Fitness in One Lesson
by Kenneth W. Umbach, Ph.D.
Last revised (slightly) December 2002
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There are two, and only two, keys to achieving and maintaining
A consistent, appropriate exercise program, combining aerobic exercise
and resistance exercise.
Consistent, day-in, day-out, low-fat, high-fiber, high complex carbohydrate,
nutrient-dense eating habits. This is not a "diet." It is new, permanent
So what is an "appropriate" exercise program?
One size does not fit all. Exercise should be suited to the individual.
However, for anyone who does not know quite where to start, here is what
1. Walk briskly for 30 to 45 minutes every day--up to an hour
if you like. (Start a little slower, and speed up as you warm up.) Maybe
carry a pair of light dumbbells (3 to 5 pounds) and crank your arms a bit,
to work more muscles. For weight loss, do this twice a day, or add item
Read Susan Powter's Stop the Insanity for a clear explanation of
such concepts as working within your fitness level and being "in oxygen."
I cannot possibly explain it better. She is exactly on target.
2. Use either a step-aerobics device (a platform designed to step on
and off of for exercise--you can get them for $20 to $40) or a stair-climbing
machine at a brisk pace for 30 minutes a day. Start slower, and work up
the speed at each session. Also, start with shorter sessions until you
work up your endurance. Combine with use of light dumbbells, if you can.
Do it to music with a good beat. What's "brisk"? Fast enough so that your
heart rate is up, you work up a sweat within about 10 minutes, you breathe
deeply, but not so strenuous that you cannot talk normally, at least for
a sentence or two at a time. If you are gasping for breath or cannot respond
to a question, you are pushing too hard. Slow down. "Brisk" gets faster
as you get fitter. Start where you are.
3. Use a pair of dumbbells--start with, say, 8 or 10 pounds (or as little
as 3 or 5 pounds if you prefer)--and do forward curls, reverse curls, overhead
presses, and lateral raises (elbows slightly bent--do standing and bent-over
versions). Lots of them. Do as many as you can crank out for 30 minutes,
two or three times a week. (Preferably not on consecutive days.) Start
with less time for this and work up. As strength increases, increase the
weight--maybe 12 or 15 pounds. This is important, because it will grow
muscle, which in turn raises your basal metabolism As lean muscle mass
increases, so does the number of calories burned, even at rest.
Regularly read a good fitness magazine for motivation and information
on technique. I particularly like Muscle and Fitness for tips and
techniques, although much of it is aimed at body builders and the ads tend
to emphasize unnecessary supplements, so pick what is appropriate for you.
Is more exercise better?
No. Up to two hours of aerobic exercise a day (divided into two
or three sessions, for a total of up to two hours) is good. More
is too much and will not improve the results. Also, take a day off
now and then--say one day every week or ten days. If you can manage only
30 minutes a day, that is valuable, so don't feel that you have
to aim for even an hour a day. If you can, great! If not, then just be
consistent and get in 30 minutes of good aerobic exercise a day, and more
when you can. It does help if you listen to music with a good beat
while doing aerobic exercise -- keeps you moving and makes the time go
What does the exercise do for you?
The aerobic exercise does three key things:
The resistance exercise (whether with weights or heavy-duty rubber-band-type
devices) does several things:
It burns fat as you do it.
It improves your overall cardiovascular fitness.
It raises your metabolism for hours after you've done it--in fact a regular
day-in and day-out program cranks up your basal metabolism (rate of calorie
It burns energy (and probably fat, depending on the intensity of the workout)
as you do it.
It tones, strengthens, and builds muscle, increasing basal metabolism.
That is, it inceases day-in, day-out calorie burning.
It helps to redistribute weight from fat to muscle, even if total weight
It improves your appearance and attitude. A consistent, appropriate resistance
exercise program has prompt, gratifying results.
How long does it take to get results?
