health and fitness

you can change direction, but don't change course

Every now and then life will throw you a curve ball, or a change up:

  • New job
  • Moving to a new city
  • Moving into a new house
  • Getting married
  • Having a baby
  • Getting divorced
  • or any of a hundred others...

You'll have a perfect routine set up, where you're eating well, getting your exercise in, and making progress towards your goal, when suddenly - BAM! and it all gets messed up.

Here's the thing - Don't let it get messed up.

There are dozens of body weight exercises you can do anywhere, and a couple-few 20 minute workouts each week is all you really need to stay fit and healthy.

Eating a moderate amount of real food should be even easier than finding time in your new schedule to workout. But it's up to you to be successful.

"Go further than yesterday."

- Chris Butterworth


300 posts ago: this one thing can make or break your day
200 posts ago: Fit-20 workout 07-06-12 - burpees, pull-ups, dumbell swings
100 posts ago: my car won't start - the yin and yang of emotions


checking in on my fitness plan

I've been challenging myself to the same weekly goal since mid-September (you can read the challenge here). Now, 3 months later, seems like a good time to reflect on what I've learned:

  • Big success will come when you have enough little successes to keep it company. Running a couple miles in the morning doesn't feel like anything Earth-shattering; heck, it's not even worth sharing on social media. But the results add up:
  • I had previously only run 50 miles in a month once before; I've now done it two months IN A ROW! (and I'm getting close to the mark for this month too!)
  • On a weekly basis, I had clocked 10 miles only 20 times, with the last one being 67 weeks previously. I have now run 10 miles 9 weeks in a row and 12 of the last 13!
  • You can't short-cut success, anymore than you can wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon. But a short run, everyday, adds up to a lot of miles.

Running in the Cold
  • Is Hard - my very first post on this blog was titled "Running in the cold is hard", and I still think that's true. But I've learned a few things this winter which have made it easier:
  • Gear Matters - As the morning lows have dropped from the 60's through the 50's and 40's and down into the 30's, I've been able to wear the right gear - which makes the cold a little more bearable.
    • Ear Band - a simple, inexpensive fleece headband to cover my ears has made a world of difference. I can't explain why I've never used one of these before.
    • Layers - base layer long sleeve, short sleeve t-shirt, long sleeve microfiber running sweatshirt, long sleeve baggy cotton t-shirt, and I'm out the door! When the temperature is mid-30's or less, I'll skip the last cotton t-shirt and replace it with a heavier cotton sweatshirt. For bottoms, I've been fine with track pants all the way down to 32 degrees. (my coldest run so far.)
    • Gloves - warm hands are a big deal (almost as much as warm ears), but I didn't like wearing gloves. Luckily my long sleeve microfiber running shirt has really long sleeves, so I've been pulling the sleeves down over my hands, and it works great.
    • Feet / Socks - I generally run in Luna Sandals (more on that here), and I rode the cold weather all the way down to 32 in my Lunas. However, that last week of 36, 35, 32 sucked, and my toes were numb after 10 minutes of running each day. I've since decided that anything lower than 38 degrees deserves socks and "typical" shoes.
  • Patience, and Savor your Victories - when it's really cold outside (or wet, or windy), I know before I even start that I'm not going to break a speed record that day. So I give myself permission to run at whatever pace my body wants to run. The victory comes from taming the "lazy beast", keeping the streak alive, and adding miles to my body's fitness, and from doing something all my friends think is crazy. (Maybe I am crazy, but I get a bit of pleasure from knowing I'm the only one out there getting it done.)

Consistency Wins
  • Before the Run - Sometimes I don't want to get out of bed in the morning. Simply rolling my feet over the side of the bed is a huge victory. However,
  • After the Run - I have not once, repeat - not one time, finished the run and thought I would have been better off with another half hour's sleep. I might wish I had gone to bed earlier the night before, but I've never felt like the run was a bad idea.
  • Pace - it's difficult to explain how much better I am at running today than I was 3-4 months ago. My fastest times are faster than they were, which is to be expected. But what's unexpected is just how much easier running has become. My "slow" runs today, where I'm just cruising along at a fairly easy pace without breathing too heavy or exerting myself too much, are at about the same pace as my "fast" runs used to be.
  • Endurance - My 2.25 mile baseline course around the neighborhood - it used to feel like a workout and today feels like a warm-up.

  • It's been 13 weeks - that's a long time compared to one week, but it's a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. That being said, it's a great start.
  • I'm not a marathoner, and I'm not even very fast compared to the "real" runners out there. But I feel a lot more comfortable running than I used to, and I'm getting faster.
  • Add to all this running that I'm able to do more push-ups and pull-ups than I could 3 months ago, and I'm more flexible than I was, and that my weight has remained constant while at the same time I've been able to increase my meal portions - and it feels like a win-win-win.

I think I'm going to stick with this program for awhile longer - maybe I'll revisit this post in the spring..

- Chris Butterworth


200 posts ago: links I like 07-03-12


30,000 steps

Last month we did a lot of walking on our vacation - a lot of walking. My wife's pedometer read 30,000 steps one day, and I'm not even sure that was our longest walking day.

The walking site tells me I walked 15 miles that day, which means I blew through about 1,875 extra calories, if we assume 125 calories per mile. But that doesn't tell the whole story of the day - I could still have either gained weight or lost weight, depending on how much I ate.

So, let's see how I did:
  • Breakfast (600 calories). I brought a bagel with me and grabbed a mocha from the hotel's Starbucks.
  • Snacks (900 calories). I ate a few energy bars during those in-between times. (mid-morning 225, noon-ish 225, 5:00ish 290.) I also had a few handfuls of some of my boys' sweets.
  • Lunch (500 calories). We ate a late lunch, and I split a plate with my wife.
  • Dinner (1,200 calories). We ate dinner at a restaurant, where I enjoyed a full meal - and licked my plate clean!
  • Total Consumption for the day: I consumed about 3,425 calories.
  • Total Calories Burned for the day: I walked off 1,875, plus my normal 1,900 calories per day at rest. Overall I burned about 3,775 calories.

