A better weigh to monitor fat loss


Fred Miller, chairman of the kinesiology department at Huntington University, shows off the school’s Bod Pod which provides state-of-the-art body assessments. Miller, a 2:41 marathoner, uses the device as he works to shed 2 percent body fat before his next race.  

When football stars train for the NFL Combine, they hop in a state-of-the-art device called the Bod Pod for a complete body composition analysis that tells them their ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat, along with their resting metabolic rate and estimated daily energy expenditure.

Turns out mere civilians can get the same type of analysis at Huntington University  – for roughly the cost of a hair cut.

While your bathroom scale can tell you whether you’re at a healthy weight, the number that flashes on the screen doesn’t tell you whether those two extra pounds are water weight, fat or muscle.

You might not like the much more specific data the Bod Pod can provide. But if you use it as a training tool, it’s a great way to get a better understanding of the changes taking place in your body as you lose weight, shed fat and gain muscle.

When I interviewed Annie Giddens about her 200-pound weight loss last month, she said getting a body assessment done every six months or so has been much more motivating than merely stepping on the scale. And no wonder: Over the past year or so she’s seen her body fat percentage drop from 40 percent to less than 28 percent.

I was too chicken to take a seat in the Bod Pod when I went to check it out recently for a newspaper article, given that I’ve hardly run since Christmas thanks to plantar fasciitis. But now I’m kicking myself for not getting a baseline assessment. Aiming to shed fat and not just weight would be a great motivator once I start training again.

To make an appointment for the Bod Pod, folks in northeast Indiana can call 260-359-4148 or email fmiller@huntington.edu. The cost is only $20 if you have a membership at the YMCA or any gym or health club (the normal rate is $40). For more information, check out today’s Adventures in Food and Fitness column in The News-Sentinel.

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The real food pushers are in your head

One of the things I heard recently while visiting an African-American church to learn more about its healthy cooking class has really stuck with me. 

Bishop Crystal Bush, senior pastor at New Zion Tabernacle, had asked members to find the health lesson in a Bible verse, Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will be a fool.”

The answer the group came up with that day – “Sometimes we eat the wrong things just because of the people we’re with” – struck me yet again over the weekend, when I found myself in a Cracker Barrel, surrounded by obese Hoosiers  shoveling heaping mounds of home-style food into their mouths.

It was 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night, and I’d wrapped up my eating for the day hours earlier. But my parents had made the trip to Fort Wayne to see Colleen’s jazz band performance, and they had planned to eat afterward, so we joined them.

Just because I was sitting in a restaurant full of furiously masticating humans didn’t mean I had to cave, though. If anything, locking in on an enormous couple a few tables away who spoke not a word to each other, gazing at their phones as they shoveled it in, I felt my resolve grow stronger.

“Nothing for me, thanks,” I told our server, having previously ordered coffee and water.

Once I made the decision, it just wasn’t that big of a deal. People had other things on their mind. Nobody was obsessed with, or even all that interested in, what I was or wasn’t eating.

Yes, there might be a bit of peer pressure to indulge if “everybody else is doing it.” Food pushers are real. Just living in the American Midwest can sometimes feel like being stuck inside a never-ending food orgy.

But the other night at Cracker Barrel, I realized that none of those voices have ever been nearly as loud or insistent as the ones inside my head.

I’m still working on learning to quiet that interior noise. But my days of blaming the people I’m with or the situation I’m in are over.


Colleen close.jpg

It has been really cool to hear Colleen play with the high school jazz band and pep band (shown here) this year. Unfortunately we still have to endure the 8th-grade band concerts as well, but might as well savor these last few months of middle school, since I can hardly believe that phase of her life is almost over.

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3 amazing people who lost 200 pounds each


Brittany Horton lost 208 pounds from 2012 to 2015.  Last week the Fort Wayne native got to tell her story to singer turned talk show host Harry Connick Jr. on national TV.

I used to think a 100-pound weight loss was really something. But in the past three months, without necessarily setting out to do so, I’ve interviewed three people who’ve each lost at least 200 pounds.

All three either live in the Fort Wayne area or – in the case of Brittany Horton, the subject of today’s “Adventures in Food and Fitness” column – grew up here. So unless this is some kind of anomaly, weight loss in the 200+ pound range is becoming more common.

