This episode is part personal story, part practical how-to guide, and part insight. The insight I want to emphasize here is one that I think is far too often overlooked: sometimes we shouldn’t be trying to lose weight because the time isn’t right.
But if the time is wrong, how can we know? And once we know, what can we do to prepare our bodies for weight loss and allow the time to become right? The short answer is that if weight gain is due to stress, I strongly believe we should always destress first. For the detailed answer, listen in.
Or if you’re just here for the eye candy (hmm, some of it is more like eye peas and corn…), scroll down to the pics.
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This episode is brought to you by US Wellness Meats. I use their liverwurst as a convenient way to make a sustainable habit of eating a diversity of organ meats. They also have a milder braunschweiger and an even milder head cheese that gives you similar benefits, as well as a wide array of other meat products, all from animals raised on pasture. Head to grasslandbeef.com and enter promo code “Chris” at checkout to get a 15% discount on any order that is at least 7 pounds but under 40 pounds (it can be 39.99 lbs, but not 40). You can use this discount code not once, but twice!
In this episode, you will find all the following and more:
- 0:03.40 Cliff Notes (includes notes on supplements I was taking).
- 0:06:54 The Twitter question that inspired this podcast.
- 0:09:38 There is a right time to lose weight and a wrong time.
- 0:12:20 My stance on weight loss theory.
- 0:13:30 Calories-in, calories-out (CICO) is like gravity.
- 0:17:04 There are a wide range of principles that “work,” and the ones that work for you are probably the 2-3 that you can most easily make sustainable; but what you can make sustainable has a lot more to do with your personal, psychological, and behavioral traits than with the general efficacy of the principles.
- 0:20:45 My skinny teens, bodybuilding/powerlifting 20s, grad school-induced dad bod, and getting my postdoc fatso on.
- 0:25:00 “How I Hacked My Way out of Academia’s 400-Hour Workweek.”
- 0:28:15 How I added 6 – 7 inches on my waist in three months and lost most of it in 6 weeks while running 4.5 miles and sleeping 10 hours per day.
- 0:37:14 The “stress bucket” (cumulative allostatic load) and why destressing has to take priority over weight loss and sometimes even over preventing weight gain.
- 0:47:37 Starting CrossFit: flirting with the line of overtraining.
- 0:52:12 Going from de-trained to re-trained and eating some ~4-4500 kcal/d.
- 0: 59:53 The time became right for 30 pounds of weight loss.
- 1:00.22 Intuitive approach to eating led to first 5 lbs lost.
- 1:02.21 Switching to calorie and macro tracking.
- 1:08:30 Data on weight loss.
- 1:14:08 Limited data on strength gains during weight loss.
- 1:16:42 How I knew it was time to stop losing weight.
- 1:18:55 Three months of weight stability.
- 1:20:15 Using mindfulness meditation, yoga, and dance (and martial arts, I’d add here) could increase self-awareness and improve intuition about the body’s needs.
- 1:21:00 Resisting the deafening noise of social pressure and self pressure to achieve a specific body weight or physique.
Supplements I Was Taking
I was supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine, R-alpha-lipoic acid (w/D-biotin), coenzyme Q10, and Source Naturals Coenzymate B during my weight loss period. I don’t think these cause weight loss, but I do think they help smooth out my energy between meals and thereby cut out a lot of noise that helps me get more in touch with my true hunger for calories. I don’t use them now because I believe I get these benefits from a diversity of organ meats, which I am currently accomplishing by using US Wellness liverwurst.
I used the formula recommended in The Lean Muscle Diet by Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon to calculate my calories.
I also used the formula recommended in Level 2 of the CrossFit South Brooklyn 2016 Look, Feel, and Perform Better Challenge.
These gave me very different values, and I used them is the lower (CFSBK) and upper (Lean Muscle Diet) boundaries of my caloric needs.
Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend 1 gram protein per pound of target body weight. I set my target body weight at 150 on the basis that it seemed achievable within six months and that past experience indicated I could be satisfyingly lean and muscular after 6-12 months of weight training at this weight.
Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend calculating caloric needs with one of two formulas.
In the “standard formula,” which is for people who are sedentary outside the gym and don’t fidget much, you estimate your intensity and give yourself a number between 9 and 11 where 9 is light activity and 11 is very intense activity. You then add this number by your average weekly training hours. Take the remaining number and multiply it by your target body weight. This gives you your daily intake in kcal (Cal, “calories” in common speech). It looks like this:
kcal/d = TBW x (9-11 + average weekly training hours)
where “9-11” is the number you pick between 9 and 11 and is not “9 minus 11.”
The greyhound formula is similar but you use an intensity factor between 11 and 13 instead of between 9 and 11. Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend this for people who are young, lean, have a lot of nervous energy, and struggle to gain weight. It looks like this:
kcal/d = TBW x (11-13 + average weekly training hours)
These formulas are aimed at men. The CFSBK page has similar formulas broken down for males and females. You can find them quickly by using control + F (command + F on Mac) and typing “for males” into the search box.
As described in the podcast, I tracked my calories using MyFitnessPal and a food scale and titrated up from the lower boundary of 1900 kcal/d until I reached the point where I had consistent weight loss with no insomnia, which was 2150 kcal/d.
Tracking Calories with MyFitnessPal
Any food scale will do, but you need a food scale for this to be effective. Calories should be tracked by weight and not volume whenever possible, and if you cook things you must adjust for water weight.
Here is a video I made about how MyFitnessPal makes this super easy (compared to other methods of tracking calories, obviously, not compared to not tracking calories):
Other Relevant Links
The Twitter question that inspired this podcast.
“How I Hacked My Way out of Academia’s 400-Hour Workweek,” the 3rd installment in the welcome series of my newsletter.
Although I didn’t discuss these in the podcast, I recommend two additional links:
- Six Guys With Ripped Tell You Why It’s Not Worth It. The point at which I started meddling with the periphery of six-pack land was the point at which my body told me it was time to stop losing weight. This article provides some insight into the amount of stress endured to get into six-pack land, traverse its inner depths, and stay there.
- Danny Lennon’s interview with Melissa Davis. Although this is geared primarily toward female weight-class athletes, I think the basic principles are relevant to anyone who is making an intensive effort to lose weight. One of the principles I came away with is that no one should do this for much longer than a few months. Indeed, my fourth month is when my body told me it was time to gain back about three pounds and stay there. The incessant question of “how do I lose the last 15 pounds” probably has the answer of “stop trying to do that, do something else for your health that involves building it up and nourishing your body, then try that next year.”
Before and After Pics
I didn’t plan to publish this experience, so I unfortunately don’t have perfectly comparable before and after pictures. Luckily, I was caught shirtless for sort-of-medical-reasons and was vain enough to have taken some locker-room selfies that roughly correspond to the major intervals in my weight transitions over the past year.
Unfortunately, I do not have any useful pictures from my fattest point, which was in December of 2014 before my treadmill-running escapade of January, 2015.
This first set of pictures is from my first rolfing appointment in early October, 2015. I had gotten back from my destressing trip in Europe (which included the experience of magically leaning out during a week in Paris that I can’t explain). I had been doing CrossFit for about seven weeks, so I had likely gained a little muscle and lost a little fat. So, these are not true “before” pictures in that my body was in much worse shape in the half year before it was taken. However, it took me a few weeks for my weights at CrossFit to get heavy enough to cause me to start packing on muscle. So, this is mostly a “before” picture with respect to the muscle I gained in the fall of 2015.
The purpose was to document my posture at rest. I look a little fatter than I am because my gut is hanging out, and that is a result of tight hip flexors, tight lower back, and poor abdominal tone. These are problems I still have but to a much lesser degree.
The picture below is from December 21. It isn’t a perfect “before weight loss” picture because I had already lost a few pounds, but it’s close. You can see I gained a lot of muscle and my posture is better. However, you can also see that my love handles are just rolling over my belt like jelly.
