How To Lose 30lbs and 30 Years: Brian Dennis

This month I have the pleasure of introducing you to an inspiration in many ways, not the least of which is aging! (During the first few months of working together, this handsome gent told me that 55 – his age at the time – was the best year he’d ever lived.)

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November 2014 – 173lb

Meet Brian.

As you can see, he was already a pretty fit guy and maintained a meticulous exercise habit. He came to me specifically looking to improve his swimming stroke (look better naked), get stronger (look better naked), and to improve his physique…you know, look better naked.

Well, much has changed since our first meeting 18 months ago.

  • previously, Brian’s daily food log showed not only an absence of veggies, but an aversion to veggies and any fruit not ending in -anana.
    • today, I fear for the neighborhood’s safety when Brian runs out of spinach
    • Brian also basically made his own impressive food tracking app after getting fed up with MyFitnessPal (with zero coercion from me)
  • previously, despite being highly active, the closest thing to strength training in Brian’s regular schedule was a Les Mills BodyPump class (not actual strength training)
    • fast forward – this month, Brian is lifting 4x per week with an emphasis on hypertrophy or the proper term, “getting jacked and tan”
  • a MASSIVE mental shift, which Brian can tell you more about below
  • a loss of 30lbs
  • an immeasurable gain of self-acceptance

So without further ado, let’s look at Brian naked!

This is from just a few months ago at his last assessment.

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March 2016 – 140lb

Q&A with Brian Dennis


ND: Okay Brian, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

BD: While writing something about myself, I noticed a theme. I have made a life of pressing up against my fears and moving through them.

I am a 57 year old visual artist. Contrary to the boldness of my art, I have struggled with anxiety and belonging; belonging in my skin, in art school, in any group. I grew up believing I was weak and fundamentally flawed. My self-loathing determined a place for me in the world that was dark and unforgiving. Luckily my aspirations are bigger than the myths.

The hardest thing I ever did was walk into a gym, where I most certainly did not belong. For me, gyms were places for athletes – not chain smoking obsessives who lived on sugar and coffee. But my body had slowed and the junk added up to a soft 180 lbs. I had to do something.

 

I grew up believing I was weak and fundamentally flawed. …

Luckily my aspirations are bigger than the myths.

 

I changed my lifestyle just to wake up at 5 AM, when the gym would be empty. I hacked together a little routine and went every day. I began to cultivate a new Brian. This persona was of a disciplined fitness enthusiast. After a few short years the deception simply slid into fact. I rarely missed a day, and the workouts became more challenging. I learned to swim when I was 40, started running when I was 48. Somewhere in there I discovered group exercises like Spinning and BodyPump.

Unsolicited, a friend suggested if I wanted to get serious about strength training I should talk to Nick. The old me was mortified that he would think I thought that I had any strength to train. But the new Brian was intrigued that he believed I could. It took a while to get the courage up but I started training with Nick 18 months ago.

So you made a complete identity shift – powerful!! Looks like it’s just another genuine side of Brian at this point. What would you say has been the best part of your experience working together?

For someone on shaky ground, it is helpful to have someone who doesn’t hear the crap in your head and believes. It is inspiring knowing Nick thinks I can. I am starting to see the Brian everyone else sees.

What an incredible answer! I never realized this is a role I play for you – I’m so thankful to be able to offer that perspective and now to be able to hear about it.

What motivates you to push harder in the gym when your body wants to quit?

Wanting to go to the next level helps me to push through. Also, I hate admitting defeat.

In what ways do you think you’ve changed since our first meeting?

I previously considered free weights and bars for the “big boys.” I am more comfortable in the weight room. I’ve gotten stronger and lost 30 pounds. And though I want to go so much further, I like how I look now.

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Your favorite? I can’t imagine why. – March 2016

What would we be surprised to learn about you?

I think I just told everyone, ha!

What’s your favorite exercise in the gym?

That’s a toss up between Leg Presses and Leg Extensions

What’s your favorite thing to do outside the gym?

Daydream and planning projects.

You’ve also been undergoing a parallel nutrition program with me, tell us about it. How has it contributed to your progress?

Changing my nutrition has significantly brought my weight down. I’ve always been disciplined with working out, but my nutrition was very limited. You helped me understand what I needed from food and then find foods I would eat.

You know, I didn’t realize people could be such picky eaters, so it’s great to have a team effort 🙂 What do you wish more people knew about training with a coach?

Don’t be intimidated! Working with a trainer opened up so many more exercises for me. Having a trainer teacher proper form and then remind you until it is ingrained is very valuable. It has allowed me to train smarter, get more results and spend less time at the gym.