Maybe that isn’t surprising, given current obesity levels. Has there ever been a point in history when we’ve pushed the envelop on how much weight the human body can possibly carry? Looking at Brittany’s “before” photo, I never would’ve guessed she weighed in at 386 pounds. (Neither did she; she had no idea how much she weighed back in 2012 when she was denied health insurance due to her size.) As a 5-foot-11-inch woman who always worked hard to dress nicely, she carried her weight pretty well. 

While not everyone accumulates that much excess weight, the fact is most Americans take in more calories than they burn. Few succeed in fixing the problem. Given the long road that lies ahead for someone who’s 200 pounds overweight, there’s something truly noble about embarking on and then staying dedicated to such a quest. Phil Brenneman shed his 200 pounds in 15 months or so, but it took Brittany three years and Annie Giddens seven.

None of them used a liquid diet or any kind of fad program. All three continued to tweak their approach as it became easier for them to exercise and as they learned more about nutrition and their own food issues.

Interviewing Phil, Annie and Brittany provided me with tons of inspiration but also specific takeaways.


Phil Brenneman, 200 pounds lighter

*In Phil’s case, it was how he deals with being tired when his alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. He said he knows his body will respond even if his mind is tired, so he doesn’t really dwell on fatigue. He expects to be tired and groggy. But he knows his body will feel better at some point during the workout, and ultimately he will have a better day because of it.

*With Annie, I was struck by how she’s gotten focused on her body fat percentage and not just her weight. She still weighs herself everyday, but what really motivates her in her CrossFit workouts is getting her body fat percentage where she wants it to be.

*With Brittany, the first thing you notice is how toned her arms and shoulders are for somebody who’s lost 208 pounds. Like Annie, she’s a big fan of strength training. But the key tip she always passes on to those who ask her for advice is to “not be too hard on yourself if you mess up.” Lose the guilt, and just get right back at it is her motto – ideally by the next meal, but no later than the next day. No exceptions.

All three of these guys are fantastic role models, whether you’re looking to lose a little bit of weight or A LOT.


Annie Giddens has gotten into CrossFit competitions during her weight-loss journey.

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A tale of two pizzas

There’s something about the $5 price tag on a Little Caesar’s pizza that, to a certain personality, inevitably introduces the idea of plotting to get yourself alone with one.

It erases the cost factor from the guilt equation, leaving only the gluttony. And if you have a history of succumbing to gluttony, it’s not hard to go down that path again.

The first time I tried to have my way with an entire large pepperoni Little Caesar’s pizza I succeeded in my conquest but found the process less magical than expected. Yes, it was initially fun to gobble euphorically: This pizza was mine, all mine! But with no built-in off switch, I kept going just because I could. I wound up feeling miserable. And, of course, guilty.

Weirdly, this isn’t a tale from my fat life, but from after I lost weight – when I felt the freedom to experiment with my inner pig in a way I hadn’t before. Because it was so much less fun than I’d imagined – fairly unpleasant, actually – I wasn’t tempted to do it again.

Until recently, that is.

On a day when I was planning to try an experimental 4-hour feeding window, I thought, why not just go for a single meal? It could be a pretty nice meal, with an entire day’s worth of calories available.

Removing two slices from a large Little Caesar’s pepperoni pizza would leave 1,520 calories in the box. That’s pretty much my daily calorie limit, assuming I’ve got some exercise built in. I decided to go for it, curious to see how my Inner Pig responded this time around.

This was a food experiment, not a binge, so guilt shouldn’t have been a factor. I hadn’t eaten all day and had 1,500 calories up for grabs. But I still felt the need to do this in private – in the car, in the process of running a couple of errands. (Which raises the question, how much does pigging out in the privacy of one’s car contribute to the obesity epidemic? But I digress.)

This time, with a plan in mind, it was easy enough to allow my Inner Scientist to bag up two slices before I let loose my Inner Pig. And I gotta say, it wasn’t even phased by the missing pizza. Six steaming slices is still a pretty big temptation.  

An interesting thing happened this time around, though: On slice No. 5, I realized that I was not only getting unpleasantly full but that … the pizza no longer tasted very good. Suddenly I was hyper aware of all the grease and salt.

I stared at the last remaining slice for a good long while. It was mine, if I wanted it. But I didn’t. Not then. I put that slice in the trunk with the others, wiped my mouth, and went on to the next event on my itinerary.

Later, after I finished my last stop, naturally I was reminded of the leftover pizza. Once upon a time, that’s all it would’ve taken: Reminder of undefended leftover treat meant it was as good as gone.

Not this time. I’d gotten in the habit of not eating within three hours of bedtime, and at this point I had an hour at most before I hit the sack. What a sweet discovery that this habit is now well formed enough that I wasn’t tempted to break my rule just because of some stray pizza.

