This post has been a long time coming. It goes back to July, 2017 when I was feeling frustrated that I couldn’t seem to get back down to 165 pounds. I was just bouncing around between 172 and 178. So I decided to do something drastic and try Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Diet. (Note, based on my results I signed up to be an affiliate for the program, so if you click the link and buy the program, I’ll get a small cut.)
The remainder of this article is a log of my progress on the diet over 11 days. I originally posted this in a fitness related Facebook group, but I’ve had enough people ask me about it that I figured I’d put add it here. In another post, I’ll give a few more details about the program
I’m still stuck at 174-176 lbs after several months, so I’ve decided to do a 2 week crash diet. In a nutshell, it’s very high protein, low fat, low carb. 200g protein, 6g fish oil, low carb veggies, and Halo Top half an hour before workouts. With this approach, I’m getting about 1200 calories a day. (Why did I do this in the middle of mango and cherry season? #terribletiming.) For the record this approach is called a Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF) and is meant to be used very short term. I learned about this diet from Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Book. I just refer to it as crash, because that’s the term Lyle uses to refer to it. I’m currently 173 pounds.
Rapid Fat Loss Log
Day 1 Sunday
I’m 174.2 pounds. 33 inch waist.
Day 4 Wednesday
All right, end of Day 4 on the crazy diet (started on Sunday). So far, so good. I’m eating a ton of food, so not too hungry as long as I don’t go too long without eating. Averaging 195-210 grams of protein and 1150-1250 calories. (And that’s tracking even the Skinny Girl 10 calorie dressing and calories from salsa. Only thing I’m not tracking is the arugula and spring mix.)
Weighted chins 55×4, 45×6, 25×8
Incline 180×4, 170×6
OHP 130×5, 120×7
The squats were really hard today, but to get done in time for work I was supersetting the warm ups with incline and the worksets with OHP. I also did the usual Greek God Program accessory lifts and abs both days.
I’m REALLY tired right now, but that’s mainly because I didn’t sleep much sleep last night because of kiddos wanting to sleep in my bed because of a thunderstorm.
Waist hasn’t budged at 33 inches.
All told, so far the main issue I have with this diet is I had to give up free lunch today, tomorrow, and Friday because I can’t get the free food to fit these macros.
I also made the mistake of trying cottage cheese. Pretty nasty stuff, especially when you can’t spare any calories to enhance the flavor. Guess I’ll have to stick with Greek Yogurt (basically the same macros).
Day 5 Thursday
Pretty much the same thing except no workout. I want to save the photos till it’s over, because it’s much more impressive without the intermediate photos ;-). But I can tell you that I now fit into my size 32 pants that I’ve been trying to get back into since October. This morning, I was 169.8 lbs!
Honestly I don’t feel bad. From reading people’s experience with this diet, I was expecting to feel like crap. Other than getting tired if I go too long without eating, I haven’t felt hungry or deprived (other than having to say no to free food at the office). Unless the suck comes on hard in the next few days, I might do a second round after a week or three at maintenance if my body dysmorphia says I need to drop more weight.
Question from the peanut gallery: Are you taking electrolytes? Answer: I always eat a lot of salt. I’m getting several servings of low fat cheese and/or nonfat Greek yogurt for calcium but am also supplementing with a Calcium/magnesium supplement. I’m not overtly supplementing with potassium, but I probably should.
Even with the Halo Top and tracking carbs from tomatoes and cucumbers, I was only at 59 carbs yesterday. This morning’s workout was
Weighted Chins: 55×5, 45×6, 25×9
Squats: 205 2×5 plus warm ups (those are beginning to suck)
Plus rest of Greek God Program Workout B
The hard part will be that today I HAVE to go to the cafeteria for new Freshman preview day, so there will be temptations galore. Their real food might not be the best, but they have some awesome desserts.
