my new year’s resolution: body recomposition

I got six real resolutions, none of which directly impact my training, except that if I can keep them, I’ll be a better athlete and trainee, because I’ll be a better person. Those are between me, my God, and my family.

But I’ve got a seventh resolution, that does impact my training. And so I’ll share it here, and hopefully, my efforts to work on it will help others besides myself. Basically, that one has to do with body recomposition.

A short history is in order. December 2008, I was fat, out of shape, and depressed. I got into CrossFit. I went on the Zone diet. I fooled around with Primal and Paleo eating. I kept a detailed calorie and macronutrient counting food journal. And lo, and behold, I dropped the pounds and got leaner, and stronger, than I’d ever been in my life. CrossFit taught me the importance of lifting heavier than I ever thought I could, and it taught me the importance of working harder. But my food journal and Zone/Paleo dieting taught me I could change the composition of my body.

In January 2009, I weighed 215.5 lbs. The first 20 pounds took almost 4 months to lose. The next 20 pounds came off over the next 9 months. I got to a low weight of around 172 in February of 2010. It’s a long story, but by end of summer 2010 I weighed around 180, by choice. Mainly this came about by relaxing my diet and quitting the food journal. I was putting on lean mass and getting stronger, too, so it was all good. My weight was creeping up towards the end of 2010, but in December, after the Carolina Fitness Challenge 2010 (where I placed 5th in the Master’s Division), I still weighed about 180, and was lean, fit and strong.


The next year, 2011, was a year of letting all this go. I let go of MetCons, partly because I fell in love with weightlifting, and partly because I stopped going to CrossFit, and started training like a weightlifter. I briefly returned to tracking my weight in April to May, 2011. By May, I was up to 195. Then I let go of Paleo starting in Summer 2011. And at the end of the summer, I broke my arm, which was a major bummer for my training and especially for my conditioning. By November, I was well up above 200, and spinning out of control. I decided to start measuring my umbilical region and taking a weight measure every single day. But this didn’t really work, as far as a “weight loss” technique. I didn’t restrict myself in any way, and by the end of December, 2011, I was back up to 210, and had put more than an inch on my umbilical measurement over the course of two months.

Time to take action? Hell yes.

I’ll be 43 years old on January 6th. This is the best possible time to halt my recent slide into mindless eating, gain of unwanted adipose tissue, and a less than ideal body composition. This is now.

The Rules of the Resolution

A lot of the 30 lbs I gained in 2011 is lean mass. In fact, I’d estimate at least 50% of it is lean mass. So, since I’d like to keep all of that lean mass, and gain some more, actually, I’m not looking to lose more than 15 lbs. I just want all of that loss to be fat.

I weighed 210 today. My goal weight is 195.

I know some tricks for losing fat while retaining lean mass. Eat plenty of protein, like 1g-2g per pound of lean mass per day (in my case, I’d say, that’s 175g-350g daily). Keep food quality high. Keep the daily eating window relatively short (i.e. intermittent fasting). Take periodic full day fasts. Strive to keep the body in very slight caloric deficit. Periodically “re-feed” (i.e. cheat). Avoid: wheat and grains, alcohol, sugar, most starches. And, to keep your lean mass: lift heavy weights.

To keep making strength gains while losing weight is difficult; some would say, impossible. But I have done it before, mainly because I was so weak to begin with. I am still, in the relative world of strength athletics, quite weak. So maybe I can continue to experience novice-effect like strength gains while getting leaner. Furthermore, another possibility exists, namely that, if I focus on food quality, good eating habits, eat adequate calories to keep my caloric deficit small, eat smart so as to recover well, and prioritize sleep, I should be able to lean out and get stronger.

And of course I’m going to have to start doing my “conditioning” work again.

My personal, prior experience suggests it will take 3 months or so to lose these fifteen pounds. Twelve weeks.

I am going to give it 12 and a half weeks. Starting from right now, in Week 0, which ends on Saturday. Week 1 will begin on Sunday, January 8th. February 5th begins week 5. March 4th begins week 9. Week 12 ends on March 31st.

I am going to practice intermittent fasting during this entire period, with daily feeding periods of 8-10 hours (i.e. 14 to 16 hours of fasting daily). I am going to have full day fasts every other week, on Thursday (fast begins post breakfast) to Friday (first meal is lunch), in weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11.

That, rather than strict paleo or primal eating, will be the primary tool. That and daily weigh-ins and umbilical measures.

