My cold is back and I skipped the gym today

Since last night I’ve had a bad headache and general head cold. I went and got different medicine today, and it is helping, but making me very groggy.

Yet I was still feeling guilty for not having gone to the gym today.

But I’m happy to say I reached Dave (he was at Citi Bank in the middle of conducting some business) and he gave me a waiver for today to stay home and take care of my cold. So I’m feeling less guilty now. :)


Gym Day 5 – What would Dave do?

Today was especially busy all morning. There was a work call. The electrician from my landlady came by to check my broken office room heater, there was a delivery and setup of a TV set, more work to do, etc. By the time everything was done it was past 2:00 pm (the sun sets at 4:30 pm today) and I was feeling sort of drowsy.

I had gone to the gym so far every day since joining, and today was the 5th day, and I was thinking “Isn’t it ok to skip a day? My original intent was to go at least every other day after all. So it’s not like I would be cheating.”

But it was gnawing at me, and so I tried to call my friend Dave to ask his opinion. (This blog post is also received by Dave, so he might be surprised to read about himself in the 3rd person.)

Dave is 95 years old, but always has good exercise advice. However he didn’t pick up the phone, so I sat there for a while and thought, “What would Dave do?”

My guess is that first Dave would regale me with some parable relating back to his days in the military like, oh, I don’t know, “They would come in every morning at 4:30 am and throw buckets of ice water on us to wake up up and then send us running for 20 miles” followed by, “man up, Doug, and go over to the gym.”

So with Dave’s imaginary voice in my ear I packed up my gym stuff and rode over to the gym and did all my usual cardio exercise machines and a few weight/resistance machines.

To tell the truth, the exercise is still deathly, tediously boring, and time passes very slowly. But it’s sort of fun to watch the burned calories sync automatically to my iPhone from the machine. And the atmosphere is nice, it’s not crowded and the people are friendly.

And afterwards I feel pretty good for many hours. Instead of tired, I feel somehow more energized, with a slight “buzz” as well.

So I’m glad I went. Thanks, Dave, even though you weren’t there.

I wonder if I’ll ever get to the point where I actually like doing the exercise though.


The E-word

Many people I know have been getting on me to do more (can I bring myself to say it?) – “exercise.” Ugh. There. I said it.

When I was in St. Louis this summer, my weight went down. But I actually did a lot of exercise while I was there with morning and evening walks. Since getting back to Japan though, my cycling exercise has decreased as it has gotten cold, and I haven’t been consistently good on my diet and my weight has been creeping up again.

As much as I basically am not fond of the idea of exercise, it has been nagging at me that it’s not really good to sit like a lump all day in front of the computer screen and, if I am honest with myself, for my health I can spare an hour or so every day, or at least every other day, and do more.

My doctors’ opinions are mixed. My main heart doctor at Edogawa Byouin is an exercise fanatic. He is one year older than me and runs every day and he seems to think since all my test results are normal, that I should try to burn like 900 calories a day in exercise. My local clinic doctor is more cautious about excessive exercise, especially since it is colder weather (which causes vessels to contract), and he says it’s ok for a 25 year old to exercise for hours a day, but not so much for somebody “my age.”

I’m not quite ready to give concessions to age (I’m still in my 50s!) and decided that my friends, my sister, and my main doctor are right.

Meanwhile, a new gym opened in my neighborhood – Anytime Fitness. It’s ridiculously close to my house (like 3 minutes away on my bicycle), right above Mon and Monta’s vet. It not a “full sports center” in that it doesn’t have a pool or studios. But it has a lot of cardio exercise machines, weight machines, and also free weights. And changing rooms and showers.

The price is also reasonable – ¥6,300 per month (just $53 thanks to the booming dollar). And they are having a campaign where if I join this month it is pro-rated for this month, free for January and then the regular rate after that.

Also, it’s open 24 hours a day, every day (even on the new year’s holiday). The staff is just there from 10 am – 7 pm, but you get a fob for your keychain and can get in 24 hours a day.

Anyway… I did it. I joined.

Even with the campaign, I ended up paying about ¥17,000 today because of the first month, last month and fob charge. But there is no commitment after that – it’s all month by month.

I started today, and let me tell you, this is not your grandfather’s gym. It is actually really high-tech cool!