What advice would you give other people who are considering hiring professional help as you were 18 months ago? 

If you are thinking about it just try it. You don’t need to commit to anything long term. Look for someone you are comfortable with, but will also inspire and challenge you.

You began a few new activities in your 40’s, what advice would you give older beginners?

Be patient! Don’t be discouraged by what may seem like slow progress. Change and developing new skills takes time for everyone.

The older you are when you start, the more ingrained habits you have to work against. But, if you can find a coach for your activity, use them. At least for starters or for when you want to advance.

Lastly, don’t be bogged down regretting you started so “late”. You started!

I like how I look now.

 

Looking ahead… it’s June 2017. What’s your life like, what are your workouts like, what’s your body like, and what new accomplishments are you most proud of?

I hope my life continues as it has in the past few years, making and exhibiting my artwork. I am so excited that the workouts have moved into a body building direction. In a year, I will be larger and stronger. I will be proud that I dug deep, dosed doubt and tried. I will continue to push myself physically but also against any fear that stands in my way.

And a big middle finger to Father Time too, right? Haha, great work Brian!!



For more information about Brian the age-proof artist extraordinaire and his artwork, check out his website at BrianDavidDennis.com

 

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No-Stir No-Mess Natural Peanut Butter Trick

 

Do you hate stirring natural peanut butter as much as I did?

Either the jar and counter get messy or you’ve got extra dishes (or a whole blender!) to clean. It consumes time and attention and generally sucks.

But what if the peanut butter could be perfect before you even open the jar?

Well, let me solve all your problems.

You’ll need:

  • natural peanut butter (I recommend WholeFoods 365 or Smuckers)
  • a fridge
  • a freezer
  • about a week of passive non-attention-consuming time

Step 1: Once you get home from the grocery store, store your peanut butter upside-down until the oil has collected to the bottom of the jar (now the top). This might take a few days and up to a week depending on how warm it is where you live.


TIP: Want this to go faster?
You could microwave the jar (make sure the seal isn’t metallic). (You could remove it, but I like to keep the lid clean).


TIP: Save time! Buy a few jars at once so you can do this en masse.


Step 2: Once the oil is at the top, transfer the inverted peanut butter to the freezer. Wait 2-3 days for it to freeze completely.

Step 3: Once frozen, transfer it to the fridge.


Can I skip the freezer?
You want the oils to chill and solidify first to make the peanut butter firm and not runny. Thaw UP to the desired temperature rather than chill DOWN to the desired temperature.


Step 4: Finally flip it right-side up, remove the seal, and exuberantly scoop into it like a pint of ice cream you sick fuck.

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My Name is Amy, and I Felt Helpless.

In May 2016, at age 41, I was at my highest weight ever, morbidly obese.

I don’t know quite how it all started, but I had been steadily gaining weight since my teens. By this point it had become a huge problem to overcome. For many years my weight seemed so difficult to address and so easy to half-ass and procrastinate about.

I’d had a few bursts of success over the years at losing weight through exercise, dieting, or both. But they were always difficult and slow, and they all felt like a daily struggle.

…And I always ended up regaining the weight in relatively short order.

But suddenly at 41 I found myself thinking about it constantly.

I felt helpless.

Without a big change I knew I’d eventually (and before long) become diabetic, develop cardiovascular disease, and compromise my knees, hips, etc. But not only that! Even just *feeling* unhealthy and old was on the horizon (by some miracle it hadn’t hit yet).

I knew it was a matter of time.

Screw This, I Need Some Help!

With all that I’ve tried, I thought it might be time to bring in the professionals. There was a gym near where I work, so one day in May I went to check it out. I signed up for personal training sessions, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to Nick.

I remember thinking he’s a personable and genuine guy. He seemed really intense. And I mean really intense. Anyone could tell he’s clearly passionate about what he does. 

[Editor’s Note: At the time of writing this, Amy admitted to me that when we met, she thought I might have done cocaine.]

He asked a lot of good questions about my lifestyle and my history with weight loss and fitness, and he was focused on my answers. I sensed he was taking all my comments in with respect and not with pity, which made me feel like he was giving serious attention and deliberation to my problem.

These pictures were taken on the day of my first meeting with Nick – our assessment. Not so rosy a picture as I’d had in my head! And it’s definitely humbling to have your neck and thigh circumference (and everything else!) measured by some buff young dude.

Nick reassured me that this was a crucial starting point and that it was understandable to feel self-conscious, but that we needed to know the cold, hard facts before we could truly get started with serious change.

So I got over myself pretty quickly.

Here’s Day 1, in all its glory.

I Needed Something Radical

The weekly strength training sessions were challenging and felt beneficial off the bat, but you know what?

