It’s been almost a year exactly since my weight loss journey began (if you start the year from my bout of the flu). Just a warning. At the end of this post there will be before and after photos. If half-naked, middle aged men offend you, don’t scroll down.
I started out the year at 212 pounds give or give a few pounds.
I lost 6 pounds on the Flu (no appetite plus fever plus diarrhea will do that to you). No telling how much of the weight was just water. But hey it was a start. I’d better capitalize on it.
I lost 8 more pounds on three weeks of Atkins/Ketogenic diet. Ketogienic diets cause a fair amount of water loss, so not all of it was fat, but it was fairly effortless. Ketogenic dieting is pretty brainless. “How many carbs are in this food. Okay, I can’t eat it…or I can only eat this much.”
But after I started tracking my calories, I realized the real reason I was probably losing so much weight is that when you have a hefty soda, junk food, and dessert habit, when you cut out those carbs, you also cut out all that fat too, leading to a massive calorie restriction. You just don’t realize how few calories you’re eating…or at least I didn’t I guesstimated that on average I was only eating 1200-1600 calories per day even though I thought I was eating way more.
On February 21, I switched to a flexible dieting/”If it fits your macros” approach along with strength training. I can eat whatever I want (within reason) as long as I hit my calorie and protein targets. This leads to the concept of tradeoffs. For example, almonds are often touted in the Paleo/Keto world, but chocolate has fewer calories and is more satisfying. SOLD!
I immediately gained 2.5 pounds, which I attribute mainly to increased water retention as I was no longer in ketosis. I stayed on Aggressive Fat Loss until September 1, when I weighed 166 pounds. I hadn’t weighed 166 pounds since I worked as a Lifeguard and Beach Attendant in 1995. Only this time I had better abs.
On September 2, I officially started bulking. I kicked off the bulk with a two day cruise where I just ate whatever I wanted which happened to include two entrees for dinner every night. This was the first time I had eaten breakfast since starting Aggressive Fat Loss. I later estimated that I ate 2000 calories just for breakfast on the cruise. I gained an impressive 10 pounds on the cruise although a large part of it was water that I lost over the next few days.
I bulked through Christmas ending up at 184 pounds (18 pounds heavier than my lightest on September 1). I absolutely LOVED the eating, but I didn’t like the look. Yes, I gained muscle as was the plan, but I also gained fat, and I much preferred having more defined abs. I could have gained a bit more muscle, but I tweaked my shoulder (while playing, not while lifting) and was unable to push the weight on bench press and overhead press.
The Final Countdown
The Monday after Christmas, I started cutting again. As of this writing, I am 176 pounds. I plan on continuing to cut until I have a true six pack. I guesstimate that if I was able to put on 5 pounds of muscle during the bulk and keep it through my cut, that I will end up around 165 pounds. If I was able to gain and keep more muscle, it will be little heavier. From there, I plan to do a series of very lean bulk cycles, gaining no more than 10 pounds over six months and pretty much stay between 165 and 175 for as long as I can.
Some final thoughts
I am incredibly thankful that I found flexible dieting. It works and is very sustainable. When I started the journey I would have been happy with just losing 10-15 pounds. I never dreamed that I would end up looking better at 42 than when I did at 22. And I have flexible dieting to thank for giving me the hope to not only make it a goal but see it through to fruition.
At 42, I had better abs than when I was 22!
But this isn’t just about looks. I’m much stronger, have better blood pressure, resting heart rate, fasting glucose, and cholesterol levels than before. I have more energy now and generally feel better. And most importantly I know I can keep this up for years. (Note that I mean the lifestyle, not the calorie deficit. You only need a deficit to lose weight. After that you can eat more.)
My brother had a lot of success with a ketogenic diet. I had always had a not-so-secret love affair with low-carb diets, so based on his experience, I did it too. Despite the initial weight loss, it just wasn’t much fun after a while. So I left it for flexible dieting, which I was able to stick with until my goal. My brother on the other hand eventually stopped from not being able to sleep well and leg cramps. According to him, if you google “Atkins le” or “ketogenic le”, Google will suggest leg cramps.
Most people who diet fail to keep the weight off, and I can understand why. You can’t just go back to whatever you were doing before and expect to keep the weight off. You have to maintain your lifestyle changes for the weight change to become permanent. And the beauty of my current diet is that I can truly eat whatever I want within reason. I can have a large cheat meal or cheat cruise…as long as I adjust my calories before or after. I can eat dessert every day (much to the chagrin of my wife who thinks treats aren’t treats if you get to eat them every day).
There’s nothing magical about any particular program. All you need are the following components:
A solid caloric deficit
Adequate protein to maintain muscle mass
An eating plan that you enjoy so you can make the process sustainable.
Strength workouts to convince your body to hold on to muscle (otherwise you’ll lose quite a bit of muscle along with that fat)
I should also give a shout out to Radu Antoniu, whose videos are some of the most informative, entertaining, and well edited out there in the fitness world. His program Shred Smart is also worth looking at even though you can learn everything you need to know from this free videos.
Heck you if you want to pay me to hold your hand through the process, I’d be happy to do it. Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Facebook just showed me this photo. It was from five years ago. I remember thinking at the time, “Getting a bit tubby there. You really need to lose weight.” Apparently I didn’t take that advice for a long time. Now, as I come to the end of the first phase of my body changing journey, I’d like to reflect back on some lessons that I’ve learned along the way and let you know my plans for the future. Hopefully you can learn something from my experiences that will make your own journey even easier.
