Calorie deficit, a love story

Let me start from the beginning. I started dieting 2/12 months ago using the iPhone app LoseIt. The concept was simple enough: a pound of fat = x calories. Divide y (pounds you want to lose) by x and you get h, which is the total calories you will need to lose to lose the weight! Then divide h by w weeks over which you want to lose the weight and you get the magical p which is the calorie deficit you need to incur each week. Further divide by 7 and you get your calorie deficit per day. Subtract that from what you are currently eating to maintain your current weight, and start countin’ those cals!! Oh yeah, and for every “over and above” physical activity (ie weight lifting, running, skiing) you can add back in the appropriate amount of calories to counteract the calories you burned (say hellllllow chessecake!)

So I did that, losing 2 lbs a week for 11 straight week. 22 lbs! Wow, thats 3 short of my target and I was on track to hit my 25 lbs… but something just didn’t seem quite right.  Sure, my waist size went down by about 3 inches and I had to go from the loosest to the tightest loop on my belt, but the numbers on the scale seemed too good to be true. BTW I was also semi-implementing Tim Ferris’ fart diet during this time period but still maintaining my calorie deficit.

What didn’t feel right was that I had lost close to 25 lbs, and sure I “looked” better whilst standing naked in front of my full length mirror, but the man-boobs were still sagging, the “tire-around-the-waist” was still there, and the general fat level was still significant. So I did some research.

As it turns out, your body is marvel of survival engineering!! You see it is not a dumby, it has evolved (or been created, pick your flavor) in the toughest of tough conditions over the history of mankind to react to low calorie situations. Duh! So here is the “problem” (actually its not a problem when is comes to survival, just when it comes to getting that six-pack). When you start incurring a calorie deficit your body does the same thing you would do if your salary was cut to a level below what you are spending, it cuts things out of its “budget” that it considers non-essential and too expensive to keep around. Guess what is one of the most expensive body tissues to keep around? You guessed it, prime steak, muscle. Apparently, although they look great and do a fantastic job of attracting the opposite sex, muscle tissues are incredibly expensive for the body to keep around. Fat, on the other hand, is a pretty cheap reserve.  (Interesting note unrelated to muscle’s caloric costs: just as you would turn down the heat in your house to keep a tight budget, my body actually turned down my internal heat (metabolism) to keep my calorie burning to a minimum.  I have literally been colder than anyone else in the same room as me for the last 2 months!)

Let me put it this way, with our salary analogy, fat would be the checking account in your bank, while muscle would be the sweet new Jeep Wrangler you just bought for off-roading! The cost of keeping your checking account is what… 20 bucks a year? The cost of keeping your Wrangler could be over thouasands a year!  Let me ask you this: If your salary was cut (and you aren’t an idiot), would you A) start spending the money in your checking account in some fiendish attempt to save 20 bucks a year OR B) sell your Jeep for cash in order to pay your bills until you get back on your feet (hey if you start making more money you can always go buy another one right?). Well, if you were most people’s bodies you will spend a little banked money but you are definitely gonna get rid of that Jeep! Get it?

So, allll this to say that the calorie deficit diet accomplishes losing lbs, but the body is way too amazing/complex to reduce a diet to a simple “calories in/calories out” equation. There are amazing built in mechanisms of engineering marvel which attempt everything they have been programmed to do in order to keep you fat! And its a good thing too, or your ancestors would have died in the wild 😉

So apparently a straight up calorie deficit will make your body smaller and weigh less, and yes it will burn off fat, but it will also burn off muscle, and I can confirm this for you by looking in the mirror.

So, the new question is “Is there a better way to burn fat?” Could a better way to burn fat actually be “buy a few more Jeep Wranglers.” I mean, that should drain the bank account pretty quick right? And supposedly that is our goal.

So as of this past week, I’ve abandoned my calorie deficit weight loss plan, and started to incur a calorie surplus on the premise that if I can build more lean muscle tissue, my BMR will go up and I can use the fat stores in my body to maintain muscle mass.  BTW (You need strength training in combo with calorie surplus to build muscle, otherwise that calorie surplus goes straight to the bank account).

So the plan is for the next month or so… to not be hungry! However, I am going to keep a few tenents that I’ve learned:

1) Keep processed grains to a minimum (whole grains are like those slow release laundry detergent balls, where processed grains are like dumping bleach straight onto your clothes. Too much sugar in the blood = more fat build up and higher likelihood of diabetes). If you really want this junk, eat it after intense exercise.
2) Don’t drink calories. Caloric beverages do the same as processed grains. IMHO they should be treated as a once in a while “treat”, not as a staple.
3) Eat more veggies! Man i have been missing out all these years. Veggies are a great way to introduce flavor and filler into your otherwise boring meals of beans/eggs/chili/whatever. Throw in a couple of shrooms, peppers and onions and its nearly-gourmet.
4) Drink water often. If you are a cubicle monkey, a good way to accomplish this (i’ve found) is with caffeine free black tea or mint tea in the afternoons.
5) Bear in mind that fruits are very high in sugar. Don’t exclude them, just keep that in mind.
6) Keep it interesting. I don’t know about you but I’m not living to suffer. Eat some pizza every once in a while, break the rules, go to Wendy’s, eat out with friends and family, have that delicious IPA. Life is for the living, and a diet that isn’t a lifelong lifestyle isn’t a diet, its recreation.

BTW, at first I had all intentions to let the pendulum swing strong, and eat lots and lots and work out like a fiend… but I had to stop and check my motivations. When I remembered the reason I began dieting, i realized that doing this would not be in line with my goals, so I decided to try to fall somewhere in the middle. I think that concept merits its own blog post, but I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder?

Question 1:
What are your motivations for dieting?

Question 2:
Is it possible that the key to better health is moderation?