This is a very detailed progress report. I am going to explain what I tried, what worked and didn’t. I have learned that dieting is not a straight journey where you just keep eating at a deficit and you eventually have a 6-pack. We are extremely complex beings and our body is always trying to find ways to prevent us from losing fat for evolutionary reasons. I’ve learned more in this 6 months about weight loss and body building than ever before, particularly because this was the FIRST TIME I’ve ever been on a diet.
- Height: 5’11”
- Age: 29 years
- Weight: 180lbs down to 165lbs.
- BF%: ~20% down to ~15%.
- Waist/Hip/Thigh tape measurement is shown in the 4 month section below.
Quick word about EXERCISE and my lack of lift numbers
This post is mostly focused on diet and food. I don’t talk much about my exercise regimen but I’d like to say right here that I work out vigorously 3-6x a week. On any of those days I am doing…
- bodyweight exercises (calisthenics, gymnastics, rings),
- and god knows what else.
Suffice it to say, I do A LOT of exercise and I highly recommend exercise to be coupled with your diet plan to increase your cardiovascular health, overall well being and to speed up fat loss. The only reason I was able to eat willy-nilly before I started dieting and looked fairly good even to begin with was due to all the exercise that was balancing things out. Also, I don’t have compound lift progress numbers (squat, bench, deadlift) as I don’t have access to a regular gym, but I have progressed tremendously in my bodyweight skill work.
So I can’t tell you how much I could lift, but I’m able to do more dislocates on the flying rings now. I could hold crow pose for a minute with ease as opposed to a few seconds. I could hold peacock pose with my legs higher up than ever before. I could hold a straddled back lever on the rings for several seconds as opposed to ZERO. I could hold an advanced tuck front lever now for several seconds as opposed to ZERO. There’s tons more examples I could post… but yea, you get the idea? I don’t go to a gym and lift weights. I need to be creatively challenged. So no “lift numbers” for me although I’m curious about them as well.
It all started in early 2013…
My drive to drop some fat all started in January 2013 with a simple want to be lighter. For you see, my favorite new exercise that I discovered in 2012 were the traveling rings at Old Muscle Beach, Santa Monica, CA. As I got better at them, I realized the leaner one gets, the easier ALL bodyweight exercises become, especially anything rings-related. So I set the goal sometime in the new year to lose some weight and see what happens.
Thanks to my friend Alberts recommendation to “check out MyFinessPal,” I started calorie counting. For the first three months, my diet plan consisted of nothing else except simply counting my calories and eating at a deficit. This made me highly aware of how much food I was actually eating so I never had to second guess whether I was going over or under for the day. So basically as long as I restricted my calorie intake, I was going to be losing weight! This allowed me to eat ANYTHING! And it wasn’t so important that I stay within the calories every single day. As long as my food intake averaged out for the week in general, I was losing weight! I wrote about this start to my journey about how I started using MyFitnessPal (MFP) here: Antranik’s Counting Calories.
With just one month of calorie counting and eating at a deficit, I lost 10 pounds.
In this one month, I dropped 10 pounds. I was simply eating ~1,600 calories a day, which for me was basically a 500-1000 daily caloric deficit. (In MFP, I had set the intention to lose 2 pounds a week and it said I should eat 1,600 calories a day.) The fat melted off. My tightest jeans now felt loose on me. The fat loss didn’t continue infinitely like this obviously, but considering that I got SO much slimmer in just four weeks, that was already proof in the pudding that calories “in versus out” is a simple and effective way to lose some excess baggage. The best part was that it basically allowed me to eat anything, as long as I stayed below 1,600 calories a day (or 11,200 for the week!). So yes, I did have things like ice cream but instead of eating straight from the tub, I learned to savor a quarter cup of it with a small spoon and really make it last. What a great concept! Sure I was hungry sometimes, but it didn’t matter. As long as I kept drinking water, I felt great. When you feel like you need to eat something, but you can’t figure out what it is, it’s water. It’s always water. I just reminded myself that hunger was fat leaving the body, and it really was! I also wrote more in-depth about this time here: Turns out… losing just 10 pounds is kind of a big deal.
