How I Lost My Beer Belly, It’s Easier Than You Think

Colin McNulty Beer Belly frontColin McNulty Beer Belly sideWhilst it is a shocking affront to my delicate English sensibilities to post pictures of myself in my pants onto the net, in the circumstances, it seems like the right thing to do. For your reference, these series of photos were taken 3 months apart each, and so chart what’s possible over a 6 month period.

So if you’ve over indulged this Christmas, or are simply over weight and want to lose that beer belly or pot belly (or whatever it’s made of) I’m going to show you how I did it, step by step. You see many diet sites and books tell you what to eat and why, and give examples of stuff you could eat, but I took this a stage further by putting together a complete food diary that spans nearly 3 months:

  • I carefully recorded everything I ate and drank.
  • I took high resolution photos of every meal.
  • I recorded every workout I did (not as many as you’d think).
  • I weighed myself every day and compiled a detailed spreadsheet of stats.

It wasn’t the weight that I wasn’t happy with, it was how I looked

For reasons I won’t bore you with, I managed to pile on a load of weight in 2010 and ended the year weighing more than I had done in years and was not at all happy about it. However it wasn’t the weight that I wasn’t happy with, it was how I looked. Absolute weight for me is unimportant, but how you feel about yourself affects your personal confidence levels, which in turn affects every part of your life. Losing that belly had a big impact on my general feeling of well being and hence my outlook on life. What’s more, it’s not too hard, when you know how.

Now if you’ve been to this blog before, you’ll know I sporadically post about diet and exercise and have seen some major changes in my life. I could repeat all that here, but that would make this post ridiculously long so I’m not going to do that, instead I’m just going to highlight the salient points as I believe them, their explanations will have to wait for another day:

  1. Almost everything you’ve been told about main stream dieting is wrong.
  2. Fat is not the bad guy and for most people, calorie counting is an unsustainable answer.
  3. Control your carbohydrate intake and you’ll control your weight.
  4. The quality of your food is important.
  5. The macro-nutrient balance of your food is important (that’s protein, carbs and fat).

Given the above, I eat what could be described as a “90% Paleo diet, in Zone proportions, + Dairy”. If you know what Paleo and Zone mean, you’re on the right track.  If you don’t, here’s a couple of quick definitions:

The Paleo Diet – don’t eat any food that was invented in the last 10,000 years!

The Zone Diet – balance your blood sugar levels (and hence your hormone levels like insulin) by eating a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, at *every* meal.

Dairy – Liquid stuff that comes from cows, duh!  ;)  I include dairy here as many pure Paleo eaters don’t believe in dairy products, I’m not one of them. I believe we were made to drink nothing but milk for the first 6+ months of our life, so I see no problem with dairy products.

Or you could use the CrossFit’s Diet definition, which is: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.” 

The most common question I get asked is: What do you eat for breakfast then?

When I qualify all that by telling people I don’t eat bread or pasta or cereal or potatoes or rice, or any other primarily starchy carbohydrate, the most common question I get asked is: What do you eat for breakfast then? This is what I wanted to show people by putting together a 3 month food diary.  Exactly what you can eat and still lose weight at a respectable rate.

Note this is not some unsustainable crash diet.  It’s not a “30 day challenge” or some similar typically unsustainable approach to weight loss.  In fact my food diary includes a cheat day every 7 days, when I could and did eat what I wanted. How do you fancy things like:

  • All butter popcorn
  • Prawn crackers
  • Piles of fruit and double cream
  • Bags of cinema pick & mix sweets
  • Chinese take aways
  • Nandos platters
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • … I could go on

I was very sceptical of the cheat day idea when I first came across it

I was very sceptical of the cheat day idea when I first came across it, but in fact there’s some credence to the argument that a sustained reduction of energy intake alters your base metabolism  to compensate, so sporadic cheat days keeps your metabolism high. (I don’t like the word “metabolism” as I think it’s over used and regularly abused, but I’ll use it herefor the purposes of brevity.)

