Overcoming Obesity, Cholesterol Problems, and Kidney Failure

Paul talks about Obesity

I lost my Father to obesity when I was only 17, and so I know full well the reality of what obesity can do to a family. My father wasn’t even that overweight (maybe 50 pounds), but that’s all it took. He tried for about two years to get his weight under control before his untimely death at 45 (heart attack while scuba diving). If someone had reached out to him, and given him a concrete plan to lose weight that was realistic with his schedule, his death could have been prevented.

Many people are shocked to hear that I have a biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins, a computer science degree, and a juris doctorate. “Why open a fitness studio?” The answer is simple, because I want to help families avoid the pain and suffering that mine went through. Twenty years later, I still miss my father. But now I have a chance to help people through Sand & Steel.

An early death? I won’t can’t let it end this way.

And that started with myself. On the right you’ll see my picture in 2013 when I resigned my post at a major law firm in downtown DC. At the time, my total cholesterol was 276 and my LDL was 191. I saw two physicians and they both told me the same thing: you’re going to have a stroke or a heart attack by age 45 if you don’t lower your cholesterol. Well as it turns out, my body can’t properly metabolize statins like Lipitor, and taking statins causes me to have kidney damage and severe, relentless cramps. That put me between the Scylla and Charybdis, either live on dialysis or suffer an early heart attack.

Suffice it to say, I do know what it feels like to be fat. I know what it feels like to fail at diets, to make excuses that you don’t have enough time. -Paul Roberts

Overcoming Obesity with Nutrition

Well my mother is a dietitian and so I knew what her patients went through, and I certainly didn’t want to die at 45 like my father, so I began researching natural methods to reduce cholesterol and lose weight. Relying on my education in biomedical engineering, I starting reading hundreds of studies on the natural ways to lose weight and lower cholesterol. What I discovered was that certain combinations of clean eating and exercise are effective for lowering cholesterol and body fat. It was hard work, especially since not all people respond to the same methods. I took certifications from companies, like Precision Nutrition, Zone, South Beach, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Atkins, etc. and really learned about how to program different diets to help people lose weight in ways that work for their life.

My research on current diets ultimately led me to the conclusion that there are many different diets that work, but the one to follow is the one that works for you. Finding the easiest path to victory in weight loss became a cornerstone of our nutrition program.

  1. Take small steps in improving your nutrition.
  2. Come to terms with your food addictions, and work on them systematically.
  3. And in case, you are wondering, there are no magic supplements or pills that will make much of a difference. Save your money and buy better foods.

Why you can’t run your way to thin.

Running is a great fat burning exercise, but it has several key problems: the injury rate is really high (combination of shock, desk jobs, and biomechanics), it doesn’t build muscle, and it can be very time consuming (running twelve miles can take 3 hours). Plus as your body adapts you have to make your runs longer, which adds more shock and takes more time. There had to be a better way… which was where I began studying how the body actually creates the energy used for exercise. There are three distinct pathways, and manipulation of these pathways is paramount in delivering weight loss training vs muscle building training. Through creating environments where the body has to generate energy from different pathways in one exercise program, the body can be worked much more efficiently and much faster.

  1. Creatine Phosphate System for Building Strength
  2. Glycolytic Pathway (first half) for building muscle and hypertrophy
  3. Glycolytic Pathway (second half) for HIIT and CrossFit type training (transformation programming)
  4. Oxidative Pathway for weight loss.

Like many people I heard about the great benefits of HIIT and CrossFit and tried it. I loved it, but wound up getting injury after injury. I learned later it was because of improper technique. To be fair to all the CrossFit boxes in Alexandria, there is only so much a CrossFit coach can do when he has to coach 4-6 people at a time (let alone large classes.) Offering CrossFit style training as option at Sand & Steel was important, but I wanted to offer it as a personal training service so that people wouldn’t be injured. Three years later… we do still use CrossFit in about 10% of our workouts, but for the most part we’ve found better programming for our clients. But for the diehards out there, we offer some pure CrossFit programming, because for some people it works.

My advice if you are thinking of going to take CrossFit at a box near you. Find the very best coach you can. To help you do that, I created this coaching standards pdf that you can give your potential coach so that you can ensure they have enough knowledge and experience to help you

Paul Roberts 2015; 180lbs-14% Body Fat
Paul Roberts 2013; 180lbs-28% Body Fat

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The energy system discovery along with the principles of timed muscle confusion (originally promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger) eventually became a foundation for the fitness program at Sand & Steel. The body adapts to exercises after a while (this is known as plateauing.) To avoid plateauing, one either has to maintain the exercises for a specific amount of time or they have to vary them. Do either too much and improvement is stunted. But how much variation is needed depends on the specific person, so we needed to measure progress, and update personal training programs as soon as we began seeing plateaus. To do that we started implementing 4 different benchmarks to check if a plateau was coming.

Contrary to what you might read, there is no single best fitness method in the world… so stop looking for it. All you need to do is find a coach that can measure your performance, and write you a specific workout program that is customized to your fitness level. If you don’t have a lot of experience, have that same coach train you on the movements so that you do them correctly. After 4-6 weeks have that same coach adjust your programming as you get stronger. Because people develop at different rates, everyone’s formula is necessarily different.

Our Secret Sauce: To help find the best workout program, we employ four different benchmarks: the Functional Movement Screen, Y Balance Test, Muscle Systems Test, and Energy Systems Benchmark. We psychologically profile them with our online client intake tool. We measure bodyfat, musclemass, and inflammation with our InBody 570 Body Composition Scale, and we track progress in client workout binders to make sure our programs are carefully followed, and to gauge the performance of one fitness program versus another. To date we have over 40 different programs tested and vetted, and we are still building more. Why? Because the best program you can buy is the one specifically written for you.


My Results: It took me six month to 20 pounds of fat, but I also added ten pounds of muscle, and most importantly lowered my cholesterol from 276 total cholesterol and 191 LDL to 217 total and 131 LDL. Through refinements to our program, our clients see results like this in half this time. -Paul

My success in weight loss and Dawn’s success in overcoming fibromyalgia 1, ultimately led us to open Sand & Steel Fitness. Our goal on opening day is still the cornerstone of our practice today, “To provide a service to help busy professionals lose weight and build muscle, as safely and time effectively as possible.”

If you think you don’t have enough time, consider this:

Most of clients spend only 3 hours per week, and when your health is on the line, even the busiest professionals can find that much time. Almost everyone that is overweight spends a good three hours a week miring about how bad they feel — I know I did. Turn that negative energy and wasted time into something positive.  LET’S DO THIS!

  1. Dawn’s my partner at Sand & Steel and successfully put her chronic illness in remission through utilizing a clean diet
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