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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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.