I started “dieting” back in college. I put that in quotes because what I did really wasn’t considered dieting.
It was basically me just saying I was dieting.
I bought Hydroxycut, never paid attention to calories, and it was all about protein.
If I had to eat 7,000 calories to get my 180g of protein, so be it. Can’t lose my gainz in my cutting phase.
At the time it’s all I knew.
While in my “cutting phase” I was going out drinking 6 nights a week (I took Sunday off). And my idea of a balanced meal was a footlong chicken breast sandwich from Subway with lettuce on it.
I had no idea what the hell I was doing and my results showed.
Months and months of this cycle with nothing to show for it and feeling like it was absolutely impossible for me.
I blamed my parents for shitty genetics, because obviously it couldn’t be my fault.
Oh Dave, you stupid blind bastard.
Flash forward to January 2019 and you can say my approach has changed a little. While I picked up most of these things before this year, it wasn’t until this time around that I realized how important some of these things were, mainly stress.
Over this time I went from 195 pounds to 177-180 while still enjoying Easter, my birthday and weekends out with my wife.
Before we get into it, if you are looking for the nitty gritty stuff about how to set calories and macros, check out the Dick Skin Shredded article. Otherwise, here’s what I learned from dieting for 6 months.
Not counting calories while trying to lose weight is like trying to hit a target with an arrow while being blindfolded and spun around.
Possible, but not likely as 20 yr old Dave can attest. In a time where food is so readily available and portion sizes are ridiculous, one meal from a restaurant could be a whole day’s worth of calories.
This is where tracking helps.
It brings awareness to what your eating. And if you want to lean out, you NEED awareness. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to count calories sometimes.
Yes, it’s not 100% accurate but it’s a lot more accurate than guessing how many calories you’re eating a day.
Plus, if you want to get to the intuitive eating level like you hear about on Instagram, you need awareness.
Counting calories are the training wheels of intuitive eating.
Once you get used to it, it’s something that takes a whole 15 mins a day and it has been shown to yield better results than just winging it.
Plus, I found for me, if I put all of tomorrow’s food into MyFitnessPal I’m more likely to stick to my diet than if I put the food in after the fact. It’s almost like I have a food playbook for each day.
Diet Breaks and Re-feeds
From January to late Feb/ early March, my results were slow. Stress was high (I’ll get into that in a bit) and I was pissed with the lack of results.
I incorporated my first 2 week diet break at this time. I increased calories to maintenance (14x bodyweight, which was 2500 calories) by increasing carbs.
Diet breaks are usually 1-2 weeks where you increase calories to maintenance level (12-14x body weight in lbs) by increasing carbs to relieve your metabolism and mind from the stress of dieting. Plus, it helps fuel your workouts and is great for pumps. It’s a great time to be alive.
Then, once I got back at it, the weight fell off. Each of the following weeks I consistently saw about a one pound drop.
After this diet break I started incorporating weekly re-feeds. These are 1-2 days of eating at my new maintenance calories based on my current weight.
This is not a Girls Gone Wild Eating Edition cheat day. Yea, I had a little more “junk food” on this day but calories were always first priority.
Doing one day re-feeds is more of a mental break from dieting, that was usually Saturday just so I had some wiggle room when my wife and I would get take out, #newbornbabylife.
As time went on, I played the 2 day re-feeds based on what I had going on and how I felt. For example, Easter and my birthday were 2 days. Other than that, every Sunday I’d get right back at my diet.
I didn’t take another diet break until the end of May. My weight loss had slowed down and I my performance in the gym was declining. It was about 12 weeks so it was good for me to bring calories back up. As I write this, I just reduced calories again for the home stretch before my vacation in July.
It Takes a Long Freakin’ Time
When it comes to fat loss, there are two approaches fast and furious and slow and sustainable. I was in absolutely no rush and I wanted the results to stick around so slow and sustainable wins.
