How I Would Tackle Serious Weight Loss

In the comment thread of Keto and Starvation Signals, there was a discussion of how I would approach “serious” weight loss. It was too much for a comment, so I put together this post along with relevant links.

Serious vs Red Zone Weight Loss

What does “serious” weight loss even mean? I don’t know. There were two phases of my fat loss journey.

  1. 222 to 200: This was the original goal. I thought 200 would be a good weight for me given my height 6 ft 2.5 in.
  2. 200 to 180: The skills and habits I developed in phase one caused me to effortlessly glide down to 180. I discovered that 180 was a perfect weight for me.

Looking back I would say that Phase 1 was my “serious” weight loss. Phase 2 was my Red Zone weight loss. Red Zone is a football term when a team’s offense is inside their opponent’s 20-yard line. Because the defense has less field to defend, it is harder to make gains here. The same is true with fat loss. As you get leaner, your metabolism drops and it gets harder to lose weight.

In my diet, the Red Zone was 20 pounds out. Again I was flying blind. There was never a goal to hit 180. I increased my protein intake when I entered the Red Zone. I did several posts on Potato and Protein. Was 20 pounds the correct path? I don’t know. Maybe 30 pounds would have been better.

Why split the two phases? Because they likely will require different strategies.

The Basics

I would follow a low-fat diet using whole foods that taste OK and minimize the consumption of delicious foods. Eat boring, high-volume, fiber-rich foods. Eat to satiety at every meal. Yes, this means the Potato Diet and the Modern Peasant Diet.

Initially, you probably won’t lose as much weight as you would restricting delicious foods and feeling a little hunger, because you are not restricting calories. However, you are training your brain to not associate eating with entertainment. When the flavor signals are lowered meal after meal, appetite will naturally drop.

I highly recommend the book The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat by Stephan J. Guyenet Ph.D. for a deeper explanation of this concept.

Great-tasting food causes us to overeat. We always have room for an extra slice of pizza or a bowl of ice cream, yet we get full with boiled potatoes rather quickly. We consume fewer calories when the food has less flavor.

Eat slower. A few people have mentioned that they got nauseous eating potatoes. Eat slower. One bite at a time. Add salt and Tabasco if you need to.

Prepare most (or all) of your food. Get an Instant Pot and maybe an Air Fryer. Prep food like a bodybuilder. Focus on staples, not novelty.

Stock your pantry full of the non-perishables you’ll be eating. My shelves are packed with legumes (canned and dried), quinoa, buckwheat groats, steel-cut oats, salsa, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, TVP, broth, sardines, and canned salmon. If I handled gluten, I’d have bags of farro, kumut, and couscous.

Eating a plate of veggies over a whole grain or potatoes fills me up with very few calories.

No liquid calories. This includes soft drinks and alcohol. If you are a fan of those beverages, cut your intake by 50%. And then every so often, cut by another 50% until you are free.

Protein

Protein is the cool kid in nutrition right now. However, if I had a lot of weight to lose, I would keep protein low during the “serious” Phase One.

I would only increase protein once I got close to the Red Zone or if I needed additional help lowering my appetite.

Restricting protein has the benefit of triggering cellular repair. If the person has a lot of weight to lose, restricting protein could minimize the amount of extra skin at the end of the diet, as the body would recycle those amino acids. See the post More Thoughts on High Volume or High Protein For Fat Loss for more details.

The protein restriction doesn’t need to be every day or every meal. Dial in what works best for you.

Exercise and Heat

Another mistake dieters make is they start exercising at the same time they are cutting calories. Does this work? Yes. For a while. Then hunger spikes and life becomes miserable. You’ll make far more progress on weight loss in the kitchen than in the gym.

For Phase One “serious” fat loss, limit exercise. As you get leaner, slowly add in exercise. The goal of Phase One is to minimize hunger not to “burn” calories. Go for walks and stretch.

Figure out how to get warmer. See the post Temperature and Appetite for details. Saunas would be a great tool, just east into them gradually.

Fasting / Detox

A few months ago, I posted about how the fitness bros have been dunking on fasting recently in favor of eating protein throughout the day. This seems like fine advice if you are already lean (or older).

However, we know that very little muscle is lost when heavy people diet, so there is no reason to fear fasting. It is a solid tool, but it can also be difficult and make you feel like crap.

Here is how I would use fasting. I would gradually reduce my daily eating window. First to 12 hours. Then to 10. Maybe get down to 8 hours. There is no need to rush.

Once you can eat in a reduced eating window, start planning for a longer fast of a day or two. Instead of a pure water fast, consume some steamed cabbage and maybe an avocado or two. Why? This will keep your protein levels low while providing the body with some fiber that will help eliminate some of the toxins liberated during fat burning. See my post Detoxification Notes (Science Not Woo-Woo) for more details.

