The Pestle

2h 44 mins

Ep 98: 3 Rules of Fat Loss (Special Edition)

February 01, 2020

So many people exhaust themselves trying to lose weight in the most inefficient way. Don’t put 95% of your effort where only 5% of the results come from. The 3 Rules of Fat Loss are where 95% of the results come from, the gurus & magazine editors can keep the other 5%.

40+ Recipe Cards are at the very bottom.
This article will be updated frequently with articles, recipes, and relevant tidbits, so check back.
Updated: 2/17/2020 – Added research links regarding resistance training in aiding body composition during dieting; also added the original forum post that taught me the 3 Rules!
Updated: 2/14/2020 – Added links (BIA is garbage; spreadsheet tracker; progress pics gallery)

3 Rules of Fat Loss

Rule #1: Create a Calorie Deficit

    • aka Calories In vs Calories Out (CICO); the amount of calories you consumer vs the amount of calories you use in your day-to-day adventuring.
      • Use a calculator to find your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure, aka maintenance calories)
      • Subtract 500-1000 calories per day from your diet to lose 1-2 lbs per week
      • Minimum calorie need for Men is 1500 calories/day, Women is 1200 calories/day; it’s recommended to not go below that too often for too long for good general health
      • ex: My TDEE/maintenance is 2300 calories, so I eat 1500 calories per day to lose 1.5-2 lbs per week (the 200 calorie gap can be made up with exercise)
    • Calories are how we measure energy for humans. Your fat and muscle are potential energy stores for the body to use, but you have to create a need for the body to use it. If your body needs 3000 calories to maintain its current weight, and you only eat 2000 calories then it will pull 1000 calories from its “reserves” (fat or muscle) to make it through the day and keep you going. If 1 lb of fat is roughly 3500 calories, then a daily deficit of 1000 calories will burn 7000 calories per week, which is 2 lbs of fat loss. Not too shabby.
    • If you have ever failed to lose weight or stalled out, this is your problem in a nutshell! You did not create an energy deficit. You either underestimated how many calories you ate, or overestimated how many calories you burned. And those FitBit-style wrist trackers do not accurately gauge your calorie burns, so don’t use those to estimate your “Calories Out”, instead track progress and adjust accordingly.
    • As you lose weight your maintenance calories will slowly go down, because there’s less of you to maintain, so you will need to adjust as you lose weight.

Rule #2: Resistance Training / Lift Weights

    • Rule 1 tells your body to lose “weight”. The more overweight you are the easier it will be for that weight to actually be fat, but as you get leaner you need to send the signal that you need your muscle. Lifting weights is that signal.
      • No, cardio does not fall under this. Cardio is just a way to burn calories (in the context of fat loss), it’s the “calories out” part of the equation, so if you want to skip cardio and eat a little less then that’s my style.
    • Added benefits of lifting weights:
    • There’s a ton of options on the right training program for you. Don’t overthink it, look to add more reps or weight than last time, try to work all of your muscles, and machines are fine if you’re new to this. See the weightlifting section below.
    • A few research studies touching on the importance of resistance training while dieting:
      • “In this 18-month study of 249 adults in their 60s who were overweight or obese, restricting calories plus resistance training in the form of weight-machine workouts resulted in less muscle loss, but significant fat loss, when compared to weight loss plus walking or weight loss alone.” – link to writeup
      • “A significant linear increase for lean mass was seen for resistance training only.” study link
      • “Aerobic training has been observed to decrease body weight from both the fat and muscle compartments while strength training conserved the lean body mass and reduced the fat compartment and thus caused favourable body composition in females.” link to study PDF

Rule #3: Eat Protein

The quickstart guide:
(1) Find out your TDEE and subtract 500-1000 calories/day.
(2) Measure yourself: weight, body fat, waist and set your goal. Losing 1-2lbs/week, how long until you get there?
(3) Download some apps to track your calories and progress. (MyFitnessPal, Livestrong’s MyPlate, HappyScale, Libra)
(4) Lift some weights. Machines, bodyweight exercises are great ways to get started. Maybe hire a trainer to show you some weightlifting techniques or to design a weightlifting program.

My Fat Loss Journey in a Nutshell

My fat loss journey! 30 weeks, 45 lbs, 24.5%bf –> 11.4%

  • I spent 30 weeks losing weight, and choosing to not do cardio. I lost 45 lbs, and went from 24.5% body fat to 11.4%.
  • Special thank yous:

The Energy Deficit

What’s a calorie? It’s how we measure energy. Your body needs energy to sustain itself. Food has calories, so we eat it for energy. Simples.

