Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:49 am

(this one is fueled by many conversations with Alexandra Geelan and is dedicated to Sue Geelan1)

I do like my music extreme, but in almost everything else, it seems like the Golden Mean is a principle to live by. To seek balance between competing elements, rather than to rush to the extreme end of any spectrum, is often healthier. Obviously that statement is over-simple: moderation in that as well! But I’d argue that (for example) extremists tend to cause more problems than the ‘luke warm’2 moderates.

The particular context in which Alex and I have been discussing it is (perhaps unsurprisingly) diet and exercise. Extreme diets like Atkins or the various juice ‘cleanses’ and ‘quitting sugar’3 are dangerous – and ineffective in the longer term. They’re not sustainable because they’re extreme: they’re all ‘going on a diet’ rather than ‘changing your diet’. They’ll lead to some quick weight loss initially – which is actually more ascribable to losing water weight and to realignment of gut flora – but in the end people have to go off them (or get sick because they don’t offer balanced nutrition) and they just go back to the diet that got them sick and overweight in the first place.

The whole ‘food as nutrients’ thing plays into this – if food is thought of as a package of quantifiable fats and sugars and carbs and proteins and vitamins and minerals, rather than as… well, food, it just becomes tempting to think that maximising the ‘good’ stuff and minimising the ‘bad’4 is the road to success. But nutrition is a much more complex picture than that – our body builds many of the nutrients it needs, and nutrients interact. Better to think of food as food, and have an interesting, enjoyable, varied diet. Maybe less (or no) red meat, less sugary ‘treats’, less processed stuff and more fresh veg is part of that… but that’s more because our diets tend to be quite unbalanced to begin with than as a medical approach. Sure, some foods can be eaten in larger quantities than others, and you’ll want to keep an eye on the balance and the overall energy intakes and outflows, but cutting out carbs or ODing on protein or whatever is not what is going to work long term. ‘Meal replacement’ approaches5 with shakes or whatever don’t work long term either, for the same reasons – it’s not a sustainable lifelong diet, so you’re likely to end up back on an unhealthy mix rather than a healthy one.

The same applies for exercise: an all-cardio approach for weight loss or an all-weights approach to muscle gain is likely to be less effective than a mix. Part of the reason is similar – it’s likely to get too boring to be sustainable long term. You want to be having fun with an exercise program, not gritting your teeth and doing it because you ‘should’. So going for a walk or bike ride to get somewhere – hopefully somewhere fun, but work will suffice in a pinch! – rather than as ‘exercise’ for its own sake. Play some kind of sport – team, pair, small group or individual – for the fun of it. Lift some weights and mix it up. Take the stairs. Lots of multijoint, large movement exercises that do both resistance and cardio. And so on.

Going on a diet and going to the gym won’t change your life if you go so hard that you can only go for a little while. Going easy but consistent, and having a balance, is just more effective.

Now, I just need to get better at applying this insight to work-life balance… 😉

  1. who has many exceptionally fine qualities, but I’m sure wouldn’t mind me saying that moderation is not one of them!6
  2. Of course, one of the characteristics of extreme ideologies of all kinds is contempt for those less extreme than themselves and the attempt to paint moderation as cowardice or weakness
  3. sorry Cheryl!
  4. of course, deciding foods have moral weight is itself a problem. I mean, if it’s farmed unsustainably or cruelly or directly taken from someone else, of course food has moral weight, but thinking of sugary or fatty foods as ‘wicked’ is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
  5. sorry Suzie!
  6. which is one of the many reasons we complement each other so well.


What It Takes 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:13 am

(gratuitous diet and exercise details warning)

It’s been a good week in one sense – 69.5 km walked so far, and there’ll be enough more to get it over 70 for the week. That also takes me over 1000 km walked in total, which is a nice milestone to reach.

But there were two days away delivering workshops in the Sunshine Coast, which meant I both ate (and drank) more than usual and couldn’t exercise: those are not too hard to identify on this graph, from my MyFitnessPal app:

The red line is my current weight loss target, which is about 5500 kJ/day (1300 Cal/day). Maintenance for me at this weight is still not much under 9000 kJ/day, so the Thursday was a weight gain day, but Friday was maintenance or small loss.

Then yesterday was our (early, because Suzie is working on the real one) Mother’s Day celebration, and high tea with scones and jam and cream was the plan. I knew that was the case, so Peter, Alex and I went for a big walk in the morning to get coffee, and I skipped breakfast.

The walk ended up being longer than planned, because we saw an interesting-looking path and followed it, then got trapped by an uncrossable freeway, so we walked 16 km then called home to be picked up! That and no breakfast put me well into negative kilojoules for the day. Almost 3700 worth (long black is my new jam, and the kilojoules from the coffee were completely negligible).

High tea was at 2:00 pm, so that was lunch as well. It was lovely – and it was about 4400 kJ, or 80% of my daily allowance. But that was OK, because I was starting from the negative.

Would have been a good day… but then for a late dinner I just had a couple of slices of toast with nutmeat and barbeque sauce, and some Turkish toast with honey and banana… and that ended up being 3300 kJ!

I was still about 1000 kJ short of the target for the day, and normally would have been happy with that, but I’ve been on 85 kg for a couple of weeks already (partly because I had a similar workshop week last week), and I’d wanted to have a *really* low weekend.

So, yesterday evening, I found the Manly-Melbourne NRL match (that I’d been disappointed to find wasn’t being televised) on my ABC Radio app on my phone and headed out into the dark alone to do this:

10 km in 90 minutes meant I was listening to the game for all but 10 min of the walk, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience… and burned the extra 2500 kJ or so that made it the good day you see in the graph above.

Seriously: for me, for weight loss, walking is the magic. When you slip on food, there’s always a way out.

(I suspect I still might not quite make it to 84 kg for tomorrow’s weigh-in, but I’ll have given it a red hot go… and there are no workshops this week)