How I lost 15lbs I didn’t have to lose.
I will try to keep this simple, because we all need to go to different depths of the “food rabbit hole”. Some people are almost there and just need tweaks. Some people are so far in the damn weeds that they can’t get the traction needed to move an inch. If you want more details or have questions I’d love to talk more about your rabbit hole (AYO!). I’m sharing this to offer you some perspective. My situation isn’t yours, but you may discover we have some of the same variables. If you are interested in learning more about my situation or talking more about yours, throw me a carrot anytime.
So here are 15 things I learned losing 15lbs. It’s a fun read, but if you want to play along, grab a piece of paper and your brain.
1. I started with a an idea, that turned into a question, that resulted in a goal. The specifics are important to me, but the process is important to you. You need a goal. Something that pulls you towards a better version of yourself. A well thought end state makes it easy to figure out what exactly you need to do. My idea was to qualify for the American Open (picking up barbell contest). The question became how do I achieve that? I could either add 35lbs to my lifts (get much stronger) or drop a weight class. I decided to drop a weight class, which clarified my goal of losing 12lbs. Do you have a goal? What do you need to do to achieve it? (hint: be specific)
2. Once the goal was clarified, I needed to know where I stood against it. Assessment time! I measured weight, body fat, logged my food to get current macro and calorie averages, and maxed my lifts. Once you have identified the goal and the steps you need to take, measure what you can to find out where you’re starting from and how far you need to go. I needed to lose 12lbs. How far do you need to go? What can you measure between here and there? The more data you have, the easier it is to plan.
3. Once assessment was done, I was ready for a plan. Based on my numbers I planned to lose 4-5% bodyfat (7-8lbs) over 5 weeks and then dehydrate myself the remaining weight. (more on that later). My average intake was around 3500 calories per day and I planned to step that down gradually over 5 weeks. My whole plan revolved around staying strong. I couldn’t just starve the weight off. I needed to be maximally strong on game day and be lighter. What is your plan? Look at the measurements and think of how you can change them. Be prepared to adjust once your moving.
4. I quickly discovered that my plan had holes. Reducing my intake was leaving me tired and not wanting to train. I had to adjust the plan. I decided to vary my calories based on training days, rest days, and sanity. I ate 500 more calories on training days, which resolved the fatigue. When the plan doesn’t work, refocus and adjust the plan. Expect set backs and wrong turns. Jot down some anticipated speed bumps and ways to deal with them. Adjust course, don’t abandon ship.
5. Constant monitoring helped me make those adjustments. I tracked protein, carb, and fat intake using my fitness pal, weighed myself and took bodyfat daily, and logged every rep of my workouts. Tracking those details made it easy to connect the dots between my performance and my intake. Key note though, I didn’t log every day. I’ve been playing with myself long enough to know that I hate doing food logs and my intake doesn’t vary much. I’ve learned from the feedback. You have to monitor yourself. No one else will do it for you. But you don’t have to do it as much as you think you do. Focus on the key areas. What will fall apart the fastest if you don’t keep your eye on it?
6. Because performance was the ultimate goal, pre and post workout nutrition were dialed in. I put a lot of thought into those meals because they fueled my efforts and my recovery. No matter how crazy everything else got, I never let those meals slip. Three training days a week, two sessions per training day, one meal before and one after totaled 12 meals per week that were unfuckwithable. Figure out what part of your plan is most important. Life is going to come after you. Chaos has your number. Decide in advance where you have slack and where you don’t. Establish a base. A place to dig in when things get hard. A fall back line that you don’t cross. Where do you need to dig that trench?
7. Dealing with fluctuating expectations, attitude, focus, and commitment. As the process went on I discovered it was hard. It wasn’t complicated and it wasn’t hard to find the time, but it was hard to stay committed. Food prep was a full time job and the scale and bodyfat bounced up and down in a sometimes unfavorable fashion. I occasionally doubted my ability to cut the weight and everything in my body hurt from trying to lift the weights with less and less fuel. Fact is, it’s not a linear process (but we want it to be). Weight and bodyfat are not static numbers, they move like the tides. Much the same way as our energy, our focus, and our resolve. When I felt down, I went back to the goal, the question, and the idea that started it all. Could I lose the weight? I had been losing about 1-2lbs per week which was the plan, so I was generally on track despite the inconsistent feedback the piece of shit scale gave me. Could I be strong when I got there? Once again, despite feeling beat up, the weights were moving. I was improving my technique and maintaining my strength, although inconsistent at times, it was still there. In moments of weakness and frustration, take a step back and reflect on the goal. Look at the variables in play and ask yourself, do adjustments need to be made, or is this just the normal rhythmic nature of progress…. two steps forward, one step back?
