7 Years And Trying To Decide What is Best

This May will mark 7 years since I realized my health was in danger and made a change for the better. At this point I have gone through so many different phases and acquired so much information about health and fitness, that I am feeling a little unsure of how to proceed, and thought I would ask some advice on this forum as I have come to respect the guidance I have found on this site over the years.

I started out at 350lbs, and maybe managed to take 10,000 steps a week; I did nothing but play video games and had a sedentary job. I was on a first name basis with every employee at Chik-fil-a as I ate there for almost every meal.

When my father died at 51 mostly due to heart complications, I was told I had high blood pressure at 25 years old, I started paying attention; at the time I had no clue how much I even weighed, made no conscious decisions about what to eat, and was just wheezing through life like most Americans these days.

Long story still kinda long, I dieted down to my original goal of 220 pounds in about a year, and found it was so easy for me that I decided to go ahead and drop to 170 so my weight would be in the proper BMI range because I gave BMI a little more credence at the time than I do now. At 220 I also decided getting some exercise would probably be a good idea, and my workplace offers a free gym membership, so I started a simple 5x5 variation, and started running. Fast forward another year or so, and I was in the best shape of my life; I was 175 pounds, (I am 6’0" tall) I was benching 265 for 2 reps, squatting and deadlifting 315, could do pull ups all day long, and ran 7 miles every day. I still did not care much for running, I did it out of obligation, but I absolutely LOVED weightlifting; it is just plain enjoyable to me, and it still is.

After about a year, I had fallen into the trap of just never really changing anything; I wasn’t hitting new PRs, but I have never really been a PR chaser so I didn’t care all that much, but a knee injury dropped me out of running. I was still eating at my original diet calorie count of 1500 a day, and Sunday was a cheat day that could easily get over 10,000 calories, and I was mostly eating microwave dinners just like I did while dieting because I had never learned to cook.

The first thing I did was learn to cook, I started paying a lot more attention to nutrient intake, but I was still meticulous about counting calories. I realize now that I was probably TOO meticulous about counting calories from the get-go; I counted chewing gum for crying out loud. I used my fitness pal when I learned about it (was originally using paper) and I would not go a single calorie over. Ever. So fast forward a couple more years, and now I am still lifting weights every weekday, I have recently taken up rucking with a 30lb backpack, but I am not sure if my knee is going to allow me to continue that, so I have mostly just been walking and doing the powermill at the gym for cardio. I just recently changed my routine after a one week break, and have taken the advice in an article I read here to go “programless” instead of following a set program, I basically have my standard lifts, and I do as much as I feel I can on any given day; but it generally pans out like this:

Decline bench 1X10 @ 135lbs, 1X10 @ 185 lbs, 1X6-7 (depending) @ 225 1X2-4 @245/265 (again, depending)
Chest Flye Machine 3X10 @ 285, also varies depending on how I am feeling and how I did on bench
Chinups: 60-70 over the course of 4-5 sets.
Cable Rows 3-4 sets of 10 at 160-180 per set

2 core workouts at 3 sets of 10-15, varies a lot, I also do 2 minute planks.
3 sets of 10 deadlift ranging from 20% to 60% 1RM due to knee injury recently from rucking.
Then I do hack squats and hamstring curls right now as my knee is rehabilitating, and squats have always seemed to bother my knee no matter how light the weight or how meticulous I am with form.

Like I said, mostly doing program-less, but have general lifts I like to hit. The only supplement I take is creatine, so from my recent reading here, I have gathered that hitting muscles multiple times a week is better than doing a split, so I am kind of experimenting with that.

My ultimate goals for which I would like some advice;

I am trying to get away from tracking calories forever, but not falling into a fat-gain cycle. Once again, not a competing athlete, never intend to do any kind of shows or competition, I just want to look reasonably good naked, stay healthy, and have decent functional strength. I still cook everything that goes in my mouth, and don’t intend to stop that, and I kinda go with the 90% clean, and every now and then I will have some Halo Top ice cream (my favorite sweet treat). Dietary staples are what you probably expect from a fitness fan; chicken, tuna, lentils, sardines, lotsa veggies, most fruits in moderation, olive oil (been using coconut oil too, but not real convinced it lives up to the hype) plain greek yogurt, protein powder, oats, sweet potatoes, etc.