Progress so far
I started this journey around 212 pounds and am, as of this morning, 167.4 pounds (45 pounds for those of you bad at math). It has taken exactly 7 months and 4 days to get to this point. Most of my progress was made on the a fairly aggressive caloric deficit. I have very strictly monitored my caloric intake and tracked my protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake. I’ve worked out three times a week (45 minute weight workouts) and walked on the off days. I haven’t done any running or high intensity cardio workout except for recreational (riding a bike with the kids) or situational (sprinting to get out of the rain).
As for the 45 pounds, I’ve actually lost more than 45 pounds of fat, because I’ve added some muscle along the way. For example, today I did 6 chin ups with 50 pounds attached. When I started I could barely do four bodyweight chin ups. For the purposes of this post, I’ll guesstimate five pounds of muscle for a total of 50 pounds of fat gone.
It’s Wednesday night as I type this, and on Friday, my relationship with cutting will end. I am officially going to lean bulk. This means that I am going to eat in a controlled caloric surplus for the express purpose of gaining muscle. And that’s where the topic of superstitions comes in. I don’t mean fear of black cats or bad luck for breaking a mirror. I’m referring to the psychological term superstition. It refers to the belief that if success is accompanied by a random event, the person (or animal) will associate the event with success. (Also works for bad things too.)
This is the product of our own brains working against us. Our brains are designed to recognize patterns. We are hard wired to learn from our experiences and continue what has worked in the past. This is known as heuristics. Unfortunately, our brains can also recognize patterns even where none exists, and this is especially true when it comes to losing weight. Losing weight is a very long, intentional process. Even though it all comes down to a caloric deficit, there are a large number of variables to account for, and the research is often controversial with multiple credible researchers lining up on opposite sides of a given issue.
So when a person successfully loses a lot of weight, they become highly attached to any behavior or action that occurred during the process, even if the action had no or minimal effect on their weight loss. When I first started flexible dieting, the recommendation in the program is walk 45 – 60 minutes on the days you don’t lift weights. It just so happens that 3 laps around my neighborhood takes about 55 minutes, so that’s what I did four times a week for several months. Then, midsummer, I participated in a steps competition at work (team with the most steps after eight weeks wins a Fitbit…most inefficient way in the world to win something if you ask me). Toward the end of the competition, I was doing 5 laps around the neighborhood. Even though it was miserable, took too long, and my feet hurt and got blisters, once the competition had ended I was actually afraid to go back to only 3 laps. “What if my weightloss stalls? What if the only reason I was losing weight was the extra calories of the extra two laps?” You get the idea.
What about this bulking thing?
Most people who begin this fitness journey by cutting a lot of weight don’t plan to simply get thin. Once they’ve lost weight, the goal is usually then to gain muscle mass. The problem is that after months of working hard to lose weight, they become afraid to eat more. When you’ve deprived yourself for seven, eight, even 24 months to get thin, the last thing in the world you want to do is get fat again.
The problem of, course, is that it’s impossible to build a significant amount of muscle while maintaining a deficit. Heck, it’s practically impossible to build muscle while eating maintenance calories. To grow muscle, you really need a surplus. So the one thing that a person needs to do in order to build muscle is the one thing that person is afraid of—even when they know better. I’ve seen it dozens of times on Facebook fitness groups. I’ve even experienced it myself even though my plan was always to bulk after losing the weight, and even though I’ve been far more successful losing weight than I ever thought I could be. After all, my weight trend has been up for the last 15 years.
Casting out fear
So let’s run some numbers and see just how silly it is to be afraid of bulking. The general recommendation for a lean bulk is about 1900 extra calories per week. There is a current controversy over whether beginners and intermediates should follow that recommendation or do a slightly larger bulk of 3500 calorie weekly surplus (500 extra calories per day). Now if you remember your fat math, one pound of fat is 3500 calories. So if every single calorie of surplus went into fat, I’d gain one pound of fat per week. It would take me 50 weeks (an entire year) to gain all that fat back.
Let’s say, just half of the surplus calories get funneled into fat, then in one year, I’d gain 25 pounds of fat. And if just a quarter of the calories go into fat, then I’d only gain 12.5 pounds of fat in a year’s time. Now I’m only planning on bulking through March (7 months), so in that time, assuming 25% of the surplus going into fat, I could expect approximately 7.5 pounds of fat. From my experience with AFL, It should only take about 2 months to lose those 7.5 pounds of extra fat.
So don’t fear the bulk. Embrace the bulk. Seven months of eating 3000 calories instead of 1925 calories. You get to eat that way all through Thanksgiving, Halloween, and New Year! You even get to eat that way for Valentine’s Day. If you really want to go to town, save 200 calories each day, and have an extra 1200 calories for an epic 4200 calorie day (a solid Thanksgiving plan).
Don’t cut too long
The decision to stop cutting and start bulking is complicated. The general recommendation is cut until you’re about 10% body fat, and then bulk until you’re about 15% bodyfat, and then lean down again. I’m only about 13-14% body fat, and I haven’t quite hit my leanness goals (as defined by waist measurement and having a six pack). So why am I bulking? Three reasons.
