It’s Not About Burning Calories

If you want to lose weight so you can feel confident and have energy without wasting time on methods that don’t work, then read on. What I’m going to tell you may completely change how you look at weight-loss.

Last month, I talked about the comfortable rut. It’s the place so many of us find ourselves in where we aren’t happy, but things haven’t gotten bad enough to change. If you are fed up and ready to end the rut, I want to set you on the right path and keep you from wasting effort and failing because you followed the wrong map.

I am going to assume your goal is fitness. You want a flatter stomach (maybe even abs), a firm butt, better arm definition, and it’d be nice to stop feeling so dang tired all the time.

Oh, and you don’t particularly have a lot of time in the week to do it.

Sound about right? Okay I’m going to show you a few common misconceptions people have about weight-loss and exercise. It may even explain why you’ve failed in the past. Here goes…

Losing weight – Perhaps the most important idea in regards to fitness is this: You do not try to lose weight. You try to lose body fat. There’s a big difference.

Losing weight is easy. Skip dinner and run on a treadmill for an hour. Do that for a month. You will lose a ton of weight (plus your sanity) and start to resemble a bag of skin propped up by a coat hanger.

The problem with most approaches to weight-loss is that it’s a short-term solution focusing solely on getting the number on the scale to drop. It puts you on severe calorie restriction (shakes, appetite-suppressing pills, long bouts of cardio) so that you can get the gratification of dramatic weight-loss.

However the results never last because a.) Nobody can live like that long-term, b.) Your body adapts and it stops working, and c.) Losing a ton of weight quickly means much of that weight is lean mass.

When you lose twenty pounds in three weeks, only a portion of it was fat. Any extended period of severe calorie restriction is almost always followed by a re-feeding period. Meaning, these people almost always gain the weight back. Only now they have less lean mass, making it easier to put on more fat than before.

It is true that to lose weight you need to create a deficit by consuming less calories than you burn in day. The problem is that people take this to an extreme and try to burn as many calories as possible. This leads directly to the second myth: Exercise is for burning calories.

Running or doing cardio alone for the sake of burning calories is a terrible method for burning fat. Your body is an adapting machine and will adapt to virtually anything thrown at it and will steadily get better in any routine until it becomes virtually effortless.

Your body must expend energy (calories) in everything it does. However, your body is a shrewd machine designed to survive so it will constantly try to save energy when and where it can.

When you first start running, your body is shocked by the change. You burn a ton of calories, sweat like crazy and after a couple weeks drop a ton of weight. But shortly after, doing generally doing the same workout stops working and you will plateau. This is the case with any exercise. Lack of variety will kill your progress.

Exercising to burn calories will have you focusing on spending longer and longer periods on the treadmill. Instead, what you should aim to do is increase your metabolic rate, the rate at which you burn calories all day in and out of the gym.

The right approach is adopting a well-planned strength and conditioning program that will add, not decrease, lean mass. You don’t need a gym or weights starting out either. You couple that with avoiding refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed food. Do that and you’ll be well on your way out of the comfortable rut. spt

36 Workouts

Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; and if it is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach. – Marcus Aurelius

This months post is about tackling big goals, like losing weight, by changing how we perceive them. Sometimes getting fit seems impossible, but what seems impossible is only a series of steps followed consistently if we can map out a big fat hairy goal into a clear path that goes from scary and unattainable to totally doable.

We love targets. You give someone a challenge and a definite path to get there, and they will work their butt off. But they have to know how long and they want to see if they are making progress along the way.

Take marathons, twenty-six miles is long but map it out and place mile markers every step of the way and suddenly it’s manageable. It’s the path and markers that makes the effort tolerable. Exercise, or marathons, would be unbearable if we merely said run until we say stop. Getting in shape works the same way.

The not knowing what to do is much more difficult than actually doing it and it’s why a lot of people fail when trying to get fit. They have a goal but have no real idea how they will get there or how long it will take.

People aren’t as afraid of hard work as they are of uncertainty. We’ll endure any amount of pain if we know what it’s for and have decided it’s worth it (and we’ll complain like crazy if even small effort seems pointless.) So if you can give yourself a target, like losing 30 pounds, and remove the variables of what it’ll take to get there, you have just made what seemed impossible, possible and will find yourself with the energy to make it happen.

If you happen to be “out of shape” and secretly desire to do something but also feel overwhelmed by it, you should know most men and women who’ve either fallen off the wagon or haven’t worked out in several years can completely turn it around in under a year. I’ve seen it happen over and over again to people who were 20 to 40 lbs. overweight, stressed from jobs and raising children, completely transforming their bodies.

For these people, walking into the gym for the first time was scary because it was a change. It was uncharted territory. But most of that fear disappeared after a few weeks because it became clear what to do, keep showing up.

