Developer Fitness

Published on Monday, November 5, 2012


Developer Fitness

No, this isn't something about Fitnesse, it's really about physical fitness. Caveat: I'm not a doctor.

Another conference under my belt: //Build/. There seems to be a trend of private discussions at conferences (maybe it's just me) about the sizes of t-shirts at developer conferences and how the average size is, well, above average.

There seemed to be a few conversations about fitness as well, at least in the context of losing weight. Let's be fair, being a developer is not kind to the body. We sit around, usually inside (in the dark) staring at a computer screen (or screens). Over-and-above the radiation aspect of this scenario, this means we're largely sedentary as we perform our jobs. Not a good thing.

I'm not big on excuses, yes, our job is sedentary; yes, it doesn't involve much (if any) physical labour… But, that's not an excuse to have a complete lack of exercise in our lives. I've struggled with my weight for years and I came to the conclusion a while back that I didn't want to be overweight anymore. I thought it would be useful for me to blog about what I've learned over the years.

First off, the impetus for better fitness and better health is almost always about losing weight. That will be the focus of this post. If you don't need/want to lose weight, this might be a bit boring.

Second: diets don't work. And by "work" I mean get you to and maintain a healthy weight level. Yes, a diet will allow you to lose weight for a short period of time—that's it. Some diets aren't even healthy. I'm not going to mention diets (other than the previous sentence). If you want to lose weight in the long-term you need to make a lifestyle change—even if it's just a small amount of weight (in today's society, a small amount is probably in the range of 25-50 pounds). If a diet cannot be sustained for the rest of your life and still keep you alive, then it's a "fad" diet and avoid it.

I'm not talking about each of us becoming a bodybuilder or a fitness model; let's get that out of the way: that's not going to happen, that takes a level of commitment that would interfere with your job (i.e. it would become your full-time job). But, we can be more healthy and get to a healthier weight and feel better about ourselves.

Yes, this means doing things differently in our lives. Does this mean completely stopping eating certain things? Not necessarily. You may have other impetus' to "stop" certain actions (if you're diagnosed with high cholesterol cutting out certain foods might be a must); but in general a lifestyle change generally means healthy ratios. Pizza for example, you can still eat it; just not 3 times a day.

Down deep in our hearts we really know how to lose weight and keep it off—we just don't want to admit that we have to reduce certain things and increase others. We really know that a healthy weight means a certain caloric intake—usually levels lower than where we are, but we just don't want to admit it. We'd love it if we could cheat with a diet or pills or hypnosis or surgery or device. Some people have had "success" at these things; but, "results not typical" is generally somewhere to be found.

Changing lifestyle can be hard. I've found some various tips and tricks to helping that I'll outline.

This simple way of dealing with eating makes overeating and binging less of a problem. The theory is if you eat 5 meals a day, but make those meals smaller, that your body will think you're actually eating more. When you do eat, you won't be as hungry and you won't feel the need to eat as much. The theory is that this "stokes the fire" of your system and avoids periods of time as long as 4 hours between meals can trigger your body to store fat. Keep in mind, we're ancient devices that had to survive in situations where we didn't have food for extended periods of time. It made sense to eat like a mad person for 3 months and store a lot of fat for the next 3-6 months where food may be scarce. Face it, we've created an environment that is counter to our metabolism.

Basically, you'd still have 3 squares, but you'd also include two "snacks". I remember when I started doing this; it felt like I was eating all the time and eating way to much. I ate less in the long run. Take the calories you would have eaten in the "3 squares" and spread them out to a couple of snacks, one after breakfast, and one after lunch. Once you get in a habit of doing this you'll feel less hungry during the day and less likely to binge eat. It generally takes you and your body 6 weeks to get used to things. If you try something new, try it for at least 6 weeks before making a decision (unless of course you have sudden and sever side effects). Also remember that your snacks should be balanced in macro nutrients for them to be as effective as they can be.

Every single eating style pays close attention to the three macro nutrients: they are Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins. Our body needs each of these macro nutrients to survive. Most foods have each of these macro nutrients. Tenderloin is high in protein so you need to eat carbs. Bacon is high in protein and fat; so you have to eat carbs. Broccoli is high in carbs so you have to eat it with protein, etc… Most of the "diet plans" really just have a unique macro nutrient ratio. USDA (at one time, which might still be true; but they revise that periodically) recommends 18:29:53 (protein:fat:carbohydrate % calories), Atkins is generally :65: Zone is 30:40:30, etc. I like the macronutrient ratio plans because you can eat anything you want as long as you can apply the ratio. i.e. it works while being vegan or vegetarian. There's other plans like Paleo that approach nutrition more around the fact that we've evolved from a point where we didn't have all the manufactured, engineered and contrived food and focuses on "natural" stuff (although, not vegetarian :) It's important not to focus one one macro nutrient and it's important not to cut out a particular macro nutrient. e.g. cutting out fat, while sounding good ("fat" is the same word as in "bodyfat") but could lead to malnutrition. For example, vitamins like A, D, E and K are fat soluble which mean fat needs to be present for them to be absorbed. If you don't get enough fat you can end up not absorbing enough A, D, E, or K and lead to health issues. It's generally the choice of fat that makes a difference in health/weight-loss. Yeah, you could have fries with your A, D, E, and K foods (or supplements), but that's not the good fats. Maybe some guacamole would be better.

