Aw Crap, I Lost 25 Pounds (and you can too)
The scale read ‘217.2’.
I hadn’t checked it in a few weeks which is an amateur move as I had a major weightlifting competition coming up and being on weight is kind of a big deal.
Normally I sit anywhere between 224 and 227. I compete in the ~231lb. weight category (meaning I can be anywhere between 208 and 231 pounds - any less or more puts me into a different category, competing against different people). At my previous competition I weighed in just under 230 pounds.
In a sport where being as heavy as possible is quite advantageous (there’s a reason the biggest weight classes move the biggest weight) I was way, way light.
I was 5 weeks out.
I had a decision to make.
I could spend my time alternating between the Waffle House and the squat rack in an effort to get my weight and strength up. The idea of changing my blood from “Type 0+” to “Maple Syrup” certainly had its appeal.
Or I could investigate the possibility of going down a weight class.
Meaning I’d have 5 weeks to make my already light frame (at least light for me) even lighter.
I’d need to get down to under 207 pounds.
After an email to the meet director to see if changing weight classes was even a possibility, a quick scan of the competition in the lighter weight class and a 22 second conversation with Kyle, I decided my best bet was to go down.
As I mentioned, I usually sit a bit light for my weight class to begin with. I’d never been a high school wrestler or entered a jiu jitsu tournament. In other words, I had done anything that required me to step on a scale and face the dread of not knowing if I’ve made weight.
This was unchartered territory. It should have been scary. Not quite “freestyle rap battle against Eminem” scary, but I probably should have been a bit more apprehensive than I was.
But, surprisingly, I found myself excited.
Besides the goal of the impending competition, a lot of clients struggle with weight or fat loss and I wanted to put myself in their shoes and see what the journey was all about. Though I struggled with my own weight in the past, it has been a while (almost 20 years!). So I was oddly fired up to experience the pitfalls, the triumphs, the cravings, the anxiety and all the other fun stuff that comes with embarking on a weight loss quest.
I was essentially Frodo Baggins minus the ring, Samwise, the Shire, the Eye of Sauron, the constant threat of death and all the cool special effects.
On second thought, maybe I was nothing like Frodo Baggins.
Enough With The Pop Culture References Already, How Do I Get Shredded?!?!
My strategy was remarkably simple. The first step was to set a calorie goal and track my food intake. I’ve been a bit critical of food tracking before as it can be cumbersome and not entirely accurate. And while I still think that is true, I also realized for the limited time that I had to accomplish the goal I’d have to know if I needed to increase or decrease my food intake based on the results I was getting. I used the free version of an app called LifeSum which Kyle recommended. Worked perfectly.
Secondly, I would weigh myself every other day. This is way more often than I recommend to clients and, as we’ve already established, about 12,000 times more frequently than I was used to weighing myself. But, I needed to know what was happening with the scale to make informed decisions.
Given that I would still need to train hard, I decided not to restrict any macronutrients (like carbs) as I believed that performance would suffer. And given that I was already going to be losing body weight (not ideal for maximizing strength) I didn’t want to put any additional roadblocks in my way.
In a nutshell, all I did was follow the basic principles that bodybuilders have been executing for years. Protein with every meal, fill out the bulk of the remaining calories with carbs, add fats sparingly.
My target calories was 2,200 per day. My meals broke down like this:
Meal one: 3 hard boiled eggs (cut to 2 when I hit plateaus), cup of oatmeal with raisins and walnuts, 6 oz of green juice.
Meal two: 4oz of grilled chicken. 6 oz of white rice. Salad greens with olive oil based dressing.
Meal three: Same as meal two but adding an orange or an apple.
Meal 4: Whatever my wife made for dinner. Which is usually a balance of protein, carbs and veggies and always healthy and delicious.
Beverages were water (more on this later) and coffee throughout the day. A little extra coffee actually helped me quite a bit so I recommend it if it doesn’t interfere with sleep too much.
Pro-Tip: When in a caloric deficit, you are typically going to be a bit cranky and off your game. Do not perpetuate this any further by not eating food prepared by your spouse. You’re welcome.
Really complicated stuff, I know.
I will say this - and this is important - I did this for 5 weeks without fail. No cheat meals or days. No “I’ll just have a bite of this”. No justifications for eating bullshit. Nothing. Discipline is one of my strong suits so I used that to my advantage.
So, How’d It Go?
I lost 3 pounds in a matter of days.
From there I had a steady march of about .4 pounds lost every weigh-in until I hit about 211 pounds. Then I straight up stalled for the better part of a week.
But I wasn’t panicked because a) weight loss is not linear. You tend to lose weight, stall, lose weight, stall. That’s all normal. And b) honestly, being a few weeks out and only 4 or so pounds off my goal weight I was in a really good spot. It’s beneficial to train a little heavy and it’s easy enough to manipulate water in order to drop the last few pounds. No problemo.
Except, in reality, I was a little panicked. I had to travel out of town to the meet without much of a support system. The thought of sitting in the bathtub of an empty hotel room, trying to stave off unconsciousness as I dehydrated myself did not sound appealing. I wanted to be on weight by the time I left.
But even with that weighing on my mind, I didn’t change much. Training was hard. I didn’t really see many corners to cut. I just stuck with it and hoped that my caloric deficit (given the energy expenditure of training as well as my basal metabolic rate I was using more calories each day than I was taking in) would put me at my goal weight by the time I needed to weigh-in.
