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.

 

 

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 Method – Choose 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.

 

How do I reach these keeds?

I overheard some young guys — around 20 to 23 years old — talking about training. They were very enthusiastic and were seemingly sharing “insider knowledge”. One of them talked about a specific type of protein he bought from GNC, how it was good for “building”, and how he would transition into another kind in order to “maintain”. The other referenced his “older brother” and how “he said” that another product was very good, and that he only uses that brand. Then he talked about his older brother went and talked with people at GNC and Gold’s Gym for, “like, half an hour” to learn about working out and stuff. “He’s insane,” he said.

Most of you saw the words “GNC”, guffawed, and knew where this was going. The truth is, we were all there at one point. I remember carrying around a couple issues of Muscle and Fitness for reference (I was 17). One in particular was an barbell-only program. It was actually pretty useful at the time, because it was a poor, haggard man’s strength program that used barbells. Weird, huh?

There are thousands, possibly millions of guys like this. They are young, alarmingly skinny or small, yet enthusiastic. Those “conventional fitness” resources that they read may help them get a bit more muscular, but they’ll be horribly inefficient. A strength program with compound, systemically stressful movements with appropriate rest and caloric intake will work much faster. If they wanted to squat, bench, press, and row for sets of 8 to 12 reps, they will be able to use more weight if they were stronger. Getting stronger will result in bigger muscles. It’s a pretty simple formula that isn’t really preached by the alleged “experts”.

I wanted to intervene in the conversation. I wanted to say, “Look, do three sessions a week of a squat, a press, and a pull, eat over a pound of meat a day, and get a good night’s rest. That’ll be exponentially more beneficial than buying shitty protein powders and talking to weirdos with sea shell necklaces and shaved chests.”

But I didn’t. They never listen to a stranger. Before I started 70’s Big, I remember telling some high school football players in a Gold’s Gym, “Stop playing with these dumbbells and go over there and squat every time you come in here.” They didn’t squat that day. Fuck me, right?

I hate when people write critiques of training programs, methodologies, or how stupid people are without some sort of solution to the problem. For example, I talk about how much I hate hipsters, or vegetarians, or society’s notion that females should be starving and men should be shorn waifs, so my Revolution articles end with proposed action.

In this case, young and dumb kids may not listen to what you have to say, but maybe we should try? Maybe you can help them in one small way by suggesting they squat more often, eat meat instead of powders, or stop worrying about “body parts” and get stronger. But, your words will mean much more if you are a big, jacked, strong guy instead of merely being decently strong and kind of fat.

Eat clean food, jack fucking steel around, and don’t be as douchey as the roiding tanned weirdo who smashes sets of incline bench to pre-exaust his pecs and you might have a chance at reaching these kids. But it starts with you and your success.

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Popular Feminist On Masculinity

we-can-do-it-man-posterA 70’s Big reader named Darren posted an article, Camille Paglia: A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues, that I found very interesting. I had never heard of Camille Paglia before; she’s feminist that I agree with. Weird.

You might be wondering why the hell I’m posting about this considering this is a website dedicated to strength training. If you have followed this site for a while (or read through the extensive archive) you know that improving body image is a point of emphasis. From a male’s perspective I put an emphasis on being manly, muscular, capable, and brawny (see Be A God Damn Man). The emphasis on thin, hipster, goober-faced celebrities influences (stupid) young males into imitating them because (stupid) young females consider that style and body image to be attractive. I even started “revolutions” about short shorts, flannel, and tank tops for muscular readers to make a concerted effort into exhibiting manliness against the societal norm (women can have a similar revolutionary effect just by lifting weights).

From a female’s perspective, I want females to spit on the idea of emaciation and starvation and understand that a strong woman is attractive, appealing, and ideal (see What is sexy?). For over a year I posted a female topic every Monday to a) get women into strength training and b) facilitate their transition into a healthier body image (Peculiarities of Female Training is one of many examples).

The point is that 70’s Big has always been concerned with gender roles in society and in relation to each other. I feel that these are related to the direction that society and America have headed; there’s a resonating theme of pussification. I don’t mean that in a “I’m a crusty old man and think everyone is a pussy,” kind of way. I mean that people are unwilling to accept any personal responsibility and want to be coddled. Hard work and busting one’s ass is an after thought, especially since somebody else will end up taking care of you anyway.

Technology is amazing and I love it, but people allow themselves to be enslaved by it. Nobody really does anything and they are content with this fact; it’s easier to provide acute entertainment with some kind of pixelated screen. I’m not against watching TV, playing videogames, or surfing the internet, but I am against complacency. I believe that no person should ever plateau and that they should continuously work to be better. They should improve their intelligence, their emotional capability, their physical prowess, their health, and so on. I try to exhibit the thirst for knowledge and success through the content on this site. There’s an agenda here, and it’s focused on your individual improvement to help the general improvement (though the latter is a lofty and possibly naive goal).

Whether you realize it or not, your training and lifting means something. Are you experiencing an eternal struggle of personal growth and introspection? How will you respond in a moment in which all of the odds favor failure? Can you summon the courage and intensity to finish that pull or to stick the jerk? Or is your training a reminder that success comes with not only a price, but a slow, grinding process that leaves your sweat and blood behind you as you step towards your goal. Or is the end product what matters; that you stand at the top of the mountain and revile in the days, the hours, the minutes that it took for you to squat 405, or 500, or 600 and so on. Or is it a tool that improves your self confidence, letting you be more bold at work or with the opposite sex? Or is it something that effects your gender role and exhibits masculinity or a powerful woman? 