Day 8 Sunday # 2
So far so good. I didn’t get enough sleep last night because I stayed up too late, but other than being a bit tired today, I’m not having many issues. Slight calf cramp this morning when getting out of bed (only for half a second), so I upped my potassium intake from 500mg to 1000mg (top of recommended supplement range). I’ve had these same cramps when not on the
I had three bites of my son’s Piña Colada snowcone this afternoon, but because I’m a flexible dieter, I didn’t call myself a failure and binge afterward. Pretty sure, it only added 5-10 calories. (editorial note: this turned out to be a giant mistake, because he was sick at the time, and I ended up getting his sickness.)
I’m beginning to get used to eating like this. I think I might eat this way 1-2 times a week once the PSMF is over to allow for the extra calories on birthdays and summer cookouts. While I wouldn’t recommend the whole PSMF to the average dieter, it does seem like a good 1 day strategy.”
Question from the peanut gallery: What are you eating? Answer: General eating template:
Pre-workout because I’m working out in the morning (also functions as breakfast)
-1 cup (1/2 pint) of Halo Top
-1 pound of chicken breast (crockpot or grilled)
-Large salad with mixed greens, 100g of tomatoes, 2 persian cucumbers, no calorie or low calorie dressing (Walden Farms or Skinny Girl)
-28g no fat cheddar (might go on the chicken or might go on the salad.
-Another salad with a different flavor dressing
-1 cup nonfat yogurt (optional)
-Protein to get up to 200g (london broil, turkey breast, chicken breast, 95% lean ground beef)
That gives me somewhere between 1150-1250 calories and 200g of protein.
I don’t feel deprived at all eating this way for one day, and it’s a ton of food. (Note, this is based on a 145 LBM (175lbs at ~15% BF.
Question from the Peanut Gallery: How did you handle work? Answer: There’s a refrigerator and microwave at work. I keep a bottle of chipotle Tabasco, salsa, and no calorie dressing there.
Day 12, End of Diet Recap
It’s day 12 off the PSMF. I had planned to stay on the diet through the end of today, but I have a free lunch at work, and a party at home tonight, so sacrifices must be made.
Weight: I started at 174, and today I was 167.4. At least 3-5 pounds of that is water and glycogen since a PSMF is ketogenic (glycogen depleting).
Waist: My waist went from 33 to 31.5″. I’m now wearing size 32 pants with extra room in the waist. Before the diet, I couldn’t fit into them comfortably.
Strength: I lost one rep on incline (but sometimes I lose a rep when eating normally), none on OHP, Squat, or Chins.
Feeling: For the most part, I felt great on the diet. I never felt hungry or deprived (except in the sense that I couldn’t eat the catered lunches at work). I forgot to take my magnesium supplement last night, and woke up with a leg cramp at 3am (although I’ve had similar cramps just on AFL). Other than that, I’ve had no negative experiences with the diet.
Like I said in my last update, I’m not sure that I’d do this again, but I can certainly see eating like this one or two days a week to occasionally to maintain a deficit. As promised, here are the before and after photos. They’re kind of subtle, but I definitely have a lot more shoulder definition and slightly more ab definition. My wife says I look like an underwear model again.
If you watched the news on Hurricane Irma recently, you have been led to believe that the entire state of Florida was being evacuated. In fact, only the barrier islands and a couple blocks inland were evacuated. As you can see from the map below, the actual number of people evacuated is tiny.
Evacuation Map of Palm Beach County
The media would gloss over it, but every now and then the Governor would say, “If you don’t need to evacuate, you should stay where you are.” So the vast majority of Floridians should have stayed where they were.
There is a season for Hurricanes
Unlike earthquakes, which seem to be random, Hurricanes only occur during Hurricane season, usually from September through November. During the Summer, the Atlantic Ocean warms up above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This creates the conditions necessary for the development of hurricanes.
The nice thing about hurricanes is that you get more than a week’s warning that they’re coming. Now up until this year, most people ignored hurricanes until about 48 hours before they hit. Then there would be gas shortages and people would strip the grocery stores of food and water. This year, with Irma, people started freaking out more than a week before.
The bottom line is that the right time to prepare for a hurricane is before hurricane season. In fact, National Hurricane Preparedness Week is the second week in May. But I know you’re a procrastinator like me, so I’m declaring June 25, Heymanator Hurricane Preparedness day. So let’s look at how you can be prepared to live without power. In this article we’ll talk about some creature comforts: food, phones, and tablets, and fans.
