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Showing posts from 2010

Specific Exercise Recommendations

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I've just started the next phase of my journey - building lean muscle, so I figured now would be a good time to explain a little more detail about the sort of exercises one should be doing. In a previous post, I outlined that no matter what your goal (e.g. losing fat, building muscle), you should be doing heavy resistance exercises. It's the diet that determines the outcome - eat lots and you will build muscle, eat less and you will burn fat. Remember to use the scales on a weekly basis and set your calories accordingly - aim for 1/2 lb per week gain for muscle or 1 lb per week loss for fat.
As a beginner (and I include myself in this category), you want to have a few heavy movements because you need to develop overall strength before you move on to specific body parts. This is another mistake that I made - looking at the people who already have the body type you are trying to achieve and copying what they currently do. The guys who are already big and lean will most likely …

Money and Happiness

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Ah yes, this old chestnut. I'd like to talk about a couple of things I have learned about how money has influenced my happiness. Firstly, and importantly, I've found that it's not money itself that has led to me being happier lately, but the understanding of how it works and knowing that I have it under control. Money is simply a game or a tool and understanding it and having a good picture of what's coming into my account each month. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you complete the budget exercise and the Net Worth exercise to get a clear idea of where your money is going.

This brings me to the second money-related idea of happiness. I'm a lot happier since I moved to a cheaper neighbourhood. The book that kicked this idea into my head was The Black Swan, (see my suggested reading link on the right). Amongst many other things, it discussed the human condition of never being satisfied with what you have and always looking to those who have more than you. T…

Falling off the waggon...

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I'm a little late in posting because last week my folks came over to where I live and we went out to explore some of the countryside. We also ate out every evening, which in a round-about way brings me to today's post: Falling off the (diet) waggon.

We ate out every night and it's good to take a break from eating healthy / going to the gym regularly. I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty about having a starter, two mains and two desserts every night*  for a couple of reasons:

1) In the same way as losing fat and building muscle take time, it also takes more than one week of eating rich food to really make a difference to your waistline. Sure, I've put on a couple of pounds and I look a little softer, but I know that in the long run, it's nothing.

2) Taking a total break from "dieting" is good for you, both psychologically and physiologically. If you're losing body fat, you're on a caloric deficit. You're probably on this deficit for a lo…

Another Money Rule...

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Further to my post about a suggestion about how much to spend on a car, I'd like to introduce another guideline if you want to become richer / financially independent etc.

We're all familiar with the expressions about the rich getting richer, but why is this? Primarily, it's because the rich (assuming they worked their way there rather than simply inheriting / winning it) know that money can make more money. This is the "secret" to money and understanding it as a tool.

I introduced the idea of assets and liabilities in a previous post. Remember than an asset is something that earns you money, like a savings account, and a liability is something that costs you money, like a loan or credit card.

If you truly want to get richer, you will want to have at least 75% of your Net Worth in assets.

Importantly, they must be assets that pay you money, not things like "stuff" or a car. Perhaps most importantly of all, and very much misunderstood by many, is that a…

My (health) journey so far...

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I've been learning about nutrition and exercise for seven months now and I'm also nearing the end of my "cut", having set myself a target of 10% bodyfat before "bulking".

I figured it would also be worthwhile putting my money where my mouth is and demonstrating what an average person can achieve within a certain time frame, essentially going from knowing nothing about proper food and exercise and being a little soft around the midsection:





Here's me in April 2008. I pretty much looked like this my entire adult life. I'm guessing ~ 25% body fat. Admittedly, I've never been fat, but I was always a little soft. It seemed that no matter what I did (I was doing some weights casually, some running from time to time, eating what I thought was healthy), I could not change my body from this.












This is me now (August 2010). I'm guessing about 11.5% body fat. Granted, it hasn't taken over two years to reach this stage - it's more like one year bec…

Cars...

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If there's one thing that people often spend too much money on (despite realising that it's a horribly depreciating "asset"), it's a car.

Today I'll introduce a rule of thumb to suggest how much car your finances indicate you can afford.

