16 Months. 265 – 199 = 66 lb lost. The Defattening Project, Phase 1, ends and Phase 2 begins.
At the start of August 2014, I weighed 265 lb. I’ve never been that heavy, nor that fat, in my life. I was upset and disappointed I had let myself get to that point, and that lit the fire. I contacted Nick Shaw of Renaissance Periodization, and began a 1-on-1 coaching trek that today, December 2015, sees me weighing 199 lb.
It took longer than I wanted, but I think that’s become a blessing in disguise. And I’m not done yet, just entering a different phase of what I’ve called “The Defattening Project”, because that’s what it is.
I was always the skinny kid. I could eat and eat and remain a stick. I got older, I became less active, you know the story. Sure I put on a little bit of weight finally, but I didn’t think much of it – that’s just what happens as you get older, settle into a desk job, suburban family life, etc., right? And for a number of years it really wasn’t much to bother with: well within parameters (right right… what I kept telling myself).
However, I can’t recall when things started to get where I wasn’t as happy. Maybe 10 years ago? Maybe more? I tried various things to get the weight back into control. I recall my good friend W doing this “up day down day” thing and it was working well for him, so I tried it and actually had good results (lost about 25 lb, IIRC), but it didn’t take.
The big changes came about 4.5 years ago, when I started lifting weights again. I’ve lifted weights on and off since I was a teenager, and about 4.5 years ago I went back to them and have been dedicated ever since. Of course, you have to eat to fuel all of this, and so I ate. I wasn’t horrible, but I wasn’t good either. I certainly found ways to use “gotta bulk, brah!” as an excuse to keep shoveling food.
But the worst really came maybe 2-or-so years ago, when I decided to become self-employed. See, food is a wonderful thing to me. I love food. I love the smells, the flavors, the textures, the sensations, the experience – food is blissful, and far more than just nourishment.
Food is also stress-relief, comfort, and coping.
My worst habit? Finishing off a stressful day with a huge bowl of ice cream covered in chocolate chips.
And doing that almost every night.
Chips & salsa, and beer aren’t helpful things either. Those wouldn’t be all that often, but certainly enough to add up.
I could see it. It was obvious.
My gut was getting bigger. It was obvious even with a large, baggy shirt on.
The rest of my clothing was getting tighter. Heck, my shirt size went from XL to XXL, which in part was from all the muscle gain but certainly from fat as well. My shorts/pants/jeans were getting tighter too. Belts had to go up, but what kept me somewhat reigned in was that I could tell I was getting bigger but I just did NOT want to have to do a wholesale change of my wardrobe. Still, I pushed capacity pretty hard.
But some of it I justified as the price you pay for getting to lift bigger weights, and that on my (then) quest to have a 1000 lb total, that was not the time to start dieting!
I achieved that goal, chilled out on the food a bit, but then the stress of job, life, providing and trying to launch this self-employment thing, all took over. And food became the coping mechanism.
I recall the first time I weighed 225 and thinking “wow, never been this big before.”
I recall the first time I weighed 245 and thinking “wow, I’ve never been this big before”.
And that was when I stopped getting on the scale.
Then August 2014 came around and I got on the scale for whatever reason.
Holy shit. How did I let myself get here?
And that was it. That was all I needed. I was mad at myself, disappointed in myself.
See, I need something to “make it stick”. When I was younger I smoked cigarettes. I like to comment that “quitting cigarettes is easy – I’ve done it hundreds of times! sticking with it is the hard part”, as that was my case. But one day maybe 18 years ago, I was sick of the fact I couldn’t walk 2 flights of stairs to my office without getting winded; that I couldn’t roll around with my infant son and play without grunting or wheezing. It was stupid. And I quit, and haven’t had a cigarette since. I needed something strong enough to trigger the transformation.
Finally I had it with my weight.
I also knew that my past efforts could be successful, but I realized that diet was something I just didn’t know enough about to forge true success. I needed someone to coach me, to help me learn, to help me through this. I kept reading about this new outfit called Renaissance Periodization. In fact, I had a small experience with them back in February 2014 in the comments on another blog. You can see I’d had weight-loss on my mind for some time, but just not enough fire to do something about it. But once I did, I contacted Nick and off it went.
