Final Results: Eating My Dogfood

12 weeks ago I undertook the Dog Food challenge.
The challenge was to lose 25 lbs of fat and quadruple my strength.
My ultimate goal was to find sustainable habit changes that fit my busy lifestyle.

I experienced frustration and struggled in multiple areas:

The good news is I found science-based solutions that get real-world results.

Let me show you irrefutable proof of how I did it.

In 12 weeks I ate 133,501 calories and burned 44,049 calories through activity.
Daily I averaged 129g of protein and 105g of carbohydrates (versus targets of 150g and 100g respectively).

I logged every bite I ate and every move I made and provided detailed progress updates at Week 4 and Week 8.

My predicted fat loss is 26.1 lbs (13.6 from my nutrition and 12.6 from my fitness activities[2]).

I also gained 6.5 lbs of lean muscle and quadrupled my strength. [3]

Health Psychology

Change is hard. And sustaining change is even harder.

Why is that?

I see a typical pattern in my personal experience as an online coach and that of my clients.

This pattern also repeats in areas like high-tech and innovation. First there is a mountain of hype. Then a valley of despair. Then the press stops covering the topic. And in the resulting quiet, is (strangely) when the real results occur.

In the same way I was triggered to start this 12 Week Challenge because I was tired of feeling crappy. But I was excited because I used social support and social media and health apps to make things easier. But the truth is, I still had to struggle with my toxic health psychology. I worked hard to develop positive health psychology tactics and motivation habits to get me through all the challenges of finding time, staying active, dealing with travel, relationship stress, and my fear of personal failure.

The ultimate goal is to develop sustainable habit changes that fit busy lifestyles. I freely share these learning and tips in the hope that you can benefit and lead a healthier life.

(for the elite few that want to get to the next level I also offer virtual health coaching).

My Health Emotions

In my 12 week challenge I felt great the first 5 weeks. I was psyched and pumped. But around Week 7 I felt decreasing motivation and in Week 9 my weight loss plateaued. Week 10 I felt a strange mix of discouragement about my stalled fat loss, combined with feeling fitter and stronger. Week 12 my fat loss resumed with a “whoosh” and I finished my challenge by achieving my strength targets and coming within 2.5% of my fat loss target (which I predict will happen Week 13, see below).

I talk in detail about how my toxic health felt like at the beginning of my challenge. Later on I share what positive health feels like as I lose weight and improve my fitness.

  • Tip — Slow Down Fat: Losing 2 lbs (1 kg) a week is feasible but requires diligence and is stressful. Losing 1 lb a week is much more relaxed. For instance, many of my clients start in January with goal of a beach body by June. This takes 20+ weeks and is very doable.
  • Tip — Speed Up Fitness: If your body was a car and you drove it faster you would get to your destination faster. In the same way you can use my tips to accelerate your fitness and strength.
  • Tip — Lead Stronger: There are issues specific to leaders that can make health harder to achieve. In this podcast on executive health I talk about these challenges and offer detailed and practical solutions.

Strength Gains

This chart and table below shows my strength gains in the last 12 weeks.

My original objective was to quadruple my strength and that was successfully achieved[3] by increasing my protein intake and increasing my activity intensity. However, the majority (90+%) of my activity was simply walking per my plan.

I added 6.5 lbs of lean muscle (from 148 to 152.5 lbs). This closely matches the predicted muscle gain of 2 lbs per month for a non-athlete. If a health coach or gym trainer tells you can gain muscle faster than that, they are full of shit. Ask them for documented proof, like I give you or my clients give you.

Also noteworthy is that my pull-ups increased a lot more (433%) than my push-ups (82%). I suspect that’s because I’m not hoisting 23 lbs of excess fat like I was at the beginning. A 168 lb pull-up is a lot easier than a 191 lb pull-up. Here’s your proof:

Does This Fat Make Me Look Fat?

A word about looking strong.

My estimation is my muscular definition is 80% due to fat loss, and only 20% due to the extra 6.5 lbs of muscle. Consider bodybuilders who win based on looking strong: they spend half their season adding muscle (bulking phase) and the other 50% of their time cutting fat to show muscle better (competition phase).

Looking strong is the result of the Adonis Ratio (a shoulder to waist of ratio of 1.6). A study found that an abdomen that protrudes was the most unattractive physical trait for men.[4]

Scales Won’t Budge. WTF?!?

There comes a frustrating point when losing weight when the scales just won’t budge. This is doubly frustrating after the euphoria of initial progress we experience in the first few weeks. It is triply frustrating when the scales go up even though we are adhering to our nutrition and exercise plan.

And our frustration makes our health psychology harder too. We second guess our nutrition and activity choices. We are tempted to double down and try harder. We are tempted to throw up our hands and quit. We may succumb to the (incorrect) conventional wisdom that being healthy is too hard.

So what’s really going on?

The famous Minnesota Experiment observed that weight loss begins linearly, but after several weeks it becomes erratic and unpredictable. The famous so-called “plateaus and whooshes”.

