In an effort both self-motivated, and in the interests of research, I have gone over to the dark side, readers. I am now tracking my calorie intake in an experiment to personally test the ‘calories in, calories out’ (CICO) paradigm, and better understand why so many bright and respected minds find success in conscious calorie manipulation if done ‘correctly.’ Folks like Amber of Go Kaleo, and Anthony Colpo, who emphasize the ultimate relevance of the calorie.
But first, a preamble. The issue of fat gain and ?loss, and bodyweight regulation is complex. It’s commonly oversimplified, and standard CICO advocacy often enough seems ignorant of the subtleties.By saying essentially, “Thermodynamics… bitches!” to CICO critics, they miss that neither side of that equation can be pinned down with the precision they presume. For one,?calorie estimates on food labels are not necessarily reliable, not all calories are metabolized the same, and what we eat has an impact on how hungry we are (and thus how many calories we take in). Moreover, surplus calories do not automatically get shuttled to new fat cells. The body can also use those for more energy, to build/repair lean tissue, to increase basal metabolic rate and body heat, or can excrete more of those calories. It’s no guarantee that more calories–>more body fat.
Much of the criticism of CICO misses the point, too. Largely discredited these days, some low-carb advocates used to talk about the metabolic advantage of fat as fuel which caused spontaneous weight loss while on a low-carb diet. ?But similar effects are observed on lower-palatbility diets of all stripes, including low-fat diets, raw-food diets and unrefined foods-only diets. ?The mechanism appears to ultimately be the spontaneous calorie reduction, which bolsters the CICO crowd.
The more sophisticated critique of CICO has to do with unconscious bodyweight regulation. The bodyweight set?point?is’very effective at keeping weight within a tight range over long periods of time without any conscious manipulation, and acts elastically to bring it back if we consciously stray too far from baseline for very long. These CICO critics also rightly point out the consequences of dieting and restrained eating, the long-term compliance struggles, the down-regulation of the metabolism, the inability of the reduced weight individual to auto-regulate compared to the naturally lean, etc. This has long been the basis of Matt’s critique of CICO, and conscious calorie restriction as a means of sustainable weight loss.
And yet, some people succeed at this. They exist. They may not be as numerous as those who go through the diet wringer and fail, but it is possible. Some have commented about the apparent hopelessness of the conversation around fat loss on this site. ?When Matt writes that everyone knows what’s best for a fat person, I get why some people see it as dour. But in my mind, it’s a reminder that people who have never gone through it may not understand how to guide someone else to their destination.?For every success story with great before and after photos,there are bunch of unpublished failure stories of people who with the best of intentions attempted and failed at tracking calories for weight loss.
I’ve spent a long time wondering whether there’s a way to bridge these different understandings. Whether calorie management can have a positive effect on things like satiety, auto-regulation and stress levels in the long term. Many of the body’s systems work multi-directionally. Addressing stress can help reduce cravings for a diet of exclusively Twinkies and Mountain Dew, for example. And switching to a more balanced diet can enhance stress tolerance, and help unstick longer-standing issues. I’ve long presumed that calorie management is an unmitigated stress, that the best way through an unhealthy relationship with food is pulling off the brakes and then listening to what the body wants without the noise of orthorexia screaming in one’s skull. And that does work for lots of people, especially for metabolic recovery. But not everyone sees the fat fall off as a natural consequence of their increased metabolic rate and energy levels.
Is it possible that calorie management can be the instigator of a healthier relationship with food? That being mindful of balance in a numeric way would lead to a greater capacity to intuitively balance? Maybe that state is what long term success stories attain and become proficient in navigating?
I just can’t dismiss everyone who achieve sustained fat loss and body recomposition through calorie maintenance, and the many smart folks who advocate this approach. Some are all-informed, sure; but is there some kernel of utility there? And so I’ve started trying to do this the ‘right way,’ in accordance with the best of what we understand around resistance training, hormones and human biology. Small deficit, regularity day to day, re-feeds, food choice freedom within the context of macronutrient goals, smartly designed training program, designs for eventual lean tissue gain to bring maintenance calories higher than before, etc. ?It’s long-term in approach with sustainability as a core tenet.
Maybe I’m setting myself up for trouble. I could see rebound fat gain, long-term worsening of body composition, the loss of capacity to auto regulate appetite and energy levels while remaining weight stable, and increased disease risk. I could end up with a less healthy relationship with food, and with more stress and needless wear and tear on my body.
Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll come through it with improved health, and some useful insight about the process of fat loss and body recomposition for the long term. Maybe I’ll know more about how to bridge the warring worlds of CICO advocates and critics. We’ll see.
But I wanted to open the conversation and bring a new round of self-experimentation and discovery to 180, especially since safe, effective long-term fat loss is a struggle many deal with after metabolic recovery. What do you all think? Am I crazy? Am I turning my back on core tenets of 180? Am I setting myself up for metabolic doom? I’d especially love to hear from those like Chief and Billy Craig who have seen success with high calorie fat loss. Anyway, have at it, folks.
I will be watching this as I have witnessed you eat mass quantities and keep your slim shady figure Rob! ;-)
Thanks Deb. Still doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my minor competitive eating aspirations. I can see still hitting buffets hard from time to time, and seeing what I can do at a pizza eating contest or two.
Maybe just with more a Furious Pete than Matt Stonie build, haha
When I had a healthy(er) metabolism, calorie counting and weight watchers worked great for me. I lost the weight and kept it off with ease. I can’t wait to see how things go with you.
Andrea, I had the same experience you did.
Thanks Andrea-this is much more in line with a bodybuilding staple, the bulk and cut, and is opposite what many folks do, which is cut and rebound gain. Even Matt said that doing metabolic rehab and getting maintenance calories nice and high on the face of it seems preferable to dropping calories real low to accommodate a low metabolic rate.
The real key will be sustainability. There are plenty of people who lose weight calorie counting for a while. But can they keep it off without muscle wasting and metabolic shutdown, and enormous rebound hunger leading to preferential fat gain when surpluses are introduced? Often enough not, but maybe there’s a way.
Andrea, do you think it was doing those things that hurt your metabolism, or do you think it was hurt from something else?
Actually Amy, I went low fat and lower calorie and didn’t notice any terrible effects for a long time. After my second baby, I tried weight watchers again while dealing with an intensely stressful situation and getting about 4 hours sleep and exercising. Suddenly, I couldn’t lose. Then, I went low carb, got pregnant again, and I’m a whopping 50 pounds heavier and have an extremely hard time raising my body temps. I’m sure it all contributed, but low carb and no sleep were the last straws,
Context matters. Always. No exceptions. I am eager to read about this experiment Rob! It may or may not work for you. Time will tell.
Thanks Todd. Don’t imagine I’ll have frequent updates, long-term as I see it. But down the road in four or six months maybe.
And yep- context is key. We’ll see what I discover…
We all know each person’s body is different. So what works for you might not work for me. For some people calorie deficit is perfect .Anne Marie from Cheeselave has lost weight using her fitbit to figure out how to eat less calories for her activity level each day. Great for her! Maybe it will be great for you to do the calorie deficit thing too. Have fun with it, and I hope it works for you!
Agreed- I hope it works out for her and I’m all for people doing whatever they want to figure out what works for them. I’d be concerned about such a dramatic deficit. More than 10 or maybe 20% seems ripe for long-term failure. And trying to stay at a reduced weight forever seems challenging too. My goal is to eventually weigh as much or more than I do now, eating more than I do now, but with more lean mass. Maybe that makes a difference in sustainability.
If your wanting to maintain your weight, then you don’t want to cut calories. Or maybe I misunderstood and you aren’t?
The goal is to lean out, and then build muscle over time, while remaining relatively lean. The idea is that it’s more difficult to simultaneously do both (reduce fat and gain muscle), and so having a targeted strategy for each is more effective.
I also like and support the strategy that Go Kaleo took, which was to find a calorie level that worked for her, and stick with it, while continuing to train and take care of herself (stress management, good sleep, etc). It resulted in body recomposition over time, while she stayed at roughly the same weight after she got to the weight that her calorie levels supported.
This is exactly what happens. Body weight is such a stupid measurement; your number on a scale can stay the same while you drop 2-3 pants sizes and increase how much weight you put on the bar for your lifts. Amber is level-headed and the voice of reason in this “weigh less / be thin” society. My weight hasn’t changed in the last year as I eat whatever I want to appetite, but my full cleans have increased 80% in weight and I dropped a pants size. And I feel good. Much better than when I was undereating to be thin. Scales are moronic.
Yea if I was already the weight I wanted to be, I’d stick to recomp. I think you’ll have a harder time trying to lose fat without replacing that mass with muscle if you’re already at a healthy weight. Recomp is way easier. I did some on accident while trying to lose *sigh* (was off one a few numbers enough to eat up my small deficit I was shooting for…) Gained an inch of muscle on my thighs from running. My quads are rediculous lol. Lost a small amount of fat off my belly, upper chest and arms. Unfortunately, I have lots of muscle already, like more than I would prefer aesthetics wise. Just stupid fat on top of it. So I need the scales to actually go down. I can’t get far with recomp unless I want to sign up for the NFL.
The issue is, you can’t very effectively or efficiently lose fat and gain muscle at the same time (absent being an absolute resistance training beginner, when it’s briefly possible). If you could, bodybuilders would be doing it all the time. Who wouldn’t want to go from 180lbs at 20% bodyfat to 180lbs at 10% bodyfat if it were that simple?