Funnily enough, a week before this picture was taken, I weighed 175, which is the same as I weighed one year prior when I had seven more inches on my waist. It’s a testament to how truly ridiculous body weight can be as a measure of health when looked at all on its own.
The picture below is from April of 2016 when I weighed 146. I probably lost some muscle mass, but I don’t have a good measure of that. You can clearly see that there is far less jelly hanging laterally from my belly.
This wasn’t my leanest point, but it was close. In the weeks that followed, I lost three more pounds, getting down to 143. I had entered six-pack land. Or, at least, I had jumped the fence and stealthily surveyed the periphery, hoping no fitness models would find me and kick me out. That was also the time where I felt my body telling me the time for weight loss was over. I gained those few pounds back, and stayed weight stable at 145-146 over the last >3 months.
This picture is from August 1 at 145 lbs:
In these last two pictures, my weight is practically identical. The main difference now is my trajectory is weight stability rather than weight loss, and I am eating ~500 kcal/d more, with the bulk of that probably coming from fat.
Question for You
Transcript of Episode 23
This transcript was generously provided by Cassandra Barns.
This is Chris Masterjohn and you are listening to episode 23 of the Daily Lipid. Today we are talking about how I lost 30 pounds over four months and how I knew it was time. This is part personal story, part practical how-to guide, and part of it is this critical insight about how to know when it is not time to lose weight and when it is time. Enjoy!
This episode is brought to you by US Wellness Meats. I discovered this company at Paleo f(X) this spring and I fell in love with them as soon as I tried their liverwurst. For years I’ve known that I feel best when I eat a diversity of organ meats like liver and heart. I have a clearer mind, feel more energetic, and my energy is much more stable between meals. But it is so hard and so time-consuming to make a sustainable habit out of preparing and cooking organ meats. US Wellness liverwurst is 15% heart, 15% kidney, 20% liver and 50% grass-fed beef. That’s a whopping half organ meat. It takes zero time to prepare, tastes great and finally makes consuming a diversity of organ meats a habit that I can easily sustain. But just because I’m obsessed with their liverwurst doesn’t mean it’ll turn out to be your favorite. US Wellness makes an even milder braunschweiger that’s 35% liver and 65% beef. And if you have a really sensitive palate and just want to get your feet wet with organ meats, their head cheese delivers the mildest taste with 15% heart, 15% tongue, zero liver, and the remainder grass-fed beef. They also sell an incredible array of other meat products in practically any cut you could want, all from animals raised on pasture. Now, this isn’t just about high quality grass-fed meat products that can up your nutritional game and save you time in the morning. It’s also about saving money, and that’s because I worked out a special deal for you. As a member of my audience you can go to grasslandbeef.com, order whatever you want as long as your total order is at least 7 pounds but under 40 pounds, and enter the promo code CHRIS at checkout. Putting my name in the box earns you 15% off your order, and since you can order up to 39.9999 pounds of meat at that discount, you can potentially save a lot of money. If you’re on the fence or not ready for a big order, don’t worry about it. You can use the promo code CHRIS not once, but twice. So order the minimum your first time, and if you love this stuff is much as I do, you can order the max the second time around and get the same level of discount. Or just max out your order both times and get just shy of 80 pounds of meat at the discounted price. Either way, head over to grasslandbeef.com and make sure you enter CHRIS at checkout to get the discount.
Alright, I know some of you are on the run and may not have time to listen to the whole episode and so for those of you who want the Cliff notes, here they are.
0:03.40 Cliff Notes (includes notes on supplements I was taking).
This is my personal story about how I lost 30 pounds in four months and kept it off. It’s also the story about what that really means in the context of where I was in life. Because one of the things that I want to bring forth in this discussion is that there is a time to lose weight and there is a time to not lose weight. And if you are gaining weight because of stress, I feel very strongly that you need to de-stress before you get to the position where you can lose the weight you want to lose. And there are many de-stressing techniques, this podcast is not really about all of them, but I think one thing that is very relevant in this podcast is, how do you develop the awareness to do that? And I do go into that, but the key take away points are that I think mindfulness meditation – if it’s with the Headspace app or it’s something else like that, any kind of thing that brings body awareness like yoga, for example, or dance, for example, I think can be very helpful. And just telling all the voices, whether it’s from social pressure or own pressure that we need to look a certain way or we need to have a certain body type just to shut up, and when we can free ourselves from all that noise, we can listen to our bodies and really know when it’s time to lose weight.
I also want to bring your attention to one other thing, which is that I totally forgot to answer part of the initial question from Twitter that inspired this episode, which is what supplements was I taking. So that’s not in the recording, but I’ll tell you here in the Cliff notes. So during the time that I lost this weight, I was taking R-lipoic acid with D-biotin in it, I was taking acetyl l-carnitine, coenzyme Q10 and coenzyme-form B vitamins. I was taking these because I generally always feel better if either I’m taking them or I’m getting a diversity of organ meats, and at the time I was not getting a diversity of organ meats in. And these nutrients help me feel more stable with energy between meals, and I feel like when I restrict my calories, if I have the nutrient-supporting energy metabolism and especially this cocktail, I’m more in tune with whether I’m eating just because I actually need more food, or because I’m trying to get over some slump of energy instability between meals. And so I don’t know that that actually helped my weight loss, but I do know that it does help with the stability of my energy, and if my energy’s more stable then the fluctuations of energy between meals are – I don’t have that noise and that chatter, and so I’m much more in touch with my body when I’m in that position. But, you know, the great benefit of these nutrients is also the great benefit that I get from a diversity of organ meats, and that’s exactly why I recruited US Wellness Meats to be the first podcast sponsor for this podcast. That’s it for the Cliff notes, and so here is the full episode.
0:06:54 The Twitter question that inspired this podcast.
Alright, welcome back everybody. Today we are going to talk about weight loss, and the inspiration to make this podcast came from Michael Martens who asked me on Twitter, do you have any blogs or podcasts detailing your 30-pound weight loss process, specifically what macros and supplements taken. And I have talked about it before but I have not dedicated a blog or podcast to talking about it, and so I haven’t gone into great detail. But I want to go a bit beyond what he was asking and I want to share what I think is a very important and very frequently overlooked insight here, which is that if you just listen to – if I just tell you how I did it, that story is so grossly taken out of context that I would give the impression that anyone could go out and do what I did and lose the weight that I lost, when in fact that wouldn’t have even been true for me except at that particular point in my personal journey, where it became time to do that. And so what I think we really, really, really overlook, normatively, all the time almost, is we put weight loss or achieving the right body composition on such a pedestal that we elevate it above all our other health concerns and we will pursue that goal even when it’s not working, and even when everything that our body is telling us is to stop. And I see this all the time because I frequently see people who describe a situation that indicates just that, that they are trying to lose this last 10 or 15 pounds, their body is fighting them at every step of the way. And the question at the end of that story is not why is it not the right time to lose weight, or what do I do now instead of losing weight, or how do I prepare my body to get to the point where it wants to lose that weight; the question is almost invariably how do I get off that last 10 or 15 pounds. And so we have this overwhelming amount of often conflicting practical advice about how to get off that last 10 or 15 pounds when so often the honest answer that we should be giving people is that right now at this moment you should not be trying to lose that 10 or 15 pounds. Now I am not saying that we should all just get fat, and I’m not saying that being overweight is not a problem.
0:09:38 There is a right time to lose weight and a wrong time.