All the cardio machines are made by a company called Life Fitness and they each have big, hi-resolution LCD screens like this (the  picture on this screen is actually the entrance to my location).



Notice at the bottom right where it says “Login” in Japanese (the blue square) that it’s a QR code. If you download the Life Fitness free app for your iPhone or Android and sign up and give it your personal stats: sex, age, weight, etc., you just point your iPhone at the QR code on the screen and it logs you in to that particular exercise machine for your session! You even see your name show up on the screen.

While you are working out, you see not only basic stats (calories used, how far you’ve gone, time, pace and heart rate), you can also choose what you want to watch to keep you entertained during your workout. This can be Internet pages, TV stations, custom pages you set up yourself at the Life Fitness site, or even just pleasant scenery, like you are cycling through Switzerland. So you can actually do healthy exercise while watching TV or wasting time on Facebook.




And what’s even cooler is that after your session at that machine, your workout is saved to the Life Fitness site and synced with the app on your iPhone or Android, and you can see how many total calories you burned at each machine on every day you exercise. And it even syncs with MyFitnessPal, which I’ve been logging into for over 900 days now.

Here are the results from the three cardio machines I used today.




Note: In the app you can set your language, so when you login to a machine by pointing your phone at it, the language automatically get set to your preferred language – Japanese, or English or any of a whole bunch of other languages. When you finish your session it logs you out and reverts to the default language for the next person (in my gym of course it reverts to Japanese).

Today I only burned 287 calories over 47 minutes. But I think that is reasonable. Burning 900 calories would really take too much time I think. I have work to do also. I can’t see spending 2.5 hours a day exercising. I mean, let’s be realistic.

The machines I used today were the following:

I started with the Cross-Trainer, shown here. This machine really gives you the best bang for each minute. After just 4 minutes I could see my heart rate going into the 130s and was breaking a sweat. You clearly burn the most calories per minute on this machine. The first few minutes were quite difficult, but then I found a way of pacing that made it more comfortable. Still, it was the hardest device to use. And probably the best for whole body conditioning because it feels like you are moving everything.




Next I tried the recumbent bike, shown here. This was the easiest, and I see what my Edogawa doctor meant when he said, “bicycling is better than doing nothing, but it’s not the greatest exercise.” I didn’t break a sweat, and in fact it was so relaxing I felt like I could do it in my sleep. It burned the least calories per minute as well. Still, it was comfortable, and I can see using it to fill in time between other exercises. And calories burned are calories burned.




Lastly, I used the treadmill. This was actually the first time I ever used a treadmill and I was pleasantly surprised. You set the speed you want and also the incline percentage you want and just keep up. It was actually pleasant, because I like walking. You can see from the stats above that it didn’t burn much more than the recumbent bike, but I did break a sweat and I can see using this more and picking up speed and having higher inclines as I get more into shape.




Here are some of the weight machines they have, and I tried them out for a bit. Each one works on a different set of muscles in your body. I didn’t overdo it today, and tried just 10 reps on 4 of the machines to get a feel for what they were like. I didn’t use any free weights, which they had on the other side of the gym.




Here’s a view across the gym. You can see the free weight area all the way down in the distance on the other side, past the lockers.




Anyway, it was a good experience. And I really like how it is all connected via the Internet and syncs to your mobile device, and the web, and MyFitnessPal (and other services like FitBit), and how the screens are all wired so you can watch TV or look at the Internet so time passes quickly while you are doing something that is otherwise, essentially very boring.

All I have to do now is keep going back. I hope I do…













Doug’s Diet Q&A – everything you didn’t want to hear about diets

As some of you may know I lost a great deal of weight since 2012 – some 90 lb. But after losing all that weight I plateaued for about a year. Then over the past year my weight has been slowly creeping up again. In other words – yet another rebound.

This has happened multiple times in my life. I can go on a diet and stay on it without temptation, lose a lot of weight and then around the 700 day mark I start regaining.

I’m trying everything I can think of right now to prevent a total rebound, but I haven’t been very successful for more than a week or two at a time so far.

I’m not giving up though. In fact, today I recommitted myself (yet again) to a strict diet, and managed to finish the day, feeling full, and yet eating only 1277 calories. I can’t say I’m feeling extremely confident at the moment, but I want to pass on my honest, rather cynical, and sort of depressing personal observations about all the diets out there I’ve tried, and what I think the problems are as far as getting to a normal weight and staying there are.

