Fitness

Desperate Search for Perfect Health

perfect health

My relationship with health and fitness (and my desperate search for perfect health) has been a roller coaster.

Doctors and Perfect Health

Throughout my childhood I didn’t care much for healthy eating. I quickly learned to distrust doctors. My main example came from years of silly attempts to diagnose my violent chest pains. They were later discovered to be heart burn due to acid reflux. A half dozen doctors couldn’t figure out that a Tums would have made me feel better!

When I was 18, some friendly roughhousing from a friend, a popping noise, and a painful collapse to the floor would impact the rest of my life. I received a small tear to my ACL. Many years later I would tear the rest of the sucker along with my meniscus, and to this day I walk around with a perpetual fear of my knee giving out on me.

It All Caught Up With Me

My cruddy diet and inactive lifestyle eventually caught up with me, and in my 20s I was diagnosed as pre-Diabetic. And now, here I am. I’m 41 years old. I exercise almost every day of the week. I try to eat healthy almost all the time. And I’ve done my part in trying to get rid of chemicals from my household that are doing who knows what to my system.

And what do I get? Chronic stomach pains. Violent calf pains when I try and run. And what is likely piriformis syndrome, which basically means intense pains in one of my legs as a small inflamed muscle is strangling my sciatic nerve.

Now, my point isn’t to complain. And I certainly don’t want to compare my situation to others, since many people have it far, far worse.

But I can’t help but wonder each and every day when I yank myself out of bed in the morning: Is there a best way to live life? Is there a path I could take that will lead me down a road of less suffering and more success with my health?

Easy Answers and Fairness

I, like everyone else, want easy answers. Yes, I want to be able to drink a special tea twice a day that will give me endless energy, slim out my waist, alleviate aches and pains, and make me sleep like a rock at night.

I, like everyone else, want fairness in health. Why does one person eat whatever he wants, yet never gains a pound and lives comfortably until he’s 100? Why can someone feel like they’re doing everything right, and the results continually equal pain and discomfort?

I, like everyone else, want to be able to quickly and easily find out what exactly is wrong, and to be able to Google a simple solution that will fix the problem in a matter of weeks.

Sadly for me though, this is what I want… but I’m too educated and jaded to still have hope that any of this can happen.

Waking Up In Pain

I’ve been waking up in pain for months now. Go to the doctor, you say. Should I go to the doctors in America who couldn’t figure out to give me an antacid, or the doctor in Israel who messed up my anesthesia so I remained awake and gagging uncontrollably during a simple medical procedure? And which type of doctor should I choose? For what I have, my research has told me that the average sufferer has gone to countless different doctors over the last several years, shelled out ungodly amounts of money, and they’re still waking up wincing in pain every day.

I have chosen a life where health and fitness remain at the core. It is very clear to me that the results of my research and hard work have paid off.

Perfect Health and the Mighty Contradiction

However, I also feel confused all the time. There are constant reports of food items one person says are the answer to all health issues, while another says they will escalate any and all health issues. There are exercises some say will fix problems and others say they are everything from useless to dangerous.

Some foods are fantastic for you. Too much, whatever that amount is, becomes toxic. Exercise is obviously great for you… but do something ever so slightly wrong, and pain or injury ensues. And do just a little too much, whatever that means, and now you’ve overtrained, and the problems begin to exceed the benefits.

Frustration

If you feel frustration in my tone, it’s because I have no idea how to figure out the perfect balance, despite years of searching for it. And no matter what I do, I have trouble falling asleep at night, my stomach hurts all the time, and my legs are so riddled with miscellaneous pains, I don’t even know where to start to put these guys back together again.

Every day of my life I read more and more articles about health and fitness, and the more I read, the less I feel like I’ll ever be able to get a full handle on how to do things “correctly”.

To make matters worse, maybe it’s drastically different for each individual. Perhaps for person A this exercise will cause accelerated fat burn, for person B it will cause vicious pain later requiring physical therapy. Perhaps for person A this food will cause them to have more energy and sleep soundly at night, and for person B it will cause them headaches and constipation. I mean, in a desperate attempt at relaxing shot nerves a few years ago, I decided to heed some age old advice and I took a nice relaxing epsom salt bath. And it worked! That is until I woke up the next day with some allergic reaction with painful bumps covering my entire body.

