Of Routines, Ruts, and Habitual Eating

In case you missed it, TTP reader Mike asked the following in response to my “Quick and Dirty on Calorie Intake” post:

…My problem is I think I hit bottom on the lean out and was wondering if calorie restriction is in order?

I was curious about your comment “to eat more in order to go down in weight.” Sorry to bore you but I would like to lean out more but what in your opinion would I be giving up to get it, strength, stamina etc., on the calorie restricted approach? Unfortunately I can’t swing a long trip abroad to lean out.

I’m pretty pleased with where I am and don’t want to get greedy on leaning out but I liked your take on the calorie restriction issue so I thought I would ask for your opinion. Thanks for your thoughts.

This is the blah blah blah part . . .
I have been unweighed unmeasured gluten-free paleo, low carb (sub 50 per day), 1oz nuts a day, no dairy (except heavy cream in decaf coffee) keeping a food journal for 6 months. My cheats are protein style double doubles (1 x per week), chicken nachos (1x every 2 weeks). (I’m trying to be honest with what goes in my mouth per Skyler’s related blog post).

I have dropped about 40 pounds in the past six months on the strict paleo, did the water tank body fat measurement and came out at 16% in April. The BF % scale at home would seem to indicate this is going down still and my weight is staying the same at around 220 for the past month, which is good (muscle?). Activity level is strength biased xfit 3 times a week, longer outdoor activities (biking stairs etc) at least once per week, sleep good but could be better…

And what follows is my rather abbreviated answer:

Here’s the thing with calorie restriction, Mike: your metabolism will slow (thereby reducing the effectiveness of said cal. restriction), and your workouts will begin to suck. Not right off, of course, but pretty damn quick thereafter. Short bursts of slight — and in some cases large — over-eating interspersed with a few days of under-eating & IF seem to help most people punch beyond sticking points. I do this quite naturally, and in a random manner — I very rarely think “gee, I haven’t hit an IF in a while”, rather, it just comes about organically. Same with the “eat like a starved hyena” days. Until you really learn to listen to your body, though, a 5-day restricted/2-day re-fuel might be appropriate. Personally, though, I’m not good with schedules like that, preferring the more organic, fractal method.

Now, I’m still good with what I’d originally put out to Mike, however, there are a couple of things that I’d like to add to that.  First off, a 40-lb fat depletion in a 6-month span is rockin’ (though not at all unexpected), and it sounds as if Mike hasn’t actually stalled in his fat loss, but simply slowed a bit.  I don’t know exactly where Mike is on the ol’ look, feel and perform scale (maybe he can elaborate), but if “feel” and “perform” are spot-on, and what we’re wanting to come around is the “look” aspect, it may just be what we need is a tad bit more patience.  I’m not sure what another 6-ish percent bodyfat equates to (weight-wise) in Mike’s case, but it might be helpful to relate that amount of fat to where he was 6 months ago.  A little perspective sometimes works wonders.

And now for a bit of psychology…

I’ve always maintained that training, diet – well, all of Physical Culture, in fact – is largely mental in nature.  The best trainers, the best S&C coaches, and the most successful practitioners are not only technically proficient, but masterful motivators and – to but it bluntly – skilled shrinks…artful manipulators of the human psyche!  Wild animals left to their own devices exhibit perfect phenotypical expressions representative of their particular species.  They eat when hungry and of what is correct for their nature, move when necessary, and otherwise mindlessly attend to their survival.  Not so we humans, who are encumbered by ego, self-reflection and that ever-present self-chatter.  Our mind is constantly wanting, grasping, and left unbridled, this gets us in a world of self-made trouble.  One tiny aspect of this, as it relates to Mike’s case, may be the ol’ bug-a-boo of habitual eating.

