Reverse Dieting (aka I’m Not Bulking)

After the 60-day challenge at my gym came to an end in early April, I weighed in at 165.8 pounds and my estimated body fat percentage dropped to 9%. While at the beginning of the challenge I had made a bigger goal for myself that by Memorial Day I would lower my body fat percentage below 10%, the reality is that when I look in the mirror I feel I look too skinny and lanky. I’m 6′ tall and I look more like a marathoner than a CrossFitter. Personally, that is not the aesthetic I want to achieve nor one that will support me in the gym and under the barbell.

I met with Emily Field, a registered dietitian, post-challenge to discuss my results and where I wanted to go next.  We discussed getting more dialed in with my nutrition in a productive way that could be sustained beyond 21-day sugar detoxes or 60-day challenges. Understanding that I wanted to put on weight but remain lean, Emily recommended we track my macros (protein, fat, carbs) and use a Reverse Dieting strategy over a 12-week period.

According to Emily, “Reverse Dieting is a form of positive metabolic adaptation in which the body responds in a favorable manner to increased food intake. Reverse Dieting is achieved by steadily increasing macronutrient intake and is designed to prime you metabolically without gaining excess body fat. Essentially, we are coaxing the metabolic rate to retune to normal  to what it was before you dieted in the first place.”

In short, we will increase calories slowly and methodically over time so that we minimize potential body fat gain and maximize strength and lean body mass gain.


Emily reviewed my typical daily food intake and identified that I was undereating.  To correct this and ease me into an increased calories/macros, she has prescribed a daily intake of 125 grams of protein, 60 grams of fat and 175 grams of carbs, which equates to 1,750 calories.

This is my second full week tracking macros. Here’s a sample day from my eating diary:

Eggs (2) 14 9 0 137
White rice (1/2 dry cup) 6 0 70 304
Peppers & onions (1 cup) 1 0 7 32
Salami (1 oz) 8 8 0 104
Protein shake 24 1 2 113
Banana 1.3 0.4 27 117
Mason Jar Salad:
Balsamic (2 tbsp) 0 0 6 24
Diced tomatoes 0.9 0 2.6 14
Banza chickpea pasta (2 oz) 14 3.5 32 216
Chicken (4 oz) 23 1.5 0 106
Mozzarella (1/4 cup) 7 6 2 90
Baby spinach 2 0.3 2.5 20
Bear Naked Granola (1/4 cup) 3 5 28 169
Brocolli slaw (1 cup) 2 0 5 28
Beef sirloin roast (3 oz) 18 11 3 183
Protein shake 24 1 2 113
GOAL 125 60 175 1740
ACTUAL 148 47 189 1769


I’m a habitual eater so tracking isn’t that hard. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet and there is a lot of copying and pasting.  Meal prep helps.

Over the last 10 days, I’ve quickly learned that you can eat your fill of vegetables – the greener the better, white rice is your friend, bacon and salami are delicious, but a chicken breast has less fat, and chocolate chip cookies are loaded with carbs.

I am definitely eating more now than compared to just two weeks ago, but this is definitely not bulking.  My macros don’t feel limiting and they do allow some flexibility if I want to indulge here and there. However, you really have to consider your intake carefully. It’s not a buffet approach to eating. You can eat well but it’s not a free ticket to go hog wild.

In addition to tracking macros, Emily has noted that in Reverse Dieting it is extremely important to take progress pictures so that you can see the affects of the increased calories/macros on body composition. In addition, taking waist measurement (about 2 finger widths above your belly button, around the smallest part of your midsection) at least twice per month so you can track progress in body composition changes. We are keeping this data and pictures on file using a file sharing service.

Again, the goal is to gain weight while maintaining a low body fat percentage. While it sounds like the two ideas conflict, Emily has assured met that with Reverse Dieting and gradual changes to my macros it is very doable. I’m excited to see the results!

False Confidence

“Did I do something stupid that no one else did?”

