Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 72, Costco

Tonight I went to Costco. I hadn't been there for a few months, and certainly not since I started the PCP or was even thinking much about my diet.

As I've mentioned before, roundabouts day 40 pretty much all cravings for the foods from my old life had faded away. Chips, muffins, cheesy stuff, sweets, these had all been replaced by fresh vegetables, dried fruit, and whole grains. And it wasn't like I was forcing myself to eat steamed vegetables when I really wanted donuts, I actually wanted to eat the vegetables.

So I went to Costco on a mission for dried dates. Before they had California Dates which were pretty tasty, and most importantly, cheap. When you eat as much fruit as I do, the supermarket bills add up. As it stands now dates are a luxury I can have once every two weeks or so.

As it turns out, Costco doesn't have dates anymore, so that sucked. But what I found was that all of my old cravings came rushing back as I was in the megastore. All the packages in such big sizes, promising week after week of tasty goodness, and for such a low price! Of special craving intensity were the over-sized Costco pizzas, which have a diameter about equal to the length of a basset hound, the Costco dozen muffin pack, which is actually 12 rather large pieces of cake in muffin shape, and the everything bagels, which would go nicely with a 3 pack of Rondelle herb cheese spread.

I had to stop and tell myself, "Dude, what's wrong with you? You don't really want that pizza. You've had it before, and it wasn't that good and it will totally kill your diet plan for 5 days." And it was true, I really didn't want the pizza. But the craving was still there.

This puzzled me as I walked around, picking up frozen berries, tortillas, and a pack of 16 apples. Gradually the realization came that what people crave when they go to Costco isn't actually the food, it's the idea of having a lot of good food in their house at once. Costco is selling a feeling of security. Do you really want a 40 oz. jar of artichoke hearts? No. But what is appealing is the idea that you could have an artichoke heart anytime you wanted, that you would be prepared to eat an artichoke heart salad even in the event of a nuclear attack. Shopping at Costco makes people feel like they will be ready for an uncertain future.

And also I found a funky swimsuit in the boys section. I now wear a boys size 14. All of the mens stuff, even the smalls, swallowed me. I'll post a picture of it if I'm not feeling too shy.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Day 71, Cottage Cheese

I like cottage cheese. I eat about 2 tubs of it a week. Low in fat, high in protein, and very versatile. In fact, I was going to write this blog about all the ways you can use cottage cheese, and in the process I found this site...

The Cottage Cheese Page

... which has all the recipes I've figured out for myself plus many more. Why I didn't look for cottage cheese recipes, uh, 71 days ago, is beyond me. So there's no need to reinvent the wheel. All the recipes I was going to give are on that page in one way or another.

I remember when I was a kid just the sight of cottage cheese made me feel queasy. Now I can't get enough of the stuff. I love the tacky texture in the mouth and how you can take it sweet or savory.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Day 70, Tell This to Your Boss...

Damn! Today I didn't have time for any kind of workout. And by the time I got home in the evening I was too tired to even think about it. It's one thing to feel crappy and choose to skip your training for the day, at least then it's on you and you can accept responsibility and move on. But today I didn't even have 5 minutes for jumping rope. Working 9 to 8 without 5 minutes free is whack.

And the weird thing is, I was so hungry tonight. I stayed on diet but just barely. I know if I had gotten some training in that hunger wouldn't have been an issue. Once again, I don't understand how this stuff works, but doing more exercise leaves you feeling less hungry than just sitting around "resting."

The other day one of my yoga students was bewailing his tight hamstrings. I told him it just took a few minutes a day of forward bends to open them up, and if he was really serious, a 30 minute upavistha konasana in the evening.

He protested, saying that he didn't have any free time in the day and got home only in time to shower and sleep before waking up and getting on a train to Tokyo at 6 a.m.

I told him if that was really the case, he needed to think about getting another job, because that's no way to live.

He said half jokingly, "I wish you would tell that to my boss."

I don't know why but this pissed me off. And those who know me know that I get pissed off maybe once every two years.

I told him I truly felt sorry for his situation, but that, at the end of the day, it wasn't his boss's fault that he's working himself into the ground.

It was his fault. He chooses everyday to keep a job that is literally crippling him. Good on him for at least coming to a yoga class, that's more than 99% of people do, but I find it highly ignoble to blame a lack of self-improvement on your environmental situation.

No one else is in charge of getting "you" right.

Which brings me full circle to my overscheduled day in which I can't even find the time to jumprope. I can gnash and wail about how busy I am, about how many places I have to be at one time, but ultimately, it's my fault that I got in this mess. And I should either shut up about it or change it.

**PS. A few days after I wrote this post I talked to this person again , and he told me that the week after our conversation he had put in his resignation, taking effect at the end of next month! That's how it's done.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Day 69, Randomness

Strength levels seem to be getting back to normal. I don't know what that was about last week. Also not craving extra food so much. The body is so complicated, it's hard to say that any one thing causes another. But it might have had to do with summer finally coming on. My body seems to hiccup a little bit when the seasons change.

I've heard a few people remarking that they'd like to get in shape so they look good in sleeveless shirts and in swimsuits. You need to think about that stuff in March people! But if you start today you could tighten up somewhat before July.