This means I burned off 350 more calories than I ate. 350 calories - that's all - on a day when I walked 15 miles! This helps to make a few points:
  1. It takes a lot of exercise to outrun your daily eating, but it's possible.
  2. I was able to slow-drip food all day long, so that I was neither hungry nor full throughout the day.
  3. Restaurant meals are too big. Even with 15 miles of walking, splitting lunch was the difference between net loss and net gain; I would have eaten more than I burned if I had ordered my own lunch. And that restaurant dinner.. I would have been way on the good side if I had eaten a non-restaurant dinner.

Most of us aren't able to walk 15 miles in a day; it simply takes more time than we have available. But the lessons learned can be applied to our everyday lives.

Move a little more. Eat a little less. Snack strategically. And be careful in restaurants!

- Chris Butterworth



running for dinner - or running from dinner

RunKeeper tells me I ran approximately 12 miles last week and burned about 1,400 calories.

I'm not saying whether that's good or bad, a lot or a little, and I didn't run all 12 miles at once. I ran 1-3 miles at a time over the course of 6 different runs. There was nothing particularly notable or astonishing about any of these runs individually, but the fact I was able to consistently get myself out of bed (when it's still dark outside) to get my day started with a run... That's an accomplishment which took some dedication and perseverance, even if only for a week.

This weekend was hectic around our house (even more so than normal), and we were getting into Saturday evening without a dinner plan. At one point while we were in the car I considered stopping at the local Applebees, just so we could take a break and let somebody else prepare dinner for us.

If we had eaten there, I would have ordered the boneless wings (810 calories) with classic buffalo sauce (200 calories) and french fries (440 calories) - that's 1,450 calories for dinner, and that's if I'm able to stick with water to drink!

Turns out waking up early and motivating myself to get out the door for a run 6 days a week is exactly what it takes to offset one dinner at a restaurant (1). Just think how much I would have to run if we ate out more often..!

Luckily for me our last event of the evening was behind schedule, and we decided it was too late to stop off for a long sit-down dinner.

- Chris Butterworth

(1) - I've written many times that it's possible to order small at a restaurant and be ok on your eating plan. But for me, hungry at the end of a long, hectic day, I would have ordered a "regular" sized portion that night, and I would have cleaned my plate!

200 posts ago: FDA approves new weight loss pill - just what we need

100 posts ago: goals and resolutions - an 8-point primer


changing safety with the changing seasons

I can tell the seasons are changing, although here in Phoenix the change is subtle - it'll be 106 today, but it won't feel as hot as we're used to. (and look at what's coming next week - especially the lows!) It's also been dark outside in the mornings for the last few weeks.

But with the changing seasons comes changing needs, especially safety needs.
  • Maybe you were visible on your morning or evening run when the sun was out, but now the cars can't see you. Are you wearing reflective clothing?
  • As the temperatures continue to fall, maybe a change to mid-day is a good idea.
  • You might not need to carry as much water or sunscreen, but that should leave you room for your sweatshirt (once you're warmed up.)
  • That neighborhood or parking garage might have been mostly safe in the daylight, but you don't feel comfortable now that it's dark? Time to change your route!

Earlier this week I was running on the desert trail behind my house when I came face to face with a coyote - less than 20 feet away - and I had an uh-oh moment. He looked at me for a few seconds before moving nonchalantly off the trail. I turned around and headed back into the neighborhood (while hoping not to get eaten by a coyote or crushed by a falling Acme-branded anvil..)

image credit:

I've been on that trail a thousand times before, and there always seems to be other runners, dog-walkers, and cyclists. But not this particular morning at this particular place and time - it was just me and a coyote, in the dark, in the desert. Who knows if he had any buddies watching from the side of the trail..? I was completely alone and exposed, even though I was 25 feet away from the back wall of my neighborhood.

Change of plan: I'll be doing a "city run" during the winter - out the front of my neighborhood instead of the back.

Seasons change, and our safety needs change with them. When you go out for a run, your first priority should always be to make sure you get back home!

- Chris Butterworth


200 posts ago: shadow boxing

100 posts ago: change 4 life obesity advert


my fitness plan 092015

You're only in shape for whatever it is you're in shape for. These days I'm trying to stay generally fit - I don't have a big race on the horizon, and I'm not hiking the canyon anytime soon - I just want to stay healthy and fit.

So what's my current workout plan, and why?

  • 10 miles per week, or more.
  • at least 5 runs per week (and preferably 6).
    • Mon - 2 miles fast
    • Tues - 2 miles slow
    • Wed - 1 mile fast
    • Thurs - 3 miles slow
    • Fri - 18 minutes of 1-minute intervals (one minute running fast; one minute recovering at a slow jog; repeat)
    • Sat or Sun - 2 or 3 miles slow, or a nice trail run.
  • I typically run early in the morning, first thing, before eating or drinking anything. I just get out of bed and go.
  • Stretching - I'm enjoying some stretching while cooling down after running on most mornings. This is a big change for someone as non-flexible as me - maybe one day I'll be almost flexible...

  • 3 times per week, do one or the other (alternate exercises each time)
  • 3-4 sets at a time, in rapid succession, of as many as I can do.
  • Add in some extra core work if I have anything left in the tank.
    • For pull-ups, this means knee lifts or leg raises.
    • For push-ups, I can do planks or dozens of other variations.
  • I generally do these in the evening after work.

Why this Plan?
  • The running / push-ups / pull-ups combination gives me a good mix of cardio and strength training.
  • I did this workout a lot over the summer and really enjoyed it.
  • I like how I feel when I'm in "running shape", and I like how I look when I'm in "pull-up shape".

