Friday, July 13, 2012

Lessons Learned from an Intentional Plateau

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had dropped below 190 lbs. at the end of April and decided to maintain for a while. The question I had was whether I could make faster strength gains while maintaining my weight compared to while I was losing weight. After more than two months of increasing my calories every week, I have made some strength gains but they haven't been any faster than before.

As you can see, I never actually got back to 190. I'm sure that I could eventually get there if I continued ratcheting up the calories and continued this experiment for another month but I'm calling it quits. Here's why:

1) It is becoming unpleasant

I'm increasingly beginning to feel like the subject in an overfeeding study. Breakfast is the worst. I'm generally not that hungry in the morning and I've had to make this meal bigger just to work in all the calories. My breakfast lately has been four eggs, two strips of bacon, 4 oz. of roasted potatoes and a 4 oz. burger. It looks like a deconstructed Denny's Breakfast Skillet without the cheese and as much as those used to be one of my favorite indulgences, eating this every morning leaves me feeling stuffed well past lunch time, at which point I need to work in an other meal. Then dinner time rolls along and I'm still feeling bloated. As much as I've gained and lost weight in the past, I'm shocked that overeating is actually unpleasant now.

2) I'm having to resort to added fats to get all the calories in

Just the thought of more meat and starches is becoming too much to take and jacking up the added fats has been the only way to make it more bearable. As much as I love some good Homemade Mayonnaise, it is becoming the only way I'm able squeeze in the extra calories and I dislike resorting to added fats just to get in the calories.

3) I'm not seeing the strength gains I expected

Well, that speaks for itself. Why overfeed when it's unpleasant and it isn't yielding any positive results?

Even though I didn't see the results I wanted, I did learn a few interesting lessons:

1) My maintenance calories are much higher than I thought they would be

From the whole Calories In/Calories Out theory, it should only have taken 200-400 calories per day extra to get to maintenance. At the end, I was eating 900 calories per day extra. That surprised me. It feels like my metabolism picked up quite a bit when I started adding calories in and that's a good sign.

2) Real food is satiating

Looking back at the times I easily gained significant amounts of weight, I never recall feeling overfed. Those periods usually were filled with plenty of pizza, ice cream, chips and lots of fast food. I might have felt stuffed after a single meal, but never for days on end. Trying to overfeed with meat and starch, home cooked from scratch is entirely different. It's encouraging to know that not only can I feel full eating real food, I know I can feel overfull from eating too much of it.

3) I feel like I have greater control over my weight

I have never actually tried to maintain my weight before. I have always either dieted to lose weight or abandoned a diet and regained. This is the first time I have actually picked a weight and tried to hold it. I wish I would have tried it before. It made me feel like maintenance will be even easier than losing. Rather than constantly trying to lose weight, working in periods to maintain may have metabolic advantages and give psychological relief and encouragement.

Anyway, here's a recent picture of me at the gym. I'm happy with how far I've come and how much this way of eating is helping me to regulate my appetite. I'm going to shift back to weight loss mode for a few months and see how I look and feel another 10 or 15 lbs. lighter.


  1. Great read as always Mike. Do you have a "before" picture to compare to?

    I recently tried to gain weight for a period of a few months and I know what you mean about having to stuff yourself. For me, it was seemingly impossible to eat enough Fat & Protein to gain weight. Knowing how Carbohydrates drive Insulin and the Anabolic effects of Insulin, I resorted to eating huge amounts of White rice, basically every 2 or 3 hours throughout the day. During that time I gained a bit of Fat along with big increases in Strength. In my opinion, the most important factor was the Rate at which I aimed to gain weight (not exceeding 0.5kg per week). I imagine a slower rate would lead to less Fat accumulation, but also slower increases in Strength.

  2. I added a few older pictures of me to the About Me page. I've always been very camera shy so I don't have any that clearly show me at my worst but I think it shows a significant improvement.

    0.5 Kg per week is indeed an impressive rate and if I ever attempt a mass gain, I'll probably do it with white rice refeeds on lifting days. For now, I'm honestly still too frightened to attempt something so drastic. I'm not done leaning out, yet. :)