They are two separate processes for the most part. (Though, the idea behind IF is that you split those processes up within the same day every day, and over time you see the results. So you’re ‘cutting’ for 16hours a day, and ‘bulking’ for 8hrs a day, or something like that. It seems to work for some, but maybe not everyone.)
Now that’s not to say that Amber was lying- she talks about this is one of her posts: http://gokaleo.com/2012/09/19/body-composition-that-last-five-pounds-and-how-to-deal-with-problem-areas/ At different points over several years, her body was most likely doing one or the other, while staying roughly in calorie balance. It took a long time, but it happened.
Why I haven’t done that is because it never seemed to work for me. I’ve weight trained for long stretches and remained weight stable, never seeming to either lose fat or gain muscle effectively. It could be you need a certain level of leanness for that to happen effectively (hormonal signaling and nutrient partitioning are said to be quite different at different thresholds of fat mass). Or maybe my training program or nutrition wasn’t optimal, or maybe I just didn’t give it enough time.
By all means, though, explore and experiment if the prospect of long term recompositions sounds good.
Mucho luck. I’m interested in reading about it for sure. My experiences with calorie counting were super fraught with anxiety- I hope yours go better.
It’s a mental game for sure. The simple act of counting calories and creating regularity seemed to stress me out initially, even though I was basically hitting the same marks eating to appetite. Just regimenting it somehow messed with me. But I figured I’d stick with it, and see what feedback I’d get, and it seems a bit more dialed in now, and less stressful.
I’m actually currently utilizing calorie counting for the reverse, to make sure I’m eating enough. It’s eye opening and shocking to see how few calories I was eating when I was very self conscious about my weight and would only eat “healthy” foods.
Yeah, I was reading YourEatopia, and the article pointed out that the calorie estimates of healthy people are almost always underestimates, which has skewed the baseline for assumptions of ‘normal’ calorie intake. In people with restrained eating histories, it’s much more common to overestimate calorie intake, leading to a deficit below ‘normal’ greater than they even imagine. And the consequences are even starker when it comes to metabolic impact.
YourEatopia is great. The time that I really fucked myself up was when I calorie restricted using the myth that the average woman needs 2000 calories to maintain her weight. This does not seem to be accurate as we are finding out. And at the time, I was far from average being 35kgs overweight. So my 300-500 per day calorie deficit was actually closer to 1000-12000 calories on most days. No wonder calorie restriction gets a bad rap! I think it has its place, in conjunction with better foods, sunlight, sleep, lifestyle adjustments, sex, fun etc. But for me its not a lifelong practice, just something to possibly get you on the right track.
Yeah- that’s a dramatic deficit, and most practicing coaches in the body recomposition world would not advise that for the average person looking for long term non-competitive results. If you’re not cutting for a photo shoot or trying to peak for a bodybuilding event, and especially if you’re not on enhancing drugs, a 1200 calorie deficit sustained indefinitely is probably unsustainable unless your maintenance calories are 5000+ per day.
And I agree- the goal eventually for me is intuitive weight stability eating and exercising as desired. The precise tracking is a way to help understand my needs better, meet certain goals, and eventually learn from to auto-regulate.
Honestly, I think one of the few times CICO doesn’t apply is when you have an adapted metabolism (from extreme dieting) or another metabolic issue.
In a metabolically healthy person, there is no reason CICO doesn’t work. If there is a discrepancy, its because calories expended can’t be measured exactly and calories in aren’t always calculated and recorded precisely.
There are assumptions that go into calorie estimators that don’t necessarily apply to each individual. And yeah, it’s more often way off in those with extreme dieting/eating disorder types of histories.
I’d say the best route is to track actual calorie intake, with a fair degree of precision, while eating and moving to appetite and remaining weight stable. Then average that out after a while (a couple weeks, a month, whatever), and then consider that your actual maintenance needs. Then create a small deficit (maybe 10%-ish) if you want to experiment, while eating and exercising to preserve lean tissue.
I know you (like me) have been working with Chief. I know he would never advocate CICO…are you going native on us? :)
Haha- well, everything’s an experiment, and I am seeing if the dark side has any insight to offer.
I guess the more honest answer is that I was plateau-ing with Chief, and then floundered when he fell off the map, so I started experimenting on my own and got some other help. He and I have been in touch a bit though, and he’s helped withs some of the ancillary parts of organizing my life.
My current take is that it’s possible to lose fat without calorie management, provided you have the rest of the necessary elements of your life in order. And those are very important- sleep, social interactions, inner sense of well-being, purpose, etc. But tracking calories might be an ancillary tool to help when things are lagging, and can help cultivate balance. Not necessary or sufficient, but also not a guaranteed de-railer. And insomuch as it can foster the other elements of a holistically enhanced life, of which fat loss is a side-effect, it could be of value.
Well said. I found Chief after counting calores (food scale and all!) for a year…lost 188lbs but was a mess. He has been getting me back on track, but as you cited, was off the grid a while and I still haven’t heard much. I am a tthe point where I just can’t do my routine anymore (bored with it)…trying to figure out what I want to do.
Are you eating once a day or back on a 2-3 meal a day thing?
I eat whenever I want, no real set schedule. Sometimes that’s a bigger breakfast, sometimes that’s a bigger lunch or dinner. One tweak he recommended was to make sure to get just a little something substantial after resistance training, since I had been playing ball right afterward and would often not eat for several hours. That may have been contributing to feeling generally lethargic, and taking a small portion of rice and beans or something after seems to help. Aside from that, no specific meal timing.
I definitely think a well tailored program is key. I like Jason Blaha of Ice Cream Fitness (on Youtube), and he has a 3X/week program that seems good. For a while, I was doing HST (Hypertrophy Specific Training), which I liked. I think for me, after years of shiftlessly moving from one training routine to another, punctuated by months off in between, the biggest insight would have been to learn proper de-loading techniques. I would stall out on the bench or dead lift or something, and keep trying and not moving past that plateau and get frustrated and eventually quit. In retrospect, I could have used that as an indicator that it was time to scale back to 70-80% of previous weight, and work back up slowly from there, keeping myself interested and motivated, instead of hating a movement that I was failing to progress at.
Interesting comment about lowering weight to gain it back up. I started doing this naturally after actually lost strength on some exercises (for example, I went from being able to lift “x” weight 5-6 times to 3 or less. Finally lowered it hoping it would help…sounds like I might have stumbled into it.
I have been on one meal (after my evening workout) for over a year. Loved it at first…and it does make you a curiosity with friends and family. However, in the last month or two, I have been craving lunch again and have been feeling hungry.I have (stupidly) been ignoring this for now. I had lunch for the first time in ages a few days ago. Tasted good, but messed me up after. I just got really tired and some heartburn. I figure my body is so use to one meal it assumed lunch was my dinner…and it was easily 25% of what I usually eat so it made me lethargic to conserve energy until tomorrow’s meal.
Yeah, that’s what happened repeatedly to me, I just never put it together that that could be why I saw gains after taking long periods off. I just thought I go stronger incidentally or something.
And funny your language- I read the fist sentence and thought of bodyweight, not training. Could apply to both.
I have found when I take time off (like no exercise during a week vacation), I come back and can lift more. This year, though, I took the week off and came back weaker. Had a hard time getting back to lifting where I was before. Figured I needed a longer break.
That could be. I might start really low, something you know you can do with no fatigue or strain at all when you start up, and don’t be in any rush. Just get a quality workout in that you can feel good about, and don’t worry about off days. Consistency over time trumps isolated moments of peak exertion.
Good luck, man
I’ve looked at the HST program a bit but one of the problems for me with it would be implementing adding 5lbs for each exercise each lift day. If I have it right, he says to take work up to your max by 5lbs each time in 2 weeks and he says the best schedule for working out is 3 times a week doing every exercise, every day. Right now for example, my max for arms is only about 10lbs – I do 3 sets and usually push out reps of 12, 10, 8. So I am confused what I can do – even if I did an increase of 2lbs each time, I would start out lifting 0 weight. The max weight I do with squats and other leg work is 50lbs. I have made gains in my leg lifting but not arms and I’ve been lifting for about 4 months. I use free weights.
Do you think HST will only work for people who can lift more than me and therefore do the increase of 5lbs each time? Or do you think it would still be beneficial to apply the principle of doing 1 or 2 sets for each exercise and do all work each day instead doing 3 sets and splitting exercises to different days like I am currently doing and not worrying too much about the progression part since I’m not really progressing now anyway?
I feel like such a wimp:(
I think it’d be fine to just get in the habit of lifting, even if your progress is slow or minimal at first.
I like the idea of a full body workout 3X/week. That HST routine seemed to fit well for me when I was doing it. I used weights that I could comfortably do 15X for the first two weeks, then 10X for the next two weeks, then 5X for the following two weeks, and then 2-5X negatives for the next week (if possible) and then a 9-10 days off for ‘strategic deconditioning.’
I told myself that I would not care about the weights, but just doing the sets, and getting into the habit of lifting. If I felt energetic and inclined to lift heavier, that’s cool. But if I wasn’t feeling it, that was fine too. Just get in there and be in the habit.
Down the line, if you find your strength and capacity increasing, you can switch to a different program, or emphasize progress more. But for getting going, even if you’re working with 1lb and 2lb weights for the 15s, 5lbs for the 10s, 10lbs for the 5s, and 12 or 15lbs for controlled negatives, stick with it for a cycle or two, and see how you feel afterward.