Why these distances / reps?
  • A goal should be attainable, but not easy.
  • I've used RunKeeper to track all my runs since 1/1/2011, and the data shows I've run 10 miles in a week 20 times since then (out of 247 weeks.) I haven't run 10 miles in a week yet in 2015, and I only did it 5 weeks in all of 2014 - with the last one being in May 2014 (approx 67 weeks ago.)
    • This goal is doable, since I've done it many times in the past.
    • But it won't be easy, since I haven't been able to do it very often. Getting 10 miles in on a consistent basis will be challenging, and hopefully rewarding.
  • As for the reps on push-ups and pull-ups - I want to feel sore enough to know I worked out, but not too sore to be comfortable the next day. I also want to get stronger over time, but I don't need to look like a body builder to feel successful. Enough is enough - no need to overdo it.
  • I wrote about the optimal amount of exercise a few months ago - this should be more than enough to stay fit and healthy, without being excessive.
  • I'm thinking this might be a worthwhile plan for the next year, but I'm going to commit myself to it for the next 10 weeks, and re-assess from there.

Eating is King

As always, diet has a larger impact on weight than exercise, unless you're working out for several hours a day. So I'll want to continue to eat a reasonable amount of real foods (or as close to real as practical) to maintain my target weight. Running several days in a row does not give one free license to eat unlimited amounts of fast food!

So there you have it.

Simple, but not easy. Attainable, but not without consistent dedication. And rewarding - I should be in "fit and healthy" shape when my 10 weeks are up (the week after Thanksgiving, coincidentally, and speaking of eating reasonable amounts...)

- Chris Butterworth



200 Posts ago: Fit-20 Workout 06-27-12


which is the healthiest bread?

I started thinking about this article while enjoying the irony of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toasted artisan-crafted bread. (believe me, it was a really good PB&J..)

What is bread, really? At it's most basic form, and it's been around for thousands of years, we're talking about milled grains (wheat), leavening agents (yeast), and water, mixed together and heated (1). Yet considering what a simple product it is, there are so many choices at the grocery store it makes my head spin!

Why so many? And which one should I be eating?

Some quick thoughts about bread:
  • Prices range from really cheap (about $1 per loaf) to really expensive ($5 or $6 per loaf). Feeding a family who eats lots of sandwiches at $6 for a small loaf seems excessive - buy the bread you can afford.
  • Cheaper options tend to have more man-made ingredients in them; this helps the bread last longer before going bad.
  • More expensive (and healthier) options tend to have ingredients you've heard of, such as flour, water, salt, and yeast. Maybe they'll add some nuts, garlic, herbs or spices, but it'll still be whole ingredients that you know what they are (2).
  • Whole wheat, fortified, organic, multi-grain, 11 grain, white, wheat, sourdough, rye, gluten-free, artisan...
  • Lots and lots of choices

More thoughts about bread:

  • Buy what tastes good. If you buy the ultra-organic, 46-grain bread with all the healthiest nuts and seeds baked into it, but then you don't eat it, why bother?
  • Eat bread with fewer, if any, man made ingredients.
  • Don't get caught up in the arms race to healthiest, because you can't win.
  • Your bread is simply a nutrient delivery tool - what you put ON your bread will have a much bigger impact than what is baked IN your bread. (plus all the other food choices you make throughout the day.)
  • If you're eating the super-healthy, most expensive bread because it has 3 grams of fiber, consider that's less fiber than a serving of broccoli (about 5 grams), raspberries (8 grams), or lentils (15 grams) (3). Maybe you could scale back the bread and pair it with a better side dish?

In the end, there is no perfect choice. There are better choices, sure, but there's no such thing as perfect. Eat moderate portions of real foods, and mix in some exercise, and you'll be on the road to healthy.

Meanwhile, all this talk about bread has me craving a turkey sandwich on sourdough with havarti, lettuce and tomatoes...

- Chris Butterworth

Sources cited:


getting great results on days you don't want to workout

Some days you just don't want to work out, and there are dozens of reasons why:

  • You're too tired.
    • You went to bed too late.
    • You didn't sleep well.
    • You got up too early.
  • You don't have time.
    • You're too busy at work.
    • You woke up too late.
  • You'd rather go to bed early.
  • You're too sore from yesterday's workout.
  • You don't feel well.
  • You just can't get motivated.
  • You're battery is almost dead, and you can't workout without your music.
  • The weather's no good.
    • It's too hot outside.
    • It's too cold outside.
    • It's raining / snowing / windy outside.

These are all legitimate, yet none of them should be enough to stop you. Sometimes the very best workouts are the ones you didn't want to do.

When you can motivate yourself to get a workout in on the days that you don't want to - even if it's not one of your best workouts, you get very powerful results:

  1. Physically, you get a workout in. From a fitness standpoint, this beats the heck out of sitting on the couch or laying in bed.
  2. Mentally, you get a huge victory over that lazy devil sitting on your shoulder - you get to prove to yourself that you're more awesome than you thought you were.
  3. Surprise yourself. Sometimes once you get started, you end up having a great workout. I've broken a few PRs on days I didn't really feel like running when I started out.
  4. Illness remedy. Sometimes when I'm not feeling 100%, getting a good sweat on helps shake off whatever's been bothering me. On the other hand, if you're really sick, with a high fever and all those other bad symptoms - maybe that's a good day to skip the workout and stay in bed...
  5. Muscle stretcher. When you're really sore from a previous workout, doing a light workout can help stretch out your muscles and ease their recovery.

Missing a workout once in awhile isn't going to change your life. But getting into the habit of not workout unless conditions are ideal will - it'll rob you of your fitness. Let's face it - conditions are rarely ideal, and once you start giving yourself permission to skip workouts, it gets easier and easier to do.

Tell that lazy devil on your shoulder to shut up, then get up and get moving. (before you change your mind!)

- Chris Butterworth


the optimal amount of exercise

We finally have the truth.

If you've read my writing for any length of time, you'll see a few recurring themes about how much to exercise:

  • Generally speaking, it's important to get up and move around - being healthy assumes at least a little bit of fitness.
  • Diet is more important than exercise - it takes an almost un-doable amount of exercise to out-run you're poor eating choices. For example, running for an hour burns about 900 calories (give or take), while a single chicken burrito from Chipotle can cost you over 1,000 calories!
  • There's not a perfect amount of exercise - some is better than none, and consistent is better than inconsistent, but don't get caught up in the arms race of "most fittest". Breaking a sweat for 15-20 minutes a couple-few times a week goes a long way towards being healthy.
  • Fit and healthy doesn't guaranty longevity, but being overweight virtually guarantees you won't get there. (I've never found evidence of an obese centenarian.)

