Weight Loss Update: March 2018

At this months end of month weight in, I was actually up about 0,5 kg (1,1 lb) from the previous month. This happened because I decided to take a full diet break from March 22nd until April 1st due to Easter. At that point, I had been in a constant deficit since January 1st, for a total of 12 weeks of an average calorie deficit of 776 calories per day, losing a total of 7,3 kg (16 lbs). This was roughly equivalent to 8% of my body weight. In my mid-month summary for March, I talked about how I was beginning to feel ragged, and how maintaining my deficit was becoming more challenging. I had a couple of cheat days where I went over maintenance on the 16th and 17th of March with the expected weight gain from water and glycogen, but come Monday I was back to feeling very ragged and exhausted.

I found an article by Lyle Mcdonald at bodyrecomposition.com where he recommends taking a week or so off every once in a while depending on how much you have left to lose. Both to relax physiologically but also psychologically. I decided to time this with some vacation days I was taking for Easter to see what the effect would be. As expected, this did come with some weight gain from water, glycogen and maybe a bit of excess mass. My body weight went up by 2.5 kg (5 – 6 lbs), but my waist measurement stayed the same.

March Weight Loss Statistics

I had a goal of a 750 calorie deficit for March, which I was able to maintain pretty well for the first 22 days of the month, but in the last 9 days, I went over by enough to reduce it down to 467 calories per day. This didn’t change the monthly outcome by much though, my body fat percentage at my end weight for the month came in at 18,5% vs. my estimate of 17,5%. This isn’t as bad as I would expect, and my fitbit estimate based on calories in calories out, is estimating a real weight of 79,7 kg (175 lbs) as opposed to what the scale shows at 82,39 (181 lbs).

I know I tend to gain 2 – 2,5 kg (4,5 – 5,5 lbs) when my glocogen stores are full after a few days at maintenance or surplus, so I’ll see how it changes as my glocogen stores are slowly depleted. I’m actually very late with this update, because truth be told I’ve been finding it more and more difficult to stick with the planned deficits since hitting my original goal weight of 80 kg (176 lbs). This is just do to the fact that apart from a couple of problem areas, I’m getting to be pretty satisfied with how I look. I never intended to get this low in the first place, so being this low was a bit of a surprise for me.

My initial goal weight years ago was to just get down to about 90 kg (200 lbs) so having gone 15 kg (33 lbs) further was a surprise even for me. As I talked about in my February and mid-march updates, I’ve been finding it more difficult to stick with my deficits as of late, especially since I’ve increased my exercise amounts. I’m back to doing cardio 3 – 5 days a week, on top of changing my lifting program to include more volume and more days.

I’ve been on a 30/30/40 split of carbs, fat and protein for the past 2 weeks now and it’s helped with my energy levels. Towards the first of May, I’m going to be slowly tapering off the deficit, while maintaining my macros, to see if I can do a bit of a recomp, I’m at 18% body fat per the end of March measurement, and my goal is in the low teens, meaning I need to lose about 2 – 3 kg (5 – 7 lbs), while maintaining lean mass. One of the interesting things I noticed last month, is that in terms of body composition, adding or losing 1 kg (2 lbs) of lean mass has a bigger effect on my body composition than losing 1 – 2 kg (3 – 5 lbs) of weight. I still have 66 kgs of lean mass at the end of March, so I’ve been able to maintain lean mass the 3 first months of the year.

It’s a bit strange to write this halfway into a month, but my goal for April is to maintain my increased lifting- and cardio program, and slowly taper down the deficit to 250 – 350 for April, and to maintain my current weight in the range between 80 kg (170 lbs) and 83 kg (182 lbs)

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Crash Diets

I like the moniker that these diets get, because not only do they tend to crash your weight into the ground, you usually crash and burn when you go on them too. The sales arguments are tempting, “Lose 30 lbs in 30 days”, “Lose 10 lbs in 10 days”, and appeals our urge to fix problems fast. The truth about them is that they are inherently unsustainable and all work off the same principles. As regular readers will know, I track every morsel of food that goes in my mouth, my daily calorie expenditure and my weight every single day. I also do refeeds once in a while, and I’m familiar with the mechanisms that make you drop “5 lbs in 5 days” or the like.