With fast and furious you need next level dedication. Everything has to be on point and it’s going to be hard AF. Tons of cardio, extreme calorie restriction, gym performance is going to tank, and very little wiggle room when it comes to off diet foods. This leads to a lot of yo-yo results. I don’t have the ambition to dedicate that much of my life to this like I did before. Ya know the whole family and work things are a little more important.
Slow and sustainable on the other hand lead to better training, less stress and results that last. Plus, I don’t want to live in the gym. A life that gives me the confidence to take my shirt off months after I’m done dieting is the one I want. Plus, I can enjoy the weekends, within reason.
In the slow approach, losing 1% of your body weight is amazing progress. Starting off at 195 lbs I could feasibly expect a 1 pound a week drop. This allows me to set realistic expectations and see about how many diet breaks I’ll need.
Realistic expectations helps tremendously when it comes to motivation. Too often I see people with unrealistic expectations jump ship because they aren’t seeing what they think is good progress.
All-in-all I lost about 20 lbs in 22 weeks of dieting.
You Can Get Stronger While Cutting Calories
People often confuse muscle growth with gaining strength. They are different but similar. Muscle gains is when your muscle actually gets bigger. You break down the fibers, and they repair bigger. This requires calories.
Strength gain on the other hand is all about the nervous system becoming more efficient at contracting the muscle. The more efficient the contraction, the more muscle fibers contract together, the more weight you can lift. This doesn’t require calories.
So yes, you can get stronger when cutting calories.
I kept all my big lifts like my deadlift and bench heavy. Usually, I would work up to a 1-3rm taking as many sets as needed to get there. In April I switched to a Westside Barbell Conjugate form of lifting where my weeks would look like this:
Week 1: Deficit Deadlift (1RM)
Week 2: Good Morning (3RM)
Week 3: Rack Pulls (1RM)
Week 4: Deadlift (1RM)
Week 1: Close Grip Bench (1RM)
Week 2: Floor Press (1RM)
Week 3: Board Press (1RM)
Week 4: Bench (1RM)
Each week I’d work up to my 1rm in that particular exercise. And every 4th week I’d watch my regular lift go up.
This works by breaking the main lift (deadlift and bench) up and working on the different weak points. For example with the deadlift, the first six inches of the lift are usually the hardest so doing deficit deadlifts helps increase your ability to pull the bar off the floor.
The rest of my exercises I would focus on increasing sets, reps or time under tension every 2 weeks.
Going into July, I switched to focus on deficit deadlifts and board presses as these are the areas I need improvement. Each week, I’d switch the sets and rep range from working up to a 1RM, 4×6-8 and speed work for 6-9×3.
Calories Are King
After college I got better with dieting but I still had some lingering bro-habits, mainly needing to get my bodyweight in grams of protein every day.
Calories be damned, I need protein to keep my gains.
One day of eating less than my required protein isn’t going to kill all my gains. This was a YUGE paradigm shift for me. This time around I allowed myself more freedom with food which sometimes lead to less than the normal protein I was used to getting.
The results? My gains stayed, I lost fat, and the whole dieting experience wasn’t a giant pain in the ass.
By just focusing on calories on days of cookouts, holidays or even Saturday night take-out made compliance 100x easier. The other days of the week, I focused on hitting all my macros.
At the end of the day, calories are the only thing that’ll matter when it comes to fat loss. If calories are high, like on a re-feed day, your body isn’t going to take away from muscle, there are too many calories floating around to need to.
Am I Hungry or Bored?
I’m a big snacker. If there is a bag of Tostitos Scoops in front of me consider it gone.
A lot of times I’ll walk by the snack cabinet to grab a few here or a bite there. In and of themselves, not a huge burden on my diet. But over the course of the day, that shit adds up quickly. And previously I’d never track the nibbles and bites. I never thought they were worth putting in My Fitness Pal.
Well they are. A few bites here, few nibbles there can add up to a couple hundred of untracked calories. And if weight loss stalls, I obviously couldn’t remember the extra calories days or weeks later.
So I started asking myself whenever I’d go for a snack “Am I hungry or bored?”
If I was legit hungry then by all means I was going to eat something. But if I was bored, which most of the time I was, I’d grab a water and go back to what I was doing.