What I’m saying is that – what I’m saying instead is that there is a time to lose weight, there is the time not to lose weight, and we need to understand the difference, and we need to acknowledge this because we need to be able to get to the point where we can ask the question: if it’s not the right time to lose the weight, how do we get to the point when it is? And so I don’t – you know, I don’t think I’m inventing any concepts here but I think that this is not talked about enough, and so I want to put it out there so that I can tell my personal story in its true context. Which is that I didn’t do this until I knew that it was the right time. So before actually jumping into the story I want to bring your attention to the show notes. At ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/23 you will find quite a few things. One of them is pictures, right? I can give you the data about the weight that I lost on the podcast, but I can’t show you anything. So luckily I happen to have some pictures where I’m at least have my shirt off, and you can see – you can get a relative sense of my body composition from – and I didn’t plan to publish this, and so I don’t have perfectly comparable pictures, but I’m lucky enough to have some pretty embarrassing before photos that were taken in a totally different context, and so I was able to roughly piece together pictures that correspond to all of the major turning points. And so, you know, sometimes it’s like a week after one of the major turning points or before, or whatever, but you kind of get the – you do get the general sense of the progress throughout the story. I will put links to any of the resources that I talk about in the show notes as well, and I will also put – I will embed there a practical how-to YouTube video about using MyFitnessPal and that’s basically for those of you who haven’t used it, or who maybe tried it and didn’t really understand how to use it effectively. It’s just going to be a really short video that shows you the major features that I use and shows you right on my iPhone screen what it looks like on the inside, and then you will be able to get a sense of, you know, whether that approach would work for you and whether using that particular app would be useful strategy for you.
0:12:20 My stance on weight loss theory.
Alright, now, one other thing that I want to get out of the way here before I dig into my personal story is I want to talk a little bit about weight loss theory, and what stand I take on the theory and approach to weight loss. And in my view there is this debate out there that is a ridiculous debate, and that debate is: is it true that a calorie is a calorie, or is it true that calories don’t count? And those two positions are equal and opposite positions on a spectrum of sheer and total insanity. Calories count. And that in no way whatsoever to any sane mind would mean that eating a calorie in one particular type of food with one nutrient profile is going to give you the same exact results as a calorie from some totally different food. Because just because calories count, doesn’t mean that nothing else counts.
0:13:30 Calories-in, calories-out (CICO) is like gravity.
So, you know, another way that this is put is the debate about whether calories-in, calories-out or CICO – I’ve only seen this on the internet so I don’t know how people pronounce this in their home time, but it looks to me like CICO – the question is, is that right or is it wrong? And that also is – it’s sort of a ridiculous question. So in my view, calories-in, calories-out is absolutely true. And I would draw an analogy and say that it’s like gravity. So suppose that we draw an analogy where the laws of thermodynamics and caloric expenditure balance are like gravity, and weight loss is like flying an airplane.
If you were at the beginning of the invention of the airplane, and you were involved in it and you were trying to make an airplane, understanding gravity wouldn’t make that airplane get off the ground. And if you couldn’t get the airplane off the ground, if you just walk over to it and you yell, “get up, get up, get up!”, that’s not gonna make the airplane fly, neither is engaging in a dissertation about gravity in front of the airplane. So, you know, on the other hand, if you’re inventing an airplane or engineering an airplane and you don’t believe in gravity, or you think gravity is false, I’m not gonna take a ride in your airplane. I’m sorry, I don’t care if you get it off the ground or not. Like, you should be developing your airplane with the central understanding that what you’re trying to do is understand the laws of gravity enough to defy what we usually think is the inevitable consequence of gravity, which, you know, is not – birds fly, airplanes fly, but you have to understand how they are interacting with gravity in order to fly.
So similarly, if we are to look at weight loss, we can see a broad spectrum of weight loss plans, many of which are radically different from one another, that are effective when people comply with them well. The ketogenic diet, the low-carb high-fat diet, the low-fat high-carb diet, the vegan diet, the Paleo diet, the potato diet; all of these diets – they work. And the limiting factor for their ability to work long-term is people’s ability to comply with them.
Now it – it could be the case that because of variations in willpower or because of variations in leptin physiology, which is the physiological program that tries to maintain a stable amount of body fat and that fights back when we lose fat by making us hungrier, and making us spend less energy; could be that variations in that system just makes some people unable to deal with complying to any of those diets.
0:17:04 There are a wide range of principles that “work,” and the ones that work for you are probably the 2-3 that you can most easily make sustainable; but what you can make sustainable has a lot more to do with your personal, psychological, and behavioral traits than with the general efficacy of the principles.
But I suspect that what we’re actually dealing with is, if we know this menu of different approaches that are all consistent with the physical biological and physiological principle that the path to sustainable weight loss is a sustainable caloric deficit, that the variation that’s caused in the response between different people between those different approaches has less to do with the variation in the degree to which they are consistent with the principles of caloric expenditure, with the biology; and it’s more about the degree to which they are consistent with the personal behavioral and psychological traits of the people who are using them. And if that’s the case, then the best interpretation of this poor compliance may be that we just did a bad job sorting out which approaches are right for which people. And if that’s the case, then of course that’s gonna happen, because when you do studies, unless you have a specific hypothesis that allows you to identify which people deserve which approach, then by default in order to design a good study you’re gonna take random samples of people. And if you take a random sample of people and you’re randomly allocating them to two different dietary approaches and there’s 50% long-term compliance with each one, for all we know it could’ve been that we could have gotten 100% compliance with each one if we just found the half of people who did best on one diet and found the half of people who did best on the other diet. I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m just saying that it could easily be the case that our critical deficiency right now is tailoring the diet to the individual’s personal behavioral and psychological traits. And so given that, I am not going to argue that what I did will necessarily work for other people, and indeed my whole program was based on tracking my calories and I know that many people – that would drive many people nuts, but you know, my behavioral and psychological patterns – my personality is – you know, by trade I analyze science, I like data, and so tracking things is really useful to me. There are other people – I think probably the majority of people would best be suited by finding two or three principles that are more intuitive than quantitative that allow them to maintain a sustainable caloric deficit while feeling satiated and feeling energetic enough to move, and that are nourishing them enough to recover from their movement. And the key problem is that we don’t know which two or three principles are right for each person. With that said, I want to – and I am not going to solve that problem in this podcast – with that said, I want to come back to what I achieved and how I put it into that context.
So, first of all, I’m going to give you a very condensed history of my body composition.
0:20:45 My skinny teens, bodybuilding/powerlifting 20s, grad school-induced dad bod, and getting my postdoc fatso on.
So I was skinny all my life. Teenage years 135 pounds. In my early 20s I discovered weightlifting, I spent a lot of time in the gym in my early 20s in a fusion of bodybuilding and powerlifting techniques. I put 30 pounds of mass on, arriving at 166 when I was very lean, I was at least this lean in terms of body fat percentage as I was when I was 135, so I was – you know, at that point very – I was the peak of my muscularity. I eventually pushed my weight to 177. I was not as lean as I was then, so I consider the physique that I had when I was around 166 back – let’s see, 12 years ago or so it must’ve been –somewhere around there, 10 to 12 years ago. And that was the peak of my physique in my opinion. And going forward, you know, I began to intellectualize and write about my – all those things that I had accomplished with my health, that eventually wound me in graduate school. There was a period in between where financial stress was making me work at a job that was incredibly physically demanding and actually was diminishing my body mass and so on. And then I got into grad school and didn’t have a lot of time to make weightlifting sustainable.
