The Giant Women Experiment

Many of you will remember Deb from some of my previous posts (here, and most famously here).  Of all the examples I have given you, she is by far the most popular because of her age (now 53) and the extremely regressed condition she came to me in (see the linked posts for details).  Well, along with being a great client and friend, Deb is valuable to me for another reason: she trusts me enough to participate in my wacky experiments.

If you follow my work here on Everyday Paleo, you know that I am quite passionate about persuading women to lift weights, regardless of their goal.  I have attacked this topic from a couple of different angles (here and here), but I still hear from women on a regular basis who are worried about lifting weights because they think it will make them look like men.  So, I felt that we needed to hit this one head on.  Despite the fact that we have never seen anything close to too much mass on any woman who has ever trained in my gym, and no woman has ever told me their muscles were getting too big and they feel they should stop lifting, I decided I was going to try to purposely pack as much muscle mass as possible on a few ladies, IF I could find willing subjects.  See where the trust part comes in?

There were actually 3 women in my experiment, but I am only sharing Deb’s results with you here today.  If you want to see the rest, you will have to wait for my book.  (Yep, that was a shameless plug.)  For 3 months, Deb trained like a bodybuilder and ate as much food as we could pack into her, but she did not stray from paleo.  She did not eat a fat loss version of paleo, either.  Instead, she pulled out the stops and tried to eat dense calorie sources as much as possible.  She lifted weights like a mad woman, using high volume reps and sets commonly used for hypertrophy (mass gain), and she did absolutely no huffing and puffing throughout the entire experiment.  That means no cardio and no metabolic conditioning.  The only steps I may have been able to take to put more mass on her would have required garbage food and drugs.  I would be a fraud if I condoned either.

Deb ate at least 3500 calories per day, every day.  Her average day looked like this:

Breakfast – 6 eggs, 4 strips of bacon, salsa

Lunch – 1 pound of ground beef cooked in a pan with approximately a cup of vegetables.

Dinner – Grass fed beef steak (approximately 16 ounces), with extra fat left on by the butcher, and sometimes vegetables.

Snack – 6 eggs, 4 strips of bacon, salsa (same as breakfast)

She cooked everything in coconut oil or butter which adds more calories to this list.  For those of you who are members of EPLifeFit, take a look at Deb’s food logs and you will see that this extreme intake is not actually very far off of what she has always eaten.  Deb has a voracious appetite and loves meat.

Without further ado, let’s get to the results.  Here is Deb on day one of the experiment:

And here she is after 12 weeks:

I know, I know, these pictures were taken in different lighting and different distances from the camera.  That’s why we have measurements.

7/28/12

10/28/12

Weight

141.5 lbs

139 lbs

Chest

37 5/8 inches

37 1/2 inches

Waist

32 1/2 inches

31 3/8 inches

Hips

37 1/4 inches

36 1/2 inches

Upper Arm

12 1/4 inches

12 inches

Forearm

9 5/8 inches

9 1/2 inches

Thigh

20 3/8 inches

19 1/2 inches

Calf

14 3/8 inches

14 1/8 inches

Yes, that’s correct, Deb actually got smaller on every single measurement we tracked.  And this is a women who just spent the last 3 months doing things like bench press with a pair of 45 pound dumbbells for multiple sets of 10 rep, as well as back squatting 125 pounds for multiple sets of 10 reps.  I wonder how many women reading this post would dare do such things, especially since training that way is supposed to make women look like men.

Just for fun, here she is in street clothes looking small and feminine and shining like a beacon of hope among most women her age:

Now let me clarify some things.  First of all, Deb is relatively advanced in her fitness, having worked with me for a few years and gained considerable strength prior to beginning this experiment.  If she had been completely deconditioned, we would have seen more dramatic differences in her measurements, but that would be because she would have begun with less muscle, not because she would have somehow ended up with more.

Second, I am in no way suggesting that any woman reading this post should train specifically for maximum muscle mass and eat 3500 calories per day, nor am I suggesting that, under the same circumstances, your results would be the same as Deb’s.  This experiment was not about finding the perfect way for women to get fit and healthy, and there are certainly better paths to your goals.  This experiment was about proving that women do not tend to have the ability to grow manly muscles, even when they try really hard.  As I mentioned earlier, there were 3 women in this experiment (although I’m only sharing Deb with you for now), but these are still anecdotal cases and I am not claiming to prove anything.  I am simply trying to appeal to you logically and get you thinking.

I have yet to meet a woman who ever went to the gym and got a masculine physique by accident, and you have never met a woman like that either.  Women with big muscles put A LOT of concerted effort and years of their lives into that endeavor.  BUT, women who lift weights and eat a solid paleo diet almost always find a shorter path to improved health, and improved health translates to sustainable improvements in the way their bodies look.  Please, just give it a shot.  You will be glad you did.

Go forth and be awesome.

