Physically, I’ve been through a rough 4-5 months, which started late last year with my epic Candida-overgrowth issues which in turn caused a whole range of unpleasant side-effects. Like a game of Domino, my body was far from optimal and things kept failing me; one at a time. To cut it short; I fixed the Candida, and returned to feeling healthy with great energy-levels and restful sleep yet again. However, I had gained weight. Weight had slowly crept back on ever since my European holiday in June and July last year, but so slowly that I kept thinking it was pure muscle-gains. I do lift heavy weights after all. I still fitted into my clothes, but after the Candida-issues, it was like my metabolism came to a complete halt. In the month of November 2012 all my pants were noticeably tighter around the waist (think “OMG- I can’t really breathe!”-tight), the typical area for storing cortisol-fat due to stress. My body and immune-system had been under prolonged attack, and it was showing its stress by storing belly-fat.
For me, the beauty of eating Paleo is that I have reached satiety day after day without having to count calories or worry too much. All those lovely fats and the relatively low intake of carbs made sure my body functioned well hormonally, and I could eat till I was full, then leave it at that. No more counting, emotional binge-eating, weighing, stepping on scales or stressing. Just eating good food and living well. I still believe this is the best part about eating Paleo. But I decided to go down a different path when it was time to address my rapid fat-gains and tackle it head-on. I decided to take on the LeanGains-program with the help of my online program-coach, Mick. And I did so by keeping it as Paleo and clean as I possibly could. LeanGains would ensure I didn’t lose much muscle-mass and would allow me to get rid of mostly fat, thus eventually make me look toned (I have a lot of muscle on me, but it never really showed).
So what exactly is LeanGains, then? Let me fill you in on the basics:
- It’s a carb-cycle/re-feed program designed to help you
- lose fat while maintaining lean mass aka cutting (what I’m doing)
- Gain muscle mass aka bulking
- You eat normal Paleo high-fat, moderate protein*, low-carb on rest-days
- You eat high-carb Paleo**, moderate protein*, low-fat on work-out days
- You do intermittent fasts; I eat between 10 am and 8 pm because I am a woman (I know longer fasts work against me as it is a huge stressor on my body)
- I train fasted, so I take 10 grams of BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) 10 minutes prior to my work-outs
Firstly, Mick wrote me a personal program based on my gender, height, starting weight and perceived activity-levels combined with a suggested lifting-program. I follow an amended Stronglifts-program with 3x5 reps to maintain the muscle I have while shedding fat. Every 2 weeks I record body-weight and a range of measurements as well as my lifts in the gym. I record my food daily with the My Fitness Pal-app on my phone to keep track of my macros, and to make sure I am sticking to the 20% reduction in calories. Mick keeps a close eyes on my numbers and progress (or lack thereof) and based on that he has tweaked, re-assessed and done what needed to be done until I was progressing again. Each LeanGains-cycle is done for 12 weeks. I am now 11 weeks into my first cycle and have enough perspective to finally write down my thoughts on this journey.
Is it hard? Hell yeah. It’s also confronting. I started tracking my food 3-4 weeks prior to officially starting the program and was shocked to see the huge amounts of calories I was eating every single day (think closer to 3000 kcal daily rather than the 2000 I need to function well for my size, activity-levels and gender). All Paleo and clean, but so calorie-dense (ummm… hello, butter and macadamias!). Where as I seemed able to lose weight and even burn excess calories in the past, none of this was happening anymore. The pro-longed Candida-attack ensured I was low in several vitamins and minerals, many of them important for energy-burning and fat-metabolism. I don’t know the exact science behind this, but I used to feel an incredibly heat in my body after eating lots of good fats, and I would sweat like my internal thermometer just got cranked up. But I never gained weight as long as my food was Paleo and clean. That ability proved to me that our body is far more advanced than the old “calories-in, calories-out”-dogma. But I had seemingly lost that ability, along with the ability to stop eating when I felt full. I also ate far more carbs than I used to prior to the Candida-issues; not a great combination when you also consume lots of fats.
I saw and experienced the 180 degree turn my body had done thanks to increased stress, and I wanted to fix it. I focused on getting rid of the Candida-overgrowth, then I started my first LeanGains-cycle in February 2013. The entire first cycle has been nothing but a giant learning-curve. It took me 2 months just to get my head around it. LeanGains saw me return to occasional emotional eating as well as a couple of episodes of binge-eating, both things I haven’t done since I went Paleo 2 years ago. For the first time in my life I was forced to sit down and think through why I do these things when I feel stressed. I quickly learnt that it is my learnt behavior to rebel when I feel deprived (the very reason diets never work long-term). So instead of feeling defeated, I got up and set to replace old habits with new ones. Feeling deprived without whipped coconut cream and 85% chocolate after dinner? Replace it with a cup of vanilla Roiboos-tea sweetened with stevia. Missing melted butter on your post-WO sweet potatoes? Replace it with spices and herbs. And yes, doing LeanGains does allow for some cheats here and there. Nothing dramatic will happen- I just pick up where I left it and continue my routine. I still eat out and enjoy dinner and drinks with friends.
And how am I travelling now, 11 weeks in? Really well (see before- and after pics to the right). It’s become 2nd nature, and I have learnt a lot about myself and my eating habits, my emotional state regarding food and my deep-seated habits and rituals surrounding meal-times. Why am I doing this? Because it works. I feel amazing with the higher-carb approach 3 days a week. I progressed more in the gym than I had in 12 months. I actually work out less but with better results. Now I’m just maintaining as being in a caloric deficit will make you weaker and hence reduce your lifts. I know it will get easier when I can do this on auto-pilot and less strictly once I’ve shredded a bit more fat (no more calorie-tracking!). How long will I do it for? I am doing one more cycle before I travel to Europe in July/August this year. Then I’ll probably resume a 3rd cycle upon my return to Australia. What is my goal? I was approx 28% body fat when I started. Going by eye-measure only, I’m currently down to guestimated 25% BF. My ultimate goal would be 20%, which is normal and within healthy range. But I’d happily settle for 22-23% if that’s where my body wants to be. Could I have done it without a coach? NO, definitely not. He was the person I had to answer to, but he is also full of advice and helpful tips on how to make it easier to succeed. Would I recommend LeanGains? The program is full of things I don’t believe in, like tracking your food and calories. I know this fosters an unhealthy relationship with food, so unless you’re the sort of person that can learn from it (like me) and not become an emotional wreck or develop eating disorders, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s difficult at first- very difficult. Why is it working for me? Because I like a challenge, I am stubborn, and I love to learn and master new things. And I tend to obsess. I also couldn’t have done it without my coach.
You want the pure stats? I lost 2.4 kilos of fat and 22.6 cm combined. That’s not bad for 11 weeks- and I can finally see some of my muscle coming out. What happens after LeanGains? I will continue to do high-carb/low-fat Paleo on WO-days and to train fasted with BCAAs. But I will no longer track or weigh my food or myself. I’ll continue to eat Paleo and hopefully keep getting stronger and staying well.
*You amount of protein on LG is often higher than usual as you need to ensure you waste as little muscle as possible while doing a cut. Pre-LG I used to have 70-100 grams of protein daily, but now I eat 140-160 grams daily.
**My Paleo carb-sources of choice are sweet potatoes, banana, berries, raw honey or rice malt syrup.