In Real Life: My Recent Fat Loss Journey

I don’t usually discuss my own personal goal on this blog but my last “in real life” post went over fairly well, so I wanted to share another post related to my own personal experience.

This post will be much different from my last one in that this one is all about a recent fat loss phase I embarked on.

First some background…

For most of last year my training was mostly focused around gaining muscle. There are really 3 necessary things you need to do in order to add muscle to your body.

  1. Consuming enough protein
  2. Strength training at an intensity that brings you close to failure
  3. Consuming enough calories so your body has the fuel to build new tissue

There are plenty of other factors that come into play for sure, sleep needs to be good, stress needs to be kept in line to allow proper recovery, you need to eat in a way that allows you to support the training volume and recover from that training…but without those 3 key pieces everything else will be for nothing.

Out of those 3 requirements for building muscle, the one that always gives me the hardest time is eating enough food, so I made a very conscious effort to eat more. By the end of last year I was consuming north of 400g of carbs, 150g of protein, and 90g of fat, which comes to more than 3000 calories a day.

If you are thinking “that sounds fantastic to be able to eat that much”, it’s not as fun as you might think.

Nearly all of those calories were coming from fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins with the addition of oatmeal and white rice…I practice what I preach eating most whole foods. It is a lot of work to eat that amount of calories from a whole foods diet.

While it was a lot of work and not as enjoyable as you might think, I was able to put on some weight eating that much.

Sure, some of that weight was fat, that is expected, but a lot of it was muscle…I was much stronger and lifting more than I had ever lifted in my life.

After the New Year I was ready to scale back the amount of food I was eating and take off some of the fat I had put on. Not only was eating this amount of food a lot of work, I also wanted to be lighter by the time summer came around and I would be doing more trail running in preparation for obstacle course racing.

So in January I began an effort to lose weight, or more specifically, lose fat.

As always at the beginning of any fat loss journey things tend to be easy. To eat enough food to put on the muscle I wanted I was just adding extra calories wherever I could, it wasn’t really for enjoyment so cutting those extra calories out was simple.

Things like white rice I was eating at breakfast, honey and maple syrup I was adding to my oatmeal, extra paleo pancakes at night, all were the first to go. I was actually happy they were gone!

But this brings me to the first thing I do whenever my clients embark on a fat loss journey.

Track your current food intake to establish a baseline.

We need to know where you are starting from, and oftentimes if you haven’t tracked in a long time there might be some surprises that pop up.

You might find that you are consuming more of certain types of foods and those are adding a ton of calories that you don’t need. I often find that things like nuts, seeds, dairy, condiments, and liquid calories tend to sneak into peoples diets. These can all be quite calorically dense and a little of each can add up quite quickly from a caloric perspective.

The other thing that can often reveal itself when tracking is the small “snacks” that you consume throughout the day without thinking about it. Having a handful of this, or taking a bite of that, finishing something left on your kids plate, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Individually these things might seem harmless, but when added up they can come out to be several hundred calories.

When you honestly track your food intake, including the sauces, oils, liquid calories, nuts, seed, dairy, licks, and bites you then can see a complete picture of your food intake.

Is it accurate?


Does it give you a baseline of where to start?


With that baseline you can eliminate the “easy” stuff from your diet, things that you can easily live without. Just like I looked at my diet and said, I can eliminate this white rice, this honey, this maple syrup, these pancakes, etc. You won’t even feel like you are depriving yourself of anything, and that is a HUGE win when trying to lose fat.

After eliminating these extra foods I dropped 5-6 lbs over the course of January to March.

Is that insane weight loss?


However my weight was consistently trending down and that’s what was most important.

My experience the next few months is something that is bound to happen to nearly everyone and I think is one of the main takeaways from this post.

Throughout March and April I kind of hit a plateau where my weight was relatively the same.

There are two important takeaways from this time.

First I waited 2 months before adjusting my diet any further!

That’s right…2 months!

Most people think they are in a plateau after 1 week of no weight loss but 1 week is not nearly enough time to come to that conclusion. Your weight can stall or even go up over the course of a week and that would not mean you need to make changes to your diet. That’s because the scale reflects all kinds of things other than fat loss or fat gain. Other factors like sleep, stress, and exercise can make the scale do crazy things during a 1 week time period.

I honestly don’t even start considering that someone is in a plateau until they have been 90% consistent with diet, sleep, exercise, and stress for over 1 month and are not seeing changes either on the scale or with other body composition metrics. It is also very rare that anyone is 90% consistent for a month, so oftentimes we need to wait longer to figure out if it is a true plateau in weight loss or something else.

And this brings me to my next take away from this March-April plateau.

The first few weeks of April include both my daughter and wife’s birthdays. Knowing my daughter and my wife, who love their birthdays, I knew that this would mean multiple “celebrations”. Of course I am going to partake in them because that is part of living a healthy balanced life.