The First Law of Thermodynamics says energy can neither be created nor destroyed (simplified). So, if you eat more energy than you need then you store it for later, probably as fat. The reason I bring up thermodynamics is that it’s important to understand that you either use the energy or you keep it. Your body has to obey this law, therefore there is no magical way to lose weight without creating an energy deficit (either through eating less or exercising more). Preferably a combination of the two. But this is important: in order to lose weight you must create an energy/calorie deficit. Full stop. Now, you don’t necessarily need to know you’re creating an energy deficit for there to be one, but it makes this fat loss journey so much easier if you do.

This is easier than you probably assume. Find out your TDEE, I use this calculator, and that’s how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. It’s an approximation, not an absolute certainty. Your maintenance may run slightly higher or lower than that, so the first few weeks of dieting will be fine tuning. My TDEE is 2300, I eat 1500 calories/day and lose around 1.8lbs/week. As I lose weight my rate of weight loss slows, because I weigh less and therefore need less energy.

If you know your maintenance needs, and you eat less than that, then you create an energy deficit in your body and therefore will lose weight. If we were only concerned about losing weight then this is the only rule we really need. Create a calorie deficit. Done.

Don’t use BMR to calculate your maintenance, this is an absolute baseline rate that doesn’t factor in any movement or energy consumption beyond very basic life support. Basically if you’re a coma patient. TDEE factors in that you wake up and lay in bed all day, at a minimum. (To be fair, TDEE is built off of BMR, but it’s just faster to use TDEE than build your own formula.)

The Energy Surplus

So, we can see what it takes to lose weight, but using that same formula we can also see how easy it is to gain weight. Uh oh.

Let’s say you like this Pumpkin Spice creamer from Nestle. If you look on the nutrition label you see that 1 tbsp is 35 calories. Let’s say you only use 3 tbsp — I bet you use a lot more — every day in your newfound joy of coffee. Let’s also say you’ve been magically eating at maintenance the last couple of years. Just adding in this new creamer to your routine each morning will add up to 3150 calories in a month, which is almost one pound of fun jiggly fluff. In a year that would mean 38,325 calories, which is about 11 lbs.

That’s from a small amount of creamer in our diet. It’s a conservative estimate! Even if we tend to eat at maintenance, how many small snacks do we enjoy on a semi-regular basis? A night with friends could mean drinks, fun foods, etc. And we all know how the holidays tend to get… The point is that these things creep up on us, not in a day, but over time and with a few habits.

We probably stay around maintenance and then periodically inject these treats into our lives, this accumulates over time because we are much more likely to consistently overeat calories than we are to consistently create a calorie deficit, because we respond to hunger! and you’ll probably be hungry while in a deficit! So you won’t stay there for long! Sorry for yelling!

So if we want to figure out how to lose weight in a reliable way then we can just track what we’re smushing into our gullets.

My favorite tools: tracking calories, stats, etc.

  • I track my calories using, and also the iPhone app MyPlate
    • they sync with each other and it’s what I’ve always used. The phone app scans barcodes to quickly find food, there’s a large library of foods and restaurants already in there to make tracking a lot easier. I also like creating my own meal for when I meal prep, just adding the ingredients and it lets me know what it all amounts to.
    • The most popular tracker seems to be MyFitnessPal.
  • Food scale! I weigh my food when cooking to get a very good idea of how many calories I’m using. This is sooo much easier than measuring spoons. This is by far one of the best tools you can use, it’s simple, very precise, and lets you be confident in your process. Do not rely on packaging if you can help it, sometimes it’ll say that there’s 2 servings when there are 1.5, or 3, but it all adds up so quickly when you’re trying to lose weight.
  • RenPho scale – I weigh myself every morning using it, and it Bluetooth syncs with the RenPho phone app
    • HappyScale on iOS. It pulls in my daily weigh-ins and lets me set a goal and keep track of my overall progress, rate of weight loss, expected finishing date, etc. Very cool app.
    • Android has a similar app called Libra.
  • Coleman water bottle. Insulated to keep your water cold, great water flow. I seriously love this water bottle.
  • Body fat calipers. Measuring your body fat is a great way to keep track of where the weight is coming off. This is a one-measurement site, so no complicated formulas, just pinch an inch. Definitely not perfect, but a good gauge nonetheless.
    • You can also go to your gym for analysis. They probably have a high-end BIA scale that works just fine, or will do multiple point caliper measurements.
    • The downside of calipers is that A) it can be inconsistent, but I think after some consistent use you’ll get a pretty good method going; B) it does not measure visceral fat. No way around that one. Visceral fat is the internal fat next to our organs. So if you’re only measuring subcutaneous fat (the jiggly stuff under the skin we frown at) then you may not know how much of your LBM is actually visceral fat. You could do a DXA scan or hydrostatic weighing, it ain’t cheap though, but it’ll give you a good idea of what’s happening internally.
    • Unfortunately, there are no perfect ways to measure body fat reliably. But there are really awful ones, like the cheap ones on bathroom scales. My RenPho scale says I went from 14.9% body fat to 11%. In no world does my before pic look like I’m only at 15% body fat.
    • BMI is an awful way of gauging your body’s health. It’s very outdated.
  • MyoTape. I measure my waist every Sunday morning.
  • Dry erase marker. I put my stats on my bathroom mirror and update it every week.
  • Spreadsheets! I like inputting my calories for the day and seeing how my journey is shaping up. I also add in my weekly stats and like to calculate my own rates, goals, and such. I also have a sheet where I practice what kind of meals I can make and what their calories would add up to with the ingredients and how that would fit into a week with other meals, it’s kind of a practice run before meal prepping. It’s fun for me, I like data.

