Tempted by the bombardment of “get thin quick” diets everywhere you turn? Don’t fall for it! Read on as Team EM2WL’s Becca interviews “Diet Recovery” Author, Matt Stone, about dieting: the dangers, warning signs, and healing process for diet damaged metabolisms.
Can you explain how you became interested in metabolic health?
When I first started doing health research I just tried to get my hands on as much information as possible. I kept hearing the name Broda Barnes mentioned repeatedly. After seeing his name in three or four books I finally decided to look into his work more carefully. I read all of his books and became very interested in the metabolism idea, especially considering two very important factors:
1) I was communicating with a lot of very health-conscious hardcore nutrition freaks that were suffering from symptoms of a low metabolic rate, and it seemed obvious that it had something to do with the health practices they were so obsessively engaged in.
2) I had gone through something in my own life that completely shut down my metabolic rate, so I immediately recognized the validity of the idea that metabolic rate plays a role in the proper functionality of virtually every system in our bodies.
That experience was one of semi-starvation, in part inspired by wanting to be “lean and healthy.” Reading extensively about starvation, including picking my way carefully through Ancel Keys’s 1,300-page book *The Biology of Human Starvation*, provided even more confirmation.
I’ve heard you say, “The perfect diet is very unhealthy.” What do you mean by that? How would you define “healthy eating?”
I think the mindset and mentality of perfection is unhealthy, especially as applied to personal health practices. Every other creature on earth relies completely on instinct to keep itself healthy in terms of the amount of sleep, food, water, and exercise it takes in. Instinct is a far better regulator of internal processes than conscious intellect, which humans are now relying on really for the first time in the history of the world. Ignorance really can be bliss when it comes to nutrition, exercise, fluid consumption, and other health practices that people are willing themselves to do—often in complete opposition to instinctual desires. This is a lot more dangerous than people realize.
I can’t really define healthy eating. It is all relative to a person and his or her immediate hour-to-hour needs. Every person and every day requires different things to be considered “optimal.” I couldn’t even tell a person how much water to drink without taking into considering the amount of exercise they have done that day, the air temperature, their metabolic rate, how much salt they ate in their last meal, the water content of their last meal, and more. And that’s just talking about water. Food is much more complex than that.
In your opinion, are there certain markers of metabolic health we should be looking for? How can we make sure we are keeping our metabolism healthy if our goal is weight loss?
Well first of all I don’t know if weight loss should consciously be a “goal.” A goal implies that are forcing your body to do something whether it wants to or not. In my experience, most who lose weight completely shut down their metabolic health in the process because they are too excited about the weight loss to take note of obvious signs of metabolic doom. The most common signs of metabolic rate falling too low, in my experience, are:
1) Reduced body temperature below 98.6 degrees F or about 37 degrees C.
2) Cold hands and feet.
3) Dry skin, especially around the hands and feet.
4) Drop in sex drive or sexual function.
5) Dry hair and maybe even some hair loss.
6) Constipation and other bowel problems related to a decrease in bowel transit speed such as reflux and bloating.
7) Changes in mood—either increased anxiety/aggression or depression or greater volatility between extreme mental states.
8) Insomnia, especially that ominous, consistent 2-4am wake-up and difficulty falling back to sleep. Those who can still sleep a lot don’t feel particularly rested no matter how much they sleep.
9) Frequent urination, or noticing that a small amount of fluid is enough to send you to the bathroom to pee every 15 minutes.
10) Intensified food cravings (although in some a reduced metabolic rate can shut down appetite, so this is not as consistent as some of the others).
If this sounds like you, don’t even think about trying to lose weight in your current state. If your attempts at losing weight have brought some or all of these things on, stop what you’re doing immediately.
What does low body temperature and being cold all the time have to do with metabolic health?
That’s just the body allocating less energy to staying warm. It’s one of the first things the body sacrifices when it is trying to conserve energy (many times because it perceives a food shortage or other stress). A drop in body temperature of 1 degree is enough for the body to save hundreds of calories throughout a 24-hour period. I see temperatures in the low 90’s in some of the people I communicate with frequently. The animal with the lowest metabolic rate in all of the animal kingdom is the sloth, with a resting body temperature as low as 86 degrees F. Do a little research on
the characteristics that define sloth-like behavior and you’ll see some parallels to the changes humans experience when their metabolic rate falls and the body starts to conserve energy.
Could you explain how foods have heating or cooling properties, and what this means for our metabolism?
Calories, carbohydrates, and salt have the most stimulating effect on the metabolic rate. But it’s all relative to the water content accompanying those calories, carbohydrates, and salt surprisingly. Someone with a low metabolic rate needs to eat calorie-dense foods with a low water content to raise metabolic rate. Someone with a high metabolic rate can do fine eating foods with a high water content, such as fruits, vegetables, juices, soups, salads, and other iconic health foods. Ironically, if your metabolism is low you will probably heal much faster eating “unhealthy” foods than you will eating “healthy” foods.
What is “radical refeeding?” Which individuals need to go through this phase? What role does weight gain have in recovery from dieting?
I’m not sure what “radical refeeding” is. It sounds like it probably involves a skateboard, a halfpipe, and a buffet, lol. I usually call it “rest and refeeding,” and it’s really not all that radical. You just want to achieve a consistent surplus of calories and sleep for several weeks to a few months to encourage the body’s cells to ramp up their energy production (i.e. increase metabolism). People who demonstrate a low body temperature and several signs of a reduced metabolic rate such as the ones discussed above usually get the most benefit from it.