The picture on the left is an excerpt from my January log, right after I came off a 2 week full diet break for Christmas. As you can see, the first of January I weighed in at 89,10 kg (196 lbs), and the morning on the 8th of January I weighed in at 86 kg (189 lbs), this was a loss of 3,1 kg (7 lbs) in 7 days. If I calculate this into calories, it would require a deficit of 24500 calories.

The reality of my 7 lbs in 7 days is simple. Prior to my diet break I weighed in at 84 kg (185 lbs) in a glycogen depleted state, with very little stomach contents, and dehydrated. During Christmas, much like most people do, I ate and drank a large amount of food, filling up my glycogen stores to the max (adding 400 – 600 g of sugar + 1500 – 2000 grams of water). On New Years eve, I had a large turkey dinner with a lot of sodium, a lot of beer, desserts and various other things, that made sure my body was stuffed with glycogen, my stomach contents were full, I was retaining water (from the sodium and alcohol). This pushed my weight up to a peak of 89 kg, when realistically my weight was closer to 87 kg (my 3 day average was 87,5 and 6 day average 86,6).

I didn’t actually eat a calorie surplus of almost 40.000 calories for those 14 days. Meaning an intake of 2500 (my average daily energy expenditure) +2800 per day, making my total calorie intake for 2 weeks an average of 5300 calories per day. I ate a surplus of about 14000 calories, meaning 1000 per day for those 2 weeks. The rest was water and stomach contents. So my massive 5 kg weight gain was 2 kilo (5 lbs) of actual weight, and the rest was just water and stomach contents.

This week was the same case. I decided to have a cheat meal or two during the weekend, where I consumed drastically more calories than I normally do, to the tune of eating 5000 calories on Friday and 3000 calories on Saturday. The first column here is my calories consumed, the second column is my weight. As you can see, i went from 4 days weighing in at a stable 80,2 kg (176,8 lbs) to 83 kg (183 lb) over night.

I do admit that Friday and Saturday had some binge-eating aspects to them. More specifically, I wasn’t planning on eating that full 450g (1 lb) of peanuts and I was planning on a couple of beers, not 8, and the fact that my mother had made cheesecake was completely unplanned. However, I made sure I tracked everything I ate during my cheat, even in an inebriated state. My Fitbit was also in it’s normal position around my left arm, as I used it to raise pint after pint.

This means I have very good data on the entire cheat including calories burned. The first column here are my calories burned from my FITBIT, the second my intake according to My Fitness Pal. Over the course of the weekend, I ate a surplus of 2266 calories on Friday, which was my only calorie surplus that weekend. This would mean a maximum weight gain if it’s all fat of 0,29 kg (0,64 lbs), not a big deal. The weight gain on the other hand, was 2.8 kg (6,17 lbs)

This means that 2,51 kg (5,5 lbs) are unexplained by the food, but they are easily explained by glycogen and carbohydrate. Since my normal diet is lower than 50g of carbs every day, my muscles and liver are completely out of sugar. An adult weighing 70 kg (154 lbs) can store, 100 – 120 grams of glycogen in their liver and roughly 400 grams in their muscles.  This is a total of about 500 grams. Each gram is bound to 3 – 4 grams of water. The total weight of this is 1500 grams to 2000 grams of water plus 500 grams of glycogen, for a total of 2 – 2,5 kg (4,4 – 5,5 lbs) weight gain.

A crash diet works in the same way that my rapid weight loss does. When you drastically reduce your calorie intake, and your carbohydrate intake, your body depletes your glycogen stores and releases the water causing a rapid weight loss. When you start eating normally again, your glycogen stores refill and the water comes back. From this perspective on the 13th, I was at my glycogen depleted weight, the average of the 17th and 18th is my real weight.

Mid-Month Observations

I thought I’d do a quick update for mid-March since I haven’t been posting much.

I’m officially halfway to the end of the final stretch towards my weight-loss goal. I originally planned to run an aggressive calorie deficit for January, February and March, with the awareness that I may have to keep it going until the end of May in the worst case scenario. As of today, I’m down 8,9 kg (19,6 lbs) from my weigh-in on the first of January, and I’ve reached a stable weight of 80,2 kg (177 lbs). If I maintain the same average deficit for the rest of the month (872 calories per day on average), I will reach 78,34 kg (172 lbs) by the end of the month, just 3 lbs shy of my “optimistic goal” of 169 lbs. If I feel lean enough at that point I may go into a maintenance period, if not, I’ll continue dropping weight in April.