The Secret Sauce
I had plateaus and breakthroughs over the next days and weeks. Training was tough but I was surviving it. Plus I had another trick up my sleeve.
The most successful way to manipulate body weight, particularly when you want to maintain as much strength as possible, is a hydration/dehydration strategy.
Basically, 5 days out from the competition, you start increasing water intake dramatically. In my case I was trying to get it up to 4 or 5 liters per day. I’m terrible about drinking water so this was a marked change for me.
The process is to super-hydrate and essentially convince your body that ample this fluid is coming in and it should maintain a fluid balance by urinating and sweating out the excess. Your body doesn’t like to have a fluid imbalance (in either direction). So if you take in too much, it will find ways to get it out.
Continue this for a few days. Then, when your system is convinced that this water intake is the new normal, you pull a switch-a-roo. About 12 hours before weigh-in, you cut all water intake. With your body still processing and excreting water, but in the absence of you taking any more in, your weight will drop. Athletes who are great at this can lose 3-4 kilos (7-10 pounds) in a matter of hours.
The problem for me was, and I believe this is all rooted in the fact that I don’t drink enough water regularly, the excess water intake started dropping weight off my frame immediately. And way too fast.
My thought is, again, due to my lack of hydration, my body was holding onto water like a Nevada cactus in July. The minute I introduced an adequate amount, the system relaxed and was way more free to not withhold water. And, as such, any bloat I may have had was flushed out.
I was 2 days out and right on weight. Which was exciting to see, but not ideal for performance. My strength was really waning. I bombed my biggest, most important pre-meet workout. Sure, I was on weight, but I couldn’t perform. I went too far. Shit.
In retrospect, the smart move probably would have been to increase calories and get myself back over. But my mindset was too rigid. And I was in love with the thought of not having to cut at all when I got up to the meet. Amateur moves made by an amateur.
I’ll try not to make this long story any longer. The night before the meet I was at 93.2kg or just over 206lbs. At the weigh-in I was 91.8kg (202lbs). More than 2kgs under where I needed to be. And more than 25lbs lighter than I was when I last competed.
My strength tanked. I underperformed.
The Big Takeaways
While the competition didn’t go the way I had hoped, I was lucky enough to learn some lessons from the experience.
Lesson 1: I truly believe that anyone can lose weight. Barring some diagnosed medical issue, if you figure out what you need to do and execute without fail, manipulating weight is not as hard as most people make it out to be. Sure, people will lose at different rates and lifestyle, social and socio-economic issues will play a role. But if you have the wear-with-all to execute a good plan without fail, success is highly, highly likely. Where most people do fail is letting themselves off the hook when it comes to consistency. I know a lot of people complain about their inability to lose weight. That they’ve tried and they just can’t. That they are certainly some genetic outlier and the rules don’t apply. My experience has given me a lot less patience for the excuses. I’m not saying it’s easy. But I am saying that the vast, vast majority of people can do what I did.
Lesson 2: I underestimated how much weight loss would affect strength. Overall, I lost about 10% of my bodyweight and I should have recognized that would have a major effect. I believed that maintaining muscle with hard training and losing fat would minimize strength loss. But you can’t fake out physics. Mass moves mass and having substantially less of it certainly made a big difference. Had I taken that into account I think I could have planned out my training a little better.
Lesson 3: Water is powerful.
Lesson 4: While rigidity is beneficial (see: Lesson 1), you can’t be too scared to change things up when the evidence says you should. Had I increased calories and came in closer to my allotted weight, I am certain I would have felt stronger on competition day. And that may have moved up my placement by a couple of spots. I’m not claiming it’s easy to know when you should stick to your guns and when you should be fluid, but being too stubborn to either mentality is not good. True in weight manipulation. True in life.
Lesson 5: There is magic in dedicating yourself to something. To being one of those people who just makes a decision and goes for it without hesitation or fail. You can play the contemplation game forever and never take action. And while I personally love to look before I leap, I found it very rewarding to just throw myself into the challenge. The author Seth Godin always says “you’ve got to ship”. Meaning you can rewrite and revise and ruminate on anything forever without it necessarily getting better. At some point you just have to put it out to the world. I think this mindset can carry over to any experience. Stop thinking. Start doing.
Lesson 6: I realize that I embarked on this weight loss journey for very different reasons than most people who do the same. I wasn’t trying to look good naked or impress my old classmates at my high school reunion or become a buff bride. But while it was satisfying to execute a plan and see that plan rewarded with the result of the scale going down, there was no huge emotional payoff waiting at the end of the weight loss rainbow. I think so many people think that if they could just get to x or y weight that they’ll be happy, only to find that not to be the case. Your happiness doesn’t multiply when you get down to your goal weight. In fact, the process is more rewarding than the result. So don’t chase a number in the hopes of filling some emotional void. It ain’t gonna work. There is always another mountain to climb. That’s probably what attracts me to fitness in the first place.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, there is no real diet advice here. I have no idea if what worked for me will work for you. But rest assured that there is a strategy - one that doesn’t warrant you buying the latest diet book or have you going keto or carnivore or vegan or whatever is trendy this week - that will systematically help you shed pounds if that is what you are in it for.
Just be prepared for this new found weight loss to likely take kilos off your squat and it will not fill some emotional void and make you whole. Learn to keep a proper perspective - that weight loss isn’t everything.
Learn to love the process. The journey itself and conquering that which must be overcome along the way is the best part.
Maybe I’m Frodo Baggins after all.