Maintain The Tool: Weight Control and Preparedness, by N.H.

I’m an average, middle-aged guy: happily married, devoted father; active member of my community and church; and am blessed to have a good job that I enjoy.  I’ve been prepping for about 15 years and, despite a tendency to tinker with our plans, am well-prepped.  But, I’m now worrying about our plans.  I didn’t worry about them before but, late last October, I started to worry.  A lot.  This is why:
Our Survival Group tries to get together regularly to practice and train, but, we hadn’t done a Group Practice (GP) for a couple of years.  This past October we had a GP, where, unfortunately, it became obvious that we no longer work well together.   This is because we have gotten–as uncomfortable as it is to admit–fatter and are no longer “in good shape”.
I’m 6’0” tall and weigh 246 pounds; I have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 28.  That means I am overweight and need to “lose a few pounds.”  That is a nice way of saying it.  Another way of saying it is that I carry 42 pounds of fat on me.  That is equal to an 8 year old child!  I should lose more than “a few pounds.” 
Remember when I said I was average?  Well, I lied; I’m actually below average. Many people my age are much fatter!  The Center For Disease Control (CDC) has reported that almost 40% of us are obese (meaning that at least 50% of our bodyweight is fat)
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has a handy BMI Chart to help you get a rough idea of your BMI, but you must see your doctor to get an accurate measurement. BMI charts don’t factor your build and that affects your score.  Body Fat Percentage is also another important measure.  I used a US Navy-based formula to calculate my 42 very hug-able, but problematic, pounds of fat
Not surprisingly, being out of shape affected our performance in the GP.  I was shocked by how much we could not do, properly and safely, over sustained periods of time.  On the 2nd night of our GP, with aching muscles coated in A535 and drifting into a pain pill induced slumber, it occurred to me that tomorrow I would not be able to work very well, if at all.  Given that our pain medication and A535 supply was quickly being used up, I realized I was not alone.   Worse, I was shocked to discover that, because I was so sore, I did not want to work; I only wanted to find a cozy spot to lie down; I wanted to give up.

What if none of us could work the next day, or, the day after that?  What if one of us got injured—muscle tear, ligament pull, simple wear and tear, or worse—simply because we were tired and made a mistake?  What if one or two of us gave up and simply stopped working altogether?  In survival situations, not being able to do hard physical work, properly and safely, over sustained periods of time can be disastrous; not wanting to work or giving up the will to keep going, can be worse.  

I remembered what it was like after the Ice Storm of 1998–which caused power outages in much of Eastern Canada for almost three weeks in the middle of January; I also remembered the Christchurch Earthquake in 2010—a 7.1 that left a city and region in New Zealand devastated for weeks.  My shock turned into alarm.

During both The Ice Storm and The Christchurch Earthquake, people died or suffered terribly simply because they were not physically fit enough to walk several miles to safety; to carry basic survival gear for that distance; to carry 5 gallons of water back to their families; or to gather enough wood to make and keep a fire burning for a few days.  This happened despite the fact that, in both of these events, the government and society at large, continued to operate properly and sought to provide help.  

WTSHTF or post-TEOTWAWKI, government and society will not operate properly.   We have to be able to help ourselves.   But, the amount of hard, physical work that must be done in a survival situation is astonishing.  Did you have coffee this morning?  For me, the hardest part about that was counting the scoops of coffee!  Did I have to chop and carry wood?  Carry water?  Start a fire?  No. And, that is just the beginning.