I stopped eating out (as much) and always brought food from home with me: As the weeks continued on, I had completely gotten in the groove of logging anything and everything that came into my mouth. If I was going out for the day, I wanted to be in control of what I was going to be eating so I would spend just 10 minutes putting some food in Tupperware containers so I’d know what I was going to be eating for lunch or dinner for the day. The containers are marked with their volumes (1 cup, 2.5 cups, etc) so it’s SUPER easy to know how much food I was taking with me. This saves money and time! Plus, I would simply log everything in MFP all at once right then and there on my phone as I packed my lunch/dinner so I wouldn’t have to do it later in the day. It became super duper easy and quick to log everything with the iPhone app. In fact, the app on my phone was even faster than the website itself.
I ended up writing this article to help share the tips: 9 tips to help calorie counting become second nature! I was also learning how to control my hunger better as it was becoming quite difficult on some days for sure. I ended up sharing some more tips here: How to Stop Eating [So Much].
Three month mark: I was down 14 pounds total and seem to have hit a weight-loss plateau. This is when I started Intermittent Fasting.
I don’t have a good 3-month photo but basically, I was looking even slimmer than before but the scale was not dropping down as rapidly as before. I had only lost 4 pounds in the last two months! So yes, it was a weight-loss plateau, BUT(!) it wasn’t a fat-loss plateau. There was still body recomposition going on and the scale was becoming useless because I know my waist/hip measurements were still going down. I also noticed I had increased vascularity (blood vessels popping out!).
Instead of eating 1,600 calories a day, I had a new goal of 1,550 calories a day. This was a minor adjustment MFP recommended for being a lighter being. (For every 10 pounds of change, MFP recalculates your caloric needs because you need less food if there is less of you. By the way, speaking of pounds… even just 5 pounds is HUGE! Look at What Five Pounds of Fat Looks Like!)
Enter Intermittent Fasting: So, unfortunately what worked super fast for the first couple months wasn’t working so well anymore. I was still eating at a straight caloric deficit but my hunger was becoming insatiable immediately after breakfast. Apparently as the fat comes off your body, your leptin (a hormone that controls satiety/hunger) levels drop because leptin is generated by the fat cells and if there’s less fat available to generate leptin, your hunger goes UP UP AND AWAY! (Because your body thinks it needs to forage for more food). And even worse, ironically the larger the breakfast I had, the greater my hunger would become! Eating 1,550 calories a day was becoming psychologically arduous and I didn’t feel I was ever being satisfied. So I researched and found out about intermittent fasting. I began by implementing the 16/8 protocol (as recommended in LeanGains). This basically means you don’t eat for 16 hours (sleep is included) and you do for the other 8 hours. So I was basically skipping breakfast and eating all the calories I normally would eat sometime between 12pm and 8pm. All of a sudden, rather than always feeling unsatisfied with tiny meals spread throughout the day, eating 1,600 calories in just 8 hours became feast-like and very satisfying! Plus, the other benefits of IF were ASTOUNDING in many other ways. I had enhanced lucidity and productivity in the mornings. I wasn’t bothered by breakfast so I wasn’t feeling hungry anymore in the mornings. I could simply go straight to work and my productivity was higher than ever until I broke my fast with some break-fast in the afternoon! I found it most rewarding to have a small to medium sized lunch to jump start the digestion process and keep me happy and then a huge dinner to top things off. (I was still counting calories, by the way, it was just the timing had changed.)
And the reason why Martin Berkhan recommends this 16/8 (up to 20/4) timing is because the fasting period is just long enough to help mobilize fat cell oxidation but short enough to prevent any muscle loss. If you fast for over 24 hours, your body starts looking for protein and it starts to break down your own muscles to get some. Anyway, I loved Intermittent Fasting so much I wrote all about it in detail here: Intermittent Fasting to Break Through my Weight Loss Plateau
Four month mark: I was looking leaner than ever. By now, I’m 3-4 weeks into 16/8 intermittent fasting and have completely embraced it as a life style choice. I also just started calorie and macro cycling for the first time.
Tape measurement progress
|31.5″ (lost 2.5″)
|33″ (lost 1.5″)
|23.5″ (lost 0.5″)
As you could see in the table above, even though the scale showed only a few pounds lost in the last couple months, the tape measurements were more realistic measures!
