One of my goals for this year is improving my general fitness and health. I didn’t make it a new year’s resolution or anything like that; in fact I just followed my wife into the gym one day—the somewhat scarily named “Urban Gladiators”—, and got hooked immediately1. If you’re in Berlin I encourage you to check this gym out2!
As a kid and teenager I did Karate somewhat seriously, and I used to be lean and able to do the front and middle splits. I lost most of this flexibility and gained weight over the course of my adult life, but I wanted to get it back. So I started working out a few times a week.
Then the pandemic hit and we were all more or less confined to our homes. I started spending a lot of time cooking and baking, and slowly I also incorporated a workout routine into my days. Three or so months later I’m doing about one to two hours of workout a day—a quick HIIT cardio routine, a yoga or general flexibility routine, and somewhat intense strength training.
I lost a lot of my body fat—I estimate that I’m about 17-19% body fat, and you can see my abs again3—, I’m able to do a decent number of push-ups, pull-ups, and dips, and I’m pretty far along in my journey towards front and middle splits—though here I think I’m tapping into the former abilities of my body, since this is moving very quickly4.
And while going from zero workouts to multiple workouts a day definitely did things for my body, the most important changes have been in my nutrition: I’m rarely eating unhealthily anymore5. The truth is that most of my body fat loss has probably been due to long-term caloric deficit: I spend a lot of time thinking about what I eat, and what I could eat instead. Yesterday I noticed that it had been 19 days since I last ate pasta, which historically has been one of my primary food groups.
All of this is a very long way to introduce the concept of fitness and health into my blog, because like any recent convert I want to spend my time preaching to the masses now. And, as with any recent convert, you should take my words with a grain—or fifty—of salt.
With all the preliminary bases covered, let’s talk about food, nutrition, and a bunch of things I’ve learned! (Apologies for the somewhat rambling tone)
Eating more healthily has been easier for me than it probably should have been, and this is mostly because I love cooking! I love spending too much time in the kitchen, making pasta, baking bread, fermenting stuff.
If you look at the list above, though, you’ll notice that a lot of the things I said I most enjoy—most prominently, dealing with dough in various shapes and forms—involve a bunch of carbohydrates. And while I still don’t subscribe to any particular diet, I had to reduce the prominence of carbohydrates from my cooking just a little bit.
Since I love cooking in all its shapes and forms, this wasn’t that much of a problem—though my sourdough starter had to be put in the freezer, and I hear they are very popular these days.
Spending time with my food, whether it’s finding good local produce or turning that into delicious meals, made losing weight so much easier; I’d recommend it to anyone, especially if you come to it with a “hacker mentality”, obsessing over all the tiny details. It truly helps.
Measuring my intake
Most days I kind of eyeball my caloric intake, doing approximate calculations for every meal. It turns out that when your goal is to live in some sort of caloric deficit without a timeline, it doesn’t matter too much whether your intake is 1400 or 1700 calories. I have days where I go dangerously low, and I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone, but usually I just take comfort in the fact that I’m actually feeling hungry again, and that I’m looking forward to my meals. That shouldn’t sound mindblowing, but to someone who has just been eating whenever he felt like it when he was at home it is something that I had to work for6.
Still, sometimes I do want to know what I ate, especially on days when I eat more than once or twice, or have tiny snacks—which, oddly, have lately been mostly of the protein bar variety. Luckily blinry, a fellow Recurser and EnthusiastiCon organizer wrote nom, a command line tool for tracking weight loss and caloric intake. It has been my primary source of tracking after a failed attempt at using it consistently last year. I’m not really using it the way it was designed, mostly to calculate my intake for individual day, and it’s been really helpful! Thanks, blinry!
Drink lots of water
I moved away from most flavored beverages—even my beloved homemade Kombucha—towards drinking a whole lot of water. It’s generally good for your health and well-being, and you should do more of that, too!
I usually don’t have any trouble to motivate myself to move anymore, but way back in the beginning I found that rest days—especially when it’s more than one day—make it hardest to get back into the groove. I don’t know why that is, but I tend to have a one-track-mind that is prone to obsession, and breaks break that spell, similar to the feeling that programmers get when they’re “in the zone”7.
When it comes to nutrition, I found consistency to be much harder. I love cooking seasonally and with local produce, and that means I don’t always get to consistenly max out all of my food groups—I don’t think anyone is selling avocadoes grown in Brandenburg at the farmer’s market yet. Instead I just try to eat healthily first, and supplement with vegan protein powder and the like if I need to. I found this to be a good compromise between what my mind wants and what my body wants, but this is so individual that I’m not claiming that this is a good route for anyone else.
And I think that’s all I have to say! If you want to talk about fitness or nutrition with me or have a remote workout buddy, hit me up8!
1. My somewhat contrarian tendencies didn’t allow me to admit that at the time, so I pretended to just be exhausted and annoyed at myself—which I was. The truth is that it felt right to work out.
2. Full disclosure: One of my friends is a trainer there, and having her mentor me during the first few workouts definitely helped—though I think all the trainers are extremely good at helping you work on your form!
3. I’m not really the type of person to record progress pictures; I’d rather have anxiety-fueled self-hate sessions in front of the mirror, thank you very much!
4. For those of you who are into Yoga or Calisthenics, I’m also proud to report that I have a very stable crow and side crow, a somewhat stable crane, and an L-sit, though it’s fairly wobbly. There are more things, of course, but those are the ones that felt like big a-ha moments!
5. I say this just two days after baking amazing tahini-swirl brownies. I guess the most important change is that I made them two days ago and we still have about half of them left.
6. I actually enjoy feeling hunger, as I enjoy the discomfort of stretching. Revelling in the little pains associated with working out definitely helps as well, and I think it’s something you can train. As someone who just naturally likes it, though, I won’t pretend knowing anything about that.
7. Since this isn’t really about working out, I cut the workout talk short, but I originally had another paragraph up there that I didn’t delete, so here it is as a footnote:
Consistency has been key for me to stay on track, especially since I’m still experimenting with my program. Every fitness person ever will tell you to choose a program and stick to it, and I don’t disagree, but I don’t do it myself: I’m playful, and at the moment I want to develop my body in many different directions all at once (flexibility, mobility, strength, balance). Being playful about it has helped me progress extremely quickly; if I had to make a guess I’d probably say that I’ll stick to a regimen when I’m further down my fitness road, but for now the best way for me to stay consistent is not being consistent with what I work out, to listen to my body and mind when choosing my routines.
8. I’m recovering from a (minor?) wrist sprain at the time of writing, so I’m mostly focusing on my core and legs for the time being, but I’m eager to get back on track with more Calisthenics and Functional Training workouts.