A few weeks to a few months. Resistance exercise does start to pay off
visibly pretty quickly, though, as long as it is done consistently and
progressively (increasing the weight as strength increases). Aerobic conditioning
can improve pretty steadily. When I started on the stair climbing machine
(daily sessions), I could barely crank out 10 minutes. After 4 to 6 weeks
I had worked up to a non-stop hour. This works in reverse, too. Laying
off the stair climber for a couple of months reduced my tolerance to a
half hour. A few sessions worked it back up.
What is "low-fat, high-fiber, high complex carbohydrate, nutrient-dense
It means eating:
It means not eating:
Whole grain anything (bagels, cereal, bread, kashi, brown rice, oatmeal
. . .).
Fat-free pasta (spaghetti in all its shapes and forms) with very low-fat
or fat-free sauces. This is a refined starch, though, so don't go crazy
with portion sizes.
Beans and other legumes (kidney beans, garbanzos, navy beans, black beans,
split peas, lentils, and lots more)--as soup, chili, refried beans (Trader
Joe carries excellent fat-free varieties, and Rosarita makes fat-free refried
beans), baked beans, bean salad. Try brown rice and fat-free refried bean
burritos, with fat-free shredded cheese and lots of salsa. Excellent!
Potatoes (without butter, margarine, or other fats--use Molly McButter
or fat-free margarine, such as Promise Ultra). There is a spray version
of "I can't Believe it's not Butter" that is very good, and fat free when
used in moderation (several spritzes). A small amount (a tablespoon
or so) of shredded fresh parmesan cheese is very nice on baked potatoes,
Low fat snack foods, in moderation (low-fat or fat-free baked potato
chips; low-salt, fat-free pretzels; air-popped popcorn, with Molly McButter
if you like; and lots more--read the nutrition labels). Trader Joe carries
some good choices. No, some of this stuff (like the potato chips) will
not taste like what you are used to. So what? Don't expect it to. Just
take it on its own terms. Your tastes and preferences will change more
quickly than you think. After a while you'll find the fatty products unpleasant.
Super lean turkey breast or chicken (read the labels). Ground turkey breast
is a pretty decent substitute for hamburger, but in many cases not as good
as vegetarian burger substitutes (see below).
Lean fish, broiled, baked, or microwaved. Sprinkle it with lemon pepper
and lemon juice, then bake or microwaved.
Fat-free dairy products (not "low-fat": nonfat)--skim milk, fat-free cottage
cheese, fat-free cheese slices, fat-free grated cheese, and so on.
"Protean" mix from Harvest Direct, or something of that type. Check health
food stores or health food section of major grocery stores. Use it in place
of hamburger for meat(less) loaf, meat(less) balls, sloppy joes, tacos,
yes, even hamburgers. (Protean mix comes dry, in a package that makes the
equivalent of a pound of ground beef. But I have not bought that in quite
a while and cannot say for sure that the brand still exists.) It has no
fat or cholesterol, leaves no grease in the pan, no waste, is easy to store.
It is, sadly, not as good as the "Burger 'n' Loaf" that Harvest Direct
used to sell (that was an Archer-Daniels-Midland product) but is still
quite acceptible everywhere I have tried it, especially if you mix some
chopped onions (fresh or dried) into the mix. Order the stuff (ten, twenty,
or more boxes at a time) by calling 1-800-8FLAVOR. Make it up in advance,
refrigerate, and then use it just like hamburger meat. Cook up some extra
hamburger patties made from the stuff, and refrigerate. They are even better
the next day reheated in the microwave. Add a heaping tablespoon of dried
onions or chopped fresh onions to the mix and stir it in before adding
the water, if you like (I always do). Please note that there are several
good low-fat or fat-free vegetarian ground-beef substitutes available.
Trader Joe's carries one in the refrigerated meats section, and Green Giant
Harvest Burger for Recipes is excellent in chili or taco filling
(ready to use -- formed and browned like cooked ground beef).
Check what is available locally.
Fat-free egg substitutes -- major supermarket carry several brands. You
can use the egg substitute for everything but sunny-side up . . .
Vegetables of any variety, prepared without butter, oil, or fatty sauces.