Interesting psychological stuff about my early IF experience: In the beginning of this month, I was eating a little more than usual and the IF was partly to blame. I was eating something like 1,800 calories a day instead of 1,500. “Because sometimes you need pizza and ice cream,” as my friend said. But I know what was really going on. Come night-time, my brain would say, “You should eat more since you won’t be eating until 2pm the next day.” So late at night I would mindlessly eat a few extra hundred calories. It was almost like binge eating. But then again I had been eating at a straight-deficit with NO god damned break for FOUR MONTHS! I guess I had a lot of will power.
16/8 on workout days, 20/4 on rest days: I realized that on rest-days, I could easily go without feeling ACTUAL hunger until 4-5pm. And when I did that, staying within 1,500 calories became SO easy (and extremely satisfying). So now I was sometimes practicing 20/4 IF on rest days and 16/8 on workout days.
After I got used to IF, I started to implement the macro & calorie cycling guidelines which are the bread and butter of LeanGains. (LG includes IF, calorie cycling, macro cycling, and working out 3-4x a week.)
Calorie Cycling: I decided to stop fucking around with the overeating, hunker down and implemented one of the other facets of leangains, known as calorie cycling. Since I was eating at a deficit, I decided to continue eating at a deficit and go on a “-30/-10 cut.” That means that instead of eating the same calories day in and day out regardless of exercise, the idea here is to eat -30% of TDEE on rest days (around 1,500cal, same as before) and -10% of TDEE on workout days (1800 cal, which is sweet). So I am cycling the intake of calories.
Macro Cycling: A week after getting used to calorie cycling, I decided to implement macro cycling as well. (Macro is short for macronutrient which means the ratio of fats, carbs and protein in a food). It’s assumed that if you’re practicing calorie cycling, you’re definitely counting your calories. If you are counting your calories using MFP, the macro ratios are also being recorded. So technically I didn’t have to do anything different. Just keep counting my calories. But in reality this was a whole new level of micromanagement I was not used to.
The idea with leangains macro cycling is that you eat a…
- low-carb/high protein/high fat diet on rest days
- high-carb/high-protein/low-fat diet on workout days.
To put it briefly, this maximizes fat burning on rest days and you maximize muscle growth on workout days. If someone knows how to eat low-carb in general, then this is easy to figure out, but for someone like me who was not used to eating low-carb EVER, this was kind of a pain in the ass. But this entire year has been an ongoing, tremendous learning experience. I ended up writing this article to help make macro cycling easier: Tricks to hit your macro ratios in MyFitnessPal. I also recommend Andy’s Simplified Macro-Counting Rules if you want to make IF/LG simpler.
Side Note: In the middle of this month somewhere, I decided I want to be in the best shape of my life by my 30th birthday in October.
Here is a sample of what my leangains plan looked like: So my game plan involved a -30/-10 cut with 50/50 & 75/25 macro cycling. To help adhere to this I learned to make protein a priority everyday regardless of it being a rest day or workout day. On rest days, I will adhere to a 50/50 setup (with calorie intake of 1500; -30% of TDEE). That means that ideally I will intake 100g+ of protein and the rest of the calories will be 50% from carbs and 50% from fat. On workout days, I will adhere to a 75/25 setup (with calorie intake of about 1800 calories; -10% of TDEE) . That means that, again, I will eat 100g+ protein but the rest of the calories will be 75% from carbs and 25% from fat.
So in other words, the protein intake stays constant (throw in some eggs, low fat cottage cheese, low fat greek yogurt, meat, fish, chicken, etc) everyday. On rest days I will have a (relatively) low-carb diet (just lotsa green veggies and meat kinda day!). On workout days I can gobble up the carbs. So I’ll be saving the quinoa, beans, lentils, legumes for workout-days (they’re high in protein, low in fat, high in carbs).
COMPLICATED? YOU BET YOUR ASS IT IS! But keep in mind, I’ve been literally logging everything I’ve ate for FOUR solid months by now. I started intermittent fasting and took my time getting used to that. Then I implemented calorie cycling which was very easy to get used to. Then I added macro cycling. So I just kept adding layers of micromanagement. I didn’t jump into this from the get go, so it’s not that complicated if you take your time with it!