I started eating more intuitively of late, and I am kind of going with the rule of thumb that if I feel hungry, I eat some protein and veggies; not until full, just until no longer hungry. I am preparing pretty much the same meals ahead of time as I have been for years, but I also have extra chicken, tuna, raw veggies and boiled eggs as snacks, so I have been keeping some of those handy to gnosh when I feel hungry instead of powering through and sticking to my predetermined calorie count. In 2 weeks of doing this, I have gained about 8 pounds, and have definitely lost ab definition. The belt feels slightly tighter on some days, but mostly has not changed much. I have been as low as 169 pounds, but I was almost unable to move and was miserable, but ripped looking, (at least as ripped as one can look with 5lbs of extra skin) and I don’t want to ever feel obligated to feel that way in order to look slightly better. I imagine a lot of you are asking, “So what?” But after having lost all that weight, gaining back any definitely gives me a little anxiety, and I go back and forth between, “eh it is probably mostly glycogen,” to “No, your mind is just trying to fool you into eating more and being lazy,” to, “this is just like recent studies are saying about the Biggest Loser competitors, you lost so much weight so fast that you are doomed to regain it and this is the beginning.” I am kind of hoping that if I eat more and work harder in the gym, I can fill out some of the extra skin you can see in the “after” picture with muscle, and cant be less anal about calorie counting, but I am not sure if that is really feasible or not, so that’s another thing if anyone has any advice on, I would appreciate it. What is the best way to proceed with eating a little more intuitively and making sure that I am not just getting far again and weight gain is either water weight or (hopefully) a little muscle especially considering my past? Sorry for the insane length of the post, but trying to be relatively thorough.



Chris Shugart has got plenty of FFB material.
Dani Shugart has some solid anti OCD tips for nutrition.

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First off, major props for the transformation. Truly a remarkable feat.

The jury is still out regarding optimal training frequency, so don’t feel like you need to abandon bodypart splits in order to lift ‘correctly.’ That said, I get the impression your training is a little stale. If you can afford one, I suggest hiring an online trainer to put you through a 12-week training cycle. If you do this, your knowledge concerning training–exercise selection; volume; intensity; etc–will take a quantum leap. There are several good ones who frequent this board; I don’t know if they’re taking on clients at the moment, but it doesn’t hurt to ask:

@robstein @The_Mighty_Stu

(I do not have a financial relationship with either)


Thanks! I have read a LOT on this site, and somehow I have managed to never see that FFB Handbook post, I guess because it is pretty old. It pretty much confirms my experience and what I have read piece-meal from many other articles here and elsewhere, and I guess I am on the path of trying to gain some muscle, and freaking out because of the initial weight-gain of eating above maintenance for the first time in years. Thanks for that!

I had read the loose skin facts article though, and had already accepted that fact; I lost about 170lbs give-or-take a few, so I knew that sans surgery, my skin would always affect how I look, especially around the bottom of the stomach and the “spare tire” area.

I guess I need to just be patient and give it some time. After the week off and eating above maintenance for the first time in so long, I definitely destroyed the gym this week for the first time in years; I added significant weight to the bar and got additional reps, and felt amazing with less joint pain. In the past 5ish years of working out, I think I have only taken 7-8 week-off breaks, mostly for travel; this is something I have resolved to do better with as well because being 32 years old, and lots of hiking/outdoors/sports mileage, I don’t want to be decrepit by the time I am 50!

I feel like I never really quantified what I am talking about very well in my OP; so for the record, When I started my week off and not logging everything, I was at 178 lbs. I was doing a simple split focusing on the big lifts like squat, deadlift, benchpress, and chinups. Definitely had a lot of joint soreness, and since my knee started acting up, I decided to do a 1 week break, try something new in the gym (yes, it was getting kinda stale, EyeDentist) and try to eat a lot more intuitively. Last week I did not exercise intentionally in any form or fashion, this week I hit the gym with the new routine described above and started walking again (I was rucking for 3-12 miles 3-4 times a week with a 30lb pack, this week I started back just walking, 10,000 steps a day roughly) I am weighing in right at 185, I feel a little bloaty and lost some ab definition compared to what I am used to, but I am feeling good otherwise. The week before I took a break, I struggled to get 225 up 6 times on bench press, this week I got it up 7 times, and it felt so much easier, I threw 245 on the bar and got 4 reps so easily, that the guy I asked to spot me seemed annoyed I had wasted his time. I know these are not very impressive numbers and are not even the best I have ever done, but it is the best I have done in a long while. Another piece of advice I have incorporated from this site is doing the reps very slowly and deliberately; no bouncing, no ego, and I feel that has helped me a lot this week with feeling better in the gym.