I do notice that I’m feeling hungry a lot more, and my focus is almost constantly on food. I’ve been playing with the idea of having a cheat meal or a refeed in the near future to see if that will help make it easier to manage. I’m also considering dropping my deficit down a bit in April, accepting that the last part of this journey will take an extra month or so, to make it a bit more tolerable. I’m not starving by any means, and I was losing weight at much higher rates last year, but I also had a lot more weight to lose at that point. My energy levels are suffering and I’m feeling cold much more than I’m used to, but the exceptionally cold winter we’re having where I live is hardly helping.

It’s just a matter of sticking to it. One of the funnier things nobody tells you about losing a lot of weight, is that your view of yourself doesn’t keep up with the weight-loss. I’m the leanest, strongest and least fat I’ve been in my adult life, and for the first time in 2 decades I have a normal BMI (23.9 today), yet I still feel very much like a fat dude. All the objective data I gather every month helps, so does taking progress pictures, but I expect that it’ll take time for my mind to adjust.

I had a fun experience the other day when I caught my reflection in a storefront and thought “That guy is pretty thin” until I realized that it was my own reflection.

My Big Fat Healthy Diet

There seems to be an idea floating around that calories do not matter, only what foods you eat matter. The idea is that if you eat healthy, organic, non-processed foods you will lose weight regardless of your calorie intake. So, for fun I decided to design a 4000 calorie daily diet of only healthy foods to show how easy it is to overeat on foods that are good for you.

Breakfast 

2 medium fried eggs (44 g per egg) – 126 calories

100 g turkey bacon – 381 calories

1 tablespoon coconut oil for frying (25 g) – 180 calories

1 cup raw orange juice – 112 calories

2 slices whole wheat toast – 200 calories

Total for breakfast: 999 calories

Lunch 

2 slices whole wheat toast – 200 calories

1 medium avocado – 250 calories

2 teaspoons raw almond butter – 94 calories

1 cup skimmed milk – 120 calories

Lunch Total: 664 calories

Dinner 

1 cup Whole wheat pasta – 174 calories

200 grams chicken –  478 calories

2 tablespoons olive oil for dressing and frying – 238 calories

1 serving of red wine – 125 calories

Total dinner: 1015

Snack 1 

1 oz (28 grams) mixed nuts – 375 calories

Snack 2 

1 cup granola – 300 Calories

1/2 Almond Milk –  30 calories

1 Medium Banana (118 g) – 105 Calories

Snack 3 

1 Cup baba ganoush – 363 Calories

100 grams carrots – 35 Calories

Total Calories for the day: 3886

I could have added more food to this diet, but I wanted this to be somewhat realistic. The food I listed is pretty much all standard “healthy” food that people include in their healthy diets thinking that they’ll lost weight just because the food is less processed and more natural, paying no attention to the calorie content.

To compare, here is a random day at my current 1500 – 1700 calorie consumption:

Breakfast 

Black Coffee – 0 Calories

 

Lunch 

400 g cottage cheese – 384 Calories

100 g sugar free strawberry jam – 60 Calories

Total lunch: 444 Calories

Dinner:

400 g lean ground beef – 484 Calories

26 g Hellman’s real mayo – 159 Calories

0.5 tablespoons of canola oil – 67 Calories

20 g Iceberg Lettuce – 2 Calories

2 Slices burger cheese – 128 Calories

Total dinner: 840 Calories

Snack:

1 Snickers protein bar – 199 Calories

Total Calories for the day: 1483

The fact of the matter is that you can lose weight eating only convenience foods like twinkies, I wouldn’t recommend it but it can be done as long as you are in a caloric deficit. You can also pack on the pounds eating paleo, keto, vegan, or any other diet program if you are consuming more than you burn. I’ve done so myself, I’ve stalled out on keto and gained weight on keto. I still eat fairly low carb in my current diet, but I no longer put coconut oil or butter in my coffee, a cup of fatty sauce on my meat, or consume unlimited amounts of “good food” like nuts and avocado.

