20lbs and 20 lessons later…

I hit my personal goal of 205lbs earlier this year in January. This took around 4-5 months to accomplish. (Putting on weight is a lot harder than it sounds!) I noticed a couple of things; I did gain strength, but with the extra weight, (my basic strategy consisted of eating circa 6000 cals/day and a focus on low reps heavy weight and subsequently less cardio), I felt slower, less agile and had an overall feeling of being less ‘healthy’. After being at that weight for around 6 weeks, I decided to drop the fat and go back into lean mode. 5 months later, I am now at a more reasonable weight of 182lbs. With about 7-10 more lbs to go to hit my goal of 170-175lb weight range. Remembering how hard it was to hit the 200-205 mark in gaining weight, I know that the last 10lbs will be the hardest to shift.

Twenty pounds back and forth later, I’ve learned a lot of things about weight loss (and gain). Now these things may only apply to me, but may help you in your quest for weight loss. Every body is different and everyone has different, motivators, goals, lifestyles, genetics and bodies. So keeping that in mind, here is a random list (in no particular order) of lessons & tips I have learned about changing weight. Some of which may be obvious, others may seem ‘unhealthy’ or against the grain, nonetheless they have worked & I believe contributed to my weight loss. Remember that there is no scientific proof that any of this is true (or false). but anecdotally, they apply to me…

