The obligatory fat loss article for the new year. Happy 2016, I hope everyone has a great and productive year!
For this article, I am going to stray away from Managing the Don’t Shoot Yet and discuss losing fat with diet. Many of my friends don’t know my college degree is in exercise physiology. I co-ran the human performance laboratory at Northern Illinois University as a graduate assistant (in 1985) and worked at a human performance testing hospital facility for three years. During that time I tested thousands of people and provided exercise and nutrition, advice, and feedback.
This is a copy of a post I wrote on a private message board in 2011. You will notice this information is becoming more mainstream these days, but in 2011 there were only three main proponents of this method, Brad Pilon (Eat Stop Eat), Martin Berkhan (Leangains), and the granddaddy of this method Ori Hofmekler (The Warrior Diet). I do not know any of them and have not communicated with them, by any means, but I admire their work.
This article is very long. It violates every bit of advice my friends gave me regarding length of blog posts, people reading on cell phones and whatnot. You don’t have to read all of this, the first half or less is more than enough information to effectively begin to lose fat.
This information has been effective for a multitude of people. Anytime I travel to train at least one person comes up to me and thanks me for the information. Most of the people have lost fat and kept it off.
Enough with the preamble, here’s the content of the forum post, slightly modified:
This is a post about a subject that seems controversial and frankly extremely confusing. Diets, nutrition, Paleo, Zone, high carb, low carb, iso caloric, meal timing, post workout nutrition, supplements, what are we supposed to do about nutrition? Of all the “physical” disciplines nutrition is the toughest. It is the toughest because we have to deal with it 24 hours a day, every day of our lives. We have unlimited choices of what to eat and we can eat almost anything, any time of the day. I am going to make this as simple as I can, not easy, but simple. I am going to dot point this for simplicities sake. Most people pay attention to their nutrition because they want to lose fat. People who say they want to do it for health are, for the most part, lying. You don’t have to buy a pamphlet, just read the dot points and implement…simple in theory, hard in practice.
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you use just living. Use this calculator: http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/ to get a fairly good estimate of your BMR.
- BMR is lower than you think and similar for people of the same height. I am 6’0” and my BMR is about 1800 kilo-calories (kcal). If YOU are 6’ your BMR is approximately 1800 kcal.
- BMR is mostly composed of organ function. Muscle contributes about 5 calories per pound. That’s a hell of a lot less than bro science would lead you to believe.
- Unless you are juiced, you don’t have 40 pounds of actual muscle mass above the average dude or dudette. If you did, you would burn 200 more kcals than the average dude or dudette…200 calories, that’s NOTHING!
- You don’t burn as many calories exercising as you think you do. Heart rate monitors and exercise machines are wildly inaccurate when it comes to calories burned. They also don’t account for the calories you would have burned doing something else, like watching TV or just surviving.
- Don’t even worry about exercise calories. Use cardio to develop conditioning, not lose fat.
- Afterburn, increased calorie burn after intense exercise, is largely bullshit.
- Thermic effect of food is true (eating protein uses more calories than carbs and fat to digest) but the difference is so small, that it doesn’t really matter.
- There are a ton of theories of why we get fat: insulin, trans fats, fat, etc. They are THEORIES. Here’s one…you’ve been eating too much.
- The laws of thermodynamics actually friggin work.
- All successful diets control calories, they just don’t say they do. EATING LESS FOOD ALWAYS WORKS.
- Basically every health marker improves as you lose fat, regardless of method. If you are in a caloric deficit, your body will use it’s fat stores to make up the energy deficit. If you are in a caloric surplus, your body will store the excess energy (regardless if it’s from fat, carbs, or protein) as FAT, if you are in energy balance (calories in = calories out) you will maintain weight.
- Metabolism is not affected by not eating, until you are DAYS into a fast. Ethiopian type starvation effects metabolism because organs and muscle tissue are damaged and lost.
- You don’t have to eat every 4 hours to stoke your metabolism. This is complete and utter bullshit. You will not lose muscle if you don’t eat.