As for me, I'm trying to loosen up, my right hip specifically. I am seriously thinking of hiring someone to push me into the wall with my legs open. It would take about 10 minutes a day. How much would you pay someone to do that? I wish there was a Craig's List in Japan.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Day 68, Does this Product Exist?

Man, what a difference 68 days makes. Tonight I spent a good 30 minutes browsing Power Towers. What the hell is a Power Tower? I didn't know either until I started searching for "pull up bar set" and was educated as to the proper gym rat name for these things. (Isn't it amazing how the internet educates you without there being any one person who teaches you? Extelligence) A Power Tower is a rig like this:

I'm thinking of putting one in the studio, but none of the ones I've seen is acceptable. They're ugly and scream sweaty gross gym. And, I'm trying to find something that will allow me to do pull ups and have several levels of bars for leg stretches. So, basically, I need a ballet barre for legs that goes all the way up to the ceiling for upper body training and those evil kung fu situps I wrote about in Day 65.

I need this!!!

There seem to be two worlds, the guys who want to look like Schwarzenegger and the lightweight yoga types who want to put their feet behind their heads. And never the twain shall meet, at least in terms of manufacturing gym equipment it seems.

So, I'm going to have to make the damn thing myself. I haven't welded since university but if I can find a good arc welder with an automatic feed it would be an easy project. There's no way I'm going to stick weld the thing.

Any ideas readers?

(crickets chirping)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Day 67, Wave Patterns

Today I really dogged it man. I ate too much, and I did my training halfheartedly. I still stuck to the PCP but only in the letter of the law, not the spirit. Sometimes that's all you can do to get by.

I get these low energy days after about 4 weeks of consecutive training. I think the body just knows when it's getting pushed too much and powers down some systems.

Everything in the universe works in wave patterns, from the atoms in your hand, to the light coming from your screen now, to the cycle of your breathing and heart. We seem to think that we are somehow exempt from this cosmic law, that we can keep going up and up without ever experiencing the downs. Of course a wave that only has a peak and no trough is impossible.

The wisest people I know have an innate sense of these patterns and work to attune themselves to them. I am trying to be more like them, and so won't beat myself up over being lazy and inattentive today.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 66, PCP supplies

Man, another long day. But I got my nutrition right at least. It takes a good half hour of planning to get your diet right if you're going to be out of the house all day. You have to consider two meals and two snacks, all with the right amounts of food, and all as you're trying to get out of the door on time in the morning. I couldn't do it without my scale and lunch box, or rather, lunch boxes.

First, my scale. I love my scale. It's pretty. It's something I have to use everyday, and it's just nice to see good design on a daily basis.

Next, my lunch box (es).

Check it out. Here are three large, square containers with airtight seals. They're large enough to accommodate the sometimes big amounts of protein and vegetables we PCPers have to eat sometimes. So, fill them up with nutritious goodness...

And, thanks to the magical doohickey, they all snap together to make a tasty tower of nutrition. Easy to carry and fits in a gym bag.

Getting the right tools makes everything easier.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Day 65, The Difference

Today I taught 5 hours of yoga, and instead having lunch spent that time taking photos of yoga for upcoming projects. Around 3 pm it started to rain. I didn't have a raincoat or umbrella, when I left the house early this morning it was sunny.

This was all fine except that I had told Chen I would meet him after my last class at the local gym to learn more, ever more, conditioning techniques.

So there I was, tired, hungry, and with nothing to look forward to except biking across town in the rain to meet Chen and do painful, difficult exercises.

I took a long look at my cell phone. It would be so easy to call up and cancel. It's what anyone would do considering the day I was having.

But then, the thought came from somewhere, that "yes, anyone would call up and cancel, go home to a nice dinner and quiet evening. But that's not what someone who is aiming for Peak Condition would do."

Suddenly it didn't seem so hard to get to the gym. I had a good time and learned kung fu sit-ups, which you might have seen in the classic Drunken Master.

The sit-ups can be seen from 0:50 on. They take great strength as well as superior flexibility. I want to get better at them but I don't have access to a steady bar... I'm thinking about how to get one rigged up without taking a flimsy Japanese wall down with me as I break my neck.

Anyway, those moments, where you look the easy choice dead in the eyes and say "no thanks," are the only difference between being in good shape and peak condition. And far beyond physical fitness, they're the difference between just getting by or doing something wonderful with your life.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 64, Early Indulgence

As you know every 15 days I go off diet both to reward myself and see how I react to "regular" food. My next indulgence day was supposed to be Day 67, but I went ahead and took it today because we were having a staff meeting that ended up at....

I was never a huge ice-cream fan but today it was hot and sunny, and we were sitting outside, so it was really nice.

I ordered the Cheesecake Fantasy which looks like this.

If you've never been to Stone Cold Creamery you should know that all the ingredients are mixed in right in front of you as the employees sing, yes sing, like they just spent a summer backpacking through Smurf village. I would pay an extra 30 cents if it meant they served me my ice cream without singing. But I haven't seen that choice on the menu.


Very, very rich. It felt a little unreal to eat something so rich after weeks and weeks of getting used to the somewhat muted sweetness of fruit. It was good, but good in the way that being given 10,000 dollars that you can only spend at store that sells feather boas is good.


After about 10 minutes, a sugar high that gave me the shakes and made me a little dizzy. I was riding in a car at that time and I just kind of lolled my head out the window and watched the pretty colors. I could feel my heart racing in my chest throughout all of this. A bit unsettling.


