A Little Heads Up For Beginners

I've been receiving emails for the last couple of weeks from people new to my blog, and in general, people either not dieting at all, or those on the SAD (standard American diet). Many are just starting out to give this Life Way, as described by Art de Vany, a try ("lifesyle" implies a simple preference among choices; while you can certainly choose against this way of life, you can't choose to avoid the consequences of a less optimal way, or, perhaps more aptly: you can't choose to avoid losing the benefits).

Some have already posted spectacular weight gains in only a week or two. My brother in Texas reports 9 pounds in the first two weeks, for instance. To save a bit of time in replying to emails, let me give a few brief things to look out for, so that you don't get discouraged. Expect these things to happen, and if they don't, great. If they do, you saw 'em coming.

  1. Ever heard of "hitting the wall?" It's a term long-distance and marathon runners use to describe glycogen (stored carbohydrate) depletion. When that happens, your body has to convert to lipolysis (fat burning). This is where you want to be — not all the time, but evolution suggests that our primitive ancestors spent much time in this state. When you re-adapt yourself to it, you'll be used to it and you'll find that you rarely drag ass any more. Energy is far more stable. However, getting through that wall the first time, especially if you've been a big carb muncher, can be tough on some. You might experience days on end of lethargy. Persist. You'll see soon enough.
  2. And, so given #1, I recommend just getting it over with. This is one area where Atkins has a real benefit with its two-week induction of near zero carbohydrate. It makes the unpleasantness of getting used to being a steady fat burner quick. Add in a couple sessions per week of high-intensity resistance training of about 30 minutes, and you'll get rid of that glycogen and get your body adapted to lipolysis all the quicker.
  3. You might experience constipation. People will tell you to take psyllium husks and such, but my advice it to up the fat content. It's quite lubricative. I recommend the latter, because I don't think you should get yourself relying on an unnatural substance. Your body will adapt soon enough. 
  4. Most of the initial weight loss is water. Stored glycogen requires water. For every gram of glycogen, you retain 1.6 grams of water. As you expend the glycogen, you release water. Once you start having to relieve every hour for a couple of days, you'll know you're on the right track. And, you'll know you were a big carb muncher, if you didn't know already.
  5. So, you're going to see an initial big weight drop, then it's going to slow. Don't get discouraged. 

Now, hopefully you are going to begin some type of weight-resistance training. Intensity is the key, and intensity and endurance are inversely related. The more intense, the less you can endure (time, reps, etc.). Somebody emailed me this morning about starting out at the gym with a trainer. Good idea; but naturally, they signed him up for hour-long sessions. I think that's a serious mistake for a beginner. I have built 20 pounds of lean mass over the last year, and as an example, couldn't bench 100 pounds. Now I warm up (10 reps) at 135, get pumping with 185 (5 reps), and top off at 205 for 2-3, but not to failure. Then I bring it back down. I have never spent more than 30 minutes in a session, and I've never gone to the gym more than twice per week.

Intensity and endurance are inversely related. Intensity is the key for hGH release which protects lean mass, promotes fat burning, and expresses insulin sensitivity. I just don't think you can be as intense as you need to be when you know you've got an hour. I have little to no rest between sets. My trainer stages 3-4 exercises at once, so I can go from set to set in a rotation. I am totally and completely spent in 30 minutes. Again: the key is intensity, and to achieve that, it's got to be brief. So, why would you want to exercise for an hour when you can do far better for yourself by only exercising for 30 minutes?

Finally, if you get the intensity where it should be, you are going to gain weight over some period of time of days or weeks. Expect it. Embrace it. Eat the real food I've been talking about, hit the weights intermittently and intensely, and let your body do the rest. Weight gain is normal. You're building muscle, which is more dense than fat. I've posted weight gains of as much as 5 pounds in a week, and that's with two 30-hour fasts included! Don't obsess. Over time, you'll see that you'll have burst of loss to the downside, and burst of gain to the upside. Eat right, and you'll have more downward bursts over time, and the weight will come off. When it does, it's fat, and the way you know this is because of the weight gains and the strength increases. The result: a leaner you. Remember: it's not about weight, it's about your percentage of body fat to lean mass.

And be careful out there. You do yourself no good if you injure yourself right from the start. So, when I say intense, give yourself a few workouts to get used to that, and increase the intensity gradually. It's not a race. It's a Life Way.

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    1. Jeff on September 9, 2008 at 12:37

      Great post. Sending link to my parents who are doing it, but have questions this post answers extremely well. Thanks,


    2. Fat Loss on January 21, 2009 at 03:03

      I am a beginner in weight loss program and this is really useful for me. Thank you.


    3. Fitness Activities on January 26, 2009 at 22:16

      Hi, this is a great site – I heard all about your plans and am excited to read the unbiased reviews on the best exercise program.


    4. Richard on January 6, 2010 at 20:41

      FYI your link to induction foods is broken, should point to:

      Also, FWIW (and I need to fix the photo links in the article) my low carb/Primal story from a few years past:

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