The longer you cut, the harder it becomes. I’ve been cutting for 7 months now. At first my daily calories were 2000, and I lost almost 2 pounds a week. Now my daily calories are 1815, and I lose less than half a pound a week. As you lose weight, your body doesn’t need as many calories. That makes it progressively harder to keep losing weight.
Cutting is stressful—quite literally. Your body thinks you’re going to starve to death and tries to mitigate things by losing excess muscle. So you have to do heavy strength training to convince your body to hold on to muscle and lose fat instead. This causes your body to be stressed. Eventually, your body will adjust hormonally to reduce your metabolic rate. This was the subject of the Biggest Loser Study that I discuss here.
Cutting is also stressful mentally.
Bulking gives you a mental break and resets your hormones. Most importantly it allows you to gain muscle. At my current weight, I probably would have to lose 7-8 pounds of fat to achieve a 10% bodyfat. I would look ridiculously skinny at 160 pounds, and it would probably take 3-4 more months. By lean bulking I’ll add hopefully 10-15 pounds of muscle in the next seven months with only a small amount of fat. Then when it comes time to lose the fat, I can do so at a higher (more enjoyable) daily calorie intake, and it won’t take as long to lose, so it won’t be as stressful. So that’s the plan.
Why do you keep emphasizing lean bulk?
A lean bulk is a controlled bulk. In my case, 500 calories over maintenance, or about 3000 calories per day, while maintaining an appropriate macronutrient balance. The traditional way of bulking is just eat a lot, which is of course how I got into this problem in the first place. So don’t just bulk. Lean bulk!
For your protection, the photos are blurred. If you really want to see them, you’ll have to click on them. I must warn you that the photos below show middle aged man torso and abdomen. Now it’s quite possible that those photos aren’t me at all, and are just some guy I found on a Facebook Fitness Group. But before we get to the photos, let’s have some stats.
6 months later
bodyweight x 4
40 lbs x 6
10 lbs x 8
70 lbs x 7
100 lbs x 5
135 lbs x 5
155 lbs x 5
175 lbs x 5
Bulgarian Split Squats
80 lbs x 6
150 lbs x 5
6 month Progress Photos
Okay, and without further ado, here are the photos. The “before” photos are at 197 pounds after losing 15 pounds, so they’re not as dramatic as they might be otherwise.
Click on the image to view it unblurred. You have been WARNED!!!
Click on the image to view it unblurred. You have been WARNED!!!
Click on the image to view it unblurred. You have been WARNED!!!
Okay, so there you have it. Half naked, middle aged man flesh. I’m currently lighter than I’ve been since 1997, and my waist hasn’t been 33 inches since before then. So you you might be asking, “what’s next?” The answer is, I’m going to try and lose another 5 pounds or so until I have a bona fide 6 pack. Then I’ll transition to a lean bulk program to gain 10-15 pounds of muscle over the next two years.
In the last few posts, I’ve talked quite a bit about how I’ve lost weight (31 pounds as of today). I’ve gone into some detail about the diet, but I haven’t really talked about the workouts much. There’s a couple reasons, but the main two reasons are 1) workouts are complicated, and 2) 95% of your results will come from your diet. There’s a reason fitness models say, “abs are created in the kitchen.”
I do plan on writing more about the workout in the future, but for today, I just wanted to give you some tips on how to do more chin ups (or pull ups if you desire). When I started this journey 14 weeks ago, I could barely do 4 chin ups or 3 pull ups. This Monday I did 5 chin ups with 40 lbs attached followed by a set of 6 chin ups with 25 pounds attached. Today (Thursday, I did a set of 13 bodyweight chin ups).
Now I know for some people that may not sound very impressive, but I haven’t been able to do more than 8 pull ups or chin ups since I was 19. And I certainly wasn’t as explosive as I am today. So here’s how I did it. You can use this method with either pull ups (palms away) or chin ups (palms toward you). Personally I prefer neutral grip chin ups (palms facing each other). For the rest of this article, I’ll just call them pull ups out of habit.
Some people will tell newbies that they need to be able to do 8 pull ups or 12 pull ups or even 20 pull ups before they start adding weight. But I prefer to start adding weight as soon as you can do 4-6 pull ups. I’ve never been good at doing lots of pull ups, and if I had waited until I could do 12 pull ups before adding weight, I’d probably still be doing 5 pounds. Below is how I did it, and you can too…if you like.
Step 0: Be able to do at least 4 pull ups
If you can’t do at least four pull ups, then that’s your first step. If you can’t do any pull ups, then follow this below video for a nice progression. If you can do at least one pull up, then do several sets of as many as you can do with good form at least three days a week.
Step 1: Add 5 lbs
Once you can do a at least 4 good pull ups, it’s time to add some weight. Get a dip belt. Attach 5 pounds and do a set. Wait at least 3 minutes, then do a second set bodyweight pull ups. On your other two workout days just do one set of bodyweight pull ups. So to recap: one set of weighted pull ups and 3 sets of bodyweight pull ups per week.
Note: I was doing this while on a fairly aggressive cut of 700-1000 calorie deficit per day. If you’re eating at maintenance or bulking, you can do three sets on your weighted day or even to two days of weighted pull ups (I’d recommend at least 3 days recovery between weighted sets.)
Step 2: Adding reps
Keep doing the weight you added in Step 1 plus two sets of bodyweight pull ups on other days until you can do 6 weighted pull ups. Here are some tips:
Focus on trying to make your upward movement as explosive as possible.