8. I worked out like a fucking boss! But different than normal. I often over train (under recover) by working out too many days in a row. I am also scared of really heavy barbells over my head. You may not have a reference point for that, because I seem to do it all the time, but I am not confident with anything over 200lbs going over my head. It scares me and brews hesitation in my body. To avoid these weaknesses I planned to incorporate more rest days and to lift over 200lbs during every training session. I also forced myself to repeat any missed attempts. The result… I got comfortable being uncomfortable. I was able to silence that part of the brain that says “hey, don’t do that” through repetition, repetition, repetition. When you remove the weak links from the chain… you make a strong ass chain. Analyze your weaknesses and attack them. What habits are holding you back? How can you stomp it out?
9. Rest days were nomad days. The calories you burn during exercise don’t amount to shit compared to the calories you burn walking around picking your nose. Seriously, even if you workout for 2 hours a day, it won’t compare to the calories you burn with the remaining 14… if you’re not a turd. On rest days I didn’t let myself sit down for more than life required. This useful nugget came from literature I acquired from Patty during her diet adventures. The point is, you need to share your journey with others. It’s good for you because it keeps you engaged, and sometimes… dramatic pause… humans have similar stuff going on in their lives. You never know when your stuff can help someone else, or when they’ll help you, unless you share. Who can you talk to about your goal?
10. I delayed a small breakfast, ate a sensible lunch (veggie bomb), and enjoyed a rather large dinner. I did this because it works… for me. It works for me because I’ve tested it. I’ve eaten bigger and smaller breakfasts earlier and later in the morning. I’ve tested meal size and meal timing and macro-nutrient ratios across the day. But JP… breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you shouldn’t eat right before bed!!! My response… adherence trumps science. If I eat a big breakfast, I have trouble stopping myself from doing the same thing throughout the day. If I go to bed hungry, I don’t sleep well. The setup I chose keeps me sane and keeps my daily totals where they need to be. You will always find conflicting diet advice. If it’s controversial, it’s up to you to figure out. When you get serious about a goal and advertise your intentions, you will often get advice about what you should and shouldn’t do. It’s up to you to filter that advice based on your experience. Live and learn. In regards to your goal, what do you know about yourself? Have you played this game before? If so, what did you learn?
11. I added BCAA’s daily (branch chain amino acids…. (little protein pieces)). Delaying breakfast meant I was fasting, and fasting can burn muscle. I couldn’t afford to lose strength or this whole deal was all for nothing so I added in this supplement to offset my muscle loss. The primary goal was to qualify for the American Open, which birthed the secondary goal of lose 12lbs. If I only focused on the secondary goal I could very easily derail the primary goal. Don’t get so focused on the process that you forget about why you’re doing it. In the fog of daily responsibility, the big picture is hardest to focus on. What is driving your goal? What’s the big picture goal?
12. I had pancakes and ice cream… because sanity trumps adherence! I also stayed within my macros. As I stepped down my total calories each week it became progressively more difficult to eat calorie dense foods. I had a FOOD BUDGET!!!! 450 grams of carbs per day is like having money to burn. It’s fun and exciting because you don’t have to really pay much attention to what you buy. You are free to impulse shop (eat). As my daily budget slowly constricted down to 200 grams I felt desperation closing in. I had to be purposeful with my spending. I could either have all the veggies I wanted (thrift shopping) or I could blow my whole budget on a single serving of stupid (Louis Vuitton). Most of the time I chose a full stomach over satiated taste buds, but occasionally, the taste buds prevailed. Either way, I stayed within my budget. Often times, goals stand fast against the winds of fun. Unless your goal is to be fat and die young, chances are you’ll have to put the lid on some of your primal urges. Just remember that lid is twist off, and its ok to spill a little, once in a while. What dumbish thing do you need to stay sane? Be careful here… I said “what do you need” not “what are you used to having”. Big difference.
