Michelangelo’s “David” was at one time a mere solid block of marble. The master artist crafted this magnificent sculpture by knowing exactly what to carve away—what did not belong. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of Le Petit Prince): “Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but when there is no more to take away.” How does this relate to our current physical state of affairs? Essentially, we all have potential “beach bodies” obscured beneath our winter-weighted physiques. We may be a bit flabbier and less toned than desirable, but somewhere hidden within is a sinewy, tight, and lean figure. The million-dollar question is what to do to bring out this inner beach body—to allow us to feel confident, svelte and shapely since swimsuit season is right around the corner. Read on!
A great body (and more importantly, a healthy body) usually demands a lifestyle encompassing a responsible diet and a disciplined exercise regimen—this is a process incorporated into the daily existence of those who respect themselves and are committed to being their own wellness caretakers. Realistically, this is a lifetime pursuit—major changes are not going to occur in 6 weeks of “cramming” to achieve a respectable appearance at the beach or pool! However, all journeys start with small steps and with diligence, some real and measurable progress towards that beach body can be made even after a few weeks of effort. Within a month or so of consistent healthy eating and exercise, we should note the pounds peeling off, better muscle tone, and increased energy levels. It comes down to the basics of watching what and how much we eat and ramping up the sweating.
Nutrition to Maximize Our Beach Body Appearance
To help carve down our bodies to reveal the “David” or “Venus de Milo” within, we are going to need healthy fuel to serve as energy and to provide the basic building blocks for the reconstructive and regenerative processes that are ongoing in our bodies. For weight loss, we will need reduced caloric consumption—3500 calories less per week intake will result in a one-pound loss, a very realistic, reasonable goal. As weight gain is gradual, so should weight loss be. No fads, no gimmicks, no nonsensical, unbalanced, ridiculous diets—just a sensible reduction in calories and an effort to eat healthy, nutrient-dense, natural and unprocessed foods. Keeping a food diary in which we record what we eat, why and when, is a very useful and eye-opening tool to document our intake—often very surprising when we see it in print!
Since portion control rules, a really easy diet is simply to reduce portions to one-half to three-quarters of our normal size helpings. When it comes to snacking, we should make every effort to eat wholesome fresh vegetables and fruits instead of processed junk that often contain a load of unhealthy fats, salt and carbohydrates. It is never a bad idea to provide positive imagery by placing a photo on the fridge—one of us from previously leaner times, or perhaps one of someone whom we would like to resemble. It is important to make smart choices and often our intuition will suffice to guide us. For example, our thought process might be: if we want to look good in our bathing suits, what food will better serve us… a carrot or a piece of carrot cake?
Lean sources of protein such as egg whites, wild salmon (or any other wild fish that is grilled or broiled), skinless chicken, turkey breast, fat-free yogurt and soy products such as tofu and edamame are healthy and desirable macronutrients. We should be judicious with meat and dairy intake because they are rich in saturated fats and high in calories. Vegetables are a much healthier source of fat—think nuts, avocados and olives. High fiber foods—vegetables, fruits and legumes including lentils, peas and beans—are very filling and the fiber regulates the rate of carbohydrate absorption. Intake of a variety of brightly colored fruits and veggies will ensure getting ample doses of phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants. We need to attempt to minimize the rich sauces and fattening dressings put on otherwise healthy foods…if we cannot avoid them, then we need to use them in moderation. It is important to be careful with our sodium intake as it causes fluid retention, bloating, weight gain and a number of potential medical issues.
And now for a brief but important discussion of the science of fat: Our hormone insulin has much to do with the way our bodies store or burn fat—when insulin levels are elevated, we accumulate fat; when levels are low, we burn fat as fuel. Our insulin levels are more-or-less determined by the carbohydrates we eat…the more carbs we eat, the sweeter they are, the easier they are to digest, the greater the insulin levels and the more that fat accumulation is driven. To reiterate, insulin secretion caused by eating carb-rich foods—flour and cereal grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes, sugars and high-fructose corn syrup—makes us fat. The sweeter the food, and the easier it is to digest, the fatter it will make us, and liquid carbs such as sodas, fruit juices and beer are probably the biggest culprits.
So, we need to try to steer clear of refined carbohydrates, substituting whole grain products for white bread, refined pasta, white rice, etc. It is very important to minimize sugar intake since sucrose is fructose/glucose and fructose gets metabolized much differently from glucose, pushing our bodies towards fat deposition…the same thing goes for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which should be avoided like the plague. Let fruits be the source of fructose for our bodies, not refined sugars and HFCS. It is imperative that we carefully read food labels to know what we are consuming!
