Meeting Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno was in town for the Dublin Comic Con and I went to hear him speak. He’s an interesting and entertaining fellow. He’s very passionate about encouraging people to follow their dreams, that’s for sure, and he also spoke about the various hurdles he’s overcome, his Dad being one, his hearing problems (he’s about 90% deaf) and his speech difficulties as a result. He talked about his time as the Hulk and his career as a bodybuilder.

During the Q&A people asked for advice on getting in shape. Two things I took from him that I thought were worth sharing. One is the time it takes to get in shape. He mentioned that people join a gym and buy loads of supplements etc and they expect to look like Lou Ferrigno, but it doesn’t work that way, it takes time, and for the aesthetic heights Lou reached, it took years. So don’t expect immediate results, be patient.

And another nice quote he gave, which I think I remember correctly:

“You can do cardio and crunches from the womb to the tomb, but you have to control the fork and spoon.”

What you eat is so important. You can’t get in shape or be healthy with exercise alone. That works the other way around too, you can’t get in shape or be healthy with diet alone.

The overall message, be patient, eat right, have passion.

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Me and Lou Ferrigno
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Lou Ferrigno during bodybuildings “Golden Era”
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Lou as the Hulk, no CGI needed

Eating less meat

Eating meat, or any animal produce, is a topic that people get very passionate about. Articles like this one is the Guardian are pretty scary and I’d encourage a read. My two key takeaways from reading the article, one is that humans and livestock make up 96% of all mammals, thats a frightening thought. All the cool mammals at the zoo, they barely exist in the wild because they’ve had to make way for humans and our food. And two, people in the West need to cut meat consumption by 90% to try and stop the damaging environmental effects associated with the consumption and production of meat. Stop eating meat and switch to vegetables is the message.

On the other hand, I’ve heard arguments against the growing of crops which is where we get all our veg. Modern intensive agriculture uses a lot of pesticides and fertilisers that are also bad for the environment. Ploughing a field destroys the topsoil and you lose carbon capture because you’re not giving roots time to bed in before they’re pulled out. This logic suggests that in an ideal world we’d ditch the vegetable farming, re-wild our fields, and use them for pasture raised animals. Although I don’t see that solution supplying enough for 7 billion humans.

It seems like you’re destroying the environment either way. My personal take from my own limited reading is that humans are meat eaters. But we’ve evolved to eat what we’ve hunted, which is substantially less meat than whats in most Western diets. I would typically have meat in two out of my three meals a day, and on the weekend if I have a fry, there could be meat in all three of my meals. The availability of meat today is at odds with the amount we’ve evolved to consume. I couldn’t shake the thought that all this meat was wrong for the human diet.

I set myself a challenge to eat less meat by just being aware of it. I don’t know if this will stop global warming at all, and as I said, I do think humans are meat eaters, but we’re not meant to eat so much of it. I tracked my results across 30 days. Over the 30 days, I had 9 meat free days. I could cheat and say it was 10 days as on one of the days my meat intake consisted of chicken soup which seemed light on the chicken. In any case, thats just over a week a month that is meat free. Make what you will of these results but I was proud. I was also surprised that it was easy, imagine if I’d make a real effort. I noticed no change in my training or energy levels. I won’t be going full on vegan or full on carnivore, but I will be reducing the amount of meat I eat because its just not needed and it can’t be good for you.

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This was a great Secret Santa gift from a colleague – easy meals
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Yummy
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Also Yummy

 

Realistic Aesthetics

Recently I saw Sylvester Stallone posted the picture below from the set of Rocky 3. He describes how between scenes, he had to go to the corner and turn up-side-down to get blood back into his head. In order to look the way he did, his body fat was 2.9%, which made him light headed during scenes, and in order to continue, and not faint, this up-side-down trick was needed. Stallone goes on to say that while he looked in great shape, he was far from it. Transforming his body for Rocky 3 left him very unhealthy on the inside, despite outward appearances. I admire Stallones honesty.

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I’ve read similar things in the pages of Men’s Health magazine from today’s action heroes. Daniel Craig became a vegetarian for a time after James Bond because the diet needed to get his Bond-look was, in his opinion, disgustingly high in meat. Chris Hemsworth was eager for a run because his Thor training regime specified zero cardio work, at one point he stopped training when he outgrew the Thor costume. Henry Cavill says the Superman physique disappears very quickly after filming because it’s not designed to be sustainable.