Try to keep your shoulder blades retracted (pull down and toward each other)
Don’t reach your neck for the bar.
Don’t struggle with half reps. When you can’t complete the rep with good form, don’t do it at all. If you really want to do another rep, jump up to the top and do a long negative (slow descent) or get an elastic band and do assisted pull ups.
Step 3: Add 5 more pounds
When you can complete six good, explosive pull ups, it’s time to add 5 more pounds.
If you can do 5 or more reps with the higher weight, then add 5 pounds again next week.
If you can only four reps with the higher weight, stay at that weight until you can get 6 reps and then add another 5 pounds.
If you can’t get four reps with the higher weight, drop the weight by 2.5 pounds the next week.
Keep doing your bodyweight pull ups for the second set and on your other two days.
Step 4: Add weight to your second set
When you get to the point where you’re doing pull ups with 10% of your bodyweight added, you can start adding weight to your second set. So if you’re 180 pounds, when you get to 20 pounds, add 5 pounds to your 2nd set. Generally speaking you should be able to get at least one more rep out of your 2nd set with lighter weight than your first heavy set.
Whenever your second set gets 2 good reps higher than your first set, add five more pounds to it. Follow the same rules as step 3 (but with a higher rep count).
Step 5: Take videos of yourself doing weighted pull ups.
That’s pretty much it. The video below is my second set of weighted pull ups this week with 25 pounds added. You can see my weight progression in the table below. Notice that even though my weight is going down, the total weight I’m lifting is going up. (So my absolute strength and relative strength are both increasing.)
Frequently asked questions:
Man! I could NEVER do weighted pull ups!
It’s not really a questions, but that is exactly what I thought until I started doing it. I’ve never been good at pull ups. When I was in the Air Force Academy, the max I ever did was 13, and I assure you the last five were not nearly as explosive as the last five in my video at the top. When you see someone doing pull ups with 70 pounds attached, you think, “there’s no way I can do that,” and you’re right. You can’t do it…now. But if you start with adding 5 pounds, increase your reps to 6, add five more pounds, rinse and repeat, you’ll be doing 45 pounds before you know it.
So what’s this simple secret you mentioned in the title?
Too subtle, eh? The secret is adding 5 pounds. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to do more pull ups with just bodyweight.
Does this work for weighted dips too?
Absolutely. It actually works even better for weighted dips. In the time it took me to go from 0 to 45 pounds for pull ups, I went from 10 pounds to 77.5 pounds for 6 reps for dips. The only thing holding you back is not using a dip belt. Some gyms even have one you can borrow. But if not, buy one on amazon.
Recently a New York Times article about the Biggest Loser TV show made a big splash on some of my friends’ Facebook pages. The article is essentially a human interest story about contestants of the TV show. In case you’ve never seen the show, it’s a “reality” TV show in which extraordinarily overweight people go to extraordinary lengths to lose weight on national TV. The show was a massive success for a while, and an inspiration for many people.
Some of the contestants lost upwards of 200 pounds, but there is a problem. Of the 16 contestants from Season 6 (the sibkect of the New York Times article), only one has been able to successfully keep the weight off. Everyone else’s weight has drifted upwards, some as high as they started out. Peppered throughout the article are quotes and tidbits from researchers who used the contestants to conduct studies in weightloss and metabolism as well as other researchers of metabolism and weightloss.
Your body wants to be fat, okay?
Unfortunately, the former contestants’ metabolisms had slowed significantly, with one of them burning 800 fewer calories per day than would be expected for someone of his weight. On top of that, a certain hormone associated with satiety and weightloss was much lower than normal. This has led some people to the erroneous conclusion that losing weight shouldn’t even be attempted because their body will sabotage their efforts because it wants to be fat.
Thankfully, this conclusion is completely unfounded, and I’ll show you why. Now for this particular post, I will NOT be reading any of the research articles referenced. I will only be critiquing the actual text of the New York Times article.
Disclaimer: I do not mean to deny or denigrate the experience of the former Biggest Loser contestants (BLC)—but I do mean to show how their fate does not have to be your fate.
Some basic research
The most important aspect of healthcare research when it comes to applying the findings to other people is called generalizability–how well a study’s findings can be applied to other people. The most influential component of a research study”s generalizability is how “representative” or similar the sample is to us, the general public…or you specifically. So for example, if researchers find that statin medications can reduce the rate of heart attacks in very high risk patients (for example, men who have already had a heart attack), they cannot generalize those findings to say that statins will reduce the rate of heart attacks in young healthy people with high cholesterol. They must first do the study again with the new younger population before they can scientifically (let alone ethically) say that statins will reduce heart attacks in that population.
So, although the BLC (Biggest Loser Contestants) study is fascinating and provides an interesting window into extreme weight loss, how meaningful is it to you? I am happy to report, “not very”. First, they took people who were extremely overweight, with many of them weighing 300-400 pounds. Then they put them through an extreme (I hate to keep using that word but it really does fit) weightloss regmien. For example, Danny Cahill, the Season 8 winner lost 239 pounds. To do this, he tried to lose a pound a day. He had an extremely restricted diet, and was exercising upwards of 7 hours a day. He had to quit his job in order to comply with the program. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Mr. Cahill exercised seven hours a day, burning 8,000 to 9,000 calories according to a calorie tracker the show gave him. Mr. Cahill set a goal of a 3,500-caloric deficit per day. The idea was to lose a pound a day.
