Saturday, 18 June 2016

70lb Down… So Far (The 70lb Down Series: Episode 1)

Hi all,

On Wednesday, we started the Cowlean in the Kitchen series with breakfasts, today we start another: The 70lb Down Series. This will form the first in a five episode series which will chronicle my rise (or should I say fall?...) to my current weight, aesthetic, and health.

If you want to make a massive change in your life, this is the series for you.

Today we’re going to be doing an analysis of my pre and post-Christmas diet and results. Sounds inconsequential? The truth couldn’t be any further from it. Christmas was an interesting time for me: I put on an absolute tonne of water weight in a short space of time (15lbs in a week!), and shortly afterwards started in full time work. At this point I stopped counting calories, upgraded what I ate, and exercised less.  

My average weekly weight loss went from 1.51lbs a week to 1.85 lbs, while ceasing to count calories, eating more fat, and exercising less! Insanity?...

These are exactly the broad topics we’ll look at today: calories, food quality and content, and how much i exercise(d). By the end of today’s post, I’m sure that you will be scratching your collective heads, and be questioning the common “wisdom” which has kept you from achieving your goals.

The story of my year
Bodyfat percentage versus weeks

The above graph documents the story of my life for the past year. Before we move on, I want to draw attention to four separate sections.

The first is right up to about week 15. I was finishing the last 3 months of my masters, eating roughly 2400 calories a day, and slowly losing weight… until the results tapered off…

...So I cut my calories and introduced multiple cardio sessions, and you know what, it was super effective! I lost weight at a faster pace and was pleased with my results. However, something was waiting just around the corner which was going to slap me right in my smug chops...

...Christmas. I put on 15lbs in a week (for real), and then two weeks later I started my new job. Due to the pressures of the new job, I stopped counting calories and halved the amount I was exercising.

From week 40 onwards, I totally cleaned up my diet, locked in a new exercise regime, and have been enjoying the steepest weight loss slope so far.

So what did I change?


By Christmas time, I had gone from eating 2400 calories a day to roughly 1800, which for someone of my size (6 foot 8 inches/ 200 cm) is not very much! Counting calories gave me freedom to eat inside an easily followed set of guidelines. A set which allowed indulgence as long as it was in moderation. Seems reasonable right? Reasonable, yes, effective, kind of?  Considering how much of a deficit I “should” have been in, why wasn’t I losing a bucket load of fat?

Maybe I was simply underestimating my calories? I was a seasoned bean counter by this point, though, so I doubt this was the case…

At this point, I had a lot to learn...

I believe it was a case of oversimplification. To take an ecological marvel like the human body and reduce it to a simple formula of calories in and calories out was tragically simple. Too simple, it turned out. What I had neglected was the impact on my hormonal balance and metabolism. I wasn’t feeding myself properly and put my body into “starvation mode”. Calorie counting had given me the solution and the way forward: simply lower your calories more! So I did as instructed and ate less and less, not to mention that I ate less healthy fats because fats contain more calories than carbs or protein!

Perhaps this tactic is appropriate for competitive bodybuilders who want to transition from teen to sub-10% bodyfat but it was not and is not for me.

I instead chose a path that was much more enjoyable and much more sustainable!

To see the sustainability, just check out the jumps in bodyfat pre-Christmas. Each weekend I would let myself go in one way or another, and my body would hurriedly start creating fat deposits. Post-Christmas, my whole plan suited me so much more so that a) I was less tempted to cheat, and b), it had less effect on me. Now, that’s not to say I just started eating the equivalent of 5000 calories a day; if I did I wouldn’t expect to lose much weight at all. Instead, I continued weighing myself each day and paid a lot of attention to what made me lose and gain weight each day. What quantity of food could I “handle” before gaining weight? What foods would cause me to gain the most water weight? What was causing me to enter a long term fat-burning trend? This strategy is much more in line with your natural rhythms and ensures you reach your goals in the most comfortable way possible.

This leads to today’s first takeaway:

Don’t count calories. Instead, weigh yourself regularly to simply ensure you're headed in the right direction.

Food quality and content

One of the biggest changes I made after Christmas was going organic. This included buying organic meat and wild caught fish as often as possible.