Technically, this experiment was a smashing success. Being willing to consolidate all my day’s calorie intake into this one pizza, taking the precaution of removing two slices ahead of time, and then being cognizant of the new sensation of recognizing the feeling of becoming unpleasantly full, I came out of that day with just 1,240 calories.

That makes this a viable option – a “cheat day” experience that could double as a successful diet day.

The only thing is, what I remember most is not the gooey yumminess of those first few bites, but the greasy saltiness of the finale. Maybe it’s time to move on to better food, and edit $5 pizza bombs out of my life.

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Is going on a diet like joining a cult?

Is going on a diet like joining a cult?

set_penn_jillette_pesto_9781501140181This is one of the jokes magician Penn Jillette makes in his book Presto: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales. Jillette is the loud, tall and formerly fat half of the duo Penn & Teller. Facing raging blood pressure levels that his doctors felt required gastric sleeve surgery, Jillette instead became a guinea pig for an ex-NASA buddy who turned out to be  a control freak with some pretty unconventional dietary ideas. But Jillette shed weight in a hurry and many of his pals “joined the cult” along the way. So while he’s had to get used to a new belief system that shuns pizza, doughnuts and Ho-Hos, he’s got lots of company.

He also manages to have way too much fun for a guy in his early 60s who now eats only whole plant foods.

This book didn’t make me want to join his “cult.” But there are a lot of interesting ideas packed in amid Jillette’s signature profanity. Here were the takeaways for me:

* It’s important to know your dietary personality. Some people like to make small sensible changes that Jillette calls “dieting like a grownup.” My dad falls into that category. When he wants to drop a few pounds, he “just eats less.” Like Jillette, more extreme measures appeal to me. I like a diet to feel like a quest or an adventure. I hate when eating is boring, even when I’m trying to do less of it. With Weight Watchers, I was obsessed with gaming the system to figure out what I could get away with without going over my points total. I got similarly obsessed with Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet a couple of years ago, which, now that I think about it, was a bit like “joining a cult” in that I was totally focused on the cheat day reward that SCD followers were always rhapsodizing about. This diet got me leaner, even though I wasn’t able to run due to injury at the time. But once I lost faith in the cheat day concept, I couldn’t stay on the six-day regimen to save my life.

presto-9781501140181_hr-back*I love the way Jillette learned to turn “not eating” into an action verb.  People are so used to feeling like they’re suffering on a diet, when they have to say no to cake or cookies or whatever. On business lunches with no good options, he learned to say he simply wasn’t hungry. He ordered decaf coffee and seltzer water and found he was better able to focus on the deal, which was the whole point of the meal anyway. On New Year’s Eve, he ate a big salad then drank decaf espresso all night while everybody else was scarfing party food. “At midnight, bringing in a new year in which I would be thinner, I had a big tasty slice of … nothing, (expletive). I was doing this thing.”

*When Jillette’s fat friends whined that they “like food too much to eat like you do,” he countered that he’d found he had a whole new perspective on taste. Cutting fat, salt and sugar made him appreciate the more subtle tastes of fruit and veggies, beans and rice. Hearing their whining, he writes, “makes it sound a bit like ‘I like music too much to listen to Miles Davis.’ It’s not food you like too much – it’s shitty, corporate, jive-ass TV food you like too much.”

From what I gather, Jillette’s buddy “CrayRay” started him out on a two-week “potato famine” in which he ate nothing but plain potatoes, all types including sweet potatoes and fingerlings, as much as he wanted. That recalibrated his taste buds to the point that corn tasted like candy. From there he started eating vegetable stews made of corn, beans and tomatoes, and then salads. There were also “feeding windows” to promote the equivalent of intermittent fasting and cold showers to expose a guy who lives in Las Vegas to cold. . There was no exercise until Jillette reached his target weight, because CrayRay believes that shedding fat and building muscle are “two entirely different physiologies.” At that point, he started the New York Times 7-minute workout and now eats a maintenance diet that’s pretty much straight-up Dr. Joel Fuhrman, best known for pushing whole plant foods on his Eat to Live series.

I’d be pretty interested in reading CrayRay’s forthcoming book. I remember his ideas on “metabolic winter” – back when he was known as Ray Cronise, before Jillette gave him this funky nickname – were explored in Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body. Unfortunately, when I checked out Cronise’s kickstarter page, it looks like he’s at least a year behind schedule.

