Hello and welcome to another article for Universal Aesthetics – this one is a bit more personal and will take you through my periods of weight gain followed by substantial weight loss, eventually ending with me settling on lifetime lowest body fat set point at 34 years young.
There are so many success stories out there: “In 6 months I’ve lost 40 lbs” or “I’ve lost 100 lbs in a year” are phrases which make losing weight sound almost too easy, right? While the process itself is definitely important there are some interesting questions to ask: what happened that got someone to a point where they carry so much extra weight in the first place? Why would people eat large quantities of food, much more than they actually need to sustain their body despite knowing it’s bad for them? How do you stop overfeeding? And of course: why do we often regain the weight we lost?
Undoubtedly there are many answers to some of the above questions and covering them all sufficiently would require writing a book on the subject. Like with many things in our lives, changes in body weight can follow a certain pattern, one which science has linked to many personal and environmental factors, among them those affecting our mental state. In order to keep the length of this article reasonable, I will focus on my perspective on weight gain and how I managed to stop stuffing my face with unnecessary calories. Maybe you’ll find yourself relating to some of those experiences? One thing is certain: there is absolutely no way you can’t completely rebuild your physique if you consistently put in the effort, regardless of how you look right now. Whether we like it or not we’re often perceived through our appearance by strangers, peers, sometimes even family members and friends. Getting closer to your dream physique grants self-confidence which carries over into other areas of your life and anyone who’s made that improvement can attest to it. Sure, being fit won’t exactly solve every problem you might be facing but it certainly helps with living a happier and healthier life. Losing weight is one of the first important steps on a path to that goal.
Some backstory and first occurence of weight issues
My first substantial weight gain happened when I was well into my 20’s and at that time I already had a reasonable understanding of nutrition. Training-wise I was consistent in working out from around the age of 20, it was usually either to get better at a certain sport which fascinated me at a time, or simply to keep myself in shape – with more focus on overall aesthetics than bodybuilding or powerlifting. Around the age of 22 I begun writing training plans for others, mainly utilizing hybrid approach – a combination of Prilepin’s principles and hypertrophy-specific training. I also started getting engaged professionally in sports nutrition around the same time – something I absolutely loved because of my fascination with biochemistry of nutrition and dieting applications of science of food processing (and I have my mother who teaches biology and chemistry to thank for all that as I had access to most of her textbooks from young age). It also turned out I could write – don’t get me wrong, it was far from brilliant but the articles were evidence based and got some great feedback! Needless to say, I was over the moon. From time to time I still get people e-mailing me saying good things about the stuff I wrote back then despite the fact that now if I could, I would likely rewrite everything.
In terms of physique, I was gifted with average genetics, a very mild case of pectus excavatuum, fairly short biceps, tiny calves with high insertions and overall small joint circumference (which can actually be an advantage when it comes to bodybuilding). Maybe not the best “starter pack” but at least I had both my arms and legs which is more than many people have. Early in my life I also developed scoliosis, and got told I should never lift weights… One advice I am happy I didn’t listen to. With long limbs, squat and bench press were (and still are) a bit of a weak point for me, but my deadlift was always pretty good – and I’m sure lifting heavy things is what kept my back pain-free until this day. Despite not always making as much progress as I wished I carried on because I couldn’t imagine life without gym!
It’s time for the big question: why have I suddenly started putting on unreasonable amounts of weight if I was content with the way I looked? It all happened in my late 20’s when I started to experience minor depressive episodes and anxiety issues – mainly related to the fact that I emigrated to a foreign country (North West of England, now you know where my dodgy accent comes from) at the age of 25, while all my family and friends were left behind in Poland. I was completely alone and not only I could I not rely on anyone other than myself, my best friend was my boss (a wonderful lady whom I always will be very grateful to for all the support she has given me) and my life revolved pretty much around work. Every day I as went to do my job – at the time I did mainly sales and coaching with some management thrown in – I had to put on a smile and positive attitude, but deep inside I felt my life was empty and maybe even pointless. Every new day felt exactly the same as the last. And British weather with it’s neverending autumn sure didn’t help. Add to this the competitive nature of the business coupled with stressful environment – and we have a recipe for trouble just waiting to happen.
Because of all these factors the reality slowly begun taking over over my state of mind. Over the course of few months I pretty much ceased working out – just couldn’t bring myself to put in the effort – and two years later I’ve lost all the gains that I have ever had. I went back to my very old self – a 63 kg (138 lbs) skinny-fat individual – which at 181 cm of height (5’11”) is pretty much the opposite of fit or maybe even healthy. If I were at least a very lean 63 kg… But that was definitely not the case. The interesting thing is though, initially I didn’t really pay much attention to these changes, I was just too focused on moving from one day to the next. At some point all my shirts started to get loose and had to be replaced. Soon my scoliosis-induced back pain returned to some degree, but it was more of a nuisance at the time and something I just learned to live with.
Eventually I started eating more to make myself feel better. I would buy all sorts of tasty treats to improve my mood and it worked! Soon it became a necessary crutch to help dealing with my life. Surprisingly, long-term this might have helped me in a way – my mind eventually climbed back up from the hole it was stuck in for those last two years. Devouring crappy food brought me comfort, but it also created a number of other problems: to start with I somehow managed to put on roughly 20 kilograms (45 lbs) of weight over the year, most of which was fat. I was now close to a life heaviest 84 kg (185 lbs), all filled up with jiggly tissue. Numb pain in my back was now omnipresent unless I was lying down so I got used to taking painkillers when I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t have a single large mirror at home at a time, so again I didn’t take notice of the physical changes all that much. I just kept on buying larger pants – as you do, because it’s often easier to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist than do something about it.
