As the old proverb goes: never let a crisis go to waste. While I’d rather the pandemic had never happened it did give me a great opportunity to lose weight. Since I didn’t need to go to work I could prepare my own food and measure it. Add to that the fact that restaurants, bars and pubs were closed for a long time and so there would be less temptation to go “off plan.”
Dieting had been on my mind for a while as I’d been going through cycles of bulking and cutting and around halfway through April it seemed like a good time to cut back. But one thing I’ve learned in the past months is that I don’t want to go through those cycles anymore. Instead of I’m going to try and “gaintain” (most people online are calling it “main-gaining” but I think gaintain is catchier): eat at maintenance calories and very slowly add muscle. I’m tired of my weight going up and down, up and down. Always having to buy new clothes and go from one extreme to the other.
Also, before we start, I need to admit something: I used to be a card carrying ketogenic dieter who went along with each new study and used to believe things such as seeing fructose as unhealthy. I’d like to say I’ve turned a corner here and have returned to a place of somewhat simplicity with a focus on moderation, but, and here’s the disclaimer, our opinions and actions change over time. It’s not worth being an extremist in any viewpoint because then you have scope to get a lot of egg on your face. Therefore what I’ve written here is merely my opinion and process at this point in time.
There was nothing special to how I lost weight. I simply put myself in a calorie deficit and tracked it using My Fitness Pal. I’d weigh myself each morning, after my daily ablutions, put that in a spreadsheet, and then calculate the median weight each week. My aim was to lose 0.5% to 1% of my median weight each week and if the amount lost strayed too close to the lower end of that range I’d decrease the calories a little bit. A little further along the line I started to increase my cardio to achieve the weight loss rather than decreasing my calories.
In order to find my maintenance calories I actually did something which I wouldn’t now recommend. At the time I was watching John Meadow’s YouTube channel and he recommended multiplying your weight by 14 – 16 to find your maintenance. If I was to do this all over again then I would simply track what I was eating for a couple of weeks and monitor my median weight, before adjusting the calories to reach the desired weight loss. It might seem tempting to begin the diet today but if you drastically underestimate your maintenance calories then you’ll unnecessarily lose muscle. On the flipside if you overestimate your calories then you’ll just end up gaining more fat. This is why I’d recommend just eating as you are and tracking for two weeks before adjusting. The extra benefit is that you’ll get two weeks of practice using My Fitness Pal.
This deserves a section of its own. I tracked nearly everything that I ate and that includes most sauces and green vegetables. I only didn’t track something if it would have had less than five calories in it such as diet soft drinks or an extremely low calorie sauce. It’s interesting to track in this way because it opens your eyes to the calories that you’re consuming; you’d be surprised. And though this might all sound tiresome once you’re in the groove of tracking your calories it becomes very easy to do so.
One point of note is that you can never truly count your calories accurately. It will only ever be an estimate since you don’t always finish every last bite of food or every last drop of sauce. Each piece of meat, for example, is unique and so you never know if you’re getting more or less fat. The way to see your calorie tracking is on a best efforts basis and that, over time, on average, you’re consistently biased. So if you happen to always underestimate your calories by 5% then that’s fine because when you see that you’re not losing weight at a reasonable pace you’ll just reduce them a bit. It’s best to see things in comparison – this week is less on average than last – to each other rather than a standalone observation of “I ate X calories today.”
Measuring Progress and Goals
I used this set of scales to weigh myself each day and then recorded my weight in a spreadsheet. Using a scale like these is fun in the sense that it “reads” your bodyfat percentage as well as a bunch of other metrics, but remember to treat it only as fun as it’s never going to be accurate. In fact, the only quantifiable metric which is accurate (and I include calories in that list) is your weight. Let weight be the guide of how you’re doing. The other metric I pay attention to is how I look in the mirror.
