Back to the Body: The final word

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Thursday, March 8th. The 16th day of Lent.

I think I’ll wrap up the Back to the Body series tonight. I’ve learned a few lessons over the last 10 months. Here they are. At the end I’ll offer some practical suggestions to anyone who is thinking about starting P90X.

It’s interesting to me that my spiritual journey has come to involve a more contemplative, exercise-oriented practice as opposed to a more cerebral, theological approach. And now I’ve also begun to pay attention to my body in other ways. Maybe it’s something that happens when you turn 50.

1. There is no going back.

If you are unhappy with your physical condition, the way you are eating and living right now is what got you to this place. If you go back to your old ways after a 3 month fitness program, you’ll lose all you gained in the same amount of time, if not sooner. An intense exercise program like P90X is only valuable if you see it as a jump-start to a new way of living.

2. Getting healthy is like getting out of debt.

Every day of doing nothing costs you very little. Every day of working hard gains you very little. You have to find a way to work hard without a lot of immediate gratification. I could eat anything I wanted, sit on the couch and watch movies, and stay about the same – 196 pounds. In reality I was gaining about 1.25 pounds a year. Over 30 years I gained 40 pounds. But the negative effect was so slow that I didn’t feel its reality. When I started working out and eating right, a day’s work would seem to gain me nothing. I had to work hard and sacrifice for a few weeks before I saw any tangible results.

You will have to find a way to live with this hard reality. But if you can make it through 30 days, you’ll start seeing gains that will give you some encouragement.

3. You need a plan.

Looking in the mirror and saying, “I need to lose some weight” or “I need to get in shape” is not helpful. Maybe you’ll eat better that day or even get out and jog around the block. But without a plan, you’re going to succumb to the hard reality of Rule #2. There just won’t be enough payoff to keep you motivated when living the way you are living now doesn’t seem to cost you very much.

You need a plan, an exercise and diet program put together by someone who knows what they are doing. You need a menu for every day’s meals and an easy to follow plan of exercise. That way you can stop thinking and just do what you’re told. Eat your food, do your exercises, cross another day off the calendar, and move forward. You will have weak moments. And if you don’t have your menu set and your exercise plan ready, you’ll use the lack of organization as an excuse to quit.

4. It gets easier.

Starting a serious program like this is the hardest step. Something inside you will try and talk you out of it. Some part of you that is afraid to change or afraid of what you might lose if you begin to live differently will make all sorts of excuses.

But it gets easier in time. I promise.

My biggest fear was the diet change. We’re all emotionally attached to how we eat. Feeding ourselves is such a primal act of comfort. The only way I found the strength to get started was to tell myself that it was just for 3 months. (I hadn’t figured out rule #1 yet)

To my great surprise, after a few months of eating in a new way, I found that I liked it. The loss of my comfort foods was not as painful as I thought it was going to be. Well, not after the first couple of weeks anyway. As I began to realize how little immediate pleasure bad food was actually giving me, that food lost some power over me. Eating 6 pieces of pizza is not that physically pleasurable. When you get some distance from your bad eating habits and find out how good you feel to be losing weight, you’re going to feel better.

So it will get easier.

The same is true with exercise. At first it hurts. You’ll be out of breath. And your clumsy inability to finish exercise routines will bring the reality of your physical situation sharply into your consciousness. You never felt out of shape when you were sitting on the couch. But now you do feel out of shape. And that doesn’t feel good. Maybe, you think, you’ll just go back to the couch where you weren’t reminded about how out of shape you are.

But it will get better. As you gain some cardio-vascular fitness and some strength, the exercise sessions will not be so frightening or seem so intense.

So it will get easier. Keep telling yourself that.

P90X tips for beginners.

If you are planning to try P90X, here are a few tips to get you started.

1. If money is an issue, look for a used set of DVDs on Craig’s List. But beware of pirated copies. Make sure you are getting original DVDs with the original book and diet plan.

2. ABSOLUTELY follow all the instructions. Read the book. Take pictures and measurements and do your preliminary test to make sure you are fit enough for this program. And write down the results of each day’s exercise. You will have many different exercises, and sometimes you don’t come back to one for quite some time. You won’t remember what weights to use if you don’t write them down. And seeing your improvement from a few weeks before is going to give you some of that motivation you need. I remember how excited I was when I did 2 pull-ups instead of one. And then 3 instead of 2.

3. Don’t try to do the exercises without the diet. You will be setting yourself up for failure. Without the proper diet, the exercise alone is not going to do much for you. Your body is going to need the kind of food the diet plan provides to recover from the workouts and build strength and stamina. I’ve met people who tried to do the exercises without the diet. They always regret it. Some of them actually gained weight because the exercises make them hungrier. Then they try and feed that hunger with empty calories like fatty foods, sugars, and other carbs.

4. Take your time getting started. Get your plans made, your diet planned, and your equipment bought. You don’t want a lack of preparedness to throw you off once you begin. I recommend getting the program and taking a week or two to prepare yourself.

5. There are two ways to approach the diet. You can go with planned meals of the sort that the diet guide gives you. That takes a LOT more planning. Or you can take the “portion” approach. I prefer the latter. I had cards for each of my portions. Written on them were the foods I could eat. I had a protein card with all the things from the protein list that I liked on it. Dairy cards, carbohydrate cards, vegetable cards, etc.

As I went through the day I pulled cards, ate what was on them, and set them aside. At the end of the day I had to finish all my cards.

6. DO NOT EAT LESS THAN YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO EAT. You need all the calories that the diet plan calls for. You don’t want your body going into starvation mode. You want plenty of good proteins and vegetables to give you the fuel you will need. It seems counter-intuitive, but you will lose weight if you make sure you are eating your whole daily portion.

7. You will want protein powder if you can afford it. It is very hard to eat all the protein portions without a couple of protein shakes each day. I recommend whey protein powder. Jeanene and I think the EAS Vanilla is pretty good. Reggie Freakin Regan says fake sweeteners are bad, but I use them in the shakes, and I’ve done okay. A squirt of non-fat no sugar Hershey’s syrup and a tablespoon of artificial sweetener make those shakes come alive.

8. If you use protein bars, they are rather expensive. And many of them are not very good. You want something with 15 to 20 grams of protein. Low carbs and no more than 2 or 3 grams of sugar. Sugar alcohol is okay. But don’t fall for cheap “energy bars” that are full of sugar. Jeanene and I like the Supreme brand best. The SMALL bars only. They are a little high on the carbs but you’ll be fine with the small size.

9. Jeanene and I needed a celebration day. During P90X proper, we allowed ourselves to eat whatever we wanted on Friday night. Just one celebratory meal or snack. In the post P90X days, I’ve turned that into more of a whole day. Remember though, I’m not inclined to eat with the same indulgence that I once did. So my indulgent Friday isn’t all that indulgent. Usually something kind of bad for me in the morning – sweet roll or something. Maybe a hamburger for lunch. Maybe a bag of M&Ms at night. For me, having some indulgences is a helpful thing.

10. The minimum equipment you will need:

  • A pull up bar. There is a $19 one at Walmart that hangs from your doorway.
  • Dumbells or a small barbell set. Men probably need 10, 15, 20, and 25 pounds to begin. You’ll want up to 50 pounds for the “lawnmower” exercise before long, but apart from that you can get by with those simple weights. You can work with exercise bands, but I really think you’ll want the weights.
  • A yoga mat. You’ll want it.

The actual investment of P90X, even if you buy a full priced retail program for $120, is very low when compared to health clubs and that sort of thing.

Good Luck! Write me and tell me how you are doing. I’ll be cheering you on.

Gordon

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