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Ladies and gentlemen, the time is upon us. Operation Winter Thickness has commenced, and we are transitioning into full-fledged Summer Shred Mode. If you are looking to get into the best shape of your life with healthy, sustainable strategies that have withstood the test of time, then look no further. Some of the most popular weight loss solutions today include Keto, Paleo, Carnivore, Intermittent Fasting, and Carb Cycling. Each has its own unique set of benefits and downsides, and what may be effective or sustainable for one person may or may not be so for you. The internet is a vast sea of information, much of which is smoke and mirrors, so I will attempt to clear up some confusion surrounding these topics so that you can confidently decide which option is right for you.
It’s about to get nasty up in here in the best way possible.
As I type this, I am sitting at about 215 pounds and probably 14% bodyfat. By May 15th, I will be 193 lbs and 8% bodyfat. Notice the explicit lack of the word TRY in the previous sentence. That is one of the most disgusting, weak-minded, and patronizing words in the English language. If you want real weight loss solutions for the summer, I encourage you to join me in what will surely become beautiful mutual suffering.
If you are happy just the way you are, then great!
Keep doing your thing and spreading positive vibes. But if you are coming along for the ride, then be advised that this is not a movement for triers; it is a movement for doers. We are not trying to lose weight. We’re losing it. We are not trying to do more cardio. We’re doing it. Trying affords you the opportunity to delegitimize your shortcomings. “I wasn’t REALLY invested, so who cares if I failed?” Our time in this world is finite. Are you going to spend it on the sidelines making excuses? Or, in the arena facing the potential for failure head-on?
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Let’s do this: choosing your weight loss solutions
If navigating the dieting realm feels a bit confusing and overwhelming at times then you are not alone. It seems like every week a new fad diet comes along promising to have users looking like Steve Cook by the end of the month. “Just eat a handful of grub worms with breakfast and BOOM! Say goodbye to belly fat!!” It is imperative you exercise a heavy dose of skepticism with every piece of information thrown at you when it comes to choosing your nutritional game plan.
Read the peer-reviewed studies, listen to all sides of the argument, and have no mercy when assigning bias or downright dishonesty to anyone touting ridiculous, unverified claims.
Below is a brief overview with links to studies into some of the most popular dieting options today. Check them out and dig deeper before selecting your plan for the next few months. Whichever option(s) you select, be sure to listen to your body above all else. At least once a week, take an objective, honest look at you’re feeling. Think about your energy level, mental acuity, emotional lability, stool characteristics, and electrolyte balance (muscle cramps will indicate this if you do not have access to blood work). Are you feeling any other new or increased side effects that may coincide with this change in diet?
That being said, remember being uncomfortable is just part of the game. Weight loss solutions are not supposed to be fun. However, the pain of quitting is always worse than the pain of suffering towards a worthy goal. The great David Goggins once said, “You have to build calluses on your brain just like you build calluses on your hands. Callus your mind through pain and suffering.” We cannot grow and improve if we don’t push the boundaries of our self-imposed limitations. So, run towards the pain. Relish in the suffering. Become the greatest version of yourself.
The basic premise of intermittent fasting is to shorten your eating window so you are only consuming food for about 2-8 hours each day. The rest of the time, you are to only drink water, tea, or black coffee. Although, some advocates maintain that even the latter two can break a “true” fast as they still require digestion.
During your fasting hours, the body enters a very short-term starvation state. Because the stomach is receiving no new fuel for the body to use as energy, the body begins a process called autophagy during which fat cells are broken down to their substrates and used to fuel cellular metabolism. Devoid of exogenous resources, your body essentially begins eating itself.
Users also typically experience a catecholamine release around hours 12-16 during which the adrenal system kicks into overdrive, providing a noticeable boost in focus and energy. The common consensus is that this adrenal response is an evolutionary adaptation that provides us with the energy we would have needed to kill or gather food in the wild had we never invented the refrigerator. Rhonda Patrick, PhD. has been on the Joe Rogan Experience several times to discuss the scientific research around intermittent fasting; her conclusions are difficult to dismiss. Furthermore, Greg Ogallagher was among the pioneers of fasting in the commercial fitness realm. He has produced some of the most impressive client transformations to date.
Remind yourself that YOU are the agent in charge of your consumption, NOT your appetite.
Unless you are a bodybuilder looking to maintain as much muscle as possible in a long-term catabolic state or are prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), there are no significant negative side effects to intermittent fasting besides hunger. That hunger will be a shock to many of you at first, seeing as most Americans haven’t gone longer than 10 hours without eating since they were conceived. But, I promise that your body will adapt. Being hungry for a couple of hours a day is not going to kill you (assuming you are not diabetic).
You need to get psychological with your approach to hunger if you want to see real results. Use it as a means to improve your resilience and ability to withstand discomfort. Hunger pangs typically subside after 15-20 minutes anyways. Afterward, you will possess the satisfaction of having won the battle, and your summer shreds will thank you soon enough.