A mild sugar crash, but not as bad as I thought it would be. A lingering sense that I didn't want to look at food for the rest of the week. And, as I write this a few hours later, I can literally feel the extra fat on my midsection. Really, I can pinch something that wasn't there before. When you're down below 10% BMI you can feel new fat as soon as it forms. It doesn't bother me as I know from past indulgences that it burns off in a day or two, but it's a real eye-opener to actually feel the cause and effect of eating a 710 calorie dessert. It certainly makes me want to stay away from that stuff. And I got the smallest size of one of the healthier choices.

Here's a list of all of Stone Cold Creameries offerings and their caloric content. Some of the choices come out at over 1500 calories, which is pretty much my allowance for a whole day. Don't eat that much ice cream, dear reader. That's the equivalent of a whole supermarket basket of fresh veggies.

So, the next indulgence day will be day 82. As always I would like to hear your suggestions for what to eat that day!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Day 63, Long One...

Today was a very long an unsatisfying day, I managed to squeeze in a little PCP during my lunch break, but had to wolf down lunch because I was late, which made my stomach hurt. Then working until 8 pm, and eating dinner at the way too late hour of 9pm, which has brought on a new round of stomach pain. I didn't even have a coffee break in which to eat egg whites or fruit, so my protein is way off today, and my energy is shot.

Fortunately, it's only the odd Thursdays which are like this, most other days I have plenty of time to eat and exercise well. What blows my mind is that I used to have 6 days out of 7 like today. I don't know how I did it, it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Going to sleep now. Another long day tomorrow, but at least it's my own stuff tomorrow and not working for the man.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Day 62, What If...

... 10% of the world did The Peak Condition Project? This thought bubbled up in my mind today as I was jumping rope. Of my friends and acquaintances who know I'm doing this, (and it's getting more and more obvious that my physique is changing, thus, more people keep asking) the reactions fall in this range. Let's take a sample of 10 people:

  • 4 will say something like : "Why? You weren't out of shape or anything..."
  • 3 will be in the ballpark of: "Wow, sounds tough, I could never do that..."
  • 2 will say something along the lines of : "That's cool. Good luck! I'll check your blog!"
  • And 1 out of 10 will say: "How did you do it? I want to do it. I want to start tomorrow. Tell me how you did it. I'm serious."
When I was an aid worker, a 10% compliance rate for a given health initiative was considered a huge success. So I've been surprised to have so many people not only express interest in the PCP, but practically beg me to let them do it too. (This is why I decided to open it up to three others) All I can say is that the Project brings out the best in people, especially in that 10%

So anyway, I was just trying to do a thought experiment. What if 1 out of every 10 people in the world started eating right, controlling their diet, and exercising consistently? How would that change the planet?

First, a lot of industries would see an immediate 10% drop in profits. Fast food, restaurants, bars and the like would have 1 out of 10 tables empty.

Other sectors of the economy would see big upticks, especially agriculture and sporting goods. Fruit prices would go up as demand soared. There would be a lot more eggs sold too, which wouldn't be a great thing considering how most egg farms are run.

But there would be other effects. If 1 out of 10 people started looking and feeling really good, the people around them would naturally start to become a little healthier too. As I wrote about way back on Day 19, when you're on the PCP diet you don't take your friends to restaurants, everyone in your house eats the low sodium soy sauce, etc...

As a result, healthcare costs would go down. The 10% wouldn't want to opt into insurance plans that supported the other 90% who had unhealthy habits.

Maybe even a divide would open up, as indeed it already is, between people who think about their health and those who don't. There would be those who took their smoke breaks, and those who took their jumprope breaks.

Readers, what am I missing? Do you have any ideas for how the world would change for the better or worse if 10% of the population did the PCP?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 61, Easing Off the Throttle

This week I could feel my body getting to a breaking point, so I've eased off a little bit. Not doing as many sets, not pulling as much weight. I'm getting a lot better at listening to what my physiology is telling me.

For instance, towards the end of last week I noticed that the burn from my training was taking on a different character. It's hard to explain, but it was moving from a kind of "meaty" pain to a more "stringy" pain. This is the same way I felt a month and a half ago when I caught a cold. But that time I kept on pushing and probably made my cold worse. So I'm going to keep it light for a few days. The jumprope stays of course.

I'm starting to understand that the path to peak condition doesn't look like this...

It's more like this.

And isn't that how everything in life is?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Day 60, The Style of No Style

What made Bruce Lee a remarkable martial artist was his openness to new techniques and ability to blend styles. He grew up doing Kung Fu, but was not bound by the rules of that discipline. When he found something that worked better, be it from the world of jujitsu, boxing, or street fighting, he incorporated it without complaint or clinging to his old ways.

This went for training too. He mixed Western bodybuilding and sports science freely with ancient Chinese strengthening techniques. He tried everything, even gimmicky gadgets from the back of martial arts magazines. He built his own weight lifting machines, designed his own protein drinks, and constantly asked if what he was doing was really the best way.

Eventually this all evolved into his martial and life philosophy, Jeet Kun Do, or "the style of no style." The emblem he designed for his school looked like this.

The Chinese characters read, "Using no way as way" and "Having no limitation as limitation." The arrows and yin/yang indicate the constant flux and malleability of reality, and by extension, of Lee's martial style.