I work really hard. I have been for quite some time.

All I want is to see the fruits of my labor. And I want to wake up without terrible pains.

And it wouldn’t hurt to be able to find reliable sources for help and advice.

Is this all too much to ask?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, opinion, personal story, 2 comments

Five Health and Fitness Myths that Need to Die Already

Health and Fitness Myth

I have been immersed in the world of health and fitness for several years now, and there are several health and fitness myths that pop up time and time again. Their time has long passed and these myths are not only confusing, but they are downright harmful.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the power to somehow put these to rest forever? I know I don’t… But at least I can try and do my part. Or at the very least, I can rant a little… which always feels good.

Health and Fitness Myth #1: BMI is an Efficient Way of Determining Healthy Weight

BMI (Body Mass Index) is the stupidest measurement of healthy body weight in existence, and won’t seem to die. Doctors still use it. Trainers still use it. People still go online to check to see “where they’re holding”.

BMI is useless. It takes into account age and height (and sometimes gender), and not a single other factor. It doesn’t deal with body type or shape. And it certainly doesn’t take into account body consistency. That means an extremely athletic, muscular man can be considered obese by BMI standards, since they are “heavy” due to lean muscle weight.

I have a few pounds to lose here and there, for sure. But I’m broad shouldered with a good deal of muscle. So according to BMI, I’m on the very high end of overweight. Anyone who would look at me would know this is ridiculous, and if these are the standards, then we’re all in terrible, terrible trouble.

There are many fine ways to determine if you’re at a healthy weight, including taking your measurements and the good ole mirror. But please let BMI rest painfully in its grave!

Health and Fitness Myth #2: Running is the King of All Exercises

The story is an old one. He’s decided to get in shape, so he’s grabbing his running shoes and pounding the pavement. And a week later the only exercise he’s doing is mass Cheetos consumption.

The  truth is, running can be a wonderful exercise. It can also massacre your knees, and is frankly a miserable chore to 99.4% of the universe. There are many, many exercises out there that are not only easier on your system, but the most important thing is that you find them enjoyable. It should be a complete given that the exercise you do will always be infinitely better than the exercise you don’t do.

Search around for something you enjoy that makes you feel good. Then do it. Do it often and repeatedly. Go hiking. Play Dance Dance Revolution. Take a combat pole class. Don’t just do something because it feels like it’s the only choice due to society’s unwillingness to embrace diversity. Do what’s good for you!

Health and Fitness Myth #3: Abs Training

I recently got into a bit of an argument with someone because they were looking for an exercise class that focused on reducing fat and shaping the abs area. I told her there was no such thing; those who make the claim are just using a gimmick to get people’s attention.

I realized quite quickly we were going in circles. She wasn’t at all ready to accept what I was saying, and all I wanted to do was just hit my head against a wall.

Fact: There is no such thing as an exercise course, type, or program that can focus on the location where fat is reduced on the body.

Fact: Some exercises are more intense than others. They will therefore burn more calories and have a greater impact on your metabolism. However, if you hate them and stop after a couple of weeks, it’s not really worth it.

Fact: Trends pop up over and over again. One day it’s yoga, the next it’s Cross Fit, the next it’s naked hippo wrestling (not popular yet… but maybe I finally found my million dollar idea). They’re all great! So long as you love them and stick with them, you will get in better shape, burn calories, and ultimately have a smaller waist.

Just don’t fall for anything that claims it is the secret to trimming your core. Because the truth is and always has been, there only is one secret: Hard work.

Health and Fitness Myth #4: Low Fat is Healthy

Yes, it is true that if you reduce or remove the fat from an item, the calories will be inherently reduced. However, there are two major flaws here.

First, there are age-old misconceptions in the perspective of fat. Fat does not make you fat. It doesn’t. I swear to you! Some fats are most certainly better than others. And believe it or not, some are downright healthy and completely recommended in a healthy diet.

