“My favorite jeans are too tight. Again.”
I leaned in to hear more over a pitcher of margarita.
“I just feel stuck. Every time I lose weight, I seem to gain it all back right afterwards. No matter how much I run or how much cardio I do, I always seem to be 10lbs heavier than I want to be every January.”
It was Friday after work and I was at happy hour with some of my wife’s friends. After a few drinks, the conversation had turned to weight loss, and how it seems to be a never-ending cycle of weight gain, calorie restriction and cardio leading up to the summer/wedding/new years, followed by regaining the weight.
As a trainer, I hear a variation of this conversation all the time.
It seems that most people take a short-term view of exercise and weight loss. They see the weight, want to get rid of it ASAP, and then gain it all back within the year.
95% of people who lose weight quickly will gain it back, generally with a little extra for good measure.
That's because the advice of "just diet and exercise" isn't a good long term solution.
The better solution is to start a slow process of Reverse Dieting. This isn’t a quick fix or detox. This is the slow, systematic approach to building your metabolism back up to a level that allows you to live the life you want.
Does food quality matter?
Our society has a bad habit of trying to make things black or white. I don’t blame us. It’s easier to think this way, and many people do better on diets where certain foods are completely “off limits”
Regardless of your definition, you can't lose or gain weight by simply eating "clean" or "dirty" foods. Calories matter, and it's important to know how to manipulate them for your goals.
But does food quality matter? Surely it's better to eat homemade tacos than to go on a TacoBell bender.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Law of Conservation of Energy states that “the total energy of an isolated system in a given frame of reference remains constant — it is said to be conserved over time”
Essentially, what that confusing statement means is that just because calories are healthy, doesn’t mean they wont go to your waistline if you overeat them.
In other words, If you're eating 600 calories at home and only 300 when you go out, that's an extra 300 calories that you'll be accountable for.
Just because something is "healthy" doesn't mean it's 0 calorie, or inherently better for your physique goals than its fast food alternative.
However, you can be pretty much guaranteed that 99% of the time, the food you prepare will be more nutritious than fast food.
I like the word “nutritious” because you can define it as "having more vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients".
If your body is a lamboghini, you're not going to the superpumper and filling it with Regular Unleaded gas right? This is your baby, you take care of it, and your baby only gets premium.
By viewing food as fuel for our bodies, I think that we can alleviate much of the shaming that comes with eating a cookie or skipping breakfast.
300 calories are not always 300 calories. Like we talked about in the first module, we have to take into account the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) and the tendencies of the macronutrients.
Protein - This has the highest TEF of the macronutrients, which means that the more protein you eat, the more calories your body burns in the digestion process.
Protein breaks down into amino acids - the building blocks of muscle. There are 13 Essential amino acids, that your body cannot produce naturally, which means that you need to consume foods containing the full spectrum of aminos.
Most foods have protein content, but only meats, eggs, dairy products, and a select few grains (quinoa/barley). The rest of the time, like when you see the protein content on Peanut Butter, just know that it doesn't contain a full serving of amino acids, and in order to get the full spectrum, you need to combine that with other foods.
Protein also has the hardest time getting converted to body fat. It takes roughly 37% of the overall calories of protein to convert itself into fat. It's an inefficient protocol for your body to use, so it will generally try to convert carbs and fats before dipping into the protein stores.
Carbohydrates - This is the energy nutrient. It breaks down into glucose to provide energy for the muscles and the brain in order to keep everything functioning smoothly.
We live in a high-carb society. Everything has sugar in it, and most of us eat way more carbohydrates than we need given our energy output.
It only takes 7% of the total calories of carbs to convert to fat, so it's very important to ensure that we're not overeating this important nutrient.
Fats - despite the negative stigma, fats don't actually turn straight into body fat. They're broken down into lipids, and can combine with glucose (broken down carbs), to keep the body working at a high level, or clog up your arteries.
There are many different types of fats, and it's important to know the difference.
Mono-Unsaturated - These are healthy fats (in moderation) that can help lower inflammation and regulate blood sugar. Examples include: olive oil, peanuts, and avocados.
Poly-Unsaturated - A healthy fat that can also help lower blood pressure and regulate blood sugar. The most notable example are Omega-3 fatty acids. Found in flax seed oil, walnuts, and non-farmed fish.
Saturated - Falling into this category are animal fats, egg yolks, and coconut oil. For a while these were demonized, but now we realize that saturated fats are important for regulating hormonal levels as well as keeping the skin, heart, hair, and eyes functioning well.
Trans-Fats - the troll of the fat hierarchy. This type lives under a bridge and in Panda Express kitchens, and has 0 redeeming value. Often created by combining high heat with another type of unsaturated fat, this is one you want to avoid.
