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.
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.
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.
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)
In my last post on diet, I talked about how I found the Atkins diet and later IIFYM/flexible dieting. I did Atkins for 3 weeks before switching to flexible dieting. As of today (7 weeks and 2 two days total with 4 weeks on flexible dieting), I have lost 20 pounds. I’m now 192 pounds, down from 212 pounds on January 27. My pants are practically falling off me. By my birthday in May, I hope to be back down to 175 pounds. I haven’t been that light since 1998. (For longer term updates, see Six Months Later and 38 pounds Lighter, and A Fat Loss Year in Review).
But isn’t Diet just Die with a T?
Contrary to Garfield’s opinion, the flexible dieting is quite enjoyable. Believe it or not, with flexible dieting, I get to eat cookies and chocolate, and ice cream (albeit in relatively small amounts). Sometimes I actually have to force myself to eat enough food. In fact, you should eat food you enjoy every single day. If you don’t, you won’t want to stay with the program. Here’s a great video by Radu Antoniu explaining why.
Okay so how exactly does this diet thing work?
Basically, you just figure out how many calories you should be eating to lose weight. Figure out how much protein you need to not lose muscle mass, and then just eat that amount.
Figure out your calorie needs for maintenance.
Figure out your deficit (500 calories per day for 1 pound of fat per week (gross oversimplification warning))
Figure out your protein needs
Track your macros (I use myfitnesspal app)
Intermittent Fasting. (Skip breakfast)
Do strength training 3 times a week
Do 45-60 minutes of walking or other light/recreational cardio per day
Track Progress and make adjustments as necessary
Umm, could you be a little more specific?
Okay, you want some details. Although there are lots of complicated ways ways to calculate your maintenance calories, there’s an easy way to estimate it.
If you are reasonably active, your maintenance calories are around 15 x your bodyweight in pounds. So if your goal bodyweight is 175 pounds, your maintenance calories are approximately, 15 x 175 = 2675 calories per day. If your goal weight is 130 pounds, then your maintenance calories are approximately 1950.
If you are more than 20 pounds above your goal weight, you should take things in 20 pound increments. So if you’re 200 pounds and your goal is 165, calculate for 180 first, then 165 once you get to 180.
The cool thing is that if you are heavier than your goal weight, if you just eat at maintenance, you’ll slowly lose weight. But who wants to take several years to lose weight? Let’s kick things up a notch.
Calculate your deficit
This is one of those Goldilocks things. If your deficit is too small, it takes too long to lose weight. If your deficit too big, then although you may lose some weight quickly, you probably won’t stick with the plan long enough to make your goal weight or be able to keep the weight off.
A pound of fat is around 3500 calories. So to lose a pound of fat a week, you need to eat 3500 calories less per week. Conveniently, 3500/7 days = 500 calories per day. You could just take your maintenance calories and subtract 500 or subtract around 20% of maintenance. Note, this is true in theory, but in actual humans, results will vary. Depending on how fat you are to start with, you might lose more weight than predicted at first but will most likely lose less weight than predicted later on.
So for the 130 pound goal weight, 1950 – 500 = 1450. (If you want a short cut, this turns out to be about goal bodyweight x 11.)
What’s a macro?
Macro is short for macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates). If your goal is to lose fat, and not muscle, then you need to make sure that you eat enough protein, somewhere between .8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So for our 130 pound goal, the protein intake should be between 104 and 130 grams. This means that your protein intake should account for between 28% and 36% of your daily calories.
The rest of the calories should be more or less balanced between fat and carbohydrates, but it can vary from day to day, so one day you might be 20% fat and 45% carbohydrate, and on another, you could be 35% fat and 30% carbohydrate. You don’t have to obsess. Just make sure you’re around your target calories and minimum protein.
Here’s another video from our friend Radu explaining it with that cool Romanian accent.
How do I track all this stuff?
The short answer is, “There’s an App for that.” The two most popular apps are myFitnessPal and myNetDiary. Both are available for Android and iPhone. I started out with myNetDiary, but switched to myFitnessPal. The two reasons I switched are: my University’s cafeteria food is already in myFitnessPal, and you can modify your macronutrient goals without having to pay.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to it, so I’ll post a step by step guide in a future article.
But aren’t you starving all the time?
This is where intermittent fasting comes in. Basically, you skip breakfast. By eating fewer meals, you increase the number of calories you get to eat at your remaining meals. So if you eat 1450 calories for the day, at three meals each meal is less than 500 calories. If you skip breakfast, you can have two 725 calorie meals.
If you don’t mind different sized meals, you could have one 1000 calorie meal, and a 450 calorie meal. Which one you eat first is completely up to you. Or you could have a 1000 calorie meal, and then have 450 calories of chocolate instead of dinner. The choice is yours.
You might at first be hungry at first in the morning, but within a week or three you’ll actually feel better. As for, me it wasn’t a difficult change at all, because I don’t really like eating breakfast most days. It really helps not to be around food, so going to work, and well…working, I usually don’t feel hungry until around lunch time.
And some more of our friend Radu explaining how he does intermittent fasting.