Getting in shape is no longer this big scary undertaking that has no definite end but instead is a series of steps: 1. Show up, 2. Eat right, 3. Repeat for desired effect. Do it enough times and voila, the weight is gone, replaced by confidence and strength.

Many of you will make resolutions this year hoping to do just that; to get in shape, eat better or start working out. But what if instead of making vague health-related resolutions, we had a series of steps to follow that would very clearly define our success or failure? If you’re one of those people who want to lose 20 to 40 lbs. and feel younger, here’s some news for you, it’s going to take 36 workouts.

That’s right, after training hundreds of people, I’ve observed that it usually takes about 36 workouts within three months to get an overweight average Joe or Jane into great shape again.

That’s 36 trips to the gym or 36 runs on Paseo del Mar, or pressing play on your dusty P90x videos 36 times. With just 36 tick marks on the calendar, you can feel ten years younger by Easter.

Of course, fitness doesn’t end at 36 workouts and getting fit is a life decision not a temporary fix, but the first 40 workouts are all you need to get you out of the rut you’re in. spt

You’re Only As Fit As You Decide To Be

If you were asked what the most important benefit to exercising and eating right was, what would you say?

Over the years, I’ve had a few injuries. I’ve broken or torn multiple bones, ligaments, and muscles; donned casts, slings, crutches and a wheelchair. Some injuries occurred through my own stupidity and some were just freak accidents that seem to catch us when we least expect it. You know, life.

When I first found myself incapacitated with a hip-to-toe cast, I figured any hope of staying in shape was out of the question. I surrendered to the fate of withering away on the sofa medicating on Oreos and chocolate milk. I had 12 long weeks to feel sorry for myself.

It was at my lowest point of self-pity where I arrived at a very important question, how am I going to react to this?

Simply because I couldn’t run or walk, I was focusing on things I couldn’t do rather than what I could do. I was being a victim of circumstances I couldn’t control rather than taking responsibility for what I could. My leg needed to heal, but beyond that, I had total control of what I ate and I still had complete use of my upper body, which allowed for plenty of exercise.

This left me with the sobering (and empowering) conclusion that if my health and fitness declined, it was because I allowed it to, not my injury. And I wanted it too much to stop.

In the gym, you’re not only developing physical strength, but everyday you are exposing yourself to the pain of exercise. Our bodies change because we expose it to stress and stimulus causing it to rebuild stronger and more resilient than before. But more importantly, you’re fighting the urge to say “the hell with it” and give up. Every day you defy this urge to skip the workout, you get a little stronger.

Over time you develop patience, mental strength, and discipline, and what were once weaknesses (both physical and mental) have been built up to make you a better version of yourself. Someone who has more energy, complains a lot less, and walks taller. And that, my friends, is way better than a nice pair of biceps.

Some people may be thinking, “Oh, I’m not strong or disciplined.” You are. In fact, if you are struggling with getting fit or losing weight it is not a question of how strong you are, but rather a question of wanting it badly enough and knowing that it’s possible. Most of us fail simply because we kind of committed to something we only kind of want, or never really believed we could have in the first place.

You have to decide that it’s possible for you and you have to want it more than watching television, more than sleeping in, more than donuts, wine and beers. When you want to get in shape, feel younger and more confident, more than any of those things, you will have no problem getting there.

That is the greatest benefit of exercise, discovering how much control you have over your body and life when you truly commit to get yourself out of the rut.

Every decision you face is made according to your commitment and belief in the outcome. The people you surround yourself with, the food you eat, the books you read, the television you watch, how much sleep you get, everything is a decision that has you either moving in a better direction, remaining complacent, or worse, moving backwards.

If you feel stuck, you have to look at your situation and know that it can be better. When you know it can be better, decide to make it better. Then act. And when it gets hard, you will find out how committed you are.

You will discover that can you work around any obstacle, albeit money, time, age, or injury. You just have to get off the fence and decide. spt

For Love Of The Game

Shelley Smith, photographed at San Pedro High School (photo by John Mattera)

It’s November, the heart of college football season, and for Shelley Smith, that means no rest, several flights in-and-out of LAX and every Saturday spent at a different football stadium across the country.

But it’s not just college football that keeps Smith from curling up on the couch to the latest blockbuster hit, it’s also Thursday night NFL games, pre-season NBA games, the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal and the continued lockout talks of the NHL strike.

It’s these precise reasons though, that get Smith out of bed each and every morning, well these and her daily trips to the local San Pedro gym, Hey Day Fitness, where she can talk sports without the pressure of a camera in her face.

Smith loves her job, and she loves it because “no single day is the same.”

Smith joined ESPN in 1997 and quickly became one of the leading ladies in sports journalism. She has climbed the ranks and has had great success in doing so, including four Sports Emmys, one of which she received in 1997 for her segment on Magic Johnson as part of an ESPN production on AIDS and Athletes.

