It’s human nature, I think, to tweak.
My weight loss, by most standards, held a smooth stride. I didn’t count calories, I didn’t punish myself with hours in the gym, and I generally spent my time as simply and plainly as possible: eat when I’m hungry, move around when I’m not.
That served me well. December and early January saw me at my leanest yet, but still just shy of where I ultimately wanted to be. I have a goal. Call it vain, self-centered, and all sorts of unfriendly words, but that goal doesn’t change: I want a set of abs, the kind this formerly chubby kid never thought he would see.
And so I started to tweak. I took a simple way of life and made a few changes, altering a pretty easy formula, and for about a month, there, lived a bit more complicated than I was accustomed to.
Here’s the obvious punchline: it didn’t help.
And here’s the equally obvious motto of this story: keep it simple!
Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t count calories. I’m not convinced you need to on a Paleo/Primal diet, and while doing so can still have its uses, I generally have a good feel for my daily intake without needing to weigh and measure.
That said, I did count macronutrients, which is something I haven’t done in almost a year. I kept a running tally of how many grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates I consumed each day, with the intention of going high-carb, high-protein, low-fat on workout days, and then high-fat, high-protein, moderate-carb on rest days. That’s carb cycling, essentially, with carb ‘refeeds’ timed right after workouts — not the most complicated method around, but still a far cry from what I’d been doing before.
Why? Why bother with the technical details when living simply was working just fine?
Like I said: humans like to tweak. Even those that leap up on a pedestal and preach the virtues of patience — guilty! — can get a little impatient and more than a little frustrated at what is perceived as a stall in otherwise steady weight loss. Carb cycling and other strategies have been promoted as a way to help shed excess body fat, which seemed — to my vain, slightly impatient self — a perfect way to make the push into a single-digit body fat percentage.
Again: I want abs.
Lesson learned, in any case: I complicated things for about a month, there, and it didn’t help in any perceivable way. That’s no fault of the ‘program’, though, as it’s entirely possible I didn’t do it right, and it’s entirely possible the variations I incorporated were just enough to negate the advantages of doing it.
Come the end of the month, accordingly, I was right where I’d started, weight-wise, and more than a tiny bit frustrated at the lack of change. Why hadn’t it worked? Why wasn’t I any leaner? More importantly, though, why had I decided to mess with the good thing I had going?
My notorious Ab Quest is the obvious answer. Digging a little deeper, now, I think there’s another side of the story, and I think it’s one that anyone — and everyone! — on a journey to strong, vibrant health can understand.
Waiting For Tomorrow
We’re forward-looking people. It’s in our blood, I suspect, or at least in our upbringing. We plan for the future, fantasize about what the next day may bring, and generally try and direct the course of our lives as much as possible.
That extends to our health, too. I do something funny, I’ve realized, when I check the mirror: I don’t see me. I see the me of six months from now, the me that I genuinely want to be, the image of this muscular Matt overriding the one that’s directly in front of my eyes. I can see through the image, bit by bit, but I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. Why? I end up comparing the future me and the real me, and — no surprise there! — the real me is rarely up to snuff.
I don’t have a six-pack yet? I need to try harder.
That’s an unhealthy perspective, to be sure. More than that, though, it’s not fair. It’s not fair to the progress I’ve made, and it’s certainly not respectful of just how far I’ve come in the last 11 or 12 months of Primal eating.
I bet I’m not alone in this. And I bet, too, that you know the feeling I just described — a realization, sure, that you’ve lost weight, but a little voice in the back of your mind that says “but not enough.” You need to keep going. You’re not where you want to be, in other words, and the mind offers some mental image of where you’ll ideally end up.
We need to stop. We need to open our eyes a little wider and really, truly, ground ourselves in the present — in the me (or you!) that is staring back at you now, not the one who you’ll be looking at six months down the line.
How can we do that? I’ve given it some thought, like I said, and my month-long experiment in carb-cycling really drove home how obvious the answer was all along.
