3 Simple Things

This morning I was thinking about the different habits I have now compared to the habits I used to have. The idea of a diet is temporary, it’s something we do for a time to get a result. Want to lose 5 lbs? Go on a diet, lose the 5 lbs, then go back to your old habits and gain them back.

It was difficult for me to change my lifestyle, because a lot of my habits, or default behavior if you prefer that were things that made me gain weight. The three habits that I’m going to write about in this post, are 3 easy to do things that most people will be able to do and that will give you more control.

Eliminate Liquid Calories

I used to be a big consumer of soda, I started with a glass or two in the morning, plus maybe an energy drink. I had soda with every meal, and between meals. I pretty much never drank water. This was not only an expensive habit, but on a “good day” I would consume almost 600 calories, and on a bad day up to 1800 calories from just soda.

If I was being “healthy” I would drink apple juice or sweet tea instead, but those can have even more calories. Now, I still buy Coca Cola Zero, or Sprite Zero on occasion as a treat, but the majority of what I drink is pure water and coffee.

This little change reduced my caloric intake by enough calories to lose about 0.5 kg/1 lb every week.

Meal Planning

I started meal planning in about March 2016. Before I started planning out my meals, I would have to throw away a lot of food because I bought it and it went bad, but even worse I was at the mercy of “what looks good”. I would go to the grocery store 1 – 3 times a day, buy whatever I wanted at that moment and finish most of it.

This meant that when I was shopping for my breakfast, I would grab whatever smelled the best, usually baked goods and an energy drink. When I was shopping for my lunch I would grab whatever was fast and easy to save time on my lunch break. When I was shopping for my dinner, I would grab whatever took the least possible effort to prepare and tasted the best, so usually a frozen pizza.

Going to the grocery store every day also meant that I had 3 times a day where I could buy candy or chocolate to snack on.

Usually what I do now is set aside 1 hour on Thursday night (I shop Friday after work), and plan the 3 main meals every day until lunch on the coming Friday. I’ll enter them all into My Fitness Pal and adjust them so that I’m on track for my calorie and macro-nutrient targets.

I also make sure to buy some healthier, lower calorie snacks, like yogurt, fruit and carrots, to bridge the gap between the estimated calories in my fitness pal and the actual calories I should eat that day based on the fitbit adjustment.

The 10 Minute Walk

This is a new habit that I used to replace the 3 x 1 – 2 hour brisk walks I used to do for cardio, and that I stole from a bodybuilder named Stan Efferding. After every meal, I get up and do a brisk 10 – 20 minute walk. On most days I used to get 5 – 6000 steps in Fitbit, after using the 10 minute walk, I get around 12.000 and this burns enough calories that I don’t need to set aside the 1 – 2 hours 3 x a week to do cardio.

It’s low impact, easy, and something just about everyone can do regardless of fitness level. It also helps with digestion and insulin sensitivity.

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Weight Loss Update: April 2018

April was an interesting month, weight loss wise. I changed my workout program from a full body program highly focused on compound lifts and low reps (5×5 and 3×3) to a push/pull/legs split with more isolation and using a 3×12 rep scheme. I’ve kept some of the heavy load exercises in the program, so I’ll still do heavy deadlifts, squats and bench press every two to three weeks but most of my work is done at around 60% of 1 rep max, instead of 80% or more of 1 rep max. This change in program was due to me getting bored with my full body program after a full 12 months of the same program, but also because I wanted to focus on building more mass over strength.

I also tinkered a bit with my macros. As I said in my March summary, I was on a 30/30/40 macro split (carbs/fat/protein) and tapering my deficit down from 500 to about 350. This was the plan until I experienced some pretty bad gastrointestinal issues about halfway through the month and decided to try changing it up. I’ve always felt the best on fairly low carb macro planning, usually between 20 and 50 grams per day. However, this time I decided to go all out and try zero-carb for the last 10 days on the month.

While I’ve done sub-20 grams of carbs before, also known as “ultra-low carb” I’d never done zero carb before. So, on the 20th of April I embarked on 10 days of nothing but water, coffee, red meat, eggs, butter and a little bit of cheese, with very good results. I’m going to write a dedicated post on it, but in short, my GI issues cleared up in about 3 days, I saw no change in energy levels, and the weight started dropping again. (more…)

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)

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.