I was still so preoccupied with my health situation that I started to think about bariatric surgery.

Looking at the situation realistically, I figured no other method of losing weight would achieve and then actually *sustain* the significant weight loss I needed.

So I went to an information session held by a bariatric surgery clinic. They described the process leading up to the procedure, the surgery itself, and the expected results (and dangers).

To be honest, I left feeling pretty terrified and defeated. I knew it wasn’t for me, but I just felt forced to consider it. I knew I needed something radical, but what other option could there be?

I honestly didn’t know what else I could do.

Would This Really Work?

The next evening, I met with Nick for our weekly session. He asked me how I was doing. Little did he know what a loaded question that was…

I dropped the idea on him.

He had a lot to say on the matter. He could tell this was important to me, so he offered to scrap the workout to discuss instead.

From there, he asked me plenty of questions to understand my whole situation. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow – this guy seems like he really wants to help me get to the bottom of this.”

I admitted to him that my ultimate goal was to get my weight under control and get healthy. He was blunt and honest about what it would take to make that happen.

To my surprise as we spoke, he helped me understand that while exercise was a good thing, it was actually my nutrition that would be holding me back. He explained that in my case, putting my effort in nutrition would have the greatest effect towards my goal, not training.

He showed me why the general advice given to people who want to lose weight isn’t always appropriate for everyone.

As he explained more, I was interested to learn why people who have a lot of weight to lose actually struggle for different reasons than people who only have a little to lose.

He even helped me consider what the process would look like afterwards if I did ultimately decide to get the surgery.

It wasn’t pretty.

Needless to say, he didn’t think bariatric surgery was the answer.

This gave me hope.

So he suggested I start a nutrition program with him in addition to the weekly strength training.

To be honest, I was afraid the program might be a rehashing of stuff I already knew about healthy eating…

…but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Unlike other programs, it turned out to be a very tailored education in what *I* needed to do to lose fat.

The Journey Begins

The one thing about Nick is that he’s very focused, and he makes sure my goals and the path to reach them are clear and similarly focused.

At the end of each session he asks me to focus on a specific action over the ensuing 2 weeks. With Nick helping me, I always know what to do, and I always leave motivated and confident I can actually do what we discuss.

My very first habit statement, inspired and informed by our discussion during the first session, was a GAME changer. It was the only thing I needed to focus on for those 2 weeks and it seemed doable. It was specific and designed to ensure that I’d actually stick with it.

Two weeks later, I met with Nick again.

“How did it go?”

Well this might sound ridiculous… but it was easy, it was simple, and it fixed a host of bad behaviors right away!

Before long, I saw that I was having less cravings and feeling more full throughout the day. I even started skipping the takeout and cooking for myself! wdxo6e

This left me feeling motivated to stay on the high road and avoid excess carbs and fat. Subsequent sessions built on that habit and gave me more information and ideas for tackling other habits.

All of a sudden I was NOT helpless, and it was terrifically empowering.

Full Speed Ahead!

Over the next 12 weeks, in addition to eating lots of good food, I was finding new ways to make meal planning easier and prevent/deal with cravings. With all the extra energy I had, I was also doing a lot more moderate physical activity, including commuting to work by bike several times per week for the first time.

I admit I didn’t stick completely to the virtuous path in those 12 weeks; I’m pretty weak in the willpower department.

But even still, the changes I made led to losing 24lbs, comfortably outside of the “morbid” range. At this lower weight, and with much improved diet and behaviors, I felt more fit and energetic.

Just look at my second assessment!!

CAUTION: Obstacles Ahead

The next phase began in October 2016.

I began doing strength training with Nick twice weekly and continued to work on my nutrition program, little by little.

This phase wasn’t easy, and it seemed like everything that could go wrong did.

I had a lofty fat loss goal, but I didn’t stick with the nutrition quite as much as I had at first. Even worse, after an unfortunate series of small bike accidents I reduced my bike commuting.

Nick was still there to help and suggested special adjustments to my nutrition and activity habits.

As my third assessment date was approaching, I was well aware my weight had been only dropping slightly for the last few weeks, if at all.

I felt bad and was not looking forward to seeing the results of this phase that reflected no improvement towards my lofty weight loss goals.

The assessment came, and here are the results.

…As expected, at the end of this phase my weight had not dropped at all­­—but I didn’t gain any of the weight back either!

So even though I didn’t lose much weight during this phase, Nick helped me realize something…

 This phase was still pretty successful at a different goal that I did not think to set—to maintain my previous weight loss! 