Interestingly, I read an article last week on FiveThirtyEight (a stats-nerd's dream website - those of you not familiar with it should check it out.) where they looked at the statistical differences among people who walk-jog-run different distances and at different speeds.

It's a long, deep, intensive article (and still worth reading!), but here's FiveThirtyEight's conclusion (emphasis mine):

"If we take this research at face value, we learn a few things. First, some exercise reduces your risk of death. Second, the optimal walking/jogging exercise is light to moderate jogging. The optimal speed is between 5 and 7 mph, and if you do 25 minutes about three times a week, you're all set. Nothing in the data suggests that running more - farther, or faster - will do more to lower your risk of death."

Wow! Statistical evidence, compiled by people far smarter than myself, who agree that exercise is connected to longevity, and that the arms race to most fittest isn't necessary. That's great news all the way around.

Eat a moderate amount of real food and get a moderate amount of exercise, and you'll have the statistical advantage of being healthy in your favor!

- Chris Butterworth


Mexican food - ordering small against peer pressure

We ate out for Mexican food this weekend. Ah, Mexican food - one of my favorites, but I don't think there's a more gluttonous menu out there! Eating out at a Mexican food restaurant can be a big setback; it's one of those meals where you can get to 3,000 calories without trying too hard.

image clipped from Ajo Al's website.

But I had a plan. I ate small for breakfast and lunch, saving myself some extra calories in my daily budget. And I knew we'd be cooking at home the next couple days, so I'd be able to eat smaller and healthier portions as a follow-up if necessary.

I also planned to order small, knowing there's always plenty of food on the table anyway, in case I needed a little extra. I ordered a shredded beef taco with a side of beans, estimating 300-400 calories for the taco and 150-200 for the beans. Add in the chips and salsa before the meal and whatever I sampled from my wife's and kids' plates, and sticking with water to drink, and I shouldn't be too far past 1,000 calories for the meal.

  • Dieting Note - If you limit yourself to 10-12 chips w/ salsa, then eat the beef taco w/ beans, you can walk away from the meal at about 600-700 calories - totally doable even when dieting, as long as you budget for it within your day. Just make sure to avoid the dips and heavy sauces (guacamole, sour cream, queso dip, baja sauce), combo plates, and sugary drinks (sodas, margaritas).

The hardest part about the whole meal was not succumbing to peer pressure when ordering. I ordered an a la cart beef taco w/ a side of beans, and everyone at the table (including the waitress) looked at me like I had a 3rd eye. "Is that all you're going to eat?" was the common question.

I wavered, just for a moment, thinking about how good the tacos would be and whether I should order a 2nd, or maybe add a chicken enchilada (covered in sauce) to the plate. Nope - my order was good, and I was sticking to it. Funny looks or not.

Make a good plan, and stick to it - even under peer pressure, and you'll be successful.

- Chris Butterworth


irony and healthy thoughts at the grocery store

Garfield was my favorite comic when I was a kid. I remember one particular strip where that lazy, gluttonous, overweight feline came across a box of diet chocolate candy and thinks to himself, "Hmmm, not bad. A couple more boxes of these and I'll be skinny as a rail."

That's not exactly how it works, but I frequently hear and see people act this way.

Yesterday I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work, and came across two women who were making a pastime out of gossiping about what was in various shoppers' carts after they had passed by. But you know what they say about people who live in glass houses...

These women, to their credit, had carts full of healthy foods. Mostly meats, fruits, vegetables, and unsweetened drinks, from what I could see. The irony, though, was the women themselves. Each was significantly overweight, and neither looked like they could get up a flight of stairs without taking a break half-way.

The whole episode was odd, and got me to thinking:

Getting healthy is a process: Maybe these women had already lost a lot of weight, and they're well on their way to their goal weight. They could be so tuned in to what they are eating that it really bugs them to see others eating poorly. Maybe.

Weight is the first marker of healthy: We can argue about one type of food being healthier than another, but we can't argue with this: One thing all centenarians have in common. People live into their 100s with a wide range of diets, but nobody gets to that age by being obese.

Eating healthy opens your eyes: It's true that once you become aware of exactly what you're eating, you start to notice just how many bad choices are available - they're everywhere you look!

Be nice: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and when you point your finger there are three fingers pointed back at you. Be nice. Be friendly. Be respectful. It's just better that way.

- Chris Butterworth


knowing when to stop eating

If you're bummed after eating your last bite, because your food tasted so good and you wish there was more to eat, that's good.

If you push your plate away while saying you can't eat another bite, that's bad.

Even better is to learn to understand how much food your body really needs, and to be able to *feel* when you've eaten enough.

1,400 - 1,500 calories per day (while losing weight) isn't a lot, and it's really not a lot when eating restaurant food. Being able to eat a small portion, and to end the meal while it still tastes great (or to have a smaller portion served) is the key to weight loss victory.

Eating slowly and chewing your food really well helps. So does walking away from the table once you've eaten your 500 calorie meal.

- Chris Butterworth


don't fall for justifying eating big

Yesterday I took my family to a theme park. The park was not quite a mile from end to end, and we cris-crossed the grounds several times over the course of the day. I wouldn't be surprised if we walked 8 miles or more around that park - at 140 calories per mile, that's about 1,100 extra calories we were burning!

So if my body normally burns 1,900 calories per day (not including exercise), I could have eaten somewhere around 3,000 calories yesterday without adding any extra surplus to my fat reserves.
3,000 calories sounds like a lot when you're used to eating 300-calorie sandwiches, but they add up fast when you're eating fast food and snacks.

Unfortunately the theme parks don't make it easy to make good choices; we were constantly walking past vendors selling churros, giant pretzels, ice cream, frozen fruit smoothies (with plenty of added sugar I'm guessing). Add in the "value" combos for lunch and dinner, and we could have easily eaten more than 3,000 calories while we were there.