It could be all of these things at once, and that’s why we train.

When I saw the originally linked interview with Camille Paglia talking about how masculinity is being stripped from American society as early as grade school, it makes me think of our place in the system. She says a lot of thought provoking things that defy conventional wisdom and “societal norms”, and I applaud her for it. I agree with her take on “‘equal-opportunity feminism’ that demands a level playing field without demanding special quotas or protections for women”. I agree with her assessment that a lack of masculinity has a massive trickle down effect that even influences corporate or governmental decisions.

A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a “revalorization” of traditional male trades—the ones that allow women’s studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).

 

The above is one of Paglia’s solution to dwindling masculinity. It’s a good idea, but one that, like most good ideas, will either not happen or will fall short. It’s an interesting thought in an interesting topic. Paglia is all over the place — the WSJ editor pointed out, “Talking to her is like a mental CrossFit workout” — but I was impressed with Paglia. Yet, after my nodding in agreement or standing ovations, I think back to wondering what we can actually do to help the problem or issue.

My only solution is to keep lifting weights; it solves most problems, right?

A note to the Average Woman…

I wrote this for a friend of mine and some ladies she trains. I figured I’d post it here, because I spent some time writing it for the specific audience. I’m not saying there will be droves of women wanting to lift after I post it, but if you have any friends that should see it, print it out and show them.

Hi. I’ve heard that you are starting or thinking about starting a new exercise program. Your new exercise program may be CrossFit, P90x, boot camp, or any related intensity based conditioning activity. Your goals in starting this program will probably revolve around wanting to be sexy, healthy, and physically able to enjoy an active lifestyle. I commend you on your choice because it’s the first step in achieving those goals. Your program choice may even be the gateway to sport and/or athletic activity. In any case, there is a lot to learn regarding what is best to achieve your goal, because, well, conventional wisdom hasn’t been truthful to you.

Since you are investing time and money into an exercise program I’ll have to assume you are decently serious in achieving your goals. It’s perfectly fine to want to be sexier or healthier. However, “sexier” is typically interpreted as “losing weight” and “toning up”. What this ACTUALLY means is “losing body fat and having some muscle underneath it to have a nice figure”. Losing weight will just make you skinny. Skinny is not good.

Exhibit A. Skinny=Fail

Losing body fat to get sexy isn’t only about burning and eating less calories: you must alter your metabolism in the short and long term. Exercising in a way that forces your body to optimally metabolize fat and produce lean body mass is imperative for quick results. Nothing does this better than getting stronger through weight training. I realize weight training has a horrible stigma, so I’m taking the time to highlight some of the perks that lifting weights can provide on your journey to a great body and health.

None of the women I have ever coached gained body fat from lifting weights. In fact, they lost body fat while gaining muscle. This happens because lifting weights elevates your metabolism while you’re doing it AND for the rest of the day. A higher metabolism means you’re burning more calories. Doing cardio at a moderate intensity doesn’t elevate your metabolism at all after you stop doing it. High intensity based conditioning/cardio exercise has a similar, albeit lesser, metabolic effect when compared to lifting, but it doesn’t have the same strength and muscle building properties as lifting weights.

When you lift weights, you break up muscle fibers. Your body needs to repair them and improve them so they can either handle more in the future or handle that same load easier. That whole process elevates the metabolism, it makes you stronger, and it will increase the muscle tissue (a little). But you will NOT be getting bulky. You literally have one tenth the testosterone of a guy, and that means you won’t be building muscle very easily. If you haven’t been a muscular woman your whole life, why would you suddenly become “bulky” now? Unless you’re using some kind of steroids, you don’t have anything to worry about.

Lucky for you, muscle tissue is “metabolically active tissue”. This means that the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the better it will metabolize fat. Getting stronger means more muscle which means less fat. To top it off, you’ll be building muscle in your legs and rump, and this will garner positive attention from men and women alike. Whether you are skinny or a bigger gal, squatting and deadlifting shapes your booty in the most desirable way.

Lifting positively effects your metabolism for fat burning purposes and can help shape you into that appropriately curvy figure you’ve always wanted, but that isn’t all lifting is good for. More muscle mass and less body fat have tons of health implications. You’ll find that you don’t get sick as much, you’re able to handle viruses/infections easier, you won’t feel fatigued throughout the day, and you’ll start improving on all of those little tests doctors like to give you on your yearly check ups (not the gyno, the real, non-creepy doctor). Bone density will no longer be an issue because you’ll surpass the credentials for “weight bearing exercise” by training with a barbell. When you are stronger, your conditioning workouts will be more effective because you’ll be able to do more work, go faster, and/or go longer. If you are doing any of these three things, then you’re getting more worth out of the time you are exercising than you were when you were weak (i.e. you get sexier/healthier faster). If you’re going to invest the money and time, you might as well use it optimally!

Whether it be feeling better, getting in shape, looking better, or being more healthy, weight training will help get you there. As you get stronger you’ll be delighted to see your lifts increase gradually yet steadily. When you’re squatting 120 pounds, you’ll look back and think, “I used to only squat 45 lbs…I’ve come a long way.” All women who lift cite this sense of empowerment they get from lifting as an exhilarating feeling (in six months you’ll be able to lift more than most “men”). I’m not suggesting that lifting weights should be your primary training method, but when your trainer suggests or implements it, don’t give her so much hell. The fact that getting you stronger is part of her plan means you hired the right person.