I emphasize that these are my personal observations. In other words, just one data point. But I feel justified in doing that because so many other diets report from either personal experience or from a handful of participants and try to generalize to the entire population of overweight people.

Now it’s my turn.

But at least I’ll be honest up front and say “your results may vary.” Everybody is different. The causes of obesity differ from person to person.

That’s one of my major points – your solution is not necessarily my solution. Many people find this basic fact difficult to grasp. I’ll repeat it because it is important – what works for one person may not work for another.

This is one of my main gripes with people who promote diets (and who try to be helpful and give diet advice) – they tend to assume that what works for themselves must work for everybody else. Further, they will say if their solution doesn’t work for you then you must be failing to follow their “tried and true” rules.

Anyway, here is my Q&A, answering the most relevant and interesting questions which come to mind. My answers, I’m afraid, are not designed to be a morale booster, instill confidence, be motivational or any of that. They are just my 100% honest view of diet reality.

So here goes.

Q. OK. So wow. How did you lose your initial 90 lb?

A. I had a heart attack in May of 2012. It basically scared me into seriously dieting. I was extremely obese. The doctor found an artery blockage and I had one stent put in and was in the hospital for a week. My blood sugar was through the roof. My cholesterol was extremely high.

The doctor left me with just the instructions to try to lose weight by limiting calories to 1800 per day and doing daily exercise.

I decided by myself to be more pro-active and checked around and decided to go on the Ornish Spectrum “heart disease reversal program” – which is basically the same as the Esselstyn program. It’s what Bill Clinton went on after his heart problems. The basic diet can be summed up like this: It’s mostly vegan (with a couple of tiny exceptions), no oils, no nuts and no seeds. So that’s what I did. I went vegan, and gave up oils and nuts and seeds. And I also got rid of my moped and bought a bicycle and did at least 30-45 minutes of cycling every day and more walking.

Q. Did it work?

A. It did at first. My weight came off quickly. Weight loss did slow down though. But I eventually got under 90 kg for a brief time. But my weight loss had trickled to a standstill by then even though I was still borderline overweight and obese. And after two years of this I started having cravings, and eventually my weight started creeping up again (with some dips along the way). So far I’ve regained more than 20 lb of what I’ve lost.

Q. Why did it work at first so easily and then get harder?

A. The reason it worked so easily at first is because I weighed so much! I could probably have followed any diet and lost a lot of weight initially. It got harder after I dropped to a certain weight because my net caloric intake (the calories I ate minus the calories I burned from exercise) was too high. I think mainly from the rice I had made a staple part of my diet.

Q. Couldn’t you just reduce the calories you ate even more?

A. Easier said than done is all I can say. When you start out obese, your body has an excess amount of fat cells. When you lose weight, the fat cells don’t go away. Most people don’t understand this point. The fat cells remain – they just shrink. They remain a permanent part of your body. But fat cells are not “dead clumps of fat” in your body. They are living cells. If you starve them beyond a certain point they send signals to your brain that you are starving, which makes it hard to stay on your calorie restriction, and even harder to reduce calories even more. I think that’s the main physical reason for rebounding. After a while your body thinks it is starving.

Q. What about increasing exercise then?

A. A person can increase exercise to a certain point. But most of it is still what you eat. I felt I was really trying to exercise by doing 30-45 minutes of cycling each day and increasing walking. And maybe I need to do more. One of the dumbest magazine headlines I ever read was, “People who exercise 3-4 hours every day tend not to be overweight.” Well, yes, I’m sure that is true. But it’s not a very practical observation. I would say that even if I tripled my exercise every day it would not be the solution to my problem. The main thing is still controlling my caloric intake. My doctor says I should try to do 900 calories worth of exercise per day and that would solve all my problems.  It’s rather difficult to accomplish though. For example, to burn 900 calories would require more than 2 hours of brisk walking per day. And even if I did that it still would not be nearly enough to counteract overeating. I strongly feel the eating part is still the main thing.

