Have you ever wanted to put a fist through your computer screen? As online forumites, podcast listeners, connoisseurs of uber-violent video games, and computer-savvy T-men (and T-ladies) in general, I'll bet you have. Inevitably, a computer problem arises that leaves you exasperated, even hacked off.
Most software purveyor's response to this is the infamous "troubleshooter." The point of such things is to systematically review sometimes obvious mistakes that we just need to calmly address. When used patiently, troubleshooters can sometimes bring us to a solution that may otherwise elude us.
With this in mind, I penned an article that applied stepwise, error-correcting, flowchart-type thinking to a "glitch" or "error" that plagues the lives of bodybuilders everywhere. It was essentially a real life, weight gain troubleshooter. The whole point was to create the type of "help file" that one might use on a computer. The one key difference was that my yes-no algorithm wouldn't leave you frustrated.
Just as frustrating as lean weight gain is fat-specific weight loss. I've met hundreds of people stuck so thoroughly on a progress plateau that they want to punch themselves in the face – or worse. So, rather than set yourself on fire or climb a tower in the middle of your town with a high-powered rifle, take a calm look at this new weight loss troubleshooter.
Notes: PRO, P = protein; CHO, C = carbohydrate; FAT, F = fat; AM = morning through lunch; PM = afternoon-evening; exr = exercise; meds can include birth control, antidepressants, and any of the hundreds that interfere with metabolism; lifestyle problems may include alcohol, stress, sleep disturbances, etc.; genetics may involve intolerances, diseases, body shape / fat distribution, endocrine factors, etc.; % 1RM = intensity as percent of max single rep; HIIT = high intensity interval training
The algorithm, like its predecessor, is designed to continually restart you through the self-assessment process until you're happily moving downward along the extreme left side and the bottom where success will be sweet revenge after months of frustration.
Let's offer an example. Orson McButterpants decides his gut has plagued his profile long enough. He starts dieting aggressively in his usual manner but this time has the Fat Loss Troubleshooter taped to his wall. After four weeks of losing weight (a definite "yes" on the chart) he's convinced that he's losing an undue proportion of muscle mass, so he begrudgingly answers "no" to the question of whether it's fatty weight that he's shedding.
Since his mother is a Type II diabetic and he suspects that he may himself be a poor carb metabolizer, he feels he has a good handle on his slightly tweaked 30/35/35 macronutrient proportions. He's also sure never to skip breakfast or his mid-morning snack, plus he always gets a meal after weight lifting. Thus, he answers "yes" to the second question on the chart. He feels his diet is indeed appropriately restricted and timed.
This brings him to the "Adequate training?" question. As someone who's always favored lighter, high-rep weightlifting to stay "toned" during dieting (shudder), he's forced to come face to face with an answer of "no." He calculates that he's using 50-70% of his one-rep max, which may not be enough mechanical tension to maintain his muscle mass.
He also acknowledges that his utter lack of aerobic conditioning may be hampering his ability to optimally burn fat as a preferred fuel. Thus, in addition to his four-time weekly non-panting cardio, he adds just five 30-second cycle sprints (about 10-12 minutes) at the end of his heavier weight sessions. He knows this isn't enough for best results but it's a cautious start. He has perceived some muscle loss after all.
After a month of this, he starts the algorithm over. He's indeed managed to halt the muscle loss, at least through informal observation, but now he's struggling to keep the munchies at bay. He figures it may be because he's eight weeks into the diet and has dropped nine pounds. Perhaps a lack of leptin (from the reduced fat mass) is already calling. He honestly answers "no" to the "Adequate kcal deficit?" question.
He decides that he could use more solid-type protein in his diet to help with satiety (satisfying fullness), so he replaces his rather large skim milk intake partly with cottage cheese and berries. He also starts carrying canned tuna and chicken to eat with his whole wheat snack crackers, which he keeps between the front seats of his car.
And because last week he started cheating after dinner, he chills gelatin and sugar-free whipped topping desserts as soon as he gets home from work.
Orson starts the algorithm over after three weeks of mostly tamed munchies and a further pound of weight loss. This time his answers take him clear through to... success!
You see how it works?
As with the previous algorithm, the only dead-end here is the genetics / meds / hormones / lifestyle trap on the lower left. But even then there's hope. Stubborn lifters can move beyond the chart at this point by creating their own troubleshooter.
For example, a visit to the physician can bring blood work, alternate meds, counseling for stress or alcohol or insomnia, and thus a better state of being. If that doesn't bring a satisfactory response, one can assess why. Perhaps the recourse will be to see another, more understanding doctor. Perhaps it'll be yet another medication change. Perhaps it'll be to finally get into meditation. Or counseling. Everyone can draw up a best guess algorithm with the right professional input.
Of course, there are variables (factors) in life beyond what's on this little chart and they may call for their own algorithm before ever reaching the dead end. One that jumps to mind immediately is the debate over whether ongoing fat loss requires dietary metabolic stimulants to fight the natural slowing of metabolic rate and the fatigue that sets in increasingly as the pounds come off.
Aside from a general avoidance of harsh, target date-type dieting, my personal solution has been prudent use of half-caf coffee, the occasional half of a Spike tablet, or half of a caffeine tab (yes, I'm that hyper-sensitive) and plentiful green tea (moving toward six cups per day).
Whatever your personal life variables may be, this "if-then" approach can lead you toward the calm, objective scientific thinking that's solved so many of mankind's problems. So, "if" you don't like what you see here, "then" you can always go with that frustrated self-administered punch in the face.