The Fat Loss King – Interview With Lyle McDonald

Wannabebig: Since we’re on the topic of fat loss supplements, what, in your opinion, is the most effective fat burner or stack out there on the market today?

Lyle M: Honestly, I still stand by the good old ephedrine/caffeine stack. I know that folks think that new is better (or sexier) but very little beats EC in my mind. It’s well researched (over a decade of solid research), extremely safe when used properly (and dangerous when used improperly, like most compounds), effective, and continues to work in the long-term. It’s also cheap and, although its becoming more difficult, relatively easy to get.

It blunts appetite, the side effects dissipate pretty quickly (while the beneficial metabolic effects continue in the long-term), it helps keep the nervous system cranking under the influence of diet (SNS activity tends to shut down as I mentioned in the leptin essay). It’s all good.

Wannabebig: I couldn’t agree more that EC is probably, if not the most, effective legal fat loss supplement on the market. However, I’m sure your aware that with time, new breakthroughs are just around the corner in the health industry. What do you think the future holds for fat loss supplements?

Lyle M: I think that the future of fat burners (or even anti-obesity drugs) is going to require a completely different mindset. Most of the current obesity drugs are fairly simple, most are just derivatives of amphetamines and blunt appetite. Others block fat absorption in the gut, a few are thermogenics. Ultimately, these are sort of band-aid fixes. Even most of the supplement (or drug for that matter) strategies are only fixing various ‘arms’ of the problem.

The solution to all of this crap is in the brain. If nothing else, that’s what my little bromocriptine (plug, plug) booklet demonstrated: fix the problems at the brain, and everything else fixes itself too. You no longer need stuff like EC with bromocriptine because bromocriptine will maintain normal sympathetic nervous system output while dieting; you don’t need appetite suppressants because the normal increase in appetite will be blocked, etc, etc. Because the brain is ultimately controlling the rest of the system.

The particularly annoying little analogy I like to use is this: say you don’t have much money, are forced to buy a shitty car with a shitty engine. Now you want to improve it, so you put on nice tires, a spoiler, air dam, etc. Nevertheless, it still sucks. Why? Because the engine, the central piece sucks, that’s why. All of the band-aid fixes to the other parts of the system are only minimally effective. Fix the engine, and the entire system runs better.

Same deal here. Research has now moved to actual brain defects as being part of the overall problem. Leptin resistance, which I mentioned above, is a good example. If the brain is getting a bad signal from leptin (for whatever reason), the system doesn’t work as well. Even with tons of leptin floating around, you still see central ‘defects’ (such as altered levels of NPY and CRH) that ‘tell’ the brain it’s still starving. So you get some of the same adaptations, lowered metabolic rate, decreased fat burning, etc. It’s not until body fat gets high enough that the brain says ‘ok, things are normal, maintain this weight’. However, you have to get fat first. This gets into the idea of the set point of body fat and bodyweight.

Wannabebig: Could you expand a little more on the set point issue?

Lyle M: Sure, when you diet folks (they are called the post-obese) drop below a certain point, you see certain adaptations, which very nearly destine them to gain it all back. Metabolic rate is depressed a bit, spontaneous activity goes down (i.e. they sit on their ass more), hunger is up, and fat burning is down. Even though they may still be fat, their bodies ‘think’ they are starving because of an inappropriately high set point. Literally, their bodies ‘want’ them to be fatter to be normal. 

Once they eat themselves up to their prior fat level, everything normalizes again. You can breed rats the same way, breed them to have a high set point. If you maintain them at a ‘normal’ rat weight (not even extremely lean or dieting), their brains look like they are starving. NPY and CRH are up, with all that that entails. Fatten them up and at some point their brains go ‘ahhh’ and everything normalizes. But they are fat. Their set point simply runs higher.

In contrast, folks who are very leptin sensitive stay lean readily; they are the folks whose appetite shuts down when they overeat for a day or two, who automatically increase activity when they overfeed without having to think about it. Make fat people more leptin sensitive and you should shift the bodyweight/body fat set point down. 

Other hormones are under similar control and set points (although there are also peripheral factors involved). So, take testosterone for example. Everybody knows that if you jack in testosterone (via pill or needle) above what your body thinks is ‘normal’ it will shut down normal production. That is, at whatever set point level, testosterone is being regulated (and people vary in what level of testosterone their bodies think is normal). Change that set point, by altering brain chemistry/function, and you can alter the body’s ‘normal’ physiology without incurring the adaptations.

To me, that’s the real future of all this stuff, changing brain function to alter set point.

Wannabebig: Very interesting information. I’m sure as time passes certain companies will catch on to this and will pay more attention to producing supplements, drugs and other products that can help change how the brain functions towards adjusting the body’s set point.