This kind of open mind requires an enormous intellect. We use tradition and formality to bring a feeling of security into our daily lives. Clinging to a single tradition is, from this perspective, a kind of mental laziness. Someone is giving us all the answers and we follow them without question, usually out of sheer lethargy.

I am not a serious martial artist, but I run up against the same thing in the world of yoga. Yoga is just as splintered as the fighting world. Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Sivananda, Bikram, Anusara, Vini, Kundalini, these are all styles who, to an outsider look almost identical. But within the Yoga world there exists a certain distrust if not outright hostility to styles other than one's own.

So, it was with Bruce Lee's example in mind that I set out a few months ago to find a new stretching technique, outside of the world of yoga, to get me to the hanging splits I mentioned in Day 50. I've tried a lot of different things. I've queried kung fu teachers, ballet dancers, physicians, a reiki master, and tried all their techniques. I've dived down deep into the yoga sutras looking for clues regarding hip flexibility.

And after all that I've found a technique that I think is the best. I won't share it until I can definitively prove that it works, but, like Bruce, I will joyfully keep searching for better ways of doing things. That's where the fun of personal growth lies!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Day 59, Field Trip

Yesterday Chen and I went to a small, local community gym to do some research and development. It was a happy, dog-eared little place, and if you saw the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog's Story, it was a lot like Average Joe's Gym from that movie, which you can see a bit of in the background of this clip.

By the way, I only watched Dodgeball because it was being shown on a plane trip I took. What excuse do you have?

The main reason we went is that Chen wanted me to learn exactly which muscles I need to target by doing the actions on machines, then trying to replicate the movement with the resistance bands or my own body weight. I'm reaching a point now where I have to be more and more targeted with my exercises, or I'll plateau in terms of muscle growth.

The gym was busy, it was a Saturday afternoon. There were some guys in there who had obviously spent a lot of time in the place, they knew all the machines well and were talking with the staff. But I couldn't help noticing that they just didn't look that strong. I checked how much they were pumping on the machines, and it was a lot of weight, certainly more than I could do, but it wasn't translating into a good physique.

I figured out after a few minutes that those guys must have no diet control whatsoever. All their big muscles that they've trained so hard to get are buried under a half inch of subcutaneous fat tissue. It's the difference between this.

and this....

After pounding out their sets they must feel pretty good about themselves and go out for ramen and beers. I used to be like this too, back when I had a gym membership. What I didn't realize is that to really get strong and fit, you have to change your whole lifestyle, starting and ending with diet. I am slowly coming to the conclusion that my version of The Peak Condition Project is 70% diet, 10% strength training, 10% cardio, and 10% flexibility work.

So that was pretty eye-opening, and re-energized me to stick close to my plan, even though I can get away with cheating now.

And if you're pumping iron at the gym, good for you, but wouldn't it make sense to have all that time, sweat, and effort actually show up on your body with a little diet control? I'm amazed at these guys who can spend hours lifting at the gym but can't say no to a heavy, unhelpful dinner that same evening.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day 58, An Old Photo

About three years ago I went through the 10 Rolfing sessions. If you have no idea what I'm talking about go to the Rolfing Homepage. Rolfing is great and I highly recommend it.

Part of the Rolfing process is taking a before and after picture, to check how your posture has changed. I kind of forgot all about the pictures. But then last week I ran into my "Rolfer" and the photos popped into my mind. I asked him if he could send my old photos to me via email, and they arrived yesterday.

I couldn't believe them. Are you ready for this?

When this photo was taken I was coming off of two years at a desk job, and it really shows in the curved shoulders, turtle neck, and of course, extra flab. I'll never go back there!

And, I know someone's going to ask, so here's a shot I took this morning in my bathroom.

This is the skinniest I've been in my life. And I'm still two months away from Peak Condition.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Day 57, All You Can Eat (not very much!)

Tonight I went off diet at an all you can eat macrobiotic buffet. I say I went off diet but really I can't go off diet anymore. To put it simply, my stomach (the organ itself) has shrunk to about the size of my fist. I quickly reach a point where my stomach is physically full. No more food will go in there, and it's uncomfortable even attempting to eat more than I usually do on the diet.

Tonight, I was uncomfortably full after eating a bowl of miso, some salad, a piece of smoked fish, and a small serving of pasta. I had some eggplant and burdock tempura on top of that because it looked so good, but it was too much and I soon regretted it.

A few weeks ago I would have considered my meal just the starter trip in a long all-you-can-eat bonanza. I made sure I got my money's worth at those things.

What still baffles me is how now, I am doing perhaps double the daily exercise I used to on half the calories, without ever feeling hungry or low on energy. If anything I have more energy than ever. And I'm using the few calories I get to build new muscle. Where was all that food going before? I guess it was just passing through my system, because a lot of it was processed junk without a lot of nutritional value. Still, it doesn't seem to add up.

All I can think is that my body has learned that the free ride is over. Calories aren't just going to rain down in abundance like before. So when a meal comes, my body is like "Ok, I gotta get a bang for my buck with this energy, cause the rivers of milk and honey have stopped flowing."

Oh, and my PCP is 8 weeks old now! Every four weeks I've promised to post a photo in a Bruce Lee pose, you can see the last one on day 28. Here's today's, I was practicing nunchaku and just put the camera on timer shot.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day 56, You Are OK

A weird thing has been happening to me recently. Now that I am getting noticeably in shape and doing so in this very public manner, people who aren't in such great shape are approaching me almost abashedly, and either asking for advice or kind of apologizing for their current physical state.