Also, HST advises against training to failure, since that just places more strain on the central nervous system, and limits the ability to recuperate and actually make gains in strength or hypertrophy. Not training to failure also has the psychological benefit of maintaining motivation. Going full speed every workout is exhausting and almost impossible to maintain indefinitely. Better to give 60 0r 70% effort for weeks and months and years, than 80% or 90% effort and peter out after a month.
re: training to failure. I follow Drew Baye and he strongly encourages training to failure. On his site he explains why it is not problematic as long as volume reasonable and you allow a sufficient time for rest. I like how we advises to train intensely and shortly – one set to failure, five to ten movements or so – only twice or even once a week and how he advises against training more than that.
I think here he does a good job addressing the concerns about CNS and other http://baye.com/qa-criticisms-of-training-to-failure/
Of course I’m biased because five months in on the once weekly regimen I had decent strength and size gains, but it really does seem to work so now I am an Drewangelist, lol
A big plus for me on this regimen is sustainability. Before I never thought that I could score gains with such infrequent exercising. I would start a program a quit in a few weeks, then did nothing for a few weeks, and so on, you get the picture. Now this new one is very easy on my time schedule – if I don’t feel like exercising, I go on the next day or even two days later and still it doesn’t feel like I’m skipping anything. I actually can’t wait for another session and have to hold back.
A two times weekly program gives you a lot more time for sports. Simply get strong while lifting, but don’t spend too much on it and have more power for other activities that you enjoy.
I would also like to add tha while we’re talking failure here, DB is all about safety and preventing overtraining and stress. A bit like Ray Peat of strength training, though guy’s probably paleo.
Thanks for the counter-argument Tomas.
My experience with lower volume training was similar at first. I was weight lifting once/week and felt good and strong and motivated. I didn’t see much in the way of size gains though, which was my initial impetus to bulk later. (I play basketball and wanted to have more strength and size in the post).
Eventually, I decided to try a full body 3X week program without training to failure and I found that i enjoyed that. I actually like going into the gym and throwing some weight around, and not feeling wiped out afterward. Eventually on the super high intensity training, I had to psych myself up just to get in there and give it a go, since I’d feel depleted as hell afterward. I just didn’t have the mental reserves to get pumped up like I was in a meet before every training session, even if it was a few times a month.
Also- based on Matt’s Static Contraction study, it seemed that not everyone responds the same way to these super high intensity programs. There must be other factors at work that I am not sure how to adjust for to ensure consistent results.
So I’m all for doing what makes sense. Maybe higher volume will reach a point of diminishing returns and one day I’ll go back to less frequent training. But at least for the novice lifter, I think more frequency without failure makes sense if muscle growth is your goal to capitalize on the post-workout hypertrophy window and to accommodate the fact that novice lifters have less recovery capacity than longer trainees, so they can actually get more out of a workout they don’t fail at.
Thanks for the response Rob,
yes I agree, it’s always good to do what works for you.
I’ll try a few more counter-arguments though. You say that
…novice lifters have less recovery capacity than longer trainees, so they can actually get more out of a workout they don’t fail at.
I think that going to failure is not a magical break/point beyond which everything changes or which nullifies the work you have done, rather it’s where the power you can produce is not sufficient to lift the weight. You still have enough strength to put the weight down in a controlled manner.
I understand that being half-dead after a workout can be an issue. I am a desk athlete and train mid-days, but usually recover within an hour or two. Of course I would not run a marathon afterwards, but I am capable of normal social interaction and soreness goes away quite quickly. With more frequent training I invariably had problems with overtraining and here my experience is in line with what D. Baye claims – that the problem is usually not with intensity, but overtraining resulting from too much volume, or increasing intensity without scaling down volume appropriately.
I admin that I may be parroting my guru here in part, but I am doing that on purpose, which to learn counter arguments. I believe there are numerous ways to reach the same goal
btw the type of exercise used in the Matt’s study is not advocated by my beloved guru; just sayin’
I’ve mentioned Ice Cream Fitness before, and here’s his video ‘Training to Failure is Training for Failure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPH-irhsum8
The gist is: the total workload is key when training for increased strength or hypertrophy. Training below failure, but near to it, allows you to skirt that line and get more overall workload over a given time period, while still progressively overloading and prompting gains. By hitting failure, you reduce the ability to inhabit that adaptive zone for long stretches and thus reduce your potential gains.
I think that going to failure is not a magical break/point beyond which everything changes or which nullifies the work you have done, rather it’s where the power you can produce is not sufficient to lift the weight.
Jason Blaha would probably agree that it doesn’t nullify the work you’ve done, but does impact the future work you would be doing and undermines your full potential, leading to slowed or stalled gains. The impact that failure has on the CNS is to diminish its ability to induce positive adaptation. Basically the argument is: it stops you in your tracks before you really run out of steam.
I would NEVER recommend training to failure regularly.
+1 for Jason Blaha of Icecreamfitness, he’s the man
I am personal trainer and have spent many years trying to maximize muscle gain and get leaner. One thing I am certain of is that I wrecked my hormones, metabolism and BW set point by failing to listen to my body and following the advice of genetically gifted meatheads. I was a chubby kid all through school until 10th grade when I decided I needed a change. At that point in my life I hadn’t yet been exposed to all the conflicting dietary approaches that have flooded the internet. I knew I ate too many sweets and junk. I also knew that exercise was good for me. All I did was cut out the crap, but I ate 3 squares a day and started hanging out at the school gym to learn to lift weights. I was devoted to both goals but the distinguishing part was that I didn’t connect them. I didn’t eat junk but I ate 3 squares a day till I was full and no snacks. I worked out to the best of my ability as often as possible. My training wasn’t dependent on my diet nor was my diet based on my training. I got stronger and leaner with minimal effort. I wasn’t ripped, but fit, solid and healthy. That lasted a few years until I discovered “bodybuilding” and all was lost. Low carb, high carb, less calories, more fat, tons of cardio…sound familiar? In my obsession to get lean, I completely destroyed my health and ultimately quit training and got FAT!!! I’ve spent the last several years trying to fix myself and several things became clear. First, 3 squares per day of whole foods(meats/potatoes/veggies and the like) are crucial for vitality and health. Butter, cream, full fat ice cream is helpful and builds strength. Frankenfoods suck. Exercise and low-ANYTHING doesn’t work…EVER! And training for function and strength is ideal…lots if weight and low reps actually builds a hard, powerful physique. Bodybuilding/Hypertrophy routines are counter-productive and unhealthy. Squats, deadlifts, rows, etc…build a solid, less bulky physique while enhancing athletic ability and health. Sorry to go on and on, but these were hard lessons for me to learn. I love this site and everything it stands for.
After reading my post, I wanted to clarify a few things. The low ANYTHING comment was referring to diet. Basically calorie restriction or reducing macronutrients you are setting yourself up for failure. Also when discussing training, less volume and better exercise selection is key. Heavy squats, DL’s, etc… Are very functional and build the best physiques but they are very demanding and therefore adequate calories and rest need to be in place. If calories are low, BF will increase as Cortisol will rise and strength will decrease. Eat enough to get leaner. Training to failure isn’t ideal, it increases stress hormones and creates recovery inroads which are much too deep to recover from. Plus training to failure on heavy compounds is dangerous. Squatting to failure with 400+ lbs on your back will injure you, stopping 1-2reps short of failure and adding another set is a better option. In other words, 2 sets of 4-6 sets pre failure is better than 1 set of 8-12 to failure. The added volume boosts GH and Test and splitting the amount of work performed into a second set keeps Cortisol lower and recovery ability higher. Slow, steady progression is the best approach. With strength comes growth. Heavy lifting gives an athletic appearance with less bulk, contrary to most advice you will find online. Hopefully some of this makes sense–
Thanks for your comments Derrick. For the most part, I don’t disagree. I’ve trained for a long time, and usually poorly. Plenty of ‘fuckarounditis’ ( http://www.leangains.com/2011/09/fuckarounditis.html ), lots of accessory work, wandering from one exercise to another with no clear progression, lots of training to failure, inconsistent practice, non-systematic de-loading, not tracking my progress, etc. I try not to do much of that these days and focus on a handful of basic movements that I track closely and adjust as needed.
As for food recommendations, I mostly agree as well. An emphasis on hearty, basic food, with allowances for fun stuff when I feel like it.
Whether calorie tracking and creating a small deficit is always setting oneself up for failure, it could be, but that’s exactly what i’m looking to understand. I’m not sure it is *always* and plenty of smart, well-researched folks claim to have had success with it. So we’ll see.
Glad you’ve found some valuable insight along the way in your own experiments, though. Thanks again for sharing.