This is not denying that your body is obviously going to be better off if you consume whole, unprocessed and natural foods. After all, getting enough of critical macro and micronutrients is very important for health, but it’s possible to over-consume calories and be under-consuming nutrients. If you want to lose weight, meaning reduce body fat, eating less calories than you burn over a period of time is the only factor that matters. If you are looking to reduce body fat and improve health, the quality of the calories matter.

Weight Loss Update: February 2018

As of the morning of February 28th 2018, I’ve reached a new low of 80,9 kg (179 lbs), putting me 0,9 kg (2 lbs) short of my next weight milestone of 80 kg (176 lbs). This means that since I started this last leg of my weight loss journey, I’ve lost 9 kg (20 lbs) in total, that is more likely 7 – 7,5 kg (15 – 16 lbs), considering water and glycogen. I’m happy to say that my lifts have been going up in the weight room since new years, so I’m pretty sure that the fat vs lean mass calculations are on point. On February 28th, I have a BMI of 24,4 and my 6 day average body weight is 81,9 kg (180 lbs), which is roughly on target based on my tracked calories in and out.

February started out very challenging because I had to attend a 3 day corporate retreat, and that always means more food and alcohol, plus that I won’t be able to track the calories of every meal accurately. It also means that I had to shuffle around my training schedule. I compensated for the over-indulgence at the retreat by doing extra cardio in sub-zero temperatures and eating less in the 3 days following it. It’s not optimal, but it doesn’t seem to have done any damage.

I’ve increased the weight lifted on the Bench press, Squat, Overhead Press and Barbell Row. My calculated 1 rep max for these lifts after 10 months of training, is 77 kg (169 lbs) for the bench press, 103 kg (227 lbs) for the squat, 60 kg (132 lbs) for the standing overhead press and 100 kg (220 lbs) for bent over barbell rows.

I’ve seen good progress on my lifts in these 10 months, despite being in a severe caloric deficit for the whole period, and I’m getting very exited, but a little nervous about doing my first “bulk” sometime in April or May. I feel like I have full control over my weight and to some degree my body composition at this point, but the idea of eating in a surplus on purpose after losing 45 kg (100 lbs) in the last 24 months, and 77 kg (170 lbs) in total, is a bit scary.

February Weight Loss Statistics

I had the same 750 daily calorie deficit goal as I did for January, this was a bit of a challenge this month, because I had to attend a 3 day corporate retreat where I was unable to track calories accurately. Usually I prepare all my meals from scratch because this gives me control over what I put in my body and how much of it, when dining out I have no way of knowing if a steak was cooked in 5 g of butter or 50 g of butter. I guesstimated the calorie intake for each day at 3500 including alcohol just to be on the safe side. I also made sure to cut calories back extra in the days after I got back home and added some extra cardio.

The overall deficit was down to 774 calories for February compared to 877 calories per day for January, this was mostly because of the 3 days with little to no control over my food, and where I also had some alcohol. My 6 day average around the weigh in for February was 81,85 kg (180 lbs) and my first of March weight was 81,6 kg (179,8), which puts me well within the range of my goal for the month.

I burned a total of 73847 calories this month according to Fitbit, tracked a total of 52178 calories in MyfitnessPal, for a deficit of 21669 calories for the month. This is lower than January both because the February deficit was 100 calories less every day than my January deficit, but also because February has 3 fewer days.  Overall, the deficit difference didn’t make a major impact, if my February deficit was the same as my January deficit I would have lost 3,19 kg (7 lbs) instead of 2,81 kg (6,1 lbs).

My body fat based on the Navy Body Fat calculator is 19%, I’m starting to see some muscle definition mostly in my forearms, shoulders and legs, but I’m still carrying a bit of subcutaneous fat in my problem areas. I’m hoping most of that disappears when I get down to 15 – 16% at the end of March. My waistline went down from 94 cm (37 inches) to 90 cm (35,4 inches) and  I had to punch new holes in the belts I bought last year.

My goal for March is to maintain a daily deficit of 850 calories per day, for a total deficit for the month of 26350 calories, and this should bring me down to 78,5 kg (173 lbs), at 15 – 16% body fat, by the end of the month.

