Occasionally, people ask me what I eat. The answer depends on when you’re asking me. There are times when I don’t really care and just eat what I want. I try to get my protein and vegetables and I don’t mind my food too much. I just eat whatever I want. These are also the periods where I have the tendency to gain weight, since I have a pretty big appetite for certain high calorie foods. Peanutbutter sandwiches? I have no trouble devouring half a loaf of bread with a boatload of peanut butter in one sitting. A big kebab meal? Two please. Risotto? I’ll eat the whole pan.
Then there are periods where I try to maintain weight but increase my overall strength. About a year ago, I used something that pretty much boils down to the Carb Backloading diet from John Kiefer. Although content-wise it garnered a lot of criticism (badly cited research, a few flawed statements and a lot of VERY exaggerated claims), I felt great with it and my strength went up nicely in 8 weeks even though I never really had a balls to the wall training during those weeks. Obviously I cannot attribute my results to just my eating habits, but I generally had a lot of energy and felt great doing it.
So then there are the periods where I try to lose weight. Ever since I left my fat kid days behind me, my body fat % has always still been pretty high. With one short-lived exception where I was probably around 15%, I’ve mostly floated around 20%, often slightly above. This was good for at least one thing: I had lots of opportunities to try out strength training diets. (Cue drum roll for my grand conclusion: Almost everything works, provided you are consistent and adhere to certain basic premises.)
I recently lost 6-7kg (14-15lbs) simply by keeping my protein up and making sure that at the end of the week I ate less calories than I burned. I decided to temporarily stop losing weight when I was afraid I’d feel weak through lack of food when I had a small competition coming. I had a hard time picking up fat loss again after that, mostly because everything I do
(training, working, eating, social stuff) is very irregular. Now my appetite has always been a bit of a problem for me, but it got worse when I got a bit busy and slept less, somehow skyrocketing my appetite like I mentioned in my earlier article on sleep. I mentioned there that I would occasionally eat 4000+ calories and still be hungry. Fighting cravings and hunger every day gets tedious real quick (especially when you see the scale slowly climbing up), so I decided to make a few adjustments and go on my current diet.
I don’t haphazardly recommend this to just anyone, for a variety of reasons. You could do things totally differently and it will still work for losing fat if you get the basics right. (Lift weights, eat your protein, eat less than you burn, that sort of stuff.) When I say that “different things for work different people”, it doesn’t mean that some sort of food magically makes some people fat or lean, it just means that people experience things differently and have different situations. Get the basics right and adapt everything around that to your personal situation. Focus on behavior, not on getting insignificant details right.
I basically do the following:
- Eat low carb 5 days out of the week. Eating lots of fat and protein but leaving out the carbs is the most effective thing I’ve ever done to stave off hunger. (Besides using caffeine, which supresses my appetite for a few hours too.) I estimate my carb intake around 40-70 grams on these days, but that’s mostly only because of the quark (cottage cheese) and a bit of fruit. I considered going for <30 grams like I’ve done in the past but didn’t feel like giving up fruit and quark this time.
- I roughly count/estimate my calories (since I’m accustomed to it and it doesn’t really take me much effort). I shoot for 2000 or a little over that, whereas I estimate that I burn around 2900 in a day. I find that this pretty much goes automatically.
- Eat high carb (but low fat) 1 or 2 days out of the week. I have no idea how many carbs I eat on these days. I just eat more rice, fruits, bread and chicken instead of fatty meat, cheese and whole eggs. These are also my high calorie days since carbs generally fill me up less. I’ll probably also need the carbs from these days to keep my body fueled for my workouts, even though I could probably get away with less carbs easily since I train with a fairly low volume. I try to eat somewhere around 3000 calories here. If I keep fat intake low here, that’s perfectly doable. (occasionally supported by some carbonated water, caffeine or some diet coke) This also goes almost automatically and doesn’t cost me much effort.
- I’m not very strict in cycling these days, but I try to spread the carb-up days (or ‘refeeds’) throughout the week a bit.
- Social outings are really important to me so I’m flexible with that. If I eat with other people and risk deviating from my plan, I may just make it a cheat meal or plan my carb up day on that day.
I will affectionately refer to this as the ‘Fuck You Diet’ because everyone and their moms would bitch on this type of eating and I don’t really care. The high-carb days will give me diabetes, the meat will give me cancer, the amounts of protein will weaken my bones and skipping breakfast will destroy my metabolism faster than Youporn destroys teen boys’ innocence. Of course the bread will make me fat, dairy clogs up my bowels and the amounts of salt I get from cheese will raise my blood pressure so high that my arteries will burst and I will start bleeding copious amounts of cholesterol. (Caused by eating so many eggs, obviously.) The alternative name for this diet is the Wolverine diet for absolutely no reason at all other than me being a major fan of the Marvel character. (Not to mention that the ‘Fuck You Diet’ is probably less marketable.)
My staple foods on low carb days: Brie or camembert cheese, (fatty) meat, eggs, (casein) protein shakes, vegetables, quark. In moderation, I will eat some fruits, yoghurt and nuts.
My staple foods on high carb days: Bread, rice, lean meats, (casein) protein shakes, vegetables, quark, fruits. I may add (sweet) potatoes if somehow my appetite starts being a dick again, since they are a lot more filling and have few calories compared to rice and bread… But that hasn’t been necessary so far. In moderation, I will eat… Well… Whatever I feel like. I even ate a lot of licorice candy a little while back. Feels good man. There’s also something else, I don’t know what it’s called in English but it’s basically thickened, whole milk with rice. Sort of like congee or a custard-ish rice pudding.