Your conclusions and mine seem to be identical. I guess my main reasoning behind avoiding calorie restriction is because of my own experiences and the negative long-term side effects it caused me. When I got into bodybuilding and the vain desire for single digit BF, I read too much and became afraid of calories and was convinced that calorie restriction was the only way. Did I get ripped? Insanely…at one point I was below 5% BF and had veins bulging at my belly button. Unfortunately I was weak as hell and got the flu at least 3-4 x/year. My T was under 200 and was miserable. Once I got sick of it, I started eating real food again, it has dire consequences and I blew up like a tick. I got up over 240lbs at 5’10” and have struggled ever since. Luckily I have a solid build and wide shoulders to keep myself somewhat presentable. At this pion I have leaned out some by getting back to basics. I am now focused on basic heavy barbell training and lots of mobility training. I eat 3-4x per day to appetite and get lots of sleep. The calories are an absolute must for me to get leaner and healthier. Sometimes my old habits will get in my head for a few days and I will guilt myself into skipping a meal or lowering calories or carbs and eating “healthy”(sorry couldn’t resist). I will get tons of side effects within a day which starts with bloating…my stomach gets squishy and my face gets puffy and I feel like crap. Initially I thought I was crazy but I actually took some pics of my face from one day to the next and the difference is very obvious. Strange but very true and I believe that my body has been so damaged that it reacts very harshly by going immediately to starvation mode by raising cortisol through the roof. IMO, someone who is sedentary & overweight but eats lots of junk and hasn’t dieted could benefit from a slight amount of restriction mainly in the form of junk food. If they are exercising fairly regularly, I feel it would be best to keep calories normal but switch to better foods. If they are a chronic exerciser/dieter, they training should be reduced and improved and calories should be raised weekly until energy and mood improve. Regardless of weight gain, mood, energy and lack of soreness are the best indicators of adequate calories. Obviously there are exceptions to everything, but I believe wholeheartedly in this. Sorry to go on and on here, but I am very passionate about discovering real health and enjoy sharing my experiences because I hate thought of others torturing themselves like me only to realize how unhealthy they’ve become.
Fair enough, amigo- we all have our sore spots over previously failed efforts. I do think it’s important to keep the individual in mind so we’re not shadowboxing with our own past instead of dealing with their present if we’re advising others.
Getting down to 5%, or even just single digit body fat is an entirely different animal and I make no claims about what is healthy or sustainable at that level of leanness. I just don’t know or have experience with that.
I mentioned above: I’m not a huge guy, and have historically had trouble gaining muscle, so I did a bold ‘dirty bulk’ earlier this year. Gained some muscle and some strength, but got myself to ~25%bodyfat. I think it’s a mistake to equate that sort of body composition with the ultra-lean when it comes to the metabolic consequences of modest deficits.
My guess is that staying at a reasonable, but not ultra-ripped, level of leanness is probably sustainable for most people. Maybe around 10% for men or thereabouts. But who knows? If and when I get there, I can experiment for myself.
I’m not trying to create a disagreement here, I guess I’m not very good at writing and can’t seem to convey my point. If you go back to my first comment, I was trying to show that I was able to drop BF levels and get stronger using common sense and listening to my body, not over-analyzing it. I knew I ate too many sweets and things and that my body wasn’t able to have them without making myself fat. I eliminated those items but also knew that I couldn’t starve myself and still be happy so I settled and three meals a day of whatever was served at dinnertime(meat, potaoes, veggies etc…) I ate till I was full and that’s it. I weight-trained to build muscle and get stronger. The stronger I got, the leaner I got and within a year or so I had dropped 40lbs and looked like a new person. I maintained that effortlessly for about 3 years. Then I decided to “take it to the next level” and that’s when I started reading too much and feeling like I needed to be completely ripped to be healthy(a very common myth). This was when I was about 22 and from there I became paranoid about everything I ate and basically lived on Protein, no carbs and very little fat because that was supposed to be healthy. I didn’t realize it then but I had all the symptoms discussed here on this site…cold hands, low libido etc… Long story short I got the beach body at the cost of my health and I truly believe that If I had been any older than I was I may not have been able to recover. Luckily I was so depressed and burnt ou that I gave up training and ate like crazy(not on purpose) I got fat and all but my energy returned and eventually I got back to training but with a much different approach. Now fast forward to this year, at the age of 34 I discovered 180D health and some other resources that validated my experiences. The point wasn’t my 5% BF at all, rather it was my misguided choices that got me there and the damage it caused. If I would have done what I did originally and kept it simple I would have developed and maintained a great body with no effort or consequences. This article is about CICO and the connection is that most folks will do better to eliminate bad foods and get some form of exercise prior to calorie restriction because once your body adapts to your activity level and calorie level it will drop metabolism like a MOFO and it will remain there. Each time this approach is taken, it takes your metabolism one step lower until it can’t be fixed and you are stuck there. Building and maintaining muscle will keep metabolism higher and will balance everything out without restriction. Obviously this is my take on things and yes restricting calories will drop the weight but would be better used as a last resort as opposed to first unless exercise isn’t an option, at which point reducing calories would be the only option.
This sort of answer really chaps my hide. I am sure it is not intentional but between your answers to people and your blog article you have implied that people with weight problems always under estimate calories(i.e. lie), have un”ordered” lives and that certain people can’t eat intuitively and therefore must count calories. Oh and people with weight issues don’t have holistically enhanced lives.
I’m not sure where I said that people with weight problems always lie.
I thought I was pretty clear that I was talking about my own sense of balance and creating an integrated, ‘holistically enhanced’ life. Which is, incidentally, something we have long talked about at 180. Sleeping well, addressing stress in a healthy way, finding meaning and purpose, cultivating meaningful social relationships, and spending more time enhancing your life than worrying about your perceived weaknesses. I don’t see what’s controversial about any of that. If you’re unhappy with where you are, taking steps to live better and more fully can have a positive effect on your well-being, and maybe aid in fat loss.
Now, we may have an an honest disagreement about what excess bodyfat represents. To me it says something is out of balance, not necessarily in a way that demands persecution or disdain anymore than dandruff or insomnia does, but out of balance no less. If you believe it does not indicate that, then maybe we just disagree.
If this is only intended to apply to you then why put it on a blog. And if you think people aren’t reading this blog for advice I think you are mistaken.
And I think we do disagree about what being overweight means. No one has a perfect body, some are inclined to dandruff, some to allergies, some to obesity. Does it means something is not working perfectly? Sure, but there is no such thing as a body that works perfectly. But like that art of Wabi Sabi sometimes accepting the imperfect is the most beautiful thing.
And I am pretty sure you wouldn’t go around telling people with dandruff that they are holistically unbalanced. I have been reading this blog since pretty close to its inception and what was great about it was an honest fresh look at research. Now it just seems to be a bunch of non-experts giving unsubstantiated and possibly bad advice.
Should I pretend that I don’t hear from scores of people who would like to get rid of the extra weight they’re carrying around? Maybe I should just tell them- nah, you’ll be fat forever, and act as if it’s not uncomfortable and that in fact they would prefer to carry around the extra weight.
By all means, if someone feel good about their weight, whatever it is, I support that. I have a lot of empathy and compassion for people who struggle with weight, and I don’t support emotional abuse of fat people. I also never said anything about being perfect. Like Matt and many others, I am very hesitant about the backlash of attempts at intentional fat loss. I don’t know how I could have been more clear about that in what I wrote. But does that mean I should dig my head in the sand and pretend that no one is ever successful at it, and maintain in the face of contradictory evidence that calorie counting is always, everywhere, no exceptions a bad thing?
I’m not interested in absolutes. I want to know the hows and whys of when different strategies work and don’t work. What are the tradeoffs? For whom would this make sense, and for whom would it not? It sounds like some people really want to know the answers to those questions. Maybe you don’t- that’s cool, too.
I think the problem with calorie counting (for me, an obese/obesity-prone person)is that eventually you rebel and start eating more calories, even if you are not concsious about it. Things start to creep in.
Second, it becomes fraught with anxiety, as others have mentioned. This is a slippery slope to obsessive/disordered behavior.
Being *aware* of calories (but not counting them or holding myself to a limit) has worked much better for me, even if weight loss is much, much slower. The key, as Matt and others have mentioned is to sponteanously lower intake, not force yourself.
I agree that sustainability is key and if you start to feel like you’re on a never-ending battle against yourself, most will fail.
And slow, sloooow change is probably best. After all, most of us are not having to get ripped for a contest or photo shoot on a specific day. We just want to feel good and strong an energetic and confident, and not carry around a suitcase with us wherever we go. So it’s much better to lose in a way that you can continue with forever than doing something you can’t stand and only do because the scale number is falling. A half pound or pound a week is around the limit of sustainable, lean-preserving fat loss (absent pharmaceutical interventions). If you have thirty pounds you’d like to lose, I’d anticipate a little less than a year as a realistic timeframe. More than that and you may be eating lean tissue.
Isn’t the problem with calorie counting when people start with the intention to cut calories to match lazing about, thus leaving little energy for activity and the start of a starvation cycle? From recent posts on here from Matt especially I have gathered that increasing activity is the key, if there is a key at all.
Yes, I think it’s important to fuel yourself enough to be active, and to establish a baseline maintenance level that incorporates the activity level you’d like to be at. There’s all sorts of benefits to being active, and starving yourself so that you only have energy to watch TV and surf the web is an especially bad idea.
Rob, you look like a really small guy. I know head shots can be deceiving, but you don’t look like you have a lot of weight to lose. Do you know how low you’re planning on going? Sorry if you’ve already said and I missed it somewhere. I am a skimmer :-)
It’s cool- I did a ‘dirty bulk’ and gained 25lbs in a month earlier this year in an effort to jump start some gains. Gained some muscle along with fat and water weight, but was probably above 25% bodyfat. The goal would be to be around my current weight, but quicker and with more muscle.