My initial goal was to lose 20 lbs; I started at 265 lbs. I thought that that would get me to the body I wanted but as per usual I had to double that goal. Now I’m 40 lbs in and have told myself that I’ll need to lose another 10 to 15 lbs to really reach my goal. That goal is to have visible abs. It’s a trap inasmuch that we always want to be leaner and have bigger muscles. You can’t ever be truly satisfied with the way that you look, and so you need to settle for being 80% satisfied, I reckon. I estimate (strong emphasis on estimate) that once I’ve dropped those final lbs I’ll be at or around 15% bodyfat and imagine that would be a great balance between leanness and size (the issue with being a lower bodyfat is that you look small with clothes on).
As mentioned previously I plan on gaintaining once I’ve cleared away those final lbs and will aim to at most gain six lbs in the coming year. I imagine that I’ll be able to finish dieting and return to maintenance calories at some point in February. I’ll be halving the amount of cardio that I do as well so I’ll need to go though the same phase of finding my maintenance calories given my change in calories burned. I’ll be tracking this using my weight and I’ll be fairly sure it’s muscle gain if I see a strength increase during that period. I’ll also be keeping an eye on the mirror to stay the same rough bodyfat %.
I will still be counting calories and plan on doing so for two years before trying to phase it out. My problem in the past was that once I gave myself “permission to bulk” I simply ate too much. In counting calories I give myself a stark reminder of how much I’m eating. Plus, the app prompts you to add your weight each day and so I won’t be able to escape as easily.
Another hope of mine is that I’ll be able to maintain the same bodyfat % for life, give or take a percent due to various celebrations or the change in seasons. However I’m well aware that each person has a setpoint and that I simply may not be able to maintain 15%. Right now I have the motivation of the diet and that powers me through each day but what about when that motivation goes away? Only time will tell.
One of the triggers for me to diet was that I began to watch more bodybuilding YouTube channels and they talk a lot about calories and calorie counting. I’d done it before and so decided to do it again and here we are.
One of those channels was Greg Doucette’s and that’s been the main inspiration for what I’ve been eating. In summary: low calorie dense foods. Foods that have a lot of volume but not as many calories. Or foods that have comparatively less calories than their high calorie counterparts. So for example eating chicken breast rather than chicken thigh, getting no fat dairy products than whole, using sugar free sauces and syrups, etc. Greg Douette sells his own cookbook, which I’m sure you’ve heard of since he promotes it in each video, but I don’t actually own it. I’ve just gradually changed what I ate with this idea in mind and used his videos (as well as a group of other YouTubers videos) for inspiration on what to eat. But if you want the information right now in a concise format then just buy his cookbook.
That takes care of the first problem of dieting: hunger. By stretching out the stomach with low calorie dense foods (which also tends to involve eating a lot of fibre) I was able to avoid feeling hungry.
The second problem of dieting is restricting yourself to “healthy foods.” The thing is you still really want to eat junk food like pizzas, burgers, etc. I was able to get around that problem by making my own versions of those foods at home. And the thing is, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I’m near 100% certain that I’ll eat takeaway foods again, and in fact during my diet I have eaten them from time to time. The important thing is that rather than having that particular takeaway food, say, once a month, it might be once every six months. Or when I went to eat that particular takeaway I was (will be) happy to have a reasonable portion and not five different items.
Having those homemade foods goes a long way in addressing those cravings and this is something which is much better than the last time I dieted. My problem beforehand would be that I’d eat a low carb diet and end up craving junk food. Then if I’d go out and drink I’d give in to those cravings and eat a tonne of calories. It’s much better in the long run to have a diet which permits these kinds of foods: it’s better to be 80% healthy forever than 100% for a year then 50% healthy the year after, etc.
As far as macronutrients are concerned I’ve been eating roughly 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight, which adds to the satiety of the diet, but I had no other rules for macronutrients. I wanted to completely avoid bingeing and restricting on this diet and so don’t do any kind of carb cycling. I’d rather just eat roughly the same kinds of food day to day, week to week, and avoid building up any kind of unhealthy desires to binge.
I could say that I follow an 80:20 clean to junk food ratio but in all honesty I have no idea. Plus, what counts as junk? Does a low calorie syrup count as junk food? Perhaps, but then again it helps me to maintain a lower weight and avoid the health risks associated with being overweight and obese. On the flipside, would eating a grass fed cut of steak be healthy? Probably, but too many calories and you gain weight again. I don’t have an aim for how much “clean food” and how much “junk food” I eat as long as I hit my protein goal each day and stay below my calorie limit. It’s just that when you’re trying to eat low calorie dense foods you do tend to fill yourself up with a lot of vegetables.
