Fat Loss Challenge Final Results
Below are the final results of my self-imposed “fat loss challenge”. I released Part 1 of this article when I was six weeks into the cut, where I updated progress and offered 10 fat loss tips. To read that original article, go to: http://wise-eats.com/fatloss/.
Start Date: 4-2-18
End Date: 7-3-18
Duration: 3 Months, 92 Total Days
Total Weight Loss: 15.6lbs
Starting Weight: 198.6lbs
Ending Weight: 183.0lbs
Average Calories/Day Prior to Cut: 3,500-4,000 (Muscle Building Surplus)
Average Calories/Day During Cut: 2,400-2,700 (Weight Cutting Deficit)
Average Calories/Day Final 3 Weeks: 2,200-2,400 (Adjusted for Additional Weight Cutting)
I finally called an end to the fat loss challenge at 92 days. While the cut lasted much longer than anticipated, I’m satisfied with the results, having lost an average of 1.2lbs per week. I could have achieved similar results in shorter time if I had stayed more disciplined with my calorie intake but throwing in an occasional cheat meal, date with the wife, or family event was worth it. For most of the cut I felt amazing, experienced minimal cravings, lost virtually no strength, and enjoyed some pretty epic cheat meals.
You can see the breakdown of every meal I had during this cut over at Wise-Eats.com/mealplans. The good and the bad!
How I Did It
Step 1: Established a goal to lose body fat.
Step 2: Calculated my daily calorie/macronutrient needs to maintain weight based on activity level (about 2,700 calories per day) using an online TDEE calculator.
Step 3: Ate slightly less than my daily needs in order to create a calorie deficit (2,400 Calories, 40g Fat, 240g Protein, 278g Carbohydrate).
Step 4: Ate real, whole foods and drank plenty of water. Limited toxins, added sugar, and cheat meals as much as possible.
Step 5: Tracked every meal and stayed as close to daily calorie and macro requirements as possible.
Step 6: Lifted weights five days per week to retain/grow muscle while losing weight
Step 7: Watched the bodyfat melt away week by week!
It all comes down to energy balance. How many calories does your body burn on a daily basis? How many additional calories does it burn based on your activity level? When you combine those two numbers to get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), you have a pretty accurate estimate of the calories you need in a day to maintain your current weight. From there, it’s simply a matter of taking in slightly less calories in order to lose weight, or taking in slightly more to build your body up. From there, it’s simply a matter of dedication and consistency.
Why I Ended the Cut
I realized it was time to stop cutting when I was feeling more noticeably drained throughout the day. The combination of 13 weeks of uninterrupted weight lifting (which is too long with no break) and calorie restriction definitely started taking a toll on my mental and physical energy. On the next cut I plan to be more disciplined so I can get it over with as quickly as possible or take a week off from the calorie restriction to give my body some rest, then get back to it the next week. For now, I’m back to a slight calorie surplus for weight maintenance and muscle building.
Goals per Day
Total Calories: 2,400
2,400 calories per day was the goal. Some days I was spot on, others I was way over. You don’t have to be perfect in order to get results. Just try your best and continue to get better. If you’d like to see my daily calorie and macro nutrient intake throughout this cut, go over to Wise-Eats.com/mealplans
Here are a few sample meal days in no particular order. These are the same foods I would eat on a regular basis even if I wasn’t cutting. I didn’t overhaul my normal diet to lose weight, I simply lowered the amount of total calories consumed in order to create a calorie deficit, which resulted in weight loss. I eat the same real, whole foods no matter if I’m trying to lose or gain weight. You can see my complete weight loss diet journal here.