“Yes, and you’ve asked that eight times now.”

“What? I did.”

In a flash, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and realized I was laying on a gurney in the emergency room talking to my sister. But why?

My sister sighed with relief as she realized that I was no longer repeating myself. She explained that I had been in an accident while sledding. I had hit my head, went unconscious, and then had been looping for the past four hours, asking the same few questions over and over.

Reenactment of me landing in the snow.

The accident was back on December 30, 2012. Years later, the majority of what I know about it has been told to me by friends that were there as I have little to no memory of that day. In short, we were cold and tired and ready to call it a day but I pointed to a mound of snow some kids had built and informed the group that one of us had to sled down the hill and go over this makeshift ramp before we left. Despite multiple warnings from my friends, I decided it should be me. I’m not sure where this bravado came from. Perhaps I was trying to show off? Nevertheless, I took the bright blue snowtube and swooshed down the hill. I hit the mound and was flung 10 feet past and landed on a snow-covered running path. I bruised my ribs and my head hit the ground, rendering me unconscious. An expensive ambulance ride, multiple X-rays and hours later I found myself with my sister clueless about what had happened.

The concussion and week spent on bed rest hopped on Vicodin was not worth it. Nor did I garner any enjoyment from the large hospital bill. There was no glory in this moment of false confidence. Why did I think I was qualified to make this jump? That morning was the first time I had been sledding since I was a kid. I was ill-prepared. I lacked a proper helmet or sled. The snowtube was borrowed and the gusto was founded upon nothing.

A trip last week with my Dad to Las Vegas made me think about this display of false confidence. While he and I sat at a card table playing poker, methodically learning the flow of the game, I was struck by others who walked up threw a large bet on the table and quickly lost it all with one bad hand. Now Vegas is a place to take some fun risk and so might not be the right analogy. However, it reminded me that in my life the moments of false confidence have led to nothing but trouble.

The other major instance of this was when I was 22 years old, right out of college and playing in a softball tournament for work. We played a full game in Central Park in the late afternoon and then headed to a nearby bar on the Upper West Side for a happy hour. I decided to challenge a friendly but older team member to go shot for shot. I was not a big drinker, especially compared to him – a regular bar fly with at least 50 pounds on me – but for some reason I puffed up my chest and decided I was going to try and prove something that day. Perhaps the impetus was my performance in the softball game? I had spent the majority of the time on the bench, probably due to my lack of athletic prowess. Perhaps I wanted to prove that the young new kid could hold his own? Whatever the reason, you can easily have guessed that it led to me getting drunk and blacking out. I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues and endangered my own health. My boss was not impressed and set me straight the next morning at work. I didn’t touch an ounce of alcohol for the next few months. To this day, I never drink liquor at work events and keep to 2-beer maximum.

Reenactment of me passing out at the bar.
Reenactment of me passing out at the bar.

One more anecdote, courtesy of Aesop, to help drive the point: “A Donkey and a Rooster were together when a Lion, desperate from hunger, approached. He was about to spring upon the Donkey, when the Rooster (to the sound of whose voice the Lion, it is said, has a singular aversion) crowed loudly, and the Lion fled away. The Donkey, observing his trepidation at the mere crowing of a Rooster summoned courage to attack him, and galloped after him for that purpose. He had run no long distance when the Lion, turning about, seized him and tore him to pieces.” Moral of the story – false confidence often leads into danger.

As I reflect upon my effort over the last few years to develop my self-confidence, I realize it is built upon my training and hard work. I didn’t enter Freeze Fest or Granite Games on a whim with no preparation. My confidence entering those arenas was based on the fact that I had spent weeks, even months, lifting, practicing skills and movements, and working on my sleep and nutrition. I feel confident going into a workout or a competition because I know I have put in the time and effort to justify my enthusiasm and bravado.

