Eating clean made me fat, while eating cookies and Chipotle made me lean...
Ok fine, you got me. Eating cookies and Chipotle didn't make me lean. Cookies and Chipotle aren't anything special. They're not made from unicorns, containing magical ingredients that allowed me to lose body fat for the first time.
However, the mindset I had while eating those things certainly did help with that.
A BIT ABOUT MY JOURNEY
If you don't know my story, there's a lot to it. But for the sake of time (knowing that you have a life and most likely don't want to sit down and read what I have to say all day long), I'm going to skip most of it and start with my fitness journey. I found my love for health and fitness after college ball. Once baseball was done, I spent a lot of time in the gym. I needed something to distract me from the fact that I wasn't a baseball player anymore.
My dad competed in bodybuilding back in the day, so weight training had always been a staple in his routine. He brought me along and lifted with me as I was trying to get out of my post-baseball depression.
If you know me, you know I don't really have much of an on/off switch when it comes to anything active or physical. Ask me to play against you in any sort of physical sport or activity, and I'm going to give it my all. I may suck, but I'm going to give you everything I have. It was the same thing with resistance training. I didn't have the best form, and my mind-muscle connection was far non-existent. But I tell you what, when I was in that gym, I gave each rep my all.
After a while, I actually began to see a change in my body. It's not the reason I was in the gym in the first place, but there were definitely changes in my body that I could see as a result of simply working hard. So because of that, I obviously asked myself what could happen if I took things seriously. And right before your eyes, I became your typical bro-like gym rat.
I started listening to what all of the Olympia and instagram guys were doing (being too much of an idiot to even take into consideration that those dudes are the 1% of the 1% of genetic freaks, and take a good serving of anabolics each day). I trained one muscle group per week, and I went to absolute failure on every single set. I completely killed my body in the gym. On top of that, I ate A TOOONNNNNNN of food. But hey don't worry, it was "clean" most of the time so I wouldn't get fat. Or so I thought..
Over time, I got pretty freaking huge. I reached a whopping 240 pounds while eating anywhere between 4,500 and 5,000 calories each day. I did have a ton of lean mass, but my body fat was at an all time high. I believe it was around 25%. At first, I didn't give a crap about my body fat. Why? Because it was bulk season all year, baby. Needless to say, I kept shoveling food down my throat to put on more and more "muscle". As you could imagine, I just got fatter and fatter, and finally hit a point where I started caring about my body composition and wanted to make a change.
Once I reached the point of feeling too heavy, I decided it was time to cut down. Gotta look good for the beach at some point, right?
The cut consisted of a little less food (because all hell would break loose if I lost muscle mass), and some cardio when I felt like it. I figured that if I kept eating around 4,000 calories of clean food and added in some cardio every now and then, I'd easily lose weight!
Yeah... that didn't happen.
Months later, I found myself in the same spot. 235ish pounds, tons of fat on me. I thought to myself "HOW IN THE WORLD IS THIS FREAKING POSSIBLE? I'm eating clean, how could I not be losing fat?"
Here's what I'd say to my younger self: "You didn't pay attention to the real science, you idiot!"
WHAT I FAILED TO SEE
The present me is right. The old me wasn't paying attention to anything but what the 290-pound Olympia competitors were doing. I was doing what THEY did for THEIR body to succeed. I missed the biggest piece.
I WASN'T A 290-POUND OLYMPIA COMPETITOR.
It didn't matter if I was eating clean. I was ignoring the facts. The 2 big things that I failed to acknowledge were the following:
Gaining/Losing weight is about calories in vs. calories out. Simple math.
I was a 20-year-old ex-baseball player. I failed to do what was right for ME. I did what THEY did because it worked for THEM.
I didn't take the time to understand how the human body works. I simply accepted the fact that eating clean is just what you're supposed to do to lose weight. The first time I heard it, I accepted it as truth and I went on with my life.
So what's so wrong with eating clean?
Nothing really, it's just that I placed eating clean on a pedestal above the most basic understanding of weight loss: calories in vs. calories out.
Here's the truth: Weight loss and weight gain comes down to calories in vs. calories out.
Since I was eating more calories than I burned in a day (even though they were "clean" calories) I gained a ton of body fat. Whether I was eating chicken and broccoli or donuts, I would've gained weight. Same thing goes for fat loss, I could eat nothing but Hostess snacks all day long and lose weight, as long as I'm burning more calories than I eat in a day. In fact, a Kansas State professor did just this to prove the point. Don't believe me? Google "Twinkie Professor."
Now don't be that person that just closes the browser and decides they're going to eat nothing but Twinkies all day long because Adam said it's good for fat loss. That's not what I'm saying. You don't need to have a PhD in nutrition to understand that eating nothing but Hostess snacks is unhealthy. All I'm saying is that weight gain and weight loss comes down to calories in vs. calories out.
And that's what I was missing.
I didn't take the time to figure out how many calories I burn in a day. I didn't take the time to figure out how many calories I'd need to eat in order to lose fat and build muscle.
Not wanting to continue this hellish cycle of gaining 10 pounds and losing 2, I began to track my intake in order to figure out what the problem was. Once I began tracking my intake, I slowly began to see what and how much of it I was actually putting into my body. I also found two big rocks (they kinda go hand-in-hand) that needed to be addressed.
Being "strict" while allowing myself cheat meals
No moderation whatsoever
The lack of moderation in my diet absolutely killed me. I would eat clean all week long, and then allow myself a cheat meal or a cheat day where I'd eat an extra 1,500 calories in a meal, or an extra 4,000-5,000 calories in a day. Once I saw that, it all made sense. My weekly caloric intake was through the roof because I binged and went completely out of control.
Moving forward, I allowed myself to enjoy the things I wanted when I felt like it. I'd have some Reeses or a cookie here and there. I noticed that my cravings went down a ton, I didn't feel guilty about eating those foods, and my weekly caloric intake dropped tremendously. I FINALLY STARTED TO LOSE BODY FAT!
Did the cookies allow me to lose body fat? No, of course not. But moderation did.
Once I began to fully understand the concept of calories in vs. calories out, I learned a ton about MY body and what I needed to do for MY body, given MY history, MY genetics, and MY goals. Hitting those goals slowly became a LOT easier. I learned how to adjust my caloric intake to build muscle and to burn fat. I learned how to treat my boy well by eating natural whole food sources while treating myself when I felt like it.
With time and effort, I went from a place of unconscious incompetence to conscious competence.
Managing your nutrition and learning how food works with your body is a lot like managing money. If you were to invest your money in some sort of stock, you would (I hope) study its history, its habits, and see how it reacts to certain changes in the market. The same thinking applies to your body. Before you invest your calories, time, and attention to your goals, figure out how your body will best use them, that way you can develop a plan that works best for YOUR body, allowing you to trust the process as you're climbing toward your goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam is a fitness professional, baseball fan, and cookie fanatic based in Fort Collins, Colorado. After hanging up the cleats, he found a strong interest in the human body and how it performs. Since then, Adam has been transforming lives through fitness in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. As an ACE CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, he is constantly moved to help people improve in all walks of life. If you’re interested in hiring Adam as your coach, fill out an application here.