So I chose TO BE VERY INCONSISTENT WITH MY DIET during the first few weeks of April and I was fine with that.

Then I took another 2 weeks after the birthday celebrations to just get back to my diet as planned and waited for the scale to level itself out.

Between what I observed in March and the last 2 weeks of April, I knew I had to make more changes to my diet if I wanted to see more progress.

However before making any further changes it is good to check in on your benchmarks.

What are benchmarks?

I use benchmarks with myself and my clients during a fat loss journey in order to assess if the current diet is too much stress on the body and we are seeing negative impacts in other areas of life.

These benchmarks should be things that matter to you, they are more important than the vanity of looking good, or being at a certain body fat percentage, or fitting into a certain pair of pants. Generally they are related to other aspects of health, or your overall enjoyment of life, or effects on people you love.

For me I have a couple of benchmarks I check in on during a fat loss journey to assess whether I can push further or I need to stop and rethink things.

  1. How is my sleep? My sleep is the number one indicator of if I am too low on calories. When I am, I wake up several times throughout the night and have a hard time falling back asleep.
  2. How is my mood? Who doesn’t get cranky when they are hungry? For me my ability to weather the storm of work and family life gets real low when calories are too low.
  3. How is my performance in the gym? If the same exercises feel incredibly hard, I know I could be low on fuel.
  4. Am I able to enjoy my social life? If I am having to sacrifice social engagements with the ones I love, then I know I need to rethink my current diet.

You may have similar ones or completely different ones. The specifics of the benchmarks are not important, I just suggest you have them in place BEFORE you begin to know when you need to change strategy or if you should stop all together before things get to a point where you can no longer sustain them.

At the end of April I went through my benchmarks and they all checked out, which was not surprising since at this point I had not really had to make any massive changes to my diet, I had just eliminated the “extras”.

At this point in my journey I knew I would have to start cutting back on food. However I was still eating around 260-290g of carbs a day, so I knew I had plenty of room from a carbs perspective to cut back further.

All I did at this point was just have smaller portions of the same carbs I was already eating. Where before I was having 6oz of strawberries and a cup of blueberries, I was now having 4 oz of strawberries and ⅔ a cup of blueberries. I went from having 250g of sweet potato down to 200g of sweet potato. I cut back the amount of squash I was having from 150g down to 100g. I cut back from 200g of white rice down to 75g of white rice. I basically targeted dropping around 200-300 calories a day from carbs, which equates to about 50-75g of carbs.

Again because I was tracking, it made it easy to know exactly what to eliminate and how much I needed to cut back.

I did notice this change a little more as I wasn’t as full as I was before, I also was not starving or uncomfortably hungry at any point. I guess I could say I was satisfied, without pushing the fullness factor. I had been pushing myself to be so full for so long, I think it was just a different sensation to not feel as full.

So from the end of April to about the early to middle part of June my weight went down from around 158 to around 153 lbs. Another solid 5 lbs down over about 1.5 months, not bad at all!

Here is where things get interesting though.

On June 24th I had a grip competition I wanted to compete in. Around the beginning of June the organizers announced there would be a 70kg (154lb) weight class for males. On the day I read the announcement I weighed in at 153 lbs….just under the weight limit, and the competition was about 2 weeks away at this point.

I knew I would have a better chance of placing higher in the 70kg weight class than the 80kg weight class, so after a short discussion with my coach, we decided to go for it.

This was my first time ever trying to make weight for anything so I was unsure of how to approach it. My coach said that if I can get down to a weight of around 150 lbs fasted in the morning I should be fine.

We had two weeks but we decided to cut down to 150g of carbs a day to shed some weight quickly and then try to maintain that heading into the competition.

I did just that, but this was a bit of a bigger shift in diet. I had to cut out the oatmeal I was eating everyday as well as eliminate the banana and sweet potato I was consuming. I also had to cut back on the berries a little bit too. Most of my carbs at this point were coming from non-starchy above ground veggies, which I eat a lot of.

However that did the trick because by the end of the week I weighed in at 149 lbs…perfect.

But there was one more wrinkle in the picture here….the Sunday before the competition was Father’s Day and of course my family wanted to do something special for me and take me out for dinner and my daughter made a special cake for me.

One of my benchmarks from above is to not let my diet interfere with my social life, and this was going to do just that. I refuse to say no to the dinner and cake.

What I did do was just account for the fact I was going to go out on Father’s Day and enjoy myself and not sweat what would happen. I still had a week before the competition.

So the day we were supposed to go out for dinner I ate a light breakfast and lunch. I had eggs, salmon, and tomatoes for breakfast and for lunch I had a protein shake with collagen, creatine, and a little banana. I also made sure I got my workout and steps in.

Then I went out for dinner and we ate all the good food, had a drink, and more importantly ATE THE CAKE!

Monday rolled around and I weighed in at 151 lbs. Not too bad.

I got right back on the same eating plan from the week before and by Wednesday I was back down to 149 lbs. Perfect!