Sample Day #1
Pre-Breakfast: Black Coffee w/ MCT Oil
Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs, Egg Whites & Energy Bowl
Lunch: Chicken Salad – 5oz Chicken, Spinach, Liquid Aminos, Raisins, Mulberries, Spices
Pre-Workout: Black Coffee
Post Workout: Frozen Banana, Chocolate Protein, Cinnamon, 8oz Rice Milk, 5g Creatine
Dinner: 5oz Chicken, Vegetable Blend (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrot) w/ Spices, Feta Cheese
Pre-Bed Snack: Greek Yogurt with Frozen Raspberries, Stevia
Sample Day #2
Breakfast: Protein Smoothie with Whey Isolate, Spinach, Spirulina Tablets, Frozen Berries, Flax Seed or Walnuts, Almond Milk
Lunch: Chicken Salad w/ 5oz Chicken, Spinach, Liquid Aminos, Raisins, Mulberries, Spices, Olive Oil or Hemp Seed
Pre-Workout: Rice Milk w/ Whey Isolate and Oat Bran
Post Workout: Frozen Banana, Chocolate Protein, Cinnamon, 8oz Rice Milk, 5g creatine
Dinner: Chicken Salad with Onion, Shredded Almonds, Sweet Potato
Pre-Bed Snack: Chocolate Casein Pudding with Almond Milk, Stevia, Cinnamon
Sample Day #3
Breakfast: Wise Eats Energy Bowl
Mid-Morning: Coconut Oil w/ Black Coffee
Lunch: Salad w/ Spinach, Chicken, Balsamic Vinegar, Pickles, Olives
Pre-Workout: Protein Smoothie with Frozen Fruit, Almond Milk
Post-Workout: Whey Isolate, Creatine, Rice Milk
Dinner: Chicken, Broccoli with Onion, Pine Nuts, Liquid Aminos, Spices
Pre-Bed: Chocolate Casein Smoothie with Cacao Powder & Stevia
Sample Day #4
Breakfast: Fast – Black Coffee Only
Mid-Morning: Wise Eats Energy Bowl
Lunch: Salad w/ Spinach, Chicken, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Pickles, Olives
Post-Workout: 140g Blueberry, 8oz Coconut Water, 50g Whey Isolate, 28g Mulberry, 5g creatine, Cinnamon, Stevia
Dinner: Chicken Wise Rice with Salsa
Pre-Bed: Plain Low-Fat Greek Yogurt with Mango and Mulberries
I’ve done many different workout programs over the years. P90X, Insanity, Body Beast, UFC Fit, kettlebell routines, and various weight lifting split programs. The program I followed this time centered on heavy compound movements (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, etc.) for low reps, and it’s definitely become my all-time favorite routine. Not only were the workouts shorter and easier, they got results, were enjoyable, and made me feel incredible. Working in the 4-6 and 8-10 rep ranges with 2-3-minute rest between sets, my schedule for the week looked like this:
Monday: Chest (Barbell & Dumbbell Bench Press, Incline Bench, Face Pulls)
Tuesday: Back (Deadlifts, Pull-Ups, Rows)
Wednesday: Shoulders (Military Press, Lateral Raises, Bent-Over Rear Deltoid Raises)
Thursday: Legs (Barbell Squats, Leg Press/Lunges, Romanian Deadlifts)
Friday: Upper Body (Incline Bench, Bicep Curls, Close Grip Bench, Bicep Curls, Triceps Press)
Saturday, Sunday, Any Other Time: Rest, Stretch, Walking, Biking, Foam Rolling, HIIT
You can see a complete archive of my workouts, exercises, weights, and reps during this 3-month weight loss over at Wise-Eats.com/Workouts.
Some Exercise Tips
- High intensity cardio workouts feel amazing and they’re really good for your overall health, but weight lifting offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to fat loss and improving your body composition.
- My weight lifting sessions averaged 40-70 mins. Cardio no more than 20-30mins per session.
- If you’re going to lift weights, watch videos online to help you learn proper form if you’re unfamiliar with the exercises. I’m constantly evaluating form and trying to improve and avoid injury. I’d much rather lift less weight with good form than lift heavy with sloppy technique.
- Try to stay consistent with your exercise schedule, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout. Especially if you’re feeling sore and need rest. Just make up for it the next day. I would sometimes skip a day during the week depending on how I felt and make up for it on the weekend.
- The specific workout program I followed for this cut was Mike Matthews’ Bigger Leaner Stronger. I’m a big fan of his content and recommend his work if your looking to get lean and strong. This has been the most effective exercise program I’ve used so far and one that I will continue using in the future.
- If you’re brand new to exercise, focus on bodyweight movements at first. If you can’t even do push-ups or pull-ups, it’s probably too early to start throwing weights around. Focus on quality bodyweight movements like burpees, bodyweight squats, jumping jacks, lunges, and core routines. Do some light activities that you enjoy like walking, biking or jump rope. Just get out there and get moving. You don’t have to break yourself down for an hour in the gym just to get an effective workout. Move your body for 10 minutes when you first wake up. Set aside a small portion of your lunch break to work in some physical activity. I believe resistance training is the most beneficial form of exercise you can do, so try to work it in eventually, but it’s not the only way to make progress with your fitness.
