Salt Mine Health: Introduction.

As we settle into 2019, it dawned on me that we had this entire website that we were basically not using, shitposting podcasts aside. While the Salt Mine is about to be revived and will still be the core of this website, Sean and I talked about making this website similar to Julian’s website. Mostly Legacy content, but if it strikes our fancy to write an anime review or to write about something near and dear to us, then we would. To kick me off, I want to talk about dieting, about exercise and how to lose weight. When I started I was basically surrounded by snake-oil salesmen, which is a good way to sum up the weight loss industry. Industry as we all know only works if people stay on the ride forever. I said to myself that if I worked out how to lose weight properly, I would write about it and teach others how to do it. Well, it’s simpler than you would believe. Disregard companies trying to rip you off, acquire aesthetics.

At the time of writing this, it is essentially my 1 year anniversary of lifting weights and around my 2nd anniversary of “dieting,” although I really became a diet nazi around the time I started lifting weights (wow what a coincidence).

I should probably put some disclaimer and so here is mine: I am not a dietician nor am I an personal trainer. I am just going to write about what has worked for me and my progression from morbidly obese to “still fat but doing ok” to what I am told is now a healthy weight.

In my 2017 Masters tournament report, I wrote about how my performance in the Cancon 2017 top 8 was directly linked to my lack of physical fitness. Now, it is obvious but I will state it for posterity that fitness/body weight is not necessarily linked to performance (I was much fitter/thinner at Masters 2018 but did not top 8) but a finely tuned engine/system performs better on average than a less finely tuned engine/system.

I think there will be three parts to this. In this part I will give you a brief overview of how to lose weight and put you in the right direction. The reality is that you, the reader, need to WANT to change. A vague semi-desire to lose weight will not work because this shit is tough and miserable. The second part will focus heavily on my diet and how it evolved and on what to eat and what to avoid and the third part will focus on exercise.

So I guess we’ll go back.

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To state the obvious, I was really fat, weighing in at 165 to 170kgs in the above pictures.

It hurts me to post photos of myself at this weight and you know, it probably should but I take solace in knowing that I’m never going back there. You also shouldn’t listen to anyone that can’t show you results.

I think there are 3 misconceptions most people have about weight loss which I also shared so I figure I’ll clarify them now. I am going to write this as if you, the reader, are a 170kg, 6 foot man who wants to change his life. Very little of this should apply to those who are either at a good weight or underweight. I hate that that needs to be said.

1. Losing weight is 85% diet and 15% exercise.
People seem to think that they will magically be able to lose weight by introducing exercise into their life while eating the same. It is in fact the opposite. I lost 30-odd kilograms by just changing what I ate, and not how much I ate. This leads me to misconception #2.

2. Pasta is unhealthy.
I do not care what food pyramids or their modern day equivalents tell you, they are wrong and I am right. “Moderation” is stupid and will either lead to little or no results. Sorry, there are no niceties about losing weight properly.

Carbohydrates are evil (even if you are at a good weight and just reading this for curiosity this is still true). Carbohydrate heavy foods are anything that involve pasta/wheat, rice, sugar and stuff like potatoes. You have no idea how many carbs you consume without thinking until you cut out everything with carbs – there’s not much left past that.

Meats (all of them) and “fats” are good for you. My boomer parents are big fans of telling me that I am a hop, skip and a jump away from a heart attack but a recent full blood test/ECG checkup showed me as being the picture of health and all my levels including cholesterol are right where they should be.

The “Keto” diet is tremendously popular and for good reason. When I started losing weight that was basically what I did although I did limit my food to basically meats, eggs and the right types of cheeses (Greek Halloumi is good).

Plenty of people use “it’s good for Ketosis” as a way to cheat on their diets and make excuses though, so just consider what you are really achieving when you are about to tuck into a “Keto Pizza” or a “Fat Bomb.” I know Cedric Phillips went onto a Keto podcast and all of the hosts talked about how they lost 25lbs on keto… and then put back on 30. I cannot fathom the heartbreak of working so hard to lose weight, only to put it all back on without realising it so… yeah, don’t do that.

An important concept that goes against everything you’ve been told (Illuminati confirmed) is that you need to change WHAT TYPES of food you eat and not HOW MUCH food you eat.  Take a dinner meal from Nandos for example. Where you would normally eat a chicken burger/wrap/pita and an extra large chips washed down with a vanilla coke, you should just eat a whole chicken and drink so much water that your pee comes out clear.

