Call me girly, but I had no intentions of being fat at my wedding.
Unfortunately, with only a few months to go, that was exactly the situation I was facing. I needed to take drastic measures, measures most will find insane. And, because of my experimental personality, I took them! Lo and behold, it worked! I dropped a total of 25 pounds, and I’m now leaner than I’ve been in over 3 years. What was my solution? Drink more Vodka and Mocha’s; eat more Burgers and Bacon; and pay as little attention to detail as possible!
The fact that I ended up with this much fat to lose would shock anyone who’s known me for most of my life. I am not someone who grew up a chubby kid, I was always skinny as a rail. I also didn’t have the (all-too-common) situation where over a decade or two of adult life I slowly and almost inexplicably gained weight to the point where I didn’t recognize myself. Oh no, my friends. Until a few years ago, I was lean. Really lean.
So, how did I get fat? Wait for it …
I made myself fat on purpose!
Before I explain WHY I made myself fat, I want to be clear that I was fat … for a weightlifter who has spent 20 years gaining muscle. I recognize that while my bodyfat percentage was higher than healthy, it was not where many people start who are really struggling with weight. I’m sensitive to the fact that my situation does NOT represent many Americans. That said, I was fatter than I should have been, and my health numbers were not looking as nice as they once did. It was time for a change.
The reason I’m writing this is because the change was both fast and dramatic. Combining that with the fact that it honestly wasn’t that hard for me to get lean again makes the story compelling. I really hope that my story can help others who decide that losing some unwanted fat is priority #1. So long as they are willing to pay the price – everything in life has a price, everything – then making dramatic changes really is possible.
The Set Up: Strain to Gain
(Photo by Mighty Kat. Me at a local contest in “snatch-pull” mode.)
When I turned 30, I decided to experiment and see how big and strong I could get if I gave up on my waist line. Again, for the sake of clarity, when I say that I got fat on purpose, that’s a bit misleading. I got BIG on purpose. The fat was something I knew that I couldn’t avoid if I was going to take my experiment as far as I wanted to. And, given my proclivities toward self-experimentation, going “all out” was the only option.
I was always a small kid. Very short, and very skinny. Now, I’ve never had a problem with being short. In fact, I’ve always liked that fact about me. You know those people who hit their heads going down stairs to the basement? I’ve never done that. It would be impossible.
Most males grow taller throughout high school. Some even get taller through their first years of college. Not me. I entered high school at the same towering height that I am now, 5 feet 6 inches (with shoes on). The summer between my 8th grade year and my freshman year of high school contained the last growth spurt this giant of a man ever had.
That was always fine by me. But, being skinny was not OK.
Unfortunately, when I was a beginning my freshman year I only weighed 115 pounds – I was very skinny. But, through much work and endless amounts of food, I was able to graduate high school weighing a staggering 128 pounds. I worked hard for those 13 pounds. However, my abysmal rate of progress was indicative of my total lack of knowledge about what it was that I was doing! Cookie dough is not ideal as a weightlifting food. And doing nothing but upper body bodybuilding is NOT the way to massive muscular weight.
By the time I turned 30, I’d wised up about how I trained and how I ate. I had built myself up to 160 pounds, I was strong, and I was pretty happy with how I looked.
During my 20’s I’d competed as a Powerlifter at 145 pounds and topped out with a best squat of 450, deadlift 500, and Bench Press of 360. All raw, no suit, no belt, no nothin’. I was most proud of the deadlift, as that was over 3 times my bodyweight on a lift that you just can’t cheat.
(This is me in my 20’s apparently trying to sell Yogurt! It was Lemon, in case you’re wondering.)
The point being that during my 20’s I was lean and strong. I liked the way I looked and I was rather happy with where I’d brought myself up to that point. But, I was still curious about my upper limits.
I’d begun Olympic Weightlifting a few years previous and was already coaching a competitive club at the time. I was NOT anywhere near as good at Olympic lifting as I was at Powerlifting. Powerlifting favors guys who are brute strong, especially if you are brute strong for your weight. Brute strength is something I’ve got.
Oly lifting requires that you spend years upon years honing technique so that you can apply your strength. I was still in the “honing” phase. (I still am!)