Certainly I found that it didn’t affect my weight loss when averaged over a week and it’s always nice to look forward to your cheat day as a reward for all your hard work in the week. It also gets over the psychological barrier of thinking: “What, you mean I can never eat XYZ food again?!?” if you can, at the next weekly cheat day. So in summary then I’m prepared to share:

  • Nearly 3 months worth of food diary.
  • Every single thing I ate and drank, every day.
  • High resolution pictures of the meals.
  • Full commentary on what and why I ate what I ate it
  • How much weight was lost each day as a result.
  • Details of every workout I did and what times I got and weights I used.
  • How I completely removed my pot belly in just a few months

Colin McNulty Beer Belly sideI’m going to be sending this out by email, so to get it you just need to pop your name and email address in below and day 1 will be sent to you in minutes:

{ 27 comments… add one }

  • Dan Edwards 2 January 2012, 10:26 am

    Hi Colin. I just thought I would let you know that I have been reading some articles from your blog and find them to be well-written, humorous and informative. I have, in fact, used your article “A calorie is not a calorie, is not a calorie” and your weight loss diary entry to try and persuade my Dad to change his ways. Keep them coming, I enjoy reading them.

  • Katherine Runciman 2 January 2012, 5:05 pm

    All I can say is thank you for your advice and support. Now in a size 12 jeans and feeling for the first time really in 15 years of living with the rollercoaster of M.E, that I can ( on a daily basis ) deal with the energy curve balls it presents and being able to now quite like how I externally look, despite all the random stuff pain and frustration M.E presents me with. Well thank you doesn’t really seem adequate.
    For me it was about personal discipline and about really WANTING to change and your logical advice and support were inspirational and common sense, thank you
    Xxx

  • Colin McNulty 3 January 2012, 9:40 am

    Thanks Dan, I’m glad my posts have been helpful, that’s why I write them after all. :)

    You’re very welcome Kath, it’s been a pleasure helping you. It’s amazing how changing your diet can help in all walks of life as you balance out the peaks and troughs of energy levels, and the fact that it helps with your M.E. too is great. Keep up the good work.

  • Paulo 3 January 2012, 9:40 am

    I’m not sure you can help me Col… I think I’m addicted to carbs! Even the most interesting and meals often fail to satisfy me if it’s not loaded with carbs! Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on solutions…

  • Colin McNulty 3 January 2012, 10:03 am

    Hi Paulo, we’re genetically engineered to be addicted to carbs, nothing is going to change that. You can however reduce the craving by interrupting the vicious cycle of:

    “Eat Carbs -> Blood sugar rises -> Insulin produced -> Blood sugar drops -> Want carbs -> Eat Carbs… etc”

    There are also things you can do to reduce the insulin response to food, which in turn minimises the “Blood sugar drops” effect. I address all this in the food diary.

    In fact, as I’m filling out the diary with explanations (each day takes an hour or 2 to write and edit) I’m realising this is less of a 3 month food diary, and more of a distillation of everything I’ve learned about diet and health from the last 5 years study, the 20+ books I’ve read, the experts I’ve talked to, and all the diets I’ve personally tried!

  • Craig Reid 3 January 2012, 11:41 pm

    Hi Colin,
    I’m really enjoying the diary so far. Diet is something that I’ve struggled with for many years. I’ve been fit most of my life, severely overweight a long time ago, but never toned. I’d love to get my act together this year for summer.
    Can you explain the portion control that you use for protein, carbs and fats. I know that Zone uses “blocks” and there’s a list in the book that details what’s what. How did you approach this?
    Best wishes,
    Craig.

  • paul rafferty 4 January 2012, 7:44 am

    Great to read success stories and how it was achieved. Look forward to seeing the updates.

  • Colin McNulty 4 January 2012, 5:13 pm

    Craig, I’ve deliberately not gone into detail about my own zone blocking as everyone’s block prescription will be different, depending on gender, activity level etc. It’s also a much bigger topic than I can adequately cover here. If you know what it means, I was roughly following a 15 block program for this food diary.

    I’ll probably put together a comprehensive overview of the Zone methods (there are several and Dr Sears has changed them over the years) that explains them better, and slot it into the food diary email series somewhere.