I’ve recently started to mildly cut calories, and I’m making sure I don’t cut too many by not being hungry at the end of the day. If I’m short some calories after dinner and I’m still hungry I eat ice cream to make up the deficit. If I’m not hungry I don’t eat and let the deficit remain. So far so good, but I haven’t done enough of this to show results yet.
Sounds like a sensible strategy. Good luck!
This sounds interesting Rob. I don’t want to think about counting calories because of ED history, but if I don’t lose this baby weight (currently pregnant) it might be tempting. I’m really, really hoping I don’t have to resort to that, though.
I’d be hesitant to jump too quickly to calorie restriction post pregnancy. I think that’s a great time to focus on nourishing yourself well and stoking your metabolism. Based on some of the stories I’ve heard and what I know of it, during that period especially, the hormonal changes women go through can really aid in effortless weight loss. Of course, do what you like. But in your situation, I would not go about conscious restriction for a while afterward, and focus instead on taking good care of myself while undergoing all those changes.
Oh I definitely agree! I’m going to give my body plenty of time to work itself out after. I’m crossing my fingers that the weight comes off naturally by eating to appetite, and I know it will probably take awhile. I just meant that maybe after a year or so if I’m still unhappy with my body I might have to consider other options. I think calorie restriction combined with the stress of a newborn and lack of sleep is bad idea- definitely won’t go there.
quote: ” For every success story with great before and after photos,there are bunch of unpublished failure stories of people who with the best of intentions attempted and failed at tracking calories for weight loss.”
I think that this is backwards. I see lots of people who cut down on food and exercise more successfully. They just don’t shout it from the rooftops. The ones who have trouble are the ones getting more attention.
At the end of every issue, regardless of whether or not humans can make use of it, whether counting calories or not, the laws of thermodynamics do not change just because the human body is complex. You do not get more energy out than you put in, regardless of the final form of that energy, so CICO… bitches!
That’s an interesting point, and could be. The whole ‘nail that sticks up gets hammered down’ idea.
And sure, ultimately, thermodynamics apply. No argument from me, sucka!
What a lot of successful people do is simply cut out their post dinner sweet and the sugar in their tea/coffee until they fit into their pants again. They also nip it in the bud, or if hefty after indulging overseas, get on it as soon as they get back. That makes it the least stressful.
Any change to be made is a stress, but people have been able to make them while managing their stress. People have been able to do things that require more determination such as give up smoking or walk again when the doctor said “doubt it.” Nothing worth while on earth is achieved without effort. I understand people not wanting to change or create what they think is more stress but I wonder if they aren’t sometimes a little too self indulgent or stress shy?
Also, only a minority of people are diet conscious. Most people do not have issues over extreme dieting or fad following after effects. I think that sometimes those who write about these things can forget this and extrapolate what may be true for some of their readers onto everyone.
Depending on what statistics you look at, something like half of Americans are on a diet at any given time, so it may not be so small a minority as you imagine. You may well be the outlier in surrounding yourself with non-dieters.
Still, that’s a fair point- we hear from a certain subset of the population much more than other subsets. What applies to them isn’t true for everyone.
By the same token, the solutions they need might be different than the solutions the non-health obsessed person needs, so we do have to tailor our message a bit. Like the post on GMOs Matt did a little while back. http://180degreehealth.com/2013/07/avoid-gmo-foods Telling someone already neurotic about every food additive and potential toxin or allergen to be afraid of yet another wide swath of foods is probably not the most effective way for them to get back in balance. But that doesn’t mean that GMO foods are awesome and should be the basis of all our meals.
Anyway- I’m all for effort and learning through challenge. And I don’t want to veer too far into an attitude that presumes anything harder than effortless is automatically not worth it. I just want to balance that out with an understanding that extraordinary effort is not in itself a virtue, especially if it just digs you deeper into an anti-social and obsessive rut without any meaningful upsides.
I thought about your comment about 50% Americans dieting and Ashley’s sad comment about someone spending their whole life dieting. FWIW, I will grant you that Australia may have a similar statistic, I got to thinking and observing my surroundings. No one is obese in my family and one one person is overweight, with the exception of a sick elderly person who developed diabetes. No one has ever been on a diet, although one member did successfully cut down on extra food after gaining on a very indulgent trip o/s. I do not live in the city and my aquaintances talk a lot about good food and where to get it and what to do with it once you have it but not dieting. Beyond my circles, I do not notice very many obese people just some overweight.
I appreciate your approach toward balance that takes into consideration the particular circumstances of your readers and agree with your point that effort itself must be meaningful and intelligently managed. It reminded me of the approach some people take to learning a musical instrument. They spend hours each day playing and think they are disciplined. Few come to realise that all they are doing is playing by rote and if they want to play properly, they not only have to start again but they also have to undo their bad habits, which is a lot harder.
You’re assuming they ever fit in those pants and haven’t spent their whole life dieting.
I boosted my metabolism, increased all hormones, lost 35lbs, gained strength…
I counted macros/cals and found it to be easy and fun.
Been doing exactly this for a while now with great results. I easily maintain sub 10% bodyfat year round by simply keeping my calories within a few hundred of what I need to maintain, lose or gain, focusing on a whole foods nutrient dense diet, but always making sure to never adhere to any dogmatic eating approaches. Sometimes I skip breakfast. Sometimes I eat all fucking day. And sometimes I’ll live on cereal, beer, and caramel pop-corn, simply because I want to (former fat kid), and I like messing with people – “How do you eat so much and stay shredded!” I keep my stress in check, get a lot of sleep, lift heavy shit off the ground and put it down, screw around with gymnastics, and have as much fun as humanly possible, which most often involves being physical i.e. dancing like a maniac; running around the forest climbing and jumping on and off of everything; wearing tight cut-off jean shorts and reenacting the infamous volleyball scene in Top Gun; having crazy acrobatic sex, etc. I noticed a long time ago that everyone I knew with an effortlessly-maintained god-like physique, usually gave very little fucks about meaningless crap and just lived life how they wanted to. After many failed attempts with all sorts of different approaches, I decided one day to do the basics, stop being neurotic, and mirror myself after these people. Seems to be working so far.
this comment makes me smile
Thanks Stefan- that’s definitely the goal. Health and exuberance without carrying around any more weight than we comfortably want to.
Whether calorie tracking leads to the easygoing disposition and lifestyle, stems from it, or they happen concurrently, it does sound like they’re not inherently at odds, and that’s what I’d like to understand.
Good on ya, man
This seems timely. I’ve certainly been thinking about these issues and curious about the possibilities, and It seems others have too. Counting calories and calculating my life down to a gnats ass is very unappealing though. Keep us posted!
Thanks Steven- will check in every so often if I have any new insight to share.
I’ve adopted a new way of eating and living. Basically it’s slow down and actually enjoy everything, whether its food or anything else. I’m amazed at how much mindless eating I was doing. Now I actually taste my food and I’ve come to realize I’m naturally eating a lot less. But the food I’m enjoying is real and incredibly delicious. Same with “exercise”. Matt had a blog about enjoying what you do so it will last and I am finally living it. I walk on the beach, bike off road and none of it is “exercise”, it’s just fun. So my rule is to do whatever I want, eat whatever I want, but it has to actually be satisfying. Amazing how much freedom there is in that.
Cool- I agree! I see calorie tweaking as another possible tool to get to that balanced place where we can stop carrying around extra weight, but I don’t think it’s the only way to get there, even if ultimately calories are the mechanism for the change.
The guys with the best physiques are usually the ones who obsess the least over diet. Heavy lifting and plenty of calories over an extended period of time keeps the body in an anabolic state. Larger amounts of accumulated muscle keeps metabolism high and lack of stress from food obsession is optimal. The training creates stimulus, the calories build muscle, the muscle stokes the fire, and the fire melts the fat. The longer this cycle is maintained the better the outcome. Obviously genetics plays a role in how muscular one can become, this is a universal and stress free approach and doesn’t risk the metabolic decline brought on by calorie restriction.
The comments suggest people are open minded and eager to see how an informed person might do this, so please keep the updates coming. Suggestion: consider doing it with a female partner with some of the common problems so many of us battle with, like low thyroid and overweight. I know Kendahl was doing this too???
The problem with being overweight while low thyroid is that the person may have to
drastically reduce calories in order to lose weight. Ray Peat suggested a diet of one quart of low fat milk and one quart of orange juice for hypothyroid women who had trouble losing weight.That is less than one thousand calories per day.
I think a hypothyroid person is better off trying to improve thyroid function before
attempting to lose weight through calorie restriction.
I agree with this- getting metabolic rate and maintenance calories up nice and high before trying to consciously reduce calories is preferable, both from a metabolic standpoint and from a nutrient/satiety standpoint. Being able to et 2700 calories a day and be in deficit is far superior to needing to drop to 1000 calories a day to be in deficit.
Later I realized my mistake! Of course you’re right. I’m spontaneously on 2200 calories a day and not losing (or gaining), clear hypothyroidism signs and still the gym ball silhouette:-/ Seems even 2 years 2 months into healing I’ve still got a way to go. Anyone else taking this long??!
It’s been 3 years next month for me, I’ve seen lots of improvements but think I still have thyroid (and definitely weight) issues. Whenever I start to feel impatient I remember Diana Schwartzbein saying it took her 5 years to get her health back!
Thanks for the info CarlaG! Very encouraging. Because sometimes it can seem like you’ve just traded one set of problems for another.
I think it is a HUUUGE challenge!!
