One of the most frequent comments we hear from new members is, “I eat pretty well.”
Truth be told, this is rarely the case. The legacy of the 1980s – ideas about low-fat, low-protein, high-carbohydrate diets – lives on. This means that a lot of people are barking up the wrong tree. Half the time, they’re in the wrong goddamned forest. And since we can’t optimize their fitness until we optimize their nutrition, we obviously care about this a lot.
Sometimes knowledge is the limiting factor. Sometimes the issues run deeper. When I saw that comedian Jeff Garlin, an admitted food addict, wrote a book on trying to lose weight I ordered a copy. I wanted to understand things from the perspective of someone whose struggles with more than just finding the right information. Jeff Garlin is the man for that. Fortunately, he’s also funny as hell, which makes for an easy read.
Early in the book, Garlin decides to turn over a new leaf. He begins a diet and exercise regime in earnest. When I see what he’s doing, though, I shudder a bit. Not in horror, but because I feel bad. Garlin is a likable guy and I’m rooting for him. The thing is that not only is he doing a terrible job, he’s making things way harder than they need to be.
Since Garlin’s diet represents what a whole lot of people would describe as “eating pretty well,” I showed it to nutritionist, Kyle Byron. Before I tell you what he said, I want you to look at it and judge it for yourself.
The meal diary
Breakfast goat yogurt, 3 clementines, 1/2 navel orange
Snack salt free soup (1 oz meat?), fruit
Lunch large salad (1 oz meat? 1 tsp oil?)
Pm salt free soup
Dinner brown rice, cauliflower
All healthy, right? High marks?
It’s a great example of this concept: healthy foods in the wrong portions = a terrible nutrition plan. I see it often. People will say, “I eat very healthy – same breakfast everyday – oats, berries, and organic yogurt, and that keeps me full for six hours.”
I never know quite what to say.
Of course, I know what I’d say to Jeff Garlin (Jeff, I hope you’re reading this): Although this plan will facilitate initial weight loss, it is unbalanced and unsustainable. You are at a huge risk of rebound weight gain.
Your meal plan:
- Repeatedly spikes your insulin causing metabolic fat gains
- Starves you so you can’t build (or even maintain) muscle mass, which you need to boost metabolism. This is integral for losing weight and keeping it off.
- Puts you in a negative protein balance so you can’t feel full or repair tissue (muscle) damaged from exercise
- Taxes your entire body due to insufficient essential fats and vitamins for cellular and neurological health
- Substantially increases your rebound risks due to unnecessary restriction
It was Kyle’s last point about unnecessary restriction that really got me thinking. Garlin’s meal plan is zero fun. It’s unbelievably strict. But it’s not as if it’s strict with a commensurate payoff. If you wanted to do just as badly, you could do so with cake included! No wonder people fall of the wagon. I’d throw myself off.
What about the exercise?
Garlin’s tried more than a few things, from Richard Simmons to Pilates. When he describes his regimen in the book, it often says something like:
45 minutes of cardio, 30 minute swim
45 minutes of cardio, stretching, ab work
45 minutes on a stationary bike, 60 minutes of Pilates
Once again, this type of exercise structure is fairly in-line with the status quo. In other words, it’s ass-backwards.
Here’s my advice to Jeff Garlin:
Read Alwyn Cosgrove’s Hierarchy of Fat-Loss. From that, you will come to understand that, of all the possible things you can do to lose fat, low-intensity work is last on the list. Don’t get me wrong; it’s on the list, just a lot further down than you might expect.
Your exercise program:
- Fails to increase lean muscle mass and therefore raise your resting metabolism (what we do for a few hours per week in the gym is small potatoes compared to what happens outside of it)
- Does not even temporarily increase the body’s use of fat as an energy source.
- Combined with a low-fat diet may actually increase the body’s drive to store fat
- Burns a relatively low number of calories per hour. While this may be necessary for a de-conditioned person, it is likely far less efficient than necessary
- Seems to assume that abdominal fat-loss can be facilitated with abdominal exercises (that’s a whole can of worms)
Obviously, there’s a whole lot going wrong. If you’re anything like Jeff Garlin, though, there’s some good news here: vastly improving your results is not only simple, it’s easy.
Here are some simple substitutions. With five changes I can transform what Jeff Garlin’s eating into a pretty decent meal plan.
goat yogurt, 3 clementines, 1/2 navel orange
- change goat yogurt to pressed cottage cheese
- add 1 tbsp of essential oil
salt free soup (1 oz meat?), fruit
- add 1-3 cups veggies
large salad (1 oz meat? 1 tsp oil?)
- add 2/3 cup lentils if that’s not already in there.
salt free soup
- the change at am snack goes here too. Same pot, same change.
brown rice, cauliflower
- add 8 oz salmon
Kyle makes it clear that he can’t take a terrible diet and fix it one session. It overwhelms people and is simply not his practice. He points to the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program as a testament to the success of small consistent changes and working with a coach.
Adding three to four resistance training sessions per week would be the first step. Priority should be given to free weight exercises that require compound movements. These should be put back to back in order to maximize efficiency. Changing the cardio work to high intensity interval training (HIIT) will also have a profound effect on the effectiveness of this program. However, it should be placed after his resistance training. If all of that gets done and there’s still time and desire to perform low-intensity cardio work . . . Well, go crazy!
If there’s one thing you should take away from the process of Kyle and I busting Jeff Garlin’s fitness chops (we do it because we like you, big guy!) it’s this: improving your body composition can be faster than you might expect. Even better, it can be a whole lot easier. You can get fit without feeling like you’ve been handed down a prison sentence. The right expertise means that you’ll be able to reach your fitness goals and still enjoy life. Our clients do this every day. So can you.
Geoff Girvitz and Kyle Byron