Brace yourselves for the coinage of a cheap and somewhat sleazy-sounding new health and fitness-related term: The Metabolic Zone.
What is this coveted Metabolic Zone you ask? It’s an elusive state of being where someone can eat well beyond the normal BMR calculations for their height and weight, exercise rather minimally, sporadically, and infrequently, and effortlessly and spontaneously lose body fat.
To most, The Metabolic Zone sounds like some health guru unicorn shit. I too have had trouble believing in its existence at times, but there is a great deal of evidence that it exists. It’s hard to get in, and it’s hard to stay in, but its existence is all but certain.
First, let me again clarify that we are specifically talking about losing body fat, not maintaining weight. Just about anyone can enter a state where they can eat just about whatever they want in the quantities they desire, with or without exercise. I’ve referred to this as being “fat proof” in the past, and just about everyone at every age is in this zone for most of their lives. Although it’s a coveted state for a chronic dieter (who can’t do that without gaining weight rapidly), there’s no magic or controversy there.
I also want to clarify that we aren’t just talking about eating and exercising “to appetite” or “intuitively” and losing weight. Many enter this state just from removing psychological prohibitions about certain “naughty” foods, stop binge eating, and lose weight solely from reducing their calorie intake. Many more can enter into a state where they are eating as much as they desire and losing body fat simply by restricting their diet to boring, repetitive chow of some kind.
This type of body fat loss is most likely triggered solely by a decreased consumption of food, and in my personal experience leads to the same repercussions as intentional calorie deprivation, including increased hypersensitivity to weight gain when consuming normal portions of normal food.
Note, there is definitely some evidence that eating a nutritious, whole foods, low-calorie density diet for weight loss is better than just eating smaller portions, and there is evidence that exercising to achieve a calorie deficit is better than just eating less of whatever it was you’ve been eating.
But this article is not intended to address those finer nuances. This article is intended to discuss the existence of The Metabolic Zone and all that is known and suspected about it.
Here are some characteristics of the Metabolic Zone that we can be fairly confident about:
- It is activated by a surplus of caloric consumption. In fact, if you are losing body fat in the Metabolic Zone and you start eating less or exercising a lot, you’ll immediately stop losing body fat. The belief here is that consistently eating a surplus of calories can lower the bodyweight set point over time. Billy Craig taking himself to the point of emaciation eating 6,000 calories per day is the most notable personal human experiment I’m aware of showing this effect.
- It is easier for young people to get into than it is for older people, but people of all ages have entered this zone.
- It is not dependent on macronutrient restriction, and in fact, it’s most accessible eating a maximally-palatable mixed diet.
- It’s often accompanied by hypermetabolic indicators such as excessive warmth, hypersexuality, increased stool volume, rapid wound healing, improved sleep depth, and so on.
- It’s most commonly experienced by young women postpartum, who often lose weight effortlessly and spontaneously UNLESS they try to exercise or diet it off. It’s also common at puberty with the surge of adult hormones that accompany it.
- It’s difficult to reach with major life stresses, poor sleep, and other inconsistencies. It’s easier to reach in a low stress environment with abundant sleep.
- It’s hard to reach with a high exercise load or absolutely no exercise at all. There is a physical activity “sweet spot.”
- It’s commonly entered after a period of weight gain, for example, after weeks of holiday feasting.
- It’s commonly entered after a huge, stress-relieving event.
- It’s awesome, and health educators who advise others to engage in activities against their will vehemently deny its existence.
For years people have written in telling me about their experiences in the Metabolic Zone. They were usually young people, and, while their stories were amazing and filled me with hope, the Metabolic Zone remained an elusive mystery in my own personal life.
Mule-Kicked by the Unicorn
It was almost exactly five years ago that I intentionally gained weight eating as much food as I could over several months. I gained from 190 to 225 during that time period, and was lifting weights heavily (tons of that added weight was muscle mass). I was surprised that it didn’t magically come off on a summer hiking trip. In fact, after the hiking trip I gained another 15 pounds up to 240! I was also lifting during that weight gain period and was looking like a powerlifter.
In fact, keeping it ‘80s, I looked strikingly similar to Rick Zumwalt in his prime. In hindsight, I really should have ordered that Blaster sleeveless t-shirt from the movie. Yes, ‘80s movie fans, I’m making you Google that for a friendly competition of ‘80s adoration in the comment section.
