Can you get and stay lean without counting calories? Is it really possible to stay lean year-round without tracking at all?
- Counting Calories only works temporarily
- Lifting Weights for staying lean
- Walking 7,500+ Steps A Day For Staying Lean
- VO2Max Training for staying lean (Athletic Power)
- Low Inflammation Diet/Lifestyle/Environment for staying lean
- The Wrap-Up
Over the past twelve years, I’ve experimented with:
- lifting weights
- calorie counting (macros, protein, etc.)
- different fasting routines
- high-intensity cardio (sprints, circuits)
- low-intensity cardio (LISS)
- supplement stacks
- daily ab circuits (extremely painful)
- daily steps, etc.
What works for staying lean and fit permanently?
Or here’s a better question—what works for getting lean AND is sustainable and permanent?
Counting Calories only works temporarily
Calorie counting works best for those who are young, healthy and have no signs of inflammation.
That means no acne, no stretch marks, no stubborn fat, great energy levels, perfect sleep, etc. They have the organ health needed to temporarily dip down into a calorie deficit with no visible downsides.
Week by week, they eat less food, slowly starving themselves, making their body burn fat.
When cutting calories, you’ll also cut nutrients. The body isn’t getting nutrients from food anymore, and so it begins using vitamins/minerals from its “storage bank” inside of organs. If someone was in perfect health, they could get very lean by counting calories temporarily.
But you can’t live in a deficit for too long. Even for those starting with perfect health, over time, they will begin to feel tired, start losing muscle mass, looking gaunt in the face, have a low libido, etc.
Counting calories only works for the young, healthy, and masochistic. (This is why most people need an accountability system or a coach to hold them accountable to their plan.)
If you are not feeling healthy, counting calories will be a painful experience. This is why this method often requires a coach or some sort of accountability plan.
To feel good and look good, I’d wager that 99.99% of people need *more* nutrients—not less.
By counting calories, you’ll be consuming less nutrients than normal, meaning you’ll be using up the finite source of nutrients from your organs to mobilize fat in order to stay alive.
Research has found that organ shrinkage is when people fall off the wagon with their diet. Ditching the diet is your body protecting you from further damage. This explains why most people feel worse after counting calories and end up binging afterwards to replenish their organs—even if it means consuming tens of thousands of calories above and beyond their needs to get those vitamins/minerals. This is the typical yo-yo effect.
It gets worse. On top of burning through nutrients, you might be training yourself to minimize your intuition and instead cause app dependency. This can make it harder to stay lean naturally as you’ll only be able to stay lean as long as you follow the app.
Lifting Weights for staying lean
Lifting weights is one of the best tools for getting and staying athletically lean. There are a number of reasons why.
Lifting weights is a cornerstone habit that affects appetite
The first reason is that lifting weights is what researchers call a “cornerstone habit.” Lifting has been shown to curb smoking, gambling, depression, etc. It goes much beyond muscle and bone density improvements. But why does that happen?
One reason why is because after lifting weights, your muscles are damaged. To repair your muscles, your appetite makes you crave eating muscle—you know, what we call meat. Eating meat will directly help your body repair your muscle. Because lifting weights changes your appetite, it subtly makes you eat in a healthier, leaner, and stronger way—without thinking twice about it. For example, if you don’t lift, you might crave a pizza. But when you lift, you might crave a triple-patty hamburger which has much more protein and meat.
Lifting weights clears blood sugars without insulin
Another great thing about lifting is that if you are struggling with blood sugar control (which I’d argue almost every Western person is struggling with—on a spectrum), lifting weights can clear those blood sugars without using insulin (1984). It does this by moving sugars through muscular contractions—not hormones.
If your goal is to get athletically lean, you can lift in the wrong way. Some types of lifting, like high-volume training (with less rest), will burn more fat. Some types of lifting, like powerlifting, will place more stress on your bones and tendons relative to your muscles. This can drive up an appetite for recovery, and this heavier lower volume style of training does not help as much with fat-burning.
If someone is able to lift weights (cleared by a professional who can clear them in real life), then lifting weights seems like a no-brainer. Lifting as little as once a week can bring substantial benefits in terms of getting athletically lean. Lifting also helps with strength, happiness, appearance, self-worth—you know, all those things that fuel a zest for life.
Walking 7,500+ Steps A Day For Staying Lean
In the same way that lifting weights clears high blood sugars without insulin through muscular contractions, walking can do the exact same thing.
This means that just by getting up out of the chair occasionally and doing a quick little walk around, you can reduce the burden of high blood sugars on your body.
For this reason, it is more effective to get up every hour or so and do a 90-second walk than it is to do one long walk in the morning and then sit motionless for 12 hours.
So it is better to build little breaks into your lifestyle. My family and I take a walk around the block after dinner. We go for a long walks on weekends. We try and play together as much as possible to stay active.
The great thing about walking is that it’s a low-stress activity. That means it’s easy on the body, and even someone who is quite unfit can start by walking a little bit more each day.
