An Endomorph's Journey to Health, part 1

Six weeks ago today I decided to get back into shape. I had reached 89.9kg, which was just 10kg short of my all time high, and wasn't really feeling well. I had just fixed my treadmill desk, so it was time to get back into it again.

Followers of my previous fitness journeys might know that I had done the weight-gain-loss cycle some 4 times before. I'll religiously follow a routine, and then something will interrupt it (like a conference) and I'll fall off the wagon.

This is mainly a discipline problem, a mental issue. I'm an "accomplishment extremist" so if I promise something to myself and then fail to keep it, the disappointment I feel is enough to start a negative feedback loop that'll get me off exercise for 6 months or more.

That's why this time I needed to approach it smarter. But let's start from the beginning.


Body Types

I'm an endomorph.

There are three main body types: ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. An ecto will usually be lean and tall, and they can develop lumbar back pain because they have difficulty bulking up their core enough to prop up their big and lean upper body. They have no problems with too much weight, but might have problems when trying to gain.

Mesos can swing in all directions - they can be tall, lanky, short, stubby, strong, weak, big, bulky, scrawny, and any combination of these. Their body reacts well to input and molds itself based on food and exercise. They are the true "generic human" - capable of being anything.

We endomorphs are an unlucky bunch. Typically short, endos can very easily gain weight. Like, super easily. We step in a puddle of oil and gain 3kg. It's extreme. The caloric maintenance threshold quickly adapts to deficits and any sugar or fat latches on immediately like Venom.

So for an Endo to lose a lot of weight in a healthy way quickly, especially in their fourth decade of life when one's metabolism is slower than it used to be, takes a lot of dedication and effort.


The Plan

I wanted to get to 75kg in a healthy way and once reached switch to maintenance mode. So:

  1. I would not make a post like this before verifying that the plan works. Announcement / pledge posts rarely work out. Just see all the New Year resolutions.
  2. I would not use any food tracking apps like MyFitnessPal. I eat out a lot, or eat something healthy at home from organic stuff, so measuring and tracking that is a nightmare. Instead, I would make sure that I physically cannot ingest more calories than I spend.
  3. I would avoid simple carbs as much as I can. This includes processed foods, flour, dough, bread, fries, etc.
  4. I would skip breakfast (intermittent fasting).
  5. I would avoid processed and added sugars - drinks, candy, cakes, donuts, etc. - fructose from fruits is okay, but fruit drinks are not.
  6. I would avoid alcohol as much as I can.
  7. I would avoid coffee.
  8. I would lift weights every other day, on the Stronglifts 5x5 program.
  9. I would run at least 5km but as much as I can, on the days between weights.
  10. I would rest one day of the week, but leave it open for bikes and hikes.
  11. I would try to do 100 pushups per day - not at once, in sets, but total of 100.
  12. I would do as much work as I can on the treadmill, but try for at least 4 hours every work day.
  13. I would take a healthy supplement cocktail for a faster recovery, but I would avoid it on weekends to help my digestive tract recover. The cocktail is Magnesium Citrate for fast absorption and rapid muscle recovery, Glucosamine Sulphate for bones and joints reinforcement (needed due to weightlifting and impact of my weight during runs), and Bacopa as a natural nootropic.
  14. Whenever I do something extra - a bike ride, an unplanned cardio session, a swim, I would log it.
  15. I would walk or bike wherever I can.

Key phrase in all of the above: as much as I can.

By making this simple change to my usual "I would absolutely not eat carbs", I was able to avoid the feeling of failure when I had no choice and had to break my "rule". It was not a rule now - it was a preference.

Mind.

Hacked.


The Sheet

I logged all my successes and failures in a spreadsheet - inspect it here.


Analysis

All the apps told me that at 35 with 176cm height and 89.9kg weight and a mainly sedentary lifestyle, my caloric intake maintenance threshold was between 2000-2200 calories per day. This means I could in theory eat this much and not gain a gram, and that's without becoming more active.

I knew my body, and knew how it adjusts to changes, so took the value of 1600 as the maintenance threshold.

In order to lose 1kg per week, the body has to be in a deficit of 1000 calories per day. Again, I knew my body and what it could do with very little, so I adjusted that to a deficit of 1500 calories per day.

This was not tracked anywhere, it was just in my mind so I could eyeball my meals and exercises.

I should also note that every day of every week was also accompanied by at least one hour of walking outside (taking the kid to kindergarten, walking the dog...), though that is not logged anywhere.