But she didn’t start at the top. For Smith, having an interest and passion for journalism started at a young age. But back then, it was an interest in breaking news and features, she hadn’t even considered a career in sports.

A Denver native, Smith attended the University of Nebraska, where she majored in journalism and political science. During her time at Nebraska, Smith wrote for the college newspaper and through this came an opportunity for lunch with an alumnus, who happened to be the sports editor at a major newspaper in Denver.

“In college I thought I wanted to go into news or features reporting,” she says. “That all changed when the editor called me and offered me a gig in the sports department.”

Smith shooting a story on the “most dangerous golf hole in the world” along the DMZ in South Korea for ESPN in 2009. Smith originally covered the golf course in 1988 for her very first Sports Illustrated story. (photo by Dylann Tharp)

The editor took notice in Smith, and she never looked back. Now a sideline reporter for ESPN, Smith is an award-winning journalist and author of three books, with a fourth — Al: The unauthorized biography of Raiders owner Al Davis – on its way. But she says it’s been a constant challenge, and she has always set out to outwork and out prepare her peers.

“You make your own luck in this field by working hard,” says Smith. “If you are well prepared and work harder than anyone else you can make up for what you lack in talent. It is really about taking the extra time and getting it right, but don’t get me wrong, I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time a couple times.”

Case in point, the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Smith was in Seoul covering the Olympics for Sports Illustrated when word broke that Canadian Ben Johnson would be stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for steroids. Upon hearing the news, Smith, along with a photographer, raced to the airport, where Johnson would soon be boarding for a flight to New York – Smith got on that flight, sat with Johnson for 45 minutes and conducted the first one-on-one interview, an exclusive.

“When I got on that plane I knew it would be my big break,” she recalls. And it was.

The Ben Johnson exclusive is arguably Smith’s biggest story ever – and she says she will never forget the rush of it all.

“I knew it would be the biggest story I would ever cover,” she says. “It was the middle of the night, a double-decker plane, and I knew I was sitting on something huge. It was the greatest feeling in the world to get off the plane with hoards of reporters waiting for Johnson’s arrival and walk past them knowing I already had the story.”

This was just the start for Smith, who was offered a position with Sports Illustrated in 1989, and six months later was asked to make a move to the West Coast from New York.

“When I was in college, we print journalists thought broadcast journalists should be in the drama department,” she says. “We thought we were the only serious journalists – so when I accepted the position at Sports Illustrated in 1989, I had reached my destination, I was a writer and that’s what I wanted.”

Upon arriving in California, she made her home in San Pedro.

“I loved San Pedro,” she says. “The air was clean, it was a affordable and it didn’t seem like big, splashy Los Angeles.” Smith’s daughter, Dylann Tharp, was three at the time, and she wanted her to grow up in a good community.

“It was important, with all the traveling I do, to have a place to come home to,” she says. “A place to exhale – I have stayed in San Pedro ever since.”

Tharp, now 26, was a fixture on working road trips. Smith remembers various all-star games where Tharp would sit on the floor next to her and play with Barbies while Smith covered the game – so much so, that Tharp began to interact with the players and would later track them down for her Mom.

“I took Dylann with me a lot,” says Smith. “She grew up with Charles Barkley essentially – they are still good buds. She was with me on the NBA or NCAA tournament trail and also went with me to all the bowl games.”

“There is a photo above my fireplace where Barkley is holding her at the Minnesota All-Star Game, after chastising me for using my kid to do all my work, my producer said, ‘Does she know Shaq?’”

Tharp, after graduating from San Pedro High School, captained the University of Oregon soccer team and in 2007 was named to the Pac-10 second team. She majored in art and communications at Oregon, and is now living and working in Los Angeles.

Since Smith joined ESPN in 1997, she has recorded hundreds of articles and reports on topics ranging from the Olympics to the O.J. Simpson trial. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS national championship game, the NHL Stanley Cup, golf and tennis championships, ski racing, weightlifting, boxing and motor sports.

“I’ve always wanted to write stories,” she says. “Making the transition to ESPN was difficult, it was a lot of training – hair training, make-up training, where to stand training, voice training — but I love it, I love being a sideline reporter. I love my job, and I love even more that everyday presents a different challenge — no day is the same.”

In addition, she is the co-founder of the Magic Johnson Foundation newsletter, serves on various committees for The Boys & Girls Club of San Pedro and is a volunteer writer for many charity organizations, including the Serra Project, which provides homes for AIDS victims.

Smith plans on walking the sidelines for sometime. She loves that her weeks can range from USC football, to Lakers basketball, to baseball and the NFL.

“I am writing a book on Al Davis, which is the hardest thing I have ever done,” she says. “But I have also found a new passion for jumping on stories. I love my job, I love it all. Everyday is different, the sports world is always changing, and something is always happening.” spt