It typically does involve some gain in body fat, followed by a gain in lean body mass, followed by complete weight stabilization eating as much as you want with or without exercise. The gain in body fat is the most important, as an increase in body fat increases the hormone leptin, and this sends a signal to the brain that triggers a big rise in metabolic rate and drop in appetite. The process works essentially the same whether a person is fat or thin. If your body temperature is low and you have some signs of a low metabolic rate, starving yourself and exercising more from that point is most likely to make matters worse and actually backfire long-term.
What role does stress play in our nutritional requirements and how do we adapt our dietary needs to stressful circumstances?
Stress is by far the greatest facilitator of degeneration and death. Stress is ultimately what ushers us towards the big red exit sign in the sky. But stress isn’t just “worry” but something much broader. Stressors come in dozens of forms and all uniformly cause a rise in stress hormones—the glucocorticoids. These hormones are not without benefit, but they put much of the wear and tear on our systems that ultimately break us down and cause illness. The body seems to instinctively know this and compels us to seek out calorie-dense, highly-palatable foods rich in sugar, starch, salt, and fat when we are exposed to high levels of glucocorticoids.
It’s better to engage in anti-stress activities like warm baths, massages, and extra sleep than it is to try to avoid those types of food under stress. In fact, if you feel strong cravings for those foods, it is not without reason and you should obey them. If you feel that eating those foods is unhealthy or does harm to you, avoid the situations and circumstances that strongly compel you to eat them. Sometimes it’s as simple as eating a bigger breakfast or going to bed earlier. But you can tap on your forehead like a lunatic if you want to, haha.
You say, “You have to solve your weight problem to lose weight, not lose weight to solve your weight problem.” Can you clarify what this means in real life?
Well I’ve already written a lot so I’ll give you the short answer to what otherwise could be a short novel. Intentional weight loss means to actively restrict your diet or burn calories through exercise to force a calorie deficit and lose weight. It has a very high failure rate, and many, such as obesity scholars like Paul Campos and Linda Bacon, believe that intentional weight loss can lead to an increased risk of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and even the very obesity people are trying to avoid with this approach. I have always found this to be true personally. Any attempts at losing fat always resulted in increased fatness long-term, despite good results initially.
If you are always preoccupied with your weight, you will likely always be trying to intentionally intervene with some kind of diet or overzealous exercise program. If anything, these habits just strengthen the resolve of your body to hold onto fat and conserve energy via a reduction in metabolic rate. Constant dieting just sends a repeated famine signal to your physiology, and it intelligently responds.
The solution is to stop thinking about it so much and go for more of a spontaneous drop in body fat by improving your personal self-care practices. More nutritious food, better sleep, better relationships, more inspiring/fulfilling work and hobbies, and more time outdoors for starters.
Of course, there is a whole psychological component to it as well. Negative self-image is a powerful stressor, and stress prevents fat loss—even encourages fat gain. If you aren’t upset and ashamed of how you look, you’re much more likely to actually lose fat. Thus, it’s important to resolve body image issues BEFORE losing weight.
And trust me, a pound lost with hard work is likely to come back (because of the body’s reaction to that suffering). A pound lost effortlessly and spontaneously is likely to never return. Anything you do to lose weight should be as easy as it can possibly be and still deliver results.
Here, I’ll go ahead and put some quotes around that and my name so everybody reading this can paste that right onto Twitter and Facebook in early January when everyone else is doing their self-deprecating resolution thing…
“Anything you do to lose weight should be as easy as it can possibly be and still deliver results.” ~Matt Stone; www.180degreehealth.com
How can someone learn more about the resources you offer?
My information is very easy to obtain and is free. Go to my website and you can get my free 90-day eCourse on raising metabolic rate, which will tell you everything you need to know to raise your metabolic rate successfully and why it’s so important to do so) and get my books on the subject for free as well. And that’s www.180degreehealth.com.
“With a high metabolic rate, EVERYTHING works better.”
Matt Stone is an independent health researcher, #1 Amazon bestselling author of more than 15 books, and the founder of 180DegreeHealth, a controversial website that has challenged the status quo on health with a combination of cutting-edge science and radical common sense since 2006.
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I’ve been EM2WL for about a year. I recently started my official “bulk” – eating at a surplus, with limited cardio, and weight training as my primary focus – in August 2013.
•When did you first learn that you needed to eat more to reach your goals? What was your original response?
I learned this last year after reading some of my MFP friends posts about TDEE. I was actually eating below my TDEE for a few months but didn’t know it. (I was eating approximately 1400-1600 calories daily, depending on my workout, but I should have been somewhere around 1950 calories.) I was nervous to increase my calories, especially since I still had about 10-15 more lbs to lose. But the risk of compromising my metabolism, plus I found myself getting hungrier, made me increase my calories. I did it slowly though, as I was very cautious. Each month, I increased my calories by 100 until I hit 2000. I continued to lose weight until I hit 2000, which was perfect for me because by that point, I had reached my weight loss goal and I was at maintenance.
• How did others around you act about your decision to discard the usual low cal methods for weight loss?