- If I Can Do It, You Can Do It. I’m not a certified personal trainer or nutritionist, yet. I’m not a bodybuilder or training for some competition. I’ve never even played sports. I used to be 90lbs overweight, smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, ate fast food every day, and was a borderline alcoholic. I abused my body on a daily basis with no regard for my future health or longevity. But, I turned it all around, and today I’m in the best shape of my life, all while working a full-time job and going to college. If I can start from the bottom and work my way up, you can too. I promise.
- Meal Prep. Honestly, I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen but cut corners everywhere I can. At the start of the week, I’ll usually make a huge batch of the energy bowl to have for at least a few days’ worth of breakfast. For salads, I’ll prep two at a time to have for today and tomorrow’s lunch. I’ll also prepare large portions of chicken, potatoes, and rice all at once to have on hand for quick and easy meals, whether it’s lunch or dinner. Just add vegetables, spices, healthy fats, and you’re ready to go with a healthy, well-balanced meal. I always make extra food so the wife can have some, as well (Pro tip, guys).
- No Fad Diets Necessary. Not Paleo, not keto, not Atkins, not any other fancy diet plan or innovative formula that helped me do it. Essentially, the strategy I used to lose weight is the same strategy I used back in 2009. Eat based on my energy requirements, exercise consistently, limit intake of toxins, and try to consume healthy foods in wide variety as much as possible.
- Supplements. Since I’m lifting heavy weights, I take 5g of creatine per day, which is the clinically effective dosage. This is a highly studied supplement that is proven to naturally stimulate muscle growth. Aside from creatine, I take caffeine in the form of black coffee, which naturally boosts metabolism and provides a good kick before a workout. I also surround my workouts with a whey protein isolate to support fat loss and muscle protein synthesis. Other dietary “supplements” I take intermittently are broccoli sprouts, dulse, kelp, greens powder, spirulina, and MSM powder. Finally, I take fish oil, vitamin D, and a multivitamin. None of these are required when you’re having a wide variety of healthy foods in your diet, but I like to cover my bases just in case. The bottom line on supplements is that you truly don’t need any of them and most are just marketing junk and poison. You can do just fine by eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. Worthwhile supplements such as the ones I’ve listed here simply help you achieve your goals more quickly and conveniently.
- Timing of Meals. On average, I ate four main meals per day every 2-3 hours, not including my pre and/or post workout shakes. I fasted for the first couple hours of every day, creating about a 12-hour feeding window each day. I usually had a low-fat, moderate carb, high protein snack right before bed every single night. Timing of meals is not nearly as important as total calorie intake. If you’re fueling yourself slightly less than your body’s requirements and creating a calorie deficit, you will lose weight regardless of when you eat.
- Cheat Meals. Outside of the normal days when I decided to enjoy a few hundred more calories than I was allowed, I pretty much had one main cheat meal every week. Sometimes, they involved going out to eat with my wife. Sometimes, it was a family gathering. Usually, it was something home cooked like a delicious steak dinner or an extra serving of chicken wise rice. A couple times, it was straight up beer with a burger and fries or pizza. The key is, I limited it to only one meal. I didn’t let it turn into a day or weekend or full cheat week like I used to. Enjoy just that one meal and get back to normal. A few other good tips are to try to stick to a high protein, low-fat cheat meal if possible and to save up your calories throughout the day when you know that special meal is coming. Have high protein, low carb, low fat snacks in preparation for that meal, which will help you prevent your total calorie intake from going through the roof.
- Accelerating Fat Loss. After losing an average of 1lb per week in the first six weeks, I was able to lose an average of 1.3lbs per week in the second half of the challenge. The biggest change I made was incorporating more low intensity, steady state cardio through walking and biking. My calories and macros stayed the same, but I increased energy expenditure. In addition to the added cardio, I stayed within my 2,400-calorie limit more often, which also accelerated results.
- Strength Gains. I gained strength consistently in my workouts during at least the first half of the cut and felt great despite taking in less calories than I was expending. It wasn’t until the last few weeks where I experienced a drop-off in strength gains and energy levels. At that point, I knew it was time to call an end to the fat loss and give my calorie intake a bump up (2,200/day up to 2,700/day).