From a previous post, you should have an idea of your Net Worth. The figure I use for car spending is 2.5% of that (simply divide your Net Worth by 40). For many people (including me!), this is a very low figure and can be hard to achieve. I have broken it a little because I have only just started out and hence have a fairly modest Net Worth. [UPDATE Sept 2017 - OK, I've broken this rule a little more because I'm young, have no children and no debt, so I'm living a little! More importantly though, I'm still following the investment rule described in another post, mostly by having very little "stuff".]

Interestingly, the "average" UK household also appears to use this rule, albeit accidenta…

Simple things...

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One of the biggest reasons I failed to lose body fat previously was by making things too complicated.

I think this is another of the difficulties in dieting - one tends to look at what the already lean / slim people are currently doing, rather than what they used to do.


As bodyfat goes down / muscle mass goes up, the complexity of the exercise / diet increases by necessity. 

But for a beginner or overweight person, almost anything they do is going to be better than what they are currently doing (assuming they are just getting started).

With this in mind, I think the most important thing to start with is this:

Change your way of thinking such that high calorie foods that may have been a staple in your diet (potatoes, pasta, bread, rice as well as the usual suspects like chocolate, sweets and cakes) become treats. The vast majority of the diet should be vegetables (the colourful, generally above-ground variety) and berries. Meat is a contentious issue that we'll get into later, but …

How much to save?

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Seeing as I recently posted what the average UK household savings ratio is (about 7% currently, which is the long-term average), I figured this would be a good time to introduce the first of a series of "Money Rules".

I must also give credit where credit is due - I did not come up with these Rules myself - I must thank Adrian over at http://7million7years.com/. (I'm not sure if he came up with these himself, but that's where I found them). I first came across his blog just over a year ago and have digested many of his hints and tips and have become better at managing my finances and richer as a result.

Here are the Rules / thoughts I have found extremely useful when Saving:

1) Only save if the interest you can earn is greater than the interest you currently pay on any debts. e.g. if you have a Credit Card at 20% APR, pay that off first. It's vital to get rid of any debts (excluding mortgage or UK student loan) before starting to save.

2) Think of saving as "…

It's Your Body

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Changing your body for whatever reason should be fun. It should be an ongoing process of learning and one that everybody ought to be interested in. We are deeply connected to our bodies and they are the most amazing tool we can hope to own. If our bodies are healthy, we can get on with enjoying life (think of the old saying "at least you have your health").

I didn't succeed in my fitness / health goals until I turned them into a game / project / learning opportunity. I suspect that this is true for anyone - make it fun in whatever way suits you. Realise it's going to be an ongoing experience that could last many months or years. Once you eliminate the idea of it being a temporary "diet", you can relax and enjoy the journey.

For me as a science and technology nerd, the body presents the most complex of chemistry sets with which to experiment with and learn about. The problem is that it's a delayed-reaction kind of experiment - you need to keep the condi…

More on House Prices...

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I found some more interesting data this morning courtesy of the ONS: The UK's Household Savings Ratio.

This is an indication of what proportion of people's monthly income they are saving. I thought it would be an eye-opener to plot it against house prices to see if there is any correlation. Now, the thing to bear in mind when doing this is to be cautious not to apply a causal link. House prices could have an effect on consumer saving, or consumer saving could have an effect on house prices. The data won't tell us which it is, simply that there may be a relationship between the two.


Once again, the blue and purple lines are data from Nationwide and Halifax respectively. The teal line (is that teal?) is the % of salary being saved by the average UK household. I know it's bad practice to do graphs without units, but it looks nicer that way and the actual figures aren't important - we're just looking at the relationship between the two.

In general, it appears that …

Exercise...

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One of the somewhat counter-intuitive things I've learned in the past few months is related to exercise.

The commonly held belief that to get lean you should do lots of aerobic exercise and lift lighter weights for more reps is, for the most part, a myth.

I'll put forward a couple of suggestions, depending on your goals, and then explain more about them:

To get lean - lift heavy weights.
To get big - lift heavy weights.

Think about this for a second - when (if) you go to the gym, you tend to see the same overweight people slogging away on the treadmills and elliptical machines and the same buff guys in the free weights area. I'll explain why:

1 pound of fat contains approximately 3500 calories. Therefore, to lose 1 lb per week, you need to have a daily deficit of 500 calories. Typically, a person of average fitness will burn about 5 calories per minute during exercise, say running. Therefore, assuming their diet stays the same, they need to be running for almost two hours…

The Dreaded Budget...