Say you restrict yourself to 1800 kCal / day. How are you supposed to eat those (timing, food composition, raw or cooked, etc). How on earth will you see through all the confounders ??? That’s just beyond me … but I wish you reach your goal, which if I understood correctly is to derive some clearer conclusions. I t would be very nice indeed.
Thanks French Fry.
For one- 1800calories is extraordinarily low, and I can’t imagine anyone doing well on that. Two- I’m not convinced that confounders like meal timing have much of an impact, and I’m not in the habit of carb cycling or vastly changing macronutrient ratios day to day. As for raw versus cooked, I suppose that’s an issue, but probably moreso if I’m varying dramatically day to day in that regard, which I’m not.
Anyway- thanks again for the well wishes. We’ll see what I learn.
I am not sure about meal timing because there clearly (at least to me) seems to be some hormonal effect here (inter-prandial duration, morning or evening, i.e. how close to sleep you eat, etc).
I said 1800 in the context of cal restriction. I don’t eat 1800 kCal myself but some do. Some even go as low as 1000 …
Most of all, the greatest confounder I think is that what ever you learn, it will be true but for YOU, unless you have an army of human guinea-pigs and force them to have the exact same lifestyle, diet, etc, as you :D
I am impressed you want to tackle this, really!
Chief is very much of the opinion that intermittent fasting helps with hormonal issues, satiety, insulin sensitivity, etc. It could be. I’m not sure, though, and didn’t notice much of a difference when I was IFing for 8 or 9 months. Could be because it never really ‘stuck’ for me and I usually found myself snacking (albeit lightly) at certain points before my main meal.
And yeah, some people eat 1000 calories, and smart CICO advocates would not be at all surprised that they fail. Small deficits, sustained over time, with re-feeds to help psychologically and hormonally, are more in line with what those folks talk about.
Another way to say all of this is: I wanted to get to the meat of the issue, and take these bright CICO advocates at their word, and judge them based not on a misapplication of their suggestions, but their actual suggestions. Of course you can lose a bunch of weight eating dramatically less. But can you do it without losing muscle, without down-regulating your metabolism, without becoming crazy with hunger and without massive rebound weight gain? Some say you can, and I want to understand how. Is it sustainable for me personally, and could I imagine other succeeding in kind if I do? What are the keys to success if so? What conditions need to happen so that people can make an informed decision about this route and decide whether it’s worth signing up for? That’s the spirit of this exploration.
“It could be. I’m not sure, though, and didn’t notice much of a difference when I was IFing for 8 or 9 months.”
I have been doing the one meal a day (feasting at night) for over a year now. I have not lost any weight doing it,andf have only gained a lot of weight. I don’t use one meal a day to eat junk either…I eat BIG but healthy, except for Friday nights after my slow burn workout which is my cheat meal (having worked with Chief yourself I am sure you know what I am doing). Everyone online swear they lose weight doing this but I don’t. In fact, I have been getting really hungry int the late morning/afternoons now out of nowhere. I would guess my body is telling me no more iF…haven’t had the guts to break my routine though.
Eventually, I decided that, not seeing fat loss, not seeing muscle gain, not resolving some issues like cold extremities and dry skin and scalp, that it didn’t make sense to continue on doing what wasn’t working.
The experiment continues for me, as I’m sure it will for you.
I guess my question is: what are you afraid of if you quit IF? That you’ll go even farther off the rails? That you’ll gain a bunch of fat and feel terrible? Getting clear, if only for yourself, what motivates or holds you back, will often give way to a path forward. Good luck, dude.
Honesty it’s a mental block I guess…I’d feel like I failed, even though – as you pointed out – it does not appear to be working. Plus I do like eating big…especially on Friday nights. I am toying with either (1) bringing lunches back or (2) eating my one meal at dinner as usual and maybe adding a smaller meal a few hours after. The goal for both would be to curb the daytime hunger.
Well, I’ll say this: I had periods where I was ravenous all day long, and Chief gave me the green light to eat whatever sounded good. For days, I was going through several pints of ice cream, along with a couple three bagels and then ancillary food. probably 5 or 6K calories, not at all on schedule. It was all good.
I think the stress of restrained eating, especially prolonged over time, is a bigger deal for Chief than hitting a certain schedule. It balances out if you let it. So you might consider just eating whatever for a while, continuing to try to get some beans(and possibly corn/squash) in your main meal, and just see where your body takes you.
The goal is auto-regulation to where you naturally are hungry at dinner, and not hungry the rest of the day. If you’re not there, fighting desperately against your hunger probably won’t help it.
Thanks for the advice Rob…appreicate it A LOT since we have been going down a smiliar path and working with Chief. I have decided that starting tomorrow, I will eat if hungry, whatever it is I want, and see what happens. FYI I have been eating a can of beans (1 lb) at dinner every night for a year (black, kidney mostly). It hasn’t done anything magical to me that I am aware of, but I haven’t gotten sick of it so I’ll still do it.
Thanks for the advice Rob?appreicate it A LOT since we have been going down a smiliar path and working with Chief. I have decided that starting tomorrow, I will eat if hungry, whatever it is I want, and see what happens. FYI I have been eating a can of beans (1 lb) at dinner every night for a year (black, kidney mostly). It hasn’t done anything magical to me that I am aware of, but I haven’t gotten sick of it so I’ll still do it.
Just a note on IF’ing:
I eat on avg once a day as well, sometimes I have a mid-day snack (green bananas, one hard boiled egg) but I always have black coffee at breakfast with nothing else. Due to work schedule and budget, I found myself slipping into a one meal a day schedule. No hunger during the day. During week-ends, I usually eat almost all day long on Saturdays, and nothing at all on Sundays until Monday lunch-time or dinner-time (usually dinner time because fasting 48h is easier on the 2nd day). But that’s just my rhythm. Been at it for a long time. I do this mostly because eating and cooking takes a lot of time and money. I also make sure I eat nutritious things. I don’t necessarily eat a BIG healthy meal, just a healthy meal.
My plan for maintenance once I reach my goal- if I find a loss in metabolism which may not happen since I’m going slow and getting a lot of exersize – (I theorize we are made to eat plenty but also move plenty and those together are what people lack in industrialized nations where we see obesity running rampant) is to slowly increase my calories by 50 per week until I reach the point that I am eating fully what my body asks for and then probably stop tracking at that point and stay active. And if I was doing my refeed all over again, I would probably take this road as well. This seems to be what works for those successful in keeping their metabolisms working whe being lean at the same time. Raising calories slowly to increase matabolism and lowering them modestly to lose weight and having the understanding to know which you need at what time.
Is that 50cal/week based on the forum post here http://180degreehealth.com/180forums/topic/4-month-update ?
If you have success with that for increasing maintenance calorie levels and metabolic rate while minimizing fat gain, let us know. That’s really fascinating and could hold some promise for refinement of re-feeding suggestions down the road.
Partly, also from watching Layne Nortons videos on metabolic damage (my first introduction to this idea). It also seemed to agree with the post about the young man who refed that way. I can’t remember his username now as I’m horrible at remembering stuff like that. Cold something..
Coldmember, and yep- it was an interesting overlap between what he reported and what Rabu observed.
It’s similar to reverse dieting for a bodybuilder after contest. Sometimes they’ll get down to 2000 calorie per day or less when preparing, and I’ve seen the recommendation to increase by 100 calories per week until they’re back at their appropriate maintenance calorie levels to prevent rebound fat gain, and give the body’s hormonal system a chance to up-regulate.
Be interested to hear how it turns out for you.
I’m curious to see how this goes. However, I think different things might work for different people.
Last time I did calorie counting via Weight Watchers (the point system is essentially simplified calorie counting), I lost weight but was constantly hungry and craving things. The biggest thing for me with calorie counting is that overtime it drove me insane…the constant analysis of everything I put in my mouth and comparing it to whatever I burned off at the gym was stressful. Eventually, it got to me and I gave up, resulting in gaining some of the weight back. So it wasn’t exactly sustainable. Personally, I’m ok with this…I’d rather be a size 10 and not stressed out over food than a size 4-6 and counting everything all the time. To each their own.
Rob – I’m working on a very long-term program similar to what you are doing. I live in a place with long, cold winters. the norm is to gain 5-10 pounds over winter and try to lose them in the summer…this usually results in long-term weight creep for even the healthiest.
What i have been working on for a couple years now, is to try to be at my leanest annual weight around Feb-Mar, and my highest annual weight around Aug-Sep. I accomplish this by eating like a king all summer and engaging in strenuous, near-daily weight training with tons of fruit, starch, meats, and dairy. Starting in the Fall, I lay off the weights, just walk and maybe a few sprints and squats, very little organized exercise. I also cut way back on summer-season fruits and high-calorie treats resorting to a meat-n-potato type existence, still getting plenty, but not overdoing it because there is little muscle repair going on.
It’s worked very well the last 2 years. My weight last March was 165, it’s now 175 (I’m a 5’11, 48yo dude). Gained 10 pounds over summer and have the guns to show for it, but not the abs. This coming March, I should be back down to 165 and still have decent arms but really visible abs.
What do you think? Is a seasonal 6 month cut and bulk too long?
I wouldn’t say that’s too long. Doing a seasonal strategy is an interesting twist and might have some benefits (or drawbacks) due factors of light levels and daily patterns from one season to the next.