So by the time I got out of grad school I was – I don’t know, I – like, I didn’t have any children but I kinda had a dad bod, because you could see some evidence of my past weightlifting but I had lost a lot of that muscle mass, I had gained a lot of fat. And it was I think really during my postdoc when I was at University of Illinois, that’s also when I was starting to get the beginning of stress over what I was doing in life and what was my real path, and all kinds of things that were making me struggle with, how do I really figure out how to be happy. And that was, you know, on a physical level in terms of work-life balance, I had it balanced pretty well in terms of the amount of time that I could spend in a physical practice was balanced well with my work. But psychologically and emotionally, I was not at my peak at that time, and I think that more than anything else was responsible for some of the weight gain that happened during that period. Some of the evidence of that weight gain can be seen in a YouTube video that – unfortunately I don’t know if it got deleted or if I just couldn’t find it because it wasn’t very popular when I was searching for my name, but there was a YouTube video where I was interviewed at a conference from that time period. And someone in the comments was saying: is it just me or is Chris Masterjohn clearly getting fat now? And I realized that point that that was – that my body composition was basically in a slow but very steady state of decline. And also another anecdote that sort of illustrates the point at that time: I was on the ballroom dance team there and in the administration, and one of my friends on the team was also in the administration with me. His reaction to stress was that he would lose weight; my reaction to stress was that I would gain weight. So he wound up selling his ballroom dance pants to me because he was losing weight and the first time he competed in them, they fell off his waist while he was on the competition floor and he realized that he was too thin to be able to fit in them anymore. Meanwhile, I sort of – my waist just sort of grew in to fit those pants. So it was a good deal for us.
0:25:00 “How I Hacked My Way out of Academia’s 400-Hour Workweek.”
Anyway, fast forward to where the real story starts taking place. I think there are aspects to this that relate to my work life that I’m not gonna go into detail here, but I – you know, if you didn’t already read it, if you’re on my newsletter, a few days ago I had published an article in my newsletter called “How I Hacked My Way out of Academia’s 400-Hour Workweek”. And that article goes into detail about how work stress and struggling with my place in life and struggling to find three or four hours to sleep every night was really putting me at the – really at the edge of mental and physical breakdown in the latter half of 2014. And actually that story is – it sounds terrible, right, but the story is how I in January 2015 I finally got around to reading Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week and I stopped and totally reprioritized my life, dedicated myself to using whatever time I could find to setting up a system that actually made sense for me to achieve my goals, and kind of dug myself out of that to a much more effective place where I can not only get more teaching done and actually get research done, but also have a life and have a physical practice and lift weights and have enough sleep to recover, and all of that stuff. So if you already read it, great. If you are not on my newsletter, you can subscribe to it by going to ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/newsletter. And if you do that, you will not get the article I’m talking about for about 60 days because the welcome – it’s the third instalment in my welcome series and it comes out in a drip where you get one email the first day, then you get the next one two days later. So if you want to read that story right away, you should go to ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/400hourworkweek – that’s 400hourworkweek, and that will allow you to get that email immediately after you put in your email address. And then you’ll get put on to the rest of list.
So, but, you know I’m referring to that because it gives you greater detail about that part of the story. But how it relates here is that during that darker period, where I was sleeping three or four hours a night and my mental and physical health were completely in the doldrums. And just to be clear here for those of you who haven’t read it, I mean, we’re talking like, my lungs felt like they had never recovered from the last cold; the only exercise I got was walking to work, but I was sleeping so little that my legs were constantly sore because I wasn’t sleeping enough to recover from the, you know, 30 minutes of walking every day. And then gastrointestinal bleeding. And so this was profound stress that really put me in – my mental and physical health was in a situation that was – it had not been as bad as that since when I was vegan, but when I was vegan I kind of had a totally different set of health problems because those were primarily rooted in nutrition and this was primarily rooted in sleep and stress.
0:28:15 How I added 6 – 7 inches on my waist in three months and lost most of it in 6 weeks while running 4.5 miles and sleeping 10 hours per day.
And during that period of time, I – in about three months, I put on six or seven inches on my waist. And this was – I mean it was to the point where I really realized how fat I was was when I went home to visit my family for Christmas, and this was not weight put on from the holidays, this was weight put on – this was weight that I arrived at my family’s house with. But I sort of had the break to be able to notice what was happening to my body now that my mind could rest for a few days. And I realized that I had always bent straight forward to tie my shoes, and now when I would do that my gut was in the way, and I had to, like, bend around my gut to get to my shoe. And this was – also during this time period, I remember buying socks or something at Men’s Warehouse and the guy who was selling them to me asked me what I did for a living. And I told him that I was specialized in nutrition. And he looked at me and he said, “really?” And I was like, “yeah, why?” And he was, like, “I don’t know, I just would’ve thought it would’ve been anything else.” And so he didn’t say, you know, you look really fat, but I can’t think of what else he could’ve meant by that.
So that is the background to this. And one of the really, really critical pieces of this background story is – of course it’s true that whatever I was eating at that time was what was contributing to the calories that were coming in – of course that’s true. But I didn’t gain body fat for nutritional reasons. The principal driving forces in the gain of body fat were stress. And every single time that I can trace back in my life to why did I gain body fat, for me it’s always corresponded to psychological and emotional stress. And I think that’s true for many people, if not almost everyone. You know, I mean certainly one of the driving factors for sure is, we gain weight around the holidays, we don’t lose it all and so on, and that’s driven by social conventions around eating. But there’s also this enormous component where a significant subset of people gain weight in reaction to stress. And this really gets to the heart of the point that I’m trying to make, that you have to wait for the right time. Because when I look at this, what I see is that when we are stressed, our body is asking the question about are things going to be okay. And when we put on weight, even if it’s the visceral abdominal fat – that weight around our midsection, or wherever it is – no matter how you would judge the long-term consequences of holding that weight, I think a very valuable way to intuitively grasp what’s happening is that gaining that weight is telling our body that it’s all gonna be okay. And so what we need to do then, talking – continuing to talk about this in an intuitive level, what we need to do is not fight against our body’s physiology to take that weight off. Because when we do that, our body is – our body’s saying, I don’t know if things are gonna be okay. And it gains weight, and that’s its way of saying, you know what, I think we can get through this. And then when you try to rip that weight away forcefully, that’s your way of saying, you know what? I don’t really care if you’re worried about this, and maybe were not gonna get through this. So deal with it. And our body does not react well to that. And I think the approach we instead want to take is, how can we convince our body that everything is gonna be okay, enough that it can get to the point where our body says back to us, you know what, I’m so confident that everything is gonna be okay that – here, take it, I don’t need this anymore. And then at that point, that’s when you can go out and you can get fit and you can focus on exercising and moving and building up your body in a cutdown lean way, or whatever it is, however you want to choose to develop your physique. But if you are in the midst of your body worrying about whether things are gonna be okay, then that is not the time to go out and do that.
So I want to keep that principle in mind and then continue to tell my story and come back to that point a few times. So in January 2015, that’s when I read the 4-Hour Work Week. And one of the things that happened when I read that book was, I decided that, you know, I could define my priorities in life, and I needed to evaluate everything I was doing, about whether it was actually consistent with those priorities and getting me towards fulfilling them. And so I had planned a lot of work that I was gonna do like revising my classes in this and that, and I did some of it, but I mostly didn’t do it. And I said, you know what? My priority is sleeping. My priority is not being so fat. And I had some other physical fitness priorities around mobility that aren’t really relevant here. But, you know, basically what I did was, I was – and I was lucky enough my situation have control over what I was doing with my schedule at that time. And so I did two things that relate to fat loss. One was that I ran on a treadmill for four and a half miles, five to seven days a week, and the other was that I slept about 10 hours a day – like, every day, and sometimes longer than that. And my body could sleep that much for a couple reasons. One was that I was not deliberately restricting my calories, but the other was that I decided that I didn’t have work priorities. I did some work but it was my last priority. If I could fit in an hour or two of work in that day, I would do it. But for me – for a lot of other people this is different, but for me, even – you know, much of my psychological winding down routine at night focuses on pushing work out of my brain. And that is one of the critical factors that allows me to sleep. And that is –that can often be a 3 to 4-hour event for me. But it is generally the case that when I wake up in the morning, I still – the first thought in my mind is all the stuff that I’m going to work on. And so I was – I think I was only able to – part of the reason I could get that much sleep is because I was so sleep-deprived that I needed it. But I really think that part of the reason I was able to get that much sleep was because I had cleared out my work schedule and I wasn’t – at 7 or 8 in the morning there was no thinking about workforce that was creeping up in my mind to antagonize my sleep process.