There’s only one thing left to do, then: simplify.
The Simplicity of Intermittent Fasting
Stop looking forward.
That’s strange, I know, in the context of how we normally operate. Of all changes I’ve made in my life, however, the incorporation of IF has been one of — if not the — strongest forces in helping me stop and focus on the now.
When I sit down to eat, I don’t worry about how many grams of whatever that I’m getting, and likewise my brain isn’t thinking “Oh, I’ll need to have more protein at dinner tonight to make up for it.” I’m focusing, instead, on just a few simple things: the flavors as they cross my palate, the sights and sounds of the dish, and the utterly ridiculous amount of water I get all over the place when I do dishes afterwards.
I’m in the present, in other words, and quite happily not thinking about tomorrow. I’m not thinking about how many more meals I need to fit in during the rest of the day, and I’m definitely not thinking about attaching any numbers to one of the most basic and greatest pleasures of life: eating.
I’m eating when I’m hungry, and I’m not worrying about food when I’m not.
And I’m losing weight. Maybe that’s the real punchline here: after a month of stalling, I’ve done maybe a week of my ‘old’ style of eating and already seem leaner than before. Again, let me stress that I’m not saying carb cycling doesn’t work — Leangains is perfect proof that it does. For me, though, a simple take on Intermittent Fasting works best, mainly for the reasons I mentioned above.
What does that simple take look like? It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned it here on 3NL, so let me reiterate what I do:
1. Eat when I’m hungry, and don’t eat when I’m not. I shoot for two meals a day (one around noon, the other around 6pm) but don’t stress if the meal times vary, and nor do I stress if I end up eating just one large meal either. When I do sit down for a meal, I keep it simple: I eat what I’m hungry for and don’t worry about any particular combination of macronutrients.
This means, more practically speaking, that some days I could come in well under the average daily intake of fat, protein, or carbs — but that’s fine. Remember a core principle of Intermittent Fasting: focus less on your daily intake and think more on what you average over time.
I come in well under 100 grams of protein on some days, but that’s not a cause for stress. I’ll get a craving for protein a day or two later, eat more of it as a result, and suddenly my weekly intake is just as it should be: normal, easy, and by all appearances effortless.
2. Walk when possible. Stand instead of sitting when not.
And that’s it. Call it the antithesis of calorie counting, if you like, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.
Humans like to tweak. We like to overcomplicate things, too, even with otherwise golden intentions. I took a routine — Intermittent Fasting, as advocated by John Nguyen of the Lean Saloon — and decided to complicate it with the hope of advancing my march towards sweet, glorious abs.
Was it a mistake? I wouldn’t call it that, especially since I didn’t gain any weight during the period. If nothing else, it served a nice reminder of just how simple our diet can be, and it has helped renew my love for things I’d otherwise restricted during the carb cycling: the rich taste of heavy cream in my coffee, or the subtle sweetness of raw cashews. I bake sweet potatoes when I feel like it, I eat (probably too many) carrots whenever you put them in front of me, and I know, each and every day, that I’m going to do just one thing: eat when I’m hungry and not stress about food when I’m not.
Intermittent Fasting keeps me grounded. It keeps me in the moment, even, and reminds me to respect each one that I’ve been given — including the body I have now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a goal for my body, but there’s just as much value in liking what I have now.
Keep it simple. Take a moment to admire the person you are — and the body you have — today. Realize, further, that there’s likely some future version clouding your mind, so take whatever steps necessary to go easy on yourself and start greeting yourself with a smile. Me? I’m going to stick with Intermittent Fasting. There’s the physical advantages, sure, but some pretty powerful mental ones too. I’m grateful, in any case, for how it encourages to me to stop, slow down, and enjoy what I’m doing — eating or otherwise.
And at the end of the day, you have plenty of time to get where you’re going. Why not try and enjoy the person you are today?
Intermittent Fasting can help.