In the meantime, even Jillette advises that you be careful taking health and diet tips from a Vegas performer who’s still at least part “carny trash.” His book is an entertaining read, but be forewarned – the profanity content is truly stunning.

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Letting go of 2017

A few days into January I toyed with the idea of going for 2,017 miles in 2017. A couple of Colleen’s teachers who are also runners were going for it. Averaging 5½ miles a day sounded completely doable under their rules, which allowed running mileage to be supplemented with FitBit steps.

I don’t own (or desire) a FitBit, and there was this plantar fasciitis problem to contend with. But  even with no running I was getting 5 miles a day just doing five 15-minute walk breaks.  

Somewhere along the way some of those short quick walks morphed into more diverse activity sessions. I’d do a quick Tabata cycling or kettle bell workout, or set the stopwatch on my phone and just pick up sticks in the yard for 15 minutes. In doing so, I realized that I really didn’t spend that much time outside if I wasn’t running or riding my bike. In fact, I really didn’t get that much exercise at all, some days, outside of running. As a writer, a lot of what I do is pretty sedentary stuff.

These mini sessions became a real respite from the day. Whenever I felt stressed out or hit a roadblock, I’d get up and set my timer and just walk around or go do something. In the process, I stopped caring about mileage. Needless to say, I’m no longer on track for 2,017 miles. Like old Jiko in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, I let that big fish swim away.

One day last week I realized that even though walking down the driveway to the mailbox has become part of my new routine – one of my tiny attainable goals for this year was to resist stopping the car at the end of the driveway to get the mail  – I’d never once in 15 years of living “out in the country” walked out to get the morning paper before breakfast.

Now, we subscribe to three newspapers (five, if you count the recent addition of digital access to The New York Times and The Washington Post), so it’s not like there’s ever any shortage of brain food at the breakfast table. But there’s something quaintly old fashioned about heading out on a cold dark morning to fetch the paper before I get the girls up for breakfast.

It’s a very small thing. Just one of the tiny unexpected pleasures that have come from laying down a backbeat of activity in my day. I can’t wait to get back to running. But when I do, I hope I can think of it as adding the melody to a pre-existing tune rather than an obsession that makes me anxious if the numbers aren’t there.  

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Annie’s 7-year, 200-pound weight-loss journey

Annie Giddens started her weight-loss journey about the same time I did, in January 2010. Seven years later, she’s lost 218 pounds, with “six or seven” to go.

I met Annie last week, during an interview for this week’s News-Sentinel column, and was instantly inspired by her determination to not only keep going, but to keep getting better — stronger, faster, healthier.

Annie had every excuse to fail. She was a single mom working long hours. She had A LOT of weight to lose. At one point, during a stressful period, she put 55 pounds back on. But she kept going, and she’s changed up both her diet and her training as needed over the years to stay motivated.

Now 42, the same age her dad was when he died of a cerebral aneurysm caused by hypertension and atherosclerosis, she eats and trains like the hardcore CrossFit athlete she’s become.

If you could use a fresh dose of inspiration to revive your New Year’s determination, check out Annie’s story here.


Here’s Annie competing in a CrossFit competition in Fort Wayne last August. She hoisted 115 pounds in that exercise; her three-woman team placed second overall. 



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Using ‘workout mode’ to tackle an unpleasant task

Why is it that I can embrace all kinds of pure fitness workouts, but I have to trick myself into a grueling, cumbersome task like getting out the heavy 12-foot step ladder and cleaning gutters?

When our son’s not off at college, this is his job. He would’ve been amazed to see his mom carrying and then setting up that monster ladder all by herself. Here’s what got me over the hump: The whole time, I was pretending some drill sergeant of a CrossFit coach was hollering orders.

This was easily my toughest workout of the week. Just sweeping all the sticks off the roof (along with some stubborn moss clinging to a few shingles on the north side) took a lot longer and much more energy than I expected. Then using my arms to hoist myself up and scoot my butt across the edge of the roof so I could reach down and clean the gutters was another CrossFit-worthy activity unto itself.

I would’ve MUCH rather used those two hours to go for a run instead. But it was one heck of an upper-body workout, and the only person I had to nag about finishing the job properly was myself.

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Synching mind and body on an impromptu 3-day fast



My dad on his 74th birthday, with his two youngest grandkids, Kobi and Kyla.  Choosing a meaningful finish line is one of the things I’ve learned about fasting. Dad’s birthday party was not only a great meal, but gave me a chance to savor the “bonus years” since  his recovery from cancer.