Five Month Mark: Many epiphanies. Two weeks of a “full diet break.” And two weeks of the “Ultimate diet 2.0”
I had a lot of epiphanies during this 5th month. I was not looking STRONG like I did in the previous pics. I thought I could simply keep eating at a deficit and just lose fat and eventually have a 6 pack, but it turns out, when you lose fat you also often lose muscle. So those “4 month” pics were taken in this perfect state when I had lost a lot of fat but the muscle was still present. I realized that if I kept this up, I was eventually going to just go from looking SKINNY AND STRONG, to just SKINNY. It’s not that the leangains wasn’t working. It was that I was burnt out from “cutting” (eating at a deficit for 5 months!!!) My body had gotten super efficient at making do with just 1,500 calories a day. I thought getting LEAN was all about eating less, but it turns out you have to sometimes eat more to raise your metabolism back up, build some muscle and then eat at a deficit again to SHOW the muscles. This being my first diet, I was scared I would gain all the fat back if I didn’t eat at a deficit. But I realized that if it takes months to lose some some fat, it also takes months of overeating to gain it, so I wrote this article: Don’t get into a cycle of feeling guilt if you allow yourself to indulge once in a while.
So in retrospect, instead of going on a -30/-10 cut, I should’ve gone on a “slow” bulk (like 0/+20) to preserve my muscle mass!
Why bodybuilders ‘bulk’ and then ‘cut’: The body cannot make muscle if it is constantly at a deficit! I learned that this is why bodybuilders go on bulk and cut cycles. They will purposely bulk up by overeating for months on end. As a result they will gain muscle but with it comes some fat despite trying to eat as clean as possible. Then when they are getting HUGE muscle-wise, they have probably gotten somewhat pudgy, so they will then go on a cut (undereating but still getting tons of protein) and lose LOTS OF FAT, REALLY FAST in 2-3 months and all of a sudden all the muscles will be revealed and they will look SHREDDED. So you can’t simply eat at a deficit, build muscle and get a 6-pack all in one cycle. When you see someone with chiseled abs, they’ve probably been working on sculpting that for YEARS!!!
Full Diet Break for 2 weeks: I discovered that it’s unhealthy to eat at a caloric deficit for months on end without any sort of break. Eventually, your body adjusts its metabolism to make do with the low amount of calories you are giving it, so losing fat becomes even harder. (Note: Intermittent fasting doesn’t slow down your metabolism. Fasting for 16-24 hours only increases it, actually. I’m talking about weeks and months of eating at a deficit!) So I discovered this article called “The Full Diet Break” by Lyle Mcdonald. It basically says that one must take a break from a diet COMPLETELY every so often for 10-14 days to get ones metabolism back up and not to mention serve as a psychological break. And the way to do it is to simply eat at maintenance (no more or less than you NORMALLY need to) and to make sure you are getting at least 150 grams of carbs a day (not difficult) because “thyroid hormones are distinctly sensitive to carbohydrate intake.”
So for 2 weeks I said screw it! I’m taking a break from all dieting. I didn’t overeat much. I simply ate when I was hungry and stopped eating when I wasn’t hungry (what a novel concept!). I did choose to still skip breakfast on most days because I didn’t genuinely feel hungry then. It was super nice to take a break from overthinking about food all the time so the psychological benefits are huge. I was still calorie counting, but in retrospect I shouldn’t have been. (I was trying to not break my 160 day streak in MFP, lol.) Oh and I was working out HELLA hard during this diet break. I had tons of energy because I was finally eating at maintenance (2,300-2500 calories instead of 1500-1800).
So after my full diet break was over, since I was enthralled by the knowledge that is all over Lyle’s Bodyrecomposition.com website, I decided to look into his extreme “Ultimate Diet 2.0” book. This is extreme because one must be advanced in weight training / and it’s really only meant for those who are already pretty lean but just want to get even leaner while still maintaining muscle mass, which is a very difficult thing to do!
