Category Archives: food journal

No Holds Barred Weight Loss Answers

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This week’s blog post is courtesy of a good friend of mine. Not about boxing or fighting, unless you’ve been grappling issues of weight loss and still wonder why it ain’t coming off. This blog doesn’t come with its own set of ice, advil or nurse. Read at your own risk.

Greetings, Actionauts! Thanks to the regular purveyor of wisdom on this blog, our friend Philippe, I have been given the opportunity to take a turn at the helm. Let’s hope I keep it off the rocks!

My name is Jay Chavez, and I have enjoyed working as a personal trainer for over twelve years. Prior to that I worked full-time for a naturopathic doctor for two years, and continue to work with him to further the health and well being of my clientele as well as increase my understanding of the human condition. In all of that time, in both the clinical and gym settings, there have been a number of frequently asked questions that just keep popping up. I would like to address a few of them here in the hopes that I can help bring a little clarity to the confusion.

How much time do I have to answer the question? I usually get asked this one at barbeques, birthday parties, and while standing in line at the bank when people recognize me from the gym. My trademark, two-minute-conversation response?:
“Show your body more respect than you have been. Treat it like your most valued possession, and it will become just that. Stop shortcutting, nickel-and-diming and disrespecting your absolutely best friend. Stop spending all of your money on the latest styles and gadgets and invest it in the quality of everything that goes into your mouth from now until you think you are lean enough, healthier than you ever thought possible, and poop roses.” I will then get the inevitable raised eyebrow or chuckle, and then the, “No, really, what should I do?” Somewhere, not so far away, an organic farmer is gently weeping…
I have had clients drop body-fat so quickly that their friends and family became concerned about their health. “Are you sure you’re OK? You’ve lost a lot of weight recently.” When those same friends and family members find out that their loved one is in fact quite healthy and has simply been working with a trainer, I usually get a barrage of telephone calls inquiring as to how they can work with me to get on a similar program. When I explain that the key to the fat-loss involves eating nothing but high-quality foods like grass-fed beef, free-range organic eggs and fruits and vegetables that are raised without any trace of pesticides and/or herbicides, the number of interested parties drops to near zero. “I couldn’t do that because (fill in cliché/really lame excuse here), but is there some way we could compromise so that I can still eat what I want and lose the same amount weight as (admirably disciplined client/friend/family member), just maybe not as quickly?” I then politely inform them that of the many lifestyle issues that cause people to become over-weight/over-fat, whether it is due to an excess of junk food calories, work related stress, shortage of essential nutrients, etc., etc., they all can benefit tremendously from the life-renewing forces that this “health-food” diet contains.
Your body is capable of miracles (like, for example, the amount of fat-loss most people are looking for in the two weeks before their best-friend’s wedding), but only when it is being fuelled to operate at full capacity.

This one, while asked quite often on it’s own, is almost always rearing it’s head in the discussion over the previous question. There has to be an easier way! I know twenty-something-Susie-or-Johnny-treadmill-neighbor doesn’t eat like that, and they look fantastic! Alas, I usually have to remind them they are not the Susie-or-Johnny of right-now, they are the Susie-or-Johnny of the future, when years of neglect and abuse have finally taken a visible toll (I will expand on that at another opportunity; I only have so much space!). All of the wonderfully slimming hormones your body produces during puberty eventually run dry, and you are left accountable for the quality and quantity of each and every calorie that crosses your lips. “But wait!” cry the math majors. “If burning more calories than I consume causes weight-loss, then that means I just need to work out hard enough to burn the right number of calories to continue to eat what I want and stay lean!” The look on their faces as they come to share this “discovery” with me is quite priceless. You’d think they just stumbled across something along the lines of cost-effective renewable energy, or free Internet porn…
I have a good friend who, for the purposes of protecting those that should know better, we’ll call “Betty”. Betty too had come to this incredible realization long ago while in the process of studying to become a professional personal trainer. She did the so-called “calorie-math”, and in order for her be able to consume all of the pizza, beer and ice cream that the average person “enjoys” while still maintaining a figure that regularly made grown men fall off moving equipment, she needed to work out for three hours a day. Every day. Now I know that part sounds incredible, but it is no-where near as crazy as the fact that she actually did it for nearly ten years! I met her at the beginning of what were to become the last two years, at which point I was informed of her self-described “win-win” program. I then had the audacity to question where exactly the “winning” aspect was in any routine that left the participant lean but with poor skin and hair (her long-running concerns for which she had also expressed to me) and no time whatsoever for a personal life. It turned out she was always too busy working out to be going out. Being Betty wasn’t easy, after all, nor therefore would any attempt be to woo her. This sad fact was what brought the staggering run of intensive exercise to its uncelebrated end. She conceded that I was right and we designed a meal plan that helped her to maintain her physique and improved her health. Much to her delight, three years after that new beginning, she still looks as fantastic as ever, while now only spending four or five hours a week exercising.
So what is my answer to the question? Can you work out hard enough to eat what you want, and still look the way you want? I guess that depends on you first answering my qualifier-question of whether or not you value participating in everything else going on in the world outside of the gym.