Your Refrigerator/Freezer will stay cold for at least 2 days
For some reason, the vast majority of my friends seem to think that if food has softened at all in the freezer it should be thrown out. So let’s review a little thermodynamics.
Your freezer is usually around 0 degrees F
Your fridge is usually around 40 degrees F.
Water freezes at 32 degrees F AND melts at 32 degrees F.
This means that, if still have a single formed ice cube in your freezer, then your freezer did not go higher than 32 degrees, and your food is safe! On average, an unplugged refrigerator should keep cold for about 2 days.
Even if you have a generator, you don’t need to run it 24/7. Running it for 2 hours twice a day should be enough to keep your food perfectly cold.
Strategies to make the most of your Fridge/Freezer
Before the storm
If you have a lot of space in your freezer, fill up jugs or bags of water and freeze them.
Identify items that can be sacrificed in case of power failure (for example that ham hock you’ve planning on making into soup for the past 2 years.)
Get out some old blankets. Once you lose power, you can put them on top of the fridge to insulate it.
After you lose power
Take the ice cream out of the freezer and eat it.
Put your milk and other easily spoilables into the spot in the freezer opened up by the ice cream.
Cover up the fridge with the blankets to increase its insulation.
You don’t need a generator
If you have a car, you already have all the generator you need to power your refrigerator (and charge your cell phone and tablets). All you need is an inverter. The average energy star refrigerator will draw somewhere between 150-200 watts when running, but takes 750-800 watts when starting up.
SO… you’ll need at least a 400 watt inverter (most inverters can handle a surge double their rating, although YMMV), but it’s safer to go with an 800 watt inverter. The important thing to remember is that a car’s cigarette lighter socket will only allow ~150 watts to be drawn. Try to run your refrigerator through it, and you’ll likely blow a fuse. Instead, you’ll need to use alligator clips to attach the inverter directly to your battery.
But before we get to the nuts and bolts, let’s talk generalities. An idling car or SUV uses about 0.2-0.5 gallons of gas per hour. So if you run your car for two hours twice a day to power your refrigerator, then you’ll use between 1 and 2 gallons of gas. This isn’t quite as efficient as a dedicated generator, but then again, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to buy a $50 inverter and make $15 cables than even the cheapest generator.
And you can take the inverter with you on your next road trip and use it to do all sorts of fun things in the car like let your kids play Xbox. Or make coffee while camping because you were too lazy to learn how to use a French Press. And let’s not forget that an inverter is much smaller and easier to store than a generator.
So, after the storm passes you by, you…
pull your car out of the garage,
pop the hood,
leave the car running,
connect your inverter to the battery using the cables,
While you’re at it, maybe you should charge up your iPad, Kindle, phone, and maybe your laptop too.
Heck run some fans to help keep you cool maybe this cheap personal fan running 35 watts max or this whole room Vornado fan running 65 watts max.
When you’re done running your refrigerator, you can unplug it, turn your car off, and keep charging your cell phones and ipad.
Note: when running your refrigerator, take the covers off. Then put them back on when you’re done.
What Inverter should I get?
Pro tip: get a 1×4 that’s long enough to lay across the hood of your car/suv. Then mount the inverter to the board. Wrap some old t shirts around the ends of the board to protect your car’s finish from the board and prevent it from sliding. Now when you need to use the inverter, you won’t have to balance it on top of the engine. You just lay the board across the car after opening the hood.
What kind of inverter should you get? Steven Harris (whose advice much of this article is based on) recommends the following brands/models. He particularly likes the Whistler because supposedly it can handle double its rated power draw for up to 10 seconds. But it’s a little pricier. Yes, these are the same brands that make radar detectors.
Note that when using 800 – 1600 watt inverters, you’re going to need to use much heavier gauge wire and keep the wire as short as possible (<3 feet). Either 0 or 2 gauge wire is recommended for 1600 watts, and 0 gauge if you’re going above 1600 watts. It’s cheapest to buy the wire by the foot from Lowes or Home Depot, and then put ring connectors on them yourself (or buy something like this). None of the 800 watt and up inverters listed come with wires.