If he had not burned enough calories to hit his goal, he went back to the gym after dinner to work out some more. At times, he found himself running around his neighborhood in the dark until his calorie-burn indicator reset to zero at midnight.
Mr. Cahill knew he could not maintain his finale weight of 191 pounds. He was so mentally and physically exhausted he barely moved for two weeks after his publicity tour ended.
How representative is this experience for the average person? Does it represent you? I can tell you it’s not representative for me. My maintenance calories for my current weight is 2800. I need to eat 2800 (more or less) calories to stay at my weight. Danny Cahill’s calorie deficit was bigger than my entire diet. I would have to eat negative calories to have a deficit that big. My current exercise regimen is a 30-45 minute weightlifting workout 3 times a week plus an hour walk the other four days a week. So in an average week, I’m spending less than 7 hours consciously exercising—less than Danny Cahill did in a single day.
I’ve lost 26 pounds recently on the exercise regimen I described above and eating a thousand calorie deficit (1800 calories per day). Once a week, I would do a “refeed” day where I ate closer to 2800 calories. I eat chocolate every day. I drink milk most days (raw, grass fed, full fat milk). I have bread, pasta, steak, birthday cake. I have ice cream on occasion. I even had half of a Miller’s Alehouse “Captain Jack’s buried treasure” (an ice cream/Oreo/Heath bar pie served over hot fudge). I just had to plan my calorie intake for the day accordingly. Compare that to the draconian diets of the BLC described in the article.
I, in no way, feel deprived. Nor have do I have binge cravings (which I have had in the past under different weight loss plans). I could live like this the rest of my life if I had to. When I reach my goal weight of 175 pounds, if I wanted to maintain that weight, I’d need to eat more or less 2600 calories per day.
The point is that my weightloss plan is 1) enjoyable, 2) sustainable, 3) when I reach my goal, I get to keep doing what I’m doing but have more ICE CREAM!!!!
But Danny Cahill’s metabolism is 800 calories less than normal!!!
Okay, fair enough. If my metabolism were that much slower, I’m sure it would be vastly harder to maintain my weight loss. However, I don’t think that will be the case for a number of reasons. The first is that generalizable word again. My 1-2 pounds a week weight loss with minimal effort is not comparable in any way to Danny Cahill’s except in the direction of weight. He lost more than half his bodyweight. I’m planning on losing less than 18% of my max bodyweight. Moreover, once I’m done losing the weight, I’m planning on bulking (purposefully eating more calories than maintenance to build muscle). I’m fairly certain that my increased muscle mass will help boost my metabolism preventing me from sharing Danny’s fate.
The second reason I don’t think that I will share the same fate that I am eating a fairly high amount of carbohydrates, 35-45% of my diet is carbohydrates, which helps to boost leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone (secreted by your fat cells of all things) that helps promote satiety and weight loss. The contestants of BLC all had much lower levels of leptin even years after the contest was over.
But even if my leptin is low, and my metabolism is permanently damaged, I still don’t think it will be to the same magnitude as the BLC contestants. The contestants with the highest weightloss had the lowest metabolisms and leptin levels, so the effect is proportional. As a ratio of fat lost, Danny lost 239 pounds, with 3500 calories to a pound. So his ratio is 800:836500 calories or around 1:1000. My total fat lost will be 37×3500 = 129,500. So proportionately, I might expect to burn 140 calories less per day. I’m pretty sure I can handle that. Maybe the ratio is based on initial weight, and not weight loss. In that case, he weighted 430 pounds, so 430:800 or 1:1.86. So for me, starting out at 212 pounds, I could expect 394 calories fewer in a day. That’s significantly higher, but still doable. After all, I’m eating 1800 calories a day and losing weight, so if I had to do maintenance minus 400 calories, that would still be 2200 calories a day (400 more than I’m currently eating).
Now, there’s a very good chance that I’m not representative of you, but chances are much higher that your more similar to me than you are to Danny Cahill or any of the other BLC participants.
But he’s got a PhD from Harvard!!!!! You just have a PhD from University of Florida.
He’s a Doctor! And you’re just a Nurse!!! Actually, some of the researchers cited in the article are medical doctors while others have PhDs in related fields like physiology. The most important thing to remember is that science is not exact, and scientists are not perfect. There are huge gaps in what we know. In fact, one of the researchers actually says this in the article:
He cautioned that the study was limited by its small size and the lack of a control group of obese people who did not lose weight. But, he added, the findings made sense.
“This is a subset of the most successful” dieters, he said. “If they don’t show a return to normal in metabolism, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
Still, he added, “that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean we are doomed to battle our biology or remain fat. It means we need to explore other approaches.”
The unscientificness (is that a word?) of that middle line is simply astounding. The only sense in which this group of “dieters” were successful is in the sheer number of pounds that they lost. But they were quite literally paid to lose weight. They had professional coaching, and medical staff on hand to deal with overexertion. They were competitors, not dieters. There is simply no relative comparison to an average individual looking to lose 10 – 40 pounds of fat who has to fit whatever he’s doing into his every day life. Or as Greg O’Gallagher (who designed my current workout/diet plan) says, “Fitness should enhance your life, not rule it.”
And another researcher:
“There is a lot of basic research we still need to do.”