- Muscles “grow” because of SAID (specific adaptation to imposed demands) not because you are eating protein. .8 grams per pound of body weight is a good start.
- After juvenile muscle growth…every pound of muscle is a pain in the ass to develop.
- Five pounds of muscle makes a huge visual impact…so does 5 pounds of fat. If you lift weights while dieting, you will not lose muscle mass.
- You have to be a lot lighter than you think to be ripped. Bodybuilders take about 1000 pictures the day of their show (photo studios are set up backstage, by supplement companies to facilitate this). They take the pictures because they can only keep that ripped look for mere hours. They will use those photos for a year (or longer). That ripped, bodybuilder look, is very transient. Using them as inspiration for what you could actually look like, day to day, is delusional.
Let’s filter all this stuff into a workable action plan:
- Eat less on a weekly basis. How much you eat under your BMR will determine how fast you will lose fat. I could include exercise calories, but don’t.
- You can use 2 – 24 hour fast a week to lower weekly calories. This allows me to eat more when I’m not fasting and still stay in a weekly deficit. Some of you Nancy boys don’t want to fast…ok, just find other ways to eat less.
- You can also just not eat for 6 – 8 hours after you wake up. I do this, I don’t eat breakfast. I have black coffee with stevia (a packet of Truvia), ice water, and a diet soft drink or two, until I eat my first meal between 12pm and 1pm. I work out in the morning.
- An average daily deficit of 500 calories is fairly doable. That gives you 1300 calories a day to work with. If I fast 2 times a week, I could up the calories on non-fasting days. If I don’t eat breakfast, I spread the meals over two large meals (lunch and dinner) and 1 snack.
- You could skip meals to compensate for excess. Have a few drinks a burger and fries on Saturday night…don’t eat breakfast and have a very light lunch on Sunday.
- You could eat 5 small meals a day…but it kind of sucks and makes you look like a tool carrying around a cooler everywhere you go. Don’t overcompensate before or after a fast, just eat normally.
- Breakfast is important…if you’re 8 years old and go to school. If you are an adult, you don’t HAVE to have breakfast, unless your mom makes you.
- Look for ways to cut calories but still have foods you like. This is where lower calorie versions of food help, like frozen yogurt, low fat cheeses, etc. Remember, you could eat the “regular” version of these foods, just account for the extra calories.
- You want to eat paleo, zone, south beach…go for it. If you eat 5000 calories of cheese, eggs, and beef, you’re gonna get fat, you still have to control for calories.
- 8 ounces of Coke is 100 calories…8 ounces! Friggin stop drinking this shit, on a daily basis, multiple times. Once in awhile, ok.
- You are not a special snowflake, if your calories are low and you are not losing weight…lower them some more. Food calorie information is screwed up. Portion sizes are screwed up. We underestimate how much we eat. We under report how much we eat.
- Drink coffee, tea, and water, chew gum to deal with hunger between meals or during a fast. Oh, and man up, seriously man (or woman) the F up…losing fat is not fun, you’re gonna be hungry and irritable. It’s simple, not easy. Anybody who says it’s easy is lying to you.
- Special foods are bullshit. Fat burning supplements are bullshit. When you see a list of “5 superfoods to eat to lose fat”, understand this is predatory marketing. You lose fat by not eating food, not eating special foods.
- For a week or so measure your food and use calorie counting software. You are going to be surprised at how little you should eat, especially if you are having 5 – 7 meals a day.
- If I put a gun to your head and told you, you had to lose 8 pounds in two weeks or I blow a hole in your head, would you eat a specific mixture of macronutrients or…just not friggin eat at all? See, it’s pretty simple.
- Use the scale, mirror, and clothing size to determine if you are on track. The scale will lie due to water weight fluctuations, make sure you are trending down. If not…lower calories. Weigh yourself every day to observe trends and intervene when the trend goes in the wrong direction.
- I used to eat nuts (almonds, walnuts, you know good fat profile nuts) and wondered why I had a hard time losing fat. Look at the calories in a handful of nuts. Keep them for maintenance.