But, I felt like I’d topped out just how big I was going to get while maintaining the same level of leanness that I’d always had. My entire life, I’d been so lean that you could see veins popping out of my chest, my oblique’s had striations, I looked like I was a month out of a bodybuilding contest at all times.
I decided it was time for that to change. If I was going to get stronger, I would have to get bigger. If I was going to get bigger, I was going to have to get fatter.
Once I made that choice, I did what I do when I make any choice: I went all out. I started eating about 5000 calories a day. I ate everything. Pie, McDonalds, Bacon, Pizza, Ice Cream. I ate it all, everyday, all day. My only concern every day was if I had eaten enough to fuel my workouts to keep me growing.
I succeeded. For a few years running I gained 20 pounds a year. And while I did gain fat, the rate of fat gain wasn’t that bad considering the debaucherous food I was consuming! My strength was finally going up again, as well.
When I’d started Olympic lifting I found out something that was quite humbling. Just because you can powerlifting-squat a certain weight – wide legs, bent over like you’re doing a good-morning, at (but not below) parallel – doesn’t mean that you will be able to Oly squat anywhere near that. Worse, you may only be able to front squat the bar. And because I had spent years doing bench presses and curls, my wrists were so tight, I couldn’t rack a front squat to save my life!!
I became determined to be a great front squatter – this was going to become MY lift.
I’d started focusing pretty strongly on the front squat once I discovered this (a few years prior), but it hadn’t been going up at the rate I’d hoped. (Much of the reason was that my programming sucked. Read this years birthday post to get a feel about my current thoughts on that subject.) But, after a year of some serious bulking I’d built my front squat up to 120, then 130, then 135 kilos.
By two years in, my front squat was 145 kilos, and I’d built my body up to a bulky 93 kilos. Trust me, when you are barely 5’6’’ and you weigh 205 pounds of mostly muscle and some fat, you look like a tank – you ain’t as shapely as Arnold!
Suddenly, finding clothes that fit went from hard to impossible. I stopped dressing in the more “stylish” ways I was used to (to the chagrin of my now Wife), and wore the classic jock attire exclusively: T-shirts, Hoodies, overly baggy jeans or workout pants – or kilts, of course. (Seriously, my wife loves the weightlifting and the muscle. But, she said on more than a few occasions that she “didn’t sign on for some jock dude”.)
Before Pictures: Fat/Strong
My wife is nice and contends that I didn’t look that bad. Objectively, I know she was right. I wasn’t even that fat! But, we both like me better now that I’m back down to something approaching my previous leanness. I was starting to teeter on the line of having an unreasonable amount of fat, given my muscle mass at the time, and going over the edge. One more year like that, and it would have gone too far.
After that 2 year period of unabashed eating, I decided to drop some weight. I dropped down to about 195 pounds.
This brings us up to the “a few months before my wedding” part of the story. I was still not lean. I couldn’t see my abs (I had one, maybe two), and because of a messed-up quirk in my genetics where my face carries the majority of my fat, my head still looked like a pumpkin!
The problem was that I hate to diet, and yet I only had a few months to get down to being truly lean again.
Intermittent Fasting to the Rescue!
(Me on my Honey Moon, post diet.)
Lucky for me, about this time I discovered two guys simultaneously: Martin Berkhan and Brad Pillon. Both of them are the primary proponents of what has come to be termed “Intermittent Fasting”. I’m not going to go into all the details of what that means since they’ve done a much better job of explaining it than I could. But, the basics are this: When you eat, you can eat; Otherwise, don’t eat. Simple!
There is a fundamental reality to losing fat that people seem unable to accept fully. If you want to lose fat, you MUST take in fewer calories that you burn. Period. There is no other way. I don’t care what you heard on Nightline or read in Newsweek.
Most diets proscribe what you can and can’t eat. This food is good, that food is bad. I have never done well with the idea of restricting my choices when it comes to food. I like food – all food (except potatoes, which is its own story).
The second problem with most diets is that you are asked to eat smaller meals. If you are going to restrict calories, then in order to eat 3, 4, up to 6+ meals a day, they will have to be small if you’re going to stay under your allotment. Screw that!
My Cardinal Rule of Dieting:
When I eat, I don’t want to care about my diet!!
I like to eat. When I sit down to eat, I don’t want to be restricted in either my options or portions. This is why I gravitated so comfortably to the idea of fasting.