Salsa--good on lots of things, including salads. Use all you like on low-fat
or fat-free tacos, burritos, nachos, burgers, or what-not.
Fat-free yogurt (frozen or regular). But this has sugar, so don't overdo.
It means not going hungry. There is lots to choose from. You
can make good-tasting, fat-free or low-fat versions of practically anything.
Fat-laden donuts or pastries. (Entemann's makes some nice fat-free pastries
that are good substitutes, in moderation. They can be a real life-saver.
The fudge brownies are especially good. They are not low in calories or
sugar, but still a nice choice. Try them with fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt.
But remember: these ARE high-sugar foods, so limit them.)
Fatty sauces, dressings, and the like. (There are fat-free alternatives
for all of these, and they are often better-tasting than the high-fat varieties.
Kraft makes a fat-free mayonnaise that is really good, and Kraft and others
make excellent fat-free salad dressings.)
Beef (there is virtually no way to make it not high-fat).
Anything that gets 30% or more of its calories from fat (eventually
you can modify this limit a little, when a higher-fat ingredient is only
part of an otherwise fat-free dish).
Butter, whole or "reduced-fat" milk, cheese, and other fatty dairy products.
("Reduced-fat" milk is still much too fatty. "Low fat" (1 percent under
the most recent Federal labeling requirements) is an ok compromise, or
(better) instant Milkman powdered milk--1/2 percent fat, or mix non-fat
and 1 percent in equal amounts.
Margarine. (Try Promise Ultra, instead . . . pretty good, and fat free,
or "I Can't Believe It's not Butter" spray.)
Oils, shortenings. (Use a little Pam spray, or similar cooking spray, when
necessary to grease a pan, and when oil is absolutely necessary in a recipe,
use canola or olive oil. Avoid any and all hydrogenated oils.)
Avocados (very fatty).
Nuts (except in small amounts, say less than one ounce, and not often).
Frozen dinners--even the so-called diet dinners often get many of their
calories from fat. (They are also full of salt.) Read the labels. There
are a few exceptions, but you have to look carefully. Most Weight Watchers
brand stuff appears to be highly unsatisfactory, to me at least (and small
portions at that)--avoid it.
Sugar. It is easily converted to fat by the body and screws up the insulin
level. (Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are more difficult to
turn into body fat, and they help to maintain a consistent insulin level,
thus minimizing hunger spikes.) Put some Equal (Nutrasweet) on your cereal
instead of sugar, if you like, but avoid overuse of artificial sweeteners--they
can have some odd effects, reportedly.
Alcohol (it has 8 calories per gram, no nutritional value, and directly
interferes with fat-loss mechanisms for days after ingestion no matter
what the rest of your dietary and exercise regimen).
It means reading labels. It means calculating percentage of calories
from fat. The assertion "98 percent fat free" can still mean that
a third or half of the calories come from fat. The "percent fat free"
statements are worthless. Read the nutrition label and do the arithmetic
yourself. Low-fat (1 percent) is a good choice, but avoid "reduced fat"
(2 percent), as it is still too high in fat, especially saturated fat.
You want a spaghetti dinner with brownies for dessert? No problem. Most
spaghetti noodles are very low in fat (or fat free). Or try something interesting
like spinach linguini or tomato-basil linguini. Add a fat-free or very
low fat pasta sauce. Steam some vegetables on the side, or add a green
salad with fat-free dressing, or both! Prepare a packaged brownie mix (pick
a low-fat one--read the label) with fat-free liquid egg substitute and
replace the oil with mashed bananas, applesauce, or extra egg substitute.
The brownies will have sugar, but still made this way they are quite a
reasonable option, and they taste very good.
You want lasagna? No problem. Make a very low fat version with fat-free
cheeses, fat-free lasagna noodles, very low-fat or fat-free sauce. The
only fat might be from, say, a little low-fat turkey sausage thrown in
to spice it up.
You want pizza? No problem (see under lasagna, only substitute Canadian
bacon for turkey sausage, and Boboli for noodles).