Second, it’s rare that fat is removed and then they’re done. Normally fat reduction will interfere with flavor, so they’ll make up for it by replacing the fat with something else, which is likely chemicals or copious amounts of sugar. Chemicals are a whole other discussion, one that is understudied, but come on. I don’t think anyone really believes that stuff is meant to be consumed by humans. Or that the industry cares whether or not it’s harming us. But sugar we know is bad news. So, you’re taking natural fat out of a product that may actually be good for you, and replacing it with something that is likely or definitely causing us harm.

But boy are we ever attracted to that “low fat” label…

Health and Fitness Myth #5: Protein Bars are a Good Source of Nutrients

Protein bars are candy bars with a bunch of soy crap in them. With, of course, brilliant marketing.

Every time I see someone eating one of these glamorized piles of sugar, I wince. They spend an hour in the gym working their butt off, knock out a good solid 300-400 calories, only to suck down two Cliff bars at the end, giving themselves a calorie surplus, a whole bunch of nasty sugar, and a false sense that they have consumed a bunch of muscle-building protein.

Throw these bars in the trash. Save some money. And figure something else out. Anything. A whey protein shake. Beef jerky. An apple with some natural peanut butter. But stop being fooled by an industry that doesn’t really care about your healthy lifestyle goals and just wants your hard-earned cash.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, 0 comments

The Secret to Unity: Sweat

unity

The Secret to Unity: Sweat

Anyone who knows me even a little knows I’m a tad obsessed with Mixed Martial Arts. There are so many aspects to this incredible sport that I love, one of which is how level the playing field is.

People compete from all over the world, black and white people hold titles, men and women compete on the same cards. We’re repeatedly seeing times when women’s matches are the main event for high profile Pay-Per-View events and some of the most famous and highest paid athletes in the sport are women, something unprecedented in pretty much any athletic competition.

Amanda Nunes

And I’ll always fondly remember when Amanda Nunes became the bantamweight champion. The media tried to make a big deal about the fact that she was the first openly gay champion in the UFC, and you could tell from everyone sitting alongside Amanda that to them this wasn’t a news story at all. It was normal. It was irrelevant. Amanda Nunes was gay before she won the championship, and nothing had changed now. Respect was there beforehand, and wasn’t going anywhere.

The next level in the cessation of the world’s biases is not success, but indifference.

Let me explain.

The Second Black President

I believe that having the second black president is far more important than having the first. The first is a big deal. The second means it has become normal. I don’t want parades and excitement about the miraculous change in American society. I want a shrug of the shoulders from everyone because something obvious occurred. We shouldn’t jump in the air with excitement because a person of color made it into office. We need get to the point where we can ignore externals and focus on character traits and policies, able to look past any other details, because they are wholly irrelevant.

And I believe that in Mixed Martial Arts we’ve received a taste of this new world. Religion, politics, gender, and race, they do not matter. Talent is the biggest factor in someone rising to fame and success. The media might not yet understand this, but everyone in the cage putting their health and well-being on the line for our entertainment has reached this next level. They’re not hugging someone different from themselves at the end of a fight, reluctantly or to make a statement. They’re doing so because they had a shared experience through which they are united, and those other details entirely do not matter.

Defining Experiences

When I was younger I had a couple of defining experiences that have since shaped my view of the world, a view which I consider to be evolving daily.

I arrived in Israel when I was twenty. I was hot-headed and reactionary, and after a violent and awful Intifada impacted my life all too personally, I became hardened in my perspective.

One day I was walking with a friend. He was a Palestinian who had converted to Judaism. I noticed some Arabic graffiti on the walls of the Old City. Convinced that all Arabic writing must be anti-Semitic propaganda, I asked what was written. It was a silly teenage love note! Such-and-such loves such-and-such. No more, no less.

Another time I was in the Israeli Consulate in East Jerusalem, with my ex-wife and our baby. The whole time we were there an Arab woman kept on looking over at us. We felt her penetrating gaze, as she judged us with seething hatred… until she gently apologized to us for staring. She had a child at home the same age, and she missed him terribly. It was warming her heart to look at our baby!