I will consider a trainer; I have thought about it before, because my gym has them for hire, but I was always a little concerned that a trainer might not take my past into account, because clearly being formerly fat does put you in a whole other category where some things that apply to most people do not apply to you. I have definitely benefited from advice on this site, including a lot of articles from Christian Thibaudeau and the Shugarts, and some of those articles inspired me to try not being so OCD about counting. Intellectually, I realize that in two weeks, it is pretty unlikely that my 7-8 lbs of gain is anything more than glycogen as I have been by no means going all-out eating whatever I want, If I had to guess, I would say my daily average has been 2500-3000 calories a day, and it has been 100% “clean” (my definition meaning all whole foods, no added sugar, 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight) So I guess I need to just treat this as an experiment and continue with the plan, and see how it goes… If worst comes to worst, I found dieting to be surprisingly easy for me and I am sure I can do it again; my main motivation to get away from it is not to be such a drag around my wife and friends concerning food, and to hopefully have a little less joint pain and irritability.

In my experience, in-person trainers are far more expensive and far less effective. YMMV of course.

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Yes!! Lee Boyce is another one whose articles on this site have been consistently enlightening to me; I have read all the ones you linked multiple times. He seems so much more realistic and down-to-earth than some of the more “hardcore meathead” types.

Thanks to both repliers on this so far for your encouragement and tips! I guess I am just in the middle of another transition and feeling a little nervous about actually being in unfamiliar territory even though I have read and studied every aspect of it, probably more than is actually wise.

With online trainers, don’t you have to video yourself doing lifts and things like that to send to them? I workout on my lunch break, and I am not sure if I could swing the additional time or not. I am that guy who power walks between machines and never talks to anyone; in and out! Lol. That would be my only concern there, but then again, a trainer’s program would probably be a lot more structured than my play-ground style of lifting I am kind of doing now, so probably more efficient. I will have to look into that some more! Also, the trainers at my gym all seem kind of douchy anyway!

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I have worked with 5 online trainers, and none asked me to submit videos.


Videos are useful for PLers and posing. The only time I’ve ever needed to get videos of a bodybuilding client performing their training is when I honestly believe that they are completely “training” in a non-hypertrophic focused manner , and more like a Weight lifter(ie. Just throwing weights sloppily, always locking out, missing the best ROM for targeting certain muscles …)

Photos are much more helpful in acertaining if the current means are indeed resulting in the desired ends.



Anyone we would know? I contacted Skip Hill once about working with him but it was just too expensive. I’m sure it would have been worth the money but I just couldn’t justify it financially (it was about the same price as a holiday - girlfriend would have cut my nuts off).

John Meadows
Matt Burzacott
Shelby Starnes
Some guy whose name escapes me at the moment

Now that I think about it, Starnes’ coaching may have been diet-only. But the other four were all lifting +/- diet.


brief review of Starnes and Meadows if you wouldn’t mind?

(apologies @quagmire70 for the ever-so-slight derail, but perhaps the info contained therein might encourage you to use one of these guys)

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They were both excellent. Very responsive to emails; seemed like the programs were fairly tailored to me and my exigencies (Meadows, after reviewing my completed questionnaire: “Damn, you sure do have a lot of injuries!”). Both definitely advanced the ball so far as my physique (and fund of training knowledge) were concerned. Would recommend. (Although I don’t know if Meadows accepts ‘ordinary’ folks as clients anymore–was too busy last time I approached him about it.)

On the other hand, Stu sucked. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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I thought you’d say as much; doesn’t seem like anyone has anything negative to say about either.

And you had me at your use of the word “exigencies”.

I’m sure, which is why I didn’t ask about him. I wanted to spare you the emotional trauma of having to relive that nightmare.


Lmao - yeah, I hear this all the time,… I’m surprised anyone contacts me anymore… I guess they just want the free time-shirt I send out. :frowning:


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Exactly what sort of online service was this?