My Recent Weight Loss Experience: Part 1
In an effort to become a better personal trainer and registered dietitian, I decided to embark upon a weight loss journey on November 1, 2014 that ended December 15, 2014. Granted, I didn’t need to lose weight for any health reasons, but I tend to go on some sort of a reduced calorie modified version of what I currently eat about every year and a half to reset to where I like to be. Otherwise, I’d just keep gaining weight the way I like to eat and sometimes exercise! 🙂
Because this post got longer than I expected, you can jump to the how I felt when I did it part after the Preface heading, which gives background on my thoughts on weight and rationale for changing my weight.
Not everyone loses weight because they need to. It is often a want to sort of thing. For me, I enjoy being at different weights for different reasons. Sometimes I like to emphasize the big heavy lifts, and more mass makes me better at that. After a while, I tend to find it exhausting maintaining that weight, eating all that food, and keeping up my cardio to keep my body fat percentage down.
Add training and nutrition consulting with local Austin clients, working with private client hours on top of that who are not local via telehealth, and developing this website, it can get fatiguing after a while.
I also don’t like to be too lightweight. In our society, a muscular male physique is valued more than a ripped, agile, and fast male physique. I also just feel weaker than I can be and don’t emphasize endurance activities in my routine. Rather, I do them for general health and maintenance.
The perks of being light include: I save money on my grocery bills, I have boundless amounts of energy, I can workout “forever” without getting fatigued, and my strength:mass ratio is probably the best due to these previous qualities. Strength:mass ratio, ie maximizing your strength for a given body weight, is the way to go if you lift weights, in my opinion, as it takes less time to maintain the results and yields the most functional body type.
If you think about it, for a small framed individual to have tons of weight, be it muscle or fat, it makes the body less efficient at doing anything. Your organs don’t grow enough to keep up with the body size changes. Your heart prefers a certain size, your liver a certain size, your kidneys a certain size, and your lungs a certain size. They just don’t grow like your muscles can, so when you pick a body size to be, understand the pros and cons.
Bigger people are stronger, but lighter people (to an extent…as there is too light) can be more athletic for anything that requires moving the body through space and time. I prefer the ideal body weight equation over BMI when assessing weight ranges for people, but I look at both models and consider fitness status as well for the big picture.
My belief in the healthiest human body is one that is good at many aspects fitness but also absent of disease or disease risk propensity. Aspects of fitness include skill based and precision work, muscular strength, muscular endurance, agility, balance, cardiovascular fitness, and body composition.
The heavier I get, the more strength and muscle I have, but also the more likely I will have high blood pressure, as it runs in my family. Moreover, the less likely I will be good at running for any extended period of time over a couple miles. Think of fueling a Prius vs a Hummer.
I have had either prehypertension or high blood pressure at a few points in my life of high stress, and it is more likely to come on as my weight creeps up. Being able to squat and bench heavy at that point becomes moot to me. I’m already a small- to medium-framed individual anyway so won’t set any big records there.
I’m a 5’10” male who likes to weigh between 165-175. When I was a competitive swimmer, however, I weighed 150 and got my best times at 145 (age 17) when I had diarrhea during a meet that I was shaved, tapered, and wearing a fastskin for. That experience taught me that losing 10 lbs of water weight (I actually lost from 155 during that meet) gave me collegiate division 1-worthy times for swimming.
I didn’t understand that at the time though, and obviously it is not a healthy thing to do due to the electrolyte abnormalities and possible heart risks with that fast of weight loss while competing at a high level. But I digress! Back to weight loss!
There are a few reasons I decided to lose the weight. I knew the holidays were coming up, and I wouldn’t be able to work out as much or the way I wanted with family. I also needed a break from working out, in general, to let my body fully repair and heal. I decided it was a good time to do so.
My weight was creeping up to 182 at a peak but averaged around 177-178. I carry a lot of water weight that fluctuates depending on the time of day, hydration, how much fiber and sodium I have had, stress levels, and exercise amounts.
I also knew I started lifting really heavy and found it easy, a sign I gained some muscle (and fat), which when working out as many years as I have, I know I don’t make many muscle gain or strength improvements anymore without a significant technique or routine change.
