Once Upon a Time…
I tried to do this 12-week experiment last August when I was about 180 pounds. The idea was to fast for an entire day, one day per week, and get down to around 170, which would mean losing less than one pound per week… incredibly doable. However, I had some unrelated medical things come up that, besides adding stress, led to me having to give up the fasting for a while. Along with new job stress and the holiday season (which seems to begin on Halloween in Tennessee, right?), I got up to about 195 by New Year’s Day 2014. Now, that isn’t obese, but I wasn’t happy with myself. I went back to the 16-hour daily, but I only dropped to 190 by March. Something had to change.
Then, Seven Weeks Ago…
I decided I would return to my roots, to the thing that has always worked for me. It’s also the thing that flabbergasts most people, even when they see the results: I would return to the 1x – 2x per week daily fasting as a way to achieve reasonable weight loss of about 1.5 pounds per week. I also decided that, this time, I would chart my progress on a daily basis so that I could share the changes one a micro- and macro-level. I started thinking about what “progress” would mean for myself, but also for as many different types of people as possible. I settled on a few things to track:
- weight loss
- body fat loss
- strength gained/lost
- size changes
Weight Loss: This was a no-brainer, but I wanted to track it daily so that I could show others what happens on a daily basis. The results are pretty interesting. One thing that too many people forget is that weight is never static and is never the final indicator for fitness, body fat levels, etc.
Body Fat Loss: This is more complex since I didn’t want to pay for something like submersion analysis or a DEXA scan. I settled on using the 3-, 7-, and 9-point caliper methods along with the Navy and YMCA methods, which involve measuring your waist, chest, etc.
Strength Gained/Lost: One tenet of weight loss is that it is impossible to gain muscle at the same time (unless you’re entirely new to weight lifting) and that it’s likely you’ll lose muscle mass. Muscle mass, per se, isn’t an issue for me. I wanted to look physically better, which didn’t necessarily mean looking bigger. However, measuring strength seemed like a good way to track the effect this has on what mattered to me, which is the numbers in the weight room.
Size Changes: I was measuring for the Navy/YMCA calculations anyway, so I decided to measure some other areas, just to get an idea of how my body was changing, maybe see where the fat was actually dropping.
As I mentioned, I tracked my data on a daily and weekly basis. Basically, I did the following:
- weighed myself every morning, usually meaning about six to eight hours after I had gone to bed (I didn’t drink any water, got rid of any “water” that had accumulated while I slept, etc.)
- measured myself every week, at about the same time
- did the body fat check using calipers
- tracked my strength (based on estimated max) for four major lifts: squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press
I collected all of this information and compiled it in Microsoft Excel, which let me do some things that made the process interesting:
- I was able to go by weekly averages for weight rather than what I happened to weigh on one day. Since weight fluctuates with hormone levels, water retention, the number of carbohydrates you’ve consumed, etc., going by a weekly average seemed like a far more logical (and accurate) method for tracking.
- I was able to measure daily changes (gains and losses in weight) while seeing an overall pattern of weight loss.
- I was able to track rough maximum and minimum weight.
Here’s a screenshot to serve as a sample:
The red row, by the way, was a goal date. In that case, I was supposed to be at or below 185 pounds on average for that week. I set goal dates for 185, 180, 175, and 170 pounds. So far, I have made the first two. Although being at that weight by the exact date was a secondary goal, the primary goal was for the weekly average to be at or below the number. As you can see, it wasn’t a linear decline in weight. In fact, Sunday 5/18 was disheartening, despite the overall progress, because I was back above 185. Nonetheless, my average for Week 5 was 183.26 and my average for Week 6 turned out to be 182.94. Only a small difference, but I was still ahead of my goal. And if Week 7 (this current week) is anything like Week 6, the average for the week will be ~179 pounds.
The major lesson here is that your weight is dynamic. It changes constantly. It is easy to become discouraged by one reading, which is why most experts will tell you to not worry too much about them if you are sticking to your plan. I did stick to my plan and, so far, it has worked as well as I had hoped. I will have to make some adjustments as more time passes. For one, I have to continue to lower the deficit on days I do eat. As I lose weight, I have to cut my calories lower to experience the same weight loss. I’ll also have to decide a fair question: at what point is the effort not worth the reward? If I wake up at 175 and decide that’s enough, then that’s the end. And I’ll adjust accordingly.