Once 7,500 steps a day feels easy, you can try doing 10,000 steps a day.
VO2Max Training for staying lean (Athletic Power)
VO2Max training is doing cardio work to improve your body’s ability to use oxygen. The higher your VO2Max, the more alive you’ll feel. It’s like taking your car in for an oil change and then filling up the tank with high-octane gas.
As for getting lean, the higher your VO2Max, the higher your resting metabolism will be.
For example, you could say, on average, a 30-year-old male, who is 170 pounds and 6ft tall, will have a metabolic rate of around 1800 calories a day (without moving, eating, etc.)
With a higher VO2Max, that resting metabolic rate would jump up. That is because your body is processing more oxygen. This will increase your daily calorie needs. This will mean your body will need to burn more fat—even while resting—to maintain this high oxygen uptake.
I much prefer doing more HIIT work over counting calories because you become fit/energetic/capable by doing cardio, and there are some health benefits to exercise (burning up sugars in the blood), etc.
But there are some downsides to high-intensity work.
High-intensity cardio is expensive in terms of *nutrients*. So unless your diet/lifestyle is on point, some people will slowly be draining their bank of nutrients (the organs).
High-intensity means you need a high level of nutrients.
This partly explains Olympians like Steve Redgrave, who developed diabetes as he won five gold medals. It is common in aerobic sports to rely on processed sugar water to keep them hydrated but it doesn’t contain any nutrition aside from energy.
This also explains why people who are feeling unhealthy aren’t yet able to handle high-intensity training. Those people will need to regain their health by replacing nutrients first and do less intensive forms of cardio first, like walking.
Low Inflammation Diet/Lifestyle/Environment for staying lean
Stubborn fat is scientifically validated
As I cover in the Skinny Fat Fix program, there are two types of fat. Regular subcutaneous fat that you can pinch. This type is fat is not related to bad health. In fact, it’s healthy.
And then there’s stubborn fat that’s deeper and harder to use as energy (DSAT and visceral fat.) More of this stubborn, deep fat is directly linked to diabetes and heart disease, to the point that some researchers have dubbed it diabesity.
Research shows us that that the body begins storing extra fat around the organs, likely to protect them while being chronically inflamed. So fat begins to store around the neck to protect the thyroid and around the belly, to protect the liver, kidneys, etc.
As the body continues to battle inflammation, less nutrients can be spent on muscle, and the limbs (arms/legs) become weaker. This leads to the infamous skinny-fat body type—where someone will have both skinny arms/legs but have too much fat around the gut.
You can’t eat less food to permanently remove this deep and visceral fat away from your thyroid and your liver, etc.
You can eat less food *temporarily*, but you’ll feel worse as it’ll cost you further nutrients to use that fat (copper/vitamin A Bs C E).
The solution is squash inflammation. This means:
- Reducing the burden of inflammation on your body
- Improve the intake of nutrients above and beyond what you need so your body can recover to full health
Inflammation goes beyond just diet—although diet is one of the most powerful ways to improve inflammation. It doesn’t cost you much to change. It is simple to switch white bread with is spiked with elemental iron (inflammatory) for sourdough bread that is a lot easier on our digestion.
For example, water quality is a big part of inflammation. In England, most of the public water doesn’t have fluoride added. In 1955, they started adding fluoride to four areas as a trial (UK Parliament), and since then, about 10% of England has had fluoride added to their water.
More recent studies in England have shown that if someone lives in one of these fluoridated tap water areas, they will have a much higher chance of being hypothyroid. This means that the thyroid doesn’t make enough hormones, leading to a sluggish metabolism, bad stubborn fat gain, etc.
And that’s just fluoride.
During the Vietnam war, a high level of chlorine was used to purify drinking water and was found to be causing high cholesterol in young soldiers. That high cholesterol reversed when they returned home.
As one paper outlined, there hasn’t been a single human study on chlorine and its impact on gut health—though many studies on animals have found chlorine increases cholesterol levels and causes “weight gain.”
Fixing your drinking/showering water is much more costly than tweaking your diet. But you can do little experiments, such as drinking boiled water if it’s only chlorinated as boiling can reduce the levels of chlorine and help purify the water. If your water is fluoridated, boiling won’t help. You may need to buy spring water and boil it before drinking. You could try limiting showering to see if you feel more upbeat.
We covered a lot today, so what does all of this mean?
If you want temporary fat loss that leaves you less healthy in the long run, do calorie counting.
If you’re feeling relatively healthy and want to get very lean temporarily, you may want to experiment with introducing some high-intensity cardio to improve your VO2Max.
If you’re tired of the gut, feeling fatigued all the time, and you want a permanent fix to staying lean naturally and permanently?
Build walking into your lifestyle, lift weights occasionally, and attack inflammation head-on.
This isn’t a battle to be won by starving.
Your body is on your side—it just needs a place of cover and some ammo.