Before I can answer that, I (or any competent trainer, for that matter) would first have to understand your current “stress budget.” Your “stress budget” is the total amount of stress that you are taking in from your chosen lifestyle. That means we figure out how demanding your career/job/indentured servitude, your personal life, your diet (that word again!), and your recreational activities are on your adrenal glands. That’s right, those two walnut-sized organs do more than just sit on top of your kidneys like cute little bowler hats. They manufacture and secrete a myriad of hormones that help us adapt/cope with all of the aforementioned “stressors” in a manner that – ideally – helps us maintain our health and vitality. However, they are small, and can only handle so much stress for so long before they begin to fall short of their ability to keep us bouncing back up for yet another round of our chosen foolishness (yes, I know what some of you do with your free time away from our sessions…). When that happens, not only will your quality of life take a serious downturn, but your health will be placed in jeopardy as well. Stay within your stress budget and you will avoid a lot of problems!
If your adrenals only have a few minor issues to contend with, such as the occasional three-hour oil change, then you can be said to have a very low stress budget. That means you have plenty of adaptive energy in reserve, and could theoretically use it to participate in an exercise regimen that calls for working out four to six days a week at a high level of intensity. If, on the other hand, your adrenal system has to cope with a lifestyle perfectly suited for its own prime-time reality-TV program, well, I’ll just say that your best bet is to start out real-slow. To start with, try working out one to two days a week at a moderate intensity.

Jay can be reached for scheduling nutritional consultations at, and seen in many non-fitness related establishments around the Los Angeles area.

Time to eat!

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Long time readers and clients may already know this, but for those of you who recently joined, I thought this blog entry would be a good, simple reminder that you can still enjoy tasty treats while observing good nutrition. I am encouraging the “tasty” part because too often, people see nutrition as some kid of bland hellhole when in fact, some of the most flavorful meals I’ve had were the healthiest.

Simply put, eat what you want, and if it happens to be a carbohydrate, consume it around physical activity, i.e. you want a piece of chocolate or a cookie, have it. You deserve a sweet treat once in a while, enjoy it as your reward after a nice, but intense workout, be in weight training, yoga, a martial arts session, a tennis match or some interval running. Any kind of interval workout, which all of the aforementioned types qualify, makes you burn carbohydrates. All other times, you are burning fat. An endurance workout on the treadmill, or a walk will not burn enough calories and elevate the heart rate to levels of intensity that will solicit your body to tap into your carb tank.
Hence the misunderstanding of the “Fat Burning Zone” on a treadmill.

So, you may consume carbs pre- and/or post- training, and stick to protein, natural fat and fiber all other times.

Dated beliefs and misinterpreted, skewed data will have you believe that there is a Fat Burning Zone, which falls on a lower elevation of the heart rate. On a treadmill for instance, the claim is that you will BURN MORE FAT at low intensity, and that when you run like a mad person at a full 12% incline and 10mph, you’d be burning LESS fat. While that is true, it is not quite how it works, because while the higher intensity of an uphill fast run burns carbs rather than fat, it also burns a heck of a lot more calories than a leisurely walk in the Fat Burning Zone. The FBZ comes from the fact that at rest, we burn fat. As I frequently tell about, overweight people may ask “if I am burning fat while at rest, why am I still fat?” Answer: because you consume too many carbs, which you STORE in your FAT CELLS (picture them as pockets). Thus, our heart rate is lowest at rest, when we burn most fat, and therefore, a lower intensity workout will burn more fat.

The laws of thermodynamics also dictate that thermogenesis occurs by burning more calories than you take in to lose weight. If a pound of fat equals 3500 calories, then a high intensity interval hill run with a heart rate at 85% of your maximum heart rate will get you closer to your weight loss goal than a low intensity walk of the same duration, because the latter will burn way, way less calories.

– Protein (meat, fish, eggs, protein shakes made with water and low carb/sugar content).
– Fiber (veggies, yet they are considered carbs too, no starch in them).
-Natural fat sources (nuts, olives, cheeses, avocados…)

Some of the time (around workouts or, the night before in preparation of a sustained, high intensity caloric burn like a marathon ):
-Carbohydrates (natural sugar from fruits, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, dairy -which also contains fat and protein).