I’ve been reflecting quite a bit, during an unplanned three-day fast, on the nature of that “when one door closes another one opens” concept.


Seems like I’d no sooner got in a groove with an injury-recovery workout routine than I realized, in talking to someone who’d recently recovered from plantar fasciitis, that a big chunk of that routine – mini walking sessions on the concrete floor in our rec room – was surely slowing my recovery.



Intriguing ideas from the planet’s most intriguing people,  divided up into three sections: Healthy, wealthy and wise. 

Given that I’d been wanting to move a couple of my five daily mini workouts outdoors anyway, to tackle some heart rate-raising overdue yard work, this seemed like a good time to do that. And after reading Tim Ferriss’ blueprint for his monthly three-day fast in his new book, Tools of Titans, I decided, why not?


This fast was so much easier because there were no nagging doubts. I knew I wasn’t going to eat anything between Thursday dinner and Sunday dinner, so I wasn’t plagued with that constant “should I or shouldn’t I?” question. So there I was, outside raking frozen leaves after not having eaten a crumb for two days, and it just wasn’t that big a deal. It’s like my mind and body were on the same page: We both knew I was carrying around enough spare fat to fuel leaf raking. There was no interior whining.

Would this have happened on a run? Probably not, because I’ve never managed to shut down the “feed me!” impulse when it comes to running. I’d never attempt a fast while I’m running, especially if I’m training for something.

But in this case, a mini fast provided a chance for reflection. Much like a marathon, it’s a good way to synch my daily “in the moment” decision-making mindset with some higher part of my mind that operates at the managerial level. The player vs. the coach, if you will. The coach knows that what’s being asked of the body can be done. The player must have faith in the coach’s game plan.

One key thing I’ve learned in four fasts over the past year is that it helps to have something cool waiting at the finish line – a meaningful meal to look forward to breaking your fast. Last month I really wish I would’ve broken my fast on Christmas Eve, for instance, but due to logistics I stopped a day early.

This time around, I scheduled my fast-breaking meal for my dad’s birthday party – not just because I knew there would be plenty of good food, but because his 74th birthday feels meaningful to me.

I vividly recall Dad being 64 when he got cancer. At the time, not knowing what might happen, I remember thinking, “Oh please, if he could just make it to 70. Couldn’t we have just a few more years?”

These bonus years are such a gift. Without them, Dad never would’ve met his two youngest grandchildren, or seen his older grandkids grow up into fine young men and women, two of whom have now graduated from college. He never would’ve experienced the satisfaction of going out on top when he later retired as president of the top-performing bank in the state of Indiana. He and Mom never would’ve gotten around to remodeling their house into the perfect spot for big family get-togethers.

And I never would’ve had the chance to interview him for a memoir that wound up being this year’s Christmas gift to my nieces and nephews. Having all those long talks, hearing all those stories about what shaped his life, was the best gift of all.

It kind of puts eating, and not being able to run for a while, in perspective.

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The ‘FitBit effect’on a family gathering

When we arrived at my parents’ house for dinner yesterday, four or five people who on any other given Sunday might be planted around a chip bowl trying out a new dip were zooming around the house racking up FitBit steps instead.

As more people joined the procession, and it got harder to talk as walkers spread out over the three-room “course,” at one point no less than 10 people were circling the family room table at once so we could make up plans for a treadmill challenge.


There are “only” 8 people circling the table in this photo, but at one point at least two more were in on this “walking conference meeting.”

The idea was to see who could accumulate the most mileage in one of two categories: 10 minutes at a 10% incline or 15 minutes at 15%. It’s based on a recent YMCA challenge I wanted to repeat on a weekly basis, and this seemed the perfect environment to try it in.

Though the workout proved harder to replicate because the treadmills are set up differently – the bar on Dad’s is in an awkward spot at such a sharp incline – we quickly adapted the challenge to a “no hands allowed” format that’s tougher to do and cuts down on speed dramatically but will allow for more improvement over time.

My niece Madison hit the 30,000 steps mark yesterday to win that challenge, and my nephew Mason won the 10-minute treadmill challenge at .669 mile.

Ultimately it’s not so much who wins any given Sunday, but how much people are able to improve their scores each week. (The results were entered on a spreadsheet so we could track our progress.) It will be fun to see if we keep this up.


My niece Madison, left, won the daily walking challenge by passing the 30,000 step mark. Mason, right, won the treadmill challenge. But we’ll see if he can defend his title next week!

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