- Supplement with D, fish oil (or krill oil), creatine (if you want to) and vitamin K2.
- You could pretty much eat anything. It is more filling to eat meats, vegetables and fruits, but I eat a few hard pretzels almost every night. I also have ice cream and alcohol on a weekly basis. Somehow the inflammation has not killed me or shown up in any health markers.
- This is for fat loss. If you want to eat only for “health” restrict yourself to only eating grass fed, organic, paleo, blah, blah, blah…you will eventually break and go crazy and I will find it amusing. Seriously, you want to be so dogmatic that you will not eat a piece of your kids birthday cake, you want to be “that guy”, have at it…you were warned.
- THIS IS HARD. Two pounds a week is brutal. Having a goal, like a wedding or better yet a BJJ or other weight class sport competition will give you the motivation to not make an ass of yourself.
- See, the hard thing about this is having the discipline to lower the amount of food you shove in your mouth and deal with being hungry. Looking at this as a week long problem, rather than a day by day problem, helps. It allows me to compensate for indulgences. For Thanksgiving, I ate anything I wanted…but only during dinner. I did not eat breakfast or lunch, I fasted the next day. Going out to drink, don’t eat until you go out, now you could drink all your calories and get really wasted.
- If you are celiac, have issues with lactose, or are allergic to foods, don’t eat them. Seriously, if you don’t have grain issues…a piece of toast or oatmeal is not evil.
- I don’t want to argue theories here. I really don’t care and have read Good Calories, Bad Calories, the Zone, Atkins, The South Beach Diet, The Anabolic Diet, Body Opus, etc. etc. I have tried pretty much every diet for fat loss and performance. I also have a degree in exercise physiology, which I ignored in lieu of bro science, and have taken Master’s level nutrition courses. I’ve come back to the realization the whole scientific evidence thing is pretty valid.
- If you calculate out the calories in a typical Zone, paleo, Protein Power, or Atkins, diet, you will find the calories run towards a deficit for most people. If you want a structured diet, follow one of them. I like paleo. I think it’s unrealistic, dogmatic, and amusing that some of the paleo dudes sell bars and protein powders. but whatever, it might change your life and you too could join the cult. If you have questions, please fire away. If you want to post studies and argue that a calorie is not a calorie and that human physiology is not as simple as calorie in calorie out…frankly, I don’t want to go there. If you are interested in this…Google it, there are thousands of Internet flame wars going on regarding this very subject. I am not arguing health, I am talking about fat loss. You will naturally find eating meats, vegetables, and fruits will be more filling and nutrient dense.
- Extreme contest prep and weight cutting are completely different subjects which has been covered in another post. They involve water manipulation, low carbs (to manipulate water), and playing with super-hydration and sodium.
Some added content from answers to various questions on the post:
- I haven’t touched on the physiological issues regarding weight loss, but outlined the mechanical issues.
- Some people gain weight as psychological armor. I have seen many sexually abused girls become clinically obese. It’s so bad that when I see an obese teen, I automatically think sexual or physical abuse. Psychological issues are way outside my lane and should be dealt with, by a professional, prior to working on physical issues. Women or men who have been diagnosed, at any time of their lives, with anorexia or bulimia, should not be fasting.
- When a person makes the decision to lose fat. It’s a mechanical issue. Control calories under BMR any way you can.
- Body for Life is crap. It’s 5 small meals per day…buy my MRPs. It is unsustainable, if it was sustainable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If you are currently not happy with your fat status, every “diet” you have been on has been unsustainable for you (this is not a specific you, it is a general you).
- May be I need to clarify something. It is NOT EASY TO LOSE FAT. It is not easy for me or anyone I know. I feel hunger. I want to destroy a bag of chips. I feel hunger pangs. I get irritable. I have seen grown MMA fighters cry due to a cutting diet. I have seen lean high school state wrestling champions cry like babies, because they are low calorie:
- In most admirable endeavors your ability to sustain suffering will determine your success. Hard shit is hard, because…it sucks.
