How Logging My Meals is Working Out

Keat takes notes

Earlier in February, I blogged about the impact of logging meals and exercise on the success of weight loss efforts. At the time, I noted that this is an effective tool for many. Especially if you are using an app designed for this, it can help more accurately determine calories in food being consumed, how many calories are burned during exercise, and bring discipline (think avoid snacking because it is too much trouble to log a Hershey Kiss–26 calories!). Knowledge is power, and that power can lead to greater success in keeping healthier and fit.

I discovered another benefit. Now that I am more aware of how many calories are in certain foods, my grocery shopping and meal planning have changed. I am spending more time in the produce section and less time picking up processed foods. Fish is a great choice as it is low in calories (unless it is slathered in sauce) and has many health benefits. Vegetables are low in calories and can be filling and add color to the plate. Some foods (Thomas’ Whole Grain English Muffins and Dave’s Killer Breads) are not the evil carb monsters we believe them to be. This is not to say that I do not enjoy the occasional cookie or ice cream, but it is more in the context of an overall plan of eating healthier.

Usually when I am trying to lose weight, I find myself hungry quite a bit of the time. Logging has now given me the tools to plan meals that will be filling and still lower in calories. It is working. I am fueling my body in a more appropriate way rather than giving in to cravings (which seem less frequent now). Most importantly, I have lost 10 pounds in 4 weeks. I have been really disciplined and have managed to take off my COVID weight. Just a few more pounds to go and I will be at the ideal weight for my height. I feel great, my clothes are no longer tight, and I like what I see when I look in the mirror. Logging is a bit of a pain but it has paid off.

You know what they say: no pain, no gain. In this case: no logging, no losing. It does not work for everyone, but it sure seems to be giving me success.

Fitness and Fighting Disease

Cancer-fighting Strategy

I recently had a conversation with a surgeon about the role that fitness plays in fighting disease. He answered (rather tongue in cheek) that in his experience it seems that those folks who seem to take the poorest care of themselves are often the ones who simply will not die.

This was not what I was expecting to hear, but it is based on anecdotal evidence rather than research.

Research, on the other hand, shows that those who are physically fit–who exercise on a regular basis, maintain a proper diet, and get enough sleep–are less likely to be afflicted by disease. In particular, exercise is known to reducte the risk of diabetes (type 2), heart disease, many types of cancer, anxiety and depression, and dementia. Even so, we do hear about people who seem to be in tip-top condition who receive terrible diagnoses as well as those who treat their bodies poorly and live to a ripe-old age. The reality is that there are many factors (genetics, environment, luck) that shape our overall health and longevity.

What happens, though, to those who are fit and become ill? Often–though not always–those who are in better shape at the time of their diagnosis have a better chance of beating the disease. Those who exercise regularly, eat right, and get plenty of sleep can have stronger immune systems; this is key in fighting off disease. When treatment involves surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, their bodies are often better able to tolerate the stress being placed on them. People who are accustomed to setting health and fitness goals may also have a better outlook about their ability to achieve good health again.

Bet there are no guarantees. So why even bother? If I work out regularly and have other good health habits and I may still get cancer, or Parkinson’s Disease, or Alzheimers, etc., why go to all the trouble? Because maintaining a healthy lifestyle should not be primarily about preventing disease; it should be about being able to enjoy life to the fullest for however long we are given on this planet. There are folks–like the ones the surgeon mentioned–who may life longer, but they may be very limited in their ability to carry out activities of daily living, let alone take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there.

There are no guarantees. All we can do is take the best care of the bodies entrusted to us so that we can enjoy the blessings and love all around us.

Over 200 Followers

Number 200

When I began this blog just under two years ago (in fact, 2/24/21 will be the 2 Year Anniversary of my first post), I had very little idea how this whole thing worked. Luckily, my son Rami Ungar the Writer (you can read his blog too) gave me some tips and helped me along the way.

My goal with this blog originally had been to synthesize Judaism and Fitness; this grew out of my shared experiences of being a rabbi for nearly 29 years and being a personal trainer for the last 3 years. Over time, the emphasis of my posts has shifted some. A year after being certified as a personal trainer, I got a specialization in Functional Aging; this certification transformed my fitness career as I focus more on training older adults. In August of 2020, I officially started At Home Senior Fitness, LLC–my own personal training business for older adults in the Cleveland area–and globally on the web. As a result of this professional move, my blog posts have begun to address more frequently the concerns of older adults. I also have brought posts that discuss nutrition, COVID-19, and the many factors that influence our health and fitness.