The fact is it had been a whole 12 weeks and I didn’t gain any weight back (which I didn’t really think possible given my “backsliding” and previous patterns), I doubled the frequency of my strength training and was stronger, I was still energetic and active, and I had developed more discipline.

The Road Ahead

Last week I began my next 12-week phase. My goal is to lose a further 31lbs in this period. I’ve gotten specific rules and information from Nick on how to accomplish this, and I’ll get further support and advice from him throughout.

One week in, it all seems doable and I’m adhering closely to the regimen. I may be well on my way.

But you know what? Even if I don’t totally succeed in the near future, I’m not worried.

Everything is different from how I felt before I started working with Nick.

I now realize I am not a victim of my genes, a slow thyroid, truly crap willpower (seriously.), and poor impulse control (at least with food :P).

I am not helpless.

I now have concrete and simple tools and knowledge to make my goal happen…eventually. And I have Nick’s expert nutrition and strength training guidance in addition to his careful monitoring of my progress.

I no longer think steadily gaining more weight and developing preventable illnesses is inevitable. I guess it isn’t impossible, but I now see it as very unlikely.

In fact, now I see success as very likely. And I plan to crush that 31-lb goal.

Keep Your Workouts Honest!

Hey guys, last week I was featured on Philly.com with my debut article!

Pretty exciting – my first published piece.

Each week the video series will continue for the month of January.

Thanks for the support and there will be much more to come.

Happy New Year 🙂

Fit Kitchen Substitution: Mayonnaise

The simplest way to start eating healthier is to take what you’re already eating and upgrade it.
When building a foundation of great healthier-substitutions in your kitchen, it can be difficult to see through the nutrition labels in your cupboard. (Especially if you didn’t have a grandmama from the old days to show you how it’s really done.)
Let’s talk mayonnaise.

The Old Days

The mayonnaise your taste buds know and love traditionally boils down to three simple ingredients:
  • oil (olive)
  • vinegar / lemon juice
  • and egg yolks

Additionally, your grandmother might have added some spices and dijon mustard for flavor.

Today, your jar of mayo is likely made by Kraft / Hellmann’s and has a bunch of additional unnecessary ingredients in it. Some of these could easily be replaced with healthier alternatives or removed entirely.
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Mayonnaise as a condiment is HIGH in fat (the oil and egg yolks), LOW in carbohydrate, and LOW in protein.

So, the three easiest ways we can boost the nutritional power of this condiment are to:

  1. increase the protein content
  2. upgrade to a healthier fat source
  3. reduce the total fat content (if your diet calls for it)

Increase Protein Content

Mayonnaise doesn’t traditionally contain a protein source since the eggs are not included in significant quantities.

This is usually a good way to increase the nutritional benefit of many recipes, but who eats more than a tablespoon (or few) of mayo at a time?

A serving size just isn’t big enough; just eat some meat at your meal instead.

Choose a Healthier Fat Source

The mayo you buy from the grocery store gets its oil component from soybean oil.

We know that soybean oil is high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. In general, we already eat too much of these.

No bueno.

A better option is to replace it with olive oil, preferably extra virgin olive oil if you can handle the strong taste.

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to have positive effects on body composition and fat distribution and is less inflammatory than the fats in soybean oil.

“But wait!”

I hear you say…

“They already make an olive oil version! Great – can I just buy that?”

Good eye! But have a deeper look first. Those food marketing pros can be tricky.

Conduct Your Own Investigation

Don’t take my word for it, let’s explore the ingredients together.

hellmans-mayo

Here’s the original Hellman’s Mayonnaise ingredients list.

It reads…

Ingredients: soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, Calcium Disodium EDTA, natural flavors

hellmans-olive-oil-mayo
Here’s the version made with olive oil.

It reads…

Ingredients: water, soybean oil, olive oil, whole eggs and egg yolks, sugar, modified potato starch, vinegar, salt, lemon juice concentrate, sorbic acid, Calcium Disodium EDTA, natural flavors, extractives of paprika

Since the ingredients are listed by highest to lowest weight, we can see that even in the product made with olive oil, there is still at least as much (but likely even more) soybean oil.

(Because we’re only concerned with quality of calories here, we will overlook total calories and macronutrients for now.)

So even though there’s a mayonnaise product with olive oil in it, it doesn’t actually accomplish our goal of replacing unhealthy fats (soybean oil) with healthy fats (olive oil.)

The food companies can claim that their product is “Made with Olive Oil” – because it is. But, it’s not made with just olive oil, or even primarily olive oil.

Here’s our first reason to make our own mayonnaise.

So let’s keep moving.

Reduce the Fat Content

By reducing the fat content, we can free up some calories to eat more of other things or to burn more body fat during a fat loss diet.