A few random (real life) examples of what I eat in a day. I roughly estimate calories and usually round up in the end. And yes, I realize that with my eating habits, terms like breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack are arbitrary, but I’ve added it just to give an idea of how my food intake is spread throughout the day.
Low carb day (Total: Estimated at 2300+ calories)
- No breakfast
- Lunch: 4 hamburgers + 2 eggs (+-1200 calories)
- Snack: Cottage cheese and a few raspberries (+-300 calories)
- Snack: Small apple (50+ calories)
- Dinner: 2 steaks with 3 eggs (in some olive oil) and a plate of green beans (800- calories)
Low-carb day (Total: Estimated at +-2300 calories)
- No breakfast
- Lunch: A lot of minced meat (700- calories)
- Snack: Yoghurt and chocolate protein powder (400-)
- Snack: A point of brie cheese (+-700 calories)
- Dinner: Protein bar (400- calories)
- Snack: Cottage cheese (+-250 calories)
Very low-carb day (Total: Estimated at 1700+ calories)
- Breakfast: Cottage cheese (+-250 calories)
- Lunch: A point of brie cheese (+-700 calories)
- Dinner: A pound of steak in butter (800- calories)
High carb day (Total: Estimated at around 3100 calories)
- Breakfast: Cottage cheese, a banana and an apple (+-400 calories)
- Lunch: Some chicken, rice and a lot of vegetables in coconut oil (+-400 calories)
- Snack: A few pieces of chocolate (100+ calories)
- Snack: A pack of food for the gods (600+ calories)
- Around 15 slices of bread spread out over the day (1000+ calories, yes, I absolutely LOVE bread)
- A lot of licorice candy throughout the day (+-500 calories)
…and my weight is slowly going down again, without loss of energy or strength, without frustrating cravings and hunger and without stressing over social outings. I feel that by getting a few basics right and combining them with several aspects of different diets and eating strategies that I found pleasant, I’ve found something that works well for me, is not too hard to stick to and it feels great overall.
A few things occurred to me while doing this over the last two weeks, and I’m curious if more people have this experience with comparable eating strategies.
- The decrease in appetite, experience-wise, seems to happen on every low-carb day. However, when I look at the calories I tracked, I notice that I start eating less calories on consecutive low-carb days. Example: I eat 2800 calories on the first low-carb day following a high-carb day. I may eat 2400 on the low-carb day directly after that and then stay around 2100 for the low-carb days that follow.
- Contrary to what most dieters experience; I have a tendency to eat way more and experience way more hunger when I have breakfast, so I usually have a late breakfast or no breakfast at all.
- My overall energy levels have improved, with the low-carb days directly following a high-carb day being the best.
- I fall asleep more easily. (I’m not sure how that would be influenced by my current eating habits, so let me emphasize that this may not be directly related. It might just have started happening around when I started this diet.)
- I find it easier to stick to my planned way of eating. Somehow certain restrictions seem to make me more strict, perhaps because it prevents me from messing too much with the leeway I have in other types of eating.
- I feel like I’ve lost some excess water weight… But it seems to stay off throughout the week. Veins are more visible on my arms and skin feels a bit tighter. I guess this could just be because of some fat loss, but messing with carbohydrate intake tends to deplete muscles from water as well (or fill them up again after a refeed, since carbohydrates bind to water when stored in muscle). It’s possible that this has an effect on subcutaneous water as well… Although I never bothered with that subject much. Either that or I’m overlooking something completely (like the irregular sodium intake). It’s still strange since I still have quite a lot of bodyfat so I didn’t expect to see much noticable difference just from losing water.
- I occasionally drink carbonated water to fill up my stomach, since even this ‘diet’ can’t completely curb my hunger.
- I need to keep in mind that I need to drink a lot of water, especially on high carb days. I also need to eat more vegetables and fiber, two things that I’m very lazy with.
- I don’t have cravings for sweet stuff unless I start on it. One piece of candy turns into 10. Other than that, it quickly went away, possibly because of my low carb days. The rare instances where I did get those cravings, I turned to light soda or carbonated water.
- There have been days where I went over my calorie goals (with the highest being 4400+ on a high carb day). I don’t care much for it, let alone stress over it. Results come from a process, not from a single event.
- Steak tastes incredible when cooked in (full fat, organic) butter and seasoned with (potassium) salt and couscous seasoning. (The latter consisting of paprika powder, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, ve tsin and… Uh… ‘mixed spices’ apparently.)
- Steak also tastes better when eaten with bare hands.
- Coconut is remarkably filling, which is saying something, coming from a person who is -in terms of appetite- a human approximation of a Sarlacc.
- There’s a difference between being hungry and being bored, and for some people it’s harder to distinguish than they think.
Since people tend to jump on every fad diet or gimmick to lose fat, build muscle or get stronger, let me explicitly state the number one take home message of this post: It’s not about following a specific diet or demonizing/glorifying a single nutrient. It’s about realizing that it’s about getting the basics right + understanding your own behavior. Getting the basics right and implementing them into your life in a way that you can actually stick to it is all you need.
“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.” – Orson Welles