Do I have to fast?
No. the fasting is really just a tool to make calorie restriction more enjoyable. It also has the added benefit of reducing insulin, which is good if you’re hyperinsulinemic. But contrary to popular belief, reducing insulin alone won’t make you lose weight. You need the calorie reduction.
Personally, i think fasting makes enormous sense for most people, and especially for females in the dating game. Men do judge you by what you eat. I can’t speak for all men, but I think most men don’t want delicate flowers who can only eat 400 calories. They think you’ll be trying to get them to eat 400 calories. If you can pack away a 1000 calorie meal on a date and still look great…well that’s that stuff guys dream about.
You mentioned “reasonably active” earlier. What does that mean?
One of the things that I truly appreciate about my current plan is the diet first approach. Although programs like P90X and Insanity include diet plans, they are primarily billed as workout programs. I’ve done those programs without modifying my diet, and yes, you get more fit and lose some weight, but you won’t see real results unless you change the way you eat.
My current plan puts the emphasis on diet immediately. Most people can lose 4-8 pounds per month whereas most people can only gain 1-2 pounds of muscle per month. So if you want to see fast results, losing fat is way more effective. In my own case, after losing 20 pounds in 2 months, people are constantly telling me how much better I look. (Although I notice they were polite enough not to call me a fat pig until after I lost the weight.) I’ve never had similar results with just working out.
And speaking diets, most workout programs’ diets seem to consist of, “eat sawdust.” Combine flexible dieting and strategic intermittent fasting, you can eat some truly epic meals. A classic in the IIFYM community is a triple steak bowl from Chipotle. It’s 1000 to 1100 calories depending on whether you get rice or not and is incredibly filling. This was my dinner last Friday and the inspiration for the title of the post. It even looks like a happy face. (Steak on the side to make sure they don’t short you on steak.)
There’s NO way you lost weight eating a 1000+ calorie Chipotle bowl.
For Jen’s birthday I had half a Captain Jack’s Buried Treasure from the Palm Beach Alehouse. It’s an Oreo/Heath Ice Cream Pie served over hot fudge (750 calories for half of it; Jen and the kids had the other half.) I’ve never lost weight so easily and felt great and satisfied. Most nights I finish my eating for the day with a 100 calorie chocolate/crunch wafer and a glass of whole raw milk. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Don’t do a Cheat Day; Refeed instead
One of the major mistakes a lot of people make on their diet is a cheat day. I know people who have eaten 4000 plus calories on their cheat days. That undoes an entire week of dieting. Instead, you should do a refeed day. On the reefeed day, you increase your calories by about 500-600 calories. Most of your calories should come from carbohydrates. First, this feels (and tastes) awesome. Second, the increased carbohydrates support leptin production by fat cells. Leptin is a hormone that promotes satiety and encourages fat cells to give up fat instead of storing it.
Umm, The exercise?
Right. So, reasonably active means you do some physical exertion at least six days a week. If you have a strenuous day job (e.g., construction, beach attendant), you don’t really have to do anything else. Ideally you would do a strength workout 3 days a week for 30-45 minutes, and then do some light/recreational cardio on the off days. For me, working out with weights 3 times per week and and walking for about an hour on the days I don’t lift weights. I usually walk at night after the kids are in bed and listen to podcasts or play Castle Clash.
Some people are a little more addicted to exercise and want to do something higher intensity. High intensity Interval training (HIIT) is a good choice for these people. Sprints, hill sprints, bike sprints, jumping rope are good HIIT activities. The key is you don’t have to sweat much if you don’t want to; 45 minutes of walking will do you just fine.
How long will it take to see results?
The answer is it depends. If you have 60 pounds to lose, you’re going to see faster and more dramatic results than if you only have 10 pounds to lose. If you’ve already been dieting, it might take longer to lose weight. If you’re coming off a low carb diet, you’re actually going to gain weight at first while your body restores it’s glycogen storage.
If you’re completely out of shape, you’re going to actually build some muscle, so you might not see your weight go down at first, but you may notice that your clothes are looser. It’s a good idea to measure waist, biceps, and neck circumference for a men and waist, hips, thighs, and bust for women. Before and progress photos are also helpful.
If you’ve already been dieting and losing weight, it’s a good idea to eat maintenance calories for two weeks to kind of reset your metabolism and hormones before going on the calorie restriction. In my case, I had only been dieting for three weeks, so I went straight into flexible dieting, but because I was on the Atkins (low carb) diet, I gained 3-4 pounds and then dropped 8 pounds in the next 2 weeks.
So in general, if you’re starting from nothing, you should see pretty good results within 2-4 weeks. If you’re not seeing anything at all within 2 weeks, try lowering your calories by 200 a day for 2 weeks. If you’ve already been dieting/working out, things may be slower, so give it four weeks before you start mucking around. If you’re consistently hitting your calories and protein, and are reasonably active, you’ll lose weight.
Where can I learn more?
I’ll be posting updates over the next few weeks and months as I continue this journey to buffness. If you want me to e-mail you updates, just fill out the form below.
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