Joel Marion is a likeable dude. What I like about Joel is that he understands and can relate to the common person. While the fringes of alternative nutrition blogs like this one attract a certain nutrition and health geekazoid crowd, Marion’s target audience are people like him – people that live in the real world, socialize in the real world, and do dearly love slamming pepperoni pizzas and Double Stuff Oreos – on occasion.
The question is, can you lose weight doing that intelligently, and can you actually improve your health in the process? I believe you can, and that Joel Marion has captured what could very well be the most important concept when it comes to losing weight intelligently – the “cheat” day.
Bodybuilders have been practicing “cheat days” for ages, but Marion has put the cheat day into context of the discovery of the hormone leptin – the master regulator of energy balance in the human body.
In his book, Cheat to Lose (interesting, but probably not enough to impress anyone here), he points out what is the dieter’s dilemma. That is that calorie restriction in some shape, form, or fashion is required to lose body fat. You have to eat less than you burn, burn more than you eat via exercise, etc. to lose fat. And when you do that, your metabolism slows down, your appetite goes up, you lose muscle mass, and the body does anything and everything it can to protect itself from further weight losses.
While my emphasis is, and will continue to be finding how to make that happen automatically within the body instead of relying solely on behavioral changes – the reality is unchanged. You must burn more fat than you store to lose fat, and this, in general, necessitates at least a slight deficit in calories ingested vs. calories burned through total metabolic and physical activity.
What I’m more interested in, is whether one could do any type of dieting that they want to create a calorie deficit and get away with it (metabolically-speaking) by doing an aggressive “cheat day” once every seven days. Marion certainly thinks so, and I’d like to believe him.
The premise of Marion’s program, both his old program and his new, even more radical approach, is that leptin levels are not solely linked to body fat levels but to calorie intake also.
I would agree with this. While leptin levels tend to rise as body fat rises (increased metabolism, decreased appetite, inhibited fat storage) and fall as body fat falls (decreased metabolism, increased appetite, inhibited fat burning), the peaks and valleys in leptin are way out of proportion to body fat when it comes to altering calorie intakes.
For example, an often cited quote by Russ Farris that I often throw out, is that during an overfeeding study leptin levels increased by 68% during the study, while body fat levels didn’t even come close to increasing by 68% (it was probably more like a 10% increase).
Likewise, Marion repeatedly refers to a study in which calories were restricted in dieters, and by the end of just 1 week, leptin levels fell by 50% despite a drop in body fat by only a few pounds.
This is precisely why trying to cut calories – and even perhaps the act of cutting calories automatically (which often happens with a new exercise regimen, on a low-carb diet, uber low-fat diet, or a whole foods diet), works short-term, but continued over several weeks and months often stalls and results in accompanying health problems (no matter how “clean” or nutritious your food may have been).
This is exactly why a smarter and more sophisticated approach is needed, and, in the context of leptin, Marion has created just that. The good news is this… (p. 21)
“…while leptin levels drop around 50 percent after one week of dieting, it only takes one DAY of overfeeding or ‘cheating’ to bring levels back up to baseline. So the solution to our dilemma and the very premise of this diet is: CHEAT… It all makes perfect physiological and psychological sense. By periodically cheating on your diet, you circumvent the negative physiological side effects of calorie restriction. Each week you start fresh with baseline levels of leptin and a hormonal environment primed for burning fat, not muscle. The metabolic crash that occurs with prolonged dieting is no longer an issue, so keeping lost weight lost as you enter the maintenance phase of the diet won’t be a problem.”
What does this mean in the context of 180 and what is the answer that I lean (no pun intended) towards giving to people asking me what I personally recommend for losing pure body fat with no lean losses these days?
It means this…
1) For restoring a severely damaged metabolism, it requires prolonged rest and overfeeding – a calorie surplus, as outlined in the eBook DIET RECOVERY. Fortunately, given the new insights covered in the MNP post, there now appears to be a way to minimize fat gain and maximize muscle gain and increased body heat and metabolism while overfeeding – maximizing starch intake and minimizing fat intake (easier said than done as many have crippling problems with hypoglycemia and impaired glucose metabolism that must be overcome first, which may mean eating more fat and gaining more fat before body composition is addressed).
2) Once metabolism is restored, body fat can be lost any way you desire. There is probably no “better” or “best” way to do it. For me, that means cutting way down on fats (most days). I feel great doing it, and it happens to be the perfect counter to some imbalances I developed on a prolonged low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet. It is very satiating, makes fat storage virtually impossible, and I enjoy being able to lose fat eating up to 10 pounds of food a day. But any method theoretically could be used – such as carb cycling, intermittent fasting, eating very small portions of all your favorite foods, or exercising your brains out.
3) To keep from developing health problems doing these practices, and to also limit the amount of weight you need to lose to look lean and attractive (by protecting lean body mass), overfeeding once every 7 days is absolutely mandatory. High-glycemic carbs like grains, corn, potatoes, etc. raise leptin the most. In addition, the higher the starch to fat ratio while overfeeding, the greater the ratio between muscle gained to fat gained during the overfeeding day. The main objective, however, is overfeeding. If you cannot do it with low-fat rice, oats, potatoes, pasta, bread, etc. (at least 1,000 calories above your maintenance calorie levels for the day), then you should be eating pizza, cheesecake, and whatever you are most likely to be able to overfeed on just as Martin Berkhan practices.
4) For greater muscle gains, overfeeding on high-starch, low-fat more than one day per week should be very effective. For each day with a 1,000 calorie surplus, assuming you maintain an 8:1 ratio of starch to fat by percentage of calories, you should be able to add at least .5 pounds of lean body mass with no fat gain at all. Resistance exercise also helps, but is not mandatory for lean mass gains – even for middle-aged women.
5) Once your metabolism is great, your health is good, and your body composition is good – it’s time to switch to a satisfying, nutritious, well-rounded maintenance diet consisting of anything you want to eat as long as most of your diet is wholesome, and you can eat to appetite without fat gain, health problems, or a decrease in body temperature. The “high-everything-diet” would be great – a mixed diet with all the fats, protein, and carbohydrates you care to eat. This can include sugar, alcohol, caffeine, or whatever you want to try to get away with. The healthier you are, the more dietary liberty you will have to relax and enjoy along with the rest of society.
But the basic message of Joel Marion is very simple and potentially one of the greatest “tricks” for losing body fat known. The basic concept is that you cannot lose weight 7 days per week. If you do, you will run into a brick wall because of low-calorie intake’s effect on leptin. To sidestep that problem, you overeat – really overeat, one day per week. The more starch-centered this overfeeding is, the more you will raise insulin, and the more you raise insulin the more you raise leptin back to baseline, which negates the negative impact of low-calorie intakes all week long – not to mention gives you pronounced muscle growth.
Note, for fat loss, the “cheat” day concept only works if you lose 1-2 pounds of bodyfat during the week prior to the cheat day. This cannot really be monitored with a scale, as 2-pound weight loss doesn’t mean a 2-pound fat loss, so you will have to judge it based on how your clothes fit, muscle definition changes, appearance, etc. With the lean body mass gains that can come with it, the scale becomes even more useless, so don’t use it. You will know within a month whether you are getting leaner or not.
P.S. – The 180 Kitchen revision is still not quite wrapped up, and I’ve got a busy week this week so you may not see it released until next weekend.
P.S.S. – I will be appearing on the Underground Wellness Blogtalk radio show with Sean Croxton this Wednesday evening at around 6pm Pacific time if you’d like to listen. Should be a good one.