In a way, food journals can be your best friend; or, too, they can be your worst enemy.  On the positive side, a journal allows for the exposure of what one actually consumes in a day, and in what ratios and, in some cases, this can be enlightening (i.e., the “damn!  I had no idea I ate that much [fill in the blank]! scenario).  In some cases, though, I have seen keeping a journal completely backfire.  The outward manifestations might have varied, but the causation usually boiled-down to one thing: compulsion.

Take for instance Mike’s “1oz of nuts per day”.  Now, 1oz of nuts is not going to make or break anyone’s fat loss attempts, however, it may be indicative of the larger issue of habitual eating.  That particular calorie intake may simply be a feel-good psychological crutch – something akin to, say, those who only smoke when they drink.  Situational is the key word here.  This is why I am so big on people learning to really listen to their bodies — an entity, by the way, that is in continual flux.   The body doesn’t ever “always” need 3 eggs and 2 strips of bacon for breakfast – some mornings it may want/need/require half a fatted hog, and other mornings (or days, even), it may not need anything at all.  This folds directly into the downside of routine, the downside of schedule.  Much better, I think, to learn to listen past the mind’s dictates, and for the body’s actual requests.  Where does the mind come in handy?  In the deciphering addiction as opposed to need.  The topic of another subject entirely, and beyond today’s scope.

Skyler Tanner discusses, in this recent post, the suppressive action of unusual foods upon the overall appetite, and this is certainly true.  The other aspect of this, though, is the fact that one is forced out of a set routine – a perfect, dietary, one-two punch, if you will.  In this circumstance, one may not be at the point of being able to fully listen to the body, but at least that ability to “mentally dictate” has been somewhat blunted by the unusual circumstance.  This, in fact, is the “magic” behind bootcamp-like transformations, and is a big reason behind why sporting teams hold training camps away from home base.  The real trick, then, is to learn the art of non-routine even as you navigate the work-a-day (and highly scheduled, routine oriented) world that we all must live in.

Much more on this at another time.  Now on to the physical side of things…

Friday night’s gym session –

This explosive-movement-heavy session followed a good bit of fixie riding, so my legs were good and warm (if not a wee bit zorched) by the time I hit the gym.  As it was, I dove right into this explosive superset:

kneeling DB jumps: 20lbs x 5, 25lbs x 5 sets of 3

straight bar muscle-ups: bw x 2, each round

Following that I rolled right into this superset:

military front press: 95 x 10; 135 x 6; 150 x 6, 6

snatch grip high-pull: 95 x 10; 135 x 6; 150 x 6, 6

Here’s a Joe DeFranco clip of a barbell kneeling jump demonstration.

I prefer to use DBs for this exercise, but it really doesn’t make much difference.  The key is to really engage the hips in the movement.  If you’ve got sleepy hips in the Oly movements, this exercise will help fix that.  Also, if you use DBs for this movement, be sure to explosively shrug the weight up (as you would in a normal Oly/Oly derivative lift), as opposed to “arcing” the DBs outward and forward so as to provide upward momentum.

A Quick Q & A, and an Upright Press-Centered Workout

Q & A Time –

TTP reader Tony asks the following questions in reference to my recent Autoregulation post.  A quick disclaimer, though, before we delve in: First off, I am an unabashed generalist athlete; if I were training for a specific event, my work would be much more directed and precise.  As it is, my personal training methods are more along the lines of “free-lance” than the 9-5 type work that is required of a sport-specific athlete.  I use the terms “generally”, “most times”, etc., not to be vague or flippant, but because I may very well change direction – and 180-degrees so – on a dime.  I continually self-evaluate, and may shift gears and enter a “specialized” phase that totally negates all I’ve written here.  The answers below reflect my “holding pattern” training, those times when I seem to be firing on all cylinders; no glaring chinks in the armor, as it were.  That said, here we go with a few quick questions:

“What five base movement patterns do you identify? I’m guessing push, pull, squat, lunge, and….?”

For my purposes, I roll with the following: (1) overhead push/press, (2) overhead pull/pull-up variation, (3) vertical push/dip, (4) pull from the ground/deadlift, and (5) squat variation.

