Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why so obsessed with fat loss?

I write (and think) a lot about fat loss.  Considering the fact that this is a blog aimed at providing sports specific training information to martial artists, you might argue that I write too much about fat loss, and you'd have a good case.  Why do I do it?

From a martial arts perspective I think that fat loss is important for many, though not all, practicing martial artists.  Very few people are as lean as they should be, at least not among the people I know.  Look, if you happen to practice in a dojo where everybody around you is quite lean, then that's great, but it doesn't match my experience.  If you're not very lean then the quickest, easiest, and healthiest way to increase your strength to weight ratio - which determines how fast you can move, which has something to do with martial arts ability - is to lose some of that fat.  Getting stronger is good, too, but it's a time consuming and difficult process.  Getting leaner is also good for health, appearance, mood, longevity, and so forth, so you get added benefits.

From a personal perspective I am slightly obsessed with fat loss because I'm a fat guy who comes from a family of fat people.  Not everyone in my family is fat, but most of us are (luckily I don't think they read this blog).  I've been fat for as long as I can remember, other than a brief period after sleepaway camp where I didn't eat for three weeks (don't worry, I promptly regained all the weight I'd lost in time for school to start).  I've struggled to not be fat for something like 25 years - that's not a typo.  And I'm a pretty smart guy, and I have at least an average amount of discipline, yet I've managed to work hard using the best information I could find towards a goal for two and a half decades without reaching it.  And it's not like I've been trying to make workable cold fusion or explain why people like Sarah Palin - I've been trying to do something that a large chunk of the world population finds effortless.

What's the problem?  Honestly I think a large part of it is that there is so much bad information out there driven by a combination of pharmaceutical money, coprorate agriculture, ignorance, bad science, a paternalistic medical industry, and inertia.  The things most people are told and believe about fat control are wrong.  "Whole grains are good for your heart."  "Saturated fat is bad for you."  "Cut your red meat and fat intake if you want to get thin and healthy."

Here's the weird, and serious, part:  those things we believe (the things that are wrong) are killing us

Being fat is not healthy.  Eating grains is not healthy.  Eating a lot of fructose is not healthy.  Yet go to your doctor and tell him your fasting blood glucose is 125 - see what kind of diet you're told to go on.  See how you're told to manage your condition.  Or go to your doctor with a triglyceride level of 350.  See what they tell you.

90% of the time your doctor will give you advice that will kill you.  Why?  They don't know any better - remember the forces of pharmaceutical money, ignorance, bad science, the paternalistic medical industry, and inertia.

My father was a very smart guy.  Ph.D. in analytical chemistry.  Great artist.  Died at 58 of a heart attack.  Why?  He listened to his doctors (so maybe he wasn't as smart as he could have been, but we all have blind spots).  I'll never forget him telling me about how his doctor had him stop weight training because it would enlarge his heart.  Or convincing him to avoid fat and go on a grain based high carb diet to control his Type II diabetes (which still makes no sense to me).  They were different doctors, too. 

Doctors didn't tie my dad down and shove food down his throat, but they did give him advice that hastened the end.  So maybe I'm a little more willing than most people to ignore what a doctor says and use scientific research or common sense or even (gasp!) a blog to figure out what to do, how to eat, and how to train.  And frankly, if I can get even a couple of readers of this blog to change their behaviors even a little, and buy some of you a few extra years of health, then, well, I'll have done for you what I certainly didn't do for my father.  And honestly, if I could train a thousand people to be black belts or K-1 championts it wouldn't be nearly as valuable (though it would be cool) as helping one person be part of their family for a few extra months (or longer).

Now you might be thinking something like, "I'm reading this guy's stuff and it makes sense but my doctor tells me to avoid saturated fat and this schmuck is just an internet guru so to whom should I listen?"  If so, I applaud your avoiding a dangling participle (by not thinking, "...who should I listen to?").  And I suggest you do two things:
  1. Read Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories."  It contains an exhuastive (and exhausting) account of the history of the conventional wisdon on diet - it traces back all the recommendations that your doctor is relaying to you, why they were taught that, who made them, what science was done, etc.  Just as a history of modern nutrition the book is a gold mine.  Depressing, but a gold mine.
  2. If you're not convinced by Taubes, do the Robb Wolf 30 day test.  Eat paleo for 30 days and see how you feel.  It's hard to argue with data points like that.
Right now I'm leaner than I've been in 32 years.  I'm a week or two away from posting my before and after picks.  I'm healthier and better conditioned than I've ever been.  And hopefully I'm on my way to living long enough to celebrate my 59th birthday.

I hope you can too.



  1. Thanks, Joe. I think about your dad very often. He was a remarkable man.

  2. Thanks Jon! I miss him every day.

  3. Joe,
    Two years ago, I was a burned out ER nurse, working nights for about 8 years. I was sick of the politics, the management, changing policies, the control of the nursing union (which I was not a part of). I found a job off of Craigslist (who would of thought) and I love it. I am a weight loss specialist with a medical weight loss center. Its not weight watchers, nutrisystem, anything like that. Its nurses, nurse practitioners mostly, with a doc here and there. We look at the entire health picture.
    I've found it very rewarding. I try to impart the best eating advice I can, but some people aren't ready for grass-fed beef, all natural food, etc. I do the best I can giving the best nutritional advice, but not the standard drivel everyone else imparts. We rejected nutritionists' applications because we know they just won't fit in.
    Weight loss is important. Its amazing, that people tell me that they didn't know how bad they've felt. For me, I need to lose about 20 pounds... about another 10% fat. I've been chunky since senior year in high school. Now I'm battling with some adrenal fatigue, low cortisol levels, lower testosterone. I'm currently working with a ND and an acupuncturist on this stuff as I don't trust regular docs anymore. The last 2 years have been very eye-opening and I've started to take care of my health quite a bit better.
    I've read Gary Taube's book. Best nutrition book so far. Had a cousin go to college, she can back a vegetarian, and she's studying nutrition! Crap! I have a feeling, she'll have an awakening at some point in her life.
    Sorry for the rambling, but keep it up. I look forward to seeing your before and after pics.



  4. Keep working on it, Bill! You'll get there. Pics to come - I want to post them before Christmas. Wish I was a bit leaner, though... And I have to figure out how to work the wife's camera (I'm good with some technology, not all).

  5. Best advice, do what works for you after trial and error. Too much bad advice out there.