Fasting is not a “diet”. It is more of a lifestyle choice that just happens to work like a diet.
I did it in 2 phases that each (somewhat, though not totally) represent the versions of Intermittent Fasting that each of the 2 guys above (Martin and Brad) promote most strongly.
Phase 1: Mellow and Slow and Still Gaining Strength!
I ended up hitting a 155k Front Squat PR while I was in the middle of a “diet”! I also went from barely hitting 90k snatches to power snatching it multiple times a week, and hitting a new PR of 95k! Not bad for being calorie restricted.
For about 3 months I followed the basic tenet of Berkan’s fasting system and gave myself a “feeding window” every day where I got to eat. And at any other time, I didn’t eat.
(His system calls for an 8-hour window, I did 10 or more. With twice a day training like I was doing, 8 wasn’t practical – read below for more details.)
During this window, I would try to get in all my protein, veggies, and other needed stuff for the day. I didn’t try hard, and I didn’t count calories. But, I slowly dropped from 195 pounds to 186 pounds over the course of 3 months and was noticeably leaner all the while gaining strength.
Seriously, my diet was not complicated. Here was how I worked it around my workout schedule – which was also its own crazy experiment.
To be fair, my workout schedule included up to 13 sessions a week, all to max on Oly lifts and/or squats, so you might be inclined to think that it was this that spurned the fatloss. But, keep in mind that I was working out similarly prior to the fasting protocol and I was NOT getting leaner until I added the fasting.
Monday/Wednesday – Not really fasting, just skip breakfast
6am – wake up.
10am – workout: Front squat + Snatch to 1RM (1 rep max)
Lunch – usually a sandwich or something similar, even pizza.
2pm – workout: Same
2nd lunch – similar
Evening – workout again: snatch and back squat to max, sometimes throw in clean and jerk.
chocolate milk and something small for dinner.
No eating after 10pm
Tuesday/Thursday – 14 hour fast
6am – wake up
10am – workout: front squat to max – just water
12pm – lunch, AKA break-fast
Evening – workout: power versions and front squats to max
Dinner – stop eating by 10.
Friday – longer fast
6am – wake up
Don’t eat all day till …
4 or 5 pm – Workout: Max on Oly lifts and Back Squats. Drink Gatorade and a Mocha during workout.
Dinner – stop eating by 10.
6am – wake up
11am – workout: Front or Back squats, maybe RDL’s, some power versions … it changed a lot. Drink gatorade during + a mocha
3pm – lunch.
Stop eating at 10.
Workout: Sometime during the day come in and back squat to a max with a few back off sets.
Eat whatever. Day off from dieting.
That’s it. I didn’t think too hard about it. I didn’t count calories. I didn’t even follow the rules very hard. I was able to train between 9 and 13 sessions a week, get stronger, and stay on a weekly calorie deficit without making myself crazy. All plusses!!
The ONLY downside was that it was a slow process, and my wedding was fast approaching!
I needed to get drastic.
Phase 2: Fast and Crazy
I had just over 4 weeks. I decided to experiment yet again. (I am very prone to experimenting on myself, if you can’t tell!) This time, I was going to start doing 24 hour fasts. Brad Pilon suggests 1, 2, or even 3 fasts a week that are 24-hours (eat dinner the night before, then don’t eat again until your next dinner). Even at just one time a week you can easily drop your weekly calorie count by 2000 calories. (If you eat like me!)
Well … if it works with just 1 or 2 fasts a week, what about 5?
Crazy? Yes! But, I figured I ate myself fat without any regard to health for the sole purpose of putting on muscle and strength, so I might as well see what happens if I do the opposite: lose fat fast without any regard for my strength or muscle.
Again, I succeeded. I was losing fat so fast that it was noticeable almost from day to day. Each week, the difference was dramatic. In just a touch over a month, I lost 15 pounds! And, from what I can tell, most of that was fat.
Now … not all of it was fat! I’ve clearly lost some muscle, as my strength levels went down. But, I expected that. What I wanted was extreme fatloss, no matter what. And I got it.
What about working out?
