Looking at photos of Christian Marcus Lyons from the 1980s, you would never guess the writer would be struggling to maintain a healthy weight 20 years later. The former competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer used to work out four to five hours a day, seven days a week—and the results showed in his strong, lean body. But when Lyons began a literary career in 1992, he stopped working out altogether. Ten years later, he weighed in at a whopping 235 pounds.
The extra weight and an accompanying rise in blood pressure eventually motivated Lyons to get back in shape. He adopted two dogs and began walking one to two hours a day. Since 2002, Lyons has lost more than 40 pounds, but he’d still like to lose another 15 to 20. He also wants to lower his blood pressure so he can avoid the weight-related health problems prevalent in his family. “My father has had two triple-bypass surgeries, and he is still extremely overweight,” Lyons says. “I don’t want to go down that same path.”
The subject>> Christian Marcus Lyons
Occupation>> Fiction writer and poet
Weight>> 189 pounds
Height>> 5 feet 10 inches
Weight loss and health goals>> Lose 15 to 20 pounds, increase activity level, improve diet, and lower blood pressure
Christian Marcus Lyons: My goal is to get back down to 170 or 175 pounds. Do you think that is realistic, given my age and current activity level?
Tiffany Reiss, PhD: The reality is, many people are not able to get back down to what they weighed at a younger age. When you weighed 170 pounds, you were extremely active. You may also have been restricting your diet. So to get back down to your previous weight you may have to engage in the same behaviors—and these may not have been the healthiest habits.
CML: What would be a healthier goal for me?
The natural health expert>> Tiffany Reiss, PhD, assistant professor at Bastyr University’s School of Nutrition and Exercise Science in Kenmore, Washington
TR: I would focus on your health and fitness level instead of your weight. Based on your body mass index (BMI), which is 27.1, you do fall into the overweight category. (To calculate BMI, divide your current weight in pounds by your height in inches squared. Multiply that by 703.) New research is beginning to show that you can be overweight and still be fit and that fitness is a better indicator of health than one’s BMI.
You’re also right to focus on lowering your blood pressure, which you can do by making changes to your diet, getting regular exercise, limiting your caffeine intake, and engaging in meditation, yoga, and other activities that help reduce stress.
CML: What types of foods will help lower my blood pressure?
TR: Eat foods high in potassium, such as bananas, tomatoes, broccoli, papaya, and pinto beans, which can help lower blood pressure. Also, add onions, garlic, and high-fiber fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes to your diet, because these foods also help decrease blood pressure. In addition, you should stay away from processed foods, which often contain very high levels of sodium. So try to eat as many natural, whole foods as possible. If you do eat processed foods, read the labels and try to choose foods that contain 5 percent (115 mg) or less of the maximum daily recommended sodium intake per serving.
CML: What is the recommended daily intake for sodium?
TR: Consume no more than 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day. That can be difficult to achieve—particularly if you eat a lot of processed foods. My advice is to decrease your sodium intake in stages. So first shoot for 2,300 mg a day, and once that is achieved, try to lower it to 2,000 mg a day and so on, until you reach 1,500 mg a day.
CML: Should I limit my calories to a specific amount each day?
1. BodyTrends Fitness Tubes. Strength training is an important element of any fitness regimen, and these lightweight tubes, available in five resistance levels, can be used to perform a wide range of exercises.
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3. Gaiam BalanceBall Resistance Kit. This 75-cm BalanceBall comes with a system of removable resistance cords. The accompanying award-winning, 30-minute video shows you how to use the ball and cords to reshape your upper and lower body.
Note: Consult your health care practitioner before starting a training program.
TR: I don’t believe in restricting calories because, in reality, if you change some of your food choices to include more whole foods and fewer processed foods, the calories should decrease naturally. However, using the Harris-Benedict equation—which considers height, weight, age, and sex to determine a person’s basal metabolic rate—your basic needs are around 1,860 calories per day. It’s important to remember that this is only an estimate and doesn’t take into account factors such as physical activity. A nutritionist or registered dietitian could help determine your specific caloric needs and help you make healthy food choices.
CML: Portion control is a huge issue for me. Do you have any tips for how I can limit my portions and still not feel hungry?
TR: Slow down and enjoy what you’re eating. This will give your stomach time to trigger the hormones that tell your brain you’re full. This is called the practice of mindful eating, and it’s a concept foreign to many Americans.
CML: I’m happy with the weight I’ve lost as a result of walking my dogs. What other types of exercise do you suggest?
TR: I always recommend resistance or strength training. This builds muscle and improves balance and coordination. Also, the more lean body mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate, so resistance training could help your body to burn more calories. More men are also being diagnosed with osteoporosis, and resistance training helps prevent bone loss.
I would recommend a bare minimum of two to three days a week of resistance training, doing at least one set of exercises per muscle group each day. It’s important to remember that if you’re working a specific muscle group, you need 48 hours of rest before working that muscle group again. Another good form of resistance training is core training using a body ball. You can purchase a video and ball and do this exercise at home. Yoga is another great activity because it builds strength and flexibility.
Carlotta Mast is a frequent contributor to Delicious Living.