I would also donate blood every 56 days.

Worked For Me

I bored myself thin with nutrient-dense high-volume fiber-rich foods. I was never hungry and my appetite fell to support my ideal weight. There are certainly other ways to lose weight. However, most will fail to maintain the weight loss after 4 years (80% failure rate), whereas I’ve effortlessly maintained my loss for years now.

For more info on how I think about satiety see my posts Should one ever diet? and Approach Fat Loss Like You Would Approach a Cat.

Any questions?

UPDATE: Exfatloss posted Response: How Critical MAS would tackle serious weight loss

23 Comments

Add yours

  1. Dr. Walter Kempner’s Rice Diet worked well for weight loss when calories were controlled. There were several observed benefits of this Rice Diet. So, I will mention some facts here, although facts and logic generally matter little in dietary discussions.

    1) man is an omnivore, and can convert carbohydrates to usable protein

    2) the glucose-alanine cycle robs muscle protein to make ATP

    3) protein is in a constant state of turnover, especially in the human gut, which means there is always a supply of any essential amino acids on hand.

    4) original studies done on protein needs by Dr. William Rose showed extremely low amounts of protein were needed.

    5) if daily calorie needs are met, combining foods for better nutrition outcomes derived from protein are not forthcoming.

    6) singular plant protein foods contain enough dietary essential amino acids.

    7) persons imprisoned and subsequently starved of nutrition have no loose skin, as imprisonment officials rarely allocate protein to prisoners.

    8) animal protein is not inherently superior to plant protein as this paradigm has man-made origins, comparing rats while eating various foods. The protein needs of rats differ significantly from humans.

    9) political and commercial biases of the dairy, meat, and farming interests cloud scientific judgements.

    10) dietary fat is easily metabolized to body fat.

    Marc

  2. @ Marc I found this interesting historical write up on Kempner’s rice diet. I had never heard of him. Fun to see what was going on in the 1930’s and ’40’s. In particular, I didn’t realize they were measuring and treating for cholesterol and high blood pressure back then.

    https://www.drmcdougall.com/education/information-all/walter-kempner-md-founder-of-the-rice-diet/

  3. @Marc – I think we agree on serious weight loss.

    What are your thoughts regarding protein and “Red Zone” fat loss? Lyle McDonald’s P-Ratio writings were persuasive to me that as one gets leaner, higher protein is needed to defend against muscle loss.

  4. @Jim – great article. My favorite part:

    One reason Kempner chose rice was because he believed that rice proteins were easily assimilated and there was no concern about getting sufficient amounts of the essential amino acids. (This adequacy and completeness of protein is not limited to rice, and is true for all starches, including corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.) He chose rice rather than another starch because, in his day, nearly half of the world’s population consumed large amounts of rice (sometimes rice made up 80% to 90% of their diet).

    Potatoes!

  5. This is a great and much needed post.

    “Bored myself thin” — brilliant. Side note: What is “TVP?” (from your pantry list.)

  6. @M* – TVP is textured vegetable protein. I add it to my bean chili. Considering it is mostly protein, now I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it in the context of this post.

  7. @Jim,

    Dr. McDougall’s dietary recommendations are congruent with a vegetarian lifestyle. I like meat, however, and don’t follow his recommendations fully. I was taken back by his protein article

    https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/apr/protein.htm

    as I was misled by bodybuilding articles as a youth. The huge amounts of money stolen from young men during their youth to purchase unnecessary protein products is as unethical as politics today.

  8. You forgot to mention how you militantly avoided seed oils and PUFAs for 10 years 🙂
    Maybe that’s the whole secret?

  9. @MAS,

    Red Zone?
    Motor leaning science shows how to get good at something requires perfect practice. Make dietary methods like perfect practice of football practice.
    Perfect dietary practice for fat loss would require perfect counting of calories. Perfecting nourishing meals that don’t incite hunger .
    The Boring Diet by Tom Armstrong describes such nourishment in detail.

    As we age fast twitch fibers fade. Heavy weights (resistance training) can help but not fix fast twitch fiber loss. Nothing can as of 2023., especially protein. Lift heavy weights to less than failure. Warm up! Do Ventilatory threshold 1 work, with occasional forays into higher intensities. Enjoy life, work hard at perfecting your personal skills. Be happy!

    Marc

  10. @exfatloss – I avoided seed oils by cooking in liquid (build, steam, pressure cook) and embracing carbs. I avoided other PUFA by embracing carbs as my primary macronutrient. I still follow these habits.

    @Marc – Red Zone was a term I made up at the top of this post. Let me rephrase the question. What are your thoughts on protein intake to prevent muscle loss at the tail end of a diet? Not someone at 30% BF, but someone around 12%.

