Lose Muscle! Gain Fat! Dieting for MTFs part 2
No doubt many of you have been lying awake at night, mind racing, palms sweating, counting each painful second until the next Trans Health issue, desperately wanting to know what happened to Raverdyke’s diet.
Um, well, anyway, even if you haven’t, I thought folks would like to know about the small modifications that we made, with great success. My original recommendations were very conservative in terms of caloric intake. I was wary of suggesting that people drop their daily caloric intake below 10 x bodyweight (in lbs.). I assumed that dropping calories lower would eventually stall weight loss, as was common with many people on crash diets.
Well, I was wrong. The key to success of this diet appears to be regular refeeding, not an absolute caloric intake per se. When Raverdyke’s progress stalled we decided to experiment with more drastic measures. Lo and behold, weight loss started again, and started at a breakneck pace.
Here are the changes that were made:
- During the week, caloric intake dropped substantially, sometimes as low as 8 x bodyweight. This intake was tracked using Fitday, a free web calorie tracker which was very helpful for assessing long term progress as well as daily macronutrient ratio (it gives you lovely pie graphs). Many people overestimate their daily intake and underestimate their average portion size, and careful tracking keeps one honest. Food portions were measured initially, just to gain a sense of how much, for example, half a cup of cottage cheese was. In the beginning it helps to do this so that accurate portion sizing can be calculated.
- On weekends, caloric intake was increased to around maintenance levels, about 15-17 x bodyweight. This provided both a psychological break, and a physiological “reset” to the mechanisms that control the body’s response to deprivation. The body’s hormonal environment changes when the body perceives a caloric shortage. In essence, the body “gears down” to conserve resources, eventually slowing the rate of weight loss. The more drastically calories are reduced, and the longer the period of caloric reduction, the faster this “starvation response” kicks in. Regular refeeding helps avoid this response, and helps to “reset” the body’s mechanisms, so the body still thinks it’s being well fed. If the body thinks it’s fed enough, then it will happily part with excess weight. If it doesn’t, it’ll start to hoard it. The caloric difference between dieting and refeed levels was made up with carbs as much as possible. So this is your chance to enjoy some Sara Lee or whatever strikes your fancy in the snack aisle. Just don’t go hog wild and eat 5000 calories in an hour. Use about 17 x bodyweight as your upper limit for refeeding.
The need for refeeding varies according to the size of the caloric deficit and starting levels of bodyfat. But in general, for most folks, doing a weekend refeed after five days of weekday dieting is probably the best and easiest way to go. Weekends are usually the time most conducive to eating more, so why not make that work for you?
- This is optional, but appetite during subcaloric days was managed partially through supplementation with low doses of ephedrine (25 mg, taken once in the morning). Ephedrine is not recommended for folks with medical conditions such as hypertension, heart problems, glaucoma, stroke risk, etc. but in healthy people, low doses of ephedrine are usually safe. Appetite suppression occurs at quite a low dose, so if you have this option available and choose to use it, experiment with finding the smallest possible effective dose. No need to take 25 mg of ephedrine if 12.5 mg will do the trick. Bodybuilding types often use relatively high doses of ephedrine (up to 3 doses of 25 mg daily, and occasionally even more) and combine it with caffeine in a 1:10 ratio (so, 25 mg ephedrine to 250 mg caffeine). However, I don’t recommend this for the average person who just wants mild appetite suppression. I am always cautious about supplementation and don’t think you should take more than you need, particularly in the case of trans folks who may also be taking other medications. As always, check drug interactions with your pharmacist. Okay, that’s enough (s)mothering for now.
- Macronutrient ratios didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference, so she went back to about 30% protein, 20-30% fat, and the rest fibrous carbs such as fruit, veggies, and whole grains like buckwheat and brown rice. Refined carbs such as white rice, white bread, and white flour pasta were still kept low, because of their effects on blood sugar and appetite. The positive thing about this type of protocol is that the need for fibrous carbs means that a lot of fruit and veggies are consumed. Instead of eating a chicken breast with a starch portion, she would eat a chicken breast with a salad, getting fewer calories but more good stuff like vitamins and fibre.
- Endurance cardio persisted. Raverdyke rode her bike to work as much as possible, and did 1-2 sessions of cardio in the gym per week.
Eating and training this way resulted in an average loss of 1.5 lbs. per week, resulting in a Weight loss of 15 lbs. in two months, but bodyfat levels remained roughly constant, which indicates that a good portion of muscle was being lost. Weight loss remains consistent with no evidence yet of stalling.
Measuring bodyfat involved some guesswork. Using the caliper method, which is the most accurate at-home method, and involves taking skinfold measurements, bodyfat is calculated using different formulae for men and women. At this point in the transition, Raverdyke’s bodyfat deposition patterns are somewhat indeterminately android (male-pattern) and gynoid (female-pattern). Abdominal fat deposits are disappearing, and breast/hip/thigh fat deposits are appearing, but they are still in transitional stages. Using the male bodyfat measurement puts her at a bodyfat percentage which is too low, and the female bodyfat measurement puts her too high. So we settled on taking the average between the two for the time being. In another twelve months, perhaps, there will be enough shift towards the gynoid pattern that the female-only calculation can be used. A great set of online caliper calculators can be found here, as well as instructions on home caliper use.
This diet is still a drastic one and not recommended for people trying to retain muscle mass (FTMs will have different diet requirements, for example). With the average person, compliance with this diet would be an issue. The average person would likely find this quite a difficult plan to stick to. However, compliance to regimes of bodily regulation does not seem to be a huge issue for many trans folks, who are often seriously dedicated to the project of physical transformation. Nevertheless, if you are an MTF who just can’t hack 8 x bodyweight in daily intake, try 10 x bodyweight, and make up the difference with cardio.
So, to sum up: if you are an MTF dieting to lose muscle, then drop your calories as low as you can stand, while using regular refeed days for 2 days on the weekend, and regular cardio sessions.