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One of the best things you can do to manage your money better is to put together a monthly budget. On the flip side, one of the biggest financial mistakes you can make (and I used to be this way) is live paycheck-to-paycheck with no real idea where the money is going. In the past, I would get paid and think "Great, I now have money to buy that thing I've had my eye on" and I'd suddenly be back to zero in my bank account, then some unexpected expenses would easily drag me into my overdraft.

Since I made a budget, I now have a good idea of how much spare money I have each month to spend on whatever I like. This means no guilt about spending the spare cash (this is after all, the whole point of money!) and a good feeling about saving (more on how much to spend and how much to save in a later post).

In the same way as adding up your Net Worth, it's important to add up all your expenses. These two exercises will be critical in applying the "Rules of Money" …

Food Choices and Caloric Density

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Whilst it is true that the most important factors in changing your physique are calories, protein and time, the type of food you choose to eat are important for two reasons:

1) It's pretty crappy eating bland food. Food is one of the joys in life.
2) Sticking to a particular way of eating requires willpower - hunger and cravings will weaken your resolve.

Take two different diets (Let's pretend for the sake of argument that they contain the same number of calories and the same amount of protein): Diet 1 is icecream, chocolate and pizza; Diet 2 is vegetables and lean meat / vegetarian alternatives.

It doesn't take a genius to realise that the food in Diet 2 is going to be a LOT more filling than the food in Diet 1 - i.e. it's going to take a lot of vegetables before the calorie limit of the day is reached, but only, say, half a pizza.

One of the things I've come to realise on my food / nutrition / body recomposition journey is that the foods we have available to us …

Net Worth - Part 2

OK, so assuming you have a list of all the things you own and all your savings accounts etc. it's time to tally them up.

This will introduce an important distinction between two classes of "stuff": Assets and Liabilities. The definition is simple - an Asset is anything that earns money and a Liability is anything that costs money.

In its simplest form, an asset is money in a savings account earning some interest. One of the most obvious forms of liability is a loan or credit card debt.

A more complex example is a car. This is an assest because it's worth something, but it's also a liability because it loses value each year. The same is true of "stuff" (TVs, furniture etc.)

The most disputed is probably that of a house, but we'll leave that for a later post. For the moment, it counts as an asset.

1) Total up the assets - savings, pension, value of your home, stuff you own etc.

2) Total up the liabilities - loans (don't count a UK student loan rem…

Time...

In a way, time is what this blog is really about. We all want more time to do the things we enjoy. By becoming and staying healthy, you increase the amount of time you have available, both through life expectancy and through reduced periods of illness. By becoming better informed about your finances, you can perhaps pay off your debts / mortgage sooner and even retire earlier. Therefore a little time spent learning about health and finances, in my eyes, is worthwhile.

This brings me on to another health and diet-related post: Time is another reason I had previously failed on my mission to lose weight / change my body. This is also something the supplement-promoting companies know all too well. People expect to be able to "go on a diet", for example trying really hard to eat weird and wonderful things, for a short period of time, lose lots of weight and then go back to eating what they ate before. This tends to lead to weight loss but weight gain once they return to their &qu…

The Money Game

If you want to "win" at the money game, you need to know the rules and you need to know the layout of the board. (I'll introduce the rules in a later post). Having a clear picture of your current finances is important for two reasons - it helps make decisions about what to spend money on and, more importantly, provides peace of mind that you have taken the first step towards getting things under control. There are two steps involved in seeing the "state of play" and I'll introduce the first here - your Net Worth.

I'm sure most people have heard the term net worth before. I had previously assumed it only applied to millionaires and such, but it's an invaluable figure for everyone to know. For some people, their net worth is going to be negative (more debt than savings / assets), for others it's going to be about zero (some debt and some savings) and for others it will be a positive number of some sort. Remember that no matter what it turns out to…

You are what you eat...

If calories are the number one priority when trying to change your body (whether gaining muscle or losing fat), then protein is next in line.

If you think about it, it makes sense: 1) Muscle is predominantly protein. 2) A lean body is mostly muscle, therefore a diet that is based around protein is necessary to achieve a body that is lean.