The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links, and if you buy through them, I’ll get a small commission. If you’d prefer to support Steven Harris instead of me, you can go through his links at Solar1234.com or you can support Jack Spirko (The Survival Podcast) by buying through his Amazon links.
Okay, okay. It’s more like 8 hours of eating, since I intermittent fast (basically just skip breakfast).
One of the things that helped convince me that I could handle this diet thing was 24 hour eating videos. I didn’t actually video myself eating today, but I ate what seems like an enormous amount and still kept it under 1800 calories. So I’m going to share all of the food that I ate today. If you’re new to this whole tracking your calories thing, try logging the food here in MyFitnessPal to check my work.
I woke up at 7 am and then went back to sleep until 8. Then I took care of the kids while Jen got her hair done. The kids and I started playing computer games, and it was 1pm before Jen got back home.
At 1:30, I had a Diet Cherry Dr Pepper and a banana. It was 121g without the peel. That was enough to stave off my hunger for another hour while I got the kids fed and made lunch for Jen and me.
By the time lunch was done, and I sat down to eat, it was 2:30. I had
400g of chicken breast (weighed raw). Slice it lengthwise so you get two thinner pieces. Salt both sides and sprinkle with Ranch powder. Sautee said chicken in 2g of Kerry Gold butter.
I actually planned out dinner before lunch. Corban had asked for Taco Friday a couple days ago, so I already had a pretty good idea of what I was going to eat. Instead of a taco, I made mine into taco salad. Started cooking around 6:45 and finished eating around 7:30.
4 oz organic grass fed ground beef (from Aldis) with taco seasoning and 25g of onion
Finlandia reduced fat cheddar (2 slices)
5 black olives (sliced)
Friendly Farms Brand Nonfat Greek Yogurt 80g (different brands of Greek yogurt vary wildly in their protein/sugar content; this brand has the most protein and least sugar of all I’ve tried)
Little bit of taco sauce
Kirkland Organic Tortilla Chips 28g
I didn’t track the taco seasoning or the lettuce. This is a great flavorful (albeit relatively small meal). You could use sour cream or low fat sour cream, but I use the Greek Yogurt mostly for its protein content to hit my macros.
Macros for Dinner
After dinner, I went for a walk. After walking, I had dessert (about 8:30). I’m still 10g of protein short, so it’s time to Release the Secret Weapon!!
Halo Top Ice Cream!
This stuff is some kind of magic. One cup of ranges from 120-180 calories (about half the calories of normal ice cream) AND it has relatively high protein (10-14g per cup). AND it tastes really good. Here in South Florida, you can buy it at Target, Walmart, and Publix. Someone I know in Tarpon Springs says his Costco carries it (sadly, mine does not). People also report buying it at Krogers (we don’t have any down here).
I’ve been working my way through the flavors. Tonight was S’mores. I rank it third of the three flavors I’ve tried so far. It has small chocolate chips in it, and they get stuck in my teeth (same reason I don’t like mint chip). So far, my favorite flavor is cookie dough followed by peanut butter cup. Once I’ve tried all the flavors I can get locally, I’ll post my full ranking.
Macros for Dessert
Halo Top Alternatives
Okay, you don’t actually have to buy specialty ice cream. You could have gotten the same effect from eating 50 more grams of chicken breast and 2 Oreo cookies. Regular ice cream can also be an option, but you only get to have half a cup (usually about 100g) for 130 -160 calories. The nice thing about the specialty ice creams is that you can eat more of it than traditional ice cream, so you feel less deprived. And the extra protein does mean that you can be a bit more flexible with the rest of your day.
So here are a couple other low calorie Ice Creams/Yogurts
Yasso makes several different products. The one I’ve had is a cookie dough frozen yogurt bar. It’s 100 calories and has 5g of protein. Tastes very good. They have them at Walmart and BJs near me.
Englightened produces a low calorie, high protein ice cream and ice cream bar. I haven’t personally eaten them yet, but a friend says he likes them better than Halo Top.
