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Sustainability Is Key to Long Term Jaw-Dropping Physique Change

Note: You are an individual, your results will vary depending on genetics, adherence, and effort.

For the Japanese, new year is like Christmas – people gather with family and, of course, there are special foods eaten. Those green things in the image below are mochi, soft, gooey rice sweets, about the size of a large soup spoon, and every year a handful of people choke to death in front of their families after a failed attempt to swallow the whole thing.

New Year Mochi

In the same way that these poor souls literally bite off more than they can chew, so do many people with their approach to dieting each new year. Ramping up activity to a vast degree and cutting calories to a heavy level is a terrible way to go about sustainable weight loss, but mainstream media have people convinced that you have to suffer to lose weight. And even though our logical minds understand that slow and sustainable is probably the best way to go about making permanent changes, the heart often tells us that faster is better – and there’s always an event that you need to look good for, that can be used as an excuse to rush, right?

Here’s an interview with a man that’s tried it all, my longest running client, John. His words and results are testament to the fact that while ‘consistency’, ‘moderation’ and ‘modest deficits’ may have an unsexy ring to them, the results aren’t.


Client Interview:  John, USA

Age: 45-46, Height: 5’11, Weight: 221lbs -> 175lbs, Stomach: 41.5” -> 31.9”

John, thank you for your time. Can you tell us what you do?    

I am a Unix System Administrator for a well-known media corporation. 

You were fit when you were younger, how did you get overweight?

Well, since sitting is the ‘new smoking’, that’s most of how it happened. A sedentary job combined with 24/7/365 on-call duties that too frequently disrupt sleep or have me up around the clock… combine that with “convenience food” that we now know initiates a vicious cycle of cravings and bingeing. It really doesn’t take long for those patterns to destroy your health. I could always lose weight with effort and sheer willpower, but like many people I found myself losing the same 15-25lbs over and over and over. As I grew older, those rebounds produced diminishing returns. Each cycle I ended up 5 or 10lbs heavier than the previous time.  

You told me recently that you’ve been a stalker of internet fitness info on the web since way back in 2001. Why did you hire me?

I’ve worked with several ‘big name’ internet trainers/coaches. ALL of their programs and diets produced results initially. The problem for me was that those programs required increasing amounts of gym time and caloric restriction to either maintain or produce further results. I had to be honest with myself about the amount of time I could spend in the gym and how many chicken salads with plain baked potatoes I could eat.

My ‘epiphany’ came at the point where I was working with a popular online trainer and I was doing 2 hours of cardio PER DAY. I was definitely losing weight, but the amount of effort and restriction didn’t seem commensurate with my results. One Sunday I was up at 6am to do my cardio and my knee was really sore. Just before I started I had a thought.. “Will I still be able to weight train 3-4 days a week AND do 2 hours of cardio per day when I’m 60?”. I realized that I could suck it up and battle through this NOW.. but I was a spry, young 40 yr. old. Now, of course, I know there are 70yr. old triathletes out there today crushing it, but I also understand that I won’t be one of them.  Instinctively I knew that I needed to find something that was sustainable for ME. After stumbling upon this “new IF thing”, I tried to implement it myself twice and screwed it up both times. I would get solid results initially… but I could never make the right adjustment when my progress stalled. I wanted guidance from someone who had implemented the program successfully. 

That’s when I found your website… which clearly instructed me to go hire Martin Berkhan. He was busy, so I hired you. 🙂 

How did you progress?

In hindsight? PERFECTLY. At the time, as you’ll recall, I was experiencing some frustration because I was “only losing 1.5lbs/wk”. Working with other coaches I had lost anywhere from 3-6lbs per week. Mind you it was with MUCH greater effort and restriction, but we clients never remember that, do we? So that was the overall story of my progress. It does take a while for 1.5lbs/wk to add up to 50, but my progression was as close to linear as one could possibly expect, I think. The amazing thing was that I continued to gain strength month after month. If I remember correctly, It wasn’t until I had dipped below my high school weight of 185lbs that I saw any decline in my lifts at all (yep… bench press). I understand those dips are due to the changing leverages that accompany such substantial fat loss, but I still vow to reclaim them when I reach my leanness goal and turn the corner to clean bulk. 🙂

Please share any surprises or frustrations.

I am still surprised to this day at the simplicity and sheer effectiveness of IF applied with RPT. Friends and family can’t believe that I’ve achieved this drastic change with only 2 hours a week in the gym. If I hadn’t lived it, I’m not sure I’d believe it either. For me, it has been such a natural and effortless integration with my daily schedule. I think my greatest frustration is the knowledge that I could have enjoyed this level of health and well-being my entire adult life if these principles had been understood when I was in my 20’s. I spent YEARS on the diet and exercise merry-go-round and THOUSANDS of dollars on ridiculous, worthless, supplements. That time and money would have been completely wasted if it weren’t for the educational value of discovering that you really can work “smarter not harder”.  

I feel you John, had been there myself for a few years which is how this site came about. How do you feel now? Any advice to offer to others? 