It turns out that the body perceives itself in starvation mode and begins to resist weight loss, and even retains excess water (which is why the scales can plateau or even go up).

The solution?

Read on.

Breaking The Fat Loss Plateau

I hit a fat loss plateau on Week 9 and used a combination of the following tips on Weeks 10 and 11 to break through. You can see from the graph above that I broke through the plateau and resumed progress Week 12.

  • Tip — Stay the Course: No doubt, hitting a plateau is frustrating. If you are eating and moving right, one option is do nothing, and let your body “whoosh” when it is ready.
  • Tip — Hydrate: I purposely dehydrate a bit for long flights, passages at sea, or cross-country driving. Paradoxically this can cause water retention. My solution is to re-hydrate by drinking an extra 64 oz a day for 2 days following a long trip.
  • Tip — Check Meds: Some medications or supplements like Creatine can cause water retention. Where possible (consult your health care provider), try cycling off medications or supplements and see if that breaks the plateau.
  • Tip — Diuretics: A cup of coffee or glass of wine can act as a diuretic and trigger the body to release water. Frequency and adaptation are factors here. If I have a glass of wine a week, it rarely triggers a whoosh. But if I drink wine once a month, the chances of triggering a whoosh improve.
  • Tip — Cheat and Refeed: This is a tried and true technique used by bodybuilders and dieters. A big meal once a week seems to help take the body out of starvation mode, and put it back into weight loss mode. The idea is to up-regulate key fat-loss hormones (for those interested in more details please see [5] and [6]).
  • Tip — Take a Break: This is an extended version of the refeed strategy. The idea is to relax for a week and take the stress of exercise and calorie deprivation off the body. This reduces cortisol levels and is an effective tactic, provided you resume your weight loss plan afterwards.
  • Tip — Be Honest: I forgot to log a bag of ginger when cooking and some hamburger buns when eating out, totaling 3,660 calories which works out to a pound of body fat[7].

Things I’d Do Different

Losing fat and simultaneously gaining lean muscle is a delicate balancing act between anabolism and catabolism.

That’s why the pros like bodybuilders separate them into 2 separate phases: bulking and cutting.

After carefully analyzing my nutrition data I spotted a slight imbalance between anabolism and catabolism. My protein target of 150g a day (1g per lb of lean muscle) helped me add 6.5 lbs of muscle. But it was probably a tad high[8] considering I mostly walk for exercise and only lift weights once a weeks for 12 minutes. Any excess protein is converted to glucose (i.e. fat) . This works against my fat loss and contributes to the plateau effect. So I am revising this to 120g a day (0.8g per lb of lean muscle) and will report the results in 4 weeks time.

  • Tip — Habits not Calories: Ultimately the goal is to cultivate habits that fit our lifestyle and result in enjoyable and healthy living. Counting calories and measuring progress to loss fat or gain strength are not goals in and of themselves. Rather they are learning aids to develop healthy habits that are automatic and effortless.
  • Tip — Lean Meat: Based on my food logs, I will add more lean white meat (chicken, fish, turkey, shrimp) into my nutrition plan. Red meat has a lot more fat; the result being I hit my daily calorie limit due to fat before I could reach my protein goal.
  • Tip — Ditch the Supplements: Independent testing of supplements show that some contain pharmaceutical drugs while others contain mainly rice powder. You will be healthier and save money using my natural supplement strategy.

That Last 2.5%

Sharp-eyed readers will note that although I came close, I missed my fat loss goals by 2.8 lbs resulting in 11.5% body-fat instead of my target of 9%.

Based on my data trend-lines, its pretty reasonable to forecast I will hit my goal Week 13, without making any changes to my nutrition or exercise.

But in the interests of science and service to my readers, I am going to attempt something a little bit different.

A lot of my clients are interested in losing fat, specifically around their stomach. Without doing lots of exercise.

So I am going to attempt a 4 week cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) and reduce my exercise and report what happens.

I will document the process, data, and results for you in my update next month.

Stay tuned!

Can you do me a favor? Please “Recommend” this article if you think its helpful. Thanks!


References


  1. Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, Forbes
  2. Nutrition: 133,501 clarories eaten — 180,600 cal required for BMR= 47,099 cal / 3,500 cal/lb =13.5 lbs. Activity: 44,049 cal / 3,500 cal/lb = 12.6 lbs.
  3. As measured by my combined repetitions for pull-ups, push-ups, and squats at Week 1 (14+3+11.5=28.5) and Week 12 (62+16+33.5=111.5)
  4. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_attractiveness
  5. http://www.leangains.com/2010/01/how-to-deal-with-water-retention-part.html
  6. http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/calorie-partitioning-part–2.html/
  7. Food log discrepancy: candied ginger 1,700 cal + 14 buns x 140 cal = 3,660 cal = 1.05 lbs.
  8. The math of excess protein: 30g per day X 4 cal/g = 120 cal a day X 7 days X 12 weeks = 10,080 cal = 2.88 lbs fat.
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