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How Fat Loss Actually Goes in Practice

I’ve been feeling leaner, including the pinch test in key indicator places (hip, mid-stomach, inside thigh). All such thing pointed to notably lower body fat, and my legs have shown a big ramp up in power and endurance over multi-day periods.

But the scale stayed stubbornly limited in range. A clustering with downtrend, but one simply not reflecting the additive daily caloric deficit very well.

But about four days ago I sensed that I was poised for a bump down in weight—the way I tend to drop the pounds is frustrating with the nothing-happens-for-3-weeks thing, then a sudden drop, as if the body “lets go” of a “set point” and lets it drop 2-3 pounds down to a new set point (resistance level), all in the course of a week or so.

Well hydrated the past two days, this morning’s weight dropped below 175, a key area of resistance for me personally, as the 3-year graph shows. I am “pushing” on it hard now in training, my goal being to hit late spring at ~170 or so, so that I can do the Four Horsemen of the Solstice and Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge Double leaned-out. Because carrying even one more pounds up 30,000 or 20,500 feet really does matter.

For the Everest Challenge, I’d really like to hit a sea-level weight of 165, which would put me around 162 for the race, which translates to 15-20 minutes faster than 2012, all things being equal. Minus ~5 minutes for heavier bike parts this year (DuraAce SRM crank) = 10-15 minutes faster just by being leaner.

Click for larger graph. Notes below.

Morning body weight over 3+ years

Notes on the graph above:

  • It’s much easier to maintain a large caloric deficit when relatively overweight, so long as fitness allows a substantial calorie “burn” each day. As the body get leaner, it holds onto fat stores more and more stubbornly. Losing 2 pounds at 20% body fat is far easier than doing that at 8% body fat. This is seen at left of graph where your author started at about 22% body fat in 2011.
  • If hungry too much of the time, you’re either over-efforting (starving yourself) or eating too much or eating the wrong foods and/or eating food the wrong way. Starving yourself in particular is hugely counterproductive, because the body burns off muscle and goes into survival mode.
  • Body weight can fluctuate as much as 5 pounds for a ~180 pound male: hydration, 3 pounds of bulky food in the gut, fluid retention after very hard workouts, etc. That is why graphing is critical, it lets you be rational about the trend, which is all that matter.
  • The “set point” effect is readily seen in the sideways clustering of many points. It can be very frustrating to break out of such patterns. Two things can help. First, maintain an average caloric deficit of 300-500 calories and track your weight properly and graph it. Eat more when the body cries out, but do not eat much beyond +300.
    Second, throw in days that do not allow you to “eat it back”: a century will burn off 1/2 pound of fat for sure, a double century a full pound. It won’t come back and you wont’t be hungry, because you can still eat enough to feel full.
  • The deep plunges in Sept 2011, Sept 2012, August 2013 correspond to acclimatizing at 10,000 - 11,000 feet just before the Everest Challenge.
    My body always and without fail sheds ~3 pounds and stays there at hour ~36 or so after going to altitude. It is not dehydration in the normal sense; it is a physiological adaptation probably associated with the “spleen dump” of red blood cells; urine is clear and fluid intake is ample, peeing is a nuisance for the first 48 hours. Returning to sea level, the effect reverses just as quickly. See Acclimatizing for the Everest Challenge and Acclimatizing to Altitude.

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