There is enough information out there for you to find out on your own what foods fall into what category. Although, I recently interviewed a new weight loss client who told me she ate very well, “a ton of protein every day” and when I asked her to name me the types of protein she ate, she mentioned lots of bread, lots of white rice and lots of bananas… True story. If you don’t see the problem, feel free to email me for a complimentary phone consultation for us to design a nutritional program for you 🙂

(Part 1 of this 2 part post can be found here).

Navigating the seas of strength.

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It is by knowledge and experience that I navigate the oft tumultuous seas of fitness.

Defeating physical pain, conquering mental anguish and surmounting performance plateaus, I pilot the only vessel I’ll ever carry from the pre-dawn of my life till the lights go out at dusk.
I seek uncharted biological territories, but heed the warnings of captains before me. I’ve sailed the planet through peaks, valleys and oceans, successfully challenged monsters and battled with wits and brawn at my side. Some beasts I haven’t tamed, others are emblazoned on my crest.
“Be water, my friend”. Sometimes, I resist its currents and fight its tempestuous nature, other times I let it guide me through its channels to where I ought to be.
With the realization that it is sometimes beyond me, survival comes from accepting its beauty. You can depart from any port, circumnavigate the globe and find yourself in the very place you left physically, but have you embraced the journey?
You can Powerlift, Oly lift, body lift.
You can machine press, dumbbell press, barbell press, kettlebell press.
Upright row, seated row, bent-0ver row, renegade row.
Pull-up or pull-down.
Bench press or push press.
Relax to the point of tension.
Slow grind or fast & loose.
Clash with Titans or defeat Goliath, for sometimes, a well aimed little metaphoric pebble can take you down for the count. Even the greatest warrior Achilles had a weakness.
Search your golden fleece, find your golden goose. Your journey awaits you, but you must prepare for it.
Embark with me, join the ranks.
Soon, the Actionaut will leave these banks!

Theory and Practice: a philosophical essay on progress.


I just read a good quote that an RKC comrade uses as his signature: In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

In theory, if you gradually add a couple of pounds every week to your bench press, you should be able to press a thousand pounds over time. In practice, it doesn’t happen…
In theory, trapping an opponent’s right cross, breaking his right elbow and then twisting his right wrist into a half nelson works. In practice, it’s a lot more challenging (or in a real fight, that is, as you can practice the sequence successfully).
Should we throw out theory? Absolutely not. Theory is the foundation of philosophy, be it of the mind or of the body. Experimenting, applying the theory, which stems from a hypothesis, validates the theory, at least until proven wrong.
All things work till they don’t work anymore. The question is, why don’t they work anymore?
If you follow a certain diet and it’s working for you, then you stop losing fat or gaining muscle, whatever your goal, is the theory behind no longer valid? Has your body reached homeostasis?
Is it a matter of entropy? “An object in an unnatural state always returns to its natural state”?
The jury’s still out on this one (by jury, I mean my brain). I believe it is the change in acute variables. You may be following a strict powerlifting routine to bench press, but maybe you’ve changed the time of day for your training (the body actually likes routine, one theory implies, and you need to wave your loads in a micro, meso or macro cycle rather than “shock your muscles”, which confuses them and results in them underperforming). Or you’re sleeping pattern changed. Maybe your diet is not supporting your body’s increased caloric demand.
Unless you can isolate any given factor, or acute variable, as the culprit for your lack of continued progress (or plateau), you cannot claim with certainty that the system you’ve been using no longer works, that the theory is obsolete because it no longer works in practice.
This transitions my thought to another point: too much of your training regimen is left to chance.
Unless you categorically and systematically log your training and your nutritional intake, you are unable to analyze what needs to be modified in your training to break through your plateau. You may very well follow a certain protocol without changing its theoretical approach, because it will yield results in practice, without worrying about periodizing. For instance, I train heavy on Monday, light on Wednesday, moderate on Friday, with a couple of optional “variety” days. The drills are the same on MFW, the weight is the same but the volume differs (less reps, or sets) and I increase the load every 5-6 weeks. However, on any given day, my balance may be off. My stress level makes me less focused or I may be at 100% and perform like a champ. I log everything, every detail, observation, technique modification. I leave nothing to chance.
So, empirical evidence doesn’t disprove a theory. It may very well reinforce it if you are able to identify and isolate any given factor. A mishmash of factors creates confusion and you cannot state with certainty that this or that prevented you from reaching your goal. Address one thing, and one thing only, and see how it affects your training by keeping everything else the same. If that didn’t solve it, address a different variable.
In theory, it should work 🙂