Why you're not lean yet | Precision Nutrition

Why you’re not lean yet

By John Berardi, Ph.D.

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A couple years back, I released a rapid fat loss program – called the Get Shredded Diet.

Now, I’ve always made it clear who this type of diet is for.    It’s for folks who area pretty lean already.  So, if you’re closer to 20 or 30% body fat, it’s not for you at all.   If you’re in this range,  your fat loss approach should start with The Precision Nutrition System.

Now, while the GSD is expressly for those already lean folks who want to get REALLY lean, the lessons learned from doing something like the GSD are absolutely universal.  That’s why today’s update comes from Precision Nutrition Member, Canada K.

Canada K is a 37 year old guy, who, by day, is a chemical engineer and father of 3 boys.  By night, however, he paints his face and turns into a bonified gym warrior.

During the last few months, with the help of the GSD, he’s made it his mission to drop the stubborn body fat.  You know, the stuff that prevented him from ever dipping into the land of single digits – in other words, below 10%.  And drop it, he did, ending up around 6% body fat.

How did he do it?  And what did he learn?  Well, that’s what you’re here to find out.  From the man himself.

Canada K's Gonna Help You Lose Fat
Canada K’s gonna help you lose fat

Get Shredded Diet – The 17 lessons I learned

I just came off a successful run at the Get Shredded Diet. It was such a mind-blowing experience, it took me several days to even partially wrap my head around everything I learned. Indeed, it was a brain explosion and I’m still processing everything. Following are my random thoughts, experiences, and philosophies around fat loss:

Lesson #1: If You Don’t Have The Body You Want, You’re Doing It Wrong

I’ve done the fat loss extreme (GSD) and, thank you very much, I kicked it’s a$$.   The key was my attitude.  It wasn’t until I got the right attitude that I starting seeing results.

Now, I thought I had it before, I really did.   I’d have argued day and night that I had it.  And, with a few people I did argue.   But I didn’t get it.  I was too confident in my knowledge.  To certain I was on the right track.   And because of that, I wasn’t doing the right workouts or eating the right stuff.   It held me back.

Only once I admitted I didn’t know what I was doing 100% – only then did I begin to learn how to get lean.  Only then did I start to discover the right workout and the right nutrition program.  And my body followed suit.  I started to get lean.

Before that, I was doing stuff wrong.   That’s why I didn’t have the body I wanted.  Perhaps that’s why you don’t have the body you want either.

Lesson #2: When Fat Loss Turns Invisible – The Dead Zone

Fat loss is a funny game when you get into the 10-15% range.   Above 15%, any fat loss looks good.  Your shape improves, you get slimmer, clothes get smaller, and so on.

Once you slide below 15%, the returns really diminish.  You can lose a boatload of fat and it seems invisible.  It’s not until you get below 10%, or even 8%, where abs start to appear, where your waistline starts to get really tight, and where veins really start to show up.

So basically, there is this giant dead zone in the middle where you’re making real gains but they’re incredibly unsatisfying.  You must hang in there anyway.  If you don’t, you’ll never be lean.

Lesson #3: When Fat Loss Turns Invisible – The Dead Zone, Part 2

At some point during the fat loss trek, everything seemed to stall.  The scale was inching downwards, but the tummy looked the same, no abs in sight.  On and on the stupid diet went, and still no abs.  Here’s why.  My body was shedding fat from other, less sexy, places like my quads, my back and my a$$.  I just wasn’t looking there.  If I would have been, I might have been happier with my progress.

Our bodies are funny things, and fat will come off unevenly.  Sometimes it’s not where we want it to come from most.  It doesn’t matter.  That’s the way it goes.  You’ve gotta just keep plugging away.  Because eventually the fat will be lost.  All of it.

In my case, it’s clear that my abs won’t really pop until I get down to probably 5%.  Others may be luckier, but that seems to be what I have to do.

Lesson #4: Food Is Only Fuel & All Eating Is Emotional

Fundamentally, food is fuel.  The only other reasons we eat is for socializing and for emotional reasons.  This probably ruffles feathers, but I am basically saying that all eating is emotional, especially overeating and unhealthy eating.

It is also nearly impossible to divorce the emotional aspect from eating and make it simply a re-fueling process.  If it was, we’d all eat nutritionally perfect gruel and be perfectly happy with it.  Getting to an elite level of body comp and staying there requires wrapping your head around the FACT that the reason you reach for the bag of Doritos, or the cheesecake, or the Aero bar is emotional eating.

Lesson #5:Eating Will Always Be Emotional… Learn To Use That

I don’t think we ever completely get past the emotional aspects of eating.  But the people who are most successful at attaining elite body comp are the ones who get past it, and learn to look at food purely as fuel.

Decadent foods like pizza or ice cream become special occasions, kind of like the rest of the world might treat an expensive bottle of champagne.  They are things to be savored and enjoyed rarely, not as a staple.