One of the hardest parts of prepping is thinking realistically about what we need to G.O.O.D. and survive WTSHTF/post-TEOTWAWKI.  As preppers, we do can readily do that with regard to our gear and skills.  I suspect it is going to be harder though, to be realistic about our weight and fitness levels.  I believe there are two reasons for this: first, we are gear dependent and believe our gear will save us, so most think our current fitness level will suffice; and second, because almost everyone we see has similar fitness levels, so our fitness level seems “normal”. 
What is your most important tool when G.O.O.D. or post-TEOTWAWKI:  Axe?  Knife?  Gun?  Fire starter?   Water purifier?  Answer: None of the above.  If you are too hurt; injured; exhausted; or sore, after a few hours’ hard work that you cannot do anything but lay down, tools do not matter.  Therefore, your most important tool is you: your mind and body; your ability and willingness to do hard work. 
Equally important in a G.O.O.D./post-TEOTWAWKI situation is the mental and emotional stress you will be under.  This aspect of it did not emerge in our GP because everyone knew that this was a “practice;” it was not “real”.  But, it certainly emerged after The Ice Storm and The Christchurch Earthquake. 
Doing anything under pressure is very difficult; doing it when you are sore; exhausted; dealing with minor injuries; frustrated or angry at how your day is going; hungry, thirsty; or desperate, is virtually impossible.   Worse, it is discouraging and erodes confidence rapidly.  In Canada and New Zealand, I heard people say: “This is too hard!”  “I’m too tired to do this!”  “It hurts too much when I do this!”  This quickly changed to “This is hopeless…”  “Don’t even bother…” “It doesn’t matter…”  Once despair sets in, people often give up hope, and then it is very difficult to survive. 
This combination of physical exhaustion and psycho-emotional surrender can be deadly in survival situations.  And, in Canada and New Zealand, people did suffer and did die.
I believe the best way to maximize your chances in a G.O.O.D./TEOTWAWKI is to think about your body as a tool.  The simple fact is that a tool needs to be maintained.   That is what the next part of this will be about: maintaining the tool. 
There are numerous reasons why we put on weight and get out of shape; those reasons do not matter now.  Quick question: How do those reasons stack up against the need to survive when G.O.O.D./post-TEOTWAWKI?  We need to be realistic about this.  The reasons we are overweight do not matter now. 
There are no gimmicks to what I am about to propose; no quick fixes.  You prep following a step-by-step plan and worked hard at it.  That is what you will have to do to lose weight and get back in shape; to maintain the most important tool you have. 
In a G.O.O.D./post-TEOTWAWKI world everyone you are with will have to do hard work for extended periods of time.  Therefore, you will need to be stronger, more flexible, and have greater cardio-pulmonary capacity than the average North American does now. 
Picture this: 
You have settled into your retreat.  Your stockpiles are starting to dwindle.  You’ve decided that today you will get firewood.  Cut down trees, cut off the limbs, cut the log into pieces to fit your stove, split it into actual firewood, bring it all back to your wood storage area, and pile it.  By hand.  Perhaps you will be assisted by your team of horses and wagon.  But it will all be done by hand.  Chainsaws and trucks make a lot of noise which can attract those you might want to keep away.  Even if you use these tools, you will be lifting and bending and working hard.  Doing this work, will take you most of the day.  And, when you return home, evening chores await.  Since all heating and cooking will likely be done with firewood, you’ll be getting firewood again.  And often.
Or this:

Your G.O.O.D. plans have encountered a snag: all exit roads from your residence are clogged with traffic jams and now you have to hike to your retreat.  Since you have prepped well, you know a couple of good routes to take and what gear to bring.  Your group begins to walk, carrying 20 – 40 pounds each, for miles.   At the end of the day, everyone is bone tired, sore.  Fortunately, the terrain, weather and circumstances are favorable, and you are only dealing with blisters, chafing, and other minor hurts.  You’ve made good progress but have only covered a portion of the distance to your retreat.  The next few days will be spent doing the same thing: walking; many miles, all day long. 