But, no matter hat you read or what you choose, "it depends". There's more to healthy eating that just a magic ratio; metabolism, genetics, etc. play a part. I can't stress enough, you need to find something that works for you—one of these plans might be right; but don't assume they're all right.

No, I'm not talking about roids or some funky anabolic-raising concoction. I'm talking about things that aren't food. Vitamins and minerals is generally what I'm talking about—something that supplements your diet. It's hard and emotionally unhealthy for the average person to eat exactly the same thing day after day and get the perfect vitamin and mineral intact (whatever that is)—we need some variety in our lives. So, it's hard to make sure we're eating everything we need to to get the nutrients our body needs every day. I've been supplementing for years, well before doctors and nutritional committees/ministries started accepting it. Yes, as Sheldon says "it makes expensive pee". That is true, but, it also means our body has access to the nutrients it needs to function properly and not do the things it does when it thinks it's malnourished (like storing fat, spiking blood sugar levels, etc.). This is an area to be careful about. Many vitamins need huge quantities to be toxic, and some don't; but some are contraindicated for certain people. Ginseng, for example—this isn't generally a good thing for people with heart problems.

Other than hyper-dosing on Vitamin C (which still might be bad if you have ulcers), or simply taking a multivitamin as directed, you should talk to a health professionally before drastically changing supplements.

(aka "Fiber" for my US friends). While there's a handful of nutritional plans that take fibre into account, I believe it's tantamount to the fourth macronutrient. Some nutritional plans allow you to eat more of the other macro nutrients when more fibre is eat at the same time. e.g. whole-wheat and white bread are roughly the same in calories; but most diets recommend whole-wheat over white—which is partially because of the extra fibre (some of it also has to do with the different ways your body metabolises each: white metabolises into glycogen faster—which can be stored as fat easier). Generally, the more fibre something has, the better it is for you. It's useful to know things that are high in fibre when you're eating out so you can make better decisions.

Okay, I lied, there's a few things I would recommend not eating at all. I don't drink soda any more. There's really nothing of any nutritional benefit to any soda beverage—especially sugar free. Sugar free, in my mind, is one of the worst things to drink. There's studies that suggest it tricks the body into thinking it's eating something sugary and triggers it to store fat. Even if you don't believe these studies, there's still nothing beneficial to soda—I generally stick to water when I'm thirsty. Cutting out a single can of soda a day will reduce your calorie intake by up to 50 thousand calories! That's the equivalent of 35 meals in a year, or almost 11 full days of eating. If you're currently drinking a cola a day, that's one really easy thing to do to help lose weight. Another is salt. I don't cut out foods with any amount of salt in them; but avoid really salty foods and don't add salt to meals. It's not healthy for the heart and leads to water retention (we're hoping to look better not "bloated", right?). If you reduce table salt drastically, make sure you don't run the risk of getting a goiter (amongst other things) from the reduced iodine (which can be countered through eating the right kinds of fish).

Muscle takes more calories to maintain that fat; the more muscle you have in your body the more calories are required at rest. This is useful because if you increase your quantity of muscle and maintain the same level of caloric intake then it's the same as reducing calories. Many people recommend bodybuilding as a means to lose weight. You get an increased level of exercise (some of it cardio) while increasing your muscle mass in order to more easily sustain a health body weight. This generally means compensating with a higher consumption of protein. But, it's not for everyone—if you have heart issues then it may not be a good idea. If you think that's something you'd want to try, check with your doctor first—just to be on the safe side. If found it really hard to start and maintain a pace by which to increase muscle mass on my own. I hired a training a couple of years ago to jump start that. I already knew most of the techniques and theory; but, to be on a schedule and be there for someone else (or still pay them) was excellent motivation for people to get going and to maintain a healthy pace. It's helpful, if you don't have a gym buddy, to have a trainer around to spot you to avoid injury.

Despite what you choose for activity, I believe in "balance". If you want to concentrate on increase muscle mass, you should still do some cardio. it's good for your heart, helps with endurance, and introduces a changing in pace that can help break up the doldrums of the same type of workout 3-4 times a week.