The intermittent fasting periods lasted anywhere from 16 to 20 hours, averaging 17.5h. This means the last meal I ate was usually around 18:30pm, and the first meal of the day occured around 14:00.

Week 1

Week 1 is both hardest due to a sudden change in habits, and easiest in weight loss. Your body reacts to the sudden change in a sudden way and you shed what seems to be an unhealthy amount very quickly. Most of that is water weight and once your body realizes what's up, it'll adjust the caloric maintenance threshold to further slow your metabolism.

The first week is also hard on your muscles because the weight lifting reactivates them and the muscle soreness is fierce. It's important not to rest this soreness away but to work through the pain. It goes away much faster. The cocktail helped with this too.

Wednesdays are usually pancake days in my household, and I make too good pancakes to pass up. They don't contain milk, and they don't contain plan white flour, but they are still simple carbs. On Friday I ate white rice without realizing that's a simple carb too.

EZCO/I are EZ-curls with an outer and inner grip, and BD is bench dip. I added those because the weightlifting at the beginning weights is very short so I felt like I could do more.

Running was especially difficult - the performance was extremely bad compared to how I used to run (my best ever run was 4:58 pace on a 10.84km race six months earlier).

A crawling pace of ~5:50 and my heart rate was approaching 200 💔. I concluded it was because I got really out of shape and hadn't run in some time.

Week 2

After an encouraging week 1, I got into the rhythm of things in week 2. 

I formed an "extras" weights plan. I would do EZCI/O interchangeably plus BD at the end of every main weights session. I also threw in a 67-lane swim unexpectedly that week.

I still wasn't consistent with pushups - even series of 15 in a row were hard - but I succeeded in almost everything else. Again, Wednesday was carbs day.

It's very difficult to get the family to be sympathetic with you going onto the treadmill on a weekend, so Saturdays and Sundays have very little treadmill if any at all going forward.

I had lost 2.9kg at this point, but as I said in the previous section, mainly water weight and the initial shock my body experienced. Still, it was nice to see and kept me motivated.

By now, all muscle soreness was gone but the running had not started to dramatically improve yet. I was still around an average of ~5:45 for pace, though my average HR did go down a beat - to around 175 in that week. I realized it was two things - me having gotten out of shape, and my legs being wrecked due to weights and treadmill the day before each run.

I had to power through it, the performance would come back eventually. The legs would have to get used to their new use.

Week 3

The weight loss curve had begun to taper off - the past week's actions resulted in me losing only 1.6kg, which prompted me to be extra vigilant during week 3. Everything went well and I even upped my pushup game a little, but this caused me to feel something like tendinitis flaring up in my shoulder.

Wednesday was, as usual, carbs day and Friday I got hit by some unexpected egg noodles. Other than that a good week with above average treadmill-hours, and some hikes and bikes thrown in for good measure.

The first two runs of the week hardly improved, but somehow I managed to run a ~5:16 one with an average HR of 177 on Saturday, which was a welcome change.

Week 4

Week 3 resulted in me losing only 0.5kg, which was the first gut-punch of disappointment. How could it be that after doing all this for three weeks, my progress had already stalled?

I realized then that despite being in a consistent deficit of around ~1500 calories per day (4 hours of treadmill = ~1000 calories, 1 run = ~350 calories, 1-2 meals per day of 800 calories each, maintenance threshold of 1600), my body had adjusted to a deficit much better than I expected. It was now effectively maintaining my weight at around ~1200, if not less.

During week 4, the first real threat to the program reared its head: a vacation. I went to the coast for 4 days with family, and you would not believe how hard it is to avoid carbs in seaside restaurants or wine in a nice vacation apartment. I did do my best to replace the missing weightlifting session with a slightly longer run, but the pushup routine suffered, not to mention the treadmill.

However, the positive was that I managed to recover my injuries during this short rest.

It was hard to gauge the running progress because the routes I'd been running during vacation were both incredibly hot and very hilly:

Week 5

Week 5 was hell.

While I managed to get the pushup game back into gear, the weights suffered. At this point, I had reached non-trivial weights and the 5x5 program took longer and longer to execute each morning. This meant getting up earlier every day and diving in, which meant I was quite tired going in. Coupled with more serious weights (well, serious for a newbie like me), this resulted in some fails in the Barbell Row and Overhead Press sets.