As I increased my calories from about 1600 to 2000 many of my close friends and MFP friends followed suit, especially when they saw that I was still losing weight. They experienced similar results. Now with my decision to bulk, I received mixed responses. Even split with health conscious folks – some gave me the “more power to you, but no way I’m trying that because I refuse to see the scale go up,” while others, primarily those that are about this weight lifting life, agreed “it’s the way to go if you want to put on muscle and transform your body.” Everyone was shocked to see me indulging in bread regularly!
•How did your body react to the initial increase in cals?
Gains! In the gym and on the scale. My energy during my workouts skyrocketed. My bootcamp instructor noticed it immediately; I was able to keep up with the “stars” in the class. I was able to lift heavier and my endurance increased. I gained 1.25 lbs steadily for the first 2 months and went up a size in pants. Going into month three; the weight gain has stalled a bit.
•What results have you seen from sticking to it and “trusting the process?”
The biggest change has honestly been my overall mood. Along with the increase in calories, I changed my macros. I used to carb cycle so my macros were 20c/40p/40f with 1-2 days a week where I would double my carb intake to about 200g (instead of the usual 70-100g). With the increase in carbs, came an increase in serotonin. And while I’m not doing a “dirty” bulk; I’m not as strict with my eating as I have been in the past (I was following paleo/primal), which has taken a lot of the stress out of eating, especially when I’m at a restaurant with my family and/or friends. So, overall, I’m a much happier person; my family and co-workers have even noticed it. People actually like to go out to eat with me now. We can all indulge in bread together!
The second biggest change I have seen is my body. When I lose weight I tend to look “straight” and immediately lose what little curves I have. Now my curves are accentuated and my muscles, particularly my biceps, are bigger. My shoulders are also more pronounced. I can’t fit any of my cap sleeve shirts now. And I love it. My quads are bigger than ever. And I finally have a tush!
•Can you describe your typical weekly workout schedule and a sample day of meals (or macros)?
I weight train 4-5 days a week with about 2 hours of cardio per week and eat about 2300-2500 calories on average, loosely following Tosca Reno’s eat clean plan. Macros 40c/30p/30f
Typical workout schedule Monday – Back and Cardio (Kickboxing) Tuesday – Chest and Shoulders Wednesday– Legs Thursday– Biceps and Triceps and Core (Jillian Michael’s 30 minute ab workout) Friday– Rest Day Saturday– Boot Camp (45-50 minute full body circuit workouts with weights, 5-10 minutes warm-up/cool down/stretching) Sunday– Rest Day
Sample day of eating
1 C Oats with blueberries and walnuts
4 egg whites
1 slice nitrate free bacon
1 oz planters mixed nuts
6-8 oz grilled chicken breast seasoned with Mrs. Dash fiesta lime seasoning
1 C sautéed kale with sliced garlic and ½ TBSP olive oil
1 medium baked yam with cinnamon
1 medium granny smith apple with 1 TBSP all natural peanut butter or almond butter
1 hardboiled egg
Snack (pre-workout meal)
Ezekiel English muffin with 1.5 TBSP cream cheese and ½ TBSP low sugar smuckers strawberry preserves
Snack (post-workout meal)
2 scoops protein powder mixed with 3 C baby spinach, ½ C vanilla unsweetened almond milk
6 oz ground turkey mixed with celery, peppers, taco seasoning, kidney beans, shrimp
½ C marinara sauce
1 medium baked yam with cinnamon
Chocolate chip cookie dough Quest Bar In the spirit of transparency, on the weekends and during my TOM, my nutrition isn’t as clean as I’d like:
Breakfast is usually gluten free protein pancakes with dark chocolate chips, butter, and 100% maple syrup or IHOP pancakes or a Dunkin Donuts croissant with egg and cheese with a glazed sour cream donut
Lunch may be a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles and sweet potato fries with bbq sauce (Red Robin, Chili’s, or TGI Friday’s)
Dinner is usually pizza (local pizzeria or Pizza Hut) or shrimp fried rice with a shrimp roll (Chinese local takeout) with a cup of Breyer’s butter pecan ice cream and two (warm) Mrs. Field’s semi-sweet chocolate cookies for dessert
I have no issues going to the gym and getting my workouts in; in fact, I have to make sure I keep track of my workouts to make sure I take 2 rest days. I would have no problem working out 7 days a week (but we all know muscles grow during rest periods so I make sure I rest 1-2 days a week, sometimes three if I’m suffering from DOMS). Nutrition is where I struggle and work to improve on a daily basis.
•So…what led to the bulking decision?
After the birth of my third child who is currently 21 months (my twins are 8 years old), I gained 70 lbs. I lost all the baby weight and dropped down from a size 16 to a size 4. I was content with my size but not my body composition. Even though I was size four, I was still 26% body fat and really didn’t have much muscle definition. So, I decided to bulk in an effort to gain muscle and muscle definition and increase my strength. I also decided to bulk because the carb cycling was making me crazy. I was excited to switch my macros, making complex carbs my highest macro percentage.
•What changes are you hoping to see from bulking?
muscle, muscle, muscle!
•What are your biggest bulking fears?
gaining too much fat in my midsection and not enough muscle everywhere else
•Do you have a specific look you would like to attain, or are inspired by?
Katie Chung Hua
Lindsay Kaye Miller
Britney Spears (MTV Awards 2000)
Kiki <what’s your last name?