Every scientist thinks what they are working on is extremely important, and more than anything else, they want to keep getting paid to do it. I’m not impugning any of the scientists and physicians in the article, but scientists and physicians have been known to be a little, well, unduly enthusiastic about the implications of their research—statins in the water anyone? The article also glosses over some flaws in the research such as only measuring leptin and not “other hormones”. It doesn’t mention what these other hormones are. That’s probably the fault of the author, not the scientists.
Well if you’re so smart, why don’t you explain it?
It seems that most people (in the U.S. anyway) have a tendency to gain weight. For most of us, it’s a pound or two a year. As the article points out, a pound of fat is 3500 calories. There are conveniently 365 days in a year, so 10 extra calories a day will give you about a pound of fat in a year. 20 calories a day will give you 2 pounds of fat in a year. Let that go unchecked for 10 years and you’re 10-20 pounds overweight. Pretty cool huh? The key then is not to let your weight get out of control. If you can stop it after 5-6 pounds, you can lose that weight quite easily and quickly, and then regain it again over the next three years. We really don’t know what the long term metabolic rate effects of this strategy would be. But we can assume based even on the findings of the BLC study that the less weight you have to lose the less impact it will have on your metabolism.
We also know that certain hormones are associated with weight loss while others are associated with weight gain. For example, leptin is associated with weight loss or weight maintenance, while insulin is associated with weight gain. Interestingly, insulin helps build muscle as well as fat, but it’s much easier to build fat than muscle. This is why body builders typically do bulk/cut cycles. During the bulk, they gain both fat and muscle. Then during the cut, they try to lose the fat while trying to preserve the muscle.
As the article pointed out, there is a lot that we don’t know. For example, the field of epigenetics which is the mechanisms of how genes are turned on or off is showing that we may all have fat genes, but some of us have them turned on while others have them turned off. And it’s not necessarily only on/off, but there are degrees of on. And most importantly epigenetics shows that our fat genes can be regulated by environmental events such as overeating or near starvation.
A very interesting finding is that Adenovirus 36 (AD-36) can cause mice that were previously normal to become obese. If we can determine which genes were turned on or off we may be able to reverse engineer the process and cure obesity in humans. Of course there is a chance that we could unleash a Thinner-style curse on the world.
As the Terminator would say…
The future has not been written; there is no fate but what we make.
Don’t let a study that says your body doesn’t want to lose weight stop you from taking control of your health and life. Since I’ve lost weight, I feel tremendously better, snore less, have more energy, am tremendously stronger, and everyone says how much better I look.
And the best part is that it is almost effortless and definitely enjoyable. Okay. It’s not exactly effortless, but compared to doing P90x, it’s effortless. The workouts are strength building (not size building) workouts. That means sets of 4-6 reps with 2-3 minutes of rest in between sets. So most of my time at the gym is spent waiting around. The only “cardio” I do is an hour long walk while I listen to podcasts. The diet does take discipline, but it’s mostly about planning not will power. Because I get to eat foods I like every day, I never feel deprived. I just had to get used to measuring my portions before I eat.
12 years ago, I decided that I should try and look like Brad Pitt in Troy before I turned 40. (He was 40 at the time of filiming.) I’m about to turn 42 and for the first time think I actually have a shot at reaching that goal thanks to flexible dieting and strength training. I highly recommend that you start today. There are tons of free programs out there. Heck. Keep reading this article to get you started.
So where exactly did you get those calorie numbers earlier?
There’s lots of complicated ways to figure out your maintenance calories, but an easy rule of thumb is multiply your bodyweight by 15. So at 186 pounds, my maintenance bodyweight is 186×15 = 2790 calories or 2800 rounded up. If you want to aggressively lose weight, you want a 25% deficit which turns out to be about bodyweight times 10 or 11. You can read a lot more about the specifics of the diet I’m on in my last post.
Using a flexible dieting approach, you can eat whatever you within your calories and protein requirements. You can even break your diet strategically for social purposes (weddings, birthdays, etc.). If you’re looking for a very scientific approach combined with practical advice from coaching clients, I’d recommend looking at Lyle McDonald’s books (note, I get a small commission if you buy through my link):
Guide to Flexible Dieting (a great introduction to the concept of Flexible Dieting)
You look pretty good. What do you eat? — Jerry Seinfeld
Just skip to the end please
I lost 14 pounds on the Atkins diet and by intermittent fasting. Then I found flexible dieting and am now doing “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) combined with strength training. I’m combining flexible dieting with intermittent fasting–by eating twice a day, the meals I do eat get to be bigger. No cardio beyond walking or recreational activities is required. (Editorial note: this post may sometimes seem a bit schizophrenic because I started writing it while I was doing Atkins/Keto but by the time I finished it I was no longer doing keto.)
The journey to fatness.
It’s embarrassing to admit it, but the past few years have been a journey toward obesity. I was a scrawny kid who could eat anything. I graduated high school at a whopping 145 pounds. Then I went to the Air Force Academy and went down to a downright skeletal 134 pounds in Basic Training.
A skeletal 134 pounds
By the time I graduated college I was 170 pounds. But then I got a job as a lifeguard and beach attendant at the Breaker’s Hotel and Resort in Palm Beach, FL. That took me down to 165 pounds of tanned, bleach-blonde muscle despite eating probably 5,000 calories a day. Unfortunately, my high school weight and beach experience reinforced the notion that I could eat whatever I want and still be thin.