Q. Were there other positive side effects from the Ornish program?

A. The main benefit was as I lost weight my blood sugar returned to normal, without any special blood sugar medication. My cholesterol also dropped to very healthy levels – like 120 total cholesterol and an LDL (bad cholesterol) of just 70. My blood pressure is about 116/60. All great. But not all due to the Ornish program. My cholesterol was not dropping just by dieting – I had to start taking one statin each day. My doctors say that diet alone doesn’t always reduce cholesterol, and so I don’t attribute my low cholesterol just to the Ornish program. But I think it probably helped. After all, cholesterol in diet only comes from animal products, so if you don’t eat animal products you are eating a cholesterol free diet. And my blood sugar going down was strictly because I lost weight, and would happen on any diet.

Q. What about heart health on the Ornish program?

A. It’s unclear. A heart catheter checkup one year after my hospital stay starting showed no progression of disease. That is a good thing. On the other hand it didn’t show “reversal” either. But I would say avoiding the further buildup of arterial plaque was beneficial – thus stopping heart disease in its tracks. So yes, that was helpful.

Q. So what’s wrong with the Ornish program?

A. The problem is with weight loss. There are no guidelines for losing weight with Ornish. And, like I said, I’ve been rebounding.

Q. You said your blood sugar returned to normal, without medications. But a vegan diet is high carb. Don’t carbs hurt your blood sugar?

A. Carbs have no effect on my blood sugar. If I lose weight my HbA1c goes down no matter what diet I follow.

Q. What are the problems with the Ornish program and weight loss?

A. As mentioned above, there are no weight loss guidelines. If you cut out animal products, dairy, nuts, seeds and oils you are still left with very high caloric foods. In particular, grains like rice, wheat and pasta. And fruits.

Q. But if you eat whole grains doesn’t that help? Aren’t they “healthy”?

A. No. Whole grains are just as fattening as processed grains. For weight loss they have no benefit whatsoever.

Q. But don’t whole grains help keep you feeling full and more satisfied, thus helping you control your appetite?

A. No. Whole grains are no more filling or more satisfying than processed grains. In fact, since they taste better than processed grains I just feel the urge to eat even more or them. They are all really high calories and just trigger hunger.

Q. Is brown rice really that fattening?

A. Rice – brown or white – is enormously fattening because it has tons of calories. In fact, that’s about all it has is calories. It’s very low in protein. It’s almost all carbs – sugars.

Q. But isn’t it harder to turn carb calories into body fat than fat itself? Isn’t there a metabolic advantage to eating carbs?

A. No.

Q. But I heard that there were rat studies which fed different groups low fat, high carb and high fat, low carb and the rats which ate low fat, high carb lost more weight with the same number of calories.

A. Low carb, high fat advocates can point you to just as many studies showing the opposite result.

Q. So you think a calorie is a calorie as far as weight loss goes?

A. Yes.

Q. Is sugar bad for you?

A. I think so. I think sugar triggers food urges which just make you want to eat more sugary things, or more carbs.

Q. What about “healthy” sugars, like sugars in fruits?

A. They trigger the same food urges. If you eat a banana (pretty high calorie) when you are done you want to eat another banana. And it’s the same with other fruits in my experience. At least all the fruits I like: watermelon, pineapple, pears, apples, oranges and mango to name some.

Q. What about oats? I hear they are really healthy.

A. What do you mean by “healthy?” As far as weight loss goes, oats have loads and loads of calories. They are not helpful for a diet.

Q. What about Weight Watchers and their zero point fruits?

A. It is nonsense. If you eat too many fruits you will eat too many calories and gain weight.

Q. Are you saying that Weight Watchers is using “bait and switch” to get people to join their diet by suggesting people can eat as much fruit as they want?

A. Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. It is bait and switch.

Q. What about Atkins and ketogenic diets with very low carbs. Can you lose weight on those?

A. No. There is no magic with low carb diets. For some people it can help with sugar urges and reduce appetite. But if you eat too many calories, such as butter and oil, or meats, then you will eat too many calories and not lose weight.

Q. But Atkins claims there is a “metabolic advantage” because the low carbs prevent insulin spikes and therefore block the processing storage of fat.

A. It is not true. A calorie is a calorie.

Q. But what about Gary Taubes’s research promoting low carb eating and “Why we get fat”?

A. It’s not true. See my extensive notes on that here.

Q. There is a diet promoting a vegan diet like Ornish and Essylstyn, but with no additives or sugars. Is that that answer?

