Friday, 31 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Twelve: Going It Alone

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 205 lbs
Calories: 3700

Same weight as yesterday, which is fine; in fact, if you’re getting stronger over time and your weight is staying the same that’s great. That means you’re losing fat and building muscle.

Today I want to go over “going it alone”. This is the post which contradicts Day 9, where I spoke about why losing weight as part of a group is beneficial.

Doing anything alone is better suited for the lone wolves out there. These are some characteristic traits that you might have (and I have these myself):
  • A willingness to obsess
  • Stubbornness
  • A thick skin
  • Vanity and high levels of ego
  • Introspection

A willingness to accept obsession is vital: to succeed on your own to need to be able to shift mountains and turn all of your energies towards one goal. Every unoccupied thought becomes filled with schemes to move you closer to the ultimate prize.

Stubbornness and a thick skin comes next because you will have detractors. Subconsciously, people hate it when you say or act in a manner which is incongruent to their beliefs. You’re sub-communicating that they’re wrong. You’ll see it in the way they frame you as “crazy” or “wasting your time”.

Having vanity and expressing your ego is important as well. By going it alone you’re effectively saying “everyone else will slow me down”, and that you want all of your results to be because of your own efforts.

The last trait is introspection, because you’ve chosen to eschew sounding boards and be your own critic. You need to be able to look at yourself, analyse what you’ve achieved, and see what needs to be changed.

Before signing off, I want to tell you that the person described above is not undesirable. This is a person who gets the job done. Putting this person in a circle singing hymns is not going to make them happy. This is a person who’s pro-active; they see what they want and they take it. Life’s too short to wait for someone to give it to you.

Until tomorrow,


Thursday, 30 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Eleven: Dieting to Look Good

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 205 lbs
Calories: 3200 (plus 2 glasses of wine)

Doing really well so far and easily looking to coast into the second week having dropped 2-3 lbs. When you’re dieting, that’s the kind of numbers you should aim for. It implies that it’s mainly coming from fat: exactly what we want.

Keeping as much muscle as important is so important, for men and women, because that’s what gives you the look you’re after. I stress “for men and women” because it’s vital for both sexes to think along these lines. It’s the muscles which give men the masculine, inverted triangle body; and it’s the squats and leg-days which give women the feminine hourglass shape.

In one anecdotal study which I like to tell people about, a group of men were given a picture of the silhouettes of ten female figures. These ranged from the stick-thin catwalk model type to an obese woman. They were there asked to choose which one they found the most attractive. Similarly a group of women were given the same picture, and told to decide which one they thought the men would find the most attractive.

Interestingly, the women chose a figure which was much skinnier than what the men chose. The men chose a much curvier woman. While different people, of course, have different “types”, it’s interesting to see that on average men were attracted to a woman who were more muscular.

When they flipped the study, the men chose a figure which was much more muscular than the one the women chose. So if you’re a guy thinking that bigger muscles = more women, then think again!

In the end, it all comes back to biology. What we find attractive is what propagates our genes. We’re attracted to people who will make it easier for our children to grow up and pass on our DNA.

Until tomorrow,


Wednesday, 29 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Ten: 5000 Calories and Still Losing Weight

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 203.6 lbs
Calories: 4800 kcals (including 45 minutes heavy lifting, and and 90 minutes walking)

Okay, so it wasn’t 5000 calories on the nose, but it was pretty damn close. What’s more impressive is that I’m down in weight from yesterday, and successfully clocked in a new low.

This post is one third of the way through the journey, and I’ve lost a sizeable chunk of weight so far. Originally I just wanted to try something a little different, but it’s also crystallised some ideas in my mind which were lying dormant:

  1. Weight is more to do with health than calories in calories out
  2. The calories in calories out model is misleading; some calories aren’t available for storage
  3. It feels good to be on the weight loss train again (have a look back at Day Two for some explanation)
  4. You don’t know how good you can feel until you go up, down, and then back up again
  5. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a new topic each day (my heart goes out to Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple! - C)

Taking stock of yesterday’s caloric bonanza: it was a fun experiment, but not one that I want to continue each day. It’s a nice N=1 middle finger to the calorie counter crowd, but it’s good to feel hungry sometimes as well.