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are real problems in Israel. The conflict here is pure insanity, and looks as if there is no end in sight, or at least not in the foreseeable future.

But it really doesn’t have to be this way.

Waking Up

These moments woke me up to the idea that not every Arab walking around Israel wants to cause me harm. No, they want to work, sleep, eat, and spend time with their families, just like I do. Circumstances have led to a violent confrontation between our peoples, but most of us stand on our respective sides of the fence longing for a better day. Most of us are ready to move forward and start the process of living side-by-side, moving closer to the day where the unity is no longer a hot topic… but irrelevant!

But how? Where can we put all of our differences behind us? Where can we let go of a complicated and hostile history?

I feel fortunate that I see the answer to this question every day: At the gym.
I’ve belonged to two gyms here in Jerusalem (enthusiastic shoutouts to City Gym and Pro Fit), and despite the gyms having a solid representation from all walks of life in Jerusalem, everyone’s always getting along. There’s no conflict, no tension. We’re side-by-side, all happy that we’ve made it to the gym that day.

Maybe we’re all united in being the few people in the world who give a damn about their health. Maybe we’re all just happier than average, enjoying the endorphins rushing through our bloodstreams. Perhaps we are joined together in different common enemies. Enemies such as the guy who’s grunting ever too loudly as he does his curls. Or the dude occupying a bench in order to send text messages.

A Brief Break

Whatever it is, I feel that every day of my life I get a brief break from those elements that cause us to walk around annoyed and aggressive. The politics, the animosity, the bad blood, we leave it all at the door and we sweat our way to a better life.

Perhaps it’s all connected. Maybe the secret to people getting along is shared physical experiences (or maybe any shared experiences), and ceasing to focus on the external factors that bind us, but rather on common interests or pleasures.

The media loves to draw our attention to the examples in sports of where people are not seeing eye to eye. The ignored handshake or the taken knee. Meanwhile they’re pulling our attention away from the fact that nothing in this world brings people closer together than sports. Maybe the secret to a united world has been staring us in the face all along.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, Israel, opinion, 0 comments

5 Ways to Get Started on a Path to a Healthy Lifestyle

healthy lifestyle

Healthy Lifestyle

I wrote in my last post about how the gym saved my life. We’re in a complex generation. Healthy food is often less appealing or more expensive. We sit all day at work. There is more incentive than ever to never leave your home.

Ultimately we’re harming ourselves, and sometimes setting ourselves on a long, slow path to endless health problems and lifestyle patterns that seem irreversible.

However, there is no such thing as being too unhealthy or too late in life to turn everything around. And your life and the lives of all those around you will be infinitely better for it.

If you’re having some trouble motivating yourself to start a healthy lifestyle, maybe this could help.

1) Exercise… but Find Something You Love to Do

First of all, you’ll find a lot of literature out there that tells you that diet is far more important than exercise for those trying to lose weight. Articles that make such claims are both entirely accurate… and wildly misleading if not utterly harmful. (Here is an example. My Google search for “you don’t need to exercise to lose weight” had over 18 million results!)

Losing weight should never be ones only goal. Being “skinny” isn’t necessarily healthy or appealing. There are many goals that in the grand scheme are more important than weight loss (improved health, better mood, more self control, to name a few). Weight loss is just an amazing side benefit.

There are countless reasons to exercise that go far, far beyond weight loss. And trust me, there’s not a single benefit you don’t want.

Unfortunately, when most people begin exercising, they grab an old, dusty pair of running shoes and hit the pavement. And within the month, their exercise craze has come to an end.

Why? Because most people hate running. I’m among them. I’ve never maintained a consistent running routine, partially because it causes pains in my calves and it’s really dangerous with my torn ACL, but mainly because I just don’t like to run.

Exercise is lots of fun. But only when it is!

I believe everyone has some type of physical activity they love to do. They just may not have found it yet. Try everything you can get your hands on! Yoga, cycling, soccer, weight lifting, BJJ, boxing, just keep trying and trying until one feels great. And when that happens, make it a fundamental part of your life. Make it a habit.