Lessons/Tips/Observations

  1. Look at the long term sustainability of food/life choices
    What you do today affects tomorrow, and everyday’s actions accumulates to affect your whole week, which potentiate into how your month is. Ironically, keeping this in mind, 1 day makes up only 0.27% of a year. So as important as everyday is in attaining your weight loss goals. A day or two here and there really won’t be a huge percentage of your year.
  2. I skip meals, maybe you should too… And I also fast
    The popular mantra out there is to not eat your traditional 3 meals/ day and instead eat 6 smaller meals a day. Make sure your body is fed, so you’re not hungry and don’t over eat. Personally, this is very inconvenient and I’m pretty sure self control stops over eating. Going hungry is supposedly bad because it means you’ll become catabolic, this, however, doesn’t occur in a 2 hour window. Having a constant supply of food also means your body is constantly producing insulin to break down sugars, leading to constantly elevated blood insulin levels.
    I regularly skip a meal at least once a week, to offset any minor/constant dietary indiscretions over the course of a week. I will also skip meals if my previous day/meal was calorie intensive. The longer the fast the better.
  3. Hunger builds mental fortitude
    Building on above. Being able to stay hungry for a few hours to a day really builds mental discipline and resolve. I don’t believe this will lead to overeating at the next meal, why? Because I am in control of how much I eat. Knowing that you have control over your body and stomach go a long way. This mindset of never feeling hunger, I think affects our everyday life and mental state. It satisfies the need for instant gratification. How about feeling hungry for once, delaying satisfaction and learning to ignore those little hunger pangs?
  4. Following the ethos of paleo, I personally include things like, bread, pasta, pastries, cookies, biscuits, pies, pizza etc.
    This has really helped with my diet side of things. Basically, I try to reduce/remove these items. I am not strict with this rule and this is not an elimination of wheat, but a reduction. I’ve tried eliminating these things from my diet, but could not do it and I wasn’t enjoying my meals. So as a compromise I simply reduce these items. Replacing them with vegetables, fat & protein.
  5. I’ve dropped weight whilst enjoying a high protein & fat diet
    As popular as the notion is that eating fat makes you fat, this simply isn’t the case. The reality is much more complex.  I feel that sugar is a big contributor to weight gain & other health problems. If you recall basic nutrition, simple & complex carbohydrates ultimately break down into sugars for the body to use as energy. Toast with jam? Is basically sugar on sugar.  Fat & protein satiate the body for a longer time. Carbohydrate heavy meals also drain the body, notice that sleepy feeling after a high carb meal?
  6. Everything in moderation*
    *Including moderation. Sometimes intensity and an OCD attention to detail are needed, sometimes you need to drop all the rules. For the most part, either extreme aren’t sustainable . Perspective is very important. What is the reasoning behind your actions? Are you a fitness competitor whose livelihood depends on being perfect? Or are you just some other Joe Regular seeking a six pack and a healthy life?
  7. Low carb & low calorie days mean lower strength days
    When I have a truly low carb day, I don’t feel as strong the next day. Lowering calories also tends to increase recovery times. I’m sorer for longer with lesser food and have to offset this with more sleep.
  8. Running is a helluva lot easier when lighter
    Pretty simple. Less knee & ankle soreness when running at 180lb instead of 200lb. This hasn’t necessarily made me faster…
  9. My relative strength levels have improved as I’ve lost weight. with absolute strength levels remaining very similar
    Concluding that a lot of weight I gained to get to 205 was fat. Weight lifted & reps reached have remained the same or increased whilst dropping the pounds.
  10. Slow steady state cardio has its place
    I find these to be good active recovery workouts. Also a time to feel a different type of exercise discomfort. Good time to listen to music, see the great outdoors and work on that tan.
    12b – Run with someone faster than you – Following this up with, running with someone better than you  is a great motivator. In fact, I would say train with people stronger & better than you.
  11. IF training near maximum capacity, THEN rest > training
    All that training in the world, will not lead to optimal improvements if your body isn’t allowed to fully rest & regenerate. The body becomes catabolic at the gym, this needs to be offset with quality rest & an anabolic window to grow. The body reaches its most anabolic state whilst sleeping. Rest doesn’t only refer to sleep, but also to exercise selection, intensity, frequency, along with what you do with the other 22 hours of your day.
  12. Slower weight loss leads to longer lasting results
    I feel that this is mainly attributed to the long term mentality of good & healthy living. If you enter a 6 week diet, you set yourself up for failure after that 6th week; What is put into place to prevent weight gain after the 6 weeks? This diet mindset creates barriers in the mind, because it associates ‘healthy’ (insofar as calling a diet healthy) actions as being temporary. I prefer to make small adjustments to my habits & rituals which reinforce themselves and eventual turn into life long patterns that support living healthy, not just purely for the purpose of weight loss. Nobody ever woke up being fat and overweight, it took a long time to get to that weight.
  13. The body ‘settles’ into a weight zone, if you continue to do what you do
    Homeostasis is incredibly influential on body composition. I’ve noticed that once I’ve reached a certain weight range, maintenance of that weight for a period of time, is quite easy. The body is a machine that values efficiency and does a lot to maintain its stability. Ultimately, weight gain/loss should be a long process.
  14. ‘Training to failure’ isn’t great in the long run
    Not necessarily related to weight loss, but relates to training longevity. I think since stopping training to failure I’ve decreased a lot of potential for injury and has helped me train with intensity week in, week out. Learning how to ‘train’ your body instead of ‘testing’ it has definitely gotten my strength up. It has reduced the likelihood of burnout in the long run.
  15. Training whilst hungry/on an empty stomach is great
    Maybe it releases more adrenalin or maybe its due to the decreased blood flow to the digestive tract or maybe it’s psychological. But training on an empty stomach allows me to train with greater intensity than if I had eaten a couple of hours beforehand.
  16. Common sense goes a long way
    A very long way…
  17. Portion size is a long lost concept
    I believe you’re able to eat whatever you want and enjoy it, as long as the portion size is appropriate. I’m still eating fast food, deep fried items, sweets etc. But my portion size & frequency of such meals has decreased considerably when compared with how I ate whist gaining weight.
  18. Listen to your body
    This comes with a certain level of experience, focus and self reflection. With regards to training, diet and resting you should learn how to notice your body’s feedback systems. You should know when to push yourself hard, when to not do a certain exercise, when to implement a certain exercise. When not to eat, how much to eat. When to sleep, if you’re not getting enough sleep etc. This all comes with time, but being better in tune with your body, you become a healthier and more flexible system.
  19. Don’t let setbacks hault or reverse your progress
    Each day is a brand new day where you can improve upon yesterday. Again this comes back to perspective, common sense & moderation. Is one binge day really going to lead to you gaining 5 lbs? Most likely not. Does one day of slacking off your workout mean you’ll be a little weak wreck? I doubt it. Don’t let one day or week or even a month of bad habits stop you from changing today and improving yourself.
  20. Focus less on isolation workouts
    I am not the biggest fan of isolation exercise, mainly because they have less efficiency in exercise plans. If you only have one hour to workout, you want to select the BEST exercises for that one hour. A blanket statement I would happily stand behind is an hour of proper squatting will have more effect on the body than an hour of leg presses, leg extensions & leg curls combined. Why? Because the squat is a full body workout and will work muscles in coordination and engage muscles that are almost impossible to engage otherwise. The more joints moving in an exercise, the better that exercise generally is.
    The five exercises I always do week in, week out.
    Squats. Deadlifts. Standing overhead press. Pull ups. Dumbbell chest press.
    If I could only ever do five exercises for the rest of my life, those five would be it. No body part is excluded from the workout and I challenge anyone to find someone who is extremely proficient at these lifts, that doesn’t look strong & healthy.
  21. *bonus
    Look to the past to create your future.
    The current fad of paleo, et al., is looking at how cavemen lived and ate to create a healthy eating plan. How does this apply at an individual level, basically, look at what you’ve done in the past and look at patterns and effects. You know yourself better than any other person out, just because some diet guru tells you to cut out wheat, doesn’t mean you should immediately cut out wheat. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Try it and if it doesn’t work, try something else.

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity – John F. Kennedy

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