While I do every now and then reference Jewish ideas, Jewish texts, and Jewish values, is is not quite as prevalent as it was in the early days. Does that mean that I need to rename my blog? Not so fast…. The Hebrew word for “exercise” is kosher pronounced as we would in English; the word used to describe the Jewish dietary laws is pronounced kasher (with the “a” sounding like “ah”). In Hebrew the words are spelled identically–mostly because written Hebrew uses only consonants; the vowels for each word, however, are different. Even so, kosher and kasher come from the same root. A food which is kosher is one that has been determined to be “fit” for consumption–as in, it is appropriate or OK. And, of course, exercise makes us “fit” as well.

I have taught several classes, given lectures, and been interviewed on the Jewish/Fitness connection. While it is not a major concept in Judaism, there is much in Jewish literature and thought that emphasizes the importance of maintaining healthy bodies; the reason being that we cannot serve God and others if we are too sick, frail, or weak. So it is that the connection between Judaism and Fitness is always there–even if not explicitly.

It will be interesting to see what the next year of my blog–and my business–brings. In the meantime, I am thrilled to have over 200 followers. It means a lot that people from all over the world find meaning, information, and maybe even inspiration in my words. Here’s to the next 200 and beyond!

Thanks for reading.

Two Are Better Than One

Valentine cookies

Valentine’s Day is not a holiday celebrated by many Jewish people simply because its origins are in the Catholic tradition. My wife and I jokingly call February 14 “The Day We Don’t Celebrate,” but we still go out of our way to express our love through little gifts and a nice meal. Today was no exception. The message (at least as it has evolved over time) is universal; love is a powerful force for good in our lives and in our world. It does not matter what your background, this is a message that resonates.

Love has many health benefits as well. I will not get medical here, but rather point to the fact that when two people come together (romantically or otherwise), something special often happens. What do I mean by “otherwise?” We all know friends or co-workers whose presence in our lives makes a difference; they are a comfort to us when we are down, cheerleaders when we are discouraged, celebrators when things are going well. There are many ways to commit to others in a loving way that does not involved physical intimacy.

This is a blog about fitness, so I do want to mention that teamwork can make a tremendous difference in reaching one’s health goals. I know of many people who regularly go to the gym with a partner so that they keep each other motivated and on track. I have a friend I have known since my freshman year of high school; even though we do not live in the same city, we work out on Zoom three times a week. He keeps me motivated and I do the same for him; we rarely cancel a workout because we do not want to let the other person down. I am also fortunate that my wife shares many of the goals that I have around caring for ourselves; recently we made a promise to each other to be more mindful about what we eat (and how much!). It is so much easier to do this when we are both in it together.

If we are having a hard time reaching our goals–fitness or otherwise–it is a good idea to ask: “who can help me to achieve this?” Reaching out usually helps us, but also helps the other person as well. It is more fun to have a partner in the endeavor and the chances of success are greater.

On this Valentine’s Day (The Day We Don’t Celebrate), I encourage you to think not only of a romantic love partner, but also the people near and far who have shared their love with you. Do more than just think about it, though; act in ways that demonstrate how much they mean to you. It can be flowers, candies, or a gift, but it can also be a commitment to working as one to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Wishing you all the best in health, fitness, and love!

New Study: Overweight and Active Is Still a Problem

Bathroom scales

A new study from the European Society of Cardiology bursts the bubble that you can be overweight and still healthy–what some refer to as “fat but fit.” [For the record, I find this language offensive, but it is the wording used in the report].

The report says that even if one is physically active, the risks from being overweight are not greatly diminished. Over a half-million people participated in the study; they were classified by BMI into three categories: normal weight, overweight, and obese. They were additionally classified as either active, insufficiently active, and inactive.

Perhaps the most significant finding was that irrespective of activity level, higher BMIs were associated with higher levels of disease. Overweight and obese participants were at greater cardiovascular risk no matter their level of activity. In particular, obese people (compared to those at normal weight) are still twice as likely to have high cholesterol, four times as likely to have diabetes, and five times as likely to have high blood pressure.

All that being said, there is also such a thing as being thin and unfit. Obviously, this is not a good thing either; however, the extra weight carries risks independent of physical activity. This does not negate the fact that the more activity the better. Controlling one’s weight and being physically active go hand-in-hand to achieve better health outcomes.

Here is an abstract of the report: https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Being-fat-linked-with-worse-heart-health-even-in-people-who-exercise.

Logging Meals

Epic Meal Time - Lego Edition!

It’s science. The way that we lose weight is by burning more calories through activity than we consume through eating.

A pound of fat is 3500 calories. In order to lose that pound, a person would have to either eat that many fewer calories or increase activity by that many calories or a combination of both. It seems fairly straightforward but many people still struggle with losing those pounds.

