Sunday, November 6, 2011

Intermittent Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting - Finally Getting Started - Setting Yourself Up For Success!

Image 1: Socrates unquestionably did not look like he knew anything about intermittent fasting or physical culture, but he knew a lot about how to unlock the potential of his students.
In the last parts of the series you have learned so much about the biochemical underpinnings of how your diet and exercise regimen can change the way you look, feel and perform that you should by now have a general idea of why people, like Duong, "all of a sudden" drop tons of body fat, without having to resort to the still much-heralded combination of low-intensity-steady state "cardio" sessions and frequent low-fat high carb mini-meals. You should, however, also have grasped the idea that copying Duong's or Adelfo's regimen probably won't get you where you want to be. My intention thus is (and has always been) to teach you all the stuff you will need to find your own way... just as children will not learn to read if you just read books to them, you will never be able to constantly progress unless you totally surrender yourself to the advice of a highly paid personal trainer who babysits you 24/7 or - and I would assume that this is the way more desirable alternative - learn how to do his job on your own. In this installment of the Intermittent Thoughts and probably a few follow ups, I am thus going to "think" about how you can decide on the necessary steps you have to achieve your personal goals.

Do you want to know how to set yourself up for failure?

If I wanted to make it easy for me, I would follow the example of many health and fitness authors and provide you with a 3-10 item list of how you can "set yourself up for failure". This is easy, because you do not even have to know what works. It is enough to now what does not work. Yet even though there are much more things that don't work, than things that do work,  the word(s) "overeating" or even "constant overeating" would be totally misplaced on the list of "don'ts" of a skinny person who insists to do an intermittent fast and still wants to gain weight. Without "constant overeating" in the restricted feeding windows this is not going to happen.

Image 2: The new "MyPlate" is probably the most prominent example of moribund one-diet-fits-them all solutions (even if it was not intrinsically flawed, as well)
As you may notice, it gets pretty difficult for me, not to set you up for failure, even if I am providing advice that would be spot on for 90% of my readers. This is why I will not give you any answers, at all, but ask questions. I will ask questions that will enable you (based on the information of the future installments and concrete examples I will weave into future Intermittent Thoughts) to come up with the answers yourself - in didactics, this is referred to as a "socratic dialogue" (Rose. 2001), where the lecturer is trying to ilicit information from students through a direct line of reasoning... I suspect that this may sound counter-intuitive, after all it sounds as if it implied that you already know what the answers would be. That, however, is not the case. Socrates made his pupils discover for themselves things they could know - and that is fundamentally different from inquiring about things you do know.

Who are You and what do You want to achieve?

As I am doing it at the beginning of each semester with my real world students, the first thing I will ask you to do is to introduce yourself. What relevant information would you have to provide? Are you being fed up of being the fat or skinny kid, the girl or guy who is always just "a friend", the last one to be picked when you are playing football with peers, the pre-diabetic who got scared, when the doctor told him that if he did not start jogging and eating "healthy" *haha* whole grains will sooner or later be injecting insulin? If you do not have an answer to this question, yet, chances are you won't be able to help yourself make a change - and if you do not want to change, why are you even contemplating an intermittent fast?

Image 3: Are you sure "getting skinny" is really what you want, former fat kid?
Outside of the realm or professional athletics, the issue we are approaching right now is something that is commonly overlooked by many trainees and oftentimes not accordingly valued by their trainers (if they have any) - it is the complex interrelation of personal motivation and goals. Let's assume you were the "fat kid" all your life. Is you goal actually to "get skinny"? Probably not. And in case it is - just stop eating. If you take in enough fluid, and maybe a protein shake with some olive oil from time to time, you will probably live long enough to see a skinny image of yourself in the mirror, someday. Will this provide the social acceptance you have been longing for, all these years? I don't think so. It would rather have you descend deeper into the social abyss...

Why are you here? What is it that motivates you to "study" at the SuppVersity?

The first step in setting yourself up for success is thus to set an appropriate long term goal. I know that each and every one of you will tell me that he is "freakin' motivated" and "ready to do whatever it takes" to achieve his/her goals... so!? Then give me the elevator pitch of what you want to achieve... if it took you longer than 2 seconds to put your main goals into a single sentence, I must tell you that you have not yet taken the first and most fundamental step to set yourself up for success. Even the slightest doubts on your part as far as your goal is concerned will eventually become major obstacles on journey to a "new" or "better" you. That does not mean that your goals cannot change in the course of your journey (it is very likely that they will and in most cases it is even necessary), but if you were not sure, whether you want to go to Canada or to the South Pole, don't you think it would be better to stay at home, then?
Figure 1: Initial motivation (as assessed by the MPAM-R questionaire on a 7-point Likert scale) of male and female trainees going to a commercial gym and correlation (r-values) with adherence to the exercise program (adapted from Ryan. 1997)
Maybe it will help you if we take a look at what others set out to achieve. In a 1997 study, Richard M. Ryan and his coworkers at the Universities of Rochester and Southern Utah conducted a study where they asked 66 male and 89 female gym-goers for their personal motives and correlated this information on initial motivation with the subjects adherence to their respective exercise programs. The results are quite interesting, because although physical fitness and appearance were ranked highest, they showed the least correlation with the individuals adherence to the exercise program. In the case of "appearance" - my often-cited "I just want to look good naked" - there was even no (statistical significant) correlation at all. In other words, it did not matter how bad people wanted to improve their physical appearance - if this was their main motive to go to the gym. It did not help them to stay on track. Or as the scientists put it:
The implications of these findings [...] suggest that body-related motives are not, on average, sufficient to sustain regular exercise regimens, and thus should not be made the most salient justification for engaging in exercise.
Image 4: For Arnold (you know he is my favorite ;-) "the pump is like cumming ... like having sex with a woman" ... well, we all know how much he enjoys both, and it was the former joy, the one from the pump, him on track and made him succeed (still from video).
The scientists suggest that trainers & trainees would be better off if they emphasized "the inherent enjoyment associated with physical activity and/or the growth of competences that exercise promotes". Now, think about yourself and the people surrounding you. Think about the "losers" and the ones who had success. Do you see a pattern? Think about their faces when they come to the gym. Think about how they approach the weight stack. Think about what they say and how they respond, when you ask them: "What do you train today?" Do you see the pattern? Think of Arnold
Your muscle get a real a tight feeling [...] that's the pump [...] it feels different, it feels fantastic [...] it is as having sex with a women [...] I am cumming day and night ... it's terrific, I am in heaven (if you don't believe he said that, watch the video)
Do you see the pattern? Think of the fat lady that was holding on to the inclined treadmill, trampling away sweating, when you were doing your HIIT on the stair-master. Do you see a pattern?