This feels very much like the times I go to a restaurant with a non-vegetarian, and they're like, "Dude, do you mind if I have a hamburger?"

Or when I run into a yoga student around town who hasn't come to the studio in a while. Before I can say "how are you?" they're explaining what has kept them away and promising to return soon.

In all three of these situations, I want to clap the person on the back and say, "Dude, I don't care." But that's not exactly true. I do want you to get in better shape, I do want you to eat less or no meat, and I do want you to do more yoga, especially at my studio where you'll be well taken care of. I do care.

But I know how complicated life is, and how I can never imagine what a day in your life is like. I know you're doing your best, that you've made the choices you have because that's all it seemed you could do at that moment. And I know you'll be ok.

So if you want to make changes in your life, just make them, and I'll be behind you 100% But if you don't feel up to a big change at the moment, don't try to explain why to me. I understand, and I think you're fine just the way you are. Really!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day 55, The Envelope Please...

As I said on day 53, thank you everyone who applied to do the PCP. We were overwhelmed with applicants, and it was hard to choose. We're thinking of opening another cycle in a few weeks so stay tuned if you weren't selected this time.

So, here are our first three Peak Conditioners (besides me)

First up, Sean!

Sean has a background in karate and fits the definition of what the PCP is all about... taking someone in good shape and getting them to top fitness levels. Plus, to keep Chen on his toes, Sean is a vegan! So we'll see how mighty Mighty Soy really is. For his target physique, Sean has chosen Stephew Chow of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle fame. Why is he doing the PCP? In his own words :

"Beyond the goal of just looking good without a shirt on (which is definitely a nice side effect to the project) my ultimate goal and the reason I've been so interested in taking part in the PCP ever since Patrick posted his very first entry is very much the same as his goal. The idea of being at my very peak condition and the strength and overall great health and confidence that it will surely bring is reason enough to be a part of this. I think my ultimate goal with all of this will be to Be Better Than I Was Before, something that I plan on going into in more depth when the project officially starts."

You can follow Sean's progress on his PCP blog, here.

Next, David!

David is kind of our control group. He's about the same age as me, and we are both pescetarians, meaning he can follow my diet closely. With David, we'll see if I'm just a freak or if the PCP really works. His target physique is Brad Pitt as seen in Fight Club. Why did he sign up for The Peak Condition Project? His explanation:

"The Peak Condition Project is more than an achievement in fitness. Focus, energy, perseverance, confidence - these are all elements that I desire for a better "me". This project is not an escape from an old life, it is a catalyst for a new one."
You can follow David's project on his PCP blog, here.

Finally, Corry!

We were so glad to have several women apply for the PCP. We chose Corry because she is in good shape, runs and does yoga often, and just needs some structure and assistance to get into peak shape with her busy family life. Plus, she is local to Chen and I so we can check her progress on the ground. Her target physique is that of Gabrielle Reese, the beach volleyball player and model. Corry joined the PCP because:

"I am really after being strong without bulking up. I want to be lean and strong and flexible too, so that I can be the genki vibrant mom, wife, woman, and friend that I long to be!"
You can follow Corry's journey on her PCP blog, here.

It's going to be a wild ride, please support our little band with your love, support, and comments! And don't worry if you weren't chosen this time. Chen and I will make all of our mistakes on this unlucky lot, and the PCP will only be better next time we open it to the public.

Thanks everyone, and good luck! (not that luck has anything to do with it)

-Patrick, Peak Conditioner number "0"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Day 54, Newton's First Law of Motion

For those of you who missed or slept through physics class, that would be the law that states:
An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.
Where did Newton get his hair done? It's so Fab!
This law applies to all matter, from the orbit of planets to the atoms in our bodies. It is also very true for something like The Peak Condition Project. I do some sort of training every day, seven days a week, and I wouldn't have it any other way. For me, days off are not helpful to being in peak shape. The reason is that after taking a day off it's even harder for me to get back out there and resume my training.

Today I was sorely tempted to not do any exercise. I felt terrible. My body was aching from a physically taxing video shoot the day before. It was cold and rainy outside, and I had work to do inside. I sat in my chair and debated for a good 15 minutes whether to just pack it in for the day and do some extra stuff tomorrow. But I told myself, "This is what you do now, Tarek (when talking to myself I still use my Berber name) you get out of the apartment and train. You jump the damn jumprope and pull on the rubber bands and lift your body weight repetitively. This is not an option. This is what you do now."

So I made it out to the studio, and started jumping rope. The first few hundred were painful, my calves were tight and I got a side-stitch immediately. But after that, something wonderful happened. I could feel the heat of the exercise slowly going down into my legs, and up into my shoulders. I started feeling good. I put in 1500 jumps and was psyched to work the bands. I was really good about my form and did some extra sets.

Now, here's where the magic of Newton's first law kicks in. After my workout, I was feeling much better and still wanted to keep moving. So I went to the bank and did a transfer I had been putting off, paid an electric bill, did the grocery shopping for the week, got home and cleaned out my bookcase. All of this energy was completely absent as I sat in the chair wondering whether to even workout earlier that morning... where did it come from? Newton baby!