This one trick, hack or whatever else you want to call it saved me thousands of calories and a ton of frustration.
Leave Room For The Good Stuff
The absolute best shape I had ever been in was when I was preparing for a bodybuilding show. I also had Tostitos Scoops everyday.
Too many times I tried going super restrictive and it sucked ass. I’d end of binging one day and unraveling a few days worth of progress because I stretched my willpower too much.
So I started saving a little calories for “treats”. Could be a handful of Scoops. Could be some ice cream on the weekend. Whatever I wanted I had, with 2 caveats.
I had a small portion.
I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Normally, I’ll come home from my day job and grab 5-6 Scoops while I’m making my lunch for the next day. Less than 100 calories and it satisfies the snacking and reward centers in my brain. It also gives me an outlet from eating healthy foods all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my ground turkey and veggies but sometimes you just gotta have some chips.
Time Management is Your Secret Weapon
Planning is the unheralded hero when it comes to fat loss. Each Sunday morning before I hit the gym I do my weekly schedule which now takes me 5-10 mins which all depends if I do it on my laptop or my ipad. (It’s harder to copy and paste on the ipad.)
I’ll schedule out when and what I’ll meal prep, days I want to hit the gym and what I need to do for Aesthetic-Physiques. My most important task is in red, the stuff I should get done is in orange and yellow or non-colored is “Ehh, if I have time” tasks.
A lot of people will complain they don’t have time because of work, kids, etc. I would argue they have a time management issue rather than a time issue.
I have a 9-5, a 7 month old, a house to maintain, a business, a loving wife I want to spend time with, 3x a week workout schedule and still have time to get everything done with extra time because I plan.
The fact is, if you don’t plan your time, someone else will. Take control back and make a schedule. A half-assed schedule is still better than no schedule.
At the very least, block off some time for workouts each week and prepping your lunch for the next day. Those two right there will add the most value by removing “I’m hungry, what can I eat that’s quick” decisions and “I don’t have time to workout” excuse.
As you get better at it, add in more things like meal prep, sleep, and other stuff you want to get done. But at first tackle the big things of eating and workouts.
Also, talk to your spouse. Communication is huge. My wife is so sick of hearing about my schedule but she has been so great by helping me achieve it by doing things like watching the baby for an hour while I cook up some chicken for the week. Lean on each other and talk about priorities so you both can achieve what you want and need to.
My most successful clients have also done this with their weeks.
Stress Matters…A Lot
I started this diet adventure in January because I’m just like everyone else… I wanted to enjoy the holidays.
Welp, Jan-March was slow in terms of weight loss.
I was nailing my diet. Not killing it on the weekends and still nothing. What gives?
I had a super stressful job and was trying to wrap everything up before I took my 11 week paternity leave. I was being pulled in 7 different directions which resulted in fragmented sleep (from stress and baby), anxiety attacks and a constant flow of cortisol 24 hrs a day.
With the added stress of a calorie deficit and workouts my body wasn’t dropping weight like it should.
So in the beginning of March I went on a diet break for 2 weeks. I brought calories up to maintenance level. Then once I was out on leave I dropped calories back down to pre diet break and I saw this wonderful downward trend in my weekly weight averages. Which continued until late May.
I lost 4 pounds from January until the end of March. From April to May I lost 10.
Your metabolism acts as a stress barometer. Too much stress in any area leads to it manifesting in another. For example, too much exercise stress and going or staying asleep might become an issue. Or in my case too much stress at work leads to no weight loss and anxiety attacks.
I’m not saying you need to become a Buddhist monk, but when it comes to burning belly fat, stress management is a must.
This is why with online coaching clients I like to slowly drop calories and add in cardio as needed. I’m not hitting them with everything and the kitchen sink from day 1. If it did, by day 30 we’d be looking for a new plan.
Some stress you can’t control like work or life stress. Manage those as best you can. But for things you can like diet and exercise, do enough to see some results but you don’t and shouldn’t go balls to the wall.
