Reverse Dieting?

A friend asked me what my thoughts are on “Reverse Dieting”, a method of manipulating metabolism to decrease body fat or weight. Is it something lifters should use? Is it healthy? What is the effect on performance?

Reverse Dieting Review

There’s a concept in “dieting” where knowing the total calories consumed and burned in a day will have a net loss or gain in weight. The standard recommendation is to drop 500 calories off of the daily intake, and since 3500 calories equals one pound, you’ll have a net decrease of one pound per week.

Except the body has millions of years of evolution that result in not wanting to wither and starve, so it makes it difficult to lose weight and body fat. Eventually metabolism is lowered in order to accommodate the lack of calories, and weight loss will stagnate.

Reverse Dieting adds a low percentage — around 5% per week — of calories back into the daily diet in order to raise the metabolism. A bunch of good things happen, and the person generally feels better, yet they still have a decrease in weight or fat because they’re overall caloric intake is still below their “pre-dieting level”.

get-low-calorie-soda-to-be-healthier-still-fatMy Response

Of course they are going to feel better when they add some calories; they were fucking starving! Look, I’m probably the wrong guy to ask about this. For one or two years my recommendation was pounding as much food as possible and drinking a gallon of milk a day. Kidding aside, here’s a full disclaimer, I wrote and sell a nutrition book — Paleo for Lifters — and don’t really like conventional nutrition wisdom, even the natural bodybuilding kind that is successful. And here’s why.

First, the concept of “dieting” bothers me. The word “diet” is a derivative of a Greek word that means “way of life”, implying that a “diet” is what you do all of the time, not just when you’re trying to lose weight or fat. My nutrition philosophy revolves around a base structure that can be tweaked towards a goal. We can call this base “the Paleo diet”, or we can say “not eating processed and inflammatory foods”…whatever. If food quality is consistently sound, then it solves a lot of weight and body fat issues without even getting specific. I’m not a weirdo who thinks the entire lifestyle needs to be predicated on Paleolithic populations, but remember what century you’re in; there’s a lot of horrible, shitty food out there, and the more you cut out all the chemical bullshit, the better.

Second, Reverse Dieting is based on a conventional idea that cutting calories solves the problem. Sure, diet is an important part of health and fat/weight loss, but it’s exponentially more effective with purposeful training. Another tenet of my nutrition philosophy is the training associated with it, and that’s strength training with barbells and high intensity conditioning. The hormonal effect from training, not “working out”, is so important, it can even overrule a shitty diet (yeah, I’m talking to you Dr. Kilgore!). Let’s assume someone is doing a decent job of exercising while Reverse Dieting, which leads me to the next point…

Third, there’s a hormonal effect from food. Dr. Barry Sears said it best with, “Food is a drug.” I understand the concept of not “violating the rules of thermodynamics” blah-fuckity-blah (such a pretentious thing to say about nutrition), but there are direct, secondary, and tertiary effects from the things you put in your mouth (more on that in “On Drugs and Supplements“). Calories obviously matter, but to ignore the fact that sugary corn syrup and a sweet potato have a very different effect means you a) don’t know how it’s different or b) don’t really give a shit. This isn’t the place to get into it, but food is a drug and will have an effect on hormone function, and not just insulin and its sensitivity. Merely cutting calories is a temporary solution, because if someone is fat, they need an entire paradigm shift of how to consume food, not merely having less of it.

Third, Reverse Dieting is one of those “counting calories” things. And aside from it being a giant pain in the ass, it makes people weird. More often than people want to admit, it makes them have a complex about their food, bodies, and self-esteem. Any coach or trainer who thinks they haven’t had a client with one of these issues must have got their certification for a few hundred bucks this past weekend. Even in my world — the one where people want to kick doors down, run fast, and throw some god damn iron around — there are people who get lost worrying about this stuff. I think everyone should be able to look at a few ounces of meat and know how much protein is in there and look at some fruit and know how many carbs they are about to eat, but counting calories and macros should be reserved for those really hard pushes for competition or losing body fat…after learning and implementing food quality.

Fourth, calorie cutting and Reverse Dieting isn’t good for performance. Again, I prefer to work with guys who want hairy chests and jacked backs, and women who want to squat more than most “men”, so “cutting calories” is the equivalent of a POW scenario. Most of these gimmicky diets are used by folks who only, or primarily, care about aesthetics. We train to get better at something, and the aesthetics are a byproduct of training. Instead, restructure how you eat, train intelligently, and then — and only then — jump into the weeds looking for tiny-ass insects like “macros” and “total calories”.

