“Whenever I feel like going off my diet, I just go to my happy place. The snack drawer.”
Around two years ago I was a mightily hefty dude. I clocked in somewhere around 280 lbs at a height of 6 feet with relatively wide shoulders.
Or at least they would be considered wide in the conventional sense — if they weren’t as round as a cherub’s ass by that point.
You see, I let myself get rotund in my 30’s.
Plump. Portly. Corpulent. Fatty, fat, fat-fat.
However you want to call it, I was uncomfortably larger than I had ever been before in my life. And as a guy that grew up damn skinny until he hit his 20’s — that weighed on me.
*Warning — dadlike puns ahead.
Something snapped in me around that time, and I undertook some major life changes. I quit my high-paying career, went traveling for a long time, and starting blogging after a hippie friend of mine shouted “Write on, brother!” at me one night.
And just like a chicken, I started working on my pecs. And every other muscle. A lot. And here we are, 2 years later.
Welcome to the punitentiary, reader.
Prepare to sigh.
Beginner gains are a thing
I had one goal in mind during these escapades to the gym initially.
Gain as much muscle as possible while losing as much fat at the same time.
And it worked — for a while.
I lost 30 lbs in the first few months after leaving my job and country at the time.
I attribute this to a few factors:
- I stopped eating fast food completely — but still ate out every meal, just higher quality food
- I started eating full foods like fruits, vegetables, oven-baked pizzas, frittatas, and homemade burgers instead of the usual processed crap
- And I would walk 500 miles — around 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day
- I started weight lifting 3–4 times per week
- I reduced my drinking nights in half
- I stopped eating eggs in cake-form
Sure, these are probably your everyday kind of weight-loss tips, but it worked pretty well for me.
Until it didn’t. I started going the wrong weigh.
Eventually, I moved and settled down into another country, and my body adjusted. I kept up the weight lifting routine, an on-and-off life long habit of mine — but very consistently now.
And a weird thing happened after about 9 months — for the first time in my life, I didn’t have to push myself to go to the gym. It even started feeling weird when I didn’t go.
And I like that. It’s a part of my life now and hopefully will remain as such.
But one problem remained. I hit the 2nd plateau of weight loss— and I haven’t been able to crack it since.
More muscle burns more calories, right?
Sometimes in life, we choose to remain ignorant about things — because it’s easier if we don’t know the full truth.
- Like how keeping your head down and working hard will only result in never getting a raise and a career full of disappointment.
2. Or how only 9–20% of recycled Western plastic actually ends up recycled.
3. Or the idea that you can add enough muscle to make up for a shitty diet.
I clung to this tenet of building muscle with the premise I would eventually have enough flesh-steel to melt off most of my extra fat.
I knew it wouldn’t be enough to get me a 6 pack, but hey, at 280 lbs, I was happy to dream about getting down to 15–20% body fat again.
A lazy Wolverine in-between movies rather than a Michelin Man scarfing down marshmallows every day.
But I was mistaken — and I think I knew this the whole time.
There’s been a misnomer floating around the bodybuilding bro-science industry for ages:
1 lb of extra muscle = 50 extra calories burned per day
We’ve all seen those body-building transformation posts and videos of someone going from 500 lbs to 130 lbs in under 6 months, right?
Well here’s the secret recipe to gaining those amazing results:
You’ll often hear many of these snake oil salesmen touting the benefits of muscle gain and why you should lift weight so you can eat like crazy.
But in reality — those 50 calories are a myth.
Studies estimate muscle burns only around 4.5 to 7.0 calories per pound per day.
Then combine that with normal muscle growth rates of 1 to 4 lbs per month (or as little as 1 lb for intermediate-advanced trainers).
Even if you packed on a very respectable 12 lbs of lean muscle in a year — you’d only be burning an extra 54 to 84 calories per day.
Which sadly translates to stuff like:
- 2 extra strawberries
- 15% of a Snickers bar
- 0.048% of an entire human (for those chubby zombies out there)
While more muscle certainly does lead to a much healthier life, you can’t go pig out on your cheat day thinking everything will be fine.
18 Months of muscle training
So here’s J.J., plugging along for a year and a half walking everywhere, swimming and biking occasionally, while pumping weights like a madman 3 to 6 times a week.
Did I gain results? Absolutely!
I often hear comments about how I slimmed down and look way healthier.
When I see friends that have been absent for a while, they’ll often say I look younger, way better, or even:
“You almost look, dare I say, handsome.” — An awkward drunk individual 1 month ago
And I feel great!
This was a lot better than many times in my early 30’s, where the opposite would happen. It was almost fun hearing what people had to say about my weight (I had gained almost 100 lbs in 5 years).
But whatever they said, I didn’t let it bother me. I was bigger than that.
And now, I’ve managed to get down to about 215 to 225 lbs, depending on the week.
Why such a big range? Because I’ve been stuck in this diet plateau for over 6 months now.
I slowly started moving away from the ‘more muscle, more burning’ mantra — against my innate nature. And it ain’t easy.
I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different diets and having fun with them, while still struggling with my life-long binge eating habits.
I proved to myself (stupidly) that you can’t out-train a bad diet, even if that is a common mantra. But my sample size of 1 has reinforced that point internally.
I guess one of the reasons I’m sitting here writing this is my disappointment in the results.
Sometimes my finicky brain makes me go on number-adventures down useless rabbit holes.
In this case, I calculated the number of calories I burned in those 18 months:
- From walking — 250,000
- From weightlifting — 150,000
Or if you put it in simplistic terms of fat, around 114 lbs!
But I did not lose 114 lbs — of fat or anything else.
Calories out vs calories in
I lost about 60 lbs in overall body weight. I didn’t stop to take proper measurements, but I’m sure in the end I added about 15 to 20 lbs of muscle and lost 75 to 80 lbs of fat.
Which is great!
But again my pesky brain tends to look on the other side of things — if I ‘lost’ 60 lbs of bodyweight when I burned an extra 114 lbs through exercise — then somewhere along the way, I ate the equivalent of 54 extra lbs of food.
Or in other words:
- 555 cups of Pedigree dog food
- 6095 cups of chopped broccoli
- 1 cup of Midnight Mint Cinnamon Dolce Pumpkin Spice Fakeaccino from StarSchmucks
And that’s where the disappointment comes from.
You can’t out-train a bad diet.
I’ve been stuck in fat-loss limbo for over 6 months because I tried fighting that core concept.
And that sucks — but at least I gained a lot of muscle during the process.
But as some of you more experienced lifter-bros out there might be thinking (correctly) — I could’ve experienced much better results by doing cutting and bulking phases instead.
And that’s cool, but I’m just happy to be able to share my own experiences putting an old workout mantra to the test.
It’s time to up my game — again. Over the next few months, I’m going to be playing with some different strategies for breaking my weight loss plateau. And sharing the results!
I know a few different experiments worked better for me than others, so I’ll be tinkering, toying, and maybe even titillating with a variety of styles — until I get on track with the results I want.
And while I was able to out-train a bad diet for a while, I chalk that up to beginner gains — an actual thing. But eventually, my body reached a sort of equilibrium.
An equilibrium that I must now breakthrough.
So stay tuned — hopefully, I’ll be writing a ‘From Fat to Fit’ article in the next 6 months.