The Plan Itself
It was a really simple plan. My cousin actually does something similar, and he gave it a clever name: The Fastkins Diet. Basically…
- two days per week of fasting (water only), so, I didn’t eat a single calorie on Monday or Wednesday, which meant I was going beyond 24-hours fasted, usually 30 to 36 hours. To be honest, unless I was at home, this wasn’t a problem.
- four days per week of being as low carb as possible. I didn’t stress about this too much. Really, it meant that I avoided grains, snacky foods, etc. I still drank a Guinness or Samuel Adams when I wanted one. I don’t know that I would have qualified as low-carb, really, but I did avoid most carbs.
- one day per week (Fridays… Keli’s Homemade Pizza Night!) when I was free to eat whatever. I didn’t go nuts, usually, but I did consume more calories than I normally would, even if I wasn’t dieting.
- structure total weekly calories to meet your weight loss goals (assume 3500 calories per pound and figure out your TDEE using several online calculators; subtract the number of calories you require (TDEE x 7) per week from the number of calories you actually take in, and that will give you a goal.?
That’s it. I did some optional things that suit my personality (and possibly help with weight loss), such as
- work out four times per week (the ol’ upper/lower body split) with exercises designed to maintain muscle and burn as many calories as possible;
- HIIT (hill sprints, intervals, etc.) two times per week, mainly to improve cardiovascular health, but also to help offset any mistakes in my diet (you still cannot outtrain a bad diet);
- not eating until 4 PM or later most days (this is personal preference… I like large meals rather than more frequent but smaller meals).
In the interest of maintaining muscle and strength, I tried to make fasted days coincide with HIIT days, but when it wasn’t an option, I went ahead and worked out on the fasted days.
? Note: this is only a way of watching how much you eat… I have rarely found that tracking calories provides an accurate estimate of what you will lose, especially if you use intermittent fasting. I set the daily goals only as a means of knowing what I wanted to come in at:
The true measure of success was the weekly changes in weight, body fat estimates, and size measurements.
Monday, 4/21/2014: 190 pounds, 22% body fat, Chest 40.5″, Waist (navel) 36.75″, Deadlift Estimated Max: 289, Bench Press Estimated Max: 252
Wednesday, 5/28/2014: 178 pounds, 16% body fat, Chest 40″, Waist (navel) 35.5″, Deadlift/Bench Press numbers unchanged
That’s 12 pounds lost (9 pounds if you go by weekly average), roughly 6% body fat lost, .5″ from chest, 1.25″ from waist at navel, and no indicated strength loss.
First, I’m encouraged because the estimate of lean body mass has stayed within a couple pounds. In other words, 190 * 22% = ~148 LBM while 178 * 16% = ~149 LBM. That’s good because it indicates that (a) the measurements are useful for measuring body fat lost and (b) it indicates I’m not losing much, if any, muscle (which is also supported by the fact that my deadlift and bench press numbers are unchanged.
Second, my overhead press and squat actually improved, but that’s because I had reset the numbers to a very low level in order to work on form. I don’t think that the deadlift/bench press number consistency can be explained by “getting better” at the lifts because I have been doing them for years.
Third, I am losing size around my waist, which is where I tend to store my body fat. On a side note, one reason I decided to include the 9-point caliper method despite the fact that it is generally not used is because it includes “back fat”, which is where I store most of mine. It actually skewed my numbers high, which (I think) offset some low numbers from the 3- and 7-point system.
I should be at my goal weight (170 pounds) by mid-July. Once I’m there, I will fall back to a 1x per week full fast along with my preferred eating pattern (eat one large meal in the evening). I’ll add a second full fast if a party/event is coming up. Otherwise, I won’t track anything, which I will kind of miss… I have enjoyed playing with the data. The beauty of Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat plan (and read the book… it is worth it) is that it freed me from worrying about all of this. It kept me free from the worry for three years. Hopefully, the next time I face a quarter-life crisis, I won’t abandon the good things I was doing (like fasting) in response.