In fact, I'm guessing there are a number of people who would justify that chocolate covered churro and strawberry fruit slushy by thinking to themselves "I've walked so much today, I deserve a little extra snack." What a bummer that would be - to spend the whole day walking around and then to end up gaining weight.. No thanks.

We were fortunate enough to have planned ahead. We brought a backpack with plenty of snacks and water, which helped us to avoid eating gigantic amounts of calories while we were there. (and spending gigantic amounts of dollars to do so!)

Just because you're on vacation, or because you're doing something out of the ordinary, isn't a good reason to close your eyes to what you're eating. You're body doesn't know the difference, and processes the calories the same way it always does.

- Chris Butterworth


the 1, 2, 3 getting started plan

With today being the first of the month, and the first day of the 2nd half of the year, I thought I'd share a simple idea to get started down the road to fitness. Here's a simple routine to get off the couch and work lots of different muscle groups in a short amount of time:

Push-ups, Sit-ups, Squats

  • July 1st - do one of each. That's it, just one.
  • July 2nd - do two of each.
  • July 3rd - do three of each.
  • and so on.
  • Each day, add one more of each exercise to what you did yesterday - you'll do the same number of each exercise as the day of the month.
  • It doesn't matter if you do them all in one set, so long as you do them all on that day. For example, on the 20th:
    • do 20 in a row, all in one set. Or,
    • do as many as you can, take a short rest, and then continue. Take as many breaks as needed to get to 20. Or,
    • do 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening.
    • As long as you 20 of each exercise on the 20th, you're on target!

The first few days may seem easy. That's OK - half of the battle is mental, and simply getting motivated to do the exercises is just as important as the physical exercises themselves. You're changing habits and building routines, which isn't easy in and of itself. Just relax and keep at it - it'll get physically demanding soon enough.

By the end of the month you'll be doing 31 push-ups, 31 sit-ups, and 31 squats in a single day. (and you will have done 496 of each during the course of the month!) This will be a great starting point to build from next month.

Remember - the goal is long-term health and fitness. You're not going to completely change your body this month; you're simply making forward progress down the path of creating a better you. Six months from now, a year from now, 5 years from now - it won't matter whether you started with 1 push-up or with 100; if you exercise consistently you'll be "fit".

Now go get after it!

- Chris Butterworth


diet soda - the lesser of two evils

Diet soda is bad news because it contains artificial sweetener, which some people purport has long-term negative consequences such as rotting your tooth enamel and correlating with increased risk for cancer.

Regular soda is bad news because it contains about 150 calories per can, and because it contains buckets of sugar.

For me personally, I would prefer the bad news that comes from regular soda, except... I'm not very good at moderating with sugar. Somehow one can leads to another can, with a side snack of cookies and maybe some ice cream and/or a candy bar later in the afternoon. (It doesn't help that my office has plenty of snacks around for employee morale.) Next thing I know I've eaten about 1,000 calories worth of crap!

I don't do that with diet soda - I can drink a diet soda and be done with my craving. So, even though diet soda might be unhealthy, it's my better alternative between the two.

I can hear you thinking "What about water? That's always a choice." Yes, I drink a lot of water - about 96 oz of water a day. But sometimes that just doesn't do the trick, and I have to scratch a craving's itch...

Your mileage may vary. But as long as you're considering the consequences of each alternative and making choices accordingly, you'll have a better chance of walking the path towards healthy.

- Chris Butterworth


too much sugar in soda

I drink a cup of coffee most mornings - sometimes black, sometimes with a little sugar. Yesterday though, I added more sugar than normal - not a lot, and not on purpose, but wow - my coffee tasted so sweet. Too sweet, actually.

Then I read the label on the sugar canister: 1 tsp of sugar has 15 calories. And then I really started thinking...

If this 15-calorie cup of coffee is too sweet, and a can of Coke has 140 calories - what else can be in a Coke that's adding a hundred or so calories?

Let's read the label: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine. Hmmm - water, color, acid, caffeine.. is it possible all the calories are coming from HFCS (sugar)?

That's when I went to the interwebs, and found a whole bunch of people had already done the research - and shown the results in pictures - and the results are scary! Check out the pictures below..

Sugar adds up fast!

Jon wrote a post on the Dad Is Learning blog, where he measured out the actual sugar consumed from drinking three cans of Dr Pepper per day: cubes up a picture by size of Coke:

Maybe you'd prefer to see it in Spanish, from the Alimento y Buen Vivir blog:

Or by spoonful, from the Body and Soul website:

It's all in your point of view

All this is just soda - we didn't even get into fruit juice, breakfast cereals, muffins, yogurt, and just about everything else that's been prepackaged..

The amount of sugar we're asking our bodies to process is astounding. Of course we can always fall back on the old adage "everything is ok in moderation" - an adage that I really like, by the way - but then we have to define moderation. Look back at those two glasses full of sugar from one week's worth of Dr Pepper; I wouldn't put a bag of refined sugar in front of my kids and expect them to finish it by the end of the month. Would you?

Ask me if I want a Coke, and I'll usually answer yes.

Ask me if I want a glass of carbonated water and 15 spoonfuls of sugar, and I'll pass - every time.

Maybe changing our point of view is the way to cut back on the amount of sugar we eat. I know I can't un-see those pictures..!

- Chris Butterworth


2 examples why playing sports is GREAT exercise

Yesterday after work I convinced my 11-year old to go for a jog with me. I didn't want to burn him out or push him too hard, so I thought we'd go at a nice easy pace for about a mile and a half - "let's see what the kid's got", I thought to myself. I upped the ante by telling him if he wants to bring his soccer ball we could stop at the park on the way home and kick the ball around.

youth soccer - club soccer

Now, this is a kid who plays club soccer, which means he's playing soccer almost year round, a couple times a week (or more). So I assumed a 15-minute jog wouldn't be too much for him. Well, that was the understatement of the week!

Example #1: The soccer player was in better shape than the moderately fit guy.