I can say that I felt truly full yesterday; I didn’t want to eat another bite. That continued until today and after my afternoon “snack”, I again felt like I didn’t want any more food again. As in literally if someone had put the plate of cookies in front of me, I’d have easily just sighed and turned away. So for someone following a similar meal plan, you might want to single out a mega-calorie day each week, and eat twice as much as you normally would. Just don’t turn it into a “cheat day” which will ruin your progress. Focus on eating a load of the great food you’re already having.

Another observation was a kind of frenetic energy I experienced during the mid-afternoon: after all, if you can’t turn much of the food into fat then it has to be burned or expelled! This links back to what I said above, “calories available for storage” are more important when it comes to creating fat stores.

And before we go, I’m guessing you’d like to know what I actually ate:
  • Bulletproof coffee
  • Big greek salad with some cheddar cheese, boiled eggs, broccoli, chicken, chorizo, parma ham, olive oil (I think I got everything; this came in around 2000 calories)
  • Big bag of mixed salted nuts
  • 2 big bars of dark chocolate
  • Jerky

Until tomorrow,


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Nine: Band of Brothers

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 204.8 lbs
Calories: 3150 kcals

Not bad at all. We’re heading to new low weigh-in levels (204.4 was the lowest so far) and when I was at the gym today I caught the outline of an elusive six-pack. While I despise the woe-is-me mindset, I do think my pale skin means I have to go even (Cow) leaner in order to see the money maker.

When it comes to goal setting, and progressing in life, I’m quite a solitary guy. I find that when I scurry away and move mountains on my own, that’s when things really get done. But that’s the topic for tomorrow, today we’re going to take a quick look at the benefits of losing weight with another person or with a group.

The first and main benefit of teaming up is accountability. You have to be honest and open with your results, and you feel like you’re letting other people down when you slip up. The positive balance to that is that when you slip up (because everyone does!), there’ll be people there to be empathetic and get you right back on the wagon. Accountability is number one because your progress becomes external.

The second benefit is social. Whereas the solo dieter has to work his or her lifestyle around other people, the band of brothers have each other for company; people who are eager to hear about new techniques, read interesting articles, or spot you at the gym! If you have a look back at my article on happy hormones, you’ll recognise the presence of oxytocin here.

Getting healthy as a team is effectively all about environmental design. If you want to achieve something, you should set up your environment to make it easier. So if your aim to go for a brisk walk before work each morning, set out all your clothes the night before. Another example would be food prep: get everything chopped during a frenetic thirty minutes on the weekend then have everything to hand during the week.

Assuming that you’re someone who gets better results in teams (and there isn’t a right answer here; I’m certainly not one of these people), I’d recommend that there still needs to be a leader. This is the person who sets up the Facebook or WhatsApp group and consistently posts what they’re working on and how they’re doing. It certainly shouldn’t be condescending, but you should be posting your results like clockwork.

I’d also limit the size of the group to four people. It can be tempting to be too inclusive, which leads to the group getting too big. When some people can hide on the sidelines, everyone else is tempted to as well.

My last piece of advice, and this might sound odd coming from someone who’s doing a daily blog challenge, is don’t talk about it that much! Do you remember when you were a kid and you and your friends had a great idea? Then you spent the next day talking about it and completely burned your enthusiasm out? It still happens to us now. For this to be a long-term thing, you’re going to need to play it cool…

Until tomorrow,


Monday, 27 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Eight: How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 206.2 lbs
Calories: 3750 kcals

The weight is back on schedule, and being one week, and nearly two pounds down, is a great start. I love putting out these mini-blogs each day: they keep me accountable, I get to put out my thoughts on random topics, and I’m re-educating myself on the importance of health and quality over quantity.

Today I want to give a quick rundown on how much exercise you can “get away with”. I say that with quotation marks, because as you do it more you actually enjoy it more.

On this blog, I like to be realistic. I know people, when they start out, want to be doing the minimal exercise possible, so that’s what I want to address. I’m not coming from an angle of someone who wants to be a marathon runner, I just want to look good, and as a byproduct: feel good.

Currently, I workout twice a week for 45 minutes lifting heavy weights, combined with about 30 minutes of walking each day from home to work. That’s not including the bits and bobs of walking around my office, but you could easily consider my lifestyle sedentary.