That was the hard part. The truth is, if you are only eating one meal a day for most of the week, then there is no way you can work out very hard unless that meal is huge. But, making that meal giant and full of protein and all my essential nutrients, blah blah blah, would have resulted in too many calories. I wanted extremely fast fatloss. That required abysmally low calories.
Just as importantly, eating all that food in one meal would have broken my cardinal rule: When I eat, I don’t want to care!
Nearly every night, I’d go out to dinner. I’d drink vodka with that dinner, or beer, or whatever I wanted. I ate burgers, steak, tater tots, dessert, whatever. It didn’t matter. This was the only thing I was eating all day. I regularly would clock in under 1200 calories on these days. Let’s face it, a burger, a few fries, and some vodka just isn’t that many calories when it is all you’ve eaten today.
But, the problem was that I would only be getting about 20 to 60 grams of protein a day, some carbs and fat. That’s it. Not at all conducive to building strength, or even maintaining it.
My goal was to create a massive deficit, and still feel like I got to be normal for at least one meal a day. That is what I got.
I started out with good intentions, mind you! My plan was to do the 24-hour fasts 5 days a week, and then on 2 days a week, I’d do 8 hour fasts. On those 2 days, I’d workout. That lasted about 2 weeks before I realized how impossible that was. My weekly calorie count was so low, that any serious exercise was out of the question. So, what the hell. Why not push it harder!
For that last 2 weeks, on the 24-hour days, I decided to limit myself to 800 calories a day.
Yep. 800 calories a day! And as wild and downright stupid as that sounds, I am sooo glad I did it!
At this point you may be writing me off as a psycho. Before I did this experiment, I’d have done the same thing. But, I’m the kind of guy who will try something (and really give it a go) before I lay out the harsh judgment from up on high.
Here are some of the more interesting things I discovered:
- Even though a real “workout” was not going to happen, I was surprisingly alert, happy, and energetic all day while fasting like a maniac.
- I lost strength, but not as much as I’d have thought. (Read my new plan below for details on that front.)
- I NEVER suffered. I honestly didn’t feel like I was dieting at all. I just didn’t eat for most of the day. (I did drink a ton of coffee … but that is totally normal for me!) And, when I did eat, I was able to join in with my friends, eat fun food, drink “adult” drinks, and not care.
- While not eating all day was hard at first, I was shocked how fast I adapted. If your body starts to get the point that it isn’t getting food until the evening, it will largely stop whining about it.
- I started to look “younger”. On a ton of occasions, people told me how much younger I looked. Some of this is attributable to the leaning out of my face. But, apparently I’m not alone among fasters. When you fast, your body releases growth hormone at a rate this is higher than normal. Growth hormone plays a role in making your skin and hair look youthful. It is at least possible that this happened to some degree here given the extreme nature of my fasting protocol.
And many more. Seriously, read the stuff written by Martin Berkhan and Brad Pilon. I’m only one case study, but my results corroborate much of what they are saying.
Conclusions and My New Plan
I’m not done. I’m still fasting. But, I’m back on a plan that more closely resembles Phase One, above. I’m lifting 5 days a week for at least 2 or 3 hours a pop, and things are looking up.
But, the one downside is that I got what I asked for: A lean body at the expense of some of my hard earned strength!
My two favorite lifts are the Snatch and the Front Squat, so I’ll continue focusing on those. Before I started my Phase Two, I hit a PR snatch of 95k, and a PR Front Squat of 155k at a bodyweight of about 85k. Today I weighed in at 76k (roughly 167 pounds), and I snatched 90k on Monday. Solid. I lost just under 20 pounds, and my snatch is almost what it was when I was bigger. That is great!
But, … my Front Squat is still down by 20 kilos. I haven’t done over 135 yet since I have gotten back on the horse. This hurts me! The Front Squat is my favorite lift of all time. Hot diggity I love Front Squats. I starting off with the Front Squat as my WORST lift, to making it my best. That is something I was quite proud of!
New Goals: By this time next year, I’d like to still be in this weight class (the 77k class), hit a 105 or 110 kilo snatch and do a 182k (400#) front squat. That’s a tall order. I may not hit the numbers I want, but they provide me with some solid goals to shoot for.
I’ll keep you updated, as usual. And, I’ll make sure to do another post in a few months on my progress using this “diet” system in conjunction with an Olympic lifters training schedule.
Now go lift something heavy,