No, I don’t think Reverse Dieting is a good idea. I may not have explained it accurately, but I don’t think I care. I’m all about cleaning up food quality, eating protein to maintain or build lean body mass, eating carbs to match activity level, and eating fat to recover from elbow dropping training sessions. When people complain about Paleo being low-carb, they’re just stupid…just eat more carbs! This shit isn’t hard to explain, it’s just hard to do because it has to be done consistently.

I’m not into gimmick diets like Reverse Dieting, I’m into the “way of life” thing. Base your nutrition on real food — it was slaughtered or gardened within a couple days — without inflammatory effects, train smart, sleep more, and reap the reward. It’s easy to adjust, and there aren’t too many fat people who do it this way.

 

 

On Drugs and Supplements

I almost died.

I was in the bathroom of the football field house as a freshman in college. The offensive coordinator, a 6’5 290+ former offensive lineman, occupied one of the toilets in the cramped bathroom. The man lived on cheap coffee and cigarettes. And greasy food. And ash trays, garbage, and misery. I knew he lived on these things because I could distinguish all of them in the pungent, putrid odor from the horrible deuce he was dropping when I walked in to take a piss. I barely escaped without vomiting, much less my life.

Now that I think about that day ten years ago, I realize how horribly unhealthy that coach was. It makes me think about people who poison their bodies in the hopes of comforting themselves, feeling better, or even performing better. Let’s get a handle on what we’re doing to our bodies before we turn into a biohazard spill in a public bathroom.

Let’s break a healthy life down into practical components. There’s physical health, or the physiologic function of the body. There’s mental health, which more so concerns things like self-esteem, productivity, and education. Lastly, there’s emotional health which can encompass social health, spiritual stuff, and stress. I’m generalizing, but these are basic aspects of health. This website usually tries to maximize these areas in order to increase performance. For example, managing life stress effects sleep quality which plays a major role in training recovery. Time management will determine how much time we get to spend training in a week. These various aspects of health not only constantly interact with one another, but they are affected by things we consume.

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I really like how The Zone Diet’s Barry Sears put an emphasis on saying, “Food is a drug,” in his original book. He was explaining the hormonal response of food choices and its effect on health. But we need to remember that everything else you consume is a drug too, and drugs have intended results as well as secondary unintended results called side effects. Learning what substances do to our body is important for health. let’s look at what other substances we consume.

Other than food, there are:
Supplements – Things we consume in order to augment health or performance
Performance enhancement drugs – Things that have a more overt role in increasing performance and are usually illegal in the U.S.
Illegal Drugs – Things like marijuana or hard drugs that have a desired effect (and are usually illegal).
Vice Drugs – Legal things like caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, dipping tobacco that we indulge in for their effect. Some are worse than others.
Prescription Drugs – Things that are prescribed by a doctor to improve physical, mental, or emotional health, but always have undesirable side effects.

I don’t intend to insult your intelligence by naming these things, but it’s a growing list of things we put in our bodies that are going to dictate an aspect of health. For example, some of the above items are abused and have a significant negative impact on people’s lives, ranging from simple behavioral issues to suicide.

I’m not trying to jump into “worst case scenario scare tactics” to convince you to be healthy, but there’s a broad range of responses from drugs. There are different ways to improve physical, mental, and emotional health, but misusing or abusing any of the above substances will likely have a negative effect.

Let’s bring the Serious Factor down a little bit with a real world example. The Law Dragon was drinking lots of coffee and progressed up to 8 to 10 cups of cheap coffee a day. His energy level would fluctuate so he’d drink more coffee or give into sugar cravings. He would only sleep 4-6 hours a night and feel groggy upon waking. He’d start shutting down around 3pm, and when he left work at 6 to 8pm, he’d feel and look terrible; dark circles under the eyes, dehydrated despite drinking water, and his skin was pale and literally painful. His bowel movements were loose. Not to mention an overall trouble concentrating that led to more coffee…

A few weeks ago he decided to do the “grassfed butter in a higher quality coffee” once a day. The results were drastic. Energy levels stay up, no sweet cravings, getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep, refreshed in the morning, not shutting down, and skin and complexion have significantly improved. Bowels are normal, but overall there’s heightened concentration and temperament throughout the day.

Some of his results are directly from reducing the bad caffeine while others are probably results of results, but the fact is he got sucked into a common downward spiral with a beverage most of us drink every day.