13. I planned for 1-2lbs of fat loss per week for 5 weeks. The combination of my willingness to suffer, knowledge of food, access to a gym, and good genetics (thanks mom!) I knew this was a realistic expectation. It’s helpful to look at what other people are doing but you have to be honest with yourself. If my goal was to be president and give birth to twins in the oval office I’ve got a rather serious lack of education and reproductive organs. It’s 2015… so anything is possible, but the timeline might have to be adjusted… or the goal. Be honest with yourself. Is it possible? How long will it take?
14. As the plan unfolded everything was working (with adjustments) and I got down to about 3 pounds over my goal weight. At this point I was 5% bodyfat and couldn’t go any lower without sacrificing performance. Enter THE INTERNET!!Tim Ferris has a simple guide that UFC fighters use to cut water weight before a weigh in. Now… before you freak out, I know it’s not smart, it’s not healthy, and it doesn’t set a good example. I didn’t do this to look good in a bathing suit. I didn’t do this for a class reunion. I didn’t do this to fit into my skinny jeans. I did this for the sake of competition. If you have a problem with that then you don’t come to my gym and you probably don’t work out and I’m not sure why or how you’re reading this. The point of this one is Google knows everything. I lost almost 6lbs of water weight in the 2 days leading up to the meet, which allowed me to maintain my muscle mass. That’s called winning! I can tell you with very little doubt that your goal is not unique. Others have gone through what you’re going through and they have written about it with poor grammar and high resolution photography on the internets. Google that shit!!!
15. I did it. I ended up losing 15lbs and making weight. I learned a lot about myself and the process. I went to the meet. I felt plenty strong. I warmed up thoroughly. I set up tight. I had the speed… but I missed. In less than a second, my goal screeched to a halt. It was over. I did everything right, laid out a solid plan, assessed my current position, monitored progress, adjusted to the setbacks, shared my journey, killed my weaknesses, maintained the most important aspects, learned from my mistakes, googled that shit, showed up ready… and I missed. Sometimes you do everything right and you still come up short. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, but you always have control over your focus. I could choose to focus on the result, the miss, the failure and move on defeated…. or I could choose to focus on the process, on the journey. I can look at all the valuable lessons this experience has taught me. I can share them with you and I can ask myself what’s next? You see… goals are beyond us. Regardless of the distance they drive us to expand. The results of that expansion are yours to distill. Whether you learn what works or what doesn’t, you will learn.
In this case I’m not satisfied. I know I can make the lift and I will get one more chance in 3 weeks in Buffalo. After that, qualifiers close for the year and I’ll have new decisions to make.
My background: Read this before you pass judgement, or if you want more info
For those that don’t know, I have been trying to do nothing but gain weight my entire life. This is literally the first attempt I’ve ever made to lose a single pound (which is what makes it interesting). I was perfectly healthy and didn’t have an excess pound to lose. I made the decision to cut weight to be competitive in weightlifting (putting barbells overhead). I wanted to qualify for the American Open and I could either add 35lbs to my lifts, or take 12lbs off my body. I’ve been working, with a robust degree of intelligence and effort, to add weight to my lifts and my body for years. The idea of going down created 2 questions. Could I lose the weight? Could I be strong when I got there? The questions bounced around in my head long enough that I made the commitment to answer them. I hope that you can focus on the process and use it to reach your own goals.
It was funny to me the number of people who commented on the safety (or stupidity) of what I was doing. To purposefully starve and dehydrate myself for the sake of competition and experimentation bothered people. It bothered them enough to say something to me.
“It’s not healty”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“That sounds ridiculous”
“I hope you don’t hurt yourself”
and my personal favorite
“Will this mess you up long term?”
There are 2 things that strike me as odd about the comments. First, professional athletes destroy their bodies for the sake of competition (some get paid well, most don’t) and we love to watch them do it. Maybe because there is no personal connection?? Second thing… and this really bothers me, is that when I spend a week limiting my intake it’s comment worthy, but we watch friends and family (people we love) over eat all the time and we say nothing. When they put booze and pizza and bread and questionable calorie dense foods into their mouth every day, we remain silent. We watch the people we care about destroy themselves week after week and we don’t make a peep. Have we been desensitized to it or is it because we do it to ourselves? Why is ok to slowly put on extra pounds but it’s not ok to aggressively take them off? As a culture, are we that broken?