And so one of the things that’s important about this is that due to the peculiarity of my situation, I on the one hand had these demands placed on me at one point in time that was pushing me into crisis and creating the health situation that I needed to solve, that may have gotten much worse than work stress would get for most other people. But on the other hand I also had the liberty if I choose to, to have this period where I could devote my full attention during that month to resolving it.
0:37:14 The “stress bucket” (cumulative allostatic load) and why destressing has to take priority over weight loss and sometimes even over preventing weight gain
And so that may not translate to other people, but I think what does translate is that, for whatever your particular situation is, if you are in the midst of work stress or emotional stress, you must de-stress first before you lose weight. And one of the real problems here is that weight loss in itself, in my view, is a stress. And, you know, I often refer to this idea of a stress bucket, where you can imagine all your stressors going into a single bucket. And if that bucket is too full you can’t add any more into that bucket and have a health benefit, even if that’s something that should be healthy. So exercise is a stress. And it’s healthy if your bucket can accommodate that stress, but if your bucket is full, adding it on top of everything else is not gonna be healthy. The same thing is true for weight loss. So I think that you really need – I think we all really need to look – try to honestly analyze how full is this bucket. And if that bucket is, like, three-quarters full or more, not just overflowing but even if it’s like getting towards the top, I really don’t think that our goal should be losing weight. I think in fact that for many of us, the critical juncture that is going to allow us to get healthy is to allow us to not care about the weight loss and to say, you know what? Even if I gain weight while I’m de-stressing, that’s fine. And quite often I think that gaining weight in and of itself when the body is has so many demands on it is a form of de-stressing, letting go and saying, you know, whatever, like I’m gonna eat ice cream tonight. And I really think that – I am not saying that, you know, we should all get fat and stay fat in – like whenever life gets hard; that’s not what I’m saying. But for many of us I think this idea that weight loss takes top priority sabotages our de-stressing efforts, because we’re just not in the position – if everything in our physiology is telling us to gain weight, even – not even trying to lose weight but trying to stay weight-stable during that time period may well be a stress to the body that’s just as stressful as actually losing weight.
So I think that the end goal should be to get to the good body composition, but the de-stressing has to come first. And, you know, how do you know that? I mean, sure you could measure your diurnal cortisol rhythms, and get all these different hormone tests but I really, honestly, truly believe that the number one test that you need to look at is how effortless is the weight loss? And if the weight loss feels like a struggle, it is not the right time to lose that weight. Or it’s the wrong way to lose that weight, but it’s probably not the right time to lose that weight if basic weight loss principles that are effective for many other people are feeling like a struggle. And I think that, you know, when do you know it’s time is you focus all your efforts on de-stressing if you’re in a situation like I was, until you get to the point in time where you say, you know what? I have slept so much, I have been so lazy that I now feel driven and motivated to go out there and do something. So in my particular case, coming back to my story, that that initial period in January of 2015, mostly over that month and into February of the – February of 2015, maybe in the first couple weeks I lost six or seven inches on my waist. But that was the six or seven inches that I had gained on my waist in the three months before that. And so I was, you know, like anyone who saw me after January would have noticed that I lost weight and that I looked better, but I didn’t exactly look lean and fit. And to prove the point, again, go look at the picture from October of that year where, you know, in February of that year I would’ve looked worse and I don’t have a picture from then. But go to ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/23 and look at the picture of me from October of that year and you will see that despite having lost six or seven inches from running that January, you know, still I looked kinda chubby, and I looked kind of skinny-fat because I didn’t look that muscular.
Now there was another problem with this whole approach, which is that, you know, on the one hand I think if you run enough, you probably will lose weight. But, I mean to be honest I see – you know, a research study comes out: “aerobic exercise doesn’t help weight loss.” I mean, it all depends on the context, right? So if you’re like me and you weren’t eating more and you’re running four and a half miles a day to a peak of 7 miles an hour during your run on the treadmill, and you’re doing that five to seven days a week I’m pretty sure you’re gonna lose some fat. In fact I measured my waist circumference every day and if I did that running three to five times in a week, I would consistently see that my morning waist circumference was lower on the days right after I did a run. It would start to increase on days that I didn’t run. And if I ran more days than I didn’t, I would have a net decrease in my waist circumference at the end of the week. That’s how clear and consistent that was.
However, that is a terrible approach to exercise. One of the things that I was starting to do at that time that I alluded to before was start doing mobility work. And I really noticed that I had really lost sight of my mobility when I noticed that I would get up in the morning and I would plug in my Wi-Fi router and I couldn’t bend over to plug it into the wall without my heels coming off the ground. And I realized at that point that, like, I have practically no ankle mobility. And so I started doing a lot of mobility work at that time on my own. And one of the things that I didn’t quite grasp until the spring semester started was that that mobility work was protecting that running from causing a total disaster to my hips. So when the semester started, I was so exuberant about the weight loss and the waist inches just melting off that I was like, okay, you know, I don’t have three hours a day to devote to my physical practice, but I have one hour. So I want to lose more fat, so I will run. And I won’t do the mobility work. And what I found was that just, like, two or three days of running without doing the mobility work and I would be practically, like, limping down the street, to the point that anyone would look at me I think and say like, “dude, why is that dude, like, walking so funny?” I don’t know if it was like, a duck or some other animal, but my hips were so tight from running, and my feet were so tight that I really couldn’t walk normally. And at that point I realized that I could run sometimes, but I needed to do at least an hour of mobility work on my hips for every hour that I spent running. And so that was just absolutely not a sustainable well-rounded physical practice, by any stretch of the imagination.
Now, going forward, it was also the case that I had to work again, right? So I no longer had that month off. And it was no longer the case for me that my stress level was one where I could actually put my body under the additional stress of forcing it back into the physique that I wanted. And in fact, I still had all of this, you know, all of these psychological questions about what do I want my true path to be. And I still had this overwhelming sense that I had worked so much over the last 10 years that I had really deprived myself of exploration and other values. And so I got that out of my system by traveling in Europe for a month. I didn’t bring my laptop, I didn’t – I brought my phone, but I had a very limited data plan; I made a deal with myself that I would not check my email on my phone ever. I didn’t do that even once. I made a deal of myself that I would only check my email in an Internet cafe, and I went to an Internet cafe once at the midpoint of my trip and checked my email once the entire time. And before that trip, I went to a massage therapist around the corner from me, who – she didn’t quite – she didn’t tell me this until after I came back to her after the trip, but when I came back from Europe and I went to see her again she told me that the first time I came in she had really strong doubts about whether she could help me, because my back felt so tight that she felt like there was nothing to massage because there was zero suppleness to the muscles in my back, and it just felt like a series of rods, like just stiff rods, like rock hard. And she told me that my back muscles felt 90% softer when I got back from the trip. And when I got back from the trip I said, you know what? Now I am going to start CrossFit.
0:47:37 Starting CrossFit: flirting with the line of overtraining.
And what I was really after in CrossFit was not the, oh, I’m gonna kill myself with a metabolic conditioning workout. It really was – it was about balance. I wanted to find a place where I could – you know, where I could work my whole body and not worry too much about imbalances in the workout and not have to do my own programming. I wanted a place where I could have a social environment so it wasn’t competing – so working out wasn’t competing with my social life as much. I wanted a place where I could get cardio in, but he wouldn’t just be, like, running four and a half miles a day, it would have a lot more diversity and balance. And I really got all those things at CrossFit South Brooklyn, you know, we have mobility classes – they are yoga, Pilates, in addition to the group classes. And the group classes tie together all these different values about strength training and metabolic conditioning and everything. But, you know, I went into it realizing that I was in a period of recovering from profound stress, and I knew that I had to be really careful when I started that because I could – if your stress bucket is overflowing and then you get rid of 30 or 40% of that stress, you can feel like you’re at a very low stress point. But your perception of that is just so warped, because you’re coming from a place of such profound stress that no one – you know, no one should ever have actually reached that point of burnout, and if that’s the case you really need to be conscious of the fact that you may feel like the stress is gone but you are still in the process of recovering, and it’s probably gonna take you longer to recover than it took you to get to that point where you realized you needed to recover.