While I jogged along at a moderate pace (probably about 9:30/mile but I wasn't timing it), my son was dribbling a soccer ball - zig-zagging back and forth across the path, stopping and starting, doing fancy moves, sprinting ahead of me before stopping to juggle the ball, etc. It was ridiculous! I would have been completely gassed if I had been doing what he was doing.

Granted he's 11 and I'm... much older. But still - that kid is in great shape even compared with other 11-year olds. Playing a high-intensity sport like soccer, consistently - week in and week out, is a great way to stay in shape.

Example #2: Playing soccer was much harder than running.

Once we had run our loop and ended up back at the park, we started kicking the soccer ball back and forth with each other. Kick the ball, trap the ball when it comes to you, dribble once or twice before kicking the ball back to the other guy, run a few steps so the other guy can pass to a moving target, cut back when you receive it and pass with your other foot, etc. etc. It was a lot of short bursts of energy - no more than a couple-few seconds at a time.

After 15 minutes of goofing around kicking the ball back and forth, I was far more tired than I had been after jogging. My heart was racing, I was covered in sweat, and I was panting for air. Not to mention I was using more muscles with greater intensity and range of motion.

If I had to choose which exercise would burn more calories and give me the best full-body workout for a given amount of time, I'd say playing soccer beat running yesterday - and by a large margin.

- Chris Butterworth

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What is a 30-Day Challenge?

Forming a new habit can be difficult, as it requires you to make both physical and mental changes, and sometimes these changes aren't easy. This seems to be especially true when you're trying to do something that's "good for you."

image credit -

Trying your new habit out for 30 days (a 30-day challenge) can be a great way to test drive your new habit, without having to commit to it forever.

What is a 30-day Challenge?

This isn't rocket science - it's pretty easy. Challenge yourself to do something, or to quit doing something, for 30 days. Every single day, no matter what, for 30 days. The challenge gives you an opportunity to:
  • Give something new a try. A new task / habit / change can seem daunting. By giving yourself a 30-day time frame you're able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's that whole "I can do anything for 30 days" mentality, where you're more willing to endure some difficulty because you know it's not permanent. This makes it much easier to start a new task - both mentally and emotionally.
  • 30 days isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it is long enough to effect changes to your body and mind.
    • Work out really hard for 30 days, and you'll see and feel the difference in your body.
    • Cut your calories drastically for 30 days, and you'll lose a lot of weight.
    • Changes to your diet will have enough time to impact your digestion, sleep patterns, and energy level. Do you feel better after cutting sugar (or alcohol, or gluten) from your diet?
    • Changes to your daily routine will have enough time for you to see the fruits of your labor. Have you made progress on a hobby because you're watching less TV, or because you're waking up 20 minutes earlier in the mornings?
  • Try something you might have been afraid to try on a more permanent basis. There may be things you would be afraid of failing on, but you'd love to give them a try if it's temporary.
  • Determine what parts of the new habit you liked best, and what parts weren't meant for your long-term life. You can then continue to make that new habit part of your life in whichever way works best for you.

How to make a 30-day Challenge work for you.

Try doing something you've wanted to do, and see how you like it. Commit to it - give it everything you've got - for 30 days. Keep a journal, or at the very least be cognizant about how you feel during the process. Did you lose weight, or get stronger, or get more flexible? Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? Enjoy the accomplishment, and take stock about what you gained from the process.

After the 30 days are over, you can decide whether to make that new habit a permanent part of your lifestyle, and on what terms. Maybe you're only going to do it 3 days per week instead of every day..?

Smaller is better

You can't run a marathon every day, but you can run (or walk) a mile. Doing something every single day - rain or shine, weekday or weekend, even when you're sick or tired - is hard enough. Make that new something a Herculean task and you're doomed before you even begin. Keep it simple - you can always modify and expand on it as time goes on.

Examples of good 30-day Challenges

Good 30-day challenges shouldn't take a lot of time, and they should be easy to track. When you're going to bed at night, there shouldn't be any doubt about whether or not you were successful. (and the answer better be that you were successful!)
  • Run 1 mile every day.
  • Remove something from your diet - soda, sugary drinks, desserts, wheat (gluten), alcohol.
    • Changes to diet can have a big impact on other parts of your well-being, so pay close attention to how you feel, how you sleep, and your overall energy levels.
  • Counting calories - give yourself a daily calorie budget and stick to it.
  • Limiting your time spent on Facebook and/or social media. (or eliminating it altogether.)
  • Stretching / Yoga
  • Stand up from your desk and do jumping jacks for 30-60 seconds, 3-4 times per day.
  • Exercise during TV commercials. push-ups, shadow boxing, 100-ups, mountain climbers, and squats work great for this.
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day.
  • 30-day challenges don't have to be fitness related either; they can work on all areas of your life.
    • Limiting your time spent watching TV.
    • Reading for 15 minutes every day.
    • Say hello to a stranger / smile at somebody.
    • Learning a foreign language for 15 minutes a day.
    • Learning to play a musical instrument for 15 minutes each day.
    • Writing a couple hundred words in your novel, or your blog.
    • Meditate

Tracking your 30-day Challenge

I like to print out a 30-day worksheet and cross off a Big Red X for each successful task/day. (see my post "Don't Break the Chain"). I keep the worksheet at my desk at work, and it motivates me to continue my forward progress. Here are some worksheets you can print and use. (if the jpg files don't print great for you, shoot me an email and I can send you a pdf version.) I always start on a Monday, which is the beginning of a new week for me, so my tracking schedules start on Mondays...