Metabolism Myths

  • Your metabolism is fine. A study looking at hunter-gatherers in sub saharan Africa showed that we basically all have the same metabolism. It hasn’t slowed down, you just aren’t doing all that much.
  • I have hypothyroidism. Before I was diagnosed and medicated for it I still managed to drop 30 lbs. It did suck, but it was possible. And yes, losing 45 lbs this time around was way easier with medication. If you think something is wrong then go get checked out by a doctor! Get medicated and get to work!
  • Your metabolism doesn’t slow down when you’re dieting, it’s acting the same as it always has, but the energy needs have decreased as your weight drops. Carrying around 45 lbs less than before means I use less energy. The calorie deficit could also make you less active than usual and affect things like NEAT (fidgeting, knee bouncing, etc).
  • Meal timing & frequency don’t really matter. The old idea of eating 6 small meals per day to stoke the metabolism is a half-truth. Yes, your metabolism goes up after a meal and if you eat 6 meals then you’ll get 6 spikes. But this does not mean a greater daily caloric burn, if you condense those 6 meals into a single meal then you’ll still have the same total caloric burn in digesting them. You haven’t outsmarted your body, it doesn’t work that way unfortunately. The only real question is if you prefer eating 6 small meals, or a single big one. Sustaining your diet is what matters, and picking a lifestyle that you can sustain is the goal.


  • I hate cardio. So, I really don’t do it.
  • But there are definitely lots of great reasons to do cardio! Maybe you enjoy it, maybe for heart health, maybe you’re an athlete or need to stay on your feet for long spans of time. Tons of reasons!
  • For fat loss you don’t need to do cardio. Seriously. I know, you’ve been misled. In the context of the 3 Rules cardio falls under Rule 1, it’s the “Calories Out” part of this whole equation. If you’re already at your caloric minimum (1500 for men, 1200 for women) and you aren’t losing weight fast enough then I would say add in some cardio. But doing cardio first seems like an insane person’s idea of fat loss.
  • The other sucky part of cardio is that you get more efficient at it as you do it. So you begin to burn fewer calories for the same amount of work. No thanks.
  • Save cardio as a way to burn a few more calories once your rate of weight loss has slowed.
  • But again, if you have other reasons for doing cardio then definitely do that.

Diet & Nutrition

  • My Recipes are at the very bottom of this page.
  • Meal prepping is key. Having meals ready and waiting will help you avoid ordering in or stopping for fast food on the way home because cooking something tonight sounds like too much work and you’re too tired for it.
    • Make stuff you want to eat. Don’t just cook stuff you don’t enjoy, that’s really hard to sustain over the long term. This is why I made a ton of recipes, to keep it interesting and exciting, to challenge if I can recreate a dish I want in a low calorie + high protein way.
    • I use these glass containers. They’re pricey, but really solid.
    • Measure your food! I use the app to add each ingredient, then when I eat a meal I can easily log it without having to recalculate everything again.
  • Food for thought: If you’re hungry you’ll eat an apple. If you won’t eat an apple then you’re just bored.
  • Beware of hidden calories: sauces and liquids can hide a lot of carbs and fats. Track it or fat it!
  • Plan your meals. I prefer to push back my meals to later in the day. In the morning I figure out what I’m going to eat and then decide when to eat it. I absolutely cannot fall asleep on an empty stomach so my last couple meals/snacks are pretty close to bedtime, usually within 30-60 minutes.
  • Supplements. I don’t have a massive list of supplements, but here’s what I do:
  • Dealing with hunger.
    • If I can’t sleep I may eat a small low calorie bowl of soup. Like this Miso soup that has 45 calories.
    • As Todd pointed out in the episode: don’t keep garbage food around if you can help it. You don’t want to make it easier to grab junk in a weak moment.
  • Dealing with binges.
    • Track the calories and move on. It’s probably not nearly as bad as you think.
    • Don’t punish yourself. Mentally or physically. Don’t say you’ll run 10 miles to offset it or don’t eat for a day or whatever. We don’t want to create an unhealthy relationship with food, so just laugh at yourself and move on as usual. If you can figure out why it happened then all the better.
    • Avoid food shows. My only binge came on the back of watching a lot of Roy Choi episodes where he’s cooking and eating a lot of delicious things. Out of sight is out of mind.
  • Keto vs Paleo. It doesn’t really matter. If you’re following the 3 Rules then what matters is what you enjoy and find sustainable.