Ultimate personal goal would be 18% body fat
•Any parting words of encouragement to those who are new to eating more, or struggling with the decision of whether or not to fuel properly?
I’m one of those people that love to try different eating plans, fitness workouts, etc. to see what works for my body and how my body will respond. Everyone is different; therefore, our bodies will respond differently to eating plans, macros, and workouts. If you were willing to try low-carb, low-cal, primal, paleo, etc. and were unsuccessful, you might as well as try the EM2WL method and see how your body responds. Do research, connect with other EM2WL folks, and ask questions! And once you start, before you decide to abort the process, give yourself 2-3 months to adjust/respond and take notice to the changes. Take pictures, take pictures, take pictures – before and after! You will be surprised and pleased with the way your body transforms and the gains that you will make in the gym. And if you’re not happy with it, try something else and keep trying/tweaking until you find the plan that works for YOU.
•Thanks SO much for your time! How can our readers hear from/see more of you?
Let me tell you a story. A long time ago, a baby elephant was born in captivity. While he was very little, his handlers used a chain to tie his leg to the ground. The little elephant pulled and pulled trying to get free, but it never worked. Now that the elephant is full grown, the same chain is keeping him in place even though he could easily break it. This phenomenon is called learned helplessness.
Learned Helplessness is the condition of a human or animal that has learned to behave helplessly, failing to respond even though there are opportunities for it to help itself by avoiding unpleasant circumstances or by gaining positive rewards. Learned Helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation. Organisms that have been ineffective and less sensitive in determining the consequences of their behavior are defined as having acquired Learned Helplessness.
All that is very interesting but why is it posted on a fitness site? Because how many time do we see a forum thread about someone not doing what they need to do in order to take control of their weight and health. So many of us tried and failed at this…I am sure we all have a story about using this diet or that diet and failing, or succeeding and then gaining it all back. The worst is that when we fail, we feel it is our fault. Not the fact that the diet is so low in calories that you will binge, or making it so restrictive that you freak out at the idea of a family Sunday diner, or fearing whole group of food or nutrients.
So we fail, and we fail, and we fail…we end up fatter than ever believing that it is our fault. We’ve tugged and tugged at this d**n chain and some of us end up thinking that we can’t win at this. Heck how many time do we see in the success story that “I was not even sure I could do it?”
For some, sadly it is not even worth it to try. For the others, those who go to MFP and log more than a month, you may doubt your ability to do lose the weight. To do the “right” thing, to exercise even though you were always the last picked in gym class. It is very hard to be successful if you have no faith in your capacities.
Those who are successful usually will tell you to eat enough, to not sweat that nice birthday diner, not to be scared of that bowl of ice cream that you can fit in you calories allowance. That you do not have to run for hours to see results and they are giving you this advice for free…quite different from the “diet industry” no?
I know that it is so different and might be scary…but my question to you is, will you pull on that chain? The chain of the diet industry: those who want to sell you books, or a program, or this cleanse, or that pre-packaged food…those persons and companies like you helpless. Otherwise, how can they tell you what to do for a price? Tugging on that chain is taking everything you think is true and researching the other side of the story. You might confirmed what you were thinking…or not. Take the power, believe that you do have that power.
TL:DR you are more powerful and able that you think. Question everything you think you know.
I felt inspired to guest blog after reading a post from Kiki on the EM2WL Facebook page last week. The subject was the scale, goal weight and BMI charts. The overall question was: what if I’m at the size I want and feel good at, but I’m still not at a “healthy weight” per the BMI chart and geez! What will my doctor say?
My comment was: My doctor doesn’t live MY life. Or yours. We see our docs, on average, once a year. I live my life for me. My doc is someone I HIRE to assist me in monitoring my health. Body fat lower, LBM higher. Check! BP in range. Check! Lipids in optimal range. Check check! Blood Glucose good. Check! Active lifestyle! Check! Healthy food choices. Check! Looking and feeling in my 30s when I’m kissing 50. Double check! Rockin size 8 jeans with a firm bod that can do what I need it to do functionally and turn heads of 30 yr olds? Triple check. BMI chart says I’m obese? okie dokie. Being 238 lbs. and couldn’t check off many of those checks 2 years ago while hoping to squeeze into size 18s? FAIL. Will take my new lifestyle, my new health, my new rockin bod and will use the BMI chart as a nifty guide for the average person. I don’t strive to be AVERAGE. Do you?? I go for BAMtastic!
To take this thought a bit further, what is your GOAL? What is healthy to you? I challenge you. It can’t simply be a NUMBER. What is it? The scale is something that is very traditionally used to measure our bodies and gauge “healthy.” I certainly know I grew up with the scale as something I dreaded, feared and loathed. Looking back, I know it held me hostage in many ways. If I didn’t see a number on it that was “acceptable”, it discouraged me and was actually a roadblock. Some years I didn’t adhere to my preventative health exams because, straight up – I didn’t want to be weighed and be judged. As I’ve educated myself more, and yes, gotten a bit wiser with age – I now understand that body weight and body composition are two very different things. I didn’t know a thing about the concept of body composition and certainly didn’t have any idea how to get there. All I knew was: I wanted to weigh 145 pounds. I wanted that because it was a weight that was at the upper end of the BMI chart for my height. It was a number that sounded acceptable, sounded not FAT. In my adult life, I achieved it once. I weighed 135 pounds for about 45 minutes when I was 17. Closest I came after that was 160-165. I do remember that I wore size 10 jeans when I was 135 and size 12 when I was in the 160s. The 160s weight lasted for about a year in the 1990s. By 1998, I was at my highest weight (238) and I basically stayed there until 2011. I had short episodes of weight loss during 2001 – 2011, but always ended back up at 238.