I literally feel like a new man. It is hard to express in words how this experience has improved literally EVERY aspect of my life. Above all, for me, though.. is the peace of mind I have knowing that I’ll never struggle with my weight again. My advice to others is simply DON’T GIVE UP! I was 46yrs old before I ever saw my abs and I’ve tried pretty much every diet, supplement, and training methodology under the sun. Seriously… I drank raw eggs because Rocky drank raw eggs. 🙂 Give IF a try and see if it fits your life as perfectly as it does mine. If you have the opportunity to work with Andy, so much the better. For me personally, it made all the difference.  

John

Thank you for your time, frankness of speech and willingness to share John.

Notes

If you’re wondering about the extended time frame, yes, John kept rehiring me (which is unusual as I like to create independence in clients). This is despite me explaining exactly what he needed do at the end of each three-month period moving forward and bluntly telling him that he didn’t need me to be successful. He insisted that he wanted me to be on him to get this done. In hindsight, perhaps me hovering there keeping him accountable was what made him so? Anyway, here are a few other important notes…

Strength: DL 355×5 -> 375×4, BP 260×7 -> 250×6, SQ 275×4 -> 315×6

  • Fair to say that his strength has been maintained pretty well but no significant increases except for the squat. Numbers listed to help you compare. If you’re at a similar start point in terms of body weight and height, but significantly weaker, then you’re not likely to be carrying as much muscle.

Muscle growth?

  • Can’t rule it out. – Despite the little change in John’s main lifts, his chest/back measurement barely changed. This is unusual as reductions in the chest measurement are normal when people are fat-loss focused. (Reach with your right arm across your chest and under your left armpit and grab the fat on your back at nipple level.) I would have assumed measurement error were I not looking at a consistent 18 months of data.

Side effects:

  • Ageing – John aged by 18 months.

The Coaching Lesson? Maintenance is still success

It can be hard to convince a client this, but it’s true. Would you believe that John, even at his lowest of 175lbs in that photo, still wanted to hold off from sharing his results because he thought he had further to go? Trust me, everyone raises the bar for themselves when they reach a goal and people all too often fail to take a step back to appreciate what they have done/achieved.

Maintenance of weight is a success and it’s important to allow yourself (or your clients) to recognize that. Your body hates you for changing the status quo – the ‘set point’ that it is used to – and tries hard to fight it by ramping up hunger and playing all sort of other tricks. However, if you maintain it for long enough you’ll create a new set point for yourself where you can pretty much just eat to hunger again and maintain it, or around that level at least. (More on set point/settling point theory.)

So how is John doing now?

It’s a solid 5 months after that photo was taken and at around 180lbs. There have been a couple of (what he’d perceive to be) set backs from his goal of being truly shredded, but he’s still in the right range despite being looser with counting, and I think that’s the main thing.

Here is John’s scale weight data for the last 18 months. Gaps are just missing data, jumps are from either purposeful diet breaks, holidays or otherwise.

John's 18 Month Scale Weight Data

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Full guide to do it yourself here, so if you think a friend may find it useful please share.
Thank you for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments.

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Please keep questions on topic, write clearly, concisely, and don't post diet calculations.

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Tee
Tee

Andy – sorry if this isn’t the best place for this, but I have a question. I used to train fasted first thing in the AM, but now, my situation has changed and I have to come home to eat dinner with my family. This only really affects me on training days.

If I eat at 12:00, then at 18:30, THEN train after the kids are asleep, what should meal 3 look like? What time and what macro split?

I’m currently eating 50% of my calls at 12:00 and the next 50% around 18:30. Only 2 meals.

I notice if I train after my last meal, I either get hungry at night or the next day.

Thanks!!

Darvinder
Darvinder

Hi Andy,

I come from being much heavier than John and I am worried that my hanging over stomach may cause skin problems when I lean down. Have you ever had similar clients? Do you recommend a slow approach for something like this to give the skin appropriate time to “catch-up”? If yes, what will that time frame look like?

I really don’t want to go through surgery and to be honest, the nervousness is one of the things stopping me from being consistent.

Thanks,

Darvinder

David
David

I can relate a lot with John. I’m. 5’10” 227 with a 38 inch waist. If I can get down to 180 with a 32 inch waste (my goal) I can’t imagine feeling like I had more to go lol

Sergio
Sergio

Hoeçw many times did he rehire you in that 18 months? Do you think it was unnecesary given the guidelines you provide at the end of the coaching? Is it possible that he could achieve such impressive results without rehiring you?

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Carlo
Carlo

I’m training 3x/ week. Do you still recommend having free meals on a bodyrecompostition plan? If so, I will be having them on Rest Days once a week. So instead of 3 high calorie days, it will become 4 high calorie days. Should I lower the 3 high calorie days by about 100-200 calories to save up for that free meal to not impede fat loss?

Carlo
Carlo

I didn’t find anything about free meals there?

Carlo
Carlo

You mentioned about creating a new body fat setpoint. I’ve been dieting for 4 weeks and content where I am and would like to make this new bodyfat setpoint. How long do you think it’ll take me for it to become my new bodyfat setpoint? Will maintenance calories be better than cycling calories? (But still averaging maintenance calories for the week.)