Most of my meals will be lower carb, paleo-ish, “primal” meals. But if I want some rice or corn or beans or a little alcohol (wine, bourbon, even beer) or some other non-paleo delicacy I am going to permit it. But I will probably not permit myself to have sugar on most days. (We’ll see if this works).

Also, I’m really not that worried about strictly controlling macronutrient ratios. I don’t think the Zone advocates enough protein for weightlifters, for one. And for another, I want to do this without weighing and measuring every meal. To be clear: the “Zone” changed the way I eat forever. Now I always think of each meal in terms of “what’s my protein, what’s my carb, what’s my fat.” That won’t change. But my diet won’t be Zone in the same respect that it won’t be paleo.

Cheating will be on a 3-6-9 plan. If I lose more than 6 pounds in any two week period, or more than 9 pounds in a three week period, then I will permit myself two cheat meals on a single Saturday or Sunday. In other words, if my weigh in on Saturday AM isn’t more than 6 pounds down from two Saturdays prior, or 9 pounds from three Saturdays prior, then I can’t have my “cheat.” That means that my first possible cheat meal is not until Jan 21st, and then only if I’m down to … whatever is six pounds less than what I weigh in this upcoming Saturday.

Every Sunday, on Weeks 1-13, I will post an update on my progress. Look for it.

It’s war

I haven’t been sharing too much about my nutritional struggles on this blog.

Let me cut out the BS and just say: I’ve been bad. It’s been six months, and over the past six months, I’ve mainly been bad.

Now. It’s getting scary to me.

This morning the scale says 198.5 lbs.

The pants say: too tight.

The tape measure says: your belly is bigger but not much else has changed.

On my waist I have seen the return of some old friends; my love-handles and belly fat! They say: we’re jiggly!

Unacceptable.

Warfare

I declare war. I hereby declare war.

This is beyond “beyond 30 days of 100% paleo” and beyond “I need a reboot.”

I have systematically destroyed every last dietary rule that I adopted for myself starting back in January, 2009.

I made real life changes. But I’ve not kept them. I’ve experimented with relaxing my rules. It doesn’t work for me. I want to be IN SHAPE!!!

It is therefore time to destroy something else: that part of myself that has undermined its own success.

It is true that I am stronger now than I was in early 2009.

But I am also more injured, more beat down, and manifestly less fit in certain areas (for instance, in 2009, when I last weighed this much I could easily go out and run 5 miles; I certainly could not do that today).

Who is to blame?

No one.

I certainly do not blame CrossFit or CrossFit Asheville. Could there somehow have been more support through CrossFit? Possibly. But my problem hasn’t been CrossFit.

I do not blame Glenn Pendlay, Tamara Cohen, or anyone affiliated with USAW. Just because weightlifters don’t eat “Flexible-Paleo-Zone” and make fun of people who want “abz” doesn’t mean that I have to eat 1/2 gallon of icecream at 12:30 am before going to bed. Seriously.

I do not blame Robb Wolf, Kurt Harris, or Martin Berkhan. Even if Kurt Harris convinced me it was ok to eat heavy cream which led me to ice cream, butter, and cheese, or if Robb Wolf sings the praises of corn if you’re going to cheat with starchy carbs, or if Martin Berhan’s pictures of himself at 8% body fat eating an entire Cheesecake create the illusion in my mind that I can eat an entire key lime pie on Father’s Day because it’s Father’s day (even though I’m up to about 16% body fat). Even if! I don’t blame any of these guys.

I don’t even blame the guy at 70’s big. Justin. Who planted a wicked seed in my mind that if I don’t weigh 200+ lbs I’m not a real adult male. Believe you me! I have spent many long years weighing more than 200 lbs and being over 200 lbs, for me, DIDN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH BEING A REAL MAN. What has being over 200 lbs ever done for me? Nothing. Unless you count: making me embarrassed to take off my T-Shirt at the beach, killing off my sex life, or making me slow, uncoordinated, and weak.

Honestly, I don’t believe you have to weigh a lot to lift a lot. I’m lifting more now than ever. I’m going to keep doing that. But I’m hereby divorcing myself from the lie that says the pursuit of strength justifies the neglect of balance and restraint in eating.

Hell, this really isn’t about weightlifting. It isn’t about MetCons. It isn’t about training methods.

It is about eating too much, drinking too much, watching too much TV, and not getting enough sleep.

It is about choosing corn and corn flour over vegetables, allowing myself to eat gluten-laden foods, eating ice cream and chocolate, craving sweets.