Fats can be converted to body fat with only a 3% caloric cost.
Using this information, we can see how important it is to place a high priority on protein at every meal. It should also be obvious that we should eat carbohydrates based on our activity level, which can change on a daily basis.
ANYTHING you eat in excess can be converted to fat, but protein costs a lot more for our body due to the chemical process of converting from whole proteins into amino acids, amino acids into Pyruvate, Pyruvate into Glycerol, which is finally stored as a triglyceride (fat).
Of course, this is not realistic due to the satiating power of protein.
If you don't believe me, try to eat 2000 calories worth of chicken breasts (almost 2lbs). It's almost impossible.
On the flip side, there's a lot lower barrier of conversion for carbs and fats. That means that we need to first determine how much protein you need, then fill in the carbs and fats around that to match your goal.
Reverse Dieting: Build Your Metabolism Back Up
So you're looking to build your metabolism back up to your pre 30 year old levels? We need to start off by doing a few things.
Test Your Metabolism.
Get a thermometer, and take your temperature in the evening. Normal human temperatures should be 98.6. Take yours over 5 days, and average the results. If yours is below 98 degrees, you will never ever EVER be able to lose weight, because your metabolism is jacked up from years of yo-yo and fad diets.
You need to "stoke the fires" as it were, in order to get your body burning the right amount of calories. What this entails is actually INCREASING your caloric consumption by 300 calories above your maintenance level for 3 weeks. Then recheck your temperature.
98.6 is good, 99 is better. Obviously you should be working out during this time, and hopefully hard enough that this additional 300 calories does not add weight.
However, be advised that building your metabolism is not a 30-day cleanse, and normally will result in gaining a few pounds at first. This is normal, and not worth freaking out over. As you exercise and become stronger, these pounds will drop off, and you'll have succeeded in building a good metabolic base.
If you’re really interested in the secret to re-building your metabolism, click here to get access to my FREE week-long email course.
- The #1 and #2 Metabolism Killers
- The Best Way to Train even if you’re busy
- The ONE Food You Should be Eating Every Day
How Many Calories
Now armed with the new information about how many calories it takes to maintain your body, and with a new metabolic rate that should have taken you about 3-4 weeks to level out with the temperature test, we can continue to build your metabolism to where it needs to be.
Once you have your maintenance level, multiply it by the numbers below to find out your average daily caloric burn.
Everyone is different, so don't worry about getting this 100% right up front. It will take a few weeks of experimentation before you'll feel perfectly comfortable.
**by the way, RMR and "Maintenance Level" are the same number**
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = RMR x 1.2
- If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = RMR x 1.375
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = RMR x 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = RMR x 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = RMR x 1.9
Now that you have your number, find out how much of each macronutrient you need by using the numbers below:
- 40% Protein
- 35% Carbohydrates
- 25% Fats
For example, a 180lb male would have a RMR of 1900 calories He’s lightly active, so we multiply that by 1.375 to give us a caloric maintenance level of 2,612.
(Although this might seem high, remember that we're working up to this number.)
Now we multiply the caloric maintenance by 40/35/25 percent to find out our macronutrients.
Protein 40% - 1,045 calories Carbohydrates 35% - 914 calories Fats 25% - 650 calories
Since there are 4 calories per gram of proteins and carbs, we divide the calories by 4 to get the number of grams. There are 9 calories per gram of fat.
Protein - 260g Carbohydrates - 225g Fat - 70g
Track to Win
In order to build your metabolism back up to a furnace level of fat incineration, it's important to take a calculated, measured approach to do this.
If it was easy, everyone would have bangin' metabolisms, be super ripped, and be dating Charlize Theron.
Using an app like My Fitness Pal is a great option, because it has thousands of user generated meals so that it's easy to input foods that you consume at restaurants, and make it pretty easy to guesstimate how many calories you ate at the work potluck. It even has a barcode scanner to simplify the process even more.
I tracked my food religiously for a year, then sporadically for another year after that. Now, I only go back to tracking when training for a specific goal. Due to the consistency and commitment to this line item for those two years, I can now tell you the rough number of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats in a given item.
This creates nutritional freedom.
- Prioritize “Nutritious” foods. Homemade is generally better.
- Protein has the hardest time converting to fat, so make sure you get some with every meal.
- Take the “temperature test” to find out if your metabolism is slower than it should be.
- Begin rebuilding your metabolism by adding in an additional 100-300 calories per day. Don’t stress if you gain a little weight to start. We’re in it for the long game.
- Continue to exercise, prioritizing resistance training and walking.
- Sign up for my FREE 10 part E-course on Rebuilding the Metabolism for more in depth info on training and nutrition.