And so when I started CrossFit I had to be really careful, and there were few things that I noticed. So first of all, when I was first starting out my body really had to adjust to CrossFit and I kind of flirted with this idea of should I be doing it twice a week, or should I be doing it three times a week. And I was taking some measurements, for example I was taking my body temperature and I noticed that overtraining seem to tank my morning and postprandial body temperature by a couple degrees, and it would take me a few days of rest to get it to go back up. To give you some numbers, my waking body – my waking oral under-the-tongue body temperature was around – I don’t have it recorded but from memory it was around 97, and during my de-stressing period It was pushing up to 99 at its peak temperature after meals during the day. And it was crawling up in the morning from like 96 to 97. And if I would do a good workout that I could recover well from, it seem to enhance my body temperature, but if I would – what I was perceiving as overtraining, if I would really go too far then my body temperature would tank a couple degrees. There were also more clearly relevant – you know, I’m assuming that that’s a measure of, maybe, antagonism to thyroid hormone, I don’t really know that that’s the case. But more clear health-related issues were, at first I would get sick too often, or I would start to lose my libido, or I would – I think men should wake up with an erection most of the time, and and so both men and women get psychologically aroused during REM sleep and so, you know, men and women should have some evidence of that when you wake up in the morning. So you using losing that measure of my health, getting sick too often, I was really flirting with the edge of my potential for exercise. And I really had to listen to my body and try to find the early signs of being overstressed, and say, you know what? I’m gonna skip a day this week.
0:52:12 Going from de-trained to re-trained and eating some ~4-4500 kcal/d.
The third thing that happened during that period was as soon as my weight started getting heavy, I started having to eat a lot of food. And if you go to ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/23, notice in the pictures from October – the picture from October I have been doing CrossFit for about six weeks, I had probably put on some muscle, I had probably lost some fat. But I think, you know, when I was first beginning I had to take the foundations classes where we were just learning the movements. I started with low weights just to – like, I had done a lot of those movements before back in my weightlifting days, but I had to get used to them again. I was very protective of my joints, and so on. So it took me probably – it probably took me six weeks to really start moving up the weight to to a higher level of volume that would create a more anabolic response. But as the weight started creeping up, my muscles began to remember what it was like to be big. And there is some research out there that I haven’t looked at in detail but that I have seen in passing, that shows that you get new – when you go from untrained to trained initially, and so that would have been in my early 20s when I started weightlifting, you create more muscular nuclei, apparently. And they never die even when you get to be de-trained. And so I think there are – there’s probably numerous reasons for the response where you go from de-trained to re-trained and that’s probably part of it, along with various other ways of your nervous system in your muscles remembering what it used to be like. But you’re basically pre-programmed to put on the muscle that you had.
And so I – at that point I felt like I did not have a choice except to eat a massive amount of food. Now I was not tracking my calories, but I really feel that when I started this 30-pound weight loss process at the end of that year that I was – I really feel like I cut my calories in half and that – and when I was tracking them it was – I was tracking them to about 2150 kcal per day, give or take 100. And so I’m pretty sure I was probably eating like 4000 to 4500 kcal a day during that period. And to give you to give you a sense of what would happen if I didn’t eat this food, I was developing – I was developing symptoms that I would very strongly associate with a stress response, like not being able to stay asleep at night, and having to pee a lot more than can be justified by the amount of water you consumed. So in CrossFit we have this abbreviation called “every minute on the minute” or EMOM, and in my early CrossFit days I had a night where I started to fall asleep, but then I had a dream that I was doing a snatch EMOM. A snatch is where you pick a barbell off the ground from a deadlift position and then you bring it – and then you basically wind up in an over – have the barbell in an overhead position. Probably with some degree of squat in between there. And I so I had this – I started having this dream that I was doing a squat EMOM – excuse me, a snatch EMOM. And it was dragged out over the course of what was probably – I mean I have no sense of time when I’m dreaming, but it was probably dragged over the course of, like, 15 minutes, where I was just in slow motion doing this snatch. And every time I would get to the top of the snatch I would burst awake and I would have to pee. And so I would go pee, I would go back to the bed, fall asleep, and I would be in this same dream where I was doing the next minute of the snatch and I would get to the top and I would burst up and have to pee again. And so after that happened a few times, I said, wait a second. And actually, I think what I did was I got my phone out and I went on PubMed and looked up the relationship between cortisol and vasopressin, which is the hormone that suppresses peeing. And so I saw that here there was his relationship that peeing too much is part of the stress response. So I said, you know what? I’m probably not eating enough, I’m probably not eating enough carbohydrate, and so I just ate an additional plate of food that was mostly carbohydrate, I fell asleep like a baby, woke up well-rested. And from that point on I just realized that I needed to eat an additional full plate more than what I thought I needed to eat. And most of it had to come from carbohydrate in order for me to not get these characteristic stress responses.
And so doing that, you can see that over the course of the next few months I put on a lot of weight. And psychologically it got to the point where it was this positive reinforcement because my interpretation of what was happening became my body is forcing me to eat all this food to put on this muscle. And then probably because I had believed in that psychological narrative, I probably ate even more food than my body was demanding of me. But I basically got to this point where I just – my body was telling me to do it and I was telling me to do it and I was eating as much food as I could. And so if you look at that second set of pictures from December 2015 at ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/23, you can see on the one hand I put on a lot of weight but number two, it was – a lot of it was muscle. You can tell that I’m more muscular, my posture is better between those two sets of pictures, and I would say that overwhelmingly I look better in the second set from December. But you can also see in that picture that I was eating for maximal muscle gain and so I wasn’t increasing my body fat percentage but I was gaining a proportional amount of fat, right? So I had a lot more muscle; my body fat percentage was probably the same, maybe it was a little higher or a little lower, I’m not really sure. But if you look at that picture you can basically see that I look good except I’m a little too fat, and you can kind of see my love handles are like hanging off in these jelly rolls on the side of my – you know, hanging over my belt. And so it got to a point in mid-December where I said, you know what? I really need to shift priorities now. I feel like I have satisfied myself with this muscular gain. I’ve listened to my body. My body is at a new point where I now feel like I can lean out. That was – you know, part of it was my own psychological narrative, part of it was looking in the mirror. But part of it was that, you know, three months ago I felt this physiological drive to put on muscle mass in response to my workouts and at that time that physiological drive was lessening off and I felt the ability to lean out.
0:59:53 The time became right for 30 pounds of weight loss.
And so I – this is the point where we transition to this 30 pounds of weight that I lost. And I’ve taken you over 50 minutes through this story – I hope this background and context is enriching the story more than if I just gave you the details, because it’s turning out to be kind of long. But, I mean so here’s what happened.
1:00.22 Intuitive approach to eating led to first 5 lbs lost.
So I – in the first couple weeks I said, you know what? I’m just gonna switch from eating as much as I can, to eating only as much as I need to. And so instead of this idea that I was gonna try to force in – this idea that my body wanted the calories and I was going to give it everything that it could get, my plan instead became I’m going to err on the side of not eating, and then when I do feel hungry I’ll try to eat just enough to satisfy that hunger. And just from doing that alone I lost five pounds in the first two weeks. And I wasn’t really committed to tracking this yet, because I didn’t know if I needed to track it, or if I could just ride this – you know, I rode this wave up to more muscle and so I wanted to know, can I just rearrange my priorities and intuitively ride this wave down to leaning out. But after the first couple weeks that stalled. And around that – so I started thinking, you know, I need to take a more manageable or trackable approach to this. And at the same time by coincidence it turned out that at CrossFit South Brooklyn they were running their annual look better, feel better, perform better challenge. I didn’t join the challenge officially but their advice was, basically they put people into two levels, and one level would just eat basically a whole foods diet and cut out all the junk food and, you know, pay some minimal intuitive sense of macros and stuff like that to get enough protein. And then level 2 was actually track all that stuff. And they offered a formula to use. But I had also gotten the Kindle version of The Lean Muscle Diet by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld.