The easiest way to reduce fat content in mayonnaise would be to use less oil in the recipe.

“But wait!”

I hear you say again…

“They already make a light version! Great – can I just buy that?”

Let’s investigate.

Since we’d want to reduce fat content mainly to reduce overall calories, let’s look at the Nutrition Facts first.

The light version does a good job of reducing calories by over 50% due to the reduction in fat.

But where do these 35 calories come from?

Does nutrient quality hold up?

hellmans light mayo.jpg

Here’s the ingredients list for the Hellmann’s mayo light version.

It reads…

Ingredients: water, soybean oil, modified food starch, eggs, sugar, salt, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sorbic acid, Calcium Disodium EDTA, natural flavors, extractives of paprika, vitamin E

(The ingredients in bold differ from the original version.)

The only significant difference is the addition of modified food starch, which is added as a thickener to improve the mouthfeel and spreadability of the product. As a starch, this adds unnecessary refined carbohydrate/sugar.

But wait!

Did you notice there’s more food starch than there are eggs?

What do we think, Fry?

We can do better.

DIY Mayo

Feeling adventurous on a Friday night?

Easy do-it-yourself mayonnaise is just a blended mixture of oil, egg yolks, vinegar, lemon juice, and spices.

Try making your own mayonnaise with this great recipe. (A good idea is to use light-tasting olive oil to bring out the taste of the other ingredients.)

DIY Diet Mayo

Are you ready to go completely nuts?

Or maybe you’re just be super lazy like me.

As we discussed earlier, we might not be able to add much protein to our diets from some “super-mayonnaise,” but we can use protein-rich Greek yogurt to dramatically decrease the caloric content of our “mayonnaise.”

For a simple mayonnaise super-substitution, try mixing apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar with any fat-level of plain unsweetened Greek yogurt. (Even full-fat Greek yogurt would have a very low total fat content as you will see below.)

You’ll get all the thick creamy goodness you want from mayonnaise with all the tangy vinegary goodness and like, none of the fat.

Here’s a fairly good recipe from Dr. Oz (believe it or not).

If you’re used to using say, 30g / 2tbsp of mayo on your meat patty or in an individual serving of tuna salad, here are comparisons for the calories provided:

  • 30g of Hellmann’s regular mayonnaise (0g carbohydrate; 20g of fat, 0g protein = about 180 calories)
  • 30g of Hellmann’s light mayonnaise (1g carbohydrate; 7g of fat, 0g protein = about 65 calories)
  • 30g of low-fat Greek yogurt (1g carbohydrate, <1g fat, 3g protein = about 20 calories)
  • 30g of full-fat Greek yogurt (1g carbohydrate, 1.5g fat, 3g protein = about 30 calories)

As you can see, this simple substitution dramatically reduces the calories of your creamy tangy spread so you can eat as much as you want and feel damn good about it.

And isn’t that the whole point?

 

 

 

Eating Made Easy: Do This, Not That

zen-issa-o-snail-climb-mount-fuji
The easiest way to make major progress in your health, diet, and body is by chipping away slowly, making one seemingly insignificant change at a time.

In fact, the most successful eaters could usually tell you the lineage of how their nutritional habits evolved over the years.

The can of soda on Day 2 might look a lot like the one you had on Day 1, but the small glass poured from the carton of orange juice on Day 46 starts to take on a new shape.

…And then on Day 1000, the unsweetened green tea with lemon juice bears no resemblance to the can of soda on Day 1.

It can be as easy as swapping one thing for another. There are many aspects of lifestyle where we can begin making these simple substitutions, but today  – let’s talk fats.

You may have heard of “healthy fats” like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, or fish oil.
Your fat intake plays a major role in your body’s inflammation status.
Chronic inflammation is a stressor, but it’s not a particularly productive one – unlike high-intensity exercise.
Excessive chronic inflammation will compete for your body’s ability to recover from your training, thereby diminishing your health.
Think of it like driving with the parking brake on.
And because our body can only handle so much stress before it breaks, it’s best to invest in the right stressors.

Good news!

We can reduce your body’s inflammation by substituting pro-inflammatory fat sources (like vegetable/soybean/corn/seed oils) with healthy fat sources like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish / fish oils.

Here are THREE easy ways to do this:
  • DITCH: mayonnaise or store-bought salad dressing (rich in vegetable oils)
  • ADD: avocado or home-made salad dressings with olive oil
  • DITCH: fatty chicken/turkey (fried or not)
  • ADD: fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines)
  • DITCH: peanut / corn / soybean / vegetable oils for cooking
  • ADD: coconut oil / avocado oil / grass-fed butter for cooking

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