Friday, April 14, 2006

Nutrition Facts vs. Ingredients

Ever wonder why the Nutrition Facts on packaging are so dominant and the ingredients are in super fine print and often hard to find? Why is that?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m not so sure we’ve got our priorities straight. We’re so focused on how much saturated fat, cholesterol, fiber, protein, carbs, etc. our food and drinks have, that we often don’t look at the ingredients at all. At least I don’t.

Could it be because when we look at the ingredients in a lot of foods we don’t really know what they are? There are so many five syllable words and things we don’t understand that maybe we’d rather not confront our ignorance. Or could it be because we just assume most foods include perfectly normal ingredients? Or maybe we’ve been brainwashed by all of the diet fads and ubiquitous “fat-free” and “sugar-free” product labels?

I’m not what the reasons are exactly, but in my opinion something is a little screwy. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with what’s actually in our foods rather than the nutrition facts? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have nutrition facts, but maybe they should be below the ingredients and in smaller font to make more room for the ingredients. Doesn’t that make more sense? What do you think?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

There’s nothing like lifting weights

It’s different from any other form of exercise, and in a really significant way: Nothing else forces a person to hit his or her physical and mental ceiling so repetitively.

That’s what weight lifting is. It’s all about moving some weights with specific numbers on them in some direction as many times as you can. It’s so darn simple, and that’s why I believe it’s the ultimate mind builder. It forces you to confront and test your limits over and over and over again. What other sport does this so effectively?

When you run, you generally don’t fall over at the end of your run. You get home, catch your breath after a while, and then go on with your life. At no point did your body say “I truly cannot take another step” and then collapse. Every other sport is similar. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all extremely tough and I have a lot of respect for them. Personally, I’ve played and love many sports. But there’s something different about weight lifting.

Each weight exercise is an isolated event where you can push yourself to the extreme…to the point of complete fatigue. True, many people never reach that point, but many people do. These people generally become hooked on lifting because, whether they know it or not, they’ve managed to achieve a mind-body connection that is extraordinarily rare. They have tested their limits so many times that they truly know where their boundaries lie. And because progress in weight-lifting is easily measurable, people can push themselves continuously over weeks, months, and years. In most sports, when you get better, you don’t necessarily have clear, concrete steps in front of you that you can climb to reach the next level. In running, you can try to increase your pace, but by how much? Same goes for most exercises. But with weights, there’s no uncertainty. Once you can push out that extra repetition using the 45 pound dumbbells, then you know you’re ready for the 50 pound dumbbells. This leads to a life-long pursuit of one’s limits and a lifestyle of continuous self-improvement that extends beyond the weight room.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Working out with your iPod is not working out

Ever since I got an iPod I’ve taken it to the gym with me. I get to the gym, put in the ear pieces, then turn up some music to get me fired me up. I’ve got my favorite workout songs like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” which convinces me that each workout is a once in a lifetime opportunity to prove myself. It’s rather inspiring.

Despite how much I like this song and many others, from now on the iPod’s staying at home. Why? I’ve realized it’s a crutch. It’s the ultimate crutch. And I suggest you leave yours at home too.

Years ago, when I was in really good shape, my buddy and I would go to the gym and work out just about every day. We never had any music. All we had was our self-motivation and assistance from one another to make sure nobody dropped a dumbbell on his head. We made tremendous progress and absolutely looked forward to going to the gym each and every time. Since then, I personally feel like I’ve lost sight of what my real physical limits are, and I think the iPod has a lot to do with it.

What I’ve come to see is that myself and so many people simply cannot reach our full potential in the gym if we’re plugged into iPods. We become dependent, some more than others, on the music. Without it, we don’t feel like we can muster up the same energy and endure as much pain. It distracts us. It numbs our brains a little bit. It helps us get through the work out. But that’s NOT what working out is all about.

Health and fitness are about work, making sacrifices, and pushing yourself beyond where you thought you could go. It’s about making things harder on yourself, not easier. It’s about toughening our minds just as much as our bodies.

As great as music is, I recommend listening to your body next time you work out instead of your iPod. That’s the real trick to making progress…listening. You can’t know what you’re really capable of unless you listen to what your body is telling you. It requires full concentration. Your mind will say “I’m tired” but then something else often kicks in and says “But you can do one more.” That second voice gets muffled by those iTunes.

Now, I totally understand that for many people going to the gym is a really big step, and to the extent that the iPod makes taking those first important steps possible, then that’s just fine with me. Better to work out with an iPod than not work out at all. But there are many of us who are experienced enough in the gym that we needn’t resort to this mind trick. So give it a try…and leave that iPod at home the next time you go to the gym.

And if you really need a companion, call your buddy.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Don't Be Thirsty, Hungry, or Stuffed: The Mark Jacobs Health Strategy

Ok, I'm going to share with you my secret strategy. I'm in good shape...I work out regularly, I eat well, I basically take pretty good care of myself. Now, there are tons of people out there giving other people advice. And the advice comes in many forms...books, magazines, video, bla bla bla...with many different tag lines. Everybody is just focusing on different aspects of health and fitness...putting their own spin on it and trying to offer an approach that is effective with people...that people respond to. Well, I think I've come up with an approach. It's simple...and that's what I like about it. And it's very easy to hold yourself accountable. And I'm highly confident that following these simple guidelines will lead to results.