- When someone tells me “it must be nice to be naturally lean.” I want to punch them in the face and say “Yah, if natural includes consistent dietary discipline, working out, at an intensity level you have never experienced, 7 days a week, and researching optimization, then you’re right…it’s easy.”
- I’ve never had an uncontrollable physical addiction. The jury is out as to sugar being actually physically addictive to humans (it appears to be in rats). Caffeine is physically addictive. I guess the first step is admitting you have a problem, then you have to want to change. After that I got nothing.
- A meal replacement shake has approximately 250 calories…two a day is an extra 500 calories. Replace the shake with a regular coffee and half and half 10 total calories. Diet coke…zero calories. Water…zero calories. Nothing…zero calories.
- When losing fat it’s about calories consumed vs. calories expended. You are on a high fat diet, because your body is pulling from your fat stores to generate energy to meet your body’s demands.
- Don’t worry about healthy or not healthy. Don’t worry about having protein at every meal. Don’t follow the dogma you have been pushed for the last 15 years.
- If you have an issue with gout, well then don’t eat shit that sets gout off. If you have an issue with carbs (celiac), don’t eat carbs. If you cannot handle milk, don’t friggin drink it. But don’t let other people’s crusades suck you in. Don’t demonize foods. Soda is not inherently good or bad. Trans fats or high fructose corn syrup is not evil. Too much of it equals too many calories.
- This is not a diet. Eat whatever you want, eat less weekly and you will lose fat. Really understand this and you will never read another diet article or book again.
- CHEAT DAYS, once again, cheating implies you are restricting something. I don’t restrict foods, I don’t believe foods are good or bad. I think TOO MUCH FOOD is bad, if you don’t want to be fat. If you don’t care, then no problem. If you want to lose fat and maintain it, then this is the way to do it and still enjoy an occasional coke or piece of cake or pasta.
- So, as we restrict calories, do we lose MUSCLE. For people who are on a low calorie diet AND WHO DON’T LIFT, there is a danger of actual muscle loss. If we maintain protein at, at least, .8g/lb and lift…there is no evidence of muscle loss in healthy humans on a low calorie diet. Will LEAN MASS go down, absolutely! Remember lean mass is everything but fat, including water retained in the muscles.
- Now let’s flip this around a little. Anyone here broken an arm? Does the muscle shrink because of lack of use…hell yeah. So now you are permanently walking around with a shrunken arm, right? One gun is friggin huge, the other a little girly arm? Nope…after a few months out of the cast, the broken arms muscle mass went right back up to it’s old, huge gun, size. So worst case, if you lose a minor amount of muscle, dieting down (which you won’t, but for sake of argument let’s pretend you will)…you will gain it back rather quickly.
- Now if you are so calorie restricted that you can’t lift…now we have a problem. If you are a vegan and don’t lift…you have more problems than I can deal with.
- Just a cholesterol number is not precise enough. Your total cholesterol number may be high because your HDL number is off the charts (mine was 76 last time it was tested) a high HDL is very good. Additionally there are two kinds of LDLs…small LDL = bad and potentially atherogenic, big or “fluffy” LDL which are good (google fluffy LDL for a crap load of info). These could be tested, and I would prior to taking any medicine, which may have pretty bad side effects. There is a book: “The Cholesterol Myth” which makes the claim the whole hate cholesterol thing is bad science. Here are the claims:
- Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance vital to the cells of all mammals. There are no such things as good or bad cholesterol, but mental stress, physical activity and change of body weight may influence the level of blood cholesterol. A high cholesterol is not dangerous by itself, but may reflect an unhealthy condition, or it may be totally innocent.
- A high blood cholesterol is said to promote atherosclerosis and thus also coronary heart disease. But many studies have shown that people whose blood cholesterol is low become just as atherosclerotic as people whose cholesterol is high.
- Your body produces three to four times more cholesterol than you eat. The production of cholesterol increases when you eat little cholesterol and decreases when you eat much. This explains why the ”prudent” diet can not lower cholesterol more than on average a few per cent.