I had only lost 0.6kg again - I blamed the vacation.

Additionally, I took another long weekend with the family to travel to the coast which, as you can see, resulted in some more carb days. Alcohol is notoriously difficult to avoid on vacation, too.

During week 5, I had my first serious injury. What started with a neck strain during Overhead Press in week 4 escalated to an audible crack between my cervical and thoracic vertebra which felt like a pinched nerve. I realized I had been pushing improper Overhead form at a too heavy weight. The vacation would provide much needed rest.

Week 6

With vacations over and my neck recovered, I was time to kick things back into high gear again. I had some making up to do - the second vacation cost me another weight loss, in that I only shed 0.3kg. I was now 5 weeks in and only lost 5.9kg total - considering the level of activity and type of food I was eating, that should have been medically impossible, yet here we were.

I should note that I experienced plateaus before - I just never expected one to come so soon into the weight loss.

Regardless, I got back into weights and even though it was still too heavy on some exercises, I persisted. I upped the Extras game too - weighted bike rides (that's when I attach my kid's Thule carriage to the bike so it adds another ~25kg of drag) and some VR Cardio for good measure, along with a religious dedication to staying in the 50+ pushups zone this week produced some results.

I went all-in on the treadmill, too, with Tuesday hitting a record 10 hours of walking (~2500 calories).

My runs during week 6 were the best yet - one at ~5:30 and another at a pace of 5:12 with 176 HR

Next

I write this after having done the morning weightlifting session of Week 7. It was a success. The weigh-in shows 81.9kg, which makes that 8kg of weight loss after 6 weeks.

Weight gain and loss over 1 year of time
Weight gain and loss over 1 year of time

I'm happy with this renewed progress, but perfectly aware of the plateaus that await me. What's next will be tough, but I'm confident I can shed the remaining 7kg in the next 6 to 8 weeks. Let's see.

Advice and Notes

Some notes here in no particular order, both clarifications and warnings.

  • the program I'm on is extreme because I'm an extreme type of Endomorph. As you can see by the above, I barely lost any weight while doing all of this. It is quite likely that you could get away with doing 30% as much and still lose more than I did. I rolled my dice that way, you may have rolled differently. Don't let the amount of work I do discourage you from doing anything.
  • treadmill desks are great. They are orders of magnitude healthier than standing desks. You don't need a pricey one - a simple plank over the rails of a used treadmill is all it takes to see if you like this type of work. It's not just for remote workers either - you can watch TV on it, read, play games, etc. I detail all of this in this article.
  • The Stronglifts 5x5 weight lifting plan has an A workout and a B workout. I have augmented each with some extra exercises, so that
    • during A days I do
    •  
    • Squat
    • Overhead Press
    • Deadlift
    • Close Grip Bench Press
    •  
    • and on B days I do
    •  
    • Squat
    • Bench Press
    • Barbell Row
    • Weighted Pushups
    • Paused Bench Press
    • and Skullcrushers
  • weightlifting spends almost no calories. Do it if you want to firm up, strengthen, shape your body a bit, and feel better, but not to lose weight. Weightlifting will build muscle which kilogram for kilogram spends more energy than fat, so muscles help you lose weight long term, but don't mistake a morning weightlifting session with an excuse to eat a donut.
  • the cocktail of supplements is optional, but the supplements I used are vetted, have plenty of research behind them, and have prevented me from getting seriously injured and suffering any major downtime. I think they're worth it. Possibly skip Bacopa because it's not exactly super researched and can cause serious digestive tract issues. On the "fun" side, it makes your dreams too vivid and memorable even after two or three doses.
  • if you can't run 5km, walk. Jog from time to time. What matters is that your joints get used to the weight on them, and that you get your heart rate up.
  • buying a home gym is worth it. The commute to a gym, the waiting in line for equipment, the condescension of the douches there, none of it is motivating. A simple bench, barbell, some plates and two stands for the barbell is all you need. It's maybe $1000, less if bought used, and saves you much more in time and effort.
  • VR Cardio is a great running replacement but even better extra exercise, but only if you break into a proper sweat with good heart rate. I recommend Box VR, Beat Saber, and Supernatural as the go-to apps, and for extra effort strap some wrist weights on.

I'll write a new report in another 6-8 weeks or when I get to 75kg, whichever happens first - meanwhile, if you have any questions, comments are open or find me on Twitter.

Comments

comments powered by Disqus