But that’s the point, you don’t have to be an ultramarathon runner who backflips to work each day to be lean. In fact, if we’re talking about sheer minimums, you could easily get away with just one heavy workout each week. What’s great about that is you can ditch your gym membership and just pay-as-you-go, saving yourself money in the process.

What’s more important is the contribution to your health, and as I’ve drummed on incessantly: put yourself in a state of good health, and your weight will gravitate to it’s natural level. Some people have got to a state where they believe they have to truly suffer in order for good things to happen. That’s not sacrifice, that’s masochism.

For those interested, this is what I do in the gym:

Workout 1:
5*5 back squats
5*5 bench press

Workout 2:
5*5 deadlift
5*5 bench press

  • For each exercise I go as heavy as possible, using a 1.5 minute rest if it was easy, or a 3 minutes rest if it was hard
  • I have bench twice (because every day should be chest day!... - C) because I wanted to work on my chest. I recommend putting the thing you want to improve in as the second exercise and do it twice a week, thus improving yourself, while the other two exercises are held constant.

Until tomorrow,


Sunday, 26 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Seven: Mother’s Day Special

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 208.8 lbs
Calories: 3100 kcals

Quite an irritating weigh-in, to say the least. The food content was good, but I still think my body was getting over Friday’s damage. Add to that the fact I ate dinner, and most of my food, at about 9pm. We’ll see how I fare tomorrow once Friday fades off into the sunset.

Today is Mother’s Day so I’m going to hamfist some interesting tidbits into this one. The first one is: did you know that your mitochondrial DNA is exclusively inherited from your mother? The mitochondria are the place where your body converts food (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) into ATP: a usable form of energy. The genes that control this process only come from the maternal line of your family tree, so that means there’ll be a spritely Cowlean inhabiting this world for a long time to come!

What really interested me about this fact, is that there was quite conceivably a “Mitochondrial Eve” somewhere in the past who we can all trace lineage back to. Mutation in this type of DNA is very slow, also, so we would share a lot of similarities.

(And now the true hamfisting begins… - C) Spring is rolling around and it’s actually sunny once more: a great chance to get back in touch with mother nature. Believe it or not but the earth vibrates at a particular frequency. With us living in highrise flats and walking around with rubber soles, we have become out of touch with this frequency, leading to all kinds of stress. There’s a reason why we become so sleepy at the beach, and part of it is that we’re actually touching the earth again with our bare feet! So now that good weather is incoming, it’s a great opportunity to simply get out into a local park, burn some fat with a “low’n’slow” walk, and reconnect with nature.

Until tomorrow,


Saturday, 25 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Six: Slip Ups/Rules for Going Out

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 208.6 lbs
Calories: 3000 kcals (plus going out)

A complete flip reversal of results and here I am, eating humble pie. I’d not followed my own advice before going out, and innumerous beers later, am writing to you from a position of relative failure.

It’s my own fault, because I didn’t follow my own advice of “pre-committing” and I made the cardinal sin of making a bad choice while sober. By allowing my first drink as dealers choice, I’d spun myself into a delicious beer-y spiral which continued for the whole evening. However, the extremely confused look on the bartender’s face when I asked for a double tequila, soda and lime didn’t help either…

So part of the title is “slip ups”, and that’s exactly what happened. The correct reaction is:
  1. Don’t overreact, eat normally the next day
  2. Turn the bad choices into advantages perhaps through exercise (you will have stored some of that as muscle energy)
  3. (Cliched I know) Remember that we’re human and we often make the wrong decisions.. The key is making the right decision most of the time over a long period.

The other part of the title is rules for going out. Part of that might be having a plan for which drinks you’re going to have; back in my post on what alcohol I have I literally went through a progression of drinks to base my night around. You might say “I’m only going to drink single spirit and mixers”, or you might say you could only have one drink per hour max.

Something else I should do more, is just experience evenings not with none, but with less alcohol. It’s a special experience when everyone else is drunker than you. It really does make you the smartest person in the room! And really, what are we drinking for? Mostly it is to lower our inhibitions, and have fun in our social lives. It’s been said before (another cliche coming up), that “the high is within us”, so let’s start practicing and bringing that amazing, fun, sociable person into the light during all hours of the day!