Traditional bodybuilding recommendations are not season-dependent, and would be to just cut to a certain desired level of leanness (say around 10% as a male), and then bulk to put on muscle (maybe up to 15 or 20%), then cut to shed fat, but retain the muscle. And then depending on their goals, rinse and repeat, or establish your new maintenance and stay there, with more muscle than before.
Good luck- be interested to hear how it goes for you.
The only time I was ever able to successfully lose weight (more then a pound or two) was when I counted calories and exercised. But then I stopped and put it all back on and then some.
Looking back I saw that I was restricting my calories way too much – especially since I was exercising 5-6 times a week – an hour or more each day. I had gone by the recommendations of a calorie counting website I used.
I started to investigate and have now started to count calories again but am eating several hundred calories more then back then. While I’m hoping to lose weight I haven’t set myself a limit yet but rather want to find out how much I can eat without going hungry but still losing weight.
It will be interesting to see how your experiment goes.
I think that’s a great approach Nina- good luck.
I do think there’s some value in tracking calories, just so you know what you’re working with. We have a skewed picture of how many calories a healthy person actually needs day to day because under-reporting is common, and people answer close to what they think is correct, rather than what they actually eat. And so when someone starts tracking and trying to meet calorie benchmarks to lose weight, often they are far below what they really need to produce a small deficit, and that could be responsible for the stress and metabolic rebound.
Go Kaleo’s approach was to experiment until she found a calorie level that was fully satiating, but still allowed for gradual weight loss. Once that was dialed in, she could coast and see results over time. Sounds like a good, sustainable approach.
I’m starting to do the same after gaining 15 lbs while eating for heat. The trouble I have is getting in more than 100 grams of protein! I don’t know why, but I feel like that is all I eat in order to get that much in, and it gets old.
Why 110gr of protein a day?
Sorry, 100gr I meant, not 110. :)
I’ve just read it several places. It’s actually a low estimate when reading coplos stuff. I feel so much better as far as metabolism goes, but despise the extra weight. So, I want to lose in a healthy way and keep reading how protein supposedly helps with that. But I’m open to all suggestions!
That is really high…protein intake is pretty overrated to begin with. You don’t need that much protein even if you are lifting a lot. Matt did an article on how much protein do you really need…can try to search for it.
Yeah, the post was here: http://180degreehealth.com/2012/05/how-much-protein-do-you-need-to-build-muscle
Keep in mind, though, that this is about building muscle in the context of a calorie surplus, in which case you probably don’t need as much.
When in calorie deficit, though, more protein is typically recommended, along with resistance training, as these are lean-sparing and encourage the body to burn fat rather than muscle to make up the calorie needs.
One counterpoint: Broda Barnes claimed that high-protein diets were metabolically suppressive in the long term, possibly due to the stress of gluconeogenesis (converting protein to carbs when consumed in excess of protein needs), and did not advise high protein consumption for weight loss.
Matt’s experience has historically been that more protein in his diet leads to feeling worse. I’ve only begun incorporating more protein (around 1.1g/lb bodyweight), and we’ll see what that results in.
A couple of confounding factors, though:
1) The vast majority of my protein is not from muscle meat. I eat maybe 1lb of meat per week most weeks. My protein is mostly from dairy (milk, greek yogurt), beans, potatoes, grains and supplemental protein (rice and whey mostly). I also cook my stews with a fair bit of gelatin. It could be that it’s not so much the protein itself, but specific amino acids that are problematic and metabolically suppressive, as Ray Peat talks about. And that ingesting relatively high quantities of protein from non muscle-meat sources has a different metabolic effect.
2) It’s not clear to me what sort of resistance training Barnes’ subjects were engaged in, if any. It could be that, absent resistance training, high protein consumption while losing weight did not adequately work to retain lean tissue, and that this accounts for the suppressed metabolism he observed.
Anyway- I think there’s something to all the body recomposition coaching recommendations to higher protein content along with resistance training. Experiment for yourself, but I wouldn’t be so quick to presume 100g protein is too high, unless you’re a very small person.
That’s helpful. I hate eating so much meat. I just see high calorie counts when I eat rice and potatoes, and still not getting as much protein as I would with meat. I am about 185 lbs right now, so not little but not huge either. I guess maybe I can try to add gelatin to some smoothies or something. I still eat full fat dairy, but again, see the calories go up, so I feel like I can’t eat as much. By all the calorie calculators and such, I get around a 2300 range per day. Do you think that’s adequate. I don’t feel hungry or deprived at all.
I think going by appetite and biofeedback is really important. I will say I feel much better and look better when I eat meat everyday, but that’s maybe 5 oz. Some people do better eating a lot of dairy or eggs but others don’t.
Nooooo! Come back from the dark side!!! You are scaring me. Have you tried just eating intuitively and eating slowly and enjoying it?????? That’s what I want to try once I have improved my metabolism. I have gained a lot of weight doing this but I’m also trying to change my mind-set to one that doesn’t see body image as the most important thing…………….it’s helping and I’m amazed how well I am handling being “over-weight”. Still, I’m confused though by how we know what “over-weight” really is. I’ve heard it’s possible to be healthy at any size, so what really is over-weight?????
For me, ‘overweight’ is about feeling sluggish and slow when playing basketball (one of the activities I do almost every day). That was the motivation to gain the weight as well- I wanted to be more of a physical presence in the paint. And it helped. I remember after I set screens or boxed defenders out, several people commented that I was ‘solid’ and ‘must be working out.’
That was awesome. What wasn’t awesome was getting winded during full court games way before I used to, or not jumping as high as I did a few months ago, or getting taken off the dribble repeatedly because I was too slow.
As stated above, I’m all for people feeling good about themselves, whatever their weight is. I don’t think you need to be at a certain body fat percentage to be confident and capable.
What I found personally was that I became so attached to the idea of ‘eating big’ and needing to eat big to be healthy and to not feel anxious, that I would eat sometimes when I wasn’t even hungry, and afterward, I wouldn’t even feel satisfied. The idea with tracking calories is to help take food out of the equation so I can focus on whatever it is else that I want to do with myself. While tracking does have the possibility to cause food to be an even bigger deal, maybe it also as the capacity to quell those preoccupations. In other words, could it exist alongside and support intuitive living? Maybe…
From everything I’ve read of yours, I imagine you’ve looked at this from as many angles as possible. Is there anyway that you might have overworked yourself in basketball though? In diet recovery 2 matt talks about breaks as part of a path towards progress. Did you try taking a week or a month of basketball and then going back to it after you gave yourself a break?
Also, as someone who’s not really reaping as many of the benefits from refeeding that most seem to be on this website, this blog entry of yours makes me desperately want to press a reset button. I spend so much time telling everyone around me about the hormonal complexity of obesity and health problems, and yet I’ve just gotten 60 lbs heavier in front of their eyes. Maybe they’re just right when they say: eat less, work out more, no one said it was going to be easy, but if you stick through the most grueling of it, you’ll get back to good shape (both hormonally and weight wise)?
I dunno, CP- that’s what I’m exploring. I never had a clinical eating disorder, never engaged in starvation diets. Had my fair share of dietary wackiness (vegan, paleo, low-carb, etc.), but didn’t have the level of extreme-ism that some folks have. Re-feeding helped get me out of orthorexic thinking, not fear macronutrients or food groups, and helped with some some food intolerances and improved digestion. But it didn’t make everything better.
So maybe working on a sensible resistance training program with some macronutrient goals and creating a small deficit to lean out will improve some of the unresolved issues, will positively impact the hormonal landscape, will make fuel partitioning better, will aid in lean tissue building versus fat tissue, etc.
To be determined…
Well Rob, good luck. You have my best wishes. I think that the risk inherent in this experiment makes you a brave soul, and will make things clear for those of us who aren’t having the smoothest ride on the refeeding front.
My comment re: ”what everyone else says to do” was meant to highlight how unique Matt Stone’s approach seems to be in the world of health sound bytes and “mr. know it alls” when it comes to weight loss. This isn’t a critique really — I’m neck deep in it and experiencing the benefits of his approach as well as some drawbacks. But if your experiment works, it’d reaffirm what most people say about losing weight. And it’d make people like me wonder if gaining weight and eating big isn’t actually that crucial when it comes to diet recovery and overall metabolic health.
What if maintaining a calorie deficit to begin with, while still raising core body temp and other such things, is the way to go from the get-go? This could be very difficult for people in very compromised positions, I imagine, but just a thought.
And of course, guinea pigs like you will really determine that :)
Thanks CP, we’ll see indeed.
I also wonder who the re-feeding strategy is best suited for. I think those who are afraid of food will do well to re-feed, folks who think that calories are just terrible and should be avoided at all costs, and have lots of issues around eating enough.
Also, for folks who have seriously reduced metabolisms and poor body temperatures, re-feeding seems very valuable and effective at what it does. Just reminding people that they don’t need to fear macronutrients or ‘junk food’ or X, Y or Z can be liberating. Removing the stress around food and cravings is in many cases enough to both bring up the metabolism and shed excess pounds. But it doesn’t work for everyone.
For those it doesn’t work for, who are fairly healthy and have fairly robust metabolisms and constitutions, but for whom extra weight doesn’t seem to fall off, tweaking a bit might make sense.
Or not. We’ll see.
