F as in Fat Loss, a belt notch too far


There is no secret when it comes to fat loss. 

The big three of fat loss. 

  • Fix your diet
  • Fix your sleep
  • Intense workouts 

A notch too far


I wear the same belt I wore when I was in high school. There are two reasons I keep the same belt. One, I haven’t had a compelling reason to replace it. Two, As clothing manufacturers cheat on sizes, it is a reliable way to judge my weight. 

Depending on diet and exercise, I alternate between two notches. I typically walk around at about 205lbs. A bit about these notches, if the smaller notch fits easily, I’ll be around 200lbs. On the next notch out, I’ll be about 210. I am strongest when I’m a solid lifting 210. I am most athletic when I’m around 198. I can move better and keep moving faster for longer. 

My observation matches a general rule of haberdashery is one inch on a man’s waist is 10lbs.

When the far notch on old-faithful starts getting tight, it’s time for me to invoke my Susan Powter and “Stop the insanity”

I recently tried a supplement called Tongkat Ali as a Testosterone supplement. A few articles on Pubmed.gov showed it can help boost testosterone, and as 46 approaches, I figured more T wouldn’t hurt.

Tonkat certainly had an effect…two actually: 

One I was grumpy as hell the entire time I took it. My rat-bastard coefficient was off the charts. Apologies to my family as I snapped and grunted my way through the holiday season.

Two, I could not eat enough. Every meal felt like I had just crawled out of the snowdrift and found food for the first time in a while. “You going to finish that? Om nom nom…….”

As an aside, I also noticed I seemed to be out of breath all the time, not sure what that was about, but it certainly didn’t feel healthy, and I’ll not be renewing my subscription for Tongkat anytime soon.

Ok, back to Faturday. I realize my far notch in the belt is getting tight, step on the scale…and oh my….214…and this is not good 214, but hanging a bit over the belt 214…It’s mid-January 2017. Two weeks after I stopped using Tongkat, and it’s time to engage the fat loss protocols.

Most of this will be entirely shocking, so brace yourself. 

  • Drink lots of water
  • Eat less
  • Eat a lot of less-calorie-dense foods
  • Pay attention and match food intake to energy output.
  • Eat low glycemic carbs
  • Beer, cut back
  • Sauna, use more
  • Sleep focus on good quality
  • Cold baths 

In recent years, the calories in vs calories out diet maxim has taken some flak, but there is something there. It’s thermodynamics at a certain level. You can’t spend 2200 calories a day, take in 10,000 and expect to lose weight. Ok, that being said, a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to the metabolic effect of food. If you take in simple sugars, your body spike its blood sugar quickly putting your metabolism in a ‘store the fat, we run on sugar’ mode. In this state, it is very very hard to lose fat. A better approach, cut out simple carbs(sugars/fruit/juices), make sure to eat healthy fats. yes fats. They are harder to digest than protein or carbohydrates, even out blood sugar, and give a better feeling of satiety for a given amount of calories.

Tim Ferriss in the Four Hour Body has an entire chapter on fat loss, and a quite effective diet he calls the “Slow Carb Diet”. Google it, it’s worth doing and can help speed fat loss without going crazy hungry. Tim’s chapter on fat loss in the Four Hour Body is a great place to start if you’re serious about fat loss. Tim mixes a few strategies to attain fat loss. I have a few issues with his verbiage, and think he glosses over the calorie intake part relative to the metabolic effect of food, but in any case, his slow carb diet is worth doing.

Fat loss accelerator: cold.

Get chilly. If you’re serious about rapid fat loss, try 2-3/week cold baths. I am blessed to live near the Rocky Mountains, and my cold tap water comes out in the mid 40s. Remember the law of thermodynamics? Well, they are in play here. Water has 3-4 times the specific heat of air. Your body wants to be 98.6 degrees, and will burn fat to keep the furnace going. Wired covered this here. I aimed for 2-3 cold baths a week, 15-2o minutes each. It’s not quite as horrible as it sounds, far and away the worst part of the cold baths are the initial dunk. 

In about 3 weeks of eating clean with my carbs mostly being low glycemic, I’ve dropped to 203 with a noticeable reduction in body fat. At 6 weeks, I weighed in at 198.6. To be fair, I was a touch dehydrated when I stepped on the scale, and still need to lose about another 2-3 to solidify everyday 198. That said, I still celebrated my drop from 214 to 198, running around the house and fist-pumping like an idiot. 

Diet myths, work longer or harder in the gym.

Sure working longer and harder in the gym will help, but ultimately you can’t outwork a shitty diet. Is it easier to run for an hour, or pound a Big Mac? No contest, it is likely your body will break down and your knees give out before you can break even with the calorie pounding regularly scarfing bags of white Castle can provide. 

Myth 2: Steady State cardio is the key to fat loss.

There are in increasing number of studies showing that steady state long slow distance(LSD) cardio, while good for your health, is nowhere near ideal for fat loss. 

Better ways to go, interval training. Your body can go from nice easy 45 minutes on the treadmill pace back to idle pretty quickly. The body does NOT go from 100% max sprint effort to idle quickly. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. You had to go all out running away from that tiger, and he might still be around…keep the engine warm while we see what’s up. There are many books and articles on interval training, The One Minute Workout being one of the most recent examples of ‘how short can you go’

Try this observation, go to your local gym. Look around and see who’s on the cardio equipment. Come back in six months, look at the cardio equipment, same skinny-fat and just-fat people pounding away. Steady state cardio is catabolic to muscle. Don’t believe me? Look at the top of the LSD food chain, elite bicycle racers, marathoners, and triathletes. The body knows if it’s going to have to do something for a long long time, extra muscle is just extra weight to carry around. Don’t let some magazine-fitness-dogma you latched onto years ago defeat everyday observation.