once per day

twice per day

three times per day

four times per day

eight times per day

a Few of My Personal Challenges

I've taken on a number of 30-day challenges over the years, and sometimes the results have surprised me.
  • 1 Mile per day - some days this was planned as part of a workout, while other days I took a long walk during lunch. And there were a few times where I was getting ready for bed and said "Oh S***! Honey, I'll be back in 10 minutes.." before running out the door! When the challenge was over, I had decided that running wasn't so bad, and I've run a large number of miles since then.
  • Giving up soda - soda has been my vice as far back as I can remember. I've flip-flopped between diet and regular, and I've tried limiting my intake, but it's always difficult. So I made a concerted effort for a 30-day challenge. (I ended up turning this into a 60-day challenge, but that's beside the point.) I was sort of expecting a great cleansing feeling from doing this, but surprisingly it didn't have any impact on my energy, sleep, digestion, or otherwise. So, when the trial was over, I decided to re-introduce soda back into my diet (sugar only - not diet because I don't trust the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners), and I'm using my weight and calories to help determine if and how much I can consume. (because at 150 calories per can it can add up to trouble quickly.) If my weight and eating have been good, I get to indulge.
  • Facebook holiday - I removed Facebook from my phone for 30 days, and realized I really didn't miss it all that much. When the challenge was over I added it back to my phone, but even today - 2 years later - I still don't use it nearly as much as I used to.
  • Being "there" with my kids - this was my favorite challenge I've done, and I liked the results so much I've continued with it ever since then. Instead of being near my kids while doing my own thing (working, or being on my phone, or watching a game on TV, or whatever), I try to be actively engaged with my kids - all that other stuff can wait. My relationship with both boys has become stronger because of this.

In the end, a 30-day challenge is nothing more than an easy way to tempt you into trying something you either wouldn't have tried at all, or that you'd try and then give up on too soon. That being said, a 30-day challenge is also extremely effective and can have long-term, life-changing benefits.

I recommend keeping the 30-day challenge as a tool in your health and fitness arsenal, and using it anytime you're not sure whether a new habit might be right for you.

- Chris Butterworth

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Tortoise and Hare - the tale of two diets

Here I sit on the other side of losing 10 lbs in very short order, and I've had a chance to reflect on the process. This time was a lot different from the method I used last time, and while I was successful both times, I had to ask some deep-thinking questions.

Mercedes Benz tortoise and hare

My first question to myself was "why did I have to lose 10 lbs again?" (ie: why wasn't I able to keep the weight off?) It turns out I have a weakness - I'm not very good at re-adjusting my diet after a big race or event.

The last time it happened I had spent the fall training for a 10-mile run. I was running a lot, and I was eating a lot of food just to maintain my weight. I was able to shove pretty much anything and everything down my neck without consequence. Unfortunately, once my race was over and my workouts tapered down, I continued to snack at my desk all day, and the net result was inevitable.

This time it was because I had been training to hike the Grand Canyon - down and back up on the same day, and the same thing happened. In the spring I was doing a lot of trail running and eating at will. Then, due to injuries and time commitment changes, my workouts slowed down to nothing, but my eating did not. And once again I found myself carrying a dumbbell's worth of extra weight around.

Note to self - stop doing that!

Most of you probably saw the much-hyped Mercedes Benz ad in yesterday's Super Bowl - The Tortoise and the Hare. (if you didn't, click here to watch it on youtube.) That's a great way to describe my two diets. Let's compare the slow and steady tortoise diet with the rapid weight loss hare diet..

Tortoise Diet - Slow and Steady

This was a marginal change diet. I removed the worst offenders and the easiest to find problem spots, such as snacking on sun flower seeds and red vines, and then I ate pretty much whatever I wanted, but I modified my portion size to about 2/3 of what I would normally have eaten. Read the full details here.

The plan was to not have to put a lot of energy into food - counting calories, preparing all my meals, eating specialty foods, changing my behaviors. I kept eating the same foods, only I ate less of them. I guestimated that I was eating about 1,700-ish calories per day, and I expected to lose a couple pounds per month.

  • No major food or lifestyle changes required - eat most of what you ate before, but less of it.
  • Not a lot of hunger pains.
  • Easy to modify over time - a little less or a little more is ok.
  • Sustainable - can eat this way the rest of your life.

  • Thinking about food a lot - you're constantly thinking about what you would normally be eating right now, and then you have to limit yourself to less than that amount.
  • Slow weight loss - spending all month long thinking about food, and then only losing a couple pounds, doesn't feel very rewarding.
  • Not an exact science - you might not know at the end of the day whether or not you've run a calorie deficit for the day.

Hare Diet - Rapid Weight Loss

This was a diet predicated on a severe calorie restriction, eating less than 1,000 calories per day. It required counting calories (I rounded and estimated a bit, so my count wasn't perfect) and an insane amount of willpower. The plan was to lose weight quickly - more of a rip the band aide off type of plan.

  • Rapid weight loss - I loved seeing the scale move lower almost every day, and my clothes fit better each week.
  • Rewarding - A quarter-pound here and a half pound there; it was easy to know my hard work was paying off, especially when I graphed each day's weight in Excel. For me, this was enough to push through the tremendous amount of will power required.
  • Food tastes awesome - every meal tasted like the best meal ever. A slice of pizza was sent from heaven. A ham and cheese sandwich on toasted sourdough was a culinary masterpiece. I ate very slowly and relished in the gift of every bite.
  • Quality food - you learn very quickly which foods give you more satisfaction for fewer calories, and you end up spending your calories on nutrition rich foods, simply because they make you feel more full than the empty-calorie foods.

  • Hunger - you're body is hungry for food, all the time.
  • Will Power - it takes an extreme amount of will power to not power-binge on whatever happens to be closest at any given time.
  • Socially awkward - going out to eat with friends and ordering a small salad and a glass of water (or sharing a meal with your wife) is a little socially awkward. (and requires more of that will power stuff.)
  • Food headaches - the brutal food headaches lessened somewhat after awhile, but they were miserable at the beginning.
  • Physical and Mental changes - your body reacts to the natural environment of not having enough food/energy, so it starts diverting resources from activity it deems to be less important. (sort of like your phone shutting down radio contact when the battery gets down to 5%..)
    • Short attention span - over time I started noticing I wasn't able to focus on a task for more than about 20 minutes at a time. This had a negative impact at work, at home, and as a soccer coach.
    • Exhaustion - I found myself running out of gas at night. I would sit down on the couch at about 8:00, and it was game over for the night. Truth be told, I'm always tired at night, because I run hard all day long and I don't get enough sleep, but I can still motivate myself to be productive for another hour after the kids go to sleep. That simply wasn't the case on this diet.
    • Reduced sex drive - enough said here, but this ties into the exhaustion phase.
  • Water aware - while I'm always aware of hydration, I was almost hyper-concerned about getting enough water to stay safe. (plus it filled my belly and staved off hunger for a few minutes.) Water became almost an obsession.