Body composition. I finally GOT IT. Obesity is the condition of having more subcutaneous fat than lean body mass. Obesity. Too much fat. Not enough lean body mass. Chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are strongly correlated with obesity. Having too much FAT. More fat than lean body mass. It’s not just about how you look. It’s about health. Health is more than a number on a scale. It’s about your body composition. It’s about what you eat, and it’s about your activity level. It’s about how you feel – inside and out. It took me years of struggling and many many hours, days, weeks, and months of studying, reading and doing to finally have it CLICK. It took me finally picking up a barbell at age 47 and eating for health, eating to fuel my workouts, eating and working out to make me feel less stressed, more energized for it all to come together. Seeing with my own eyes what I’ve accomplished. I’m NOT a special snowflake. I’m a REAL woman who is knocking on the door of 50. A real woman who has been fat most of her life. I’m now very passionate about educating others. Sharing my story. Sharing what I’ve learned and continue to learn about our bodies. Sharing to perhaps spare others from some of the angst I’ve had in battling the scale, my fat, my relationship with food.
I’m happier and feel better about my body than I ever have. I’m SMALLER than I’ve ever been. I feel TOTALLY in control of my eating and my weight. I’m still tweaking my body composition. At this stage of the game (and yes, it’s a game, it’s a journey) it is more important for me to maintain my weight and my body composition than to aggressively chase after a lower weight and lower body fat percentage. To chase after it “just because.” Aggressively chasing a lower number on the scale, the measuring tape or the calipers would jeopardize, for me, my progress. I’m extremely happy where I am. I’m competitive with myself, so yes, I want more. More definition. More sleekness. I will have it. I will have it by continuing to eat well and train for body composition and always with my eye on overall health. That includes my emotional health and my enjoyment of LIFE.
I’ll share a picture of me at my highest weight and a picture of me that I took a couple of weeks ago. 56 lbs. separates the two versions of Jen. Body composition is the difference maker. I wear size 8 jeans and medium tops. Oh. The BMI chart? I’m right on the edge of overweight and obese on the chart. I don’t think most folks would immediately think OBESE when they meet me. STILL … It nags at that competitive side of me. I want to have that “perfect” score, that A+. Unless I fall victim to some horrendous wasting disease, I won’t be getting that “perfect” BMI chart score. And you know what? I’m OK with that. What flipped that switch for me is this: I like my body, I like what I see in the mirror and how I feel every day. If I’d step on the scale and see 145 I’d be all giddy. Nothing would have changed expect that NUMBER. Why let the NUMBER I do see take that away from me? I refuse to let it. I will still be striving for my very best. My BAMtastic.
While many women spend their lives dieting, or doing whatever it takes for the ripped, “fitness model” or competitor look, other ladies are choosing to walk away from industry all together. In this special interview, Danny-J (of The Sweaty Betties) was so awesome to share with us her experience not only to the competition stage, but also AWAY from it and its damaging extremes. If you’ve been dieting and killing yourself for hours in gym for longer than you can remember, yet feel like you’re moving further from who/where you thought you’d be by now — you will want to read EVERY word. Being over-trained and under–fed for a “look” was once her driving passion…how does she feel about it now?
EM2WL: At what age did you start competing? Danny-J: I was 25 when I started competing.. oh wow, that makes me sad
E: What inspired you to compete? D: Initially I was an acrobat and in really good shape and people just kept asking me if I competed. I didn’t even know what that meant so I looked into it. Then I was intrigued and very impressed with the bodies and I really wanted to have that kind of physique.
E: How long did you compete before deciding to leave the competition world? D: My first show was in December 2006 and my last show was in November 2009. So it was 3 years.
E: Did you always do Bikini or have you competed at multiple levels? D:I did Figure for my first two years (it was the only option besides bodybuilding) and the last year I tried two bikini shows.
E: How many competitions did you typically participate in per year? D: I did about 3 a year. It was too many.
E: Can you describe the weight fluctuations between off season and competition prep? What about changes to your diet? D: I didn’t have a lot of weight fluctuations. I was in great shape before competing and I mayyyybe would lose about 3-4 lbs. However, the more I competed the more I thought I had to do. I pushed too hard when I didn’t need to. After my last show I gained over 30 lbs and now I am still sitting about 15-18lbs above my old “normal” weight
E: Can you describe what a typical day was like when prepping for the stage? D: Eating the same meals every day, on the clock: 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 10pm.
Usually a workout before work then cardio and then work. Then sometimes more cardio after work around 9-10pm.
E: You’ve mentioned on your website and in videos how competing has affected your metabolism. Were there any signs that led you to discover this? D: Sure, there were signs, that I heavily ignored. Fatigue, hunger, loss of sex drive. I thought these things were “normal” or “just part of the process” so I had to just “suck it up” …I felt like this was what set apart champions from the rest, was that “we” could tolerate some discomfort and lack of sleep. Little did I know how badly I was hurting myself and how long it would take to crawl out of that.