And this brings me to my philosophy on drugs of all kind: start with none. Allow me to elaborate.

How many of you played sports? What did you always do in the first 15 minutes of each practice? Without fail, you probably worked on a fundamental aspect of your sport. It’s because you can never work on the fundamentals too much; they are the foundation upon which everything is built. Forgetting the fundamentals often leads to break down and defeat.

Focusing on the fundamentals leads to total health.

Focusing on the fundamentals leads to total health.

Physical health is predicated on the fundamentals: good food quality, hydration, and sleep. Until these basic health skills are covered, it isn’t even worth looking at adding anything else. That goes for building a supplement stack or just energy boosters like coffee.

Things like good communication, positive thinking, and a high self esteem may be fundamentals for mental and emotional health, but some times we consume food or drugs to make us feel a certain way. Substances and drugs should never be consumed to change our mood or behavior; they should only be consumed to augment them. In other words, you shouldn’t smoke weed to relax, drink alcohol to feel better, or take a prescription amphetamine to focus. If you indulge in these substances — and I don’t really care if you do — it should be for an effect on your already positive health while still being aware of the side effects. Responsible, healthy adults are capable of indulging in things like marijuana or alcohol without a negative impact, but I’m suggesting they should only indulge when their physical, mental, and emotional health is sound.

Personally I’ve never used any substances other than caffeine and alcohol — no illegal or performance enhancement drugs — but I’ve seen the negative consequences of all of the drugs I listed above. By ensuring your health fundamentals are sound, you can avoid all of the worst case scenarios as well as the side effects that otherwise negate physical, mental, or emotional health. If you can smoke weed without being a lazy piece of shit, or do steroids without throwing off your hormone profile, then that’s your prerogative. But if your health fundamentals are sound, you won’t really need those things.

Partake in the various drugs because you want to augment how you feel or function, not because you need to. You don’t need to supplement testosterone to build muscle or lose body fat. You don’t need amphetamines to study for your exam. What you need is to focus on the fundamentals. I’m not asking you to do a silly douche juice cleanse, but stop and look at what you’re putting into your body every day. Moderate that shit, eat more protein, clean your carbs up, drink more water, go to bed earlier, and do a relaxation drill five minutes each day. That’s all the cleansing you’ll need because the fundamentals trump drugs every time.

Protein Batter Snack

Need some calories? Protein? Want to satisfy that sweet tooth but keep the food items pretty clean? Here’s what you’re gonna do:

1. Put 1 to 3 tablespoons of a nut butter in a bowl.

2. Add a small amount of butter (grass fed is ideal).

3. Microwave it for 30 seconds.

4. Put a scoop of protein in. Stir it up.

5. Add in goodies for flavoring (cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla extract, etc.) or consistency (almond milk).

6. Consume.

Some people call this protein cookie dough. Some call it protein cake batter. I just call it a good time. Two tablespoons of most nut butters will yield around 16g of fat, 7g of carbs, and 7g of protein. Protein scoops will range from 20 to 28g (the latter is whey isolate). Add in a little extra fat from the butter (1/2 a tablespoon is about 5g). You end up with about 20g of fat, 30g of protein, and less than 10g of carbs for about 330 calories.

I consider all of these food items acceptable in my Paleo for Lifters approach. The only issue would be what kind of fat you’re getting from the nut butter, but if you’re training hard, otherwise eating clean, and still consuming some fish oil, I don’t think it’s a big deal. And, as my wife proved to me over the weekend, you can put almonds in a food processor and make almond butter, so other than the protein powder and whatever you use to liquify the mixture, there doesn’t have to be any not-clean ingredients.

I don’t drink milk, so slamming a glass of almond milk after eating this was particularly satisfying.

Dark chocolate almond butter works really well, but you could use regular almond or peanut butter. You could throw a square of dark chocolate in or add/subtract things like vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, and and almond milk for different effects. You could probably solidify it in the fridge, or drizzle it on bananas or strawberries. If you eat oatmeal, it’d probably mix pretty well in there.

It’s pretty caloric dense, so if you’re trying to lose body fat it may not be ideal. But then again, it might be better than engulfing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. If you were short on time, this is something you could make really quick and store in a small tupperware for the next day. Add a high density carb and it might be pretty good to take on a trail (assuming you’re at an altitude and work rate that can tolerate fat). Otherwise, enjoy this caloric dense snack.