Where x: fitness, nutrition. Simply changing your eating habits alone isn't likely to make a huge positive impact on your health. Yes, you could eat much less or eat much differently and your weight may change (I've seen people gain weight when they start eating "healthy"…) but this tactic alone to lose weight can lead to health problems (i.e. "diets" don't work). Same goes for fitness, if you simply start working out, running, jogging, cardio, etc. and don't change your eating habits you run the risk of the same problems with health. Your body is not in need of different nutrients to sustain the work you're making it do and you could run into health problems from lack of appropriate nutrients. I'm a big proponent of a well-rounded lifestyle (not only in terms of fitness, but that's another blog post :). I believe in both health food consumption, but also an active lifestyle. What activity you want to perform can also mean eating differently, possibly on a daily basis. The variables are endless and your metabolism affects how you should eat/exercise; I recommend some thorough research on this if you want to get really efficient at it.

Losing weight is goal-oriented. The final goal is, of course, to have a smaller t-shirt size; but for some of us that's a long-term goal. It's difficult to maintain something without seeing "instant" feedback. "Cheating" is a common method of maintaining a healthy lifestyle with short-term goals. As I mentioned earlier you don't have to cut out certain foods; but you can use them as motivation. For example, pizza. Sure, don't have it once a day; but if it's your krypronite (like me) have it once a week if you meet your other goals.

It's easy to eat certain foods because you're in a certain mood. We tend to resort to comfort foods when, well, we need comfort—when we're not feeling good about ourselves or something earth-shattering has occurred in our lives. It's important to be cognizant of what we eat. Food is a drug that affects us beyond mood—we need to use that drug properly and not abuse it. If you're in a bad mood, try to pay more attention to what you eat.

Healthy eating really gets down to simply knowing what we eat. Simply knowing that in-the-large, a can of cola a day is the equivalent of 35 meals a day in calories, we can better make decisions in-the-small and maybe choose water over cola. Choosing to limit soda is a a fairly easy decision to make; deciding what to eat, the quantities to eat and the ratio of macro nutrients to consume can get a little daunting. Some of the simple decisions that I make throughout the day: whole wheat over white, high-protein, low-fat, avoid starchy carbs, avoid sugary beverages, don't add fats, etc. A few simple mantras like this can make your food choices much easier from day to day. Also, each person is different. There's different body types (mesomorph, ectomorph, endomorph) and different genetic backgrounds that can affect your how your body metabolises food. e.g. certain genetic backgrounds did not have milk in their diet so haven't evolved to tolerate it in their diet—if you're this type of person milk-based protein supplements might not be a good idea. But, what I'm really trying to say is that you need to spend a bit of time through trial and error to figure out what works for you before you can really find a lifestyle that not only works for you, but you're comfortable with.

What I like about any particular nutrition plan (Zone, Paleo, veganism, vegetarian, etc.) is that it makes you think about what you eat. I recommend finding one that works and sticking with it. And yes, that could mean veganism. (although it is harder to maintain). It's important to pick one you know you can be consistent with. "falling off the wagon" to many times can lead to disappointment, stress, and gaining even more weight.

Sleep is important for your health in general; but also for you waistline. Many studies show that getting a good night sleep helps tremendously with attaining a healthy weight as well as maintaining a healthy weight. Poor sleeping habits can lead to stress, which can lead to increased cortisol levels which leads to changes in insulin levels which can lead to your body storing fat. There's been a few studies out there that suggest it's healthier to wake up early and go to bed early. I think that generally puts you in sync with the dusk and dawn and maximizes your sun exposure leading a better mood and less stress. But, I find it hard to do… (did I mention, I don't think its "just about X"? 🙂

I bring this up not because it's a very common acquired disease or that more than few friends and family have it. I bring it up because I think what someone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes has to deal with in a day can bring much benefit to the average person. Diabetics have to constantly deal with blood sugar levels and counter-act spikes and troughs through the manual introduction of insulin. A non-diabetic person generally has a metabolism that monitors and deals with that automatically. But, that doesn't mean the spikes in blood sugar and huge insulin production changes are good for people. If you maintain a healthy blood sugar level through the day and don't cause your body to spike insulin production levels your body will be under less stress (cortisol) and not be in situations where it wants to store fat rather than burn energy. (One of the reasons I've cut out sodas…)

Kind of a brain dump to be sure, and if there's enough interest I can go deeper in to each section… But, take on the goal of reducing a conference t-shirt size in the next 6 months or the next conference you hope to attend! Post back (or send me an email) on your progress. I'd love to see our community and industry be much more healthy—I want to be able to spend more time with you people, not less.

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