E: Can you tell our readers some of the extreme methods you utilized to achieve a ‘stage ready’ look? D: I would say, for me, it was just a very low calorie diet (900-1100 per day) for over 8 months straight with zero carbs nearly the whole time and an hour of cardio a day, 7 days per week and I worked two jobs. During my first year I did two hours of cardio a day, but I was eating carbs and I convinced myself that was better… it wasn’t. Luckily, I didn’t do any fat burners, T3, or other drugs I’ve heard of, but truth be told, I think I’m still just as damaged from the extreme dieting for so so long. Your body can only be deprived so long before it rebels.
E: Were there other areas, physical or psychological, impacted by competing? D: Absolutely. I was depressed. I went to the Dr. for Prozac. I thought I was crazy. I had anxiety because of my weight gain. My sex life was in the toilet, so obviously my marriage was affected. I didn’t even want my husband to touch me or see my body, which makes me want to cry now. I panicked about being in public. I didn’t want pictures taken of me. My skin was a mess, breaking out all the time. I felt completely exhausted, like a zombie, for months. Honestly, there were times I wanted to die.
E: Do you feel that there are any methods of prepping for Bodybuilding/Figure competitions that don’t compromise ones metabolism? D: I have seen very few coaches do it, but yes, I do believe there are. For one, I think that its making sure you have plenty of time to prep—this trying to lose 30 lbs in 12 weeks and get on stage is BS. Also, you need breaks between shows and there is NO reason why anyone needs to calorie restrict so bad. I just recently trained a client from Fit To Be in Your Kitchen with guidance from Ruben Sandoval and saw first hand how someone could eat more food and have less and less cardio before the show. However, you still have to be STRICT and its mentally taxing.
E: Was there an aha moment where you decided to get out of the business? D: Yeah, honestly, it was more of a political issue at the time than even a physical one. I went to a show where I was basically threatened by the organizers, it was my last show. I did not place well and I was basically being “taught a lesson”. I realized at that point, that this wasn’t even a physique contest, it was a business and one that I no longer wanted to be part of. Ironically, my body didn’t want to be part of it either.
E: What would you say to the many women who want to look like a fitness cover model? D:Looking like a cover model is an interesting goal. Sometimes I wonder what is really lying behind that goal? It is possible and attainable. Sometimes I think people just want to prove that they can do something, and I understand that. My whole life I have felt that I needed to prove that things could be done when others say they couldn’t. However, I will say that getting a cover is fleeting. Someone else is on the cover the next month. You need to have more depth and substance. If working out becomes your life to the point of missing family events, not enjoying dessert on your wedding anniversary or affecting your family life, its time to step back and see what you’re really avoiding. If you’re just wanting to be the healthiest you have been and feel great and encourage others, then, great! Just check your motives and try to live life in balance. Life is too darn short.
E: Do you think it is a realistic goal for the average woman to have if they are not competing? D: Realistic… maybe. I think so much depends on genetics. It may be very realistic for some and not at all for others. I honestly am not really sure if I think it’s a WORTHY goal. I spent 3 years so focused on my abs and how my body looked, but do you know what my goals are now? To donate as much money as I can to Big Brothers Big sisters, to volunteer with tornado clean up, to build teams of amazing women, to help people get out of debt. I think it’s a possible goal and I think goals like that give us a reason to keep working out and be healthy, but I’d like to see some deeper and more meaningful goals at this time in my life. I’d like to see us AS WOMEN have better goals. We are capable of more. What happens if you get up and can’t walk tomorrow?! (It happened to me) guess what? You won’t give two sh**s about your abs. This I promise.
E: Do you have children? What kind of message do you think bikini and figure competitions send to young girls? D: That’s a tricky question. I do not have children, but I did have a daughter, whom I gave up for adoption. I was pregnant at 15 and now she is 16.
I actually went to a “real pageant” where they had a talent and swimsuit competition and it was SO different. The suits were so modest and there were no sexy or provocative poses. When I was first “in it” I saw the “physiques” I didn’t see all the sexed up parts, but then being away and seeing the other type of pageant, my eyes were opened. I would not want my daughter to look at those types of bikini shows and aspire to be in them, however, I would support her in whatever she chose to do and I’d try and make sure she was being as healthy as possible.
E: How has your life changed since stopping competing? D:The first two years were rough. I was miserable. Sick, tired, fat, depressed, lost. I felt like a lot of my identity was wrapped up in how I looked.
Now, today, it’s better than ever. I don’t have panic attacks if I can’t work out. In fact, I can take weeks off of the gym and just be active and eat what I want and maintain my weight. I have learned to LISTEN to my body and have learned to LOVE and FORGIVE my body. I’m still heavier than where I want to be, but I’m honestly feeling more comfortable with myself than ever before. I can try new fun workouts instead of being so regimented in my schedule. I can be spontaneous and have a fit LIFESTYLE rather than be a gym rat (which there is nothing wrong with). I had to do a lot of INTERNAL work to get to where I am now and who would have ever guessed that the damage I caused would eventually be a blessing? (If you had asked me in 2010 I would have said HELL NO!!) I have really found freedom in movement and food and life in general. Parts of me regret competing but then I would not have the self-awareness that I do today.
