In my last article, I talked about how I’ve lost 11 lbs. of fat over the past 11 weeks. The number isn’t what’s important – the fact that I did it while improving my performance and that I maintained all of my lean mass is what counts. In this article, I’d like to expand upon some of the things I learned from this journey.
First, let me say I’m no different than anyone else. Even though whole foods make up the base of how I eat, it’s the little extras I would rather not do without. For me (and a lot of people) things like sunflower seeds, dark chocolate macadamia nuts, or coconut milk smoothies are all healthy foods. They’re great additions when eating normally but they can also be overdone easily if you don’t pay attention. So when I first started counting (once again most people don’t do this) I began at 3,000 calories. My rest day calories were 2,000 but as most of you know, this number is the one that is most adjustable. More than once, I had to go down to about 1,500 calories and that told me something was off so I made the change. Right off the bat it was obvious something needed to give and if I wanted to hit my goals, I would once again have to drop my calories lower and add another rest day. That might not sound like a big deal if you are the type of person that doesn’t like the gym. However, if you are like me and everyone I know, the gym is a sacred spot where you get time with yourself and a community that supports you.
I know a lot of people are going to say “Wait, you ate 2,000 calories and you’re complaining about having to eat less?” Guess what: whenever you change a behavior, it’s uncomfortable. You have to know that going in, and it’s one of the reasons you need to be real careful about food choices. The way I eat makes my body more flexible overall and my recovery is better. I set my new rest day as Tuesday which meant I had Monday and Tuesday off and frankly I think that made a HUGE difference for a number of reasons but I will tell you why later. For now though, I will just say that Tuesday was the make or break day so if I had to eat less, it was gonna be on Tuesdays.
It’s not impossible to gain muscle in this scenario but I wouldn’t count on that. If it happens, it’s a bonus. Here are some tips to keep in mind when using what I would refer to as a “minimalist” approach to losing fat and maintaining muscle:
Normally I would have some carbs pre-workout, but on Wednesdays and some of the Tuesdays, I got pretty aggressive. When you are used to eating 3,000 calories a day, 1,500 calories is pretty drastic so just a sweet potato pre-WOD wasn’t going to cut it, which brings me to my next point.
Meals either fit your goals or they don’t. As your calories drop lower, you need to rely on more whole foods to keep you from being hungry all of the time. This is the main problem with the “calorie is a calorie” premise. Living on Nachos and Beer might seem like fun but what you realize is that you are hungry all of the time and you feel compelled to overeat. For this reason, I don’t believe in cheat meals. Find foods you like but don’t crush your calories, even on the days you workout. For me, that was and still is Chipotle. I get double meat with white rice and guacamole. It’s about 750 calories and I look forward to it every single time. I mostly get chicken but I mix in other meats on occasion.
Protein shakes have a place. As a general rule, I don’t drink protein on the days I work out. Some people do, but I mostly drink protein on rest days. When I can eat more freely it’s easy to hit my protein numbers, but it can be difficult to do on rest days because my calories are lower and food options change a bit. So they make more sense on rest days for me.
Eating out can de-rail you. That Chipotle meal I mentioned earlier? That’s 750 calories depending on the meat. The problem with eating out or “cheating” with certain foods is that there are a lot of added calories. That’s how they get it taste so damn good! For years my wife and I would go to this one pizza place on date nights and eat in a relatively unrestricted way. The place is almost as famous for their salads as they are for the pizza, so we would always start with one of those. Most of the time we would split a 12” pizza but occasionally we would have a 16 inch. Guess what? The 12” pizza has 2,100 calories in it. I had no reason to ever know this before I started keeping track, but I can tell you for sure that knowing this information changed my behavior. With a salad (which also tastes good for a reason) sometimes the meal would get close to 3,000 calories. Even splitting it, that’s 1,500 calories in one meal that isn’t all that filling, which brings me to my last point.
Have energy dense foods WITH meals – don’t use energy dense foods AS meals. In the mornings I don’t always feel like making breakfast so sometimes I have Greek yogurt with granola and honey (this would typically be on a workout day). The problem is that the brand I eat only comes in a 7 ounce container sometimes and that never seems like enough. Of course, if I ate two I would need more granola and more honey and when you break it down, you essentially just had ice cream for breakfast and added twice the calories.
The goal of eating more freely isn’t JUST to eat energy dense foods – it’s about how the food fits into your goals. If you aren’t smart that is exactly what will happen; you’ll start eating without purpose. The best thing you can do in that instance is to have a couple of pork chops and some eggs along with your yogurt. It will be more satiating because there is more volume and it will keep you from overeating on yogurt. That is the problem with allowing yourself to get too hungry – you want the easiest possible food available. If you don’t prepare, “moderation” becomes excess quickly.
P.S. If you crave something specific, just have it. That way it doesn’t weigh on your brain. One idea is to have it before bed. This will give your body the chance to reset overnight and if you are hungry in the AM you will have more time to prepare and make a better choice. Just plan your meals around it and you will fine. All throughout this process I have had things I enjoyed.