To repeat a very important principle if we want a beach body…we do NOT want to drink our calories—actively avoid liquid calories such as soda, juices, processed iced tea, etc. The best drink is water or seltzer—we can spritz them up with a lemon or lime. Lots of water will serve to keep us well hydrated, will dampen our appetites, and will quell our thirsts, which are sometimes confused for hunger. Remember that liquid calories include alcohol—a beer belly is the opposite of a beach belly! It is best to be moderate with alcohol consumption during the beach body training period—reducing alcohol will also help us maintain our discipline, which can easily be thrown by the wayside due to the disinhibiting effects of alcohol. Sobriety will go a long way towards molding that beach body!
Exercise to Maximize Our Beach Body Appearance
We are designed to be physically active and a “use it or lose it” approach applies. Our bodies are remarkably engineered to adapt to the stresses placed upon them with compensation—they adapt to exercise with increased muscle strength and fitness. The general rule of thumb is to think “athletics” and the “aesthetics” will follow. The key to exercise is diligence—carving out the time—and variety—strength (resistance) training, cardiovascular (aerobic) training and core (abdominal and torso) conditioning. A core synergistic exercise regimen, which is a combination of the aforementioned three types of exercise, provides a great overall workout. It’s a wonderful idea to keep an exercise diary to document your hard work…and boost motivation.
Muscles play a key role in our metabolism: they are extremely metabolically active, each pound of lean muscle burning 37-60 calories/day. With a sedentary existence and aging, there is a gradual loss of muscle mass and a resultant slowing in our resting metabolic rate. By building and maintaining our muscle mass with strength training, we will raise our resting metabolic rate and burn more calories. Additionally, exercise serves to increase the “insulin sensitivity” of muscle, which means that are muscles become more efficient at burning off carbs as fuel, before they have a chance to become stored as fat.
We can measure our maximal heart rates by doing an aerobic activity, such as swimming, running or cycling full throttle until we can’t go on, and then taking our pulses. In our workouts, if we can achieve a heart rate of 75% of our maximum rate and sustain that for 30-60 minutes daily, it is easily conceivable to burn 600 or more calories per day. High intensity interval training—alternating between extremely intense exertion and regular “normal” exertion—can rapidly help propel us towards the beach body within.
Stuck inside on a rainy day? Go to beachbody.com, the company that provides the P90, P90x, P90x plus and Insanity workouts, for supremely effective routines to whip your body into shape. I adore P90x and P90x plus and have been using them for several years now…they are a terrific value and provide a total, balanced workout.
Integrational exercise—incorporating non-gym physical activities into our daily lives—is an alternative form of exercising that burns calories and gets us moving just the same. These include gardening, house chores, vacuuming, walking the dog, chopping down trees, etc. It has even been shown that fidgeting will do the trick. The key is to get off the couch and get moving!
Maximize Our Beach Body Appearance: Miscellany
Maintaining good posture like a ballet dancer will help with the beach body mode—David and Venus certainly do not slouch forward with rounded shoulders. To this end, yoga and Pilates are wonderful forms of exercise.
Getting enough rest and sleep is also imperative. Insufficient sleep makes it difficult to exercise and the fatigue eating that often ensues can often be detrimental to our goals.
We must completely shun tobacco…nothing more needs to be said about this!
It is important to attempt to minimize the stress and negativity in our lives. Our stress hormone—cortisol—functions to stimulate our appetites and cravings and promotes fat deposition and weight gain. Stress can be managed in a healthy fashion through exercise as opposed to the unhealthy habit of stress eating.
There are less than 6 weeks to go to summer. Today is as good a time as ever to shape up for this fast approaching season, but also to start on a lifetime program of healthy living through the practice of responsible eating, daily exercise and intelligent lifestyle choices. There is no magic bullet to achieving that perfect beach body—the answer is simply fueling the body properly, living a balanced life and sweating out the demons through regular physical activity…make this your modus operandi and you’ll always be ready for any time of year!
This is just a taste of what you will find in Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food. The website for the book is: www.promiscuouseating.com. It provides information on the book, a trailer, excerpts, ordering instructions, as well as links to a wealth of excellent resources on healthy living.
Andrew Siegel, M.D.
May 14, 2011