Thursday, March 15, 2012

6.5% Body Fat, ± 2%: The Sacrifice

Read this first:
6.5% Body Fat, ± 2%

Eating beyond necessity led to regret. Serious overeating led to self-loathing. My goal was “the complete elimination of all visible body fat”—specifically, the inability to pinch excess skin at my navel when I bent forward. After the third month of my journey I lost patience. I was obsessed.

For simplicity, consider that in order to lose a pound of fat you must burn 3,500 calories more than you consume. I exercised every day, sometimes for two hours, burning some 2,500 calories. My maximum tolerable differential seemed to be 1,000 calories. That meant I hoped to consume just 1,500 calories. This put me at a two-pound-per-week pace. I tried eating almost no carbs—known as the ketogenic diet—but that left me nonfunctional.

But as I pushed further, that 3,500 calorie generalization diminished, as did the marginal benefit of my efforts. My two-pound-per-week pace ended at one-pound-per-month.

Calorie-counting was automatic, and I withheld eating foods in which I couldn’t estimate the caloric content. I exercised after dinner and ate nothing after my post-workout protein shake, leading to “brain fog”. I considered this good: after work and exercise, I didn’t need to be functional, and the hungrier I was the better. Sometimes I’d wake up to pee and be too hungry to return to sleep. This I considered not good.

The journey to single-digit body fat may never be healthy, but I contend that my method was better than others. I refused to eliminate all carbohydrates and other foods suggested by fitness experts, like carrots and fruit. Friends encouraged me to be “normal” and indulge on occasion, but the punishment I went through was horrific, and being “normal” would set me back days or weeks, a punishment I wouldn’t tolerate.

The health of my psyche, of course, was another story.

Eating was no longer prompted by hunger, but rather to prevent brain fog, which could arrive suddenly. So eating became clockwork: 50-100 calories two hours after breakfast and lunch, and every hour thereafter until the next meal.

I did this almost every day for ten months. In this time I declined holiday treats, and foods unique to my vacation spots. I declined birthday cookie cake, a tradition. I declined Roman Delight Pizza, my all-time favorite. In that timespan Roman Delight Pizza went out of business.

I declined social invitations if I’d be pressured to overconsume. I would weigh the benefit of the event with the cost of my missed exercise and ultra-reduced consumption. My goal of “the complete elimination of all visible body fat” consumed me.

I couldn’t measure that goal, and I didn’t trust body fat calipers, so my goal became a specific weight, the lowest threshold I was willing to go. Weight is a poor measurement since it doesn’t account for muscle mass. But because I kept weightlifting and eating lots of protein, cutting weight meant cutting body fat.

Weight is also meant to be measured as a trend, since water can alter the scale by a few pounds from one day to the next. If my scale trended up over a few days, despite my daily 800-1,000-calorie differential, I felt despaired.

I came to within 0.2 pound of my target weight. I felt I had failed. My obsession blinded my reality and tunneled me to just a number. Just before my photo op I remarked how angry I’d be if I measured any higher than 8% body fat (I had not been measuring my body fat before that, and did not know where I would fall). I also jokingly told my photographer not to laugh at my physique. She acted impressed through the photo op, just to be nice, I assumed, until I finally looked at the camera shots and saw.

I reached 6.5% body fat. What the fuck did you do today?

Postscript: I've come to understand that "the complete elimination of all visible body fat" is achievable only through gene therapy with alien or cockroach exoskeletal cells.

Keep reading:
6.5% Body Fat, ± 2%: The Terror