Bleach blonde, tan, and buff. 165 pounds despite eating probably 5,000 calories per day.
…and then I got old. Everyone always said, “wait till you’re 40,” but it happened to me at 24. I was able to stave off the weight gain by sheer physical activity—capoeira, karate, tai chi. ballroom dancing, Latin dancing. And then I got married and got a real job. It’s a lot harder to maintain that kind of lifestyle when you’re working full time and have a wife who wants to spend time with you. I tipped the scales at a 185 pounds when I got married at 26. A few years later I was 200.
To Insanity and.. Beyond!
Obviously, I need to start exercising again, but we had moved, and I didn’t know where to find a good dojo and dance studio, so I turned to Beach Body. I started with Slim in 6 but all the lunges were too hard on my knees, so I switched to Power 90 (the much easier precursor to P90x). From the, the Power Half Hour, and eventually P90X itself. All of them work to some degree, but they take progressively more and more time. P90X requires a whopping hour and half a day. Six days a week. It’s just not fun. Then I tried the aptly named Insanity. I lasted three sessions. It really is insane, and not in a good way. The human body is not meant to work in that particular way. Anyway, my first son, Logan was born, and after 3 sleepless, exerciseless months. I figured I needed to workout again. That’s when I found Rushfit, designed for and marketed by MMA fighter George “Rush” St Pierre. I really liked the full body nature of the workouts and the relatively short time (30 minutes plus a 10 minute warm up). It was nice to have kick boxing moves performed by actual martial artists…but my knees didn’t like strain, so I had to take it easy on certain days. Still I was in overall good shape, although still over 200 pounds. (Nothing scarier than an overweight, in shape, martial artist right?)
And then. And then my second son, Corban was born, and the next thing you know I had only worked out twice in the last two years. One workout a year isn’t too bad, I think. Eventually, I tipped the pounds at a whopping 212 pounds!!!
Thar she blows!!!!
What’s love got to do with it?
Unfortunately, none of it really works, because exercising raises your appetite, and it’s too hard on a middle aging body to work out 6 days a week, and who has the time when you have two kids? The key, of course, is changing your diet. For years I had bought into the silliness that reducing carbohydrates and especially sugars will reduce insulin, which in turn makes it easier to lose weight. I had believed this for years, but didn’t want to do it, because…because I love carbs, and I especially love sugar. I love Coca Cola, and Cherry Pepsi, and cookies, and bread, and donuts, and cake (which is really just an icing delivery device). In fact, I told my nursing students that I was living proof that the health belief model was false. I believed in low carb diets, but I didn’t want to follow one…until I wanted family photos with the kids without me looking like a blimp.
My brother had lost 15 pounds or so in a month following the Atkins diet (a kind of low carb diet), and what he was doing seemed pretty reasonable, so I figured I’d try it…in a couple weeks.
How to lose 14 pounds in three weeks
Well, I started off by cheating. I got the flu. A bad flu. With stomach symptoms. To stop the symptoms I stopped eating. Between the starvation and the fever, I lost 6 pounds in 5 days. It would be a shame to waste that head start, so I went Atkins too. The basic Atkins diet is eat high protein, high fat meals, with low carbohydrates. The Atkins diet has “phases” where you vary the amount of carbohydrate. Basically, in the “induction phase” you try to eat less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. That turns out to be a lot harder than you might think. The key is that during induction you eat as much as you want as long as it’s low carb. This turns out to be a great diet for carnivores. You typically stay in induction for 2-4 weeks. After induction, you ease up on the carb restrictions but still stay low carb. Once you make your weight goal, then you raise the carbs up to the point you start to gain weight again, and then reduce back to a stable weight. That final stage very much resembles a Paleo diet.
I also started using “intermittent fasting,” which is a essentially, trying to do all your eating in an 8 hour window, and then not eating (fasting) for 16 hours. For me, that means I try to be done eating around 8pm and then I don’t eat until around 11 or 12 the next day. Since beginning using the low carb, intermittent fasting diet, I have lost 14 pounds in 3 weeks (including the 6 pounds from the flu). I’m rarely “starving” although I do get quite hungry around 5pm. Most of the days I only eat two meals (just because of convenience), although I do eat some snacks. An important point with intermittent fasting is that you can choose your fasting window. If you work out first thing in the morning, you probably don’t want to wait until noon to eat. If you sleep in, you could delay until 4pm. And feel free to break the routine for social life. The key is to choose something that works for your schedule and your life.
What the heck do you eat? That must be boring!
Low carb dieting does take some imagination, but really, you can have quite a lot. Over the next few days, I’ll post some recipes, but here are some sample meals:
Cheeseburger (no bun)
Pulled pork with low carb barbeque sauce
Arugula steak salad
Chicken Alfredo over a bed of arugula
Eggs and bacon
Egg pucks (crustless mini quiches)
Baked chicken and spinach salad
Almond crusted tilapia (or any fish for that matter)
Uncured Turkey and a slice of cheese (with mustard and pickle if you like)
Parmesan Cheese Whisps (1 carb per serving; currently available at Costco)
Small handful of almonds (preferably flavored with something other than sugar)
Avocado chocolate pudding
Dark chocolate (do yourself a favor and buy some good stuff; life’s too short to eat crappy chocolate)
Generally speaking you can have as much meat, eggs, butter, bacon, and leafy green vegetables as you like. You can eat some fruits and vegetables that are high carbohydrate in moderation. For example a six inch section of cucumber has 6 carbs. That’s more than a quarter of your allotment during induction phase, but if you only eat a two inch section, that’s only 2 carbs.