On the note of things being unhealthy: I have no problems at all with artificial sweeteners and caffeine. The sort of stuff that people consider unhealthy. These things don’t affect my skin or sleep and so I consume them a lot.
When it comes to meal times / nutrient timing I’m also following an approach of moderation: five meals of even calories spread evenly throughout the day.
These are the supplements I use daily, all of which I purchase from My Protein:
- Omega 3
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Whey and casein protein powders
Here’s an example day’s eating for me:
- Breakfast: protein shake and anabolic french toast (made with egg whites rather than whole eggs)
- Lunch: low calorie wraps (I use Sainsbury’s gluten free wraps since they’re low calorie and higher in fibre) with lean meat or fish
- Snack: popcorn and a pot of pineapple cottage cheese or some other protein source like a pack of pre-cooked meat
- Dinner: homemade pizza or red lentil / green pea pasta with lots of vegetables and lean meat or fish
- Pre-Bed: casein shake or high protein yoghurt
I used to fully believe that “cardio kills gains” and therefore I shouldn’t do it. I’ve had a mindset shift now and incorporate cardio every day in the form of walking and will continue the habit even when the diet is over. I really enjoy walking (even when it’s not Daygame related!) and it’s incredibly low impact so it doesn’t affect my muscle gains. I’ve got a pedometer app on my phone which I recommend everyone get, even if just to highlight how much activity you do day to day.
In the future I’d like to expand the cardio I do into something that gets my heart rate up more but which is still low impact. Maybe cross training or incline walking. I’ve found that by jumping into more intense cardio straight away my appetite goes up and so I’ve learned that I need to build into that kind of cardio over time. By doing something slightly more intense I can burn the same number of calories in less time too, which is nice.
The great thing about cardio is that it let’s you lose more weight or eat more while still losing weight. That might sound simple but it helps to deal with the psychological element of dieting. You might have an idea of what a plate of food should look like. If you don’t incorporate cardio then that plate of food just gets smaller and smaller as you reduce your calories. Alternatively you can keep that plate of food as big as it was and instead burn those calories off.
Going “Off Plan”
If I’m going out for a meal or for drinks then I’ll simply push the calories for two meals together and use those. So for example if I was eating 2500 calories a day, which for a long time I was, I’d be eating 500 calories per meal, roughly, and would separate 1000 calories for the eating/drinking out. I’d also try and see the menu and plan out what I was going to have before I’d left the house. Given that I followed the steps in the section on food it meant that, together with picking my food/drinks beforehand, I’d be much less likely to binge when I went out.
The funny thing is that since alcohol is a diuretic I’d commonly weigh less on the days after going off plan since my water weight would be down.
The other way to look at it is that if you’re normally in a calorie deficit that when you eat out, and your calories are higher, you’re simply at maintenance.
Then, as it’s said often, the most important thing is to simply get back “on plan” (i.e. back to your calorie limit) the next day. It’s better to practice sticking to your calorie limit rather than having a high calorie day followed by a low calorie day since that encourages bingeing.
I think you actually need to have those moments off plan so that you learn how to get yourself back on the wagon, which is a skill in and of itself. For the perfect dieter the risk is that the pressure builds up for so long that they go on some insane binge and then start seeing dieting as this monolith where every action needs to be on point. In reality you only need to make a tiny improvement day to day and it adds up.
All in all given that England was locked down for many months, but then reopened for many months, and I was Daygaming during those open months, we can see that the diet succeeded. Daygaming and dieting are not mutually exclusive.
Before signing off I’d like to return to what I said in the introduction: that this is what I think right now. Things are liable to change. But I think that in following the above that anyone can lose at least a bit of weight and keep it off which can contribute to a much better quality of living. In losing weight and looking better the world simply reacts to you in a much more pleasant way. Plus, you’ll have a much higher opinion of your own looks. Put together and it becomes a long lasting contribution to your self esteem.