My strategy involves strengthening the core mind-body connection that is at the foundation of all health and fitness improvements. Here's what you do: First, you stop and truly appreciate the feelings of a) thirst and b) hunger. Perhaps you purposefully wait a few hours and don't drink anything or eat anything when you would have normally just to reaquaint yourself with these feelings in a very conscious way. Second, I want you to truly connect with the feeling of c) being stuffed...yes, that's right, stuffed. Sit down at your kitchen table and EAT A LOT, until you feel full and uncomfortable. Remember that feeling. Third, after feeling confident in your ability to recognize those feelings--thirst, hunger, fullness--I want you to stop and tell yourself, with conviction, that you will NEVER experience those feelings again. You will work as hard as you can to avoid those feelings. Success will be avoiding them completely. Failure will be experiencing any of them, if only for a fraction of a second.

Ok, let me summarize. Here's all you have to do:
1. Don't feel thirsty
2. Don't feel hungry
3. Don't feel full

Those are the guiding principles. They're the compass. They'll steer you in the right direction and you need to tattoo them on your brain.

The next logical questions are the Why and How: WHY do this? And HOW do you do it?

First, let's talk about the HOW.

Well, you need to drink A LOT of water. How much? Enough so that you don't get thirsty! And don't substitue water for all of the crappy sugar drinks out there, including most fruit juices. Just drink water.

Also, you need to eat small meals, and often. You can't eat breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. Nobody's body could adhere to the "don't feel hungry or full" principles on that timetable. Simply impossible. You need to eat smaller meals throughout the day, constantly fueling yourself.

What all of this means is planning, and planning some more. You actually have to think about where you're going to be and what you're going to be doing throughout the day, and envision, well in advance, how you will be able to eat and drink. You have to pack appropriate foods, and carry water. Sounds easy, but it's not. You must think about exactly how long you'll be gone, and then determine the appropriate amount of food, and type of food, and how much water you'll need. Personally, I keep a lot of protein-type bars and fresh fruits around. You really have to start thinking about food from a "portability" perspective, then try to formulate a nice long list of foods that work and that you like...and try to make that list long enough so that you don't get extremely bored from the lack of variety...because boredom leads to weakness which leads to failure. You also need a means of transporting food (i.e. you might not want to put a banana or soft peach in a nice leather briefcase). On top of all of this, you need to be thinking about the places you dine, and their serving portions, and how long you have to wait for you food. You see, this is all about shifting control of your food and water intake to YOU. That means that you eat and drink WHEN and WHERE you want to...before you're dying of thirst or hunger. This is a fundamental reprioritization in your life. The conference call is now LESS important than that glass of water you should have. That's why you have to plan to make it all work and believe in what you're doing, so you can focus on results and live guilt-free.

Lastly, one of the big negative side effects of following Principle #1, perhaps the biggest, is the need to go to the bathroom a lot more. If you're not experiencing this, then you're not drinking enough. That is the test, plain and simple. If you are not forced to deal with more complex bathroom considerations in your day to day life, then you're not quite there. You will be there when you're actively considering when and how you'll be able to relieve yourself wherever you should go. Sounds whacky, but it's true.

Now, I understand that you can't get all of this down right right away. This takes practice. It's like tuning a piano, or guitar, or just about any instrument. You tweek things a little to the left, then test it out, and if it doesn't sound quite right you tweek it the other way....and you do that until things just sound right. Well, that's exactly what you have to do. You have to really listen to your body, and adjust. It may not speak very clearly at first, but you have to listen very closely, and over time the mind-body connection will strengthen. Eventually, you won't have to think about it. You won't have to be really thinking about what you're doing: "Is my body telling me I'm hungry? Am I thirsty?" It will become your life, your lifestyle. You will find yourself naturally doing what your body wants you to avoid the blood sugar level fluctuations, and moodiness, and the rest of the consequences. With that, why don't we now talk about WHY this is a good idea. No, a great idea. An idea that can materially improve the quality of your life.

I'm not going to go into all of the details, I just decided. People understand that smaller, more frequent meals are right. There's been enough research and public discourse on this topic. Here's just one of many articles you can find on the web: WebMD article Let me just confirm that for me, in my life, there's no doubt that it works. Your body becomes so much more efficient. Your metabolism is steady, you burn more calories, you experience less moodiness, fewer headaches, you feel more in control, more productive, better blood circulation and the list goes on and on. Just don't let the gas tank get fact, never have less than half a tank. It has a profound effect on engine performance in us humans.

Well, there are a lot of diets out there. I hate that word. Don't use it. What people need is a lifestyle approach, and what I think I have hear is a strategy of self-therapy. It's like talking to yourself...learning to communicate with yourself. Perhaps it's not realistic. Perhaps for some people picking up on those feelings of hunger and thirst and fullness is just not possible. That could be, but I bet most people can. Why don't you give it a try and let me know what happens. Try to pick up on those feelings--of thirst, hunger, and fullness--and see how often you feel them. Then try to imagine a life where you never experience them...NEVER. Well, maybe never is a strong word, but RARELY. The times you do will be due to surprises. Your plane will have been delayed, a meeting with the boss will go much longer than planned, an emergency will come up....whatever. That's how my life is. And I guarantee following those 3 principles makes the biggest difference out of everything. It's not my genes...look at my relatives. It's not my exercise routine...that has always fluctuated. It's a focus on the things my body is telling my brain.

On a final note, once you graduate from those 3 principles and have really embraced them, you can move on to Principle 4: Don't Get Tired. The first 3 principles help to prevent fatigue in a very significant way, but a separate conscious effort to sleep when your body tells you it needs it can boost your performance to the next level.

Fundamentally, as you can tell, the strategy revolves around "Listening To Your Body," if I had to say it in the fewest amount of words. Now, I'd like to listen to you. What do you think? Can you connect with this approach? Have you tried it? Would you want to?