The First 50 Pounds

They say the last 10 pounds are the toughest to lose, and they would be correct. That's because when you get down to the last 10 pounds and do a bunch of cardio, maybe some weight training, you are actually changing your body composition, building dense muscle and replacing less dense fat tissue. I don't know for sure, but when I weighed 250 pounds, my body composition was somewhere around 40-45 per cent fat. INSANE! Almost half of my entire weight was just fat! Ugh. When there's that much fat on your body, weight reduction is easy. I would say 90 per cent of my first 50 pounds was all dietary, maybe more.

On Aug. 22, 2011, my BMI was 37; I was in the category of "Obese Class II." While BMI is not exact, it is a fairly accurate starting point. For months leading up to this start date, I did a lot of reading. After reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes and The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss, I started digging into the science a little further.

While both books do a great job of helping you understand the science of your body, I found Taubes to be too academic and Ferriss to be too much of an experimenter. When I teach improv, I tell my students to constantly seek understanding; I wanted understanding, I wanted to arm myself with knowledge, with science.

Metabolic Manipulation

I refer to the process of fat burning as metabolic manipulation, because... well, that's what you're doing, manipulating your metabolism. Your metabolism has two functions -- catabolism and anabolism:

  1. catabolism: the process of breaking down matter to harvest energy (this is the process used in fat reduction)
  2. anabolism: the process of using energy to construct cellular components such as proteins (this is the process used in muscle development)

There are two types of fat (adipose) tissue. Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) fat cells, which are the furnace room of your body and keep your core temperature stable, and White Adipose Tissue (WAT) fat cells (like you see on a steak), which store energy for fuel to keep your furnace running.

The first law of thermodynamics states, in a much more scientific way than I will attempt to, that energy cannot be created or destroyed it can only change forms or flow from one place to another. We typically think of "burning calories" when we think about fat reduction. Since a calorie is the scientific unit by which we measure energy, that is understandable. However, what typical diets or fat loss programs that focus on caloric reduction don't tell you is that your system actually transforms (changes forms) energy from stored calories to work or heat.

In fat reduction, we need to break down stored energy (the glucose in your WAT cells) in order to transform it to work or heat. No matter what the diet or exercise, the only way to get rid of stored fat is to convert that energy into work or heat. The only way to begin accessing that stored energy in WAT is to deplete your liver glycogen stores and enter ketosis. To get to ketosis, you only need to do one thing: stop eating carbs. Period.

Carbs = Poison

Simply put, carbohydrates (carbs) are sugars (saccharides) and you technically do not need to ingest sugar. Why? Your body is a magic machine that can actually synthesize its own sugar, in the form of glucose, from amino acids and glycerol through gluconeogenesis.

Carbohydrates are the enemy of weight reduction. When I used to walk into a convenience store, I would want the chocolate bars, chips and other junk food. Now, when I walk into a store and look at the chocolate bars, my brain tells me that everything is poison. Literally. I look at the counters and think, "Poison. Poison. Poison. Poison. Also poison."

The great thing about metabolic manipulation, though, is that in order for you to be able to lose weight, you have to eat carbs in order to trick your metabolism into thinking you're not starving. What? Didn't I just say you need to stop eating carbs? Yes. Yes, I did.

In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss recommends a system of eating slow carbs combined with having one carb day every week. I found that my weight recovery from carb days took two to three days, only leaving me with three or four days of fat reduction. I shifted to having carb days every 10-14 days and that allowed me to stay in ketosis longer, and burn fat for more days.

Every 10-14 days, I would begin to plateau and stop losing weight. What was happening is that my body began to think I was not getting the energy I needed from the food I was eating, so it would start to enter "survival mode," burning less stored glucose (in the WAT cells) by slowing down my metabolism. In order to trick my body into thinking I was not starving -- which I wasn't, anyway -- I needed to reset my metabolism by having carbs, a lot of them.

Some people call this a "cheat day" but since it's an important component of the metabolic reset process, I call it a "reset day" or, simply, a "carb day."

On my carb days, I have cinnamon rolls, fruit, pizza, bread, burgers with BBQ sauce and other goodies like ice cream. When I explained my diet to my friend Mike Roy, he said, "It sounds like you eat a Brazilian BBQ all week long and then on Sunday have nothing but desert." My response: "Yep."

Technically, it's not quite that drastic, but it's pretty close and pretty awesome! As I write this post, I'm cooking a big fat steak in chipotle marinade.

Arm Yourself With Knowledge

Don't take my word for it. Understand the science of your body. I have explained a bunch of things I've learned, but I've also linked pretty heavily to articles on all of this information. Arm yourself with knowledge and you make it easier to seek understanding.

Blindly following a fad diet or following someone else's diet (Adkins, 4-Hour Body, Bernstein, South Beach, etc.) is just bad juju. If you don't understand the process and the science you won't be in a position to make the changes and tweaks to your diet that are required for your body. You have to listen to your own body, and you can't do that unless you know what it's telling you. You can't know what your body is telling you unless you understand its chemical processes.

I highly recommend putting together your own meal plans, even if you borrow, adopt and adapt them from one or more diets. Since I love meat, most of my food was meat and protein based. If you're a vegetarian or vegan, you will need to spend some time researching which veg have the highest levels of carbohydrates -- potatoes and corn immediately come to mind.

If you love fruit like I do, save those strawberry and pineapple bowls for your carb days. Fruit and fruit juices are pretty much pure sugar in the form of fructose. This is one of those areas where people who have not studied the science will say things like, "fruit is good for you," or "fruit gives you vitamins and nutrients," or the very scientific response, "but it's fruit!" The only compelling argument is the one about vitamins. The solution is simple: supplementation. Whatever vitamins and nutrients you need that you can't get from veg, you can get in a handy pill at your local pharmacy.

A Note About Supplements

If you're cutting out carbs completely, it will do weird things to your brain, and you will experience symptoms similar to hypoglycemia. In order to offset that, you should increase your intake of Omega-3. I took three pills a day. If you are a women, you might want to take something that includes Omega-6 and Omega-9. I have just shifted from straight Omega-3 supplements to one that also includes Coenzyme Q10, for its antioxidant benefits.

Additionally, I take vitamins B6 and B12, but not B2 or a B-complex (B-50 or B-100 are just multi-vitamins that contain many B-vitamins and other vitamins; they are referred to as complexes). I also take: vitamin C; supplements that include EGCG (antioxidant), conjugated linoleic acid (for body composition), and hydroxycitric acid (promotes fat oxidation); a 1:1 calcium and magnesium supplement with Vitamin D3 (since it's winter); PGX Daily (for weight management and cholesterol); and finally, creatine (the only proven supplement to help with muscle building, during high-intensity anaerobic exercise).

50 Pounds Later

After a 50 pound weight reduction my BMI has dropped two classifications into the "Overweight" category, just barely. I now focus more on building muscle mass and body fat percentage. I am working to ultimately get my BFP down to 9%; currently it's about 27%.

The knowledge I gained in the research phase leading up to the start of my dietary shift was the ultimate success factor for me. I promised myself that once I hit 200 pounds I would join a gym and become more active. I know that the first 50 pounds was dietary, and if I need/want to reduce weight rapidly again, I know how to do it.