Ultimate Diet 2.0 for 2 weeks: I decided that after my diet break was over, the best thing to do would be to try this new extreme diet and exercise plan. The first four days consist of low-carb meals AND you have to purposely workout HARD… AND sprinkle some cardio in that glycogen-depleted state. When you workout in a glycogen depleted state, you lose fat really fast. But the problem is, if you keep that up, you will lose muscle too. So between the 4th and 5th days, you have to eat 1,000 grams of carbs (that’s 4,000 calories of carbs alone) to create an anabolic response (to generate muscle) and keep your metabolism up all while still losing fat. Then you do the most intense workout the day after the carb load and that’s one cycle (which is 7 days). I did two of those cycles. (By the way, leangains exploits a similar concept, except instead of 4 low carb days followed by a carb up, you alternate low carb and carb up days all the time.)
Six month mark: Thanks to 2 weeks/cycles of the “Ultimate Diet 2.0”, I was looking hella-lean and strong again.
This is actually the first time in my life I was starting to see some definition in my thighs. For me my stubborn fat is all in the thighs. I kind of pretty much lost everything from the top down, in that order. (Face first, then shoulders, chest, serratus anterior, upper abs, obliques, glutes and LASTLY, the thighs). I’ve read that the places where you gain fat first is where you’ll lose it last. (If I had to surmise, I would say years of cycling my ass off and eating like a horse funneled lots of fat to my legs and generated intramuscular fat there.) So my opinion is that UD2.0 is a wonderful program, if you could stomach the glycogen-depleted workouts. I also felt like there was so much exercise involved that I could see myself getting injured if I didn’t include some more rest days in there, but I suppose that’s why there are longer-variants of UD2.0.
The UD2.0 inadvertently helped me hunker down and nail down macro cycling concepts in leangains: The UD2.0 was an incredible learning experience: A lot of the dietary concepts were directly translatable to leangains because it helped me better understand what I’m supposed to eat/avoid on a rest or workout day. The reason for that is because basically the first 4 days of UD2.0 guidelines are extremely low carb and low calories. That’s exactly the same thing one needs to do on a typical LG rest day (except the fat could be higher in LG). Then when you carb-up on day 5, the fat content must be kept super low, which is exactly what one is supposed to do on a LG workout day! Plus, on all these days the protein must be kept fairly high, which is again keeping with LG protocol. The “problem” I had with figuring this out before was that since I was constantly alternating workout days and rest days back and forth, I was unable to get a hold of the dietary concepts for long enough before the days end. Remember I said macro cycling was a whole new level of micromanagement and I wasn’t used to the low-carb idea? With UD2.0, since I was forced to sustain a low-carb diet for 4 days and then proceed to eat 1,000 grams of carbs but keep the fat below 50g, I learned so much about what foods work really well for LG! I have a log of the entire experience I will publish soon, hopefully, if anyone cares to try it one day and read how it all went.
I don’t have anymore self shots in front of mirrors since the four month mark. But I do have shirtless pics of me taken recently just a few days after I finished 2 cycles of UD2, so it coincides with the 6 month mark. So here are some before and after pics of me in NORMAL environments.
What’s next? What’s going on now?
I have learned that there is no “end” to this dieting. The body is ALWAYS changing. Always getting fatter, slimmer, stronger, weaker. We all go through cycles of overeating and undereating. I have learned to be happy with where I am and never to freak out about overeating once in a while. And overall I’ve just gotten really happy with the amount of effort I’ve put into improving myself. What started out as a simple desire to lose some fat now is something completely different. I toy with the idea of possibly having a visible six pack one day. I know I can do it. The question is, do I really care? The best benefit for getting leaner is that it makes all the bodyweight/calisthenics exercises a lot easier. I can’t wait until I could do a non-tucked front lever! Woohoo! In the mean time, I am keeping up with a varying LG recomp (-20/0 to -20/+20) which allows me to eat a good amount on workout days. will eventually do a couple more rounds of “Ultimate Diet 2.0” and then go back to the recomp (-20/+20) to best try to maintain where I’m at. I’m still using MFP to count my calories, because it’s part of my life now. I’m also definitely practicing 16/8 IF. I am very happy with the way I feel, especially because I have figured out how to get rid of my tennis elbow, I can go full steam ahead with my bodyweight routine.
Update: Since creating this article, it’s been a couple years adn I’ve honed my diet down and have made great progress with the ketogenic diet.