I’m noticing that maintaining this level of deficit is more draining than the 1000 calories per day deficit was last year, I have a bit less energy and my mind is on food a lot. I think this is because as my body fat percentage is going down, my body is noticing that it’s gigantic store of adipose energy is emptying out. I’ve made some changes to my eating schedule to try and get around it. Instead of eating a large main meal totally about 1000 – 1200 calories, and a lunch of about 350 – 450 calories, I’ve reduced my main meal to between 800 calories and 900 calories, and have a snack either in the morning or during the afternoon.

 

3 Major Mistakes I made When Setting Weight Loss Goals

I’ve had many weight loss goals over the years. When I was sitting in excess of 300 lbs, I didn’t really set a goal, I just wanted to lose weight. Over time I’ve become more serious about weight-loss and body composition, so I’ve started setting goals. The first weight-loss goal I set was in 2009, when I set the goal of 113 kg (250 lbs.). I knew that this wasn’t as slim as I wanted to be, but at the time I just wanted some weight off to make my life easier. Once I reached 250 lbs, and saw that I was still a fat f*ck, I decided to drop it even lower. I made a mistake at this point that was assuming that my lean mass was much higher than it was and that I would be as lean as I wanted (15 – 20% body fat) at between 90 – 95 kg (210 and 220 lbs.).

Knowing what I know now, this was naive, since natural body builders with years of training at my height compete between 190 and 200 lbs. This means that their maximum lean mass is around 83 kg (182 lbs). Myself as more or less untrained, could not hope to lean out at that point. This set me up for disappointment, but I was still pretty happy with myself when I reached 95 kg in the fall of 2013. I still looked like the same old fat f*ck but at least I was a much smaller version of him.

After my relapse in 2014/2015, when I sat back down to set a goal for myself, I had information about how lean I would need to get. I also knew that it wouldn’t be quick, painless and easy. I sat down and found that the fastest I could safely lose weight was 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) per week, and set a goal to reach the upper end of normal BMI (24.9) that for me is 83 kg. I reached that in August of 2017, after dieting since January 2016, and having lost 31 kg (68 lbs) in 20 months. This added up to an average per month of 1,72 kg (3,8 lbs), this is much slower than what is possible, since if you maxed out at the 1k deficit, you could potentially lose 68 lbs in about 8 months.

Overestimating Lean Mass

Your body is composed of lean mass (muscle, bone, blood vessels and so on) and fat mass (what we want to get rid of), it’s very common for an overweight or obese person to over-estimate their lean mass, and underestimate their fat mass. Usually when we say we want to lose weight, we mean that we want to lose fat, but when we underestimate fat mass and overestimate lean mass we also underestimate how much we have to lose.

Martin Berkhan at leangains has come up with a simple formula for maximum muscular potential in drug-free athletes, that I like to use as a rule-of-thumb when estimating how much weight I have to lose. This formula is (height in cm – 100) = body weight in kilo at 5 – 6% body fat (contest lean body builder), this means a lean mass of about 79 kg (174 lbs). Anyone without at least 2 – 3 years if not more of weight training with a solid diet is unlikely to be close to their genetic muscular potential so subtract 20 – 30% from that lean mass weight.

Going All Out, All The Time

I can get very gung-ho and plan out a weight loss period with 100% compliance at 1000 calorie deficits for a long time. Being aggressive with weight loss can be a good thing, but expecting yourself to be 100% compliant for months or even years in some cases, is unrealistic, especially if you have set very aggressive goals. The 80/20 principle is a good thing to shoot for, and allows for some leeway to manage a social and professional life along with your weight-loss journey.

This month I had to spend 3 days at a corporate retreat, and while I was able to schedule my workouts to work around this break, I found it impossible to track calories with normal accuracy. It’s very difficult to be the “weird guy” who can’t eat any of the provided food or have a drink, so I accepted that those 3 days were pure losses, and just compensated for them with larger deficits the next week.

Not Accepting That It Takes Time

I have no idea where I’d be today if I’d realized that going from 152 kg (335 lbs) down to the 75 – 77 kg (165 – 170 lb) range would take me a little under 10 years. During the period I’ve had some pretty bad setbacks, I’ve had years where my weight stabilized and I’ve had years where I lost over 50 lbs. Up until 2017, this was a very emotional journey, until I decided to divorce my emotions from my weight.