My total calorie count for the day is 1771 calories with 159g protein, but I’m probably over estimating my fat intake since I drained the taco meat and overestimate my oil spray. On the other hand, I didn’t log the Ranch powder, taco seasoning, or lettuce.
The key to great potato wedges is not to wedge them. Instead, slice them. That way the pieces are uniform thickness, so they’ll be the same done-ness throughout. I get pretty much perfect results using this recipe/technique every time.
Oil of choice (I like to use cooking spray as the potatoes don’t stick as much with it)
Other spices as desired
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Slice the potato into approximately 1/4 inch slices
Spread/Spray small amount of oil on a small sheet pan.
Sprinkle oiled pan with salt.
Place potato wedges on pan and press into oil.
Spread/Spray a small amount of oil on top of the wedges.
Salt, pepper, and use any additional spices (rosemary would be nice)
Bake for 15 minutes, then flip the wedges and cook an additional 10 minutes*.
Remove, and allow to cool long enough not to burn your mouth.
Serve and eat.
*10 minutes works 90% of the time. If the slices are thicker than usual, or if you live at high elevation, try letting them go for another 5 minutes. The tops should be brown. If you see the tops blister, then pull them out; they’re done.
When I used to make this with coconut oil or olive oil, I used about half a teaspoon of oil. With the cooking spray, the bottle is anywhere from 0-5 grams lighter after using it. Either way, you’re talking probably less than 3-4 grams of fat (30ish calories). So the vast majority of calories come from the potato.
Even a massive 350g potato only has 62g of carbohydrates and 260 calories (including a bonus of 7g of protein). Compare that to 350g of French Fries (using Wendy’s fries as a comparison) with 1192 calories (partly because cooked potatoes have less water). Okay, let’s do an apple to apple…uh…potato to potato comparison. If you eat the same amount of carbohydrate (62g) of French Fries, you get 475 calories.
So the potato wedges have about 200 calories less than an equivalent amount of fries due to the lower amount of fat. This let’s you eat more chocolate!
Who knew that Swiss chard was amazingly awesome and delicious? I didn’t…until we got some from one of those “meal box” services. So I had to cook it, and it turned out to be so good that I’ve made the dish four more times. So without further ado, here’s the recipe. I’ve modified it to have slightly less fat (as I prefer to eat mine in the form of chocolate).
One bunch Swiss Chard (rainbow or single color)
8 oz of cubed butternut squash (we use the frozen organic stuff from BJs)
Onion or shallot diced
One clove garlic minced
2 oz shredded gruyere cheese
1/2 cup of milk (preferably whole)
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Cut the stems off of the Swiss chard and chop into pieces about the same size as the squash or onion
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the chard stems and onion and a large pinch of salt.
While the stems and onion saute, slice the chard leaves into smaller pieces (I usually go about 1.5 – 2 inch squares)
When the stems and onion has softened, add the garlic, and thyme. Stir until squash begins to soften.
Add the huge pile of chard leaves and more salt. Turn until it wilts (about 2-3 minutes)
Stir in the gruyere and milk. Turn the heat to low and allow to thicken a minute or two.
Taste the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the mixture to a small casserole dish and top with panko bread crumbs.
Cook covered for 10 minutes and then uncovered for 5-7 minutes until bread crumbs are brown
Remove from oven and let stand about 5 minutes before serving.
I usually eat half the recipe. Macros on this are approximately:
And yes, you just ate half of that enormous bunch of greens. Don’t you feel so healthy? Almost virtuous.
Earlier I mentioned that this came from a food box service. Jen and I have tried several of these including HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Sun Basket, and Plated. By far, my favorite one is Plated where this recipe came from, and the top photo is from their recipe card. Apparently there’s no way for me to refer you to them and get credit for it, so this post is free of commercial interest.