And then one day I took a selfie in my underwear – I don’t really remember for what purpose but I’m telling you now, when I saw that picture I felt my knees giving way. Who looked at me from my phone was a fat guy with skinny legs, skinny arms, growing gut and no sign of muscle tissue anywhere to be found. Unfortunately the picture got lost with my old phone, but even if I still had it I’m not sure I’d have the balls to include it here, that’s how bad it was. Certainly not how I’d like to be remembered anyway.
I knew I had to make a change right now, or else I will never pull myself back up as things would only get worse. Every day I would come back from work, usually after 8 pm and do bodyweight training for an hour. I felt a bit better with every workout! The diet was still in shambles, but even this small amount of exercise started to change my body – and my back pain was almost gone! Three months later I purchased some basic home gym equipment and set my priorities right: looking after my nutrition – cutting out the crap food, maintaining moderate deficit and getting fit – nothing fancy. Few months later I was up two kilograms from my starting weight – at 86kg (190 lbs), but I’ve lost 10 centimetres (4 inches) from my waist. Thank you muscle memory! Things started looking up. I felt strong and fit, even though I was still nowhere near as lean as I wished.
From here, my physique started improving gradually, every positive change pushing me forward and after another couple of years all that happened before seemed like a bad dream – I just couldn’t comprehend how I could have let myself go in the first place! Life was good once again, I was working on my starting my coaching business (which evolved into Universal Aesthetics) while still catching up on every textbook and all the research I have missed over those three years. I was now determined to leave the past struggles behind.
Fast forward to 2014
If you read everything until now, you probably remember me saying weight gain is often affected by changes in mental state – which is what my problem was, one I decided to ignore. I didn’t attempt to understand why I gained so much weight the first time, and it didn’t occur to me that I was pretty much bound to repeat the same mistake sooner or later.
2014 brought a bad break up. You might have gone through one yourself, so you probably know what I’m talking about. The kind of break up which leaves you empty inside uncertain about how you should proceed with your life.
By the end of summer I was dealing with the same feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. So what do you think I did?
I started stuffing my face again of course! This time however I didn’t stop working out, which I guess is a good thing – nonetheless it hardly slowed the weight gain – I just ate that much more to compensate for the exercise. From beginning of December 2014 to early March 2015 I’ve put on over 25 lbs (11 kg), most of it within the first two months and hit a lifetime highest 203 lbs (92kg).
Despite the fact that I was working out and my lifts were decent – for the first time in my life I actually managed to do sets of 225 lbs (100kg) for few reps on the bench press – and I looked somehow big in a loose shirt, it was really just a lot of fat covering whatever muscle I had in a thick layer. I knew that if I ever want to run a successful business where I get people to lose weight and look great I can’t allow myself to get fat ever again. Most importantly, I didn’t want to get fat! I wanted to stay fit and lean for the rest of my life.
I googled “psychology of weight gain” and from there started reading everything I could find on the subject to try and understand why this was happening to me. Soon it all started to make sense – and what I wrote earlier on finally dawned on me – food was my way of coping with anxiety, stress and loneliness. The mistake was trying to cope with anything in the first place – instead of working through those emotions and situations which caused them. I’ve put the picture you can see above in my wallet, so that each time I felt bad and was about to buy some high calorie food of low nutritional value I’d get reminded what awaits me at the end of that road.
I got my stuff together and March 14th 2015 was the first day of my weight loss. This time however I intended to take my body all day way down to sub 10% body fat, determined to stay lean for the rest of my life. I’ve set my deficit pretty high – with so much body fat I wasn’t really afraid of losing too much lean mass.
Three months later this happened:
Now, I could tell you about how every day was a fight, how I bent my own appetite to my iron will, how each minute was a struggle I somehow overcame… But I won’t because that would be silly. It just wasn’t the case. A single mother (or father) who look after their children while working two jobs struggle. People who can’t find a job despite having the qualifications and skills – they struggle. People who are seriously ill struggle even more. Compared to them I didn’t struggle, I just stopped patting myself on the back and pretending like eating a ton is a solution to anything and instead started eating less because this was an immediate solution to at least one of my problems. Was it easy? Not really. But it had to be done.
At the end of September, just two months before my 34th birthday I finally achieved what I always wanted – a sub 10% body fat physique:
What made this possible was not some magical diet that you might hear self-proclaimed experts recommending over everything else, no “one weird trick”, no drugs – just a meal prep routine combined with practical application of nutritional sciences. And at the time of writing this article – March 2017, over a year and a half after I finished my largest ever weight loss I still have no appetite issues whatsoever and no longer seek comfort in food when things don’t go as well as I wished. I’m also still making progress with my physique and not planning on stopping ever again.
If I could’ve done it – you can do it too! Get rid of bad eating habits, develop a positive attitude and accept hunger for what it is – a sign of upcoming change, not a signal to eat. Don’t get discouraged over falling off the wagon for a day or two – it happens to all of us. As long as you get back up and keep eating at deficit it’s not a big deal. Stay consistent in your nutrition and training, give it time and you will achieve your goal – of that I have no doubt!
Thanks for reading!