Take a look at these studies and decide for yourselves:
- Intermittent fasting and human metabolic health
- Metabolic effects of intermittent fasting
- Intermittent fasting does not affect whole-body glucose, lipid, or protein metabolism
To adequately explain the ketogenic diet, I need to do a quick microbiology review. So, I apologize in advance if this resurfaces any traumatic experiences you’ve been subconsciously repressing.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the human body’s primary cellular fuel source. It is created through the transformation of the enzyme Acetyl CoA by way of the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation. Normally, Acetyl CoA is created through glycolysis, the breakdown of glucose. However, in situations with depleted glycogen stores (a short term “bank” of glucose stored in the liver and muscles) or during carbohydrate (glucose)-restricted diets, the body is forced to produce Acetyl CoA from ketone bodies synthesized in the liver. These ketone bodies are created and released into the bloodstream through ketogenesis (the breakdown of adipose tissue (fat cells)). Again, this process only occurs when glycogen supplies are depleted or during carbohydrate-restriction.
However, the keto diet does not just involve a reduction in carbohydrates, but also an increase in fats. While it certainly seems counterintuitive to increase fat consumption when your goal is to lose fat, and while most diets balance out the reduction in carbs with an increase in protein rather than fat, the methodology checks out.
You see, when the body detects carbohydrates in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin to help move the nutrients into cells which can then use the carbs for energy. As insulin is released, enzymes are sent all throughout the body and signal that new fuel has just been introduced. Since the body is receiving enough outside fuel via the stomach to carry out essential functions, there is no need to continue breaking down your own fat for energy and so the process is halted.
Comparatively, proteins elicit a smaller but still observable insulin response, causing the body to slow (not halt) its own fat burning. Fats, on the other hand, do not elicit any insulin response. When fats are in circulation, it causes an insulin response to be absent or severely diminished. Thus, the body continues burning fat for fuel as it does not receive the signal that calories are being introduced. The dietary fat is then broken down into small triglyceride chains that can be transformed into ketones and used as cellular energy, effectively killing two birds with one stone.
Keto advocates tout benefits like rapid weight loss, decreased hunger, improved glycemic control, and inflammation reduction.
Essentially, ketogenic diets aim to increase the conversion of fat cells into energy by dramatically decreasing the number of carbohydrates, moderately decreasing protein, and significantly increasing the amount of fat the user consumes. However, the keto opposition points out side effects such as nutritional deficiencies, adherence difficulties, and the dreaded keto flu. Additionally, there’s the fact that your breath will consistently smell like you’ve been gargling vomited, half-digested orange slices that have been baking in the sun for the last week. Layne Norton, PhD. takes an objective, in-depth look at the science behind the keto diet in this video.
Some other good resources are:
- The Ketogenic Diet as a Treatment Paradigm for Diverse Neurological Disorders
- Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
- The Effects of a Ketogenic Diet on Exercise Metabolism and Physical Performance in Off-Road Cyclists
Carbohydrates are among the most highly debated topics in fitness and nutrition circles. One thing that is certain is the efficacy of carb cycling in regard to fat loss with maximal muscle retention. Cycling carbs involves alternating periods of low-, medium- and high-carbohydrate days within a set framework. You would be hard-pressed to find a high-level professional bodybuilder or fitness model who does not practice some form of carb cycling. Personally, this is my preferred fat loss method and may be one of your go-to weight loss solutions as well. The results are consistent, the preparation is relatively simple, and it allows for frequent re-feed days instead of constant calorie restriction.
If your goal is to maintain as much of your hard-earned muscle as possible while you lean out then simple carbohydrate reduction is not in your best interest.
Reducing or completely removing carbs from your diet is one of the sure-fire weight loss solutions available to you. The problem lies in that the lost weight comes from both fat and muscle. Carb-cycling’s central theme is to spend several days in a very low-carbohydrate state during which your acutely glucose-starved body turns to adipose tissue for extra fuel. Hopefully, just before your body begins burning skeletal muscle tissue, you begin introducing, and progressively increasing, amounts of carbs into the system. The goal is to ingest just enough carbs to regenerate muscle glycogen stores, but not so much that the extra calories will be stored as fat.
During high-carb days, your digestive system kicks into overdrive, desperately attempting to keep up with the substantial increase in carbs. After 1 or 2 high-carb days, you abruptly cut off or diminish the number of carbs, and therefore calories, you ingest. Done correctly, your digestive system will remain in this overdrive state for a bit, starving for added fuel that now must come from your own adipose tissue again.
There are several variations of carb-cycling patterns to choose from that have brought people remarkable success. So, I implore you to experiment with different options and see which works best for you. Jeff Seid tends to utilize a 3-1 low- to high-carb day pattern. I have found more success with a crescendo method. Using this method, I steadily increase carbs each day from Monday to Friday and then eat next to zero on the weekends.