Although I’m known at work as a mild-mannered pharmacology nerd with mad computer skillz, my first love is “extreme” sports and physical challenges. Recently, Jen treated me to two fun physical challenges, flying trapeze and flyboarding. Here are the videos:
This was my first time flyboarding. It’s really fun, but has a bit of a learning curve. This video is the result of a 25 minute session cut down to two and a half minutes. The key is to somehow lock your ankles and knees but keep your body relaxed. You can see on my better attempts that my ankles/feet stay in the same position. On my less stable attempts, you can see how unstable my ankle angle is. I hear that the second and third time sessions are dramatically easier than the first attempt. It’ll be fun to do this again. This was at SoFlo Flyboarding. Kids have to be 80 lbs minimum. Can’t wait till the kids are little heavier…Jen! Can we feed Logan more?
This was actually my second time doing the trapeze, but the first time was more than two years ago. This was an Aerial Trapeze Academy Groupon. With the Groupon, you only get to do the beginner session, which is three practice swings, where you try to get into the knee hang/transfer position. If you can successfully get into that position, then on the fourth swing, you get to to try for a mid air catch. They also do birthday parties and private groups. Kids can do it as young as 4 years old, and they work with autistic kids. Once you’ve done the beginner session, you can do more advanced stuff. This is really easy and fun if you have any amount of athleticism/body control. Highly recommended. PSA: Hanging from the bar with your knees can give you friction burns. If you have leggings or tights, you should wear them.
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 email@example.com.
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!
Here is one of my go to recipes for a high protein, low calorie meal. One of the most challenging things that a lot of people just starting on higher protein diets face, is that’s actually quite difficult to eat enough protein. A lot of people end up relying on protein shakes to get enough protein. Others find themselves choking down dry, tasteless chicken breast. When I first started flexible dieting, I was supposed to eat 160g of protein and often found it hard to get enough protein in while enjoying it, until I came up with this solution.
Here’s a recipe that makes a large amount of chicken breast taste amazing and features a large amount of vegetables in an equally satisfying format. For a little while I was eating this every single day. The main reason I stopped is that it takes a while to prep, and personally, I like it fresh—not left over. I still eat this once or twice a week, but I’ve switched to Taco Shredded Chicken for my daily protein intake due to its easier prep.
Chicken breast (variable amounts; depending on what else I’m eating that day, it’s usually 300 – 450 g raw)
Coconut oil (1 tsp)
Garlic powder to taste
Assorted Vegetables (some common choice for me
Bell peppers of various colors
Sauces of choice (some fun choices
Soy Sauce (with or without honey)
Lime juice and lemongrass
Chop the vegetables and weigh each one (for logging in myfitnesspal).
Cut the chicken into small pieces or strips and season with a small amount of salt
Heat a 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil over medium heat and saute the chicken with as much garlic as you like.
Just before the chicken is completely done, hit it with some sauce.
Put the chicken in a bowl and set aside
Add another 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil to the pan and saute the vegetables.
When the vegetables are still al dente but almost ready, hit them with some sauce.
Return the chicken to the pan and stir.
Plate and eat.
That’s pretty much it. You can eat it as is or serve it over rice if you want to up your carb/calorie count. I usually use about 3/4 cups (cooked) of jasmine rice. If you want to kick the flavor up a notch, add the rice to veggies.
Chicken Stir Fry for the Whole Family
Macronutrients for this meal.
A typical meal of say 400g of chicken, 150g of zucchini, and 100g of carrots (with the coconut oil) is:
The same meal with 3/4 cups of cooked jasmine rice is
That meal will satisfy you for several hours and set you up very nicely to have a whatever you want for dinner and have 300 caloaries left for dessert. (Well, that’s what it does for me anyway.)
What if I need to cook for my whole family?
No problem. You do everything the same except that you need to do some 7th grade math (ratios and proportions). Say that you’re going to cook 800g of chicken for the whole family, and you need to eat 300g of chicken. That gives you a ratio of 300:800 or 3:8. You just apply that ratio to each ingredient to log it in myfitnesspal. To figure out your total serving, when the whole dish is done, weigh the entire amount of food, and apply the same ratio to the total weight.
If that explanation was too difficult, I’ve created a spreadsheet that you can just fill out. Fill in the total weight for each ingredient, the total weight, and your desired serving of chicken (raw), and it will automagically calculate everything for you.