Similarly at my job, I speak with confidence to my clients when I have done my research and come well prepared with all the facts and analysis. I feel my best on a property tour with a prospective tenant or buyer when I have anticipated all their questions and have the answers at the ready. As much as I’d like to think my charming personality could help me even sell the Brooklyn Bridge, I know that false confidence would be built upon a very shaky foundation and eventually will crack.

False confidence only masks our insecurities. It is good to be brave and take risks. It is even better to walk through life brimming with confidence.  However, that strong mindset and the actions that follow  need to be grounded in reality.


Review: “Progress”

41M1+TKi2IL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Last week, on a three-hour flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, where I was going to meet my Dad to celebrate his 65th birthday, I read Progress by Chris Moore, the Barbell Buddha, from cover to cover. I could not put the book down, skipping my usual mouth agape airplane shuteye.

Moore is a former college athlete, competitive power lifter, writer and host of his Barbell Buddha podcast and Barbell Shrugged. The man is well versed in the world of strength training and has found enlightenment along the way in his diligent path of learning how to be stronger and happier.

The book has a unique voice and Moore is extremely articulate when it comes to boiling down his views on progress. With short chapters, well chosen quotes and personal anecdotes, he conveys to the reader in short to keep it simple stupid.

“Setting big goals is the easiest thing in the world to do… Crawling under the barbell, running laps or preparing a week’s worth of high quality meals is far less exciting. But you cannot arrive at your destination without those first steps.”

In addition to keeping it simple, Moore advocates a process of self-evaluation encouraging the reader with the following steps:

  1. Write down your goal. Don’t just think it, commit it to paper.
  2. Identify your motives. Know exactly what you are after and why.
  3. Visualize your success. See yourself achieving your goals.
  4. Focus. “If you only have one ass, you cannot ride two horses.”
  5. Take it step by step. Take your time. It’s not a race.
  6. Use what you got. Don’t make the lack of equipment, program or a coach an excuse for not starting.
  7. Work with your limitations. Know your barriers and adjust as needed.
  8. Get lost in the process. Take those first few steps and get in the rhythm.

While Moore finds inspiration from Buddha and takes a Zen-like approach to training, he is not a monk. He believes that a little vice is needed – for him that is the occasional tequila and a donut. Essentially, Moore recognizes that progress is a daily pursuit through habit and purpose. It is not something fleeting. Goals can be short-term, but the pursuit of being stronger, faster, happier is ongoing.

“What matters most is that you make your decision and then put a plan in place. With that, and a perspective that allows you to adapt and evolve along your journey, you are sure to arrive a higher ground.”

Moore finds solace in a barbell, but don’t let his weightlifting background be a deterrent from reading his tome. Anyone can find inspiration even if your journey doesn’t involve any kilos.

60 Day Challenge – The Results

The 60-Day Challenge at CrossFit Kingfield has come to a close. This past weekend, we recorded our body measurements (i.e. chest, waist, neck, thigh, etc.) and weight. We also re-tested a 3-rep max front squat, a 1,000 meter row and a 10-minute version of “Cindy”, which is as many rounds as possible of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 air squats.

We all had different goals and different definitions of what it meant to be strong, but we were all there on Saturday morning ready to support each other as we compared these metrics to the baseline we had established back on January 31st.


January 31, 2016 April 2, 2016
Body weight 167.6 lbs. 158.8 lbs.
 3-rep max Front Squat 165 lbs. 185 lbs.
 1,000 meter Row 0:03:47 0:03:34
 10-minute “Cindy” 7 rounds + 25 reps 7 rounds + 25 reps

The numbers don’t lie. I believe I have gotten stronger based on the increase in my front squat (and the feeling that I still had a bit more room to go if time had allowed) and shaving 13 seconds off my row. My total reps for the 10-minute “Cindy” remained the same but I am actually happy that I matched my previous effort given since minutes before I had  lifted more weight and rowed faster.  My engine had clearly improved.

As for the difference in body weight, I admitted to Coach Emily when she took the measurements that I wasn’t sure what I was expecting on the scale. I’m not sure losing almost two pounds was as important to me as the change in my physical appearance and I don’t think I moved the needle much in 60 days.