  • Chris Bailey 5 January 2012, 2:12 am

    Hi Colin, I’m a 22-year-old college student currently studying abroad in Germany. I’ve never been toned and I’ve always had a flabby stomach. I was at my heaviest my first year in college (2007), weighing in at 205. I slimmed down to 155 by the fall of 2009 and I’m back up to probably about 175 after a few years of not keeping up on exercising and all of this good German bread and beer. I am looking for something different and hearing from someone who I feel is like me, a regular guy looking to drop that beer belly and feel better about my appearance. Thank you for your time.

  • James Henderson 5 January 2012, 6:30 am

    Thanks for sharing this Colin, I always read your posts with much interest. I have been mainly Paleo (including dairy free) for nearly a year so am always looking for different perspectives around this theme. I am an Engineering Graduate now qualified as an accountant so I am naturally drawn to the practical and evidence based style of all your articles.

    One thing that I have always struggled with has been the cheat day. Drawing the analogy with cocaine if I may(!) which has been shown to fire similar reward centres in the brain as sugar, would it not make more sense to go cold turkey and get over the addiction once and for all?

    Good luck with the shoulder mate, hope it heals soon once and for all.

  • Dan Connolly 6 January 2012, 4:28 pm

    Hi Colin,

    Excellent food diary – thanks for putting the effort in I will definitely benefit from it. Thankfully I happy with my current weight but I am interested in reducing my body fat%. Whats your view on body fat % ideal levels etc. Also what do you eat post crossfit workout? Is nutrition as important to recovery as we are led to believe? Will see you at a PDR event in the near future I’m sure!

    Thanks again

    Dan Connolly

  • Colin McNulty 9 January 2012, 8:24 am

    Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. At 22 you should find it relatively easy to drop those pounds (I’m knocking on 40 now!), but you’ve correctly identified that it’s beer and bread that’s the source of your particular issue. Body composition / looking “toned” is 80-90% diet and only 10-20% exercise.

    Hi James, nice to hear from you again. Cocaine is a good analogy to make. I specifically address this issue in the first week, in fact you may have received that day already (I forget which day it’s in). You’re right that for some the cheat day is a no go and like Alcoholics, just one sweet or chocolate or whatever, leads to a binge. It all comes down to your own personality and what you can live with.

    Hi Dan, thanks for your thanks, it’s appreciated. The problem with body fat % is that there’s a large factor for error, depending on how you measure it. My Tanita scales have 2 modes: Normal and Athlete. If I flick between them, my BF% jumps by about 6%. However I consider my self neither an athlete, nor normal ;) . Clearly it’s not a binary decision so the reading is arbitrary. I’m sure if I got myself tested by any of the other ways, they would all give me different results.

    The key for me then is to not worry about the actual percentage, in the same way that I don’t worry about my actual absolute weight. Rather just go off how things look in the mirror (not that I’m narcissistic, I just mean are you happy with the way you look). So BF% then becomes a relative metric to track.

    For example, between the first and second photos of the 3 image sequence above, my Tanita scales said I dropped from 20% to 14% body fat. That might be true, it may have been more or less. But what I take from that is that I lost just about 1/3 of all the fat in my body, which is a much more relevant figure I think than some arbitrary percentage.

    As for post workout nutrition, I’m not convinced the science is really firm about what to do. This is a big topic that I’ll devote more time to in the food diary, but whenever in doubt, I look back at how hunter gatherers did it and take my cue from them: if you’ve just chased down an killed a deer, you’ve going to gut it etc (“dress” it) to carry it back home. If you watch programs like Tribe, you’ll see these hunters always get a meal off the animal when they do this, which is what: protein and fat. I’d start there.

  • Stephen Chapman 20 January 2012, 4:07 pm

    Hi Colin ,just signed up for your diet log lost four stone myself last yr doing it the old school way since learned its not the best way lol (experience ) now just trying to loose last bit but still wanna be able to perform @crossfit . trying paleo hoping to find your food diary will give me the recipes I need .

    Also been trying paleo for about a week now had slight headache and a bit of dizzyness is this normal while my body changes over
    Cheers Steve

  • Colin McNulty 22 January 2012, 10:10 am

    Stephen, Yes, if you’ve never tried a Paleo diet before, initial headaches can be common.