Isn’t Atkins really hard to follow?
Quite honestly, Atkins is a very easy diet once you get the right mindset. You eat as much as you want, as long as it’s not carbohydrate. It does take some effort, because we are surrounded by delicious smelling carbohydrates. The last thing I eat every day are four large bittersweet chocolate chips; about 5 carbs. The most important thing is not to hang around food you shouldn’t be eating when you’re hungry.
Unfortunately, the weightloss can be temporary. It’s the total caloric intake that determines weight loss/gain. Sometimes your appetite adjusts to the diet and you simply start eating more, or maybe you discover how to cheat with “paleo desserts.” Other issues with the diet include that it can be constipating and can cause leg cramps. Both of these issues can be dealt with by taking magnesium and potassium supplements. You’ll also find that you need to drink a lot more water while on the Atkins diet.
But isn’t fat bad for you?
There isn’t enough space in this post to go over all the ways this myth is wrong. Let’s just say, “no.” Fat is not bad for you. Now, there is a caveat, because today’s mass produced meat is not necessarily the healthiest, and sick animals often store toxins in their fat. So, whenever possible, you should try to eat pastured meat from local farms. For further reading, I’d suggest Dr Ravnskov’s Fat and Cholesterol are Good For You.
Insulin is the key, but what’s the question?
I had bought the lie that the real enemy is insulin. In theory, high carbohydrate meals cause an increased insulin response to prevent high blood sugar. Insulin tells your liver and muscle cells to pull in sugar and make glycogen out of it. When your liver runs out of room to store glycogen, it starts making triglycerides from fatty acid (fat transport molecules). Then it sends the triglycerides out through your blood where the insulin to tells fat cells to pull in them in and store them as body fat. Meanwhile, the surge of insulin spurs a fall in blood sugar levels triggering a hunger reaction within a few hours, causing the cycle to repeat itself over and over.
Reducing carbs may help reduce the magnitude of insulin spikes and have an impact on appetite, but the key to weightloss is eating fewer calories, and that’s the beauty of a low carb diet. When you cut out all those glorious carbs…baked potatoes, cookies, French Fries, donuts…you also cut out an enormous amount of fats too, resulting in a gigantic calorie reduction.
How long are planning on keeping this madness up?
Actually, I’ve already stopped. My goal is 175 pounds, but Atkins, although doable, isn’t always that fun. And carbs aren’t the real issue anyway. The Flexible Dieting approach is much more in line with my long term goals and overall eating philosophy. I’ve decided to go with a fairly aggressive deficit which is designed to help you lose between a pound and a half to two pounds of fat per week while maintaining or even building muscle.
The Flexible Dieting approach is a bit more complicated than Atkins, because you have to calculate your calorie deficit to achieve your desired weight, and then try to “hit your macros” which means eat the appropriate ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates each day (although in reality it’s fairly lenient as long as you eat enough protein to maintain your muscle).
I’m also using intermittent fasting, which I like, and you can eat fun things like dessert every now and then as long as you adjust the rest of your diet. The basic plan is to push your first meal of the day as far back as possible and then eat two meals, one large and one small. The nice thing about the eating this way, is your large meal can be a feast! Even Chipotle! (Although you’re supposed to order triple chicken to get enough protein.) Once you’ve tracked everything for a week or two, you get the hang of things, and you don’t have to track as much.
But you’re not fat
I don’t know why people say this. They’re obviously 1) blind, 2) lying, 3) trying to minimize/rationalize their own fat inertia. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. I’m fat…not because of lack of exercise…but because of my love of sugar. I really think that in my case I was actually addicted to large amounts of carbohydrate (particularly sugar). So I think going Atkins for a little while was a necessary step for me, because it allowed me to truly break the habit. But eating low carb all the time can lead to low leptin levels (a hormone ) that in turn makes it harder to lose weight.
Are you allowed to work out while fasting?
Yup. I had originally planned on mostly following the workout plan espoused by Martin Berkhan of LeanGains.com. It’s essentially using heavy weights in compound movements. The core movements are dead lifts, chin ups, squats, and bench press. You try to work out three times a week. You do three sets of each exercise. You try to do 2 – 3 sets with very heavy weight on the first set (~5 Reps Max). Then drop the drop the weight 10% and try to do 5-7 reps for the next two sets. Martin calls this a reverse pyramid. That’s it. No “cardio” other than recreational (e.g., riding a bike for fun, walking the dog, playing ultimate frisbee, etc.). For those of you addicted to cardio, do yourself a favor and read Mark Sisson’s The Case Against Chronic Cardio.
Martin’s website is worth reading, although he hasn’t written their lately, his philosophy makes a lot of sense, and you certainly can’t argue with the results. (See video below. Warning: You might want to turn down your volume unless you really like Swedish heavy metal.)
But Martin hadn’t updated his website in over 4 years, so I found other gurus online. Some of them have hundreds of free videos. In another video I’ll list some of the ones I like and who I would recommend avoiding.
That’s it for it now
I’ll keep you posted over the next few weeks as to my progress.