In many cases the problem has to do with misperceptions about how much exercise we are doing and how much we are eating. There are many apps that help with this. These fitness apps will calculate how many calories are burned in a 20-minute moderate stationary bicycle ride or 10 laps in the pool; they will also know how many calories are in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (adjustable for the kind of bread, the type of jelly, and the amount of peanut butter) or a stalk of celery. This takes the guesswork out of it all…but it is time-consuming and tedious.

Those who are serious about getting to a healthier weight would be wise to put in that extra effort. Many times we think a snack is just a few calories when it could be well over 200. Other times we think a walk must burn 300 calories when maybe it only burned 100. The more committed a person is to tracking the meals and logging them, the greater the chances of successes. A number of factors impact this. 1. The figures are more accurate using this method; the guesswork is taken out if an app is used. 2. We become more educated about what we are eating and just how healthy or indulgent it might be. 3. We become more educated about how effective our workout/activities are in burning calories. 4. The idea of having to log every meal and snack can also serve as a kind of regulator; in other words, we might think to ourselves: “I could eat that cookie, but then I’d have to log it on the app. Too much trouble. I’ll just wait for dinner….”

Not everyone has this experience, but I have found that the most effective way for me to regulate my weight is to log every meal, every snack, and every workout. Of course, from the beginning one has to know the right number of calories allotted each day or logging makes little sense. Talk to a health or diet professional to know those numbers and plan accordingly.

Watch Your Form while You Watch that Screen

Exercise Videos

One of the worries that people have when going to work out at the gym is that they may do an exercise “wrong;” in other words, the form may be off. To the casual exerciser, this may not seem like such a big deal…”so what if my foot is in the wrong place or my back isn’t straight?” Not having the correct form is not only a problem in terms of possibly not getting the full benefit of an exercise, but also it can lead to injury.

This is one of the reasons why people like to work out with a personal trainer–especially if they have injuries or are older. A trainer will ensure that exercises are done properly and help prevent injury. Of course, there are dozens of other reasons to hire a personal trainer, but this is really at the heart of it for many; no one wants to end up worse off than when they started.

It is hard enough to figure out the way to do an exercise correctly at the gym (where you might be able to ask a fitness staff member for assistance, or watch someone else’s form, or even have someone “nicely” correct you). With so many of us avoiding gyms and working out at home, the risk of performing a move incorrectly and possibly injuring ourselves increases. Here is a recent article at http://www.cnn.com that addresses this very issue: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/22/health/proper-form-common-mistakes-online-workouts-wellness/index.html.

When we are at home, we are often less motivated to work out in the first place. Add to this that we may be watching a video or tuned into a fitness class with a bunch of other people, and it may not be the best recipe for success. The instructor–whether the workout is live or recorded–will often give instructions to help keep form the way it should be, but it is not the same as one-on-one on-line or in-person. S/he cannot see everyone all the time. Unless you are an experienced exerciser, it is important to be cautious.

I teach group fitness on-line. It is a challenge to instruct and keep an eye on participants in a gym setting–how much more so on a small screen. How to address this?

–Meet with the instructor one-on-one outside of class time. Many will do this for a fee, or if you are a regular participant in the class perhaps for free. Use that opportunity to ask questions and have your form checked.

–If you are unsure about an exercise, there are many videos available on-line by certified fitness professionals; if they are done well, they will show the move from different angles and give detailed explanations that may not be possible in a group setting.

–Watch your own screen or have a mirror nearby to check yourself. As you do an exercise, does your form match that of the instructor? I am a personal trainer and even I look at the screen to make sure my form is correct so that I am modeling properly for my participants.

–Engage the services of a personal trainer to help master the correct way to do exercises. This can be done in-person or virtually. I can do a much better job of ensuring proper form working with a client one-on-one than in the group setting. Do not think that working with a trainer in this way means that you have to be a client forever; it is not uncommon (and it is OK) to work with a trainer for a limited time.

Despite these warnings, virtual training can be an excellent option–especially for those who are more concerned about the spread of infection, as well as for older adults for whom getting in the car and going to a class might be more challenging. It is important, however, not to be lulled into thinking that form does not matter because “no one can really see me.” No one wants to be involved in an exercise regimen that will ultimately do more harm than good.

Impossible Burger Review – Meatloaf

Impossible Foods now hawks its faux ground beef in grocery stores - CNET

A couple of week’s ago at a local supermarket, Heinen’s, I was on my way to look for Beyond burgers (a meatless alternative) that I have had several times in burger form. When I went over to the “Plant-based” section of the meat department, I was pleased and excited to see that they carried Impossible products, which in my humble opinion, are better than beyond burgers when it comes to taste. Not only did they have the pre-made burger patties, there was also burger in a package that could be used in the same way as ground beef in any recipe. I bought one package and used it in a spaghetti sauce recipe and it was good…but kind of hard to tell how close it was to “real meat,” which I haven’t eaten in about 15 years.