1:02.21 Switching to calorie and macro tracking.
And I knew I had that, and that they had advice about how to calculate your calories. So I went back into their book and I reread the relevant chapters and I used their formula as well. And I wound up using the formula – it’s called the Greyhound Formula – I’ll put more details about that in the show notes. And I basically – I mean, I think you could use either of these formulas and adjust, I don’t think you really need one or the other. And to be honest I actually think it was just – it was less about the formula and it was – probably the difference was the way that they were calculating, you know, how active you are, and from The Lean Muscle Diet the way that they were having me calculate that just gave a higher physical activity estimate. So anyway, what I did was, you know, I started with the 1900 cal suggested by the CrossFit South Brooklyn formula and I was getting insomnia from that. So I went up to the formula from The Lean Muscle Diet and kind of titrated my way back, and found the sweet spot where I could allow consistently close to zero possibility of insomnia, and yet have sustainable weight loss.
And here are the details of what happened. During this time I only tracked protein and calories. MyFitnessPal does record your macro percentages but I didn’t actually use that data. So on The Lean Muscle Diet recommendation I was eating 1 g of protein for every pound of target bodyweight, and that wound up being about 150 g a day. And that protein recommendation is kind of meant to oversupply it. There’s some window of safety there, so I shot for 150 g of protein a day and, you know, if it fell to anywhere as low as 135 g I didn’t really worry about it. But I aimed it to keep it at least 135, tried to get it to 150. I ate consistently 2150 cal per day. I could go up or down 50 or 100 calories, but generally the closer I got to that the better, and that was my aim. I found that it only became useful to track my calories when I was weighing my food. There are some things that are packaged and so you can know what a serving is, but I highly recommend if you’re gonna track calories that you don’t do so by volume, and that you try to always do so by weight – it’s much more accurate and makes it much more useful. And, you know, there are lots of exceptions to this where not every food burns in your body exactly how you would estimate its calories on the package; however, if you tend to eat more or less consistently in the same way, you control for all of that. So the goal is not to eat the same number of calories that the formula said you should; the goal is to use that as a starting place and then find the sweet spot of, where do I have consistent and sustainable weight loss without impairing other aspects of my health, putting the other aspects of the health as a more important goal than weight loss and always keeping them there. So – and, you know, that for me – the big thing was avoiding insomnia, but for other people it might be avoiding being hangry, right? So if you are getting really irritated during the day because you’re not eating enough; if your cognitive performance is falling because you’re not eating enough; if you’re more stressed out because you’re not eating enough, you’re not eating enough! Okay, so the goal of the tracking calories is, for those of us like me whose – you know, who have to be more precise to be able to find where those health parameters are not harmed and where you can get that sustainable weight loss, that’s – it’s people like me for whom tracking calories is really helpful. So for me, my sense of hunger did allow me to go from gaining weight to losing weight. And it stalled after a while, but part of the problem is I just don’t have a precise enough sense of hunger to know exactly what the minimum dose of food is to prevent me from having trouble falling asleep at night. And tracking calories allows me to do that. So I was aiming for 2150 calories, 150 grams of protein and I was ignoring fat and carbohydrate almost exclusively, except for the fact that I was trying to get 100 grams of carbohydrate in the morning prior to any work out that had a specific strength goal attached to it. And I was eating more carbohydrate whenever I would experience either, A, signs of elevated stress response or, B, some sudden unexplained loss of weight. So if I dropped 2 pounds overnight, you know, I don’t know what the answer to that was, but I assume it has something to do with hydration, maybe it has to do glycogen supply. So whenever that would happen, I would eat a lot more carbohydrate that day and try to push my weight back up to what it had been, so that I was losing weight at – you know, no more than a quarter pound a day. And so during that time, as it turns out my fat as a percentage of calories tended to waver between 17% of calories and 36% of calories. Most of the time it was in the 20s. I only know that because people on social media asked me what it was after the fact, and for the first time during this whole process I went back into MyFitnessPal and extracted the data about my average fat as percentage calories. Throughout the entire time I was losing weight I did not care what my percentage fat or carbs were.
1:08:30 Data on weight loss.
And so what happened? Well my data is not perfect because, like I said when I started this I didn’t start measuring my weight. And I measured my weight in a few different ways. I wanted to make sure that whatever way I was using could be corroborated by something else. So what I do have tracked consistently is that between December 18th and April 13th I was weighing myself on the balance in the gym prior to my workout, which meant I had eaten breakfast and had some coffee, I had drank some water, and I was wearing my underwear and socks. And that weight declined from 172.5 pounds on December 18th to 148.5 pounds on April 13th, which is 24 pounds of weight loss in under four months. A little after that, in January, I bought a scale at home and I started tracking my weight when I would wake up in the morning. And for this I would wake up, the first thing I would do is I would pee, I would come back I would take off all of my clothes, I would put my glasses on so I could see the digital readout and then I would take my weight. And I always did it exactly like that. And on January 24th, my weight measured that way was 162.3 pounds and by April 27th it had declined to 143 pounds, which is 19 pounds of weight loss in three months.
During this period there was a portion of time during which I tracked my waist circumference. And on December 31st my waist circumference during a full exhalation at the narrowest point was 29 3/8 inches. On February 13th it was 26 5/8 inches. That is a loss of 2.75 inches in six weeks. After that point I decided, you know what, I’m confident that at least a lot of my weight is coming off my waist and so I stopped doing that because I felt like it was time-consuming and a pain in the butt in the morning. And after all of this, I said these three methods are giving me consistent results, so I’m just gonna stick to the scale in my room, and when I wake up in the morning logging that into the iOS health app just because that was a most convenient way to do it, and it’s also the most consistent way to do it, right? Because when I wake up in the morning, you know, there are causes for variation, but in general that’s gonna be more consistent than had I eaten different breakfasts before I go out and weigh myself. And actually I do have some gym shorts that that increase my weight compared to others.
So one thing that I don’t have mapped consistently but does capture overall what happened is that, I know from my mom’s scale when I was visiting my family that in mid-December around – just before when this started, my morning fasting body weight on a digital scale was 175 pounds, and then at the end – I believe my scale is more or less consistent with hers – it got to 143 pounds. And so that is overall a little over 30 pounds of weight loss. Most of that happened in the first three months. Some of it happened in the fourth month. So I would summarize that by saying I lost 30 pounds – about 30 pounds of weight in four months.
Now, I don’t know how much lean body mass I lost. I looked into whether it was worth it to try to get a method like bio-impedance. And I talked to some experts that I’m friends with, then I – and I just, at the end of the day I felt like I would really love to have that data but I didn’t trust any of it enough to actually purchase any equipment. And I also knew that I didn’t have the time and I didn’t have the financial resources to, like, pay a trainer to consistently track my subcutaneous fat over time. I didn’t have the time to do that – I didn’t have the time to do it myself and I didn’t have the time to train myself to be able to do it consistently. Of course, that’s always more accurate when someone else who knows what they’re doing does it. So I really don’t have good measurements of my lean body mass loss. I’m gonna say I probably lost some lean body mass. I think you can guesstimate it if you look at the pictures of me – I think it’s hard to tell because a lot of my fat is not subcutaneous so you can’t really tell, like, how much fat am I carrying in my chest versus my belly and etc. etc. But I think that if you look at the photo that I have from April – when I look at that, I think I look by far the best in that photo. I’m definitely leaner than in any of the other photos. I don’t know if I’m as muscular as I was in December , but I’m way more muscular than I was in October, and I’m muscular enough. And so I – you know, at the end of the day the only thing that I can do beyond that to try to guess about lean body mass loss is to look at my strength.