Further, the last two weeks of the challenge were very difficult. I had a lot of family celebrations the first week and had broken the challenge “rules” more than I’d like to admit. I am glad I chose time with family but I allowed myself too many free passes. And then the last week, probably coming off the sugar high of Easter and multiple birthday cakes, my routine outside of the gym faltered. I had been doing ROMWOD every night before bed during most of the challenge, but last week I was skipping it as I just felt tired and unmotivated. Further, I “treated” myself due to some stress at work and one cookie led to a second and third.

But the good overall outweighs the bad in this challenge and I don’t want the last two weeks to blemish the positive experience. Not only did I improve in the gym but I completed my first full CrossFit Open. I got my first bar muscle-up and pushed myself in all the workouts. I think my re-test of the 1,000-meter row is reflective of that mental toughness that I built up during the Open. Further, I was able to get to know the gym community better through the challenge and realize that I do have people who support and cheer and empathize with my efforts. And I felt like I made an impact in other’s efforts by being able to share tips and recipes.

With that in mind, I decided to shake off the last two weeks and not let the 60-day challenge be in vain. I spent Sunday prepping food for the week – hard boiled eggs, sweet potatoes with peppers and onion, mini turkey meatloaf muffins and roasted pork loins. IMG_5243

I also decided that I need to dig deeper into my nutrition and understand how I can sustain my efforts over the long-term. I am meeting with Coach Emily this week to go over my health goals and discuss a nutrition plan.

Finally, I got back on the ROMWOD bandwagon and am feeling swole and flexy. (Though I really still cannot stand sitting in saddle position.)

You might recall that I had previously talked about extending the 60-day challenge to 100-days. While I am technically on day 61 of that 100, I’ve decided to regroup and focus my efforts on the goal of working towards Memorial Day upon which I will do “Murph.” It is a benchmark CrossFit WOD that consists of 1-mile run followed by 300 squats, 200 push-ups and 100 pull-ups in any order, and then another 1-mile run. It will be my third year in a row doing it with a weight vest.

I am going to dedicate myself to my training and nutrition to improve over past year performances. I’m excited to have a specific target in mind as I felt a bit lost last week. My frustration has subsided and enthusiasm has grown as I am beginning to have a plan come together. I found a great push-up progression to work on over the next 8 weeks and I am going to start running stairs again on Friday mornings with the November Project.

I’ve got 55 days until “Murph.”

2016 CrossFit Open Recap

Another year, another Open. Well not exactly.  This was actually the first time in my now 5 years of doing CrossFit that I actually committed to doing all five weeks of the Open.

For the uninitiated, the CrossFit Open is a five-week, five-workout competition in which athletes submit their scores to qualify for Regionals, which is a precursor to the annual CrossFit Games in California. The workouts must be judged and athletes must comply with the rules and movement standards for their scores to count.

In the past, I have purposefully avoided the Open, half-haphazardly participated, or forgotten about it altogether. It hasn’t meant much to me as I don’t have the ambition nor the skill level or strength to qualify for Regionals. However, the gym’s 60-day challenge was taking place at the same time as the Open and so I made the effort to do the Open workouts in keeping with the spirit of the challenge.

The coaches at CrossFit Kingfield organized a “Friday Night Lights” approach where everyone who wanted to do the Open would gather at 7pm on Friday evenings. They ran heats and everyone helped keep score and cheer each other on.

Open 16.1
Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 20 minutes of:  25-ft. overhead walking lunge + 8 burpees + 25-ft. overhead walking lunge + 8 chest-to-bar pull-ups

Much to my relief, 25-feet is much different than 25 steps when it comes to the walking lunges. Nevertheless, with the Rx standard being 95 lbs., I decided to stick to just using a 45 lbs. barbell. I got it in my head that was the scaled version, which was actually walking lunges with the bar in a front rack position. So right away in Week 1 I disqualified myself from submitting a score on the CrossFit website to at least see how I ranked worldwide in the scaled division as there was no way in hell I was redoing this 20-minute slug.

