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From Obese to Fit

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Imagine my shock and disgust when an indirect calorimeter machine I was testing with a research group told me that according to my BMI, I was OBESE! Me? How could that be?  I workout, I eat well, and am very active. Of course, most BMI calculators do not take into account body habitus such as muscle mass. Even taking into account that I am muscular, there was no denying that I was officially overweight. In fact, 209lbs! At somewhere between 5’9” and 5’10”, depending on how much I shrink from standing in the operating room all day, according to this machine I should weight around 170lbs. Of course with a muscular frame I would look like a stick at 170, or would I? Well I had my excuses, a bad knee limiting my cardio, free food in the doctor’s lounge, subsequent knee surgery and being exercise limited for awhile following surgery. Of course, there is the excuse to eat snacks since I had just had surgery. I was eating healthy, no fast food, no alcohol, minimal red meat but just eating too much. I do like my cheese, oatmeal cookies and red licorice, just not all at the same time, of course. Looking in the mirror, I finally had to agree I was getting a gut, a belly, a muffin top, love handles- whatever you want to call it. I didn’t like the way my clothes fit and I was being ‘labeled’ as overweight or obese by a formula! I had had enough. My knee is fixed and it’s going to be awhile before full cardio, but no more excuses. In my younger years, if I snuck up 10 lbs, I could diet and take it off easily in a week or two. At age 50, not so much.

First, log calories, fat, carbs and protein to see what I was really eating. By doing so I also realized how much damage that innocent Starbucks oatmeal cookie was packing-over 300 calories! Was it worth it? There are many programs out there to calculate your needed calories, adjust for exercise expenditures and log your intake. I used MyFit and wore a BodyBud (Bodyfit) to estimate calories burned. Its presence on my arm was a reminder that I was on a diet. Counting and logging calories was a great way to adjust what I ate and how much. Log it in…before it goes in your mouth. The simple act of recording that makes one slow down, reconsider, and in some cases put the food back. Eat healthy complex carbs, avoid carbs at night, make sure you get enough healthy fats, eat protein and drink water. Bottom line; keep the overall calories down and make the ones you do eat count. By knowing the nutritional content of certain foods one can still eat a fair amount and feel satisfied without eating too many calories.

Second, regulate blood sugar. Avoid the ups and downs, the post-prandial crash. Higher protein intake will curb your appetite and maintain steady energy levels. Avoidance of simple sugars and refined carbs will also control your appetite. I avoided all bread products and any simple carbs, opting for only 100% whole wheat (occasionally) or preferably brown rice, vegetables, and low glycemic index fruits such as berries. After the first week I really did not feel hungry very much, had better energy and more steady energy levels. I had to actually force myself to eat enough carbs, per my MyFit program, because of my exercise. You want to avoid going into starvation mode by eating too little as this will actually impede weight loss. I also took Raspberry Ketones and Green Coffee extract as well as Cinnamon to regulate blood sugar. For a period of time I also took Tonalin CLA to help with fat metabolism. The combination of this and the diet modification has worked very well. Already a moderate coffee drinker I avoided the stimulant weight loss drugs or thermogenics, depending on exercise and long-term diet modification instead.

Third, exercise. Burn calories and promote lean muscle mass with a combination of weight training with lower weight and higher reps, plyometrics, and cardio. I tried to workout twice daily, and mix it up. I used branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) during exercise to prevent burning muscle for fuel. Besides making a person feel better by releasing endorphins and helping to burn calories, exercise makes one more likely to want to eat healthy. In addition, by logging the calories burned with exercise I was able to eat a bit more if I wanted to as the program adjusts for this. What a great reward for hard work!

So after a period of about three and a half months I have gone from around 210 pounds to 181.6 this morning. More importantly, I have added lean muscle mass, strength and endurance and definition. I have lost most of my gut and at least 3-4 inches off my waste. Most of my pants, belts and shorts are now too big and I had to have most of my suit pants taken in. I am working towards that six-pack and a goal of 175 lbs. Maybe that BMI calculator and my ‘ideal’ bodyweight wasn’t far off after all!

About Jeff Pearl, MD

Dr. Jeff is a trained general, pediatric cardiac, and transplant surgeon. Nutrition has always been an important concern for surgeons in regards to patients healing from surgery. He has had a longstanding interest in health, nutrition and supplements, and been an advocate of the use of nutrition and supplements in the hospital setting to aid in his patient’s recovery. He has a history of basic science and clinical research and a keen ability to interpret studies and statistics to determine their true significance. He is the father and step-father to several teenage athletes and knows firsthand the challenges they face in balancing their time, eating habits and use of supplements. He is adamant about trying to educate our youth about better nutrition. Dr. Jeff recognizes the challenges that healthcare faces and the need for people to take charge of their own health and disease prevention. He loves being outside and is one of those crazy few seen hiking or biking in the middle of the day in summer.

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