Sometimes we rationalize laziness, thinking "well, if I get good and rested now I'll have a lot of energy later and get more done." This doesn't work. I think about how I feel after one hour of yoga, vs. after one hour of watching TV. Technically, I should have more energy after sitting passively, "resting" in front of the TV, but we all know that's not the case. How many times have you said "Well, that was a fine hour of programming, now I'm really ready to get on with my day!" Usually it's, "I guess I have time for one more episode..." Am I right or am I right.

So, when feeling lethargic and unmotivated, remember Newton. The hardest thing is getting the ball rolling. After that you will happily tend to stay in motion.

No days off.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Day 53, Decisions, Decisions

Chen and I are making our final choices for who will start the PCP in just 3 days. It's a really tough choice, and we both hate saying "no" to people. If we had the resources we would PCP everyone on the planet!

We're trying to find 3 or 4 very different kinds of people, to see how the system works for different lifestyles. In the next few days I'll announce and introduce the selected participants.

We were surprised and honored by how many people signed up, so thank you for everyone who did. Also thanks for all the nice comments and support everyone is sending to me personally. They really give me a lot of motivation, so any progress you see is in part thanks to you!

Check back tomorrow or the next day for the announcement.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Day 52, Wine and Cheese

Well, if you've been reading you'll know that every 15 days I choose something to indulge myself with, something not on the diet plan. On day 32 it was a chocolate chip cookie and on day 22 it was a beer. Aside from a nice reward the off-diet foods often give me weird sensations. The beer made my stomach hurt and the chocolate chip cookie aroused my libido.

15 days have rolled around again and this time I chose wine and cheese as my indulgence.

A few years ago there was a study that found eating cheese kind of short circuits the taste buds and doesn't allow the palate to make out the subtle distinctions of fine wine. A lot of people were wringing their hands about how this was the end of a wine tradition, but I immidiately had the thought that I could buy any old cheap Carlo Rossi, pair it with a strong cheese, and it would be just as good as the high end stuff. Whether this speaks to my ingenuity or cheapskateness I don't know.

So tonight I bought the smallest possible blocks of smoked cheese, parmesian, and a funky gouda that was cultured with basil, and a bottle of red table wine.

To make the evening even more sumptious, I ate said cheese and drank said wine while watching season 3 of Top Chef.

After 52 days with nothing beyond a little cottage cheese in the morning, the cheeses were too rich for me. I enjoyed them but it wasn't how I used to enjoy cheese. It felt like work to get through the plate. The wine was nice.

No weird effects from the cheese. I was pretty tipsy after two glasses of wine.

A stomachache, which has been the case after every 15 day indulgence. Which is fine with me, because it makes the indulging have an overall negative connotation in my mind, which makes it all the easier not to indulge. In fact, I found that this time I wasn't really craving anything, and just went with the wine and cheese because I knew it was something I used to like. Truth be told, the PCP Pig Out which I described in Day 48 would have suited me just as well.

So, the next indulgence will be day 67. Any suggestions readers?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day 51, Deskwork

Yesterday I was at my desk for most of the afternoon and evening, and I could really feel it today. Tight legs, a stiff back, tense shoulders. I got the kinks worked out but it took a good hour of asana to get there. I am astounded that millions of people sit at desks all day every day and don't feel in their bones that it's messing them up. I have so many yoga students come through my doors who are almost ruined by their deskjobs. And most of them don't even realize that their skeletal-muscular structures are so out of whack until they see how different their poses look from other students of regular or good flexibility.

And more and more companies aren't providing healthcare, which is funny because it is the job that makes people sick in the first place.

I'm so concerned about this that I'm going to make a video this week or next. Not one of those "Do yoga at your desk" type of things. (Although those are better than nothing) But a straight-up, no holds barred presentation of exactly what happens to your body as you spend 7 to 8 hours in a chair looking at a screen.

Look for it this month on the YouTube Channel.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Day 50, Progress Report

Well, 50 days have passed since I started this project, and in a week's time 4 new participants will start on their own Peak Condition journey.

Here's a picture from this afternoon.

Getting better! But not quite Peak Condition. I'm still not getting the flexibility levels I want. Before my birthday I am determined to get a hanging side split. If you want to see what that is, watch this clip from Shaolin Soccer, starting around 7:20. What he's doing between the two blocks of trash is a hanging side split. And then he goes on to talk about his idol, Bruce Lee! I really like that movie.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Day 49, Coffee

I love coffee and like to think that I can tell the difference between good and bad brews. But I also have a guilty pleasure for mochas, hazelnut lattes, frappacinos, and the like.

One of the important rules of The Peak Condition Project is to not drink your calories. There are few enough calories as it is, especially in the fat loss stage, and you don't want to waste any of those on a beverage, even something healthy like vegetable juice, or not so good, like beer, wine, and chocolatey espresso drinks.

Recently I was at a Starbucks for a meeting, and, out of curiosity I asked the clerk how many calories were in a tall sized mocha. She had to go to the back to consult a manager or a book or something, and came back with the answer.

384 calories. But she reassured me the whip cream accounted for 90 calories. Would I like to hold the whip cream?

I had a coffee.

But, recently, I've found some relief from the tasty coffee beverage injunction. A part of the coffee market that coffee snobs turn their noses up at. Flavored coffee.

