How Do You Set Up a Fat Loss Phase?

My approach has always been boring and basically following an algorithm.

Weigh myself once a week, same day in the morning nude after going to the bathroom.

An example:
If lost 1+ lb → change nothing
Else if lost 0-1 lb → add 5 min on incline treadmill each day
Else add 5 min on incline treadmill AND cut 50g carbs

There’s some nuances that are more subjective, like when I decide to introduce cheat meals or full cheat days. But this is the gist. It’s never failed me and it’s not sexy at all lol.

I’m a HUGE believer of get in, get out with cuts. No more than 12 weeks. Don’t take breaks. If you are having stalls, you’re not being aggressive enough. I have no desire to spread out the suffering over several months and spinning my wheels because I keep taking breaks and basically lowering my maintenance calories over that time. I never want my body to fully adjust to lower calories.

I also should mention that weight is the only metric I track. I believe in my training enough to know I’m minimizing muscle loss so it’s a valid measure of total fat weight lost. Obviously it’s not 1:1 but it’s consistent.

And I generally don’t subscribe to any advice to use how you look in the mirror. Fat loss is ugly, especially as you get flatter and depleted before you’re lean enough to really pop where it counts. I honestly minimize looking in the mirror. Plus lighting, sodium levels, or even your current emotional state can drastically influence how you perceive your physique on a particular day so i skip it. I know by the end I will be very happy when I hit my target.

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Same! It actually requires much more discipline than tracking, to my view.

I’m on the opposite end: my norm is chubby, so I have to really pay attention that I’m not justifying getting fat by saying I’m just big or water weight or whatever.

Again, same. It’s an interesting decision point: do we need to get more aggressive with the things we know work, or just try a different route?

I generally agree with your whole point here. I actually think a lot of us bail on the fat loss goal because we don’t like the mirror, but we have to get through that gross stage first.

You make a pretty aggressive first move, too, correct? I always thought that made sense vs just taking a tiny bit away and potentially just reducing your baseline calories over weeks with no real change.

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Hey thanks man! I think the biggest contributor is Dan John’s “The Goal is to keep the goal the goal”. When I am gaining, its all I focus on: I don’t care if I “get fat”. I want to gain, I am training for it, and I will eat to make it happen. I know that I know how to lose any fat I gain, so I have to insurance policy and am willing to be TOO good at gaining than undershoot. When its time to lose, its time to lose, and I don’t care what happens to my lifts during that time. I see myself get leaner and know I am in track.

Only having 2 macros to play with helps too. If I am eating ribs, I am gaining. If I am eating sirloin and egg whites, I am losing.

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I really want to believe this is true. I like the of just work a bit harder as it has always served me well.

But

This is probably the best answer.

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Your coach had you eating rice, well… Duke University publishes (or did) a diet they call the Rice Dieta. A work mate and I took a swing at it about 15 years ago. I love rice, not that dirt tasting brown rice, but long grain, short grained, jasmine, sticky, whatever. We ate so much rice I would gag passing a P.F. Chang’s, and I love P.F. Chang’s. moral of the story? Just cut some calories.

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This is something I saw play out over one season of the show “Alone.” For those who haven’t seen it, people go live in the wilderness, bringing minimal tools along, for as long as possible. Whoever survives the longest wins a giant sack of money.

During one of the seasons, the guy who ultimately won killed a moose. He had tons of super lean moose meat, rendered all the fat and stored it separately. It was smooth sailing until a raccoon (or something similar) ran off with his container of fat.

Afterwards, all he could eat was absurd amounts of moose meat. Even so, he lost weight. Fast. IIRC, he was losing a half pound per day with an ample supply of food, buy it was almost all protein. Even the doctors on the show were surprised by his rate of weight loss.

Ultimately, the guy caught a fatty fish or two, won, and collected his well-deserved giant sack of money.

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Just added it to my watchlist - thanks!

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It really depends on how lean I start. I’ve dropped as little as 200 cal and as many as 800 cal to start.

