From 22% to 18% body fat in 2 months: Losing fat while gaining muscle

The Results

The results were too good to be true. I was reading and re-reading my DEXA scan report, thinking “I must be missing something.”

If you haven’t heard of DEXA, it’s a test where you lay on a table for 5-6 minutes while a machine scans your body. The test provides detailed information on your body fat, lean mass, and bone density. I’ve used DEXA scans for the past 7 years to assess different nutrition and training programs.

The progress since my last scan (2 months earlier) was surprising:

  • Body Fat: Lost 8.4 pounds
  • Lean Mass: Gained 2.3 pounds
  • Body Fat Percentage: 22.3% to 18.0%
  • Visceral Fat (dangerous fat between your organs): Down 60%

Screenshots from my DEXA Scan Results

DEXA Scan Results

Below, I’ll share the training and nutrition strategies that drove these results.

Background: Focus on Fat Loss

Brief background: At the start of this process, I was 34 years old, 5’10” (178 cm) tall, and roughly 170 lbs (77 kg). I have a desk job. I was a cross country and middle distance track runner in high school and played Ultimate Frisbee in college. Prior to 2021, I had almost no experience with strength training.

During the pandemic, I’ve started training with kettlebells because I can use them at home without going to the gym. Researching kettlebells led me to the work of Dan John - his YouTube videos, podcast, and University site are phenomenal resources.

I wanted to set a goal for my kettlebell training. Dan John has a rule: Your waist (in inches/cm) should be half your height (again, in inches/cm). If your waist is more than half your height, you should focus on body composition. This common sense rule is well supported in the longevity research literature as well. I was right on the borderline, with a height of 70 inches (178 cm) and a waist measurement of 35 in (89 cm)...and 35 was on a good day 😅. That was a little too close for comfort, so I decided to focus on fat loss.

I committed to a 30-day experiment to improve body composition and specifically to lose fat. I would structure both my training and my nutrition with that objective in mind.

Training for Fat Loss (2 months)

One of Dan John’s most famous programs is Easy Strength, co-authored with Pavel Tsatsouline. In recent years, Dan has shared a modified version of this program called Easy Strength for Fat Loss (or ES4FL).

You can watch Dan’s free video workshop if you want to learn more, but here is a concise summary of the program:

  • Get a good night’s sleep

  • Wake up and drink coffee

  • Keep fasting until you train

  • Training:

  1. Ab Wheel: 1 x 10

  2. Vertical Press: 3 x 3

  3. Vertical Pull: 3 x 3 or Six singles (adding load or staying the same)

  4. Deadlift Variation: 3 x 3

  5. KB Swings: Up to 75…push the Heart Rate up.

  6. On the last rep, walk out the door and go for about 45 minutes without getting the heart rate over 180 minus your age.

Workouts should take about one hour. Train 5 days per week.

Each day, I did a warm up that included foam rolling and stretching. My specific training was:

  1. Ab Wheel: 1x10
  2. Kettlebell Military Press (16kg): 3 x 3 (or 2 x 5)
  3. Pull-up (bodyweight): 3 x 3 (or 2 x 5)
  4. Kettlebell Deadlift (32 kg or 44kg): 2 x 10 (Note that I modified the reps because I was using a kettlebell, based on this comment)
  5. Kettlebell Swings (20kg): 5 x 15
  6. Walk

On average, the first 5 steps took me about 20 minutes, and I would walk for another 25-40 minutes. Total time for each workout was 45-60 minutes.

Additional notes on my training:

  • I was seeing a trainer weekly for general kettlebell coaching. Sometimes this was a substitute for an ES4FL workout, other times it was in addition to the ES4FL program
  • My heart rate was probably too low during the walk. Dan encourages a minimum heart rate of 160 minus your age (126bpm for me). I averaged 100-105bpm most of the time.
  • I had dabbled with Easy Strength for about 4 weeks before starting the “Fat Loss” portion (i.e., the long walk)
  • Don’t miss step #1 of the ES4FL protocol: Get a good night’s sleep!

Overall, I found ES4FL extremely satisfying. It just felt good every single day. And as advertised, I gradually got stronger. Three sets of 3 for the military press and pull-up were challenging at the beginning. By the end of the first month, two sets of 5 felt pretty easy for both.

Nutrition (1 Month)

Now comes the hard part.

Based on self-experimentation over the past several years, I know that two nutrition strategies work really well for me:

  • Strategy #1: Fasting
  • Strategy #2: Eliminating sugar and minimizing refined carbohydrates

Strategy #1: Fasting

I followed a 5:2 fasting protocol for the second month (same month that I added the walk to my Easy Strength workout). 5:2 fasting means eating 5 days per week and fasting 2 days per week.

Specifically, I fasted Mondays and Thursdays. As an example, I would begin fasting on Sunday night after dinner and would not eat again until breakfast on Tuesday. During the fast, I would drink coffee, water, and 1-2 cups of bone broth if I got hungry.

My 5:2 Fasting Protocol

Fasting Protocol

I have practiced fasting for several years, but 5:2 is still a challenge. The training made it even tougher. Here’s why:

  • With ES4FL, you train in a fasted state 5 days per week
  • On a typical day, this is pretty easy because it just means working out before breakfast.
    • For example, on a Wednesday morning, my training might be 12 hours after I last ate (Tuesday dinner). Then I ate a meal as soon as I finished training.
  • The tough part was the fasting days:
    • Monday: Wake up, train in a fasted state. Keep fasting all day, until…
    • Tuesday: Wake up, train in a fasted state again…THEN eat (finally)

This was tougher mentally than it was physically. But it was still physically tough: the kettlebell swings are noticeably more challenging after ~32 hours of fasting.