1:14:08 Limited data on strength gains during weight loss.
And of course strength isn’t a perfect marker of lean body mass by any stretch of the imagination. But I do have quantitative data on it. So I can say that from – on December 2nd I had a dead lift one rep max of 275, and in the cycle that went from December 19th through February 13th I pushed that up to 305 so I put 30 pounds on my one RM dead lift over the course of those first couple months when I was when I was rapidly losing weight. And I don’t know that that means I didn’t lose a lot of lean body mass, but I know that it means that I must have – you know, clearly I kept on enough muscle to maintain that strength. I don’t have consistent measurements from the other exercises, for the most part because a lot of them we were switching on and off during different cycles at my CrossFit box. But I can say that on September 28th before I started losing all this weight, my bench press 1 RM was 200 and between December 19th and February 13th when I had a lot of that rapid weight loss, I pushed it to 220, so I was gaining strength on that as well.
So at the end of the day, I feel like I did a good job conserving my strength, and I conserved a good amount of my muscularity. I will say that, you know, you have to keep in mind that CrossFit is not really optimized to support maximal muscle gain. I’m not saying that you can’t get – that you can’t get swoll with CrossFit. But CrossFit is kind of a generalized workout, so you’re doing stuff on metabolic conditioning, you’re doing stuff for mobility, you’re doing stuff for strength. And you’re never really focusing on one specific thing. If my top priority during that time was that I wanted to maximize my lean body mass relative to my fat, I would’ve ditched CrossFit and I would’ve hired a personal trainer to guide me through bodybuilding-based principles.
But, you know – at no point was I ever putting my body composition as the goal above all other goals. And during this time I was always maintaining that goal.
1:16:42 How I knew it was time to stop losing weight.
Alright, so what’s happened since then? Well, at the end of April I was 143 pounds. I was 3 pounds leaner than the April picture that I was able to put on the website. And I had – no one would choose me for the cover of Fitness magazine, but I had a decent – the decent beginnings of a sixpack. But that was also the point at which I felt my body saying to me it is – you know, it’s time now. We had we had a good run for the last four months, we lost a lot of weight, but that is not the goal anymore. And I think this is really a matter of just being more in tune with your body. So for example, the entire time that I was going through my weight loss period I didn’t have any ice cream. And my dessert – if I had dessert – was cheese topped with honey. And I just began to crave snacks at some point, you know, I would end the night and I would say, okay, I had my cheese and honey but let’s have some coconut milk ice cream in here. And, you know, at the same time I – you know, I didn’t have the same drive to push myself to the maximum in activities that would ramp up my energy expenditure. And so it became clear to me at that point that I also had a – sort of a baseline level of anxiety that was starting to flow upward. And it just made sense at that time that I – it was time to start increasing my calories by 500 calories a day, and I did that. And I felt all of those disturbances in my – all of those disturbances in my equanimity reside. And I have been eating about, you know – and I also leaned back on the tracking. So I now track about 2500 to 2600 calories a day – try to shoot it towards 2500. I probably have 100 or 200 calories that are not tracked that I add on top of that.
1:18:55 Three months of weight stability.
And I have remained weight-stable over the last three months. So I – after that foray down into 143, I quickly floated back up to 145 to 146, I’ve been at 145 to 146 for the last three months I put a picture of me this past week at the end of the show notes at ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/23. It’s my hope that I’ve retained at least 80% of the benefits that I’ve got, and my goal right now is not to push it further, it’s just to retain the bulk of that while I allow myself to shift towards other priorities. The other thing now is that I’m really focusing on things like getting this podcast out. A lot of projects that take a lot of demanding time for me. And so my physical fitness has to take second seat now. And the question that comes to me is – or the one that faces me right now is – how do I allow it to take second seat while still making progress and not reverting backwards, and yet putting it in the space where it belongs so I can put my top priorities elsewhere. And that’s my main goal right now. And I think that I’m fulfilling it.
1:20:15 Using mindfulness meditation, yoga, and dance (and martial arts, I’d add here) could increase self-awareness and improve intuition about the body’s needs.
So I would – you know, at the end of this I feel like I have said a lot about how to intuitively listen to your body, and I feel like one of the remaining questions is, how do you do that? So, you know, I don’t know. I think that first of all you need to take the – if you feel like you don’t know what your body is saying, I think a couple things that you can try to do are, A, some kind of mindfulness practice. If you – you know, there is a lot out there and it can get very involved. And it can get personalized and expensive and whatever, but I would recommend the Headspace app as a beginner’s foray into mindfulness meditation.
1:21:00 Resisting the deafening noise of social pressure and self pressure to achieve a specific body weight or physique.
And I would also recommend that if you feel like there is pressure on you, whether it’s social pressure or more likely than not it’s your own personal pressure that you’re putting on yourself to have a certain physique – screw that pressure. And, you know, just, whatever you need to do to dissociate yourself from that pressure and tell it to go take a hike, coach yourself to do that. So because if you’re – if you’re being bombarded by these messages from yourself that you have to achieve a certain body weight or you have to achieve a certain physique, then all you have all this noise cluttering your mind, and you can’t listen beyond the thickness of that noise to hear what your body is saying to you. And then, you know, finally I would say having a physical practice where you really have to pay attention to the physicality of your body, so for example, dance or yoga or any of these movement practices where you – where you’re really being coached not just to do the movement but to exert more consciousness over the movement, I really think that that will also train you to look at the physiological responses that have inputs that aren’t – they aren’t physical in the sense of how you’re moving your arm in relation to your torso or something like that, but they are physical in the sense that the physiological drives to be hungry, the physiological drive to be stressed that also is just stuff that’s going on in your body. And so I think any amount of training that you can give to your mind-body control, even if it’s something like yoga or dance, I do think that that translates into better – being more mindful and aware of what your physiological drives are as well.
Alright, so I hope that that provides a story that either inspires you or helps you, or at least provides an insight about, you know, how you might be able to figure out when it is and isn’t time to lose body weight. And just keep in mind that yes, I had lucky breaks, yes I had lucky situations that allowed myself to de-stress, but I had to come to terms with the fact that my goal was de-stressing and not achieving a great physique in order to get me to the place where my body was primed and ready to get a good physique.
Alright, that’s the end of my story. I hope you found it valuable in some way. Remember that you can go to ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/23 to view the show notes. There I have a YouTube video about how to use MyFitnessPal. I have pictures of me through this journey. I have the time map to be able to find any specific location to review something in this episode. Eventually the transcript will be there as well. And thank you so much for listening, that is all for now. Bye-bye, see you next time.
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Thank you for listening everyone, I just have a couple more things before you go. Are you signed up to my newsletter? If you’re not, you can sign up at ChrisMasterjohnPhD.com/newsletter. This is not my RSS feed, which is where you get an email every time I put up a blog or podcast, this is a newsletter of exclusive content. At first you get a welcome series that introduces you to my vision for the site and my vision for this new phase in my career, and that includes as the third installment the story that I told you about before, “How I hacked my way out of Academia’s 400-hour workweek”, that is a deeply personal story that will hopefully provide you some inspiration of how you might be able to get yourself out of a situation if you are feeling massively overburdened with work. But also, no matter what your situation, it gives you a lot of insight into the behind-the-scenes dynamics that led to me being able to make this podcast and do a lot of the other things that I’m doing right now. Also, don’t forget that you have two opportunities upcoming to see me speak. You can come to see me speak at the Ancestral Health Symposium in Boulder Colorado August 11 through 13, and you come and see me speak at Wise Traditions in Montgomery Alabama November 11 through 14. I would love to see you there. And that is all for now, folks, I will see you in the next episode.
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