Coach Danny was my judge and he absolutely drove me through the workout. Rather than thinking about the workout in rounds, he kept me focused on the task at hand. Danny knew when to push and when to let me breathe as he would give me 5-10 second countdowns to rest and then get right back on the bar or start the burpees.

When I do a lot of overhead work – like the lunges and pull-ups – I get cottonmouth. I desperately needed water and Danny made sure my water bottle was on hand. He also though knew when I had to put in more effort. “Give me 8 burpees and then we can have water. Just 8. Right now.” It was a very long 20-minutes but I knew from that first night that my coaches were going to get me through this Open.

(Photo c/o Sean O’Brien)

Open 16.2
Beginning on a 4-minute clock, complete as many reps as possible of:   25 toes-to-bars,  50 double-unders, 15 squat cleans (135#/85#). If completed before 4 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to: 25 toes-to-bars, 50 double-unders, 13 squat cleans  (185#/115#). If completed before 8 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to: 25 toes-to-bars, 50 double-unders, 11 squat cleans  (225#/145#). If completed before 12 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to: 25 toes-to-bars, 50 double-unders, 9 squat cleans  (275#/175#). If completed before 16 minutes, add 4 minutes to the clock and proceed to: 25 toes-to-bars, 50 double-unders, 7 squat cleans  (315#/205#). Stop at 20 minutes.

A bigger crowd was gathered for week two. I arrived a few minutes late and heats were being assigned and people were busy warming up. The workout was complex and at the Rx standards looked like it could be a quick 4-minutes. I decided to do scaled, which had the squat cleans start at 95 lbs., single unders and hanging knee raises.

With the Scaled movements, I wanted to get past the first 3-rounds. I could move quick on the single unders and knee raises. Due to my tardiness, I ended up being in the last heat and I got to see some of the other guys set the bar in the Scaled division. Jesse totally wowed the crowd as he completed the full workout before the 20-minute time cap and Louis fought tooth and nail until the buzzer.

As my heat started, I was able to move quickly to get to the first round of squat cleans. My goal was to give myself as much time for them as possible each round. Fueled by the great energy in the room, I worked my way through the first three rounds. Now it was me versus the clock to finish the 9 cleans at 155 lbs. Each individual clean required me to “get angry”, dig in and be as aggressive as I could under the bar. Coach Chris will tell you they were far from the best looking cleans, but in this case it didn’t matter. I got 5 of the needed 9 as the clock hit 16:00 minutes.

Open 16.3
Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 7 minutes of:  10 power snatches + 3 bar muscle-ups

I was anxious going into the workout. Not because of the movements, but because my office had a small happy hour gathering for me mid-afternoon and I had two celebratory glasses of red wine. It was the first time I have had a drink in 40 days. I had at least two and a half hours from the last sip of wine until we would even start warming up. I wasn’t tipsy but I was feeling a bit flush. We were cheering my 5-year anniversary at the company and the recent birth of my first niece.

I went home and drank some water, did my ROMWOD and tried to clear my head.  The workout was only 7 minutes but I don’t drink and WOD.

I have never done a bar muscle-up and so was expecting for a heavy cardio workout going scaled. Coach Danny had everyone who was gathered to do 16.3 practice the movement for 10-15 minutes before we began the heats. At first he had me attempting a bar muscle-up with bands but I felt restricted. Then we talked through how a big swing was needed. I decided to just go big or go home and jumped on the bar. Next thing I know I was on top of the bar and pushing my arms straight at the top. Everyone around cheered. I was elated.

The clock was ticking and so it was time to get started. Danny wrote everyone’s name on the whiteboard to arrange heats. He started writing “Rx” or “Scaled” next to each name. Next to my name it said “Rx”.