Well, obviously both Arnold and the lady wanted to improve their physique. For the Governator, however, it was a necessary consequence of his life-style, a life-style that was based on doing what he loved to do. For the lady you saw on the treadmill, on the other hand, it was something alien - a physique "those other all have", something "nature has given those skinny anorexic chicks", something she "can work for as hard as she wants, but will never achieve". Be honest with yourself: Who are you? Arnold or the lady on the stairmaster?

Did I just hear you say that "it is not my fault, Dr. Andro!"?

Image 5: "Good" or "bad" this DNA helix is a part of your setup for success. Trust me - a few pathologic exceptions aside - it will only hinder your success if you lull yourselves into believing that it does.
From the fact that you did not head right to the gym to jerk... ahh I mean pump off ;-) I gather that you are not on the extreme "arnold'esque" side of the continuum - in other words: Things have not worked out the way you intended in the past, have they? You know what? That's your advantage! Thusly you save yourself at least a few of the 1001 mistakes that lurk on the way that lies between the "old" you and the "new" one... which reminds me: Do you already have your elevator pitch ready? What? You still "just want to look good naked"? Well, that is fine with me. Just be aware that even if you went to bed tonight, woke up the next morning, stood before the mirror in your bedroom and ... finally looked good naked, it will probably only take few weeks to restore your looks to your old "inner self", which obviously would not have changed, when the beauty fairy struck you with her magic wand in that fateful night.

You need to realize that whatever the central aspect of your motivational elevator pitch is going to be ...
  • looking good naked (how do you define that?)
  • never being called "skinny bitch/bastard", again (are you sure that is only an issue of how you look?)
  • not being the fat guy/girl, any more (what do you think will change, then?)
  • eventually get rid of the constant fatigue (could the fatigue be the result of trying to achieve unrealistic aims?)
  • adding +20lbs of lean muscle to my frame (what will you have achieved then? will this be enough? or are you going to want more?)
  • losing -50lbs of fat (is it just the figure on the scale you are looking for?)
  • getting off your diabetes drugs (do you have an idea why you maneuvered yourself into this situation in the first place?)
  • living into your 100s (do you just want to live long or is this more about good health into the old age?)
  • and so on and so forth
 ... chances are, you would already be there, or at least on your way to achieve them, if there was not this one person that was standing in your way: YOU! No excuses! Taking responsibility for where you are at now, regardless of which "bad advice" you have been following or "how bad your genes" may be - your status quo is the foundation on which you are going to reinvent yourself - not just your training or your "diet". If that works out, patience and perseverance will be the only thing it will take you to eventually arrive, where you see yourselves in your elevator pitch.

Homework for the next installment: Post your elevator pitch

Figure 2: Robb Wolf once mentioned the "performance - health - longevity triple point" in one of his numerous insightful blogposts on his webpage. In essence the figure above expands on his idea: You obviously cannot max out on all of the items. Notwithstanding, all of them are attached to the very same life-style foundation and the practical overemphasis of any of them may have pathological consequence (Adonis complex, depression, drug addiction, obesity, anorexia, ...).
As a  "homework" I want you to fine-tune and post your elevator pitch in the comment section of this post. Not only will you thusly make yourself accountable for what you will feel, look and perform in a few weeks or months from now, you will also help me tailor the next parts of this series, which are going to deal with the actual "programming of success" by making appropriate life-style interventions, to your goals. So don't miss out on this chance and give the world a preview of what the characteristic feature(s) of the "new you" is going to be.

And don't forget, where you came from. Maybe you've just been straying around, because your present elevator pitch incorporates two or more of the partly diametrically opposed extremes in figure 2? Think about it. Have you ever seen an Olympic athlete partying 5 days à week, who goes to bed at 4am has pizza for "breakfast" at 4pm and improves the world record at 8pm? Probably not. So incorporating diametrically opposed extremes into your elevator pitch is about as much a no-go as having none at all, remember that before you go public - I mean, what would the world think if your plan to have french fries instead of the pizza and them perform a new world record fails?