Defattening, Phase 1
When I contacted Nick Shaw, RP was still a small group – not what they are today. There were no auto-templates, no lifting templates, no eBooks. Just one-on-one. I’m glad for that, because 1-on-1 is what I needed. I contacted Nick, paid for 6 months because I wanted a trial period, but knew I needed more than 2 weeks to actually evaluate this process. Nick sent me a questionnaire, some other paperwork, and away we went.
I honestly can’t recall how the early days were, but I can say some things about the overall.
First, I appreciate the spreadsheet. The diet is laid out, and you just follow the template. It’s designed to be as little headache as possible. You worry about the macros (protein, carbs, fats), but you don’t have to micromanage it because there’s leeway put in and acceptance that no food is truly a single macro. But that does mean foods that make it more complicated, like dairy, are avoided (tho if you want it you can have it, it just has to be factored in); no big deal, really.
Second, I appreciate that I can basically eat whatever. No, I can’t make it a Pop Tarts fest. But a lot of diet fads are so massively restrictive, which is a big cause for diet failure. Like a lot of diets shun fruit – why?!? The fact I can eat fruit with RP is a huge win, because it’s fiber, it’s carb, and frankly it’s a good way to satisfy the sweet tooth without resorting to Snickers bars. Yeah, there are some foods that are right out, but it’s also interesting to note that it’s totally cool to drink Tang and eat kids cereals on RP; in fact, you have to! But there’s a method to the madness (e.g. peri- and post-workout nutrition).
If you want to understand RP’s basic approach, check out this short playlist of YouTube videos from Dr. Mike Israetel.
People ask me how I did it. It was pretty straightforward:
- Lift weights at least 3-4 times a week.
- Do cardio (just walk for an hour) on the non-lifting days (ugh).
- Follow the diet plan. Again, watch those videos for a totally free explanation of the foundations behind RP’s strategy (hint: science!)
- Check in with a weigh-in semi-weekly.
I also opted to take pictures at least once a month. Progress is more than just the scale.
And so I went.
And it sucked.
Let me tell you. Being constantly hungry every day for 16 months is irritating and gets old.
But that’s the way it goes. You have to have a caloric deficit, and your body will respond by saying “Dude, you’re not eating enough. I need more food. Here, let me ratchet up that hungry-feeling.”.
At some point early on I ready something from Dr. Mike. I don’t recall his exact words but the gist was basically:
Hunger is just fat leaving the body.
Honestly? I clung hard to that notion. Every time my stomach felt it (which was pretty much always), I just told myself that was fat leaving the body.
Every time I woke up on my not-lifting days and had to do cardio, I just did it. I hated it, but you don’t get better by doing the things you like. The thing I liked – eating ice cream – is what got me here. But I made the best of it and used the elliptical time to either read or listen to podcasts.
Vacations, business trips, other things would come up that would derail things. So you just find ways to stick as best as you can to the diet and the plan. Sure, maybe it amounted to no weight lost that week, but in the grander scheme it was just a small bump.
And we’d cycle through things: a few months on a strong cutting cycle, then a month of “mid” to hold weight, then a few more months cutting, another mid, and so on. At one point we did a small bulk just to give me a break, but basically it’s been 16 months of a “cut program”. While the data points plotted on a graph are scattered, the overall trend is downward.
The motivation was strong, and you just have to want it bad enough that you stick with it no matter what. That you make the sacrifices (and really, sacrifices like this are one heck of a first-world problem), you do the work, it’s not always fun, but you know achieving the goal is going to be awesome – more awesome than the ice cream. So you keep going.
But I’m not done, I’m just done with Phase 1. I didn’t expect there’d be phases, but that’s how it’s become.
When I was at 265 I figured 225 was a good goal and would get me where I wanted.