It is about too many meals a day, devoting too many hours a day to food, it’s about snacking from dinner to bedtime, and not fasting long enough each day.

It is about giving in to feelings of fatigue and laziness, and letting it be easier not to eat right, etc.

What am I? Who am I supposed to be, in this universe of physical culture? I’m not that strong. I’m not that fast. I’m not that well trained.

What I am is smart. I know food and nutrition. I know diet and recovery. In theory, I know discipline.

I like being strong. But I like better “feeling in shape.” It’s a total package.

I’ve been off track but I am going on the warpath against myself. I will reclaim the high ground.

Plan War Path

Today, June 22nd, 2011. For the next four months, until about this time in October, I am officially on the warpath.

I am going to intercept and interrogate every morsel of food that I feed myself. I will not overeat. I will choose healthy food items. I will feed to refuel and rebuild and care for the machine. I will not break discipline. I will adopt the training mindset of the nutritional warrior. Each day, I will re-affirm a list of basic rules. I will wrest control of my diet and training from my self-defeating inner child. I will reestablish my own command of myself. So help me God.

weigh in and metrics

Obviously, I’ve been getting into trouble with my diet here. Besides increasing about 20 lbs over the past 18 months, in the last month alone I’ve added eight pounds which, the calipers tell me, is mostly fat (and my pants tell me it’s mostly at the midsection). In the same period I’ve made few measurable increases in lean mass (my thighs being the apparent exception). Of course, the calipers are a blunt instrument; but they make it look like I’ve actually lost lean mass. I haven’t… but it’s not a happy trend.

In general I think it is very dangerous for “older athletes” such as myself to mess around with trying to gain weight. Gaining mass as a way to gain strength… that’s a younger man’s game. This is probably especially true for those of us who have been fat in the past.

The fact is I would rather stay leaner and I’m going to do something about that. Starting today.

One other thing occurs to me: it’s dangerous to trust single point “measures” of things like body weight. Today’s weigh-in is doubtless an outlier (I was weighing in at 192 all week long and the past two Sundays as well). I am confident that next Sunday will see me a lot leaner, and my next set of measurements, on June 5th, will document some positive changes.

Body Measurements
Date

Weight Observed

Suprailliac Skinfold

Body Fat %

Fat Mass

Lean Mass

Umbilical

Bicep

Thigh

Shoulder/Chest
5/8/2011

195.5 lbs

10 mm

15.9%

31.1 lbs

164.4

36 1/2″

14″

22 1/4″

47 1/4″ / 41″
4/10/11

187.5

7mm

11.5%

21.5

165.5

35 7/16

14″

22″

47 1/4″ / 40 7/8″
3/6/2011

186

7+ mm

>11.5+%

>21.4 lbs

<164.6 lbs

34 5/16″

14 1/8″

21 11/16″

47 5/16″ (sh) / 39 3/4″ (ch)
2/20/2011

182.0 lbs

6mm+

11.5%

21 lbs

161 lbs

34 3/8″

13 3/4″ flexed, 12 5/8″ unflexed

21 3/4″

46 3/8″
Feb. 6th, 2011

187.0 lbs

7-8 mm

11.5-13.8%

21.5–25.8 lbs

165.5-161.2 lbs

35 1/2″

14″ (flexed) / 12 1/2″ (unflexed)

21 5/8″

46 1/4″
Nov. 21, 2010

184.0 lbs

(less than) 6 mm

(less than) 11.5%

21.2 lbs

162.8

34 1/4″

14″ (flexed) / 12 1/2″ (unflexed)

21 5/8″

47 1/4″
Oct. 24th, 2010

179.5 lbs

6 mm

11.5%

20.5 lbs

159 lbs

34 1/4″

12 3/8″

21 5/8″

46 3/16″

weigh-in and updated weight chart

I’ve decided it’s time to update my weight chart and to post my weight and umbilical measurement weekly, as a way of forcing myself to be a bit more accountable about how my diet and level of training affects my body. Today’s weigh-in: 192.0 lbs, down 1.5 lbs from last Sunday.

my anabolism

Yeah, as in, I’ve been getting big. And not in a good way. I’m carrying soft tissue around the middle again.

As of Sunday, I was up to 193 1/2 lbs. I’ve gained 8-10 lbs, much of it unwanted. Some is surely lean mass, but mostly, it’s fat. That much should have been evident from last Sunday’s measurements, where I saw more than an inch added to my umbilical measurement, although my weigh-in number was not huge. I must have been dehydrated, cause I weighed six pounds more a week later.