Think about this: a person who indulges in booze every day is called an alcoholic.  Someone who indulges in junk food every day is called… your average North American.

Lesson #6: Fat Loss Is Easy, It’s Your Brain That’s Getting In The Way

This will pi$$ a lot of people off, but fat loss is actually pretty easy.  It’s way, WAY easier than muscle gain.  It’s not always pleasant, it’s pretty much always socially uncomfortable, and it forces you to go against the grain of your friends, coworkers and family.  But when we break it down to a pure physiological process, fat loss is easy.

It’s all the mental stuff tied up in eating that make it pretty much impossible for most of the world.  It’s the emotions around eating, the addiction to the taste and the feeling of food, the bonding that comes from sharing food with others, and the sense of belonging that comes from “going with the flow”.  Most people fail not because they don’t have the right diet plan, not because they don’t have access to the right food, and not because they don’t know or understand exactly what they need to do.  All the physiological elements are in place, and they work.  Most people fail because they don’t consider the psychological aspect of the diet.

Food, particularly sugar and refined carbohydrates, is addictive.  The cravings can be emotionally crippling.  Hunger is a feeling completely foreign to westerners and we can’t handle it; it breaks us as brutally as being physically beaten.

There’s also the profound sense of alienation that comes from doing something “different”.  Once food and shelter are taken care of, our number one need as human beings is to feel like we belong.  When a person starts a diet they isolate themselves form the norm.  And the single most social thing we do, as a species, is share food and drink.  Many people will abandon a diet because it feels like they’re excluded, and for a heavy person already feeling badly about their self-image and their sense of belonging, that’s just too high a price to pay.  They’d rather be obese than alone.

I’m not trying to be all haughty and holier-than-thou, let me be the first to admit I’m an emotional eater.  I get a profound sense of happiness from sweets.  It’s such a satisfying feeling it is (honestly and without exaggeration) practically sexual.  But now I can control the psychological aspects of eating, and for long periods I can treat food purely as fuel.  I feel like if any single thing allows me call myself an upper-tier gym warrior it’s that.

Lesson #7: Re-feed Days Are Great And Terrible

Re-feed days are a mixed blessing.  For the most part, the key is learning to stop eating when you get “satisfied”, but that is very hard to do when you’re in the throes of indulging your carb addiction.  It’s like telling an alcoholic to have just 1 beer.

I found myself eating things I didn’t even want because the day was almost over, and if I didn’t eat the ice cream, or the chocolate bar, or the donuts now, I’d miss my chance for another two weeks!  How stupid is that?

So be careful with re-feeds.  Because they can be very helpful during something like the GSD.  However, when emotions kick in, they can become difficult to control.  Again, all eating is emotional!

Lesson #8: Busting Out Of The Rut

I would never have pushed myself to this extreme if I hadn’t been afraid of being humiliated.  In hindsight, what I did wasn’t even that extreme; it just looked that way from deep inside the walls of my rut.

I had no idea how many constraints I had put on myself, or how many different avenues I had simply refused to explore, until I climbed out of my rut and looked back at my old self.

We are all putting constraints on ourselves, telling ourselves “no I can’t”, “that’s doesn’t work for me”, “it’s too hard to try”.  It’s all self-deluded horses##t, and no one is doing it to us.  We’re doing it to ourselves.  And we must stop.  For our physical and our mental health.

Lesson #9: Competition Drives Us To Great Heights

Competition is probably the only thing that pushed me from good to great.  And that’s why I’m so glad myself and some of the other PN guys decided to do this.

The fear of losing horribly and being humiliated in our little ad hoc contest was a strong motivator.  Plus, the desire to win was also very strong.  In fact, these were the only reasons I ever considered puling myself out of my comfortable rut.

That rut was actually a grave.  It’s a grave because once you put yourself into one, you’ll probably spend the rest of your life there, and die there too.  So, if you want to make big chances, you’ll need a big goal.  Compete for something.   It’s very useful.

Lesson #10: No Limits

I could compete someday if I wanted to.  I’m not saying that I’ve got such an exceptional body that I could walk away with a title or anything.  I’m saying that there is no physiological reason why I couldn’t.  My body type isn’t standing in the way, genetics aren’t standing I the way either.

My lifestyle, and what time I can afford to dedicate to bodybuilding IS standing in the way.  My own mental toughness is another possible barrier, but much less of one than before.  In essence, I realize that the only limits I have are those I place on myself.  And I realize that I’m now in control of them.  Very liberating!

Lesson #11: Water Shedding

Before taking my “after photos,” I decided to try water manipulation.  It’s something necessary to look your best.  So I wanted to do everything I could.  Now, I can’t say for absolute certain that the water shedding made a significant difference.   I believe it made me look leaner and fuller, but then again I wasn’t an ideal candidate:  I’m not particularly huge nor was I lean enough where the differences would be most striking.