Can you do the work described above?  The sobering reality is that many cannot.  To prepare for this level of work, you must train your body to do hard, repetitive work; and, you must train your mind to do tedious work over time.   
Step 1: See your doctor and get a complete physical.  You need to know what the facts are regarding your body (your BMI for example), specifically, what kinds of exercise and dietary changes are safe for you.  Follow your doctor’s advice.
Step 2: What are your short and long-term goals?  When developing your goals, I’d suggest you remember that when G.O.O.D. or post-TEOTWAWKI, you will need to perform arduous, sometimes tedious tasks, for long periods of time.  Your goals should be to get into good enough physical and mental shape to do that.  This is not about doing a certain number of push-ups or looking good on a beach (so forget those glossy magazines).  You want to attain a moderately high level of functional fitness so that you can do hard physical work all day long.
Step 3: Find a diet and exercise plan that is simple and easy to follow.  I would suggest plans that allow you to start small, integrating the new regime into your lifestyle with minimal disruption but maximal positive effect.  One is provided here.  Numerous others exist.
Step 4:  Record your results.

Steps 1 and 4 are self-explanatory.  Steps 2 and 3 are the focus of the rest of this piece.

No matter what exercise program you pick, your short-term goal should not be to increase your strength and your cardio to a certain point. 
Your short-term goal should be to find an exercise program and follow it for 21 days straight; do it every day.  If you do that, you will be stronger, more flexible, and have greater cardio capacity.  Moreover, if you do something for 21 days in a row, you will have created a habit and begun the process of inuring your body and mind to hard repetitive work.  Sticking with that program over time will only increase your physical capacities and improve your mental toughness. 
However, choosing a plan is no easy task.  The market is full of them.  Might I recommend a plan that is simple, easy to follow, easy to incorporate into your lifestyle.  How does a plan that requires 11 minutes a day sound?

I recommend the 5BX Plan developed by Bill Orban in the 1950s for the Royal Canadian Air Force (later adopted by a number of Air Forces around the world including the USAF).  It is based on 5 Basic Exercises and uses 6 age-based charts arranged in a progression so your fitness improves over time.  The five exercises include warm-up and stretching exercises.  You perform the exercises in the same order every time for a maximum of 11 minutes each session. The theory behind this program is that the intensity of exercise yields better results than the duration of the session.  It works and many elite athletes now use this approach in their training.

Numerous resources can be found about this topic, but here is one that is appropriate for most of us.
Exercise, alone, will not help you burn fat.  The following table shows you how many calories the average person burns if they do these activities for 60 continuous minutes

















If you eat any of these items, this is about how many calories you will ingest:

Tasty Treat


Peanut butter sandwich


Pizza (3 slices)


Big Mac




So, you need to change your diet as well.  But don’t do it right away.  Start your exercise program and 14 days later you will have noticed your appetite has changed somewhat: you may eat less and you might not want to eat the same kinds of food any longer.  Now your body is ready for dietary changes.  Before making any dietary changes, however, consult your doctor and follow your doctor’s advice regarding any and all dietary changes you want to make.  If you have any kind of medical condition, whatsoever, follow your doctor’s advice regarding what dietary changes you should make.
When making dietary changes, look at the palm of your hand.  Whatever size it is, that is a portion size for you.  Eat a balanced, sensible diet: have a portion of protein, starch and vegetables every meal.  If you need or want a snack, eat half a portion of something you ate for the previous meal or will eat the next meal.  The best sources of these items are from food that is raw or uncooked when you buy it and then you have to cook/prepare it.  This also takes work.

Resources that can help you in this effort include:  Canada’s Food Guide and the US Dietary Guidelines.

Just as with everything else in prepping, the most important thing is to develop a plan, implement the plan, and keep at it.  Good luck to you all.
Epilogue: The preceding was written in early December 2011; I decided to “eat my cooking” and followed this program.  Now it is June 2012. 
Six months later–including the Christmas Holidays when I completely ignored my new diet and 5BX (no excuse, but I enjoyed it)–I now weigh 218 pounds.  My BMI will always be high because I have a big build (46” chest; 38” waist), but my body fat percentage has dropped to 13 percent.  Still high, but, I feel better now.  Also, I have finished 3 days of hard, tedious physical work on my hobby farm and feel great!  More importantly, I am now much better prepared to do the work I will need to do in G.O.O.D. or post-TEOTWAWKI situations.
Just 11 minutes of exercise per day, while eating better food.  Maintain “The Tool.”