When the crowd dispersed to get ready for the first heat, I asked Danny, “Do you really think I should grind it out? I’ve only done one.”

“I think you should. Wouldn’t it be more badass to get one bar muscle-up? That’s all we need. Just one. You just have to confidence to tell yourself that you are going to do it.”

Okay. I got this. I was going to do the workout Rx and I was in the first heat.

3, 2, 1, go! Danny was my judge and he counted my reps as I quickly got to work on the 10 snatches. With more than 6-minutes on the clock, it was time to get on the bar. I could feel the support of crowd. I put some chalk on my hands, deep breathe and jumped and big swing and I did a bar muscle-up. Everyone clapped and hollered.

But wait, now I still had a lot of time left on the clock. Danny said, “Let’s see if we can get three.” And jump-swing-push – another! And jump-swing-push – another! I had completed a full round. This was insane.

With the room buzzing, my head spinning, and Danny pressing me to just keep moving, I ended up completing a second full round and then getting 2 out of 3 bar muscle-ups in my third round before time ran out. I had gone from never having done 1 to doing 9 that night. This is what the CrossFit Open was all about.

(Photo c/o Sean O’Brien)

Open 16.4
Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 13 minutes of:
55 deadlifts + 55 wall-ball shots + 55-calorie row + 55 handstand push-ups

As I had for the past few weeks, I showed up to the 6am class on Friday morning and Coach Caitlin immediately asked if I was planning on doing the Open that night. I said, “Of course.” She replied, “So, um, let’s think about that.” The workout that morning was handstand push-ups and cleans. As I had been fluctuating between Rx and Scaled movements, what was I going to do that night? The fact was that 55 handstand push-ups was an excessive amount for me as was doing 55 deadlifts at the Rx weight of 225 lbs. With that in mind, I elected to go Rx in the morning and Scaled at night, which sounds like some sort of bad pick-up line.

(Photo c/o Sean O'Brien)
(Photo c/o Sean O’Brien)

Going scaled that evening meant the deadlifts were at 135 lbs. and the substitute movement for handstand push-ups was hand release push-ups. I knew I wanted to finish at least 1 round. Little did I know how much of a challenge that would be. The workout was an expertly designed mix of push and pull movements. By the time I was on the push-ups, my arms were feeling like jelly and I couldn’t string more than 3-4 at a time. Jesse was in my heat and I was making sure to keep up with his pace, but I lost time also on the wall balls. At the end of the 13-minutes, I had gotten just 1 deadlift in the second round.

Open 16.5
21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time of:  Thrusters +  Burpees

Due to a family gathering, I wasn’t able to attend the last Friday Night Lights at the gym. I felt it was important though to do 16.5 and finish the Open. So I dutifully showed up on Saturday morning at Open Gym to face it head on.  I am not alone in expressing my dislike for the combination of thrusters and burpees, especially at this volume. Further, as many told me in anticipation, the clock can’t save you.

As the 9am class finished, the gym emptied out. I was going to be in my own heat of one for the workout. Thankfully, Coach Tony without being asked assumed the role of judge and Coach Caitlin, Alex and John formed a small cheering squad.

To start me off on the right note, Caitlin even blasted “Gonna Fly Now” over the speakers (I had been featured the day before on the gym’s blog where I admitted it was my go-to “power song”).  The fanfare of the trumpets started and I picked up the bar and did the set of 21 thrusters unbroken. I’d like to say the music carried me through but those burpees got to me quick. By the time I started the round of 15, my stomach was churning from the up and down of the thrusters and the up and over of the burpee bar jumps.

Thank goodness Tony was keeping count because I could not remember what number burpee I was on until I got down to the set of 6. Caitlin came up close and told me to not stop from the round of 6 through the end. I heeded her advice and sped up my pace driven by the knowledge that soon I could lay down on the floor and be done. I finished in 17:16. The workout felt awful but it was over.

And now as I wrap up the recap I find myself wondering what the Open will look like in 2017 and what progress I will make between now and then.