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During the Depression a condition arose called protein starvation. Rabbits were raised, and eaten as a meat source. Apparently rabbits are very lean. As the gentleman in the show exhibited, plenty of protein, no fat thanks to that bastard raccoon. I recall my grandfather talking about the Depression, and eating dried apricots (they lived in the middle of an orchard) and rabbit. He hated rabbit. We did not know, as a teen, he nearly starved. He also came down with scurvy. He was sent to a nutrition orphanage until he recovered.

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Do you mind elaborating on these nuances?

As I drop cals, my sleep becomes terrible. After inadvertently eating less than planned, it happened last night–lots of staring at the alarm clock, feeling wired.

This morning, whilst extra haggard, I randomly thought of this post and wondered: is worsening sleep a subjective sign a dude who understands this stuff would take to indicate time for a refeed or cheat meal?

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I can’t say I ever remember sleep being affected during a cut, sorry. For me it was when there seemed to be at least a couple of the following compounding factors:

  • Looking too depleted, as in never getting anything resembling a pump in target muscles during any of my workouts for a straight week.
  • Brain fog. This one is subjective, because there’s always a little to be expected throughout a deficit. I’m referring to a certain brain fog that you know it when you feel it. It’s just there all day and feels like your brain is trying to go into power saver mode.
  • Cravings. Again, these are always expected, but I’m referring to next level cravings. The type that enter your dreams and keep you from focusing until you inhale an entire box of cinnamon toast crunch just to begin to feel normalized again.
  • A few weeks of bigger drops in weight than usual. We all know fat loss is nonlinear, so if I see something like dropping 7lb in 2 weeks even though I haven’t changed anything drastically I know it’s a good indicator that I’m “ready” for some form of refeed.
  • Weight sessions feeling absolutely draining, wherein just 3 sets of 8 feels like I did a whole EMOM crossfit workout.

I will add IME, I have never been able to drop below like 12% bodyfat without implementing cheat days. I just consider it a necessary tool at this stage.

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I suppose that I have explained this several times on T-Nation.
My “set up” for fat loss is fundamentally the same as it ever was.

I should say that the only reason I ever lost fat was to compete in a bodybuilding contest. I naturally carried less fat than most people, so all my weight lifting the first 2 and a half years was attempting to add mass. I should say that I lifted with very little knowledge of anything apart from Weider magazines and posters on the school gym wall picturing people doing different free weight exercises. I never tried to “bulk.” For that reason I always kept my relatively lean physique.

My fat loss “set up” was to completely clean up my diet. I would guess that I competed in about 70 to 80 bodybuilding contests. I would usually enter 2 contests in my cut, with the first contest being one that I entered just to calm my nerves. The less anxiety I had, the better I looked on stage. So, if one contest didn’t fair too well, the other might be better. In other words the success of “cut” didn’t rest solely on one contest.

So, the three decades I competed I usually did two “cuts” per year. After a while the diet becomes second nature. Actually, I found that the diet was “easy”, but if I wanted be my best the last three weeks would bring much pain and feeling hungry and tired every waking moment except when I was eating or working out.

In my 40’s I had metrics that dictated diet or cardio adjustments:

  • Strength - an upper body press that needed to stay as high as possible. Rate of change if dropping must be very low.
  • Body weight
  • The number of millimeters on a skin fold test
  • The mirror
  • The number of weeks left before the contest

As you might guess I knew about what weight I needed to be at weigh-in. My diet adjustments were carbohydrates. My cardio adjustments were to add time. I always started with 30 minutes of cardio (walking around the block) in the morning before breakfast. I never believed in starting with a lot of cardio. I had to have somewhere to go, if things began to lag. (The most cardio I did was 45 minutes in AM and 45 minutes in PM.) Time was only on my side until it wasn’t.

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This is very helpful. Something else I’ve noticed, besides issues with sleep, is that at a certain point, I feel cold, even in a slight breeze–no idea if this is common.

How far above maintenance cals do you go with cheat meals/days?

Yes, the cold thing is very normal. Your body is basically going into energy saving mode.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it for everyone, but my cheat days have no ceiling. I’ve never actually tracked, but I’m probably usually average ~7k cal. This is just a guess though.