I like this brand called Royal Kona. The plain versions aren't so great, but the flavored varieties are awesome.

Brew up a cup of Chocolate Macademia Nut, add a splash of lowfat milk, and your pretty damn close to a 384 calorie mocha, at a cost of about 2 calories.

I also like Honey Macademia Nut. The Vanilla is a little too sweet for me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Day 48, Pigging Out

Today after lunch I still felt really hungry. This is a kind of hunger I get sometimes, where I just have to have something sweet. I'm sure it's tied in with some sort of glucose/low blood sugar thing. I tried to ignore it but after an hour I had to eat something. Before, when I felt like this, I might polish off three or four manju, (sweet Japanese cakes), or a bagfull of cookies, or a tray of mini donuts. Today I went overboard too, but it was a very different menu. Here's how I pigged out on the PCP.

In a bowl, combine (chopped)
1 orange
1 apple
8 dried dates
4 dried figs
8 dried prunes
4 dried apricots
3 tablespoons of honey
enough lowfat milk to cover the bottom layer of fruit.

It was a ton of food, and so sweet and delicious, especially drizzled with honey. It was almost sinful. I ate too much and my stomach hurt a little bit afterwards (as it always did with the cookies and donuts of before), but what a difference a few weeks can make. I wouldn't even dream of eating that junky stuff now, not because I'm trying to get fit, but because my fruit bowl tasted better than all the sugar and processed crap in my old sweet cravings.

Which is what I've found out time and time again. The actual diet and exercise isn't that hard, it's the changing of old habits that takes time. After you've done that, the Project takes care of itself.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Day 47, An Apology

This post goes out to every thin person I've ever hung out with, dated, or been related to.

When you complained of the air-conditioner being too strong...
when you wanted to change tables at a restaurant because there was a draft...
when you wanted to get out of the freezer section at the supermarket a little more quickly...
when you cranked up the heat during the winter, so that I had to wear shorts inside...

I secretly thought that you were weak.

Yes, I assumed that some part of your physiology was inferior to mine. I was warm all year round, my hands and feet stayed toasty even on the coldest days. I could wear a T-shirt to check the mail in the snow. Surely I was some kind of superior specimen, blessed with above average circulation, bursting with vitality that warmed even my extremeties. And you were the at the weak end of the gene pool. Yes, you would be the thin, limping wildabeast that the cheetahs encircled. I pitied you, when I wasn't annoyed by your constant demands to turn down the AC.

I apologize, because, now I know that I wasn't stronger, I just had a layer of blubber under my epidermis that constantly trapped heat.

How do I know this? Because now that layer is gone, and I'm freezing my ass off.

It's early May as I write this, and the evenings are still cool, with a nippy breeze coming off the ocean. And I'm still wearing my winter coat, because if that wind hits my skin, I can feel the chill all the way into my bones. And once the chill is in there, I have trouble warming up again.

I make my choices quickly in the freezer section because I get goosebumps.

I've lost about 7% of my body fat, and sometimes I forget that and still dress like I used to. And then I become one of those people who can't stop talking about the temperature.

ME: "It's so cold today isn't it!?"
FRIEND: "Uh, I guess. Warming up in the daytime though..."
ME: "Man, I should've worn a sweater, I just didn't know it would be so windy today."
FRIEND: "Right... so where do you want to go?"
ME: "Let's just get in out of this cold!"
FRIEND: "How about that cafe?"
ME: "Sure, let's just sit far away from the window, ok? It looks drafty."
FRIEND: "Um, ok, Whatever you want, dude."
ME: "I'm going to get something hot to drink, because it's so cold today. Isn't it cold?!"
and so on...

So, thin person, I'm sorry for thinking you were weak. You aren't. I was just fat.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Day 46, Restaurant

Today I met someone for lunch at.... eek! a restaurant! For the first time since the PCP began I didn't have a hand in what was put on my plate. Trying to follow this diet, there's really only one kind of food that will work if you're going out to eat. Japanese.

So I chose to meet my associate at Ootoya, a traditional Japanese food chain.

Remember, here are my lunch requirements:

100 grams carbs
180 grams vegetables
130 grams protein

So, this is what I ordered.

To get the carbs, a bowl of plain rice.

For the protein, Sumibiyaki Saba, (wood roasted Mackerel)

And for the vegetables, Yasai no Seiro-mushi, (steamed vegetables)

Pretty tasty! But my portions were definitely off. Way too many carbs and a little too much protein, and since two of the steamed vegetables were potato and sweet potato (more carbs) I didn't get nearly enough vegetables. But not too bad.

Also, after eating my own weighed out meals for so long, the portions seemed incredibly large to me, and I was really full. And this is a Japanese restaurant with Japanese sizes. If I went to an American chain I think my stomach would rupture.

So, I managed to "eat out" and stay on the PCP diet. Albeit barely and by ordering the smallest dishes at a healthy restaurant with tiny portions. Still, it was nice to be a normal person. (for lunch at least!)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Day 45, No More Machines

I've joined two gyms in my life. One was my college student gym, and the other was a three month deal while I was between jobs one summer. I don't like gyms. The clanking noises, the whirring of treadmills, the mirrors, the flourescent lights, the smell, the way people size up each other, none of it makes me want to exercise. And I have the kind of shiftless, lax personality that it only takes one good excuse for me to not do something.