Until tomorrow,

Friday, 24 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Five: Why We Get Food Comas

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 204.4 lbs
Calories: 3631 kcals (including 45 minutes of heavy lifting)

More calories, lower weigh-in; is your faith in calories starting to slip further? I’m back on the throne, spewing good vibes yet again, with a belly full of pork loin and sauted kale to back it up. All of that was cooked in butter, of course...

Another big meal yesterday provided the inspiration for today’s post. I was wondering to myself, why is it that we feel sleepy after eating? You might know this informally as a “food coma”, but it’s technical name is postprandial somnolence.

One of the mechanisms through which this occurs is:
  1. You eat a meal which stimulates insulin release
  2. Insulin increases uptake of certain amino acids from the blood into your muscles
  3. Because of this, there is now a higher concentration (proportionally) of tryptophan in your blood
  4. Tryptophan passes with higher frequency through the blood-brain barrier
  5. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin and then melatonin (the sleepy hormone). Voila!

So it made me think, if we eat food which does not stimulate much insulin release, will be feel less tired after eating? It seemed like a reasonable assertion; less carbs, less insulin, lower tryptophan concentration.

On the other hand, eating adequate protein causes enough insulin response to get an anabolic stimulus (this is for the super nerds out there - C); so would it withdraw amino acids at nearly the same rate? I had a dig around and found [this study], which shows meal composition did not have an effect on postprandial somnolence, although, I could not get access to the full article and commonly what’s described as low carb high fat in studies isn’t as low carb or high fat as people practice.

So back to the drawing board then. I’m off to have a nap, shower, and beautify myself for a night on the town.

Until tomorrow,

Thursday, 23 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge, Day Four: Snacking Like a Boss

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 205.4lbs
Calories: 3550 kcals

It’s numbers like that that make me feel smug. In fact, smugness has been a theme of late. Not only did I eat many more calories and didn’t exercise, I also lost the most weight in a day so far. Add to that to the fact that my afternoon snack consisted of more calories than my colleague’s whole daily allowance, and my grandiosity swells… I now sit on my blogging throne, with a freshly shorn nogging, looking damn good, and feeling even better.

Today’s check-in is about snacks. The official Cowlean party line (and don’t you dare toe it! - C), is that if you’re feeling hungry between meals, it means you need to eat more at said meals. Now of course, we can’t all be as clairvoyant as myself, so snacking comes into the equation eventually.

Snacking represents a major obstacle for the would-be dieter, because just look at what is marketed to you: chocolate, crisps, cereal bars, and “lighter options” such as fruit and popcorn. Essentially, it’s sugar laden garbage with unhealthy fats whacked in there to increase the calories count. Not only that, but they come in pitifully small packets that always leave you wanting more.

I approach snacking as I would most other food choices: look for the high fat options (leave the protein for meal times). For me, this means nuts or dark chocolate. The great thing here is that you can eat tonnes, feel satisfied, but still be on track.

Tips on picking both:

Nuts: I would get macadamias if I could because of the higher saturated fat content, but otherwise I’d go for almonds or brazils. I love roasted and salted nuts (remember you need to up your salt intake if eating low carb), but watch out for vegetable oils; only go for dry-roasted. I never have peanuts and very rarely have cashews, which I save for the occasional workout day because of the higher carb content.

Dark chocolate: I’ve spoken in-depth on chocolate before, so check out that post for more details. I near-exclusively eat 85% dark chocolate, and sometimes 70% on workout days.

That’s what I have when I’m at work, because the range of options in the local area are limited. If I had my own kitchen available, I’d also make bulletproof coffee (decaf after midday), eat an avocado, or simply a teaspoon of Kerrygold Butter.

But the last point to make before signing off is that when I leave the office to pick up a snack around 3pm, I’m rarely hungry. I just want to slope off, move around a little, and eat something. It breaks up the day, and I’m loathe to be continuously surrounded by monitors and bleeps. It just drives me crazy. So if you are having a snacking problem, and find the above ideas unpalatable, maybe you just need to move a little when the afternoon rolls around?

Until tomorrow,

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge: Day Three: Are Calories Important?