E: How can our readers see more from/follow you? (FB/IG/Website, etc)
D: Thank you Kiki, this interview was fun…I hope it hits home with the right people
Danny-J is the owner of The Sweaty Betties: an “irreverent group of women who are looking to get fit and have a whole lot of fun along the way.”
Danny-J’s fans (The Sweaty Betties) are wildly enthusiastic about listening to someone who isn’t afraid to put some of the diet and exercise myths on blast. Danny’s passion in fitness lead her all the way through a Master’s program in Health Promotion and Exercise Science at California University of Pennsylvania. She holds numerous certifications for personal training and weight-loss and is an accomplished trainer, helping dozens of clients lose OVER 100 lbs. and helping 1,000’s of clients live healthier lives in her 8+ years training.
However, Danny-J, wasn’t always such a positive and motivational person. She had her share of struggles, being a suicidal teen, she ended up pregnant at 15 years old. She chose to place her daughter for adoption and that motivated her to start to get her act together, so she could be proud when and if she ever got to meet her child again.
She is now married to her best-friend and “Big Tattoo Muscle Man” and they live in Dallas, Texas with their two silly pups.
Have you ever found yourself wondering what it really takes to look like a figure competitor/fitness model (or if it’s possible to do so while fueling properly)? Well, we were able to track down the stunning Stephanie Lynn (some of you may recognize her from Bodybuilding.com or MyFitnessPal) who was willing to spare a minute of her busy time for the fam. Stephanie dishes on how she achieved her “fitness model” look without the standard, metabolism-trashing methods of excess cardio & insufficient calories.
Hey Stephanie! Thanks so much for agreeing to this. We’ve heard that you just finished a show. Can you tell us how you placed?
I placed 1st in my class (Open – tall class) and 3rd in the Figure Master’s (over 35) division.
Congrats! How long have you been competing now? What inspired you to start?
This was my second year competing… my second show ever. I have ALWAYS been intrigued with bodybuilding. I started lifting weights back when I was in college. I met my husband at our local gym. We trained together when we were dating. He taught me about all the different exercises and how to put together a routine. His aunt (also named Stephanie) was a bodybuilding competitor. She was the first woman I had ever seen up close with that much muscle mass. I used to look at her with awe. I used to think, “I would LOVE to look like that one day.” Once I became a wife and mother I had all but given up that dream. Don’t get me wrong…I was still working out. I was in the gym every day for many years but I seemed to see little progress. I eventually stopped making my fitness a priority and quit working out for about 8 months. It was the longest break I had taken from exercise in my whole adult life. In that time I gained some weight…and I was miserable. By the end of 2010 I reached a point where I no longer felt comfortable in my own skin. My face was round, my clothes were tight, and my self esteem was in the toilet. I had to make a change. I started training harder and pushing myself in the gym. I did get stronger but I didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked. A year went by and still not much had changed. I had been killing myself in the gym and I still did not like my body. That’s when I realized that while I had the training down, I had yet to conquer the diet. In January of 2011 I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app to start tracking my calories. That was the catalyst for my fitness revolution!
Many women spend the better part of their lives dieting to achieve the fit, lean, muscular look that we see on fitness models and competitors like you. Can you explain to us the methods that you used to achieve the level of muscularity required for the stage? Or were you always lean/muscular?
Down to 117lbs
Was I always lean and muscular…LOL…NO! I am, by nature, long and lanky. If I would just diet and do cardio I would look like a stick woman. I am not at all genetically inclined to build muscle. I have learned that I both gain and lose fat fairly easily while building muscle has been more of a challenge. When I first learned how to count calories/macros, my first goal was to lose weight. I went from a “fat” 140lbs down to a super lean 120lbs.
At one point I even got down to 117lbs, which is way too skinny for a woman of 5’7″.
Remember I had been exercising for YEARS before this but yet my training lacked purpose and progression and my diet was a mess. I was pretty much eating whatever I wanted. I am living proof that you cannot out-train a bad diet!
So, (we often recommend “bulking” for ladies who want to build muscle)…do you feel that it’s possible for a woman seeking the “fitness model look” to achieve it without bulk cycles?
^^That is the biggest lesson I learned throughout this whole fitness experiment.
Just going to the gym every day and lifting weights was never going to give me the body I wanted. I HAD to adjust my diet to fit my goals if I was going to see progress. If I wanted to gain muscle I had to be eating a surplus of calories. If I wanted to lose fat I had to be eating at a deficit. It wasn’t until I started doing that that I started seeing visible changes. I know the prospect of purposely gaining weight is a scary thing for most women but it is truly the most efficient and effective way to build lean muscle. Even with a proper diet, lean muscle takes a long time to acquire…not months but rather years. Lifting weights without fueling the body with enough calories to build new muscle is like spinning your wheels and going nowhere. Look at how many countless hours I spent in the gym in the 12 years before I started this life-changing fitness journey. Once I shed the fat there was very little muscle under there to show for all the work I thought I had done. I saw this. I was disappointed. I knew I wanted progress and that I wasn’t getting it with what I had been doing. I decided it was time to “bulk.” I have since bulked twice and cut 3 times. Here is my journey in pictures…
Consider not just the change in my body, but the change in my weight. I weigh only 5lbs less in the last picture than I did in the first. The scale is just a number. I started my journey wanting that number to go down. Now I just want it to go up!! I am hoping by next summer I’ll be ripped at 140lbs. That would mean coming full circle for me…back to my “fat” weight but with a completely different body! In addition to my weight, also note my waistline. My waist was around 26 inches at 120lbs. Now, at 135lbs it’s 27.5 inches. It’s bigger…but look how much smaller it appears to be. This is one of the amazing things about muscle. It balances out the body and gives you curves in the right places. I am more of an hour glass now than I ever was before. Building a wider back, bigger shoulders, and a bigger bum have actually made me look more feminine!