This brings up another point. Nowadays bodybuilders are trying to find their ‘sweet spot,’ the most effective means of losing body fat in the shortest period of time. Most people think of you or Dan Duchaine when they hear about the CKD method or diets that mimic the outline of this diet. Do you still believe this method to be the most effective way of losing body fat and minimizing the loss of muscle tissue?

Lyle: Let me sort of split up my answer here.

The first issue you brought up is losing body fat in the shortest period of time. Unfortunately, despite what I wish were true (or people want to believe), it’s actually quite difficult to really ramp up true fat loss beyond a certain point. 

Yes, fine, if you’re extremely fat, you can drop weight/fat very fast without a lot of problems. IN lean folks, there’s a definite max. I usually tell fairly lean people that if they can get a 1-1.5 lb/week fat loss consistently, they’re doing great (women rarely achieve that). Most people don’t even get that. Trying to achieve faster fat loss in lean folks almost always-just results in more muscle loss.

Wannabebig: That’s not what bodybuilders like to hear.

Lyle M: Talk about depressing huh. Because of this, it means weeks and weeks of dieting to get to where people want to be. This is why most people (including myself) tend to screw it up. They’ll cut calories too far; increase cardio to absurd levels, that sort of thing. In addition, almost without exception, it does more harm than good.

This was really the genesis of one of Dan’s old ‘rules’, don’t get fatter than 10% body fat in the off season. Why? Because it takes f u c k i n g forever to get lean again.

So to the main part of your question: what about cyclical dieting. I don’t usually go in for absolutes (this annoys people who want to be told ‘do this, it’ll work’) in most things, there’s too much variance in response to different diet, training schemes. 

Cyclical dieting is a place where I make an exception. With the very possible exception of the extremely obese (who actually want to let leptin drop for a bunch of complicated reasons), I would say that anyone who wants optimal fat loss with minimal/lessened muscle loss should use a cyclical diet.

I mean, even outside of the physiological benefits (raising leptin, raising insulin, lowering cortisol, refilling muscle glycogen to support training), the psychological benefits are profound. I mean, how many multiple times do we hear bodybuilders who diet down for a contest to 5% using the often heard ‘Don’t eat it if it tastes good’ theory of dieting. 

Yeah, fine, they get into shape, and they go on a month or two long food binge once it’s over. Bodybuilders are notorious for training harder instead of smarter (too many Rocky movies) they are the folks who will just use sheer will power and pigheaded stubbornness to reach their goal. Assuming folks want to get and stay lean, a livable approach is necessary.

When Elzi (Editors note: Elzi Volk is one of the other members who make up the trio of master minds that Lyle often refers to) was dieting for her contest, all of her fellow bodybuilders (who were on your standard contest diets) were going out of their minds towards the end. They hadn’t had a real piece of food for months while she has to have her treats on the weekend during the carb-load. Not only did she come in just as lean (she was measured between 5-7% body fat at the OSU human performance lab), but also she didn’t have any post-contest binge. She didn’t need it because she never felt super deprived.

But back to the physiology. I can’t think of any real exceptions (again, noting that the super obese may need to let leptin levels drop below a certain point initially) to using a cyclical diet. Or any real reason why someone wouldn’t respond to it.

Now some attentive readers may point to my original Bodyopus experiences as a counter-argument. Not only did I not get as lean as I wanted to (or should have), towards the end it looked like I was gaining fat back (I think I was). 

I can relate this to a few major mistakes on my part. The first, cutting calories too much during the week. Like everyone else, I got impatient, did something dumb. The second, too much cardio during the week. Same answer. The third and more related to the question you asked was: my carb ups were crap.

Actually, calling them a carb-up isn’t even correct: they were fat ups. That is, in my fervor to put down as much crap as possible, I ate far too much dietary fat during my refeeds. All of the donuts, cookie dough, candy and **** were putting the fat right back on (on top of my screw ups during the week slowing fat loss in the first place). Refeeds based mainly around carbs with fat intake lowered don’t have that problem.

There’s also the issue of length (sorry, guys, length does matter). My carb loads were too long, especially considering what they were comprised of. There’ s definite relationship between how long you’re going to/can carbload and how much you’re going to/can eat. 

On the old lowcarb-l list (mailing list for keto diets), I remember folks putting down ridiculous amounts of calories (talking 7000+) but limiting their refeeds to 24 hours or less. It’s only when the refeeds were lengthened into the second day that problems started to occur. Basically, Dan’s refeed recommendations (a full 48 hours) were ONLY valid if you exactly followed his guidelines for carb and fat amounts, which I didn’t.

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