Hi guys,

Weigh-in: 207.4 lbs
Calories: 3200 kcals (including 45 minutes of heavy lifting)

So far, so good. The number is decreasing nicely and I ate (as far as calories are concerned) a lot of food yesterday!

That’s why today’s post is about counting calories. For there to be a reliable relationship between calories and weight loss I would need to have burned at least 500 kcals during my gym session, which is unlikely. By picking up our trusty copy of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Volek and Phinney (fair enough… it’s probably just me - C), we’ll see that on average, resistance training doesn’t help you to lose any more weight. What it does do, is improve the “quality” of the weight loss i.e. more of the weight you lose is fat, rather than muscle.

You might also mention water weight being the driving factor behind the weight loss, due to sweating in the gym. That’s a good point, but you must consider that I’d be drinking more water than I usually would intra-workout, and that the inflammation induced by exercise actually leads to higher water retention anyway.

Anecdotally, at one point in the past, I ate 1900 calories a day and lost weight slower than when I was eating 2400 calories! Not only that but when I was eating 2400 calories I had less fat to lose.

Counting calories is a useful tool for anyone wanting to put a roadblock in their habits. I’ve done it before on a couple of occasions and found it effective because it’s simple and you don’t feel restricted. Just hit your number each day. What’s good is that quite often you’ll get to the end of the day and actually need to eat more to hit your target. You get a good feel for what you’re putting in your mouth, because the journey doesn’t end there. You also have to go and log each item, and find out how many calories is in what. It’s an eye-opening experience.

But that’s where I see the importance of calorie counting ending. Use it for an introductory period, but when that’s over just eat healthy food and eat until you’re full. What you eat is vastly more important than how much you eat.

Is exercise important? Clearly. But food is more important, and as I said on day one, let your body reach it’s perfect health then the weight will take care of itself.

Until tomorrow,

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

30 Day Cowlean Challenge: Day Two: Addicted to Weight Loss

Hi guys,

This is day 2 of the challenge. One of my mottos is “start right now” so let’s get to it!

Weigh-in: 207.8lbs
Calories: 2750 kcals

When I saw that number spring to life on my set of dusty scales, my immediate reaction was get innnnnn! After all, I would right now be eating a not-modestly-sized slice of humble pie had the scales gone up. Not only would I be eating my words, I’d also be eating less food for the next 29 days…

The calories were higher than I wanted, but I wasn’t targeting a particular number. Rather I wanted to see where they would fall if I just ate to satisfy my hunger.

0.2lbs sounds like nothing, but imagine if you could lose that consistently every day? That’s 1.4 lbs a week, 6 lbs in 30 days (*cough cough* - C), etc, etc. You get the point. Not only that but the slow weight loss implies fat loss.

So why is today’s musing titled as so? I alluded yesterday to the fact that I genuinely was addicted to losing weight. Each day you wake up and you get immediate feedback on the last day’s efforts. Either you get that shot of happiness when the number goes down, or feel disappointed when it goes up. This is the interplay of dopamine, serotonin and cortisol which I’ve spoken about before. Not only that, but I would enthusiastically fast in response to a bad weigh-in, which will give you an endorphin high.

Like any addict, I had developed a ritual which had its own sacred space. After waking I would use the bathroom, then sweep aside the bathmat so I could lay the scales down on the cold, hard floor. Next I’d draw the bath curtain open so that the bath was open in front of me, allowing me to compose the performance to the room as if it were a piece of classical music. Gently I’d turn on the scales with the big toe on my right foot; if I pressed clumsily it would turn the scales on and off. When that happened it always irritated me. Finally I would take a deep breath then exhale quickly, shooting the air out of my lungs, before stepping onto the scales. I’d subconsciously count three seconds, at which point I knew the scales had its reading, then look down to see what kind of day I was going to have.

Now that my rendition of Trainspotting is over, I want to end with the following: I recommend that people start out by weighing (or measuring their chosen target metric) every day because you start to see the connections between what you do and the outcome. You need to start associating your short term actions with their long term effects. But that’s the point: the short term adds up to the long term, and that’s exactly why I always say “focus on the trend”. You use the short term to orientate for the future and the long term look back on how far you’ve come.

Until tomorrow,