The action hero physiques you see in the movies are built on training regimes designed to make you look a certain way for the brief period that you are filming. They are driven by aesthetics, not health, and they are ephemeral, not sustainable. That’s not to take away from the effort that these guys put into attaining their physiques, the hard work is very real, but the results are primarily aesthetic in nature, and the schedules not conducive to even their own lives. Aesthetics are important for your mental health, we all like to look good, but don’t base your training goals on what you see in the movies. I work in an office from 9 to 5, so more realistic goals are required.

How much fruit and veg?

I recently read that the Japanese government gifts their citizens a silver sake cup when they reach 100 years of age, and that the policy is being reviewed because last year it cost the Japanese government $2 million. In Okinawa, Japan, you’ll find the world’s highest prevalence of proven centenarians. Not only do they have the highest life expectancy in the world, but also the highest health expectancy, they remain vigorous and healthy into old age. I’m sure there are many reasons for this longevity, and diet must be one.

In Britain and Ireland we’re all familiar with the “five-a-day” maxim. The Japanese government recommends up to 13 portions of vegetables a day, plus four portions of fruit. A spokeswoman from the British Department of Health (I assume Ireland just copied these guys) said of the five-a-day campaign, “There must be a balance between what is healthy for the British public and what is feasible”. In other words, 5 was chosen because its a sufficiently low, unthreatening number.

Below is my attempt at an Asian style meal: rice, egg, spinach, and steak. Delicious yes, but a very Western slant on Asian cuisine, with just one portion of veg. It doesn’t help that the variety of interesting fruit and vegetables that grow in Ireland is low.

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There are many ways in which eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial for health. Both are high in fibre, which makes you feel fuller for longer, which can help reduce unhealthy snacking. Fruit and vegetables are also a natural source of numerous vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining good all-round health. I eat a lot of fruit, but I’m not so good with vegetables (the better of the two). If I want to live to see the year 2086 and beyond, I’ll have to add more veg to my diet. More fruit and veg, good advice for all.

What to eat and cheat day

You can train and exercise all day and all night but if the food you eat isn’t right, isn’t healthy, then you’re not going to look as good or be as healthy as you want. I love educating myself about the human body, how we move, and different types of training techniques, but when it comes to food science, I’m in the remedial class. Trying to learn about calories, and fats, and all that stuff, its enough to put me to sleep.

Because I have no will to learn about food, I instead follow a much more basic philosophy, I eat what I know to be good, and stay away from what I know to be bad. The food industry doesn’t always help in this regard. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, is perhaps the father of modern advertising, and modern advertising makes it hard for ordinary people to know what to eat. Bernays used psychoanalytical ideas for PR and advertising. Beforehand, goods were advertised based on utility, “this is what it does”, while todays advertising targets your emotions and aspirations, “want to be cool – buy this phone” – “want to be healthy and slim like the celebs you love – then eat this”. You’re being sold a narrative that more often than not, the stuff you buy can’t deliver on. Check out the ingredients list on the “healthy snack” below, its massive, and sugar is mentioned 4 times!! Contrast that to the ingredients list on the banana, there is none, its a banana. Stay away from food that is marketed and packaged as healthy, and eat what you already know to be good for you.

Healthy Snack vs. Banana
Healthy Snack vs. Banana

Its unfortunate that our bodies have evolved to crave sugar for its positive effects in small quantities. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare. Modern technology has made sugar bountiful and we don’t seem to realise that our bodies are not adapted to large amounts of sugar and it’s making us sick.

I don’t “diet”, partly because I don’t like the word, it invokes imagines of starving oneself. I eat lots, I enjoy my food, and I eat healthy. But we’re all only human. Its hard to resist the constant media bombardment of delicious sugary foods and our own evolutionary inbuilt cravings. I have one cheat day a week, and on cheat day that Coca-Cola tastes incredible!!

My advice, have one cheat day a week, it doesn’t always have to be the same day each week, and stay away from foods with too big an ingredients list.

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