  • Lucy 1 February 2012, 12:04 pm

    Thanks Colin I’m enjoying your diary and keeping my own too :)

    My weight fell off at first from close to 11 stone (Christmas over indulgence) to 10.3 in 7 days (It shows how much junk food I normally eat!) I’ve not been zoning the meals too much but eating clean Paleo food with small amount of dairy – I’ve actually eaten some of the nicest food in ages!

    The last three days despite strict portion sizes and not eating after 6pm etc etc. my weight isn’t budging (I expect I have hit my natural easy to maintain weight and I fear exercise will be the next step! ;)

    I’m eager to hear about day 8 on your plan after a cheat day!

  • Yes I Love Beer But I Don’t Have a Belly 23 February 2012, 5:50 am

    Typically, the beer belly has been considered a man’s province or tendency as over time, and with much flexing of arm muscles as they bring glass to mouth, the belly grows with age and consumption. Usually, when women gain weight, they often do so first on their thighs and hips, not their bellies. Women may develop a pot belly, but it is rarely referred to as a beer belly and is likely caused by age and childbirth.

  • Alastair Gill 27 April 2012, 7:54 pm

    Hey Colin I have a couple fo quick comments before going to the gym.
    A beer belly should be more accurately called a ‘sugar belly’ cos I got one even with very little drinking.
    The body needs to maintain a alkaline balance of 7.365 and will do all it can to ensure it doesn’t stray. Modern processed food, high sugar fruit, dairy has an acidizing effect so the body has to react to this by neutralizing the acid food with alkaline in the stomach.
    The byproduct of the alkalizing is acid production. So the stomach is an acidity buffer but it creates acid as a byproduct directly in proportion to the digested acid that it needs to neutralise. This acid byproduct needs to be shifted away from organs so is encapsulated and sent to the belly, hips, arms, legs etc.
    So to lose weight eat a highly alkaline diet inc. low sugar fruit (avocado, tomato, lemon, lime juice), all green veggies and salad foods, sprout seeds and grains for the vital ‘magic’ they release in the form of living enzymes, drink plenty of good quality water with ph drops to increase alkalinity.

    Carbs and protein are digested at differing ph levels so shouldn’t be combined in the same meal.
    Also with regard to carbs I usually advise High Glycemic – Avoid; Medium Glycemic – Moderation; Low Glycemic – Consume sensibly given advice above re fruit, high sugar veg (beets, carrots).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycemic_index

    For anyone taking sports supplements its worth noting the presence of maltodextrin, glucose, etc as High GI and should be avoided.

    I wonder if anyone else has noted the correlation between the growth in consumption of high sugar ‘sports’ drinks and the recent plethora of heart related ‘incidents’ in sports activities eg football, marathon.
    IMHO If your drink is the same colour as your car de-icer then there’s a bit of a clue, if the second biggest ingredient is high fructose corn syrup then the bottle should have a yellow skull and crossbones label.

  • Colin McNulty 30 April 2012, 9:24 am

    Lucy: Without knowing what you’re eating, it’s hard to comment. Type of food eaten is more important than strict portion sizes. BTW I don’t recommend not eating after 6pm. Your body does a lot of it’s healing and rebuilding when you’re asleep, so having a balanced snack before bedtime is important to help provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs for health.

    Alistair: Thanks for the detailed comment. You’re right of course that “beer belly” could be called “*what you eat too much of* belly”, whether that be beer or sugar or fruit juice or whatever.

    Your comment about acidity levels of food is interesting, but I think only a minor factor in weight gain / loss. You also say to eat a high alkaline diet, but then list some high acidity foods as examples (lemon and lime juice are high acidity foods).

    I disagree that there is anything “magic” about grains and in my opinion, they should be completely eliminated from our diet. We’ve evolved over several million years to eat real, natural, whole, unprocessed foods; whereas grains have only been around 10,000 years, literally less than 1% of evolutionary process. In order to eat grains, they have to be highly processed to make then edible by humans, because in their natural state, they are inedible. Personally I don’t want to eat anything nature hasn’t evolved to be human food and is only made edible through the ingenuity of man getting one over on mother nature.

    I also don’t agree that carbs and proteins shouldn’t be consumed at the same meal. Eating proteins (and fats) helps to reduce the absorption rate of carbs, effectively reducing their Glycemic Index (GI). Eating low GI is good advice. A more evolved second step is to look not at GI, but at Gylcemic Load which takes into account not only the GI of food, but also the typical portion size.