- There is no evidence that too much animal fat and cholesterol in the diet promotes atherosclerosis or heart attacks. For instance, more than twenty studies have shown that people who have had a heart attack haven’t eaten more fat of any kind than other people, and degree of atherosclerosis at autopsy is unrelated with the diet.
- The only effective way to lower cholesterol is with drugs, but neither heart mortality or total mortality have been improved with drugs the effect of which is cholesterol-lowering only. On the contrary, these drugs are dangerous to your health and may shorten your life.
- The new cholesterol-lowering drugs, the statins, do prevent cardiovascular disease, but this is due to other mechanisms than cholesterol-lowering. Unfortunately, they also stimulate cancer in rodents, disturb the functions of the muscles, the heart and the brain and pregnant women taking statins may give birth to children with malformations more severe than those seen after thalidomide.
- Many of these facts have been presented in scientific journals and books for decades but are rarely told to the public by the proponents of the diet-heart idea.
- The reason why laymen, doctors and most scientists have been misled is because opposing and disagreeing results are systematically ignored or misquoted in the scientific press.
- I present this information not to encourage you NOT to lower your cholesterol, but to tell you to do your research prior to any intervention (dietary or not).
- There is evidence a lower carb diet increases the incidence of fluffy LDL and raises HDL. LSD Cardio training increases HDL. Fish oil is good.
- Bottom line is realize the goal is not to lower cholesterol, the goal is to prevent cardiovascular disease. The fact you are lean now would indicate to me your high cholesterol is due to genetic factors (ie. your body is producing higher cholesterol, you are not getting it from your food). I assume you don’t smoke. What’s your family history regarding cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes?
- Granted, I am not a doctor and would never give or contradict medical advice, I think your diet plan will be fine. If it was me, I would research this until I became a layman expert, I would then take an active role in my treatment, or lack of treatment.
19 responses to “Point Driven Fat Loss”
What’s your view on using the Harris Benedict equation to account for excercise? I’ve had success using it as a starting point and then tracking weight/waistline to see what actaully happens.
Outstanding points here. Just let me add one thing about fasting: “Obese people and those desiring to lose weight should perform hard work before food. Meals should be taken after exertion while still panting from fatigue. They should, moreover, only eat once per day and take no baths and walk naked as long as possible.” – Hippocrates circa 471 BC
I appreciate all the new information on fasting, but the concept of fasting for fat loss is older than 1999, like some have argued in other places.
This is an excellent blog.
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I’m going to attempt to not go all fan boy but for those of you who don’t know, Dan John, in my opinion. is one of the most important voices in the “training” industry. He is a stud athlete, former college field athlete, Olympic lifter, and innovator. He is also kind of the, stronger, bigger, Garrison Keillor of strength training.
A common theme in the tactical / firearms / self protection world is bitching about instructors who have not been there done that. We generally listen to people who could teach and reference back to real world experience and obstacles overcome. Dan John has been there, done that, many many times over, more importantly, he is an excellent teacher. I highly recommend you read his many books and subscribe to his newsletter. I have and continue to learn.
And, yes fasting is as old as we have roamed the earth. There may be benefits to fasting in regards to hormesis but, to me, those benefits are gravy, I just like it to control daily calorie intake.
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I love gravy!
No, you don’t sound like a fan boy at all.
Nick, I think you nailed it. I don’t put in the exercise modifier as I don’t really think it’s that accurate. Some people like to use ideal body weight and multiply by 10 or 11 for an estimate of daily fat loss calories.
Really any of that is just a starting point. It’s the beginning of a feedback loop. Measure and adjust. I like to see about 1 – 2 pounds a week of fat loss. As you get closer to your ideal you will lose less per week. As I get leaner, I sometimes lose .5 pounds a week and am happy as hell. If I see a 2 to 3 week stall, I adjust calories down by 200 to 300 and see what happens.
I generally eat a large mixed greens salad with seeds and a chunk of cut up meat with an apple for lunch. My snack, prior to night training, is Greek yogurt with protein powder, some crushed walnuts and possibly a banana. I drink throw a Nuun in water during BJJ training. And, pretty much whatever my lovely wife cooks for dinner.