After going through the whole refeeding process after an eating disorder (although I was not underweight but had a lot of low metabolism signs) I’ve come to the conclusion that refeeding is great and absolutely necessary in some cases, but can definitely be taken too far. I did a refeed when I was already months into recovery, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I was force feeding myself when not hungry, and I ended up gaining weight and feeling miserable. I do not think you should eat past your hunger repeatedly day after day, and I think that might be why a lot of people run into problems with huge weight gain.
I agree 100%. It is also essential to focus on sleep and root causes of stress. It’s not only about the food. I think consistency of eating schedule, well-balanced meals and listening to hunger signals are the most important food aspects, too.
Might be a bit off topic, but do you have any recommendations regarding how many calories a 19/almost 20 year old female should consume daily?
The online BMR and TDEE calculators seem to vary widely, giving from as little as 1400 kcal up to 2500 kcal form my TDEE – I am lightly active, with 30 to 45 minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times per week (weights, squats, crunches, planks, etc. – and I plan on starting running).
I have a bit of history of restrictive eating, recently upped my calories from about 1400 up to about 1800 to 2000, but I am afraid I’ll just start gaining uncontrollably – then again, eating 1400 daily didn’t result in weight loss either.
The thing is, I got my act together and realised I DON’T NEED to lose weight, so my aim is maintenance – I am 160cm, about 55kg.
So, in short (sorry for rambling): is it realistic for me to “let go” and eat even up to 2500 calories without starting to gain uncontrollably (considering I don’t do THAT MUCH exercise)? Or will this amount lead to a better metabolism, considering the period of restriction has sure left it a bit sluggish/impaired?
Thanks a zillion, it’s a great thing you’re doing on this site!
As someone with a background of restrictive eating, I would consider following the guidelines at Your Eatopia: http://www.youreatopia.com/blog/2011/9/14/i-need-how-many-calories.html For your age, if you have signs of subclinical starvation (lowered metabolism), such as cold extremities, foggy-headedness, hairloss, dry skin or brittle nails, etc. the guidelines are for 3000 calories per day for your body to repair and restore. This is especially important is you do not have a regular menstrual cycle. I encourage you to read through that post- it helps explain why that many calories is advised and what the process of recovery from restrained eating is like.
Keep in mind as well that upon re-feeding, you’ll likely see a scale increase of 5-10lbs in new water weight and muscle glycogen. This is normal and no reason to do something wild like drop back down to 1400 calories.
I think it’s important to first get to a place where you have a healthy relationship with food, you don’t see any food as “good” or “bad.” and you aren’t afraid to eat and fuel yourself. I would not advise people with histories of ED to jump willy nilly into calorie counting, especially since it’s hard to separate out the ED thinking and generalized disordered relationship/fear of food from the fear of fat gain. Get healthy first; most people find that their BMI and fat:lean mass ratio returns to a healthy level upon completion of recovery.
I read diet recovery and I was inspired to try doing something crazy. You know, like actually eat. I have been trying weight watchers for the last few years, I’m a ‘lifer’ and my attempts involve 5 month commitments, quit for 2 months then rejoin determined to this time make it work. I’ve gained 40 lb., my Dr. says it’s menopause. My between months from weight watchers I counted calories, I restricted to 1300 cal., as per a website that you put your weight and activity level in and they tell you how many calories you need. That didn’t work so I kept reducing my calories. I managed to feel worse and develop a fear of bread and pasta and had a domestic with my husband when he offered to take me out for dinner and dared to suggest ordering a bottle of wine.
Enter the theory of ‘eating for heat’ and I thought What do I have to lose? So, I ate the pasta, I traded my morning smoothie for toast with *gasp* butter. I drink wine. I’ve lost 4-6 lb. depending on the day. When I lost a few lb. I went back to counting calories and weight watchers points. Gained it back. Now I’m eating again and not gaining.
Looking forward to reading your conclusions!!
Glad to see you sharing your experiences so far here, Rob!
Something people need to remember (or rethink) about dieting and metabolism is that the metabolism doesn’t just drop into a deep dark abyss as soon as calories are cut. It actually doesn’t fluctuate that much at all from a dieting phase. For example, if your pre-maintenance calorie levels were say 2,500/day before a reasonable cutting diet of 12-20 weeks, maintenance may drop to 2,300-2,400 cals. However keep in mind that you’re also now significantly lighter so you’d be eating MORE calories per lb of bodyweight. Plus this isn’t factoring in the increases that can and will happen when you start ramping calories back up. You may go from 190lb at 2,500 cals/maintenance to 170lb with a new maintenance of 2,600 calories for example. See this happen all the time.
All of this is even more apparent when you incorporate the things that science has shown us to be the most effective fat loss strategies for both the short-term fat loss itself and the long-term sustainability. Success levels can actually be very high, which I’m confident Rob’s example will show.
Keep up the good work Rob!
What do you think happens to people who go through more severe metabolic declineIs it that they drop their maintenance to the 2300/day figure in the above example, then re-feed ad libitum back to original weight, but regain mostly metabolically inactive fat? Then they diet again back down twenty more lbs, maybe drop their maintenance to 2100, and regain back to their original weight, but stay right around that lower maintenance level? How would that staggering down happen to get someone to a place where they gain on legitimately low calorie levels?
I had gastric bypass in 2006. I initially lost 140lbs. I was eating between 1000 – 1200 calories per day on a nearly no fat mostly vegetarian diet. I worked out 6 days per week (45 min of cardio and 15 min of resistance). I pounded coffee and Red Bulls to keep up my “motivation”. Everyone cheered. Then I hit a brick wall. I had no energy to exercise. My ability to tolerate food increased and I was eating 1800 – 2800 calories per day and I gained back 70lbs. I started to work with Josh Rubin of East West Healing and he helped me get my energy back and lose 40lbs of the regained weight.
But I hit another brick wall. My “pouch” (the miniscule stomach that’s left after bypass) is atrophying. I can eat less and less as the months go by. I have no energy to do what I love to do. I nap like it’s my job. I can hardly do my Qi Gong once a week. I’m depressed. I’m consuming between 500 and 1200 calories per day depending on how much food I can tolerate.
I am now looking at getting the bypass reversed but it’s going to be difficult to have a surgeon do that as I weigh around 260. There isn’t a weight loss surgeon alive who will believe I need to eat more food.
I’ve followed your comments and read some of your blog posts, and know a bit of your story. Thanks for sharing again, and I’m sorry to hear it’s going poorly these days.
It’s unfortunate that you’re probably right- few doctors would sign off on getting you back to an increased calorie level to help you regain your health. Not that you asked, but if you haven’t already considered it, I wonder if therapists who specialize in eating disorder recovery might have doctors they could refer you to. Perhaps someone familiar with the process of metabolic recovery from the subclinical starvation you are likely experiencing would have sympathetic practitioners who could help someone in your situation. You may know about YourEatopia.com, but if not, it’s a great site and they do have a Resource page with links to organizations that may fit the bill: http://www.youreatopia.com/support
Good luck- I hope you can find the support you need. You have my good vibes and well-wishes.
Great post. In fact, probably one of the most lucid things I have read when it comes to the role of calories in weight/fat loss. Often, CICO advice translates instantly to “Eat Less, Move More.” In the Fat Loss Bible, Colpo points out that you can create a caloric deficit in four ways-
1. Eat less
2. Exercise more
3. Some combo of 1 and 2
4. Eat more, but exercise even more.
Knowing this, it becomes obvious that you can create a caloric deficit at 500 calories, 2500 caloires or 4500 calories a day, and pretty much anything in between. Indeed, cyclists in the Tour De France have to consume 7000 calories a day to simply maintain their weight. It certainly makes sense to me that you could encounter more problems creating a deficit at the lower intake of food (say the 500 calorie mark), like lower metabolism or shortages of vitamins and minerals, than at a more moderate level or even the higer end. Of course, there could problems at higher intakes as well. Interested to see if you figure anything out.
With any intentional attempt at weight loss, I’d say #4 is by far the safest, easiest, and leads to the best overall body composition. One of the most important prerequisites when it comes to any lost weight is that your appetite is fully satisfied, and this is usually the only way you can do that and still succeed with creating an intentional calorie deficit.
Having said all that, I always fail with any of the above four strategies (can’t sustain it indefinitely), and when I fall off the wagon I end up fatter than ever. I think the vast majority of dieters have that outcome in the end, which is why saying fuckit often works sensationally better than being proactive about excess body fat.
Thanks John- really appreciate the feedback.
I agree that having an ample maintenance level for creating a deficit is a great idea. Being able to cut on 2500 or 3000 calories is far healthier I’d suspect (at least from a nutrient standpoint, and probably from a social ease and satiety standpoint) than having to cut on 2000 or fewer calories.
I’ve also heard that exercise does not have a 1:1 relationship to appetite. In other words, more movement will make you hungrier, but not necessarily so hungry that you eat away all the deficit just to feel satiated. So potentially, you could be in a place where you’re moving around, eating heartily to appetite, and yet still losing fat. Perhaps that is why the long-term successful losers almost invariably include exercise as a major component of their reduced weight lives. They play hard and eat hard enough not to feel hungry or deprived.
Hi, has there been any updates to this experiment?
So I personally have attempted the ‘eat all I want and exercise more’ route, and while I feel good, have gained stamina and strength and have larger shoulders, I have not lost or gained a single pound. I am still quite portly in the gut department. Starting to think I need to begin to partially reduce calories and limit my exercise expenditure in terms of amount while maintaining qaulity in a reduced energetic schedule. Anyone??