The experience of gaining that weight and not being able to lose it (probably because I gained weight, freaked out, and then stopped consistently doing what it takes to actually convince my set point to drop), really threw me. While I had done it intentionally, and done it in hopes of gaining insights into a way to more reliably help people lose fat without a compensatory drop in metabolic rate (and eventual rebound weight gain), I instead felt compelled to cower away from the health world in a dark corner, putting all of my mental energy into new endeavors so that I didn’t have to face my big fat failure.
But I of course never found the Metabolic Zone, as I was working so much that my health fell apart. I was regularly pulling all-nighters and attempting unusually cruel stunts in superhuman productivity such as starting three businesses at the same time. I suspect it was all one giant avoidance scheme, and I needed to avoid my emotions for sure, as gaining weight and losing your health is a hard thing to face, but it really hurts when it also takes away your passion in life. As you guys know, 180D, in its prime, was as strong of a passion as passions get.
I throw out a big however because I have recently entered the elusive Metabolic Zone. Over the past few months of travelling I have slept more, worked less, simplified my business, reduced my stress, and I’ve eaten the most consistent “normal” diet than I have maybe ever. I also seem to have consistently gotten the dose of exercise just right, whereas for many years I was oscillating between too little and too much, which is very antagonistic to weight loss.
It may be nothing to get too excited about. It could be just a return to my set point after gaining a little holiday weight followed up with stress relief—two things that can catapult one into the Metabolic Zone very easily. Or maybe I have a parasite from 3rd world travel, or I’m becoming a raging diabetic (you’d like that, wouldn’t you tater haters?). But I doubt it.
I’m pretty sure I’m fully, confidently there. I know this because I wasn’t losing weight until I dramatically INCREASED my calorie intake in mid-January. And now it’s like an on-off switch. I can turn it on by sleeping and eating a lot for several days, or I can quickly turn it off by staying out late and having a couple beers and/or working too much (things that make me feel horrible, they may not be triggers for you).
It’s just like the other time in my life I was in the Metabolic Zone without even knowing it. It was when I hit age 12 and my squatty, blubbery adolescent body completely transformed into a tall, lean, and sinewy young stud in less than a year without any attention to my diet or exercise levels at all. In fact, I was probably eating even more, as the year prior I had received some mis-educated doctor advice to “stop eating snacks” and was actively trying to cut back.
What’s Working for Me
Too early to tell, but what seems to work for me at the moment is eating calorie-dense meals and snacks very frequently. I eat three regular meals at consistent times every day (7:30, 12:30, and 6:30), but I also eat cookies right when I wake up, add at least another meal in there (usually at night, and usually a burger or pizza), eat cookies right before bed and whenever I happen to wake up during the night, and pound sugary drinks all day (orange juice, Gatorade, and soft drinks mostly, totaling 2 liters or more). Sleep, on a consistent schedule—and not working too much—are also completely essential. By “work” I mean mental exertion of any kind.
And a small amount of exercise seems to work a lot better than none. I walk up about 100 vertical feet to my house twice a day, walk about a mile overall daily on otherwise easy terrain, and do a short (11-minute) circuit training routine in my room once every 10 days or so.
A few other things that are probably unrelated but could possibly be factors include sunbathing a lot, sleeping in a house that doesn’t have internet (and thus rarely any exposure to screens after sunset), seeing more attractive women every day than I’m used to seeing in a year at home (testosterone boost?), being infinitely more social (I’ve made around 50 friends in the last 7 weeks compared to just a handful over the past five years), being surrounded by mostly lean people, and having everyone around me openly talk about how fat I am (it actually kinda helps to just have it out in the open).
Back on the Case
I apologize for wimping out and running away from failure. I’m honestly trying to participate in the discovery of a real breakthrough solution for the worldwide obesity issue, and I should have been a lot tougher mentally when facing it head on. It was, after all, THE WHOLE POINT of gaining it in the first place. No one has officially found the Metabolic Zone scientifically. Right now we’re operating on signs, evidence, rumors, logic, hearsay, and anecdotes. But I’m back in it, and back on it. I’ll be updating you with any news, progress, or setbacks along the way.
I’d love to hear about everyone’s experiences with both entering and aimlessly chasing the Metabolic Zone in the comments. Let’s keep making progress, together…