As a coach, I get to observe the struggles and successes of my clients. I get to understand firsthand what drives human behavior and the things to which people aspire. One theme that is prevalent among many of my clients is the desire to lose body fat.
In an effort to learn firsthand what it takes to achieve a very lean body composition, I set out on a 35-day journey before a family vacation in Northern Michigan to see what it actually takes.
I spent the better part of July 2019 creating awareness around energy intake. More specifically, I reduced my energy intake and kept my activity levels where they were. To sum up this experience, it was very mentally and behaviorally challenging and tested my level of mental fortitude and discipline. My weight dropped 18 pounds from June 29th to August 3rd (191 to 173 pounds) and I went from about 10% to 6% body fat.
Here are the lessons I took away from the experience:
Small meals were therapeutic for my digestion
Since I was 10 years old, I have struggled with GERD, acid reflux and loose stools. I have been medicated as well as focused on my relationship with food and stress to varying degrees of success. Decreasing my overall food intake resulted in minimal symptoms and the greatest consistency with my bowel movements compared to any other change I have made.
From lean to very lean takes a focused approach
If you are already lean, getting leaner takes a focused approach. Accept that it won’t be entirely comfortable. I had to learn to reframe my hunger in terms of “winning.” Anytime I struggled, I connected to why I embarked on this path and chose to view my hunger as me, crushing my goal, instead of as deprivation and misery. This simple cognitive tool supported 100% compliance with the plan.
I became more flexible
I did zero stretching and was more flexible than I have been in two years. I could easily place my hands on the floor with a locked out knee as well as less restriction with my side splits. This was eye-opening and I credit it to lowered general inflammation. This potentially arose from being in a hypocaloric state wherein phases of autophagy were active (an anti-aging pathway that harnesses energy from cellular debris) as well as experiencing a decreased immune response (that would have triggered inflammation) from some potential food intolerances I have.
Relative strength improved
Without any specific training, I was able to perform a single-arm pull-up. My abilities as a rock climber improved despite a lack of frequency and overall I noticed better body weight control in gymnastic strength exercises like lever and handstands.
This one speaks for itself but for over a month I don't recall a pimple or blemish. Possibly this connects to the decreased systemic inflammation I experienced, but the changes did not seem coincidental.
I developed a more gracious spirit
Consuming less food, I learned to honor and savor the food that I had the privilege to eat. I don’t think I have had too many experiences in which I was limited to what I was able to eat. If you think about this from an ancestral lens, there is a very compelling argument that the human species was seasonally affected by famine depending upon the geographic location. I have learned to appreciate flavors and amounts, as well as the sacrifice the plant or animal made for my nourishment.
I became more aware of my addictive tendencies
When Friday rolled around, I had an urge to go out and eat. Journaling my nourishment made me deeply aware of this habit and forced me to take a step back. I saved money and replaced this habit with a sauna session and a home-cooked meal with my wife. Although it was not my natural inclination, I came into a sense of appreciation for the frugality that this decision created and the human connection it encouraged. It also built awareness of my conscious habit to eat a large amount of food (as a reward) at the end of each week.
My libido tanked
I have always been very healthy in this department. Theoretically, I understand that long-term caloric restriction tanks hormones; however, experiencing this side effect firsthand was something that I do not wish to continue. Maybe a less extreme version of what I did would affect one more subtly in this department...however, I’m not sure I feel like testing this hypothesis anytime soon.
Overall, I feel healthier and more in tune with my body. I also have an appreciation for living in a world where food is so abundant and accessible for me. I’ve tended to overeat protein and fat in the past and this experience has brought that inclination to the forefront. When I have had lowered resiliency, processing the large amounts of food has promoted an inflammatory response in my body (part of this statement comes from a quarterly analysis of my bloodwork). For now, I’ll go back to a more intuitive nutritional approach.
As for my work with clients, this was a very educational experience. It helped me develop a deeper sense of empathy for the struggles they will likely face, the level of difficulty of these changes present as well as a deeper emotional connection to who this type of prescription is best for. To be clear, dropping to 6% body fat was not healthy for me, from a hormonal, emotional or social perspective. I am extremely grateful for this experience, but this type of prescription would be reserved for the few and unique cases where dropping essential body fat was warranted.
If you'd like to see where your body composition is and talk to a professional coach about your goals, schedule an InBody Body Composition Analysis today!