You want hamburgers? No problem. Use Protean mix for the patties (or one
of the various frozen vegetarian burgers, including Boca Burgers or the
burger products from Morningstar Farms, which are quite good), and all
the usual trimmings (but fat-free cheese and Kraft fat-free mayonnaise,
if you use mayo on your burgers). Serve with home-made fat-free potato
salad (use only the egg whites, not the yolks, and use Kraft Free fat-free
You want a big, filling breakfast? No problem (and a good idea). Try a
sliced, toasted fat-free bagel (most bagels have very little or no fat--the
authentic ones have none), raspberry jam, scrambled Egg Beaters, an orange
or strawberries, skim milk, and maybe a couple of vegetarian sausages (not
low fat, but virtually free of saturated fat) or vegetarian bacon (ditto--and
It means making a game of eliminating fat. Once you decide to do that,
it's easy and entertaining.
It means eating well in every sense of the word. Low-fat eating--high
in complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, pasta, legumes--is
good, filling, sustaining, versatile, and easy.
Throw out your high-fat, low-nutrition pantry and refrigerator items.
Make the resolution, and just do it. Replace them with fat-free
and low-fat alternatives only. Read the labels.
Take a multi-vitamin tablet daily--Centrum, or something like it. A
200 mcg chromium picolonate tablet daily is also a good idea. It helps
to facilitate fat loss while sparing muscle tissue.
Excessive calorie restriction is counterproductive. Below, say,
1200 calories a day, the body reduces its metabolism rate, conserves fat,
and consumes muscle. It says, "Hey! I'm starving! I'd better be stingy
burning the calories." Anyway, you'll feel deprived and will fall off the
regimen, as well as lacking the energy for sound exercise. Adopt eating
habits you can live with continuously. DO NOT "DIET"! Do not think
of yourself as "being on a diet." You're eating differently than you used
to. This is not a diet. It is better habits--new tastes and preferences.
Keep a notebook recording everything you eat, every day, for at least
a few weeks. You will learn a lot by doing this.
If you MUST count calories, aim at, say 1400 to 1500 per day. The exercise
program will burn a large part of those every day. With a regular exercise
program, as described, and with low-fat, high-fiber, high complex carbohydrate,
nutrient-dense eating habits, over time excess weight will come off, a
pound or two or three a week (sometimes more, sometimes less). Sometimes,
as water temporarily replaces fat, weight will go up, even while fat is
disappearing. As muscle is gained, there is a trade-off against fat-weight
loss. What you see and feel means more than the number on the scale, especially
over short periods.
Limiting dietary fat (which has 9 calories per gram, versus 4 per gram
for protein and carbohydrate) automatically cuts calories, as well
as reducing intake of that which the body most easily converts to body
fat. Dietary fat becomes body fat. That is why it is so much more
important to limit fat than to limit calories. (Not to mention
that fat, especially saturated fat, clogs your arteries, and fat crowds
out more valuable nutrients.)
Finally, if you just absolutely crave a piece of apple pie or a hamburger,
or whatever, go ahead and have it. In the context of day-in and
day-out low-fat, high fiber (etc.) eating habits, the occasional exception
no difference at all. It's fine. Enjoy it. No problem. In fact,
set aside one meal a week to have anything you want, if you feel like it.
In time, you'll find that cravings get rarer, and rarer, and more easily
satisfied when they do come around, and that "anything you want" becomes
less and less out of line with your regular low-fat, high-fiber, high complex
carbohydrate, nutrient dense preferences.
Permission is granted to copy and redistribute this file, entire and
unchanged, including this notice, for non-commercial purposes. If it is
for use on the Web, you may link to the file, but do not copy it to another
site (except of course for the temporary copy that a browser caches to
disk). Please note that I am not a physician and do not offer the above
discussion as medical advice. The information above is the result of
extensive reading and experience, and I believe it to be sound and sensible.
By all means, print this file and discuss it with your physician. If your
physician disagrees with anything in "Fitness in One Lesson" I would like
to know of that.
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