Additional notes on my fasting:

  • To stay motivated, I track my fasts with Zero (just the basic functionality). I’ll open up the app to look at my progress for motivation when I start to get hungry.
  • I experimented with kimchi AND bone broth on fasting days, but this seemed to slow down my fat loss based on my daily weigh-ins and waist measurements

Strategy #2: Eliminating sugar and minimizing refined carbohydrates

I have experimented with several low-carb diets over the years, including Slow Carb, Paleo, and Keto. My ideal diet is basically Slow Carb, though I do include some dairy in the diet (e.g., full fat Greek Yogurt), which is not “technically” allowed.

Here was a typical day during my 30-day experiment:

  • Coffee. Black coffee, typically Ethiopia from Dogwood Coffee, brewed with a Hario V60 pourover
  • Breakfast: Eggs topped with smoked salmon, guacamole, and Cholula hot sauce (all from Costco). Plus a high fiber food: either lentils (Costco) or steel cut oats (made in a rice cooker and topped with berries and/or Greek Yogurt)
  • Second Coffee
  • Lunch: Burrito Bowl (no rice)
  • Dinner: Salad with steak, crumbled bacon, feta cheese, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Side of roasted vegetables (brocolli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) with Cholula hot sauce
  • Dessert: 100g Full fat Greek yogurt and 40g natural peanut butter

A few more notes:

  • I did not do any portion control on the non-fasting days
  • My primary drinks were water and coffee.
  • I did drink some alcohol - either bourbon on the rocks or vodka/soda - at a few work dinners.
  • I followed Dan John’s recommendation of a “gut biome break” at least once per day. I bought kimchi from Costco and ate a small bowl before one of my meals.

Overall, this diet would be challenging to maintain for a year, but was pretty do-able for a 30-day period.

Measuring Progress

Feedback mechanisms really help improve the odds of successful behavior change. Here were the ones I used:

Daily Feedback Mechanisms:

  • Calendar/Workout Journal. This was posted on my bedroom door so I saw it every day. I outlined my plan for each day then marked an X on a day once it was complete. I also recorded the details of each workout on a separate piece of paper.
  • Waist Measurement. I recorded my waist in inches at its widest point every morning before I showered.
  • Body Weight. I also recorded my body weight every morning.

Calendar on my Door

Monthly Schedule

Daily Measurements of Bodyweight and Waist

Waist and Weight Measurements

These daily practices are a huge help with motivation. Sometimes I had to make changes like shifting a fast to a different day in the week, and these systems helped me from falling off the wagon.

Overall Feedback Mechanism: DEXA

Ultimately, I wanted an accurate measurement of body composition to assess the results of this experiment. I used the DEXA scan to go beyond the weight / waist measurements and truly understand the impact on lean mass and fat loss. I scheduled the DEXA scan weeks in advance to keep me motivated and focused on the goal.

The Big Day

Based on my daily measurements, I knew that I had lost 5+ pounds of total mass based on my daily weigh-ins.

But heading into my DEXA scan at the end of the 30 days, I was worried about body composition. With past diet experiments, I’ve typically lost both fat and lean mass (note: I had not been strength training). As an example, in 2019 I did a strict low-carb diet for 5 weeks and I lost 8.2 pounds. But that was losing 5.3 pounds of fat, and 2.9 pounds of lean mass. I was worried that something similar would happen again.

The results were much better than I expected. Lean mass had increased by 2.3 pounds (largely in my arms and trunk), and fat loss (8.4 pounds) exceeded my most optimistic projections coming into the 30-day experiment. You can see the details at the top of this post.

Decrease in Visceral Fat (0.66 to 0.25 pounds)

Visceral Fat

This experience re-taught me an important lesson: when possible, be sure to measure the true outcome that you care about, not a proxy. In my case, I cared about body composition. This is harder to measure than a proxy - like body weight. But by measuring body composition, I learned that I had lost significantly more fat than the scale showed, and I had gained muscle. I would have totally missed that if I had only measured my weight, and I also would have missed valuable insights on like the impact on visceral fat (see the image above).

What I Would Do Differently

Overall, I was thrilled with the results, especially in such a short time frame. This is the first time I have ever gained muscle and lost fat at the same time. I would absolutely do this program again.

That being said, I would make a few tweaks next time:

  • Increase my heart rate during the walk. The goal would be to increase fat burning by getting my heart rate to at least 160 minus age. Two potential approaches: 1) Hand/ankle weights: Dan recommends walking with light weights (hand weights, ankle weights, or both) to get the heart rate up, or 2) Substitute for indoor cycling: Walking can be treacherous on icy sidewalks in the winter, so I might hope on the indoor bike. I’ve tried this a few times and found it very easy to keep my heart rate around 180 minus age.
  • Go heavier on deadlifts
  • No kimchi on fast days. This seemed to negatively impact fat loss vs. fasting only
  • Eliminate alcohol. I would do this primarily to improve sleep; even small amounts of alcohol have a noticeable impact on sleep quality


I reduced my body fat percentage in 2 months by more than 4 percentage points by losing fat and gaining muscle. The protocol was:

  1. Easy Strength for Fat Loss
  2. 5:2 Fasting
  3. Low-carb diet

Feel free to use the Contact button to share any feedback or questions. Thanks!

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