  11. @MAS

    Just curious why you didn’t mention seed oils/PUFA once in the article. One might think your entire success could be due to avoiding them. Now one could certainly “accidentally” go PUFA-free over years following the “Boring Nourishment” advice, but it would be a coincidence. Why not even mention it?

    Btw did you get my email? Just making sure it didn’t get lost.

  12. @exfatloss – I did not receive an email from you. I checked the SPAM folder as well. Please resend –> Gmail: digitalcolony

    I removed the seed oils several years before I started the diet I described above (around 2013). It did not impact my weight. I bounced around in that 190-210 range. Then my knee injury arrived and I went to 222.

    Once I began the boring high-volume, low-fat diet is when the weight started falling off effortlessly.

  13. @MAS,

    Going below 10 % body fat percentage has little value. Only bodybuilders find value in very low body fat percentages. Dr. Ellington Darden made an interesting comment about bodybuilders, Whatever a bodybuilder does, “Do The Opposite.”

    Please don’t take this personally, but there is little value in body fat percentage below 12 %.

    Consider this:

    https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/15-negative-effects-having-low-body-fat-percentage#:~:text=%E2%80%9CMale%20bodybuilders%20typically%20go%20below,central%20nervous%20systems%E2%80%94in%20check.

    Lyle McDonald’s writings are for an audience geared toward extremes. I have little interest in such extremes of dietary practices.

    If someone convinced of competing in a bodybuilding contest wanted a temporary low level of body fat, I would suggest lots of boiled potatoes, plain, sporadic heavy weights to almost failure, and Ventilatory threshold 1 cardiovascular conditioning.

    Marc

  14. @Marc – Let me ask the question better. I’m not interested in sub 10% bodyfat.

    Let’s use the 12% number in your comment. Do you think the protein needs of a male dieter going from 15% to 12% are higher than an obese dieter?

    2nd question. What do you think of the advice that older people need more protein? Thanks.

  15. @MAS

    Ok, sent you another email. The other one contained a link, so maybe was blocked? Let me know if you get it. Otherwise, I’ll send you a DM on twitter if you check that.

  16. @MAS,

    Q1) no
    Less overall body mass would require less protein overall. The body can convert fat to protein. All plant foods contain sufficient essential amino acids to flourish. Biochemistry changes little as one ages. Think potatoes!

    Q2) no

    The okinawans are proof! Extra protein as you age could exacerbate any likely kidney problems of aging. Visit any nephrologist office of proof of kidney problems related to aging. These Dr.s are overwhelmed with patients. Extra protein leaches calcium from the bones. This is the last thing women need as they age. What they need usually is more fiber, which of course is what protein (meat) does not provide. All in all, one of the more ignorant dietary recommendations in the last few years.

  17. You seem to have remarkable discipline with eating. Do you often get tempted by tasty foods? Or has strict eating over the years reduced your interest in such foods?

    I tend to always be over busy with too much on the my plate (he he) which makes it hard to pay attention to what I eat beyond a certain point. Ideally I’d like to find a way to intuitively be less interested in eating the more fattening foods.

    Of course, even more ideal would be to be able to eat fattening foods without overeating and getting fat. Up till my mid twenties I was effortlessly thin eating plenty of pizza and burgers. It was when I came off the paleo diet that I gained fat. Thus I’m gun shy of trying restrictive diets. Seems like the best way to get fatter long term.

  18. @Marc – Thanks for the response. I’ll continue to dive deeper on this topic.

    @Hs – Yes. I broke the habit of seeking out tasty novel foods at every meal. I save them for the occasional experience. This 2017 post outlines how I rewired my brain to embrace low-flavor satiety.
    https://criticalmas.org/2017/09/beat-food-cravings-peasant-diet/

  19. @Hs – One more point: my diet is flavor restrictive, not calorie restrictive. It is important to eat to fullness with the “ok tasting” foods. Do this repeatedly and your brain will decrease your appetite. Food stops being entertainment.

  20. Off-topic: you’ve mentioned your knee injury for several years and how it affected your workouts and diet. I searched the blog but did not find a post on what you did to rehab it and what state it’s in now.

    Of course, I ask because I’m 6’3″, 210lbs, and have had a twingey left knee for several years now. I have some exercises and movements that alleviate knee pain and discomfort but still — curious as to your experience.

  21. @Mike – This post covers my knee rehab. The short version is to make all the supporting muscles stronger.

    https://criticalmas.org/2018/06/an-update-on-my-knee-pain-plus-tips-you-can-use/

  22. @MAS Interesting post I’ll have to give that a shot.

  23. @All – Exfatloss posted a response to this post. Even though I’m not a fan of keto, we do have several points of agreement.

    https://www.exfatloss.com/p/response-how-critical-mas-would-tackle

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