Then I got to 225 and realized I was still no where near what I wanted. Again, it’s not just about scale weight, but also body composition and “look” in the mirror. So I thought 210.
When I got to 210, I realized that I was getting somewhere, but still wasn’t where I wanted.
Then I got to 200. Actually I didn’t get to 200. I went from 202 to 199. When I did that weigh-in I was shocked because I didn’t expect that drop. And seeing that “1” as the first digit? It really threw me, because I can’t recall the last time I saw such a thing… it was a bit of a “moment” for me.
At this point, I can look in the mirror and I do feel pretty good about how I look. I appreciate that my pecs push my shirt out, not my gut. I appreciate that my clothing isn’t so tight any more. I appreciate that I actually may need to drop yet another pant size.
You know what’s funny? I can physically see and feel the veins sticking out in my arms. No it’s not crazy “vascular” or anything, but just that the last time I recall being able to do this was when I was in high school. I don’t have so much fat, spackling everything smooth.
So while I’m quite happy with where I am, I can also see that there’s still progress I want to make. If you look at my “after” pictures, you can see there’s still some fat around my middle, that there’s still some fat spread around my body. I want to shed that fat.
However, at this point the marathon downward trend ceases. It’s no longer cut-mid-cut-mid-cut-mid-etc.. Now the cycling will be more proper. Have a bulk cycle, mid, then cut. I’ve been calling it a “2 steps forward, 3 steps back” approach. So for this next macro-cycle we’ll work to bulk me up to about 210, hold it for a bit, then cut down to about 190. The goal is to gain some muscle, then just trim the fat; that should trim off any fat I gained during the bulk as well as some preexisting fat. Thus I should have a little more muscle, a lot less fat, and things be even better than they are right now. If I need to do a second macrocycle of this (e.g. up then to 200, then down to 180)? Well, let’s see how the first macrocycle goes and where I end up. I don’t necessarily intend to become some pro-bodybuilder ripped, but I would like to get leaner than I am now.
My next longer-term goal is to bench/squat/deadlift 3/4/5 – that’s 3, 45 lb plates on each side of the bar (315 lb), 4 plates (405 lb), 5 plates (495 lb). Right now my primary goal remains Defattening, but it’s not as strong of a goal as getting my strength back and rebuilding muscle is a stronger goal. Goals are changing, but not yet changed. This next year will be an important transition phase.
One thing to take from this? It’s been a lifestyle change for sure. That’s why nothing before ever stuck: it was a gimmick, and wasn’t really sustainable. I always knew I’d have to change habits and lifestyle, and having to do this for so long has made it a change. It’s now just how I eat, it’s just how I operate. What I eat, what I don’t eat, when I eat it, how much I eat, that I get up and just go to the gym every day, it’s just life. It’s not really a program, it’s not really work, it’s just my life. Yeah, it takes a lot of discipline to get there, and it still takes discipline to not fall back into old habits. But at this point it’s “life” and pretty much how things will continue forward for me. I don’t expect to stay 1-on-1 with Nick forever, but the general habits ought to remain.
I’m happy to have achieved this milestone. The process hasn’t always been enjoyable, but the results make up for it.
I want to thank Nick Shaw and all at Renaissance Periodization; couldn’t have done it without you. If I could have my way, I’d never eat chicken or do cardio again. 😉
Also some thank you to Paul Carter. Paul didn’t do anything directly to help me, but I’ve been following his training philosophies all this time, and it was a big help.
Thanx to Andy, gym owner, for letting me use the gym at odd hours. That freedom to schedule continues to be a huge help.
To my friends and co-workers, I thank you as well. You’ve been very tolerant and supportive of my restrictive diet and other weird habits. But now you know why I spend so much time exercising every day every week, and why I eat like I do. 🙂
Biggest thank you goes to Wife & Kiddos. They have been my biggest supporters. For all the help with food shopping, meal prep, and how all of this has generally taken over my life – it’s become my life. Y’all have put up with a ton from me and really helped me through it. I cannot thank you enough, especially the Mrs.
Well, back to it. My work is not yet done.