Now, your cut was a bit different from many that we’ve seen (in the industry)– in that you didn’t drastically slash your cals, or do cardio 3xs/day. Can you explain how you were able to achieve this same look without using these traditional methods?
My diet is quite different from a lot of other competitors. I have been doing intermittent fasting for over a year and a half now. This method of eating allows me to consume more food at each meal including a late evening meal before bed to sustain me during the night. I usually start my cut 20 weeks away from the show with my calories close to maintenance (around 2000). From there I slowly cut calories down as needed to see progress. For this last cut I spent the majority of those weeks eating around 1800-1900 calories. I cut down closer to 1600-1700 in the 4 weeks before the show.
I did the same with cardio. While bulking I was doing only a couple of Zumba classes per week just for fun. I slowly added cardio as well. I started with 20-25min at the beginning then worked my way up to 45-50min towards the end. Some days I’d do Zumba and some days I’d use the cardio equipment (either the stairmill or the high-inclined treadmill). I believe in a gradual approach to dieting. I prefer to lose on as much food as possible. You never want to play all of your cards at the beginning. If you start too low with calories you will have nowhere to go if/when you plateau. If you are doing 1hr of cardio every day while you are bulking then you’ll have to double that by the end of your cut. Remember that the body likes homeostasis and will adapt to whatever you are doing. You will have better and easier progress if you save some of those cards to play later in the game.
Can you describe the difference in your scale weight between off season and competition day? What about changes to your diet/workouts?
Well you can see in the images how my weight fluctuates. I will start my 3rd bulk next month and I predict I will likely get up to at least 155lbs. That’s a 20lb gain. As for my diet, I will be eating a lot of the same foods just more volume with a few extra treats thrown in there more often. I fully intend to stuff my face for the holidays. As for my training, I change this up fairly often both during contest prep and in the off season. Once I lean down for a show I can see what muscle groups are lacking and pinpoint which areas I need “bring up” to foster more balance and cemetery in my figure. I will often increase the frequency in which I train these areas so they are getting hit more often…more stimulus and time under tension. I am generally stronger when bulking because of the extra food so I will take the opportunity to increase my strength and train in lower rep ranges. I lose some strength while cutting but I still try to keep “weight on the bar” so that I retain as much muscle mass as possible while eating at a deficit. I often make up for this by increasing my volume a bit (more sets and/or reps).
So would you say that it’s realistic for women to strive for a competition look all year long?
No. It isn’t realistic at all. I would never try to maintain this look year round. When you are cutting for a competition you are putting your body into a catabolic state. You will lose some muscle mass while cutting. The longer the cut and the more aggressive it is (low calories, lots of cardio), the more potential there is to lose the lean mass you’ve worked so hard to gain. The off season is where you make improvements. You aren’t going to gain any appreciable amount of muscle while eating a calorie deficit so you NEED the time off from dieting to both add mass to your physique and to improve your metabolism. Increasing your calories gradually over time will make your metabolism more efficient. If you do it right you will likely be able to lose weight while eating more calories than you did last time you cut. I am eating more food and doing less cardio every time I diet down. In addition to improving both my lean mass and metabolism, bulking up also gives me a much-needed mental and physical break from the strict diet. I don’t particularly like micromanaging every bite I put in my mouth. During the off season I can relax a bit and enjoy life.
What would you say to the many women who want to look like a fitness cover model, and are eating 1200 cals and doing 2 hours of cardio/day to achieve it?
I would tell them, first of all, that those fitness models are often in peak condition for those photoshoots and most likely do NOT walk around like that all year long. Their images are also airbrushed to perfection. Most of those amazing women you see on the covers of magazines have spent years in training to reach that level. You are only seeing the results and not the hard work invested. Second of all, starving and cardio-ing yourself to death is NOT the answer. I can assure you…that cover girl didn’t get to where she is by doing that…and neither will you! Furthermore, sustaining a very low calorie diet (and/or excessive cardio) over a long period of time is not only a mental and physical stress on the body, it can actually cause damage to your metabolism. Remember that your body craves homeostasis. It will adapt itself to any activity that is practiced over time. If you are eating 1200 calories per day + 2 hours of cardio over a period of time, your body will start to see this as it’s “norm.” In response to the stress you are putting on it, it will adjust your metabolism (lowering it) in order to conserve energy and resources. This is what you do NOT want to happen! If you want to have the shapely look of those fitness cover models, you are going to have to invest some time in building your body up…both your lean muscle and your metabolism!
How can our readers see more from/follow you? (FB/IG/Blog, etc)
I have a blog on My Fitness Pal (which really needs to be updated) and I also keep a journal on bodybuilding.com.
Thank you SO much for your time, Stephanie! We really look forward to hearing more from you in the future! Best of luck on next year’s show!