Six Pack in Three Months - Update #1

Want to skip ahead to the results? Check out my guide on How To Burn Fat.

So in my excitement and haste to get started with transforming my body (after all I'm on a deadline), I jumped into things without doing proper planning -- something I wisely advised against in my earlier post on measuring. I started listening to interesting podcasts by Abel James and Dave Asprey and got so pumped up to try a bunch of different things that I forgot to heed my own advice about tracking and measuring. This is a common mistake that I struggle with (in business as well) and requires discipline to overcome. Basically when it comes to any "experiment", before making any changes, first define your goal and then determine which limited set of variables you will be changing in order to reach that goal. This is important so that you can better understand what worked and what didn't. If you change too many things at once, how do you know which changes had the greatest positive (or negative) impact? How will you be able to replicate the results in the future if you don't understand the likely causes of those results? 

Let's take a look at my rookie mistakes over the past 3.5 weeks. 

Mistake #1 - Not defining an objective and quantifiable goal 

In this case, my goal is to get a six pack. What does it mean to "get a six pack" anyway? By defining such a subjective goal, I was screwed from the start. How would I know when I reached my goal? How much definition in my abs would I need before I could say that I had a six pack? Would being able to see 50% of the elusive 5th and 6th pack be enough? And if so, how would I measure the 50%? Without a more straightforward way to quantify progress, it's very difficult to gauge whether a goal has been achieved or not. 

Mistake #2 - Tracking the wrong metrics in an inconsistent way

Because my goal to get a six pack is mostly a visual one, I figured my method of tracking progress would be to take before and after photos. An obvious problem with using photos is that visual comparisons are subjective and taking photos under different conditions can make you look more or less cut due to different lighting, time-of-day, etc. Realizing that photos would likely be insufficient, I decided to track changes in body weight as well. I figured I needed to lose weight if I wanted my abs to come out from under my abdominal fat. ("A six pack is gained in the kitchen, not the gym", or something to that effect). So I dusted off an old-school, analog scale that had been sitting in my bathroom unused for many years and starting weighing myself every Monday morning:

  • Starting body weight on Jan 16: 68 kg (150 lbs)
  • Jan 20: 67 kg
  • Jan 27: 66 kg
  • Feb 3: did not measure while on vacation in Bali, Indonesia
  • Feb 10: 65 (143 lbs) 

So looks like I've lost 7 lbs in less than 4 weeks. Is that good? How good is it? Does that mean I'm closer to my goal? I definitely feel leaner and less bloated than when I kicked things off, but it's hard for me to really know how much progress I've made based on photos and these body weight measurements alone. What if the 7 lbs of weight I lost consisted mostly of lean muscle mass rather than fat? I certainly wouldn't be happy in that case. After all, I'm still exercising several times a week and want to at least maintain my muscle mass while trimming fat.

Another thing worth noting is that several of the body weight measurements prior to today were taken after 2-3 mile runs on the treadmill and all were taken at different times in the day (though all in the morning). Shedding water weight after running could easily skew the results 1 kg in either direction, particularly when I'm eyeballing an analog scale without decimal point readings. When we're dealing with a total of 3 kg here, 1 kg is a huge percent difference. 

It's become clear to me that I need to track additional metrics to get a better picture of my body composition. Furthermore, I also need to be more consistent with when and how I take my measurements.       

State of the art in scale technology. Notice how it starts at 1 kg which I must adjust for when using it to measure. 

State of the art in scale technology. Notice how it starts at 1 kg which I must adjust for when using it to measure. 

From left-to right, top-to-bottom: 1/16, 1/20, 1/27, 2/10, 2/3 

From left-to right, top-to-bottom: 1/16, 1/20, 1/27, 2/10, 2/3 

Mistake #3 - Changing too many variables at once

Below is a list of changes that I've introduced into my life since I started on my six pack quest. With so many things changing in my daily routine, it can be hard to pinpoint which changes were most beneficial, if at all.   

  • Week 1 (ending Jan. 20)
    • Stopped eating grains, starches.
    • Carb intake from vegetables, fruit and black beans.
    • Jogged 2-3 miles on a treadmill 5-6 mornings per week.
    • "Cheat Meals" on Friday and Saturday.
  • Week 2 (ending Jan. 27)
    • Stopped eating breakfast; coffee only (started adding butter to coffee on Thurs and Fri).
    • Stopped eating fruit.
    • Stopped eating legumes.
    • Reduced carb intake to often less than 50g per day consisting primarily of vegetables (except for cheat meals)
  • Week 3 (ending Feb. 3; includes 4 day vacation in Bali)
    • Coffee with butter (10g) for breakfast first half of the week.
    • Stopped running on treadmill second half of the week while in Bali with two 30 min swimming sessions thrown in. 
    • Managed to maintain diet for the most part but had a total of two massive cheat meals on days other than Friday and Saturday. 
  • Week 4 (ending Feb. 10)
    • Increased consumption of fat including eggs, butter (mostly with coffee), animal fat, salmon.
    • Reduced jogging on treadmill to 2-3x per week.
    • Reduced Cheat Meals to just one on Saturday only. 

I think most of the changes I implemented were for the better, but if I can do a better job of limiting the variables that I decide to tweak each week, while also using better metrics to inform those decisions, I'll then be able to know with much more certainty what works and what doesn't (in theory at least). 

Redefining The Goal

Now that I've had a chance to reflect on mistakes made so far in the experiment, I think the most important thing to do at this point is to redefine my goal. If I can define a more objective goal, then what metrics to track and how to track them should more easily fall into place.    

  • NEW GOAL: Reach 10% body fat by April 15, 2014
    • I am assuming a six pack will be a byproduct of getting down to 10% body fat
  • Primary metric 
    • Body fat %
  • Other measures of progress
    • Body weight
    • Total inches around waist, hips, biceps, mid-thigh
    • Before/After photos
  • Limit changes (aka mini-experiments) each week to TWO maximum while trying to control for all other variables as much as possible
  • New tools needed (buy ASAP!)
    • Scale that can measure body fat %
    • Calipers - used as a sanity check in addition to the scale; also more portable when traveling
    • Body tape measure
    • Food scale - this is for weighing my food to improve accuracy of nutritional data that I input into my Jawbone Up 24; may be helpful to analyze nutritional info in more detail later on

And that's it for Update #1! I'll try to provide shorter, more frequent updates going forward.