When I first got into working out I thought the same thing you prob did. More cardio if you want to lose weight. Then over the last couple of years I went the complete opposite direction and did zero cardio.
Well like just about everything in life, the middle is where you want to be.
I didn’t step on a treadmill until May. I let my diet and moving more throughout the day do all the work. Each day I’d aim for 8-10k steps. At my size every 2000 steps is about 100 calories burned.
Then, I started adding in 20 mins of treadmill walking on a 5 incline at 3 speed. Each week I’d either increase the incline by one or the speed by .5
Week 1: 20 mins Incline 5 Speed 3
Week 2: 20 mins Incline 5 Speed 3.5
Week 3: 20 mins Incline 6 Speed 3
Each week I’m doing a little more and preventing my body from adapting to cardio like if I was doing the same 20 min run at the same incline and speed every time.
It wasn’t until I went back to work in June that I added HIIT during the week because I was short on time.
HIIT is very stressful on the body since it’s a mostly nervous system driven. And like you just saw, too much stress leads to shitty results. The minimum effective dose is always the best option.
Now, I’m still doing the 20 min treadmill walking on one day and the other 2 gym days I’m doing walking lunges for time.
My Ego Doesn’t Lose Weight
Back in the day my ego did a lot of my calorie calculation. I’d go to calorie calculators online say I was very active because I went to the gym 5 days a week and set my calories from that.
The thing I didn’t take into consideration is how much I do outside the gym. While I maybe active for that hour, the other 23 I’m probably not doing a whole hell of a lot. I have a desk job, a 30-45 minute commute and on good days a few 10 min walks. That’s about it.
No manual labor, I’m not running around. It’s a lot of standing or sitting on my ass.
I had to be honest with myself and where I set calories for fat loss needed to reflect what I actually do, not what my ego thinks I do.
So when figuring out my calories I’m a bit lower than other guys my size. Does it suck? Sometimes. But I get results so I guess it all comes out in the wash.
Keep The Dieter’s Mindset
Previous bulking adventures or increases in calories all lead to one place.
I’d loosen my restrictions and ate whatever I wanted in whatever quantity was given to me.
All the rules and hacks that helped me get lean went out the window.
This time around I made sure to change that. Even on Easter with a bowl of peanut M&M’s facing me, I portioned them out and moved them away. I kept portions in check when going out to eat and didn’t try to flex my ego by getting the biggest steak or the largest ice cream cone.
I kept my dieter’s mindset.
Keep track of portion sizes.
No unnecessary snacking.
Focused on hitting my calories first then macros.
Now on higher calorie Saturdays if I don’t hit my protein because I had waaayy too many carbs, cool. Stop eating.
This has allowed me to have successful diet breaks and refeed days without the fear of sabotaging all my progress.
I did see an uptick in weight after re-feeds and diet breaks but that’s water weight from the excess carbs or salt. It came off within a few days.
You Can Have Cake and Eat It Too
If I was really dialed into my diet, I’d skip going out with friends because I was too scared of ruining my progress.
I knew one drink would lead to 5 more and handfuls of Cheese Balls.
I didn’t understand one key thing. One day is not going to ruin my progress. Days of going buck wild will.
Which is why now, I look at weekly calories rather than daily calories. This allows me to have some higher calorie days for social events, going out to dinner with my wife and just all out gluttony.
As an example, a 200 pound guy needs 2000 calories a day for fat loss. At the end of the week, he’ll have 14,000 calories.
This is what we normally see, “Hit 2000 calories a day.”
But if you take weekly calories and have Saturday as a higher day, you just need to pull back on calories from a few other days to make up the difference.
So for example my maintenance days were 2500 calories. The other days I was in the 1900-2000 calorie range. At the end of the week I was eating ~14,200 calories or just over 2000 a day. This is right where I want to be for fat loss.
At the end of the day what you do over time is going to dictate your results. One salad isn’t going to make you drop a ton of weight just like one day of eating more than you should will lead you to getting fat. This shit takes time.
Wrap It Up B
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