The extra weight I’m carrying has been packed on through just a few weeks of unconscious, uncontrolled eating and drinking. It came from eating sugars, flours, and just, in general, too much food at all hours of the day and night.

The tools I will use to lose the excess are simple. Weigh in. Eat consciously. Eat mainly or even exclusively whole, unprocessed foods, and extremely limited grains, sugar, and alcohol. Balance macronutrients. (That means: plenty of protein, at least 1g per pound of lean mass per day, eaten along with plenty of fat, 0.5g-1g per pound of lean mass per day, and moderate carbs, around 0.5-.75g per pound of lean mass per day; i.e. at most about 2600 calories per day). Practice intermittent fasting daily. (That means: stop eating after dinner, and don’t eat again for 12-18 hours; for me, IF helps keep the system running properly).

The unwanted pounds came on quickly, but it will probably take me quite a while to slim down. I am looking for a Sunday weigh-in at under 185. I’ll report back. Stay tuned.

Body Metrics

Sunday, Aug. 15th, 2010. New Training Cycle week I, day I.

I realized today that I have not updated my weight chart in three months, since mid May. In other words, I didn’t really keep track of my weight over the summer. I did weigh myself now and then. And what I observed was that my weight went up and down, depending on circumstances (like illness, etc.)

Here’s my data from this Sunday:

Weight Measurements Sunday Aug. 15th
Weight Observed Body Fat % Implied Fat Mass Implied Lean Mass Comment
179 lbs 14% 25 lbs 154 lbs lowest amount of fat observed
182 lbs 15% 27 lbs 155 lbs highest amount of lean observed

On Sundays I will record, here on the blog, whatever data points I observe. I won’t be recording other data points if I happen to weigh myself during the week. I will record just one set of numbers in my new weight chart… whichever one yields the highest lean mass. It might be nice to add together the highest lean data point and the lowest fat data point, yielding 25 & 155 = 180 lbs at 13.8% body fat but the data doesn’t really permit that, does it?

All summer long I thought that I was getting a lot fatter. These readings suggest that I never got too far off where I was in mid-May. It is true that I had gained weight and had gotten a relatively higher body fat percentage between January 2010 (when I was consistently weighing in at 12% body fat) and May 2010 (when I appeared to be hovering between 13-14%). But in that period of time I had (deliberately) gained 6-8 lbs, about half of which was lean mass. The result was that I was carrying more muscle and was feeling stronger — even if I had more fat.

But here at the end of the summer I have thought I should act to try to lean out a bit again, in relative terms, both for cosmetic purposes and to prevent any trend of fat gain. So, henceforth, basically, my main goal is this: I’d like to maintain and/or build lean mass, while not gaining any more fat than I already carry. It’s not my explicit goal to do so, but if, in the process, I happen to lose fat and/or weight, that’s ok, as long as I hang on to the lean mass I have.

In a future post I’ll write more explicitly about what kinds of information I have been consuming as I think about how to reach these goals. But suffice it to say for now that I’ve been pretty interested in the work of Martin Berkhan and I think he has a lot of insight into the difficulties of maintaining or building lean mass while losing fat.

Rest Week Reflections

As I enter the last week of my second cycle through the “new plan” (aka the “Never on a School Night” plan), I pause to reflect on, to analyze, and to assess the measurements I have made in the process of my training.

Reflection and Rest.

A day of rest, and private reflection.

This week… or is it the past three weeks? … I relaxed a number of “controls” on my eating. I have been aware of the problem, but haven’t done anything about it.

The scale reads two and a half pounds higher than it did last week, at the same body fat percentage (184, 14%).

The numbers don’t lie, but I’m not sure how reliable the individual data points may be. Whatever I may have gained, the difference in weight most likely corresponds to a calorie surplus for the week. I do journal all my eating. This week I averaged 2700 calories per day. I don’t know how many calories of that might be surplus. I do know that working out hard five times this week (4 crossfit workouts and the 5k) could have produced an anabolic reaction, a need for new muscle synthesis. But I could not produce 2 pounds worth. So the best that I can say is that some of the weight difference is water, some is digestive system, some is fat, some muscle. The scale data gives a 0.4 increase in pounds of fat for the week, but caveat emptor.

Bottom line is: I’ll have to do better during this upcoming week. I’m going to try to eat and drink and live more like the champion I want to be.

In other, happier news, I did acquire a cool new article of gear, the Vibram® brand “Five Fingers” shoes which are like gloves for your feet.