True, someone might argue that your choice is not the most well-rounded form of fitness and has fewer benefits than another. However, three facts:

  1. Any exercise is better than no exercise. And the exercise you do is always better than the exercise you don’t do.
  2. All forms of exercise are beneficial.
  3. And the exercise you love is the exercise you can stick with for the long haul.

2) Read Read Read

A common problem many people have with the health and fitness world is the contradictions within the literature. I read articles about exercise and nutrition every day and it can get overwhelming sometimes. In one sitting you can find one “expert” telling you breakfast is the most important meal and another saying that skipping has essential benefits and is the secret to fat loss. One will tell you to do an exercise, another will tell you that same exercise is dangerous. Someone says something is a miracle herb, another says it’s an expensive placebo at best.

What can we do when the health world is filled with endless contradictions?

Sadly, nothing.

It has been and always will be frustrating.

So why do I bother with these articles, and why do I recommend others do so as well?

It’s all about knowledge, boredom prevention, and figuring out what works for you. Yes, there’s way too much information and loads of contradictions. There are also gems of ultra-important wisdom scattered everywhere. The more you learn, the more you find what’s consistently recommended or where the food or fitness industry is being disingenuous or downright manipulative. You’ll constantly gain new insights and motivation to try things you’ve never tried before.

Most importantly, the idea that everything is the same for everybody is foolish. When  you continuously try new things, you continuously learn more about yourself and what works and doesn’t work for you. And you can get closer every day to the look you want and the optimal health you deserve.

3) What the Doctors Didn’t Tell  You

I understand that I’ve had worse luck with doctors than most people. I have few if any stories of doctors helping me with any of my health problems, and fewer positive stories of navigating the system–in America or Israel–with any any semblance of success.

What fascinates me is not what doctors have told me throughout the years, but what they never bothered to mention. What I learned on my own. I can count on one hand the amount of doctors I’ve been to in the past five years. Why? Because I eat well and I exercise regularly. What the doctors somehow neglected to tell me was that almost every health issue I’ve ever had would simply go away if I were healthier.

And go away they did. Chronic heartburn, stomach issues, back pains. Everything just fizzled away and I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been, and completely medication free.

Sadly, I have no medical background or research to back up my claims. I just have the personal empirical evidence to support them. Lose weight. Close your laptop and take a hike to the local gym. Put down your doughnut and make yourself a grilled chicken salad. Watch as your maladies and symptoms melt away alongside your excess weight.

4) Know Yourself

It’s so easy to believe there are easy fixes or magic formulas that work for everyone. This is what the health and fitness industry would like you to believe. It keeps them in business and, sadly, it’s what we all want to hear.

Unfortunately, life’s not that simple. And to live a healthy lifestyle takes a lot of getting to know all about yourself.

Like many people, I need to go to the gym at the earliest possible moment. If I don’t, there’s a stronger potential with each passing second that I’ll end up not going at all. Some people like workout partners; others, like me, prefer working out all by themselves.

A great example from my own life is my relationship to junk food. There exist people in this world who can eat a couple of cookies and then push the bag to the side. I have an insanely hard time relating to such people. For me, it’s all or nothing. I have to treat myself like an addict. If I eat one cookie, all my cravings surge back, and whether I like it or not, you can kiss that bag goodbye. So it’s been over two years now since I’ve eaten any cake, cookies, ice cream, or candy. The cravings are gone and I don’t miss the junk.

But this isn’t what everyone needs. This is what I need.

Leading a healthy lifestyle should be like a giant personal experiment, constantly exploring who you are and what works best for you. If it works, make it a part of your life. No gains? Move on. But always know that we’re all unique, and our paths to get to the treasure will all be different.

5) Tell the World

There are few things in life that give me more pride than seeing my hard work payoff in the mirror. And everyone loves a good success story!

Post everything. Take pictures before you get started. Show everyone your before and afters. Show everyone the medallion you received after your first 5K. Tell the world how you conquered a lifelong food craving. Brag about how you went from a life of Twinkies and aching knees to a figure a professional model would be jealous of. We’ll all happily cheer you on and help your successes snowball.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, 0 comments