Read over some of this material and give it a shot:
Carnivore is the newest fad to burst onto the diet scene. Stars like Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and Joe Rogan are just two of several big names who have given it a shot. In fact, Peterson has stuck with carnivore for over a year. The food options are exactly as the name suggests: beef, poultry, pork, eggs, and fish. Carnivore excludes all vegetables, fruit, dairy, legumes, seeds, sugar, and grains. You eat meat and meat only.
Shawn Baker is arguably the most notable carnivore diet researcher and practitioner. His website is filled with articles, research studies, personal and client results, and meal plans for beginners and advanced users. Although he is certainly heavily biased – the bulk of his career has been based on his work with carnivore – his results do indicate that, for some people, a meat-only diet could increase athletic performance, improve cognition, reduce inflammation, and even cure or dramatically decrease side effects of certain auto-immune diseases.
The most pronounced initial side effect is violent, uncontrolled, black, and explosive diarrhea. From the testimonies I’ve heard, it sounds like you could poop through a keyhole from thirty feet away on command. This occurs because of the complete elimination of carbohydrates from the diet – i.e. fruits, vegetables, processed foods, and grains. Carbs are an excellent water storage molecule. Without them, the intestinal tract has to adapt to other mechanisms of retaining survivable levels of fluid.
Truth be told, this adaptation process could take days or weeks. Until then, plan on having a full-blown exorcism from your rectum multiple times a day. Obviously, severe diarrhea can lead to extreme dehydration and even death. So, difficult as it may be, you absolutely must replace, and preferably over-compensate, all of your lost fluids. The best way to do this is by drinking significantly more water than you normally would. Once your system adjusts to the loss of carbs, your stool should return to a relatively normal status.
Benefits of the carnivore diet often include a marked increase in HDL (good cholesterol), decreased CRP (enzyme indicating systemic inflammation) levels, higher testosterone levels, less bloating from large amounts of vegetables, and simple, uncomplicated meal preparation. Note that much of the data thus far is circumstantial at best. After all, controlling for variables outside of closely observed clinical trials is next to impossible. There simply is not enough scientifically backed evidence to prove anything just yet. Remember, just because some people experience positive effects from eating a certain way does not – in any way – indicate you will reach similar findings.
Check out these articles for more information:
- The Carnivore Diet: Can Eating Only Meat Supercharge Your Health?
- The Carnivore Diet: Is Eating ONLY Meat Healthy, or Totally [email protected]#$ing Crazy?
The Paleolithic, or “caveman” diet, is arguably the simplest to follow out of all the methods. Counting calories or macronutrients is not necessary, nor are monumental changes to your eating habits required. Simply put, Paleo calls for users to eat like a hunter-gatherer who existed before the advent of electricity or commercial agriculture. What does this mean? Essentially it adds up to no processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, or artificial sweeteners. Paleo-friendly foods include meat, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and natural herbs and spices. Basically, cut out all the crap you know you shouldn’t be eating anyway and just take in the all-natural options.
Aptly abbreviated to SAD, the Standard American Diet involves ungodly amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, hydrogenated oils, and bread. Switching to Paleo and eliminating these poisons from your body generally brings about healthy weight loss solutions relatively quickly. Advocates point out that Paleo allows much more freedom than other diets. Essentially all it involves is eating the natural foods that mammals have been eating since the birth of our existence. A simple trick for finding Paleo-friendly foods is to only shop around the perimeter of the grocery store. Additionally, avoid anything that has a television commercial.
Two good, quick resources are:
Establish your starting point for losing weight
Take off your shirt, turn the bathroom lights on high, and take a good long look at what you see. This is your baseline moving forward, together we are doing nothing other than improving over the next few months. Take a picture of yourself and use it a driving force to power through your most difficult days.
Research all weight loss solutions
There is an astronomical number of articles and research papers on the internet regarding the different dieting methods people use to achieve their summer physiques. Some contradict one another’s findings, some support and build upon previous theories, and some are pure malarkey. Be skeptical and decide what makes the most sense for your situation.
Jump right in and start losing weight now!
None of this “I’ll start next week” mess. Summer is rapidly approaching, and there is no time to dilly-dally. After you do the research and establish your plan, put it in motion right away.
Build a community for losing weight
Losing weight — regardless of the weight loss solutions you choose — is HARD WORK. Some days will bring you to the edge of collapsing emotionally and physically. When you’re ready to cave and throw away all of your hard work, reach out to a friend who can slap you with some cold, hard reality and get you back on track.
Track your weight loss progress!
Evaluate your situation weekly. Determine whether or not your strategies are working or if you are simply spinning your wheels and adjust accordingly.
About the Author
RN, BSN, CCRN
After a brief stint in the Men’s Physique competition realm, and even winning first place in his final show, John decided to use his expertise to help normal, everyday people create the body they’ve always desired. His book, “The Busy Body: Principles for Building a Great Physique without Missing out on Life” is the culmination of over a decade of honing his craft. John is currently an RN in the Cardio-Thoracic Surgery ICU at Duke Hospital.
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