I also was becoming exhausted with less cardio than I used to. Any extra muscle on my frame size at this point inevitably carries more and more fat. You can’t continue to gain muscle with a low body fat percentage on a given frame size forever.
How I Lost the Weight–Diet Only this Year*
In the past, I have lost weight by the book. I did both diet and exercise in the past. This time, I just did diet only. The asterisk means that I was still biking to my personal training employed job and still training clients (some who require more physical effort on my part than others, which is what goes with the profession), but I was doing no formal exercise as I usually do to push my own limits.
Usually, I hit all muscle groups heavy a little less than once a week, do high intensity cardio (run or swim), moderate and relaxing cardio (run or swim), bike to/from work, agility and balance and gymnastics skill work using bodyweight at playgrounds with parallel bars and monkey bars, or I’ll count a physical outing like hiking or kayaking as a workout for the day. These make great date ideas that do NOT involve food…I’ll have to post on that topic another day!
In the past, I did it by cutting my food portions of non-protein calories like carbohydrates and fats down very mildly, as I still wanted to be able to fuel my workouts. I have a food scale and use measuring cups and live alone, so it is much easier to track. I believed in sports nutrition by the book in that it was supposed to have that magic 30-min to 2-hr window after a workout when you have to eat, or you lose all your gains! More on that in another post.
I also still lost about 5-10% of my strength with weight loss, which is inevitable. I couldn’t do as many reps or sets in the gym, and my high intensity work wasn’t as intense.
In the past, I also would get muscle cramps, tight muscles, and nights where I had to “refeed” the calories I cut that day in order to fall asleep because my body was trying to repair muscles that I wasn’t feeding. I wasn’t even severely cutting my calories, but to be able to workout at the intensities I usually do, my body needed more calories and wouldn’t relax until it got them.
This time, I went into my weight loss journey knowing I would lose strength and endurance no matter what I do. Why go through the psychological trauma of seeing your lifts decrease in weight and repetitions when you could just start over at the end?
As a trainer, I see unfit people get fit very quickly. Losing your gains is not hard to get back. My clients teach me this when they are gone for an extended period of time and then come back. It is exhilarating to see, from my perspective, and made me less strict with my own regimens.
When cutting calories, my body doesn’t want to work out intensely. It is just counter intuitive to push yourself harder while eating less as an already lean individual (for someone who is new or intermediate to exercise, this sentence may not apply due to relativity of ratings of perceived exertion during exercise).
This time, I got NO cramps, I didn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to refeed myself food I had cut out earlier in the day due to working out raising my calorie needs. I had no tight muscles. Muscles shrink during weight loss anyway. Why try to make them bigger during this phase of your life? I took my own advice and experience and did it on myself this year. The weight loss experience was much more pleasant.
I usually eat about 3000 Calories a day at my 175 weight, consisting of 4 meals and a snack. Normally, I work out 5 days a week doing different activities at various intensities. When I cut my calories, I started out having 3 meals and a snack.
The first week, I was hungry. After the first week, I wasn’t hungry and didn’t get hungry for the rest of the experience. I was able to cut down to 2 meals and a snack after I noticed I was losing weight slower and the fact I was starting to be satisfied on smaller amounts of food.
I probably ended up having about 1500-1700 Calories with those 2.5 meals when I finished my weight loss journey at about 160. I could probably be more specific since I have my diet in a spreadsheet and could figure out the specific numbers, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
From a sociological standpoint, people were concerned rather than encouraging. There is a stigma any time you cut weight and are already relatively lean, whether male or female, especially for those not familiar with athletic populations who do this often.
There is a lot of overlap with anorexia nervosa behaviors and effective weight loss behaviors. I think the difference is whether it becomes a clinical problem of becoming underweight, malnourished, and having a distorted, unrealistic body image. Another difference is knowing when to stop these behaviors. There is a difference in knowing which thoughts are rational and which are irrational.
I think a lot of the concern is also self-reflective on those who are concerned about their own thoughts about body image. Perhaps they want to lose weight, fear the process of doing it, and hesitate to do it. It is a temporary lifestyle change, after all. If you associate too much of your daily joy and life-meaning with the act of eating food, then that will be something to think about.
The bottom line of this? I cut calories more intuitively this time. I didn’t have exercise and all its variability in energy expenditure making things complicated. I used the intuitive eating technique for knowing when I wasn’t eating enough.