The suggested starting point for protein intake is 1g per pound of body weight. Now, this will be a little high for people who are significantly overweight and a little low for people who are especially lean, but it's a good ballpark figure.

Lean protein sources and vegetables should form the major component in the diet. For example, chicken breast, fish, lean beef, egg whites and low fat dairy.

I myself am vegetarian so I use alternatives like Quorn and supermarket's own-brand vegetarian "meat".

You can make significant improvements in body composition simply by exchanging or reducing the "normal" components of a meal, s…

Change the way you think about money...

For me, one of the most important factors in my ongoing financial journey has been changing the way I think about money.

I used to live paycheck to paycheck, and apart from a company pension (which was obligatory at my place of work, so there wasn't any choice on my part whether to join or not) I had no savings and no desire/discipline to put money aside. That changed when I started thinking more about my life and what I wanted from it.

Without getting too philosophical about it, you only get one chance in life (depending on which spritual ideals you subscribe to). Think about how you want your life to be. Do you want to travel? See the world? Spend time with family and friends? Retire to a place in the sun? Party and live the life of luxury? Drive sports cars? Help others by giving your time and/or money?

No matter what it is you want from life, money is merely a tool; an enabling factor, and like any tool, you need to learn how to use it. Stop thinking of money as a thing and st…

Weekly weigh-ins

In conjunction with counting calories, it's vital that you measure your bodyweight (and ideally body fat) on a weekly basis to determine if the calories you are eating are correct for your goals.

For example, I'm currently "cutting" (i.e. trying to lose body fat while keeping lean tissue - muscle etc.) and because I'm 113 lb, I'm eating around 10x that per day. I had my weekly weigh-in this morning and the scales show no change from last week.

There are two important points to take from this:

1) I need to reduce the calories slightly for next week.
2) I mustn't get discouraged by the lack of "progress".

Changing your body is a long process. There are no miracles, despite the numerous "Mum loses 4 stone in 3 weeks using this one weird secret" adverts on the internet and such. Those are the ones designed to take the pounds from your wallet instead... Realistically, you are looking at 6 months of effort, more likely 12 months for signific…

House Price Graph

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As promised, here is the graph showing house prices (blue and purple lines, corrected for inflation) from 1975 and the population aged between 40 and 42 inclusive (grey line).

Click for a clearer version (opens in new tab).




Source data for prices is Halifax and Nationwide. Population is from ONS.

It's also interesting to note that the average age of a first time buyer is now 38...

House Prices

Everyone in the UK seems obsessed with house prices. so I figure it makes a good first financial post.

I found a factor affecting house prices that almost everyone overlooks, especially in the media: Population, or rather, the population contributing to the housing market.

I've often seen comments like "the population is always increasing" and "people always need houses". Hence, the conclusion is that house prices always increase.

However, think for a moment about who is buying the houses. I think it's safe to assume that it's not, for the most part, anyone under the age of 18. I think it's also safe to say that anyone older than retirement age will typically be selling / downsizing / emmigrating. That leaves people in the 18 - 65 bracket. I think it's also safe to assume that those who contribute the most to the housing market, in terms of both volume and value, are those in the middle of this age range: those who have worked their way up to a…

Pudding...

Had the most awesome pudding last night. Here's the recipe:

125g cottage cheese
25g peanut butter (I prefer the crunchy stuff)
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Splenda
handful of frozen blueberries (you can pretty much put as many of these in as you like)

Works out to about 300 calories and 20g of protein.

Calories - the cornerstone of dieting

UPDATE 20th Sept 2017 - I've since changed my thinking on this, and although the 1st law holds, the human body treats calories from different sources differently. You'll see this evolution in later posts, where I concentrate more on lowering calories from carbohydrates, as these have a more significant impact on things like hunger and fat storage. I'll leave the rest of the post as-is.
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If there's one reason why people, including myself, have failed on their dieting goals then it's calories. Or rather, not counting them.

For those of you with a scientific leaning, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed and this of course applies to the human body. Previously, I had wondered why I seemed to be doing everything right - eating the right foods, cutting down on sugar and fat, getting plenty of exercise - but not getting slimmer / more…