Friday, December 30, 2005


I've been working out for awhile now, and dropped some of my stressed-in-South-Africa weight, which is nice. But beyond getting back to a comfortable size, a lot of people work out to get specific body results.

My secret I-want-it-to-look-better spot isn't my abs or my breasts (the myth still persists that if you do enough chest exercises, somehow your breasts will look bigger. They may hold out on sagging a little longer than usual, but that's about it. I've also never been a big breast person. I'm quite happy to have breasts that don't get in the way and are easily contained for jogging). My look-better spot is my collar bones, shoulders, and that thumb-sized imprint at the base of the throat. I always thoughht that women who had these areas clearly defined were terribly sexy.

This morning I put on a new thin black shirt with one of those wide collars, and was startled to see that I could see a bit of defined collarbone and some nice trianglar trapezius muscles there along my upper shoulders and the back of my neck. Not bad.

I've been thinking a lot about how I was killing myself last year living on 1700 calories a day and doing morning weights and intense workouts twice a week and pilates on Saturdays and wondering why I felt like I was going to die and my waist size stayed the same. But every "Women's Fitness" type magazine you pick up will give you meal plans for 1400-1700 calories a day. The eye-opener was when I read Hers, a women's body-building magazine, and they said 2-2500 calories a day was totally OK if you were working out and wanted to build muscle.

And whoa boy, what a difference it's made. I bumped up into that range and I feel fucking great. Now, granted, I'm pretty big. I'm the height and weight of the average guy, and telling a *guy* to live on 1700 calories might tick him off(there's a great study about a "starvation" experiment where twenty men or so were put on 1700 calories a day for sustained period. They became irritable, lethargic, and after a time started freaking out in the you're-kind-of-crazy way). For people who are smaller than me, this might work. For me, it doesn't.

I think it's pretty criminal to go around saying women should starve themselves, and I think it's what keeps us binging and purging. First we're on a diet where we can only eat eggs and salad, then we give up and live on donuts and pasta for three months, then eggs and salad, and yo-yo all over the place until we break our metabolism.

We've got to find sustainable programs. If I was doing something, some routine, that I didn't believe I could sustain, I'd be in trouble. Instead of 5 days a week at the gym, I decided on two, and five mornings a week of weights. That was doable. I also cut out exercises at the gym that I hated and/or dreaded doing. Sometimes I would skip the gym because I couldn't handle the idea of spending half an hour on the elliptical machine. I switched to half an hour on the bike and I feel much better about it. Same thing with some of the machines. I had a terrible time with one of the leg extensions, and cut it out after a couple of weeks. I hated it.

And I think that's how it has to go. You can't tell somebody "Here's the only way to do it." You've got to start with a program, sure, but then add and subtract according not only to the results you want, but how much you enjoy it.

And that'll keep you working out long after the New Year's resolution gym rush has died down.

2 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Hiya -- nice to see it's working for you. I'm not sure I should even be throwing in my two cents (worth of course a mere half an American cent) (since I'm currently doing very, very badly on the maintaining-my-diet front) but those diet plans are worth -- well, nothing. They're way too general. Not to mention, almost ALL the magazine ones include way too much high-GI crap and not enough protein.

If you are working out a plan, and don't have a specific idea of your personal maintenance calories, then the calorie limit, and the various macro (carb/fat/protein) proportions should be based on your bodyweight (or, if you are getting really anal, your lean mass -- but until or if you get to the point at which you're really tweaking down, you probably don't need to worry about that).

15-1700 calories. Yawp. A very, very general safe range for weight loss is usually considered (among musclewoman circles anyhow) to be 10-15 calories per total poundage, starting at 15 and going down if necessary based on results or lack of same after about two weeks or so.

There's a fairly good Excel calculator here:

It can also be adjusted to give the calories and grams for the various macronutrients based on different proportions.

You may find a read around John Berardi's website useful.

He's the latest up-and-coming nutrition "guru" in the strength community, and his particular philosophy (eating either protein and fat, or protein and carbs) appears to work for me and many others. He's also got some interesting thoughts on nutrient timing. Plus, he recognises that eating real, tasty food is good.

The various Massive Eating articles outline the general philosophy and strategy, but I will warn you not to take his calorie calculations; he's what's known as a "hard gainer" (a skinny guy in other words) and even among lifting men, I've noticed that males with endomorph tendencies report that the calories are too high and they gain fat. 

Posted by Katharine

Anonymous said...

Calorie calculators are very imprecise at best.

The best diet/exercise routine is not the one that comes from Oprah or the latest fitness magazine. The best diet/exercise routine is the one that you will follow. Looks like you figured that out for yourself. Congrats and good luck! 

Posted by Nate