I spent  12 – 13 years putting on the excess weight, expecting to lose all of it in a year or two, and having the problem be “over” was one of the times where I was extremely optimistic. It’s easy to get so focused on the physical changes you are creating, that you don’t focus on creating psychological change at the same time. The reason why I yo-yoed a bit for some years was that I never really made an effort to change my binge eating habit.

 

A Calorie Isn’t a Calorie, But It Sort of Is

“A calorie is a calorie and to lose weight eat less calories than you burn”. This is the no-nonsense diet advice that I’ve heard since I first started to get into fat fuck territory in my early teens. When I started my weight loss journey, I did it using an ultra-low carb ketogenic diet based on “Eat less than 30g of carbs every day, don’t bother with calories, they don’t matter.

Keto has worked amazingly for me and most of the weight I’ve lost has been on a keto. In fact, I’m still using keto-diet basics in my current program. Now, one of my bigger peeves with the “fitness industry” is that everyone who wants to sell a product has to invent a new and revolutionary way of doing it.

Whether it’s Dr. Andreas Enfeldt and keto, Dr. Robert Lustig and “Don’t eat sugar” or Dr. Jason Fung and fasting, or many of the others, everyone has to find something unique to their product. I get annoyed with this because it confuses people.

There are 3 ways you can look at a calorie:

Calories As Units of Energy

A calorie is a measure of how much energy is stored in food. From the law of thermodynamics we know that energy can never disappear it can just change form. This is what people talk about when they say “eat less than you burn”. Eat 3000 calories every day and burn 2000, then 3000 calories go into your tank, 2000 leave your tank, and the 1000 in excess are stored in your body.

Calories As A Source of Nutrition

I try to visit my grandmother every week, because I know that she gets lonely these days and I enjoy talking to her. Since I’ve lost a lot of weight, and the grandmother instinct is to fatten you up, we ended up talking about my diet. I love cooking, also I make wine, cider and beer, so my grandmother asked if I was just going to keep making wine, cider and beer since I don’t drink when I’m losing weight.

So, I told her that I’m going to start drinking again, but since my caloric deficit is currently 750 calories every day, and I only eat 1500 – 1600, I would rather spend my calories on protein, healthy fats and fibrous carbs, that are loaded with micronutrients I need, than on alcohol that is more or less empty calories.

If I was eating the 2800 – 3000 calories I burn every day, then I would have space for some beer or a glass of wine without it affecting my nutrition goals.

Calories As a Metabolic Trigger

The third way to see a calorie, is as a trigger of metabolic effects in your body. Sugar triggers an insulin release, and insulin is anabolic (makes you build mass), this is why strength athletes take in dextrose or other simple sugars with protein as a post-workout meal. If your muscles and liver are already full of glucose, and you haven’t done strength training, excess calories are more likely to be stored as fat.

Everything you eat has hormonal and metabolic effects, as a man if you’re not getting enough fat and cholesterol in your diet, your testosterone level drops because fat contains cholesterol and cholesterol is required to produce testosterone.

A Calorie is a Calorie… sort of

If you want to lose weight, you have to consume less calories than you burn (a calorie as a unit of energy). To make sure your body stays as healthy as possible during weight loss, you have to make sure you eat the right foods to meet your macro nutrient  and micro nutrient goals (A calorie as a source of nutrition). To maintain optimal health, avoid bad hormone effects, and make your weight loss easier, you want to make sure that you avoid bad hormonal effects (a calorie as a trigger for hormones and metabolic effects).

So, a calorie is a calorie if you just want to lose weight. If you eat a 500 calorie a day deficit from twinkies and protein shakes, or if you eat a 500 calorie a day deficit from chicken, broccoli and olive oil, you will lose the same lb of weight. You will get a lot less nutrients from twinkies and protein shakes than from olive oil, broccoli and chicken. The twinkies will trigger insulin releases, and various other metabolic effects, and the protein shakes will not supply the micro nutrients required for to make certain hormones, but the weight loss will be the same.

You can get fat from healthy foods and you can get thin from unhealthy foods.