This last trip to the supermarket I bought another couple of packages for a meatloaf recipe that called for one pound of ground beef. (Impossible sells in 12 oz packages, so I had to buy 2 and have a 1/2 pound left over). I followed a recipe that I found on-line: https://www.thewholesomedish.com/the-best-classic-meatloaf/. Friday afternoon, the house smelled amazing as I was making this for Shabbat dinner; in large part, I suppose, due to the sweet sauce on top. Even so, the proof is in the taste, and it was AMAZING! The texture and taste closely reseble that of real ground meatloaf (at least from what I remember). Today I had leftovers on a challah roll with some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. Sublime.

I am already thinking of other ways to use the Impossible burgers: tacos, stuffed cabbage, sloppy joe’s, etc. A whole new world has opened up since the product doesn’t require any modifications in recipes. It can be used exactly as ground beef.

As for the nutrition, here is a good article from Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/impossible-and-beyond-how-healthy-are-these-meatless-burgers-2019081517448. The article compares Impossible, Beyond, turkey, ground beef, and black bean burgers. There are trade-offs with each product–although ground turkey followed by black bean burgers seem to be the healthiest choices. Strictly comparing Impossible with ground beef, Impossible has less cholesterol but more sodium, more carbs but also more fiber. The calorie and fat counts are similar, but Impossible has higher saturated fats.

While Impossible may not be a healthier alternative, it is a meatless alternative. For those of us who do not eat meat, Impossible is an excellent substitute. I cannot wait to try some more recipes!

6 Months Since Bicep Surgery

Biceps brachii - Muscles of the Upper Extremity Visual Atlas, page 46

Hardly seems possible, but with the snow falling outside I realized that tomorrow marks 6 months since my bicep tenodesis surgery. Here is a short update on where I am.

I had the surgery after more than a year of physical therapy that provided little relief to the pain and limited mobility I was experiencing in my right arm. I am not sure how I injured it in the first place but I am willing to guess that there was a dumbbell bench press somewhere along the way that did not go right. I reached the point early last summer where I knew it was not going to get better and, in fact, I was finding it harder to use my right arm and having difficulty sleeping from the pain at night.

The surgery was done by Dr. James Rosneck of the sports medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic; it was done outpatient at the sports medicine facility. Previous posts talk about my progress during the first week, two weeks, month, etc. My main complaint after the surgery was the continuing discomfort. It was not until about a month ago that I really began to sense that the surgery was worth it. I am almost pain-free; every once in a while, I get a twinge when turning my arm a certain way. I have returned to lifting heavier weights. I am no longer feeling like the injury and subsequent repair are in any way impairing my ability to do my work–especially teaching my fitness classes. I am still careful, and in the coming months I expect the improvements to continue.

My words of advice to those considering this bicep repair surgery: recovery will take longer than you think. The timeline given to me before surgery was not so accurate (is it ever?); I was able to get back to work in a week (although limited) and was back in the gym a week later. In terms of feeling “back to normal,” however, it was more like 5 months. Consider the risks and the benefits and make the decision that fits for you and your doctor.

No, I Wouldn’t Like Fries with That

french fries

Most of us know that eating fried foods is not the healthiest choice. A study published in the journal, Heart, on 1/18/2021, looked at existing research and concluded that even small amounts of fried foods can have a negative effect on our health.

According to an article on http://www.cnn.com: “Compared to those who ate the least, people who ate the most fried food per week had a 28% higher risk of major cardiovascular events, a 22% greater risk of coronary heart disease and a 37% heightened risk of heart failure….” Additionally, the article explained that: “Each additional weekly serving of 114 grams or 4 ounces (½ cup) of fried foods increased the risk for heart attack and stroke by 3%, heart disease by 2% and heart failure by 12%, the study found. A medium McDonald’s french fry serving, for example, is 117 grams.”

The risk is further increased because many fried foods contain trans fats–fats that have been hydrogenated in order to improve taste and increase shelf life–which is bad for cholesterol. The FDA has banned trans fats, but the ban is not fully in place and there are loopholes. Frying allows the food to absorb the fats thereby adding calories and increasing health risks.

Every once in a while, a little fried food would not be the end of the world. A plate of fries will not kill a person, but the research does indicate that over time there is a marked difference between the health outcomes of those who eat fried foods on a regular basis and in higher quantities than those who do not.

As we make our way into 2021 and many of us work on New Year’s Resolutions to be healthier, this research helps us to understand just how important our choices can be.

Here is the link for the article on CNN.com: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/18/health/fried-foods-heart-disease-study-wellness/index.html