Well almost…

At this point it had been a week of eating 150g of carbs and two of my other benchmarks were going south….

Working out was a complete drag and was incredibly hard some days and my sleep was getting worse….ugh.

Clearly I was not eating enough (I knew that by how fast the weight was dropping).

You might be saying…you are eating a 150g of carbs Ryan, that still puts you around 2000 calories a day!

But keep in mind this is all relative. Want to know how I know 2000 calories a day is low for me?

I took several ketone measurements over the course of this week and was consistently coming back with a reading of 0.7 mmol. Anything over 0.5 mmol would be considered to be in ketosis. In other words I was in ketosis while eating 150g of carbs…my body was using all those carbs up to the point where it needed to produce ketones for energy. We will discuss this topic a bit more when I give my final piece of advice at the end of this post.

Knowing I would reverse course after the competition was over I pushed through over the next few days and Saturday came and I weighed in at 148 lbs.

Goal accomplished!

For perspective here is what the complete weight graph looked like.

For those of you wondering if most of this weight loss on the scale was fat, I am pretty sure it was. The reason why is because I was eating enough protein the entire time, I was strength training the entire time, and I was taking it slow and steady (outside the last 2 weeks but even that wasn’t that extreme).

Also my scale which uses bioelectrical impedance (BIA) to assess muscle and fat mass indicated that I lost fat and gained muscle. Now I don’t think this is by any means accurate. BIA measurements can be affected by a lot of different factors. However I use this scale everyday, I take the measurement at the same time under the same conditions so I am eliminating a lot of different variables that could impact it. That said I still don’t think I gained 3% of muscle mass while in this caloric deficit, that’s just not possible for someone who has been training as long as I have. I think most of this “increase” is likely shifts in body fluids and less food in my gut affecting things.

That said, it’s still a positive trend rather than a negative one.

For the most part, outside of the last week which I had to push through some subpar benchmarks for the sake of making weight, this fat loss journey went smoothly and was relatively painless.

One of the major reasons this fat loss journey went so smoothly has to do with the six months prior to even beginning this journey. My body was so used to eating 3000+ calories a day that when it came time to cut some of those calories out, it responded just the way it should have…it went to its fat stores and tried to make up the difference.

Many people who want to lose body fat jump right to eating less. In many cases this is very hard to do because they are already not eating that much to begin with. If you are an adult (male or female) eating 2000 calories a day and now you want to lose weight, how low can you realistically go before you feel deprived and starving? There is not much wiggle room.

If you want to lose fat I think the first thing you should do before jumping right into cutting calories is spend at least 6 months eating more food, getting 10k steps a day, and strength training 3-4 times a week.

Yes the scale will likely go up.

Yes you may add a little body fat.

But ideally you add several pounds of muscle, maybe a few pounds of body fat, but you put yourself in a place where your metabolism is primed to use your own body fat as fuel.

It is much better to start your fat loss journey eating 2500 or 3000 calories a day than 2000 calories per day. Your body will have no problem turning to its body fat for fuel when you start to cut back some of those calories. If you are starting at 2000 calories per day and try to go lower your body is going to be much more resistant to tapping into body fat stores, because it’s already pretty low on calories, so instead it will adjust the amount of calories its burning to match what you are eating and that makes fat loss much more difficult.

So to summarize how I approached my fat loss journey here is what I did:

  1. Spent a significant part of the prior year trying to build muscle and to facilitate that I ate a lot more food. By the end of that period of time I was eating over 3000 calories a day and weight stable.
  2. The first thing I did to start was cut out the calories I was not going to miss, the ones I was adding in just to eat enough food.
  3. My weight stabilized for 2 months before I decided I need to adjust my diet further to induce further weight loss. At this point I checked in on my benchmarks to see if I should push further and since everything felt good, I cut out some additional calories in the form of smaller portions of carbohydrates.
  4. I then pushed my weight loss further to try and make weight for my competition but when I did I noticed my benchmarks started to slip. I knew I was eating too little so after the competition was over I decided to increase my calories again back to what they were before the competition for several weeks before deciding what to do next.

That pretty much brings us up to the present.

It is the week after my competition and I have been eating more calories. My benchmarks have all stabilized and I am feeling good. Yes I am up 2lbs from my competition weigh in but that is expected, not worried at all, because I feel much better right now, and honestly that is what I have come to respect the most.

The way I show up for myself and my family each day is what is really important. All this other stuff about fat and muscle will just fall in line when you feel your best. If you focus on your benchmarks, keep them in check, and do that on repeat you can’t help but optimize your health along the way.

If you want more content around how I approach my own health and wellness and are enjoying these “in real life” posts, sign up for my newsletter using the form below. I will certainly be creating more of these types of posts to help provide real life insight around how I approach my own health and wellness.

Success! You're on the list.

1 thought on “In Real Life: My Recent Fat Loss Journey

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close