three-Faced Foe

To be fit, you must fight. Against who? Against a potent three-faced opponent. Here are his three lethal strategies:

1) Anabolic steroids. Body-building magazines are full of alluring advertisements promising superman-style muscle gains in mere days – “just take this pill”. However, according to the Essortment article, “Effects of Using Steroids When Lifting Weights,” there are a number of possible detriments to anabolic steroid use:

• Psychological addiction
• Spread of diseases through intravenous injection
• Male infertility
• Female facial hair
• Manic depression

In short, steroids fail. They cannot support long-term muscular growth and maintenance and should be avoided.

2) Rapid weight-loss supplements. Smiling, foxy models plastered on the face of fashion journals promise instantaneous weight loss – “just drink this beverage.” However, there are three potential problems with weight-loss supplements.

a. The UCLA Student Nutrition (& Body Image) Action Committee reveals the lack of industry regulation of weight-loss supplements. In, “Dietary Supplements: Help or Hype?” they reveal that “supplements do not have to prove that they work … [they] do not have to prove they are safe to be sold … [and they] do not have to be manufactured according to any standards.”

b. Popular weight-loss supplements and additives, such as ephedrine, are linked to hypertension, seizures, heart attacks, depression, and death.

c. Steroids don’t work in the long-term. The only valuable long-term solution to weight loss is to operate at a calorie deficit until optimum weight is achieved, and then maintain that calorie input. Steroids are tools for cowards and sluggards. Don’t give in.

3) Laziness. There is no surer assassin of health and wellness than habitual lethargy. The world can be sitting at the end of someone’s fingertips, but without the gumption get up and grab it, the world will slip away. Fitness lies at the end of your fingers. Will you grab it?

Your tummy is waiting.

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