Want to burn fat? Get more muscle and use big muscle groups. Muscles need energy to be fed. Compound lifts, and circuit training will help maximize caloric burn per hour. A squat complex is difficult, which is why the elliptical machines at your gym may have a line, but it’s easy to get the squat rack to yourself. Squats are hard, which is why people don’t do them much, and even fewer do them well. 

Although squats have the potential to reinvent a physique, they can also wreck knees and backs when done improperly. Ever see someone doing 6″ depth 1/8th squats with a ton of weight with their knees knocking together? Yep, that is not healthy. Squats are good for your knees and hips IF done properly. If you are serious about squatting, it is worthwhile getting good coaching.

Torching fat. High intensity intervals and lifting circuits are good tools. One of my goto workouts when traveling where the hotel gyms tend to be sparsely equipped is a workout I got from Martin Rooney’s “Warrior cardio”. 

Warmup. No really do a decent warmup. Move, stretch lightly, get the bits moving which have been sitting all day. Break a good sweat. Then find the ubiquitous hotel gym treadmill.


    9 rounds of 10mph @10degree incline sprint for 15 seconds, walk until heart rate drops below 130, then repeat.

This is awesome because the rest interval is tied to current fitness. It may take 2-3 minutes for the heart rate to drop below 130 if the person is somewhat deconditioned. Rooney has a host of other hotel-gym-friendly workouts in Warrior Cardio, and I highly recommend the book.

Here’s a workout I got from a fitness guru Brian Cooper. This is a leg burner that requires nothing but a 8-12 lb medicine ball that lights legs on fire.

4 rounds:

15 lunge and reach: Lunge putting the ball on the floor in front of the lunging leg, then standing back up picking the med ball off the floor. A left + right lunge == one rep. 

Followed immediately by 10 jumping lunges. Lunge, jump vertically switching legs in midair, land, repeat. 

Rest one minute between rounds.

These short but hard workouts will net results far faster than going slow and steady for 45 minutes. Duration is the enemy of intensity. The body will naturally pace itself for longer workouts. 

If you’re going to lift big weight, you need to do it right. An amusing moment in reality from a couple years ago. I’m deadlifting with my Crossfit ninja buddy, and we’re using our phones to take side views of the lifting mechanics. Ninja-Jon goes first, then I lift and we look at the results. I nitpick a bit of Jon’s sequence, then we look at my lift. My form was horrible so horrible…I had no idea, but the video didn’t lie. I looked at Jon and said “Holy shit! Why didn’t you tackle me?” I had a serious case of stripper-booty-deadlift, where my ass came up first, then basically straight legged the lift….utter dreck. Without the side-view feedback, I would have had no idea. 

The stronger you are, the more lifting mechanics matter. Screw up a 75 pound deadlift, and you’re probably not going to seriously injure yourself. Do the same thing with 450….and your chance of blowing something out quickly goes sky-high.

One of the most available ways to get good coaching in basic lifts these days is Crossfit. A workout methodology that merits its own article, but doing a Crossfit onramp, where they teach the basics of lifting is an inexpensive way to learn quality lifts. Note: many lifts that appear simple are deceptively complex. It may take two years to learn to squat properly, especially if range of motion is a limiting factor. TWO YEARS…to squat. It’s entirely worth it to reclaim your birthright in being able to squat. I spent most of my life squatting improperly, having learned everything through Muscle and Fitness in the 90s and bro-info in the gym. I had more movement and range of motion issues than Time Magazine, which was exacerbated by the fact I was strong. Bad mechanics, limited ranges of motion, and bad movement patterns combined with the ability to throw reasonably heavy weight around..not good. It has taken quite a bit of time to fix, and I’m still working on it.

Reality check, look at people who have low bodyfat and lots of muscle….note the exercises they are doing. It’s unlikely they are curling baby weights while standing on a bosu ball. Odds are more likely they will be working some old school compound exercises:

Deadlift, squat, bench press, pullups, military press, sled pushes, loaded carries. 

“Stop your complicated weakness, and get strong in the traditional sense of the word” — Pavel

Big muscle groups requires big energy, your goal for fat loss is to spend stored energy. There is a synergy here. 

Compound lifts tend to require whole body involvement which is not present in a recumbent bike.

Let’s go back to the elephant in the room, it’s obvious, but worth mentioning.

You can’t out exercise a crap-diet.

You can’t out exercise a crap-diet.

One more time:

You can’t out exercise a crap-diet.

That fifth piece of pizza is way easier than doing yet another Tabata interval. It will always be that way. Unless you’re hiking the Appalachian trail, you will be able to out eat your work rate.

Sleep, the indispensable role in fat loss.

It’s underrated as a fat-loss aid, but getting good sleep can be the missing puzzle in the fat-loss equation. Poor sleep puts the body in a stressed state, which signals the body to hang on to fat. From an evolutionary standpoint, this too makes sense. If you’re under stress, things must be rough, let’s try to hang on to fat as an energy store to ride this one out. Winter is coming. Better sleep deserves an entire article by itself. Some quick points on improving sleep quality. 

  • Stop screen time 2 hours before bed
  • A contrast shower(hot/cold) finishing with 2 minutes COLD can improve sleep quality
  • Black out the room to complete darkness
  • If you can’t black out the room, use a sleep mask

Final Thoughts on fat loss

The big 3 for fat loss 

  • Fix your diet
  • Fix your sleep
  • Intense workouts 

The secret in all of this is, there is no secret 

 Good luck, I’ll see you on the other side of an ice bath.

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