Plus I don’t feel like I’m sophisticated enough to know the feeling of “flat” versus “full” versus “depleted”.  I also wasn’t able to follow the process exactly, and I’m told water-shedding is an extremely delicate balance, so that would have been another factor.

Still, I feel like it made my muscles look bigger and rounder. It was a worthwhile experience to try, because once again it forced me to do something way outside my usual rut .

Lesson #12: Water Shedding & drinking tons of water

As part of my water manipulation, I had to drink 3 gallons of water a day for a few days.  This was actually harder than the diet.  It’s a physically demanding task in ways that really surprised me.  Much like the first few days of the GSD were depressing, so was water loading.  The only difference was, by the time you start getting used to it, it’s over.

Lesson #13: Bodybuilding Is About Creating An Illusion

So much of what we see in magazines and on stage is actually kind of fake.  You just to look bigger and leaner that the next guy, and there is a lot of trickery involved in doing so.

Compare Cliff (another PN Member who also did the GSD recently) and I.  The big guy has 25 pounds of pure muscle more than I do, and only 8 pounds more fat.  He is clearly the better bodybuilder. But the human eye is fooled into seeing leaner muscles as being bigger.  When you rely on the human eye, I got the edge.

It makes no damned sense!  But, at the same time, it’s the truth.  So remember this, the leaner you are, the bigger you seem to look.  Especially with your shirt off.   And in pictures.

Lesson #14: A Great Body Looks Lousy With Lousy Photography & Lighting

When you take a picture of yourself, how it looks has as much to do with the lighting, the coloring, the angle, and just sheer dumb luck as the condition of your body.

I took a dozen front-double bicep pictures on photo day.  Some made me look soft and small, but the one I picked made me look huge.  The others were just bad pictures.

And don’t forget other finishing touches.  I fake-tanned for a month before the pictures, and believe me I was brown!  I still looked pasty white under the light of the sun.  This over-exposed-washing-out tends to blur the muscular detail makes abs invisible.

So if you’re taking a picture, you need to have some color or you need to manage the lighting to compensate.  Even the buffest bod looks smooth otherwise.  Oiling up your body helps too. The oil catches the light and emphasizes definition. I took pictures with and without oil, and the difference is notable.

Lesson #15: Full-Body Shaving

Shaving was both interesting and a drag.  Body hair definitely blurs the muscular details.  But nothing is as irritating as the unbelievable itching in the inner thighs on the third day after a shave.

For men there is a balancing act.  Unless a guy is freaky huge, or really lean, men look feminine with no body hair.  But thick or dark hair hides the muscles, and makes anything but the buffest abs hard to see.  Plus uber-hairiness is off-putting to the ladies.

My compromise going forward is that I’ll keep shaving my arms (who likes hairy knuckles?) and probably my abs.  I’ll use clippers everywhere else (except… well… there!).

Lesson #16: Bigger Muscles Show Better Than Small Ones

There are two ways for your muscles to really “pop”.  Either you get rid of all the fat covering them up, or you grow those muscles really big so that they are easier to see underneath the fat.

That’s why a more muscular guy can look really good at higher body fat, the bigger muscles are still easily visible.  As a slimmer guy, the message is clear.  If I want to look like an underwear model I either have to maintain sub 7% body fat, or I have to gain a bunch more muscle.

Lesson #17: It’s An Exclusive Club

I think maybe 1 person in 1,000 will ever be able to drag themselves down to single digit body fat as adults. It’s way, way, WAY easier to be obese.

However, for those who are willing to commit to getting very lean, it’s totally possible.  You just have to remember this.  You probably don’t know what you’re doing – yet.  You probably don’t know what you’re getting into – yet.  Do it anyway.  You’ll learn so much along the way.  And when you stall, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.  The PN Member Zone is a great place to do just that.

For more help

Those are some great lessons from our friend, Canada K.  Now, for those of you wondering how you too can become part of the “exclusive leanness club,” here’s how I recommend getting started.

1. Begin with The Precision Nutrition System.

This is the cornerstone of everything we do here at Precision Nutrition.  Skipping this step is like building a house on a foundation of sand.  In other words, don’t do it.  Get the right plan from the start.

2. Once you’re lean, that’s when you can try the GSD.

As above, once you’ve built a foundation of good habits with the PN System, and you get your body fat down to the mid-teens, that’s when you can take the next step, just like Canada K did.

3. Think about the Lean Eating Program.

As Canada K said above, fat loss is mostly about your brain – and how it gets in the way.  If you’re the type of person who’d like to skip the trial and error and get right down to business with expert coaching, a rock-solid support system, and a system that guarantees your success, make sure you put your name on the waiting list for our next Lean Eating group.  The next one kicks off soon.

Learn more

To learn more about making important improvements to your nutrition and exercise program, check out the following 5-day video courses.

They’re probably better than 90% of the seminars we’ve ever attended on the subjects of exercise and nutrition (and probably better than a few we’ve given ourselves, too).

The best part? They’re totally free.

To check out the free courses, just click one of the links below.