Dragos
Dragos

Great to see that he doesn’t had problems with the loose skin

Chris
Chris

I wonder can you start with BW exercises to increase strength and flexibility then move into barbell? If time is not a factor but steady progression and more flexibility are paramount.

AD
AD

Hey Andy, over the 18 months how many “purposeful diet breaks” were included and typically how long did a diet break last for?

Also, what other factors are considered when recomending a Diet break – i ask because say at the 12 week mark one hasn’t hit their bf% goal I’m wondering if it’s better to extend the deficit until you hit that goal than to go on a diet break.

I’m thinking ahead of the end of my 12 week coaching with you.

Jason
Jason

I would be curious to know if John trained in a fasted state or not. Do you know this Andy? I apologize if this was mentioned in the article (I didn’t see it).

Jason
Jason

Thanks for the response.

Austin Wilder
Austin Wilder

Always eager for more articles and client success stories! I do have a question, however! While I am WELL aware of the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” code and the amount of stress that is put on steady and maintainable weight loss, I am curious as to the adverse effects of acute caloric deficits / high levels of activity on an infrequent level, maybe once a week. For example, today I simply did not get around to eating until late at night (hunger is so easily manageable on IF) and my calories consist of minimal protein (~80-100g) and very little fats (~20-30g). Yesterday I did some chins and squats. Went hard and, inevitably, am quite sore. My question is – How much will this affect my recovery/strength? Should I worry about “making up” these calories or just get back on track the next day? Like I said, this is not an everyday thing. I just want to know to what extent will this affect me in the long run. I am not TOO worried about strength/muscle loss as long as fat loss is still present (I know it sounds ignorant to worry just about fat loss but I have yet to lose any prior strength gains so I’m not worried about that just yet.) Thanks in advance, Andy!

Jordan
Jordan

What a terrific response. The picture speaks volumes to him being patient and sticking with the program. Awesome.

I’ve been doing IF since Jan 1st, thanks to this site. I have only lost 6-7 lbs, but am wearing jeans I haven’t worn in 4 years.

Keep up the great articles 🙂

Michael
Michael

Excellent result. I printed the article and put it on my fridge 🙂

jeff fairey
jeff fairey

Excellent job amigo!

Did you add anything like walking to his routine?

Sounds like he may have counted his macros pretty strictly, I have not stressed about exact counting but I guess I am subtly eating too much because I’ve flat lined for the last month and after following the 16/8 2 meals per day for 6 months, I’ve never had a linear loss of 1.5 lbs per week and I have a very similar build, height and starting point as your client.

Are you saying that it was an average of 1.5 per week with stalls in between or did he really lose scale weight every week?

as always, great stuff Andy and thanks for your site!

jeff fairey
jeff fairey

thx for the reply.

When I mentioned 6 months, I was referring to how long I had been doing IF. I am well aware of his time frame and find it to be very encouraging because it wasn’t a 90-120 day period where I am left scratching my head wondering how in the world other people make changes that fast but I can’t.

My point about the 1.5 lbs a week comes from his answer to your question (see quote below) where he specifically states he lost 1.5#’s/wk and was frustrated at first because he didn’t think that was fast enough:

“How did you progress?

In hindsight? PERFECTLY.

At the time, as you’ll recall, I was experiencing some frustration because I was “only losing 1.5lbs/wk”.

Working with other coaches I had lost anywhere from 3-6lbs per week. Mind you it was with MUCH greater effort and restriction, but we clients never remember that, do we? So that was the overall story of my progress.

It does take a while for 1.5lbs/wk to add up to 50, but my progression was as close to linear as one could possibly expect, I think.”

See the last sentence specifically

Jeff Fairey
Jeff Fairey

excellant, thank you!

swanbrooks
swanbrooks

Fantastic results, congratulations to John for sticking with it, and to you Andy for helping him get there! It may be he still thinks he has ‘farther to go’, but from where i’m standing, it looks like he’s already there !

Nick

Kimberlie
Kimberlie

As his wife, I appreciate the effort John put in and the guidance Andy offered…and I REALLY appreciate the results 🙂 At first, I considered his diet inconvenient and restrictive and probably whined about the lack of eating out. It took me a while to see that not only was it working for him, it made him happy. He felt better, he ate better and he really enjoyed it. In fact, he often remarked that he couldn’t believe he got to eat as much as he did, or as well as he did, and still lose weight. He’s dedicated…cooking his meals every weekend, packing his lunches daily, finding a gym to lift in even on vacation…and patience plus dedication have worked.

Even after watching him have success, it took me a a year to decide it might be something I could try. I’m down 27 lbs, with 15 more to go. My patience and dedication aren’t as pure as John’s, but it’s helps to live with him as daily inspiration.

Thank you Andy for working with him!

Ian
Ian

Kimberlie, congrates to you and your husband, you guys got your lives back

Andy
Andy

Long slow clap! Just the kick up my ass to shut up, stick to my diet numbers and squat.

Thank you.

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