A whole Chicken = Protein and Fat (and estrogen but that’s a topic for another day) = weight loss.
A Burger and chips and soda= lots of carbs and sugars = weight gain.

Yes, calories in vs calories out will play a part eventually, but when you are starting off and have plenty to lose, to a point it does not matter how much you eat. You also need to ease yourself into it. So you want that half a kilo steak? Go right ahead friend. Maybe have it with some steamed vegetables like Broccoli and Zucchini, because that’s all you’ll eat for the night. You will eat and be full and yet you will feel unsatisfied and that is just something you will have to push through. Once you eat dinner you aren’t putting anything further into your mouth except water and toothpaste. People have this misconception that the hard part of losing weight is going to the gym. The hard part is not going to the gym but maintaining your diet, day in day out. Speaking of the Gym…

3: Do not pick up running as a way to exercise.
Running is shit.

I don’t say that because I hate running and in fact the opposite is true. The reality however is that running is not a great way to burn calories to begin with and is very damaging to your body.  Your joints, bones and muscles all suffer as you smash into that pavement. It’s also supposedly linked to lowering your testosterone. All this so that you can burn off the equivalent of an apple? No benefits, heaps of downsides. Hard pass.  Walking however is great and I encourage everyone to do that, especially if you work a sedentary office job like I do.

The best exercise is lifting weights by a country mile.
Lift. Heavy. Weights. Often.
That is how you burn the most calories.

I recommend above every other program, the “Starting Strength” program by Mark Rippetoe. Buy the book/ebook, read it properly and then go on Youtube and watch videos about it. That is more than enough to give you an idea of what you need to get started.

As a program it’s very simple. You find your limit as a first time lifter, and then increase from there. As your strength improves, the weight on the barbell increases. The heavier the weight on the barbell, the more calories burnt performing the movement. This is great because it will help you push through weight loss plateaus and it will keep you motivated as you become obsessed with lifting more and more weight.

Then, as if it were a blind counterbalance flip, you will start to notice these things called muscles starting to show. You will also notice that you feel happier and more positive overall because something about endorphins being released when you lift.

There are no downsides to lifting if you do it safely and if you trust the plan (gratuitous gym-selfies aside)

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I used to think that people who got personal trainers were just too lazy to train themselves. This is of course totally incorrect. They are experts in doing gym stuff and will show you how to train to maximise results and minimise the risk of injury. Get a personal trainer to teach you how to squat, deadlift, bench, military press and bent-over row. These are what they call “compound lifts” and as a combination they will work virtually the whole body. This is what you want to do. Do not do the “Obama workout” as I have so heard it called. 5lb dumb-bell curls for 5 minutes per day will achieve jack shit. Do not do some fancy program that breaks down your days into different body parts. Your goal should be to improve your overall strength which has the side effect of burning calories like mad.

Losing weight is difficult and hard. Most people fail because they are not adequately motivated enough to stick it out and to not cheat. Elton Wong who has been on the show before once gave me some good advice that I would like to relay here: Do not look at it as exercise, but as training. Exercise is temporary. When you are training you are working towards a goal. Once you reach that goal, you make a new goal and reach for that.
The same is true of dieting – I am no longer dieting because this is not a diet; A diet is temporary, this is my life now. If you are serious about losing weight then you must adopt these attitudes.

Do not get sucked in by people who take photos of a box of pizza next to their super chiseled-abs. They are not eating that pizza, I can promise you. Run your own race and you will be amazed at how quickly it all falls together.

Today I reached 84 kilograms flat which at my height fits me into the “healthy range” of weight according to some Australian BMI website. It also means I’ve lost 86kgs in the last two years. Dope hey.

Again, something that I hate to write but I am going to say this. At no stage during this journey did I take speed or whatever legal version of speed constitutes weight loss pills. That stuff is poison, do not do it. I will go more into the idea of “consume only what is good for you” next week but remember why you are doing this. Sure, you want to drop your body fat percentage but you also want to be healthy at the end of it, and taking poison to try and become healthy sounds about as smart as taking Goblins to a tournament full of combo decks. Which I will probably be doing tomorrow…

I’ll see you next week for some real minutia on dieting. If you have any questions or ideas for a meal plan that you want some advice on, just hit me up on The Salt Mine twitter.

Steven Stamopoulos.

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