I only looked at my calories afterwards because I’m a registered dietitian and feel compelled to know this sort of information for the sake of my career and to better help clients, the few who actually understand and think in calories. I have a different idea for ways the general population should better understand food calories in another post.
I overshot my weight goal of 165 to 160 on purpose (on average, as it dipped to 158 depending on the day) because I knew the moment I started eating more and exercising again, I would gain my weight back to 165 very quickly thanks to fluid shifts and storing more carbohydrates again. Rather than having to restart adapting to fewer carbohydrates as energy again, which can take a while, I just decided to overshoot my weight goal a bit.
Interestingly, whether it is the adaptation to eating fewer carbohydates (due to lower calorie intake), or the fact I wasn’t always having blood diverted to my digestive system, I was much more mentally clear during the process. Who knows? The research isn’t out on that yet. I do like to keep up on ketogenic diets though just for sheer interest in the unknown. This is not to be confused with ketoacidosis.
Notice mental clarity is the same thing people on that religion of bulletproof coffee report. I think it is more due to the weight loss and blood to gut diversion being reduced, not the “grassfed pure butter that is good for your brain.” I would like to see some references for that statement. Oh right, there aren’t any!
So, that is the end of my weight loss journey (and the midpoint to getting back to fitness). Once I got to the point of finishing up, I was mildly irrationally afraid of starting to eat more food again and having to get back into shape. What a pain, I thought. I could see how people can get stuck on eating less and less food when you have been successful with weight loss. It is an anorexic thought.
That’s why everyone should have fitness goals. It’s not optional these days. You HAVE to exercise to be healthy. It lets you eat more food and feel great. Who wouldn’t want that?
Now that it is a week or two back into my old routine, I’m back on 3.5-4 meals a day and am exercising again. I feel great, lighter (weight didn’t come back instantly or anything), and healthier. I lost a fair amount of fitness in that I’m not pushing myself to my weights I was pre-weight loss because I didn’t feel that would be safe.
That said, I probably only lost about 10% of my strength. I expect to gain about 5% of it back in the next month, depending on soreness and when I can fit workouts in my schedule. I’ll write Part 2 when that happens.
The whole point of the diet and no exercise thing this year was to better understand what clients feel physically when losing weight, and to prove a point that you don’t need to work out while losing weight because it can take twice as long and be accompanied by all sorts of musculoskeletal annoyances like tight muscles and overtrained muscles.
I also wanted to see if the weight loss process was faster this year (and it was). That said, Part 2 of the post is to see how long it takes me to get back to full fitness, so I haven’t proved it is faster in terms of maintaining fitness yet. The first week back I will tell you that I was SORE AS EVER. I am not sure if the caps emphasize that enough, but I was a bit zealous in starting myself back to about where I should be mathematically speaking in terms of strength losses and cardio. I also got winded in a half mile of intense cardio. It will come back in a month. I’m not worried.
This isn’t the first time in my life I’ve just let a high level of fitness go. When I quit swimming competitively at age 19, I played 6 months of addicted World of Warcraft gaming. I lost 17 lbs of muscle then (160 to 143). No, it wasn’t healthy, but I wasn’t depriving myself of food. I just wasn’t exercising then nor was I hungry. So, fitness can come and go. Your gains are easily reattainable. Why try to choose two competing goals at the same time?
My opinion is that unless you are brand new to exercise and have to learn a lot of techniques and get into the healthy habit of exercising in order to build your self-efficacy to do exercise competently, then you may achieve physical goals faster and with more satisfaction by focusing on one at a time. If it is weight loss and you are a very fit individual already, try to diet first. Seriously, don’t try to increase the amount of exercise at the same time. You will learn! 🙂
In the future when I lose weight again (after it creeps on again, as it will because the body is a master at caloric efficiency, which I do NOT view as a diet failure as media/science makes it sound…more on that in another post), I plan to do LESS exercise rather than NONE. I may lose the weight faster with no exercise, but I lost more fitness this time than I would like.
I’ll keep readers updated for my next post (Part 2) in a month or so whenever I’m back at peak condition, hopefully at my 165 or 170 weight. I really am not too concerned about whichever one it will end up as. Life happens, so be as fit as you can be for it, and maximize your functional capacity!
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