It’s not that I don’t believe exercise makes a difference in fat loss, I just don’t count it. I train a lot. I lift 2 times a week, train BJJ 7 – 9 hours a week, do a long cardio session (at least an hour mixed modes) 1 time a week and hit a few Airdyne, C2 rower, jump rope, HIIT sessions a week. I really don’t count any of that to calories burned.
My training is my training and my diet is my diet. They do kinda meet when I am cutting for a tournament. I like to make weight 3 weeks out from the tournament so I could eat at maintenance prior to tapering training. That way my training could peak and I could recover better because I am not in a calorie deficit.
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When you state that this still works with lifting, does that include situations where large muscle mass growth is the plan such as the case of Power Lifting? I only ask because I would assume the increased muscle will need the extra calories.
Jonathan, If I were lifting for strength or size, I would eat in a slight calorie surplus. This is strictly a fat loss protocol. We are using lifting to maintain muscle mass and strength in advanced trainers. In beginners we often see muscle mass and “strength” gains, even in a deficit. Most of this is neurological and involves beginners actually learning the lift weight. Weight training is a skill and the better you get the more you could lift.
So bottom line, if you are training for strength or size, eat more. If you are looking to lose fat, eat less.
And people, I believe there are athletic benefits to leanness, for some athletes, for some sports. A heavyweight wrestler is gonna be fat, unless he’s a monster, an NFL or College football lineman is gonna be fat and a monster. The fat makes them better at their sport. So, this is not a blanket recommendation to lose fat. But if you have to or want to lose fat, this is a sustainable way to do it.
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I have a copy and paste version of this from TPI that I email people. This is much easier. I lost over 100lbs doing exactly what you say. Thanks brother.
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Awesome resource Larry and Dan John no less…!!!
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Found this article via Dan John’s newsletter. I need to lose about 130 pounds. I read everything I can on this way and that way to lose weight and I’ve paralyzed myself on what actually works with information overload. This post is the first one I’ve read in a long, long time that actually cuts the bullshit and gets to what works, eating less food, ignoring the fads, embracing the suck of losing weight and just getting to work of eating less food. Simple yet hard which means it works.
Thank you for this. It’s what I needed to read right now and what I will come back to every time I think I need to try the lastest and greatest way to lose weight.
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Todd, that’s great! Sorry it took so long to reply, still figuring out this blog thing. I don’t remember where I heard this but it sounds kind of Dan Johney…Ask an 8 year old “how do people get fat” and you will likely get the reply: “they eat too much”. Then say if people eat too much to get fat, how do they get thin? The answer is obvious, but we have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Keep it simple, until simple doesn’t work. But I can tell you, simple works.
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Hi, Awesome article and really great points.
How do you determine (or let your client know) how much Bodyfat was actually lost? I read an inch of circumference equals roughly 4-5 pounds. Would you agree with that?
Looking forward to your feedback
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Al, yes I have seen a correlation between 5 pounds for one inch of waist circumference. I don’t go very far into the weeds with this because ultimately most bodyfat measurements are not accurate. I know, for me, at 6′ if my waist is 32″, that puts me at a weight of around 182. I compete in BJJ at 195 (with the gi on approximately 4 pounds), so I like to come into competition at 187 so I could eat and drink the day of competition. My waist is at 33″ at 187. People need to experiment with this and guys need to realize they are probably going to weigh much less than they think (all guys think they are going to be over 200 and ripped. Unless you’re 6’5″ that’s not gonna happen).
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5 years of organic/paleo/natural eating and I’ve never looked back and never will due to the benefits in my energy levels, immune system and overall well being (I still indulge every now and then and won’t say no to a piece of a cake at a birthday). Great points here though and I agree with most of it. Sick of seeing 5 meals a day bullshit to up your metabolism. Or that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I also fast regularly and think it does the body good. Nice one!
Thanks ES, Don’t necessarily disagree with you. I think after the fat is lost, we should probably gravitate to better quality food, with the ability to indulge without guilt.
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