The only good thing about the gym, I thought, was that I had access to all those marvellous machines that I could never afford on my own. These things look like they're designed by rocket scientists, and they must be ten times better than anything I could get at a store, right!?
But here's the thing about machines. They constrict your actions to a set motion, which really hits the targeted muscle group. Your muscles get big, but, at least in my experience, there's no accompianing feeling of actual strength. That's because all the little muscles around the targeted muscle get ignored, so you kind of have this one spot of strength sitting on top of a bunch of underdeveloped mass. In addition, I found that when you have to take a week or two off due to schedule or sickness, those machine muscles wither away super fast.

I can't remember who it is now, but an author I read often describes this or that character as having "Machine molded muscles." I think that's almost sick. It's fake, dumb muscles, not useful for daily life, just for decoration.

So, enough about machines. I'm going to show you how to take your resistance band and do everything a machine can do, except that with the band, as I described a few days ago, the resistance is strongest at the end of the action, and in addition, you have to use your own power to guide the movements. This results in tremendous strength gains all over. Toned durable muscle that works in the real world.

You need one extra thing besides the band. This thing.

I don't know what to call it, so I'll just call it the dongle. It couldn't be simpler. You put the dongle on the band...

and find a sturdy door. Shut the door so that the thick part of the dongle is on the outside.

So from the outside someone would see this.

From the inside, this is what you have.

You can see where this is going right? Let's say you take the handles from behind you. Boom! Instant chest fly machine.


If you take the handles from the front, Pow! It becomes a shoulder fly.

I promise I'm having more fun than this guy.

Slide the dongle down the door, sit on your butt, and, kazow! Where'd that rowing machine come from?

This is just a small sample of what the resistance band can do when it becomes attached to something stable. At about .01 percent of the price of a year long gym membership!

You're never going to put on a ton of muscle mass with just a band, but, if you're aiming for a trim, strong physique it's just perfect.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Day 44, Thoom!

Today I was going to take some photos about how to do "flys" with the resistance band, mimicking the movements of half a dozen expensive gym machines. But about 15 minutes into my workout, my band broke! I was doing some shoulder training and "snap!" the rubber came apart near the left handle.

I've been wailing on that band for, well, 44 days, so I'm not too upset. The set came with two other bands and the whole thing cost about 10 dollars, so, I can't complain. And I remember at the beginning of the project when just doing 6 reps on the band was so awkward and hard. I'd be lying if I didn't say it was a proud moment, being so badass that my equipment can't keep up with me. Very Incredible Hulk.

(Except instead of bursting through my clothes they're falling off me.)

I'll try to get those photos tomorrow, if the bands can handle my brute strength.

Day 43, Final Diet Plan (?)

I know these diet plan posts can be boring, but the truth of the matter is that the PCP is diet. The training and everything is just icing on the cake.
If you've been following the diet stuff, you'll know that I was on the evening smoothies for over a month, and when I had lost enough body fat I tried to switch back to a solid dinner and more protein. My stomach was not happy with that, so we switched up to a lighter version, spacing out the meals so that a bunch of matter didn't hit it all at once.

I did that for a week and my stomach has gotten a lot stronger, so we're going to move onto what I hope will be the final diet plan of this project. Later I might add more carbs. The idea is to give my muscles a lot of protein and energy to work with. Chen thinks I will gain a kilo with this plan.

It's funny, a few weeks ago, I would have jumped for joy at the chance to eat more. Now, it almost seems like a chore. But it is good to have some carbs for dinner again.

So, here it is, The Peak Condition Project Diet Plan, Final Version (?)

50 grams carbs
1 whole egg
1 egg white
250 ml lowfat milk
as much fruit as I like

Morning snack
1 egg white
50 grams vegetables
fruit if hungry

100 grams carbs
180 grams vegetables
130 grams protein
fruit if hungry

Afternoon snack
1 egg white
1 serving of fruit

50 grams carbs
170 grams vegetables
70 grams protein

Evening snack
1 egg white
fruit if hungry

By the way, all these numbers are calculated for my height, weight, and conditioning goals. Don't try these for yourself, unless you're my long lost twin. If you're interested in trying the PCP, we're accepting two more participants. Email thepeakconditionproject (at) before May 15th to apply!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Day 42, Progress and an Announcement

Today I did 500 jumpropes in a row, without being winded and without a miss (i.e. the rope getting caught on my feet). When I started this project I could barely get through 50 without messing up. And after a hundred my breathing was beginning to get heavy. It used to take me 20 minutes to do my thousand jumps, now I can do it in 5.

Chen has told me to not jumprope so much, I don't need to lose anymore weight, but I really like jumping rope now and am almost sad when I have to stop before I'm ready. I'm currently only supposed to do 500 but I usually cheat up to 700.

In other news, there are a few people out there who have expressed interest in doing The Peak Condition Project for themselves. I talked to Chen today and we decided we can take on three participants and give them the right amount of attention and feedback so that the program will work. So, if you want to do it get in touch with me at ThePeakConditionProject( - at - ) We're going to try and choose three very different types of people, (an older person, a woman, a slob, etc...) so don't think you can't do it.

But don't apply if you're only half-interested either! The PCP isn't that hard, but it does require consistent commitment, and about an hour a day.

So take the chance to have your own personal trainer and dietician for free! Apply before May 15th!