- Clean Eating Doesn’t = Weight Loss. This cut took so long, in part, because I had a needless amount of weight to lose. Despite my past experience with successful weight loss, I still eventually fell into a clean eating trap where I was easily eating 3,000-5,000 calories per day, including excessive amounts of dietary fat. I figured since I was lifting weights and building muscle, I could just eat as much nutrient dense food as I wanted. Wrong. Sure, I was eating healthy, but was also taking in way more calories than I actually needed in order to build muscle. This resulted in the accumulation of excess body fat. Being too far above or below your daily energy needs can significantly hinder your progress or result in a body type you don’t want. Just because food is healthy doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want and not gain extra weight. Bummer, I know.
- Counting Calories. This doesn’t mean eating 100 calorie snack packs or carefully portioning out your Doritos. The quality of your food is just as important as the calorie content. If I had to pick one or the other, I would focus on food quality over quantity. But both are important. It’s critical to be mindful of the things you’re putting into your body. Specific ingredients, total calories, macronutrient amounts. Once you control these things and understand them, changing your body becomes a matter of routine, math, and proper dietary choices. Some experts debunk calorie counting, but I can say for sure that it has worked wonders for me, both in my original 90lb weight loss and this most recent cut. Regardless of whether counting is optimal for you, you need a general understanding of what is going in and what is coming out. I highly suggest this strategy if you want to achieve results faster than average.
- Tracking Progress. Track your weight. Track your meals. Track your calorie intake. Track your workouts. Yes, it’s a time commitment, but that feeling of knowing you’re in control and making progress becomes addictive. Plus, it’s a lot harder to move forward when you’re not sure where you’ve been. Evaluate your performance and strive to keep getting better. To gain strength and improve physique, focus on making progress on your exercises over time. Record the amount of weight used and number of reps performed. You may be shocked at how fast you gain strength, especially if you’re just getting started. If you did more this time than you did last time with proper form, chances are you’re doing everything right. If you’re not making progress, something is likely off with your training, diet, or rest routine.
- Recalculate Calorie/Macronutrient Needs. So, you’ve been to Wise-Eats.com. You’ve calculated your daily calorie needs, started eating based on your individual energy expenditure, and are at least making an attempt to exercise at least a couple days a week. Inevitably, thanks to your hard work and dedication, you’re going to add lean mass and/or lose body fat. As you diet and begin to lose weight, you’ll eventually need to recalculate your daily calorie needs and macronutrient amounts to continue losing weight, depending on how overweight you are. At the beginning of this fat loss challenge, 2,400 calories/day was what I needed to lose weight at a starting weight of 190lbs. As my bodyweight decreased, that number dropped to 2,200 calories/day. Now, I’m slowly increasing calories to maintain weight and build some strength. Keep in mind that your daily calorie requirements will change over time as your body and exercise habits change.
- Cardio. For the first six weeks, I barely did any of it. For the second six weeks, I averaged roughly two sessions per week, but they were usually fasted walking and biking. I live 6 miles from work and am able to get there on my bike in 25 minutes. Not only can I get a moderate intensity fasted workout by biking, I save on gas and miles. Rethink the way you travel. If you go somewhere frequently that is within a couple miles, why not walk or ride a bike? If you sit at a desk at lunchtime, why not go for a walk instead? Simple, easy, and wise ways to burn calories and save money. Aside from walking and biking, I worked in some active recovery with short ab routines, stretching, foam rolling, and a couple random HIIT routines with a stationary bike or kettlebells.
- Post-Cut Diet & Training. Calories increasing from 2,200 per day to about 2,700 per day currently. After I declared the cut over, I enjoyed an extra 500-1000 calorie meal, but resisted the urge to go totally crazy and fall back into an extended calorie surplus. After cutting, your body is highly susceptible to gaining fat very quickly if grossly overfed. It’s important to “reverse diet” by slowly increasing your calorie intake to avoid putting the body fat right back on. I’m now eating right around my TDEE, which will allow my energy levels to return to normal and start gaining some strength back in my workouts. After taking a week off from lifting to rest and de-load, I’m back to weight training 5 days per week. I will test this out for a few weeks, see how I feel, then possibly start another cut to see if I can get even lower than 183.0 while retaining as much muscle as possible. As long as I continue to feel good and perform well, that’s the most important thing.
I hope there’s something you can take away from this weight loss experience to help improve your personal health going forward. Make one positive change today and it will add up to major benefits in the future! If there’s anything you feel I have left out or you have additional questions/comments, please let me know. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Now get out there and make some wise choices!