The Feast

The premise of my nutrition philosophy is quality, non-inflammatory foods in appropriate macros to fuel performance. Improved body composition is a resultant or secondary goal. I use the Paleo Diet as a foundation; it is predicated on eliminating harmful foods from the diet as well as putting an emphasis on real food instead of edible processed items. Improving food quality will drop body fat off of people, but the uber Paleo approach is low on carbs.

The obvious solution — and I am baffled as to why people don’t intuitively do this — is to eat more carbs. In Paleo for Lifters I use potatoes as a primary source of carbohydrates as they are not a gut irritant and few things sound more manly than “meat and potatoes”.

It’s pretty simple: meat and potatoes, vegetables, fruit, and lots of quality fat. You can lift and train hard on this eating method. You can improve your health metrics like blood lipid profiles and blood pressure on this diet. Sometimes, you can even feast on this diet.

What is a feast? 

A feast is an event in a man’s life when he consumes a significant amount of food. Feasts are inherently at least 1.5 pounds of food; anything less is merely a meal. Feasts are memorable because of their sheer quantity, taste, or complexity. A feast should be so special, you can look back at it and say, “Remember that feast?” Everyone around you will stare with an unfocused gaze and nod their heads, “Yeah, I remember…”
Below is a modest feast.

Is food quality a concern? 

It depends. In Paleo for Lifters I give specific instructions to different population types. Are you fat and need to lose it? Are you skinny and need to gain muscle? Are you low body fat but could gain some weight? These scenarios will dictate the feast.

It’s entirely possible to have a Paleo for Lifters feast. Grill a few pounds of steak, a few rack of ribs, or a pork loin (or all three), throw in some taters with butter and go to town. But usually those feasts aren’t as fun.

If you’re concerned with health or body fat, then tighten your feast’s shot group. If you just want to have a sit down with the boys and feast your god damn eyes out, then make it official: have a feast.

How to feast? 

Feasts can be impromptu or planned, yet they need to be at least 1.5 pounds of food, preferably more. The only necessary ingredient for a feast is meat; a feast without meat is no different than your front lawn. You wouldn’t eat your lawn for half an hour, would you?

Make conditions as perfect as possible. Cook or grill it your favorite way. Get your favorite sauces, spices, or beverage. Ideally you should make it a group event. Men who feast in groups are happier, have higher T levels, and have bigger biceps.

You have two approaches to the feast: The Crush Method or The Marathon Method.

SSlam1988WarriorThe Crush Method – This is when you sit down, stare at your food for a fleeting, poetic moment, and then feast in the same manner that the Ultimate Warrior shakes the ropes. If you’re going for pure volume or you’re really hungry, this method is ideal.

My friend Jeremy (owner of CrossFit Annandale) has a Brazilian Mastiff who weighs at least 165 pounds. His name is Cane, and he “crushes” on a regular basis. Cane knows no other method. Jeremy gives him three or four chicken thighs, and Cane crushes. He snaps the bones and nearly swallows the chicken hole. We can all learn from Cane’s crushing ability.

The Marathon MethodChoose this method when in a large gathering. Barbecues, weddings, or reunions aren’t necessarily the time and place for The Crush Method. Instead, stay uncomfortably full throughout a day. Sample everything. Eat as many animals as possible (preferably already dead and cooked). Be merry. And if someone looks at you questionably, look at the women around you and shout, “OUR DIET STARTS TOMORROW! AM I RIGHT, GIRLS?”

The Meat Sweats

At some point in your feasting, you may notice a phenomenon known as “the meat sweats”. In the absence of dysfunctional kidneys, don’t let this deter you. It’s merely your body’s excited way of saying, “Yes! You’re doing it! Keep going!”

One of the guy’s I’ve trained returned home from a special operations selection. After several weeks of limited food intake, he had a hankering for a feast. He went to Krystal’s and ordered — and feasted upon — 24 Krystal burgers. He reported meat sweats so significant, it was dripping off his nose during the feast.

24 Krystal burgers may sound disgusting — because it is — but it’s an impressive feast.

And that, my friends, is what this is all about. Do something impressive. Do something memorable. Have a feast.

 

Chalk Talk #3 – A Word On Preparation

Some people want to be bigger. Some want less body fat. Everyone wants to be stronger. There’s a recurring theme with all of these goals: they can’t be accomplished by merely going to the gym. Performance, aesthetics, fitness, or health are all optimized by doing more than just a training session.

Today’s Chalk Talk briefly touches on the importance of preparation. How can you better prepare your nutrition? Training sessions? Mobility? Sleep? Relaxation? Post your answers to comments along with what you’ll do to improve.