A. No. That diet, also known as the “protective diet” doesn’t restrict fruits or whole grains. All of those foods have too many calories to keep weight down. You can’t ignore calories.

Q. Are you saying that any diet which doesn’t include calorie limits is incorrect.

A. Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. It’s basic conservation of energy. You can’t escape conservation of energy.

Q. What about diets which say they aren’t “diets” but “lifestyles.”

A. It’s nonsense. What you eat is a diet. If there are rules about what you can eat, or how much you can eat it’s a diet. It’s just verbal trickery to say otherwise.

Q. So what is the solution to losing weight and keeping it off?

A. Reducing calories enough so that you lose weight – for the rest of your life.

Q. Is there any way of doing that so you don’t feel deprived and hungry after a while?

A. I don’t think so.

Q. So what’s the solution?

A. There may not be one other than just facing the fact that you are not going to eat to satisfaction ever again and maybe trying to get emotional satisfaction from feeling deprived-but-healthy instead.

Q. You said you managed to stick to just 1277 calories today and aren’t hungry. What are you trying now?

A. I have been feeling uncomfortable with my recent experiments in eating animal products, so I’m back to vegan for one thing. And I’m counting calories.

To help avoid high calorie foods I’m eliminating more food categories from my diet in hopes of finding a combination that works for me.

So what I’m trying now is (1) vegan; (2) no added fats or oils; (3) no nuts; (4) no seeds; (5) no added sugars; (6) no grains (i.e. no rice, wheat, oats, pasta, etc.). Number (6) is the major difference from Ornish or Esselstyn. And (7) I’m also going to avoid fruits for now since they also seem to trigger hunger urges. And I’m also avoiding so-called “zero calorie” artificially sweetened jellos because I think they somehow trigger a feeling of wanting sugary things.

In short, I’m trying to see if by vastly increasing my restricted categories of food I can eliminate foods which trigger hunger urges and just eat foods which are filling.

Q. What about protein?

A. I don’t think people need that much protein. Anyway, I can get it from edamame or small amounts of legumes, like kidney beans or garbanzo beans added to salads, or some tofu. Almost all vegetables have some protein in them.

Q. Shouldn’t you eat even more legumes then for even more protein?

A. No. They can be too high in calories. Plus too many legumes causes digestive problems for me and are uncomfortable.

Q. Dedicated vegans say those digestive problems go away in a few months.

A. It’s not true. The problems don’t even go away after a couple of years. It’s best to just limit legumes to very small amounts.

Q. Don’t digestive enzymes help with problems like that?

A. No.

Q. So you are limiting the amounts of legumes you eat too?

A. Yes, to just small amounts, like 2 ounces added to salads. And just some edamame. And maybe one small package of tofu each day.

Q. What about something starchy to just give you a feeling of eating something satisfying and filling?

A. I find that a sweet potato for lunch helps with that, and is satisfying. Also slices of pumpkin are relatively low calorie and filling and can be easily made for a side dish.

Q. So what did you have for dinner tonight?

A. A 250 g package of frozen green beans. After boiling I added a 400 g can of crushed tomatoes and spices to make a pasta sauce with no oils. It was 193 calories for the entire, large plate. And it was filling. But afterwards I did get hungry again so had some pumpkin slices. And finally I had a small tub of tofu.

Q. Do you feel confident you can stick with this latest, new plan?

A. No.

Q. But you are not giving up?

A. I’m not giving up.

Q. What about dealing with the psychological causes of overeating?

A. That probably a part of it, but I don’t know how to deal with that aspect of it.

Q. Will you try to exercise more?

A. I’m thinking about it. But I just can’t see myself spending 2-3 hours a day at the gym. But I will try to increase exercise if I can. But I want to get eating under control first. That’s my major objective. I want to avoid a complete rebound, which has always happened in the past.

Q. What percent of people are successful dieters who manage to go from obesity to normal weight and keep it off for years without rebounding?

A. I hear that only 5% to 10% or less of dieters have been able to do that.

Q. So you think it is probably hopeless?

A. Probably. At least the odds are greatly against success.

Q. But you are not giving up anyway?

A. No, I’m not giving up. I’ll keep trying to find a combination of foods and exercise and psychological tricks which work for me.

Q. But you are not confident.

A. I am not confident. But I’m living with it.