We are now well into the New Year, and with that comes all the promises that many of us make to lose weight and eat more healthily. The main problem though – as we all know too well – is that often, these plans to shed the pounds and turn our bodies into temples, die – usually the first time we eat out, or they simply fizzle away by the end of January. I challenged myself to come up with a good plan of action – which I’m variously calling Operation Trident or The Trident Plan – to lower body fat and reduce weight, without totally ditching some of those yummy things we all like. Payback comes in the form of extra exercise though, so this isn’t going to be a ‘cream cake diet’ where you get to stuff your face with anything you like and sit watching the TV all day long!
How My Body Fat Measurement Changed During Injury
In 2011, I started training in February (once the snow had gone!) and gradually built my way up to 15km runs in the summer. I had to suffer very early on, as my running shoes felt a bit dodgy and left me with hip pain. So a new pair was required and the lad in the shop who did my gait analysis told me my hips didn’t move when I ran – that’ll teach me to go shopping for new running shoes wearing tight jeans! Anyway, I promised myself that I would change my form and get the hips more involved, leading to my evolution to, well, Evolution running as developed by triathlon and cycling coach Ken Mierke.
My presumption is that over the months up to June, I would have lost a fair amount of body fat, as I lost the best part of 28 pounds in weight during those months. Unfortunately, my evolution running must have gradually devolved into some weird lazy variant where most of my forward propulsion was initiated solely from the calf muscles. This meant I was destined to break down and get injured eventually, and this is exactly what happened in June, with a strained popliteus muscle in my left knee. This never fixed itself, but became bearable for running after a couple of months, at which time I promptly strained my right calf in the soleus muscle.
So what’s this got to do with my percentage body fat? Well, I was resting up for periods of 2-3 weeks at a time, followed by trying running again. Usually, at the 2-3km mark, my calf would scream for me to stop, rather painfully, leaving me back in ‘resting mode’ for another couple of weeks. This went on for a few months, and at that point I got myself a body fat analyzer and measured my lard-content at 27%.
I have been seeing my physio for a few months now, and the original prescription was to stop trying to run altogether, and then to build up extremely slowly while all the knots and kinks are worked out of my legs. This, combined with a hefty dose of comfort eating took my measured body fat to 34%. This is extremely high, but it is noteworthy that I am also an extremely ‘damp’ person. I can sweat just by thinking too hard, and the result is that I am consistently measured as being dehydrated (usually my %body water reading is 47-48%; for my age group it should be about 55%); it makes no difference how much water I consume.
The TriDENT Plan – How To Lose Body Fat And Excess Weight
With a notional body fat percent of 34%, my plan over the Christmas holidays was to try and design a plan that would quickly and effectively allow me to reduce my fat content and weight, in a healthy and sustainable way. So many people sentence themselves to strict and often ludicrous diet regimes in the New Year, and frankly they are all destined to fail at some point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calorie counting per se, except you can become an extremely boring person and irritate all your loved ones by being picky and whining about feeling hungry despite having had all your calories for the day.
Even worse, a lot of people think the diet alone will make them lose a ton of weight. It won’t. If you starve yourself calorificaly, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) slows down almost exactly calorie for calorie. This is extremely bad news. It means you’ll practically be starving yourself and not losing any weight (except for the loss of precious fat-burning lean muscle!), and then you’ll inevitably wind up quitting and having a binge-eating session. Thing is, with your BMR now lower than before, and with less lean muscle mass to burn off excess calories, you will sadly probably end up fatter than you were to start with! And that’s what a yo-yo diet is.
So why did I call my hare-brained scheme The TriDENT Plan? Or Operation TriDENT? It was originally because I was going to document it here on my triathlon and fitness site, but actually I’ve built three parts into it – you know ‘Tri’ meaning ‘three’. Then the other bit, the ‘DENT’, apart from the fact we all want to make a serious dent in our body weight and fat, spells out the three requirements:
- Diet – eating the right foods is extremely important, and this can include calorie-counting if needed, in order to control portion sizes. It’s important to eat the right types of food as well though.
- Exercise – people are increasingly catching on that exercise needs to go alongside diet if lasting and effective weight loss is to be achieved. Exercise makes us feel better, and reduces appetite, mainly because those feel-good brain chemicals that are released after a good session stop any need for emotional eating (the kind of almost unconscious eating some people do when actually they do not feel hungry!)
- Nutrient Timing – this is a component of body fat loss that is generally completely lost on most people, and often is the domain of elite and serious athletes. It is a fact that people who skip breakfast are normally the ones who have weight problems at some point in their lives. But it is also important to eat at the right times throughout the day, especially in relation to your exercise routines. Eating within an hour or so of a good workout helps to shepherd those calories into useful areas, such as replenishing muscle and liver glycogen stores, and helping strengthen and build muscles – rather than filling up those pesky fat cells!
So that’s my TriDENT Plan – a three-pronged approach to Diet, Exercise and Nutrient Timing. I am now my own guinea pig, as I test out some of these ideas on myself, and I’ll report the results here on this blog from time to time, as well as any problems, or recipes or whatever else crops up while I get back to fitness after my injuries and bloatedness!
As an aside, for the last two weeks (finishing in two days time as I write this article) I – and a bunch of other runners – have been trying out a 2-week plan to practically ditch carbohydrates to see how shunning all that processed white garbage (white bread, pastry, rice, pasta etc) can positively affect our well-being. This little study was started by Steve (Wild Runner) on the Runners Forum website. For me it’s been a struggle, as I had already mainly ditched a lot of that stuff, but used legumes, lentils and beans etc to get high quality carbs into my diet – and of course they were all banned during the experiment.
I should say though that I lost a reasonable portion of body fat and 4 pounds in weight during week 1. I’ll report a final set of results here after the trial is complete. Then after that, it’s back into my proper TriDENT Plan, where I can get my beans and lentils back, and also have a cheat day (like in Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body Diet).
I’m really looking forward to seeing my running and my times improve as I abandon my blubber. Feel free to follow along with this yourself, but of course, check with your own doctor that it’s right for you before starting!