Lifting Weights

  • There are so many weightlifting programs out there, and basically they all work. Especially if you’re new to the gym. Here are some popular programs from around the web:
    • Wendler’s 5/3/1
    • Stronger by Science free routines
    • PHUL
    • Basic Beginner Routine
    • German Volume Training
    • Some gyms have machines set up in a circuit, that’s probably a great way to get acquainted with lifting weights if you’re new. There’s nothing wrong with machine weights, they’ll get the mission accomplished!
    • When I have a moment I’ll write up a quick basic routine for a Full Body workout
  • You cannot target where you’ll lose fat. This is called “spot reduction”, and the idea is that if you want to lose belly fat then all you need to do is a bunch of situps and voila! Abs galore! Unfortunately, fat is systemic, which means that you don’t choose where it comes or goes, that’s genetically determined. Think of a pool of water with a shallow end and a deep end, and when you scoop a bucket of water out you don’t get to choose which part of the pool is affected, it’s all lowered by a little. By contrast, muscle is localized, so if you want bigger arms then curls for the girls and tri’s for the guys.
  • My workout plan. I did strength training based on Wendler’s 5/3/1, as well as a couple of MetCons. I went this direction because I didn’t want to spend several hours in the gym watching my strength slowly decline, as I’m already near my strength potential in my current state and going into a calorie deficit does not leave tons of room for adding muscle or strength. I knew this plan could see my main lifts hit their potential with the 5/3/1, so I used the MetCons to engage my full body in a fun and challenging way that could let me compete against myself every week. These workouts are likely quite easy for anyone who’s trained, and probably too difficult for someone who is not. Thus, it’s probably not a good plan for anyone who isn’t me. Yet, I’ll post them below. Also, my progress probably would have been slightly better had I stuck entirely to a strength-based workout, but I wanted to be excited going to the gym every week and generally worked out for around 90 minutes total per week.
    • Monday workout
      • Deadlifts 5/3/1
      • Metcon for time, Strider 300 workout: 50 renegade rows (dumbbell plank rows), 50 hang cleans (I modified to DB upright rows due to golfer’s elbow), 50 full body crunches, 50 wall balls, 50 DB bench presses, 50 cal row.
    • Wednesday workout
      • 5/3/1 for DB bench press, leg press, DB shoulder press (I use the Arnold press)
      • Accessory work: BB hip thrusts, low row pulley, GHD situps, farmer’s walk with kettlebells
    • Friday workout
      • Metcon for time, 300 workout: 25 pullups, 50 deadlifts, 50 pushups, 50 box jumps, 50 floor wipers, 50 KB clean & press, 25 pullups (I usually left off the final 25 pullups)
    • Again, not the ideal workout strategy to train for strength/hypertrophy. Now that I’m done cutting, I’m moving back to a full body workout routine that takes 60-90 minutes. Basically, pick one or two exercises to target the main muscle groups and do 4-8 sets for each. Chest, back, shoulders, legs, arms, core. Here’s some exercise ideas for each, this by no means exhaustive:
      • Chest: barbell (BB) bench press, dumbbell (DB) bench press, cable crossovers, cable presses, pushups
      • Back: deadlift (this also works your legs, it’s a general mass builder), cable rows, DB rows, t-bar rows, pullups, KB swings, bent over rows, inverted rows, back extensions
      • Shoulders: DB/BB overhead press, landmine press, DB lateral raise, DB front raise, shrugs, bent over reverse DB fly, cable lateral raise
      • Legs: squats, leg press, leg extension, landmine squat, front squat, goblet squat, GHD raises, lunges, leg curl, calf raises
      • Arms
        • triceps: overhead rope extension, press downs, overhead DB extension (2-hand, or 1-hand), skull crushers, 1-arm rope press downs
        • biceps: DB curls (seated, inclined, standing), straight bar rope curls, EZ curls, preacher curls
        • grip: weighted farmer’s walks
      • Abs/core: planks, renegade rows (DB plank rows), GHD situps, full body crunches, rollouts
      • Example workout: Pull-ups x3 sets to failure; Push-ups x3 sets to failure; Landmine press x4 sets; Landmine squat x 4 sets; Lunges; T-bar rows x4 sets; triceps extensions x4 sets; DB curls x4 sets; full body crunches x50; farmer’s walks with 40kg kettlebells.