In the End

If I was designing a diet from scratch, I would take the best of both diets. I would base my long-term diet on the Tortoise, but I would mix in the Hare for a week or so once in awhile. The Hare Diet has too many disadvantages to make it practical for the long term, but it offers two things the Tortoise doesn't:
  1. Quick Rewards - getting almost instant feedback that you're doing it right might be enough motivation to keep you going.
  2. Calorie Conscious - if you really pay attention to your calories, and live on 1,000 per day, then 1,700 Tortoise calories will feel like gluttony.

I think the Mercedes Benz commercial got it right - the Tortoise's slow and steady approach, supplemented by a turbo speed boost now and then, is the winner.

Mercedes Benz tortoise and hare

-Chris Butterworth

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the Starvation Diet

Imagine not having enough food to eat. I'm not talking about saying no to that third slice of pizza; I'm talking about literally not having any food to eat. Think of being lost in the wilderness, or stranded on a deserted island. My guess is you'd get pretty skinny, pretty quick.

deserted island
image credit to idr solutions (I couldn't find the original source of the image.)

Experts say that as long as you can stay hydrated, you can live for a long time without food. (which makes sense, since every pound of fat inside your body is 3,500 calories' worth of energy just waiting to be released from storage.) You could survive for 1-2 days per pound of body fat, depending on personal factors and your physical exertion rate.

I bet it wouldn't be fun, and it wouldn't be by choice either, but if you didn't have a food source available you would lose weight, very fast.

Is there any way we could take that concept and apply it to the real world?

I don't think any expert in the world would advise that actual, long-term starvation is a good idea, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. But what about a very low-calorie diet? You could still feed your body healthy nutrients and keep normal body functions in place, but force your body to burn fat for fuel. I decided to give this a try.

My Goal

I wrote not long ago about gaining some weight in the second half of last year, which culminated in my right knee aching badly. I was about ready to go see an orthopedic about my knee, but I decided to try losing weight first, and given the pain and annoyance involved I wanted to lose the weight quickly.

I set a 2-step goal for weight loss: First I wanted to lose 9.5 pounds as fast as possible, which would put me at 1 pound less than my normal carrying weight. Then I would lose an additional 3 pounds more gradually over the course of the spring. The result would put me at my super-trim racing weight from when I was running triathlons.

My Plan
  • I would try to limit myself to less than 1,000 calories per day. (Hopefully this would lead to rapid weight loss, which would be self-reinforcing.)
  • I would weigh myself everyday, using the brand new high tech scale at the gym, and chart my results. (Hopefully a downward sloping graph would be an exciting reward.)
  • I would continue with moderate exercise. (Hopefully this would keep my metabolism high and help my body keep processing normally. I didn't want my body to shut down functions or slow down my metabolism.)
  • I would drink A LOT of water, since all those survival guides say hydration is far more important than eating for short-term survival. (Hopefully this would help keep my body functioning properly.)

My Process

The process involved being hungry, pretty much all the time. A typical day looked like this:
  • Breakfast - a bowl of frosted mini wheats, without milk, and a cup of coffee. This gave me 200-300 calories in the morning, depending on the size of the bowl. I sometimes substituted half a bagel w/ cream cheese or a couple pieces of fruit.
  • Drinks - I added 2-3 oz of cranberry-grape juice to 12 oz water, and drank several of these throughout the day. I probably consumed 150 calories of fruit juice per day.
  • Lunch - a slice of pepperoni pizza, a small plain cheeseburger, or a small ham & cheese sandwich (or something similar - yummy, small, and not necessarily a "healthy" option), worth about 350 calories.
  • Water - a couple glasses of water w/o fruit juice in the afternoon.
  • Dinner - a few bites of whatever our family's dinner was, along with a medium sized salad. (I skipped dinner on nights when I went straight to coach soccer practice.)
  • Snacks - none, most days.

pepperoni pizza

My Result

As of this morning I am 1/2 pound away from achieving my first-stage goal. Hopefully the scale is cooperative tomorrow or the next day, and I'll finish this thing off. Then I can add food back to my diet and drop the last few pounds over the coming months. I'll probably settle in at about 1,800-1,900 calories per day, which should still allow me to lose about a pound per month.

I lost about 1/2 pound per week during the Holidays, and about 2 pounds per week since then. (Note - I couldn't stay under 1,000/day during the Holidays - too much good food and good family cheer.. Whatchagonnado?)

Oh yeah, and that knee pain? It's pretty much gone. I don't have the knees of a 20-year old anymore, but I did put away the orthopedic's phone number..

What I Learned:
  • This was very difficult to do - having the will power to simply not eat when there is food everywhere you look (and you're really hungry), is not for everyone.
    • Knowing that it was only for a short time period helped; I don't think I could have held up for an extended battle of wills against all food.
    • Seeing the rapid weight loss on my daily tracking sheet helped a lot; looking forward to tomorrow's weigh-in was enough to help me power through some of those tough decisions.
  • This is not a lifestyle change, since it's not sustainable. And if you don't have a game plan for what comes next you'll be very likely to put all that weight back on. And that would suck.
  • Your body does become more efficient at burning fat. I had big-time hunger headaches at the beginning, but they mostly went away as time progressed. This was my body realizing that it couldn't trick me into feeding it a bagel, so it just went to work at burning some fat cells instead.
  • Your body doesn't function exactly normally on so few calories. I noticed some changes - both mentally and physically - that I had to adjust to. (More on that in a future post..)

Overall I'm still not a big fan of "diets", as I'd much prefer a long-term change in habits which will lead to a lifetime of better health. But seeing fast results is very rewarding as well - a way to kick-start yourself down the road to a smaller you. Maybe there's room for ultra-calorie-reduction in the weight-loss arsenal after all...

- Chris Butterworth

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