Crash diets, as a general rule of thumb, are a stupid idea. However, as laid out in my mid-December post On Fitness and Diet - Fighting "Skinny Fat", the weight loss program I set out for myself was exactly that. I'm writing this followup post to outline my experience so far, and how I have come to embrace a properly controlled crash diet.
What I Did
Crash dieting is all about restricting calories while juggling your micronutrient and macronutrient intake. Most traditional crash diets - like juice cleanses, soup cleanses, or "grapefruit diets" - do an amazing job of having an individual cut calories, but do a horrible job at micro/macro nutrient management. I'm sorry to say, but drinking smoothies for two weeks straight isn't going to make you lose weight - but instead you'll just feel like crap due to malnutrition. Not only that, but as I lay out in my On Fitness and Diet blog post, there is a maximum "velocity" to fat loss which cannot be broken (~31 calories per pound of fat per day), and eating under that amount will just cause that individual to lose water/muscle.
Anyway. enough ranting about how awful most of these diets are. Here is a spreadsheet that outlines my results over the past four weeks. The diet piece is on the third tab. I drank 2 bottles of Soylent 2.0 (direct link to nutrition facts here) and one double serving protein shake (see nutrition facts here) to achieve a grand total of 1060 calories per day. That number is not random, but is actually the least amount of calories I can consume before my body turns to muscle for energy.
Results of the Crash
Quantitatively I have lost around 8lbs of body weight over the last four weeks, which is also accounting for water weight (see below). My projections in my spreadsheet have been off by roughly 2lbs every week, but that could be attributed to me shedding water weight, or the all-liquid diet. The fact that the projections have been off consistently by 2.0-2.5lbs every week seems to indicate they are correct in terms of magnitude and direction, but may have a slight skew upwards. The numbers say I should be close to 15% body fat.
Qualitatively I have lost a lot of fat over the last four weeks. My 30 waist jeans are now loose, despite being snug around November of last year. My love handles are gone, as is the fat on my thighs. The man boobs are almost completely gone. For moving from 19% body fat to 15-16% body fat over the last couple of weeks, I have gotten extremely SKINNY. I did not have this same reaction when moving between 23% and 19%, that is for sure. The last fat holdout is my "belly fat" right around my belly button, but even that has shrunk. Anecdotal reports on the internet seem to indicate belly fat persists until you get down into the 11%-13% range, which is where I will be soon. I have three more weeks of crash dieting until I'm done, and will post accordingly with BodPod results when it's over.
Tip #1 : Manage your micros
So this one deserves the top spot, for sure. If you look at the nutritional labels of the food I am consuming, you can see I am nowhere close to coming to 100% of what I need daily for micronutrients. Soylent contains a ton of micronutrients, but the recommended number of bottles per day is five, and I'm only doing two. This is an easy problem to solve - on top of my normal dosing of Vitamin D and Magnesium I took a high quality multivitamin in the morning after drinking my protein shake. I could definitely tell when I missed that multivitamin - I would start feeling sluggish/tired about halfway through the day. Over time those deficiencies could cause issues, so best to supplement every day.
Tip #2 : Manage your salt
This is an overlooked aspect of most crash diets actually, and causes stupid reports like "I lost nine pounds in nine days doing this cleanse, but I put it all back on the next week!" The human body is largely comprised of water, and one of the many things regulating that water is sodium intake. While I don't typically link out to anecdotal studies, this one person did find that they can gain or lose up to six pounds of body weight by adjusting their sodium intake. I found the same thing - I lost five pounds in the first week as my diet was only giving me 40% of the RDA for sodium. Since then I have been supplementing salt (drinking a glass of ~1200mg of sodium diluted in warm water) and have seen consistent and expected weight loss numbers. Plus I find I'm less hungry! Nothing was weirder than craving pickles, or really anything with high sodium content that first week.
Tip #3 : Manage your hunger
You will feel hungry on a crash diet - there is no avoiding this one. Waking up hungry and going to bed hungry are not pleasant feelings, but it can be managed quite safely. I do the classic ECA stack to manage hunger throughout the day, which works wonders. As noted in the Examine article, the combination of Ephedrine, Caffeine, and low-dose Aspirin (ECA) is incredibly well studied to be safe, but should not be abused. The dosing laid out in the Examine article works great, however I have slowly ramped up caffeine intake to ~300-~400mg daily.
Tip #4 : Manage your social life
Pick your battles when it comes to your social life as most social events involve some kind of calorie consumption (food, alcohol). I have largely checked out of my social life for six weeks to perform this crash diet (focusing instead on side projects), but have managed to go out about once a week. For me losing over a month of socializing is worth the opportunity to have another month or two weight lifting this year, so it's all about priorities.