    • How many reps and sets? This is a hotly debated topic. Personally, I like having a range. Mondays I go heavy with 3-8 reps, Wednesday is moderate with 8-12 reps, and Friday I go light 12-15 reps. I’m nowhere near my genetic potential so creating the peak physical workout to maximize hypertrophy is not a massive concern at this point.
  • Weightlifting is for women, too.
    • There’s a common myth that if a woman lifts weights she’ll quickly become “bulky”. Please understand that putting on muscle is not nearly that easy.
    • There does seem to be evidence that women can benefit from slightly different training regimens than men, but it’s not wildly different. It’s not like men should do barbell bench presses and women should bench press chickens. The differences seem to be more about optimization with frequency & volume, not basic exercise selection. Any of those workouts above will work just fine.
    • If you want to look “toned” — which is one of those nebulous terms like jacked and ripped, what do they really mean — then you probably want to add muscle and reduce body fat. The 3 rules are probably what you need to get there.
  • Newbie gains. If you’re new to lifting weights then you’re in for a treat! You’ll probably see a lot of growth in strength and muscle. You can actually increase strength without adding new muscle, this is called “neuromuscular adaptation”, which basically means you get better at using the muscle you already have. Imagine your muscle is like a choir of 10 people, but only 1 person is singing. Well, as you work out and get stronger, you’re waking up the other 9 choirboys to join in and make a louder harmony. At some point you’ll probably hit your maximum potential while being in a calorie deficit and need to create a calorie surplus to see your strength and muscle continue to grow. It’s natural, don’t freak out if that happens, but you probably have a while before it’s a concern.
    • You also may see some weight gain, this is probably from increasing your muscle glycogen stores and water retention. Especially if you begin taking creatine which increases water retention (in a good way, your muscles will look fuller).
  • Injuries.
    • Knee Pain – I’d had some knee pain for several years and so hadn’t really done as much leg work as I’d have liked, but after listening to this podcast episode from “Just One More” I changed my attitude on what was possible. Foam rolling, modifying/correcting my form led to a full resurgence in my knee health.
    • Golfer’s Elbow – Sharp pain in the elbow tendons kept me from doing any bicep/tricep work at all (beyond compound lifts like bench press, pull-ups etc), but after almost 6 months and no progress I stumbled on to a stretch that made a huge difference, but unfortunately I cannot find an example of it. The basic idea is to straighten the troubled arm in front of you and point the thumb down to face your palm out, then reach your free hand over the top to grip it (palms touching, fingers interlocking) and lightly twist your wrist to lengthen and create a stretch in the troubled elbow without bending that wrist or elbow. I’m still not at 100%, but definitely feel free to continue training my arms once more. And I just stumbled onto Bob & Brad’s simple treatment that I’m going to do as well. And Athlean-X has a great look at how this develops in the first place.
  • Interesting reads:

Predictability & Goal Setting

  • The best part of this method is that it should help give you a really good sense of when you’ll achieve your goal. Whether you’re targeting a body fat % or just to lose XY number of pounds, you can count down the weeks and watch the progress happen very reliably and consistently.
  • How fast should you lose weight? There are varying opinions about this, and ultimately it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor. Generally speaking, 1-2lbs/week is a safe goal that is widely accepted, as well as .5-1% of your bodyweight per week.
    • Haste makes waste. Going too fast could mean losing more muscle than fat, as muscle is more metabolically taxing and since your body is seeking homeostasis (equilibrium; balance) then reducing your muscle will bring down the metabolic demands much faster than using fat.
    • Extreme weight loss can also create health problems like kidney stones.

Motivation Techniques


Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.Arnold Schwarzenegger


Short Spotlight:

This Week’s Recommendations:


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Progress Pics Gallery

All of my progress pics, and you can see my mirror stats!

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