We’ve been taught that a chicken is a chicken, that an organic sweet potato is identical to a conventionally grown one, and that a calorie is a calorie. Once you start to question these views which have been thrust upon you by society (who, by the way, continually fail to meet their health goals), you are going to progress in leaps and bounds.

Food quality is half the battle.

The fat from organic and grass-fed meat is actually beneficial to your health and includes much higher amounts of omega-3s, which means you can enjoy the sustenance in the fat in good conscience. By swapping to organic produce, you’re going to drastically reduce the inflammation in your body as you cut out all of the chemicals, antibiotics, and faeces (used as part of some conventionally raised animal feed) you would have been consuming. Furthermore, it is an ecologically sustainable and environmentally beneficial way to spend your hard earned cash.

As well as the extra animal fats I was consuming, I added more healthy fats from the plant world (who has time for such calorically dense foods as nuts when you’re eating only 1800 calories a day?). This uptake led to much higher satiation in my food, proper hormonal regulation, and better flavours all around. Better taste is an excellent and highly enjoyable side effect of improving the quality of your food; in the end it means that foods can be enjoyed on their own without sugary, processed condiments, and stale spices.

Look at this happy cow(lean), he's so happy! You are what you eat!

I also made sure to make half of every meal leafy green vegetables, which provided a tonne of antioxidants, minerals, nutrients, vitamins and fibre. Fibre is so vital to good health. Without becoming too crude, the body loves fibre as it needs it to expel the majority of the toxins you consume. Diets high in fibre (from healthy sources) are excellent for great gut health.

Buy the highest quality of food you can afford to lower inflammation, increase satiety, improve your health, and benefit the environment.

Someone might say “I can’t afford to go organic”. To that I say try it out for a week. Buy only organic food and see how you feel. You might find it’s easier than you thought to incorporate it. WIth smart eating, you can actually eat for the same price as conventional produce because you won’t need as much of it. You will also become more economical with the food you buy, for example: rather than simply throwing away animal bones, you can make bone broth to use as a base for soups or as an extremely simple and delicious breakfast.


Previous to Christmas I was going to the gym every other day, and 2 out of those 3 gym sessions included 30 minutes of cardio. I also walked 20 minutes back and forth to the gym. Have you ever been in this situation? You’re doing a tonne of work, but you’re not seeing the results you saw at first. It feels like every step forward is harder and harder. You’re pushing against the current.

Once I started in full time work, like many of us, the commitment became just too much. Lucky for me, I was making a change to my advantage. One which was going to turn the tide in my favourite and let me work with the grain rather than against it.

I swapped over to one cardio session a week and two weight lifting sessions, more than halving the amount of exercise I was doing. On top of that, the cardio session was five a side football, where periods of sprinting are more common rather than the constant motion of steady state cardio.

My weight loss must have slowed or reversed surely? I was exercising half as much as before. That’s what most people would think.

This actually contributed to me losing weight at a faster pace, gave me more free time, and I maintained my strength to boot! By not exercising as much, I was minimising inflammation and giving my body time to recover. Similar to my caloric restriction, the high levels of exercise caused my body to treat exercise as a continuous stressor rather than a positive adaptogen. If you want to be more, you need to let your body turn you into more. If you remember one thing from this post, remember this: if you don’t allow your body to recover you will never reap the true benefits of exercise.

This creates our third powerful takeaway for today, one which I didn’t think you’d expect.

Reduce your exercise to half of what you’re currently doing, completely cut out cardio, and test the results.

I say half because this will really show a marked difference. Look at your results: are you losing more weight? Do you have more energy now? If you try this out and find that you are losing strength, consider that you could do two full body workouts a week and not need anything else. Except for those competitive bodybuilders out there, the non-core movements are only going to have marginal effects on your physique. Before adding in more cardio and weights, let your current setup reach a state of homeostasis.

Let's face it, suffering under what society is telling us to do isn't worth it. Instead choose the Cowlean way!


Let’s revisit those takeaways:
  1. Stop counting calories
  2. Buy the highest quality food you can afford
  3. Cut your exercise in half

Wait a second, did I just say that?

These three takeaways will genuinely affect your fat loss experience and bring you better results.

Consider this: if the common “wisdom” is to believe that a calorie is a calorie, to count them, and exercise as much as possible, then why doesn’t it work for the majority of people?

Do the right thing, be more efficient with your time, and let your results do the talking.


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