    I completely agree with your warning about sports supplements and love the analogy with de-icer! Whenever I’ve looked at typical supplementation that many gym denizens take, I’m always alarmed by the long list of nasty ingredients.

    As ever with dietary advisors, there’s sooo much out there, that I find myself agreeing with some things and disagreeing with others, but that’s what makes life interesting, no? :)

  • Dawn 2 May 2012, 12:13 pm

    Hi Colin, I would love to see your food diary but the link seems to be broken……can you please email me a copy of the food diary instead…? Many thanks!

  • jesse j 11 September 2012, 8:01 pm

    Hey Colin I’d really love to give this a shot can you send me your diary. thanks for your help BTW.

  • Nico Lumain 13 January 2013, 12:23 pm

    I wanna lose my pot belly. Please let me go throught or use your 3 month diet =) im desperate! Thank you so much sir :)

  • Jeff Upex 11 April 2013, 3:43 pm

    Great information

  • San 24 April 2013, 6:28 am

    Hello,
    I do not know if this website still working or not. But if you read this, I would love to have your instruction how to lose some pot belly weight.
    Thank you

  • John 23 July 2013, 6:40 am

    Hey Colin, you’re usage of the “Paleo Diet” interested me, so I did a little research on it.
    1)Paleolithic humans did NOT eat lots of meat. On the contrary, it was quite a rare and special occasion. We have no anatomical adaptations to it. Our ‘canines’ are way smaller than most other carnivores, because we had alternate diets. When Paleos did eat meat it was small and lean. They also cracked bones to get Marrow, but I don’t see anyone doing that! Don’t forget the organs.
    2)Our digestive tracts evolved to consume and process more Vegetables.
    3)Our bodies have adapted to Dairy, so I agree with you there.
    *4)Our ancestors ate variable, unusual things in the cold climates: hence our continually strange diets.
    *5) “grains have only been around 10,000 years, literally less than 1% of evolutionary process.” False, Grains were eaten about 30000 years ago in Europe. There is evidence of flour production using grinding tools.
    6)Most market fruits and veggies are Domesticated – Neolithic – foods, not Paleo. Agriculture. So Bananas, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Oils, Blueberries, Avocadoes. Brocolli did not even exist at that time. Natural Carrots and Almonds were inedible.
    Just some Food for thought.

  • John 23 July 2013, 9:19 pm

    Hi Colin, I had a question for you. Its currently Ramadan and we have 17 days left. I was wondering if you had any tips on how to distribute meal times. People always tell me that they actually gain weight in Ramadan because they binge-eat when they’re given permission. We are not allowed to eat from 4Am to 8:30Pm. In general, what types of food should I eat and how should I spread it out in the 12hr window I have. Thanks in advance.

  • Colin McNulty 3 August 2013, 6:57 am

    Hi John, that’s a good question about Ramadan. I’ve always considered the daylight hour fasting to be a great way to kickstart a diet annually.

    The seemingly odd thing is I’ve met many Muslims who are overweight, and it’s exactly because of the binge eating you mention that causes this. It’s a common problem I’ve come across, people tell me they don’t know why they are over weight because they only eat one meal a day, and never have breakfast or lunch.

    The issue is then that their 1 meal a day turns into an all evening banquet. So the root issue here is one of mindset. Even the Atkins diet, which doesn’t limit the quantity of food you can eat (only it’s type) says that you should eat as much as is NECESSARY to feel sated, not as much as POSSIBLE.

    If you want specific tips on how to improve your feeling of being full, then you can do things like eat your protein and fat first, leaving your carbs till last. This will reduce the chance of over eating your carbs.

    Personally however, I would read up on Intermittent Fasting (IF), which is an established way to lose weight. Just be careful because there are several different methods of IF, you want one that details a 16 hour fast say. I think this book would do it for you:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-IF-Diet-Robert-Skinner/dp/0957043740/

  • Will 18 November 2013, 10:42 am

    Hi Colin,

    The link for the email above is down. Can you send me your food diary?

    Cheers,

    Will

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