“In what framework within your base patterns do you integrate your ancillary movements? In what way do you seek to compliment the base movements?”

*Most* ancillary work that I do is done under a higher repetition scheme (i.e., the repetition method) with the specific goals being (1) the development of another (of among many) aspect of strength, (2) – and this is especially so far arm work – tendon, ligament (and maybe even fascia) work, and (3) – and related to “other aspects of strength” — as a means to induce more work load without overtraing a movement pattern, via the hypothesis that the same movement pattern can be trained in close proximity, so long as the same modality (i.e., set, rep, tempo, etc. schemes) are not repeated.  See the note below Wednesday’s workout explanation for one example.

For ancillary work, I generally look back to what muscle groups were most recently worked (base-loading wise), and compare this to what I think I might do in the immediate future (i. e., the next immediate workout), then I pick my ancillary work according to what has had the least amount of directed work.  For instance, I rarely do any ancillary leg work, since I engage in so much sprinting, biking and plyos.  Most of my ancillary work is therefore upper body, push and pull centered.  To a lesser extent, I work-in arms as an ancillary-type movement.

“How do you integrate your Metcon/explosive movements within this construct?”

I engage in a good deal of MetCon work in the form of running and biking, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  I don’t usually post on these sessions (the bulk of which take place on non-lifting days), unless I happen to engage in a dedicated, or out-of-the-ordinary, HIIT-type session that I think people may be able to get some useful information from.  I don’t ever train specifically for endurance work, however, I do engage in extended (hours-long) mountain or fixie rides now and again.  By the way, I can more than hold my own, even at a beef-a-loe hefty weight (for a cyclist), in these endurance outings, even as my conditioning training is specifically geared to mimic that of a sprinter.  That’s a topic for another time, though.

I *usually* try to perform an explosive Oly-derivative to lead-off each weight lifting session, and I’ll feather-in plyometrics work and/or other explosive elements where and when I see fit.   There are phases where I’ll concentrate on Oly work (and/or the derivatives) and/or explosives and plyos and back-off on the “traditional” weight training.  This all depends on what I see in my continual self-assessment – if I notice some lack, I’ll immediately begin to ping on it.  Right now, I seem to be pretty well centered — however, experience has taught me that that “centeredness” won’t last for long.  Maintaining good athletic balance is akin to herding cats — you’d better be on top of your game,  and ready to alter course at a moment’s notice to bring in the strays.  My last glitch was a fairly big discrepancy in single leg strength (both in the press/squat and in the pull).  I managed to clear that up in short order with dedicated unilateral work; during that period, though, my overall training plan resembled little of what my plan looks like today.  Anyway, all is cruising right on along at the moment — something else, though, is bound to crop up soon.  And this isn’t my expression of abject pessimism, it’s simply the nature of physical preparation.

On to Wednesday’s, Upright Press-Centered Workout –

power snatch: 95 x 5; 115 x 5; 135 x 4 sets of 3

~ superset both the power snatches, and then the military presses, with straight-bar muscle-ups (the pull-up variety), bw x 2, each round ~

military front press: 95 x 10; 115 x 6; 155 x 5+, 4+

Then, utilizing the repetition method, the following superset:

standing bicep curl: EZ bar + 50 x 15; bar + 70 x 12; bar + 90 x 12

laying tri extension: EZ bar + 50 x 15; bar + 70 x 12; bar + 90 x 11+

Note: as an example, one option in my next workout, for ancillary upright pressing work, might be high repetition Bradford presses.  Heavy shoulder work today, followed by more work of a differing modality in the next follow-up session.  Note that I performed btn jerks in the previous workout.  So, in very short order, I will have performed btn jerks, military presses and (most likely) Bradford presses – all upright pressing movements, but all requiring different aspects of strength.  This is my nod to Simmons’ Conjugate methodology, and its cycling, within the same training week, of max effort, speed, and repetition work.