Comments

  1. Penny Danner says

    YAY Deb!!!! (And YAY to you Jason!!!) I am SO in love with lifting now!!! THANK you both for changing my life!!!

    Deb, you look just as hot and feminine as ever!!

  2. Jenny says

    Deb’s weight and chest measurements are similar to mine, but mine is all mushy! I’d much rather have muscle (and therefore strength to better enjoy my life) than fat and have these same measurements. I’m happy with my size, I just want to change what it’s made up of! And be strong enough for a backpacking trip since I live in the Rocky Mountains. Deb is absolutely a beacon of hope, but not only amongst women her age. I’m 31 and she is a role model for me too.

  3. says

    Lifting weights is already my drug, so I did not need any convincing. At age 50, I’m in the best shape of my life and wearing the same pants size as in high school! Just wondering how many days a week Deb worked out, 3 or 4?

  4. Cassandra says

    I wear an I cup bra and have a huge rear end, made totally of fat, yet I’ve been called “sir” by people. Muscle doesn’t make you look masculine anymore than fat makes you look feminine. It’s all related to hormone balance with a wee bit of genetics.

  5. Katie says

    Is it okay for women with pelvic floor prolapse to lift heavy? It seems most of the medical community (including PT’s) caution against women lifting weights at all due to the increased pressure it can put on the PF. The fear of causing further damage is the only thing that has kept me away from lifting. I’m interested to hear what your opinion is & if you’ve had any clients with similar issues. Thx!

    • Jason says

      Deb actually came to me with pelvic floor issues, but I’m not sure if there was ever a diagnosis. I think that if you look around you will find many women who have strengthened their pelvic floor with weightlifting, but in the end you will need to consider the advice of your medical professional. I am not a doctor or a woman. :)

      • Deb says

        Yes Katie, I had pelvic floor issues and happy to say that weightlifting not only made me feel stronger, also strengthened my pelvic floor. Getting a doctors approval would be wise and starting out slow would be too. I would always encourage every woman to try weightlifting, so many benefits.

  6. Audrey says

    Is there a reason why Deb doesn’t eat more vegetables or any fruit? Is it just personal preference, or is it important to this experiment?
    Thanks! Great post!

    • Jason says

      Deb just really likes meat, but for this experiment it was also important that she tried to eat a lot of calories. Of the macronutrients, fat is the densest source of calories so meat made the most sense. But as I said in the post, Deb actually eats like this most of the time anyway. Many of the people I train eat similarly, but usually with less total quantity of food. Vegetables are fine, but fruit will often inhibit fat loss.

  7. Christie says

    Very interesting! Particularly that all her measurements went down! Go Deb!

    However, i do struggle when I hear blanket statements about women not bulking up. I’m sure it is true for most women, and I would never want to discourage anyone from lifting heavy, but there are some of us that DO bulk up in an inconvenient manner. I completed P90X 2 earlier this year, and by the end my husband was complaining that i had passed the point of attractiveness when it came to upper-body bulk. I was also struggling to find clothes to fit, because anything broad enough in the shoulders was too baggy at the waist! Shortly afterwards I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and had to scale back my activity severely while I recovered from surgery etc. I lost a lot of the bulk (along with my ability to do unassisted pull-ups), which actually pleased me. But recently I have been getting into strength training again (Crossfit once a week, a P90X2 workout once a week, and random sets of pushups/pull-ups if I feel bored) and I am already bulking to the point that my husband has noticed and commented. I have a pretty decent appetite, but i eat clean paleo 95% of the time (odd bit of grass-fed dairy, usually raw).

    Any suggestions for how someone like me can get the benefits of lifting heavy without the bulk?

    • says

      Christie, was your upper body muscle mass beyond what you see in Deb’s pictures? Deb is carrying a lot of muscle mass for a woman, we are simply arguing that it does not look masculine. If this is not what your husband finds attractive, then you will need to be careful with the weights. Otherwise, I’m stumped. I have never been able to get any woman to a masculine level of muscle mass.

    • Pamela says

      Christie, do your legs bulk up as well? If not then your upper body puts on muscle very easily and you should only do body weight exercises for that area, if the amount of muscle you develop bothers you. If your legs are underdeveloped in comparison to your upper body I would concentrate your heavy lifting there. You don’t mention your goals, overall fitness, a certain esthetic look? I have the opposite problem in that I have very large muscles in my legs and my uppper body is very underdeveloped giving me a bottom heavy appearance. I don’t do any leg exercises with weights but train my upper body” like a man” and my body is starting to balance out with increased upper body measurements. Reduction of body fat is also important as the same areas that have more muscle mass also accumulate fat deposits which increases the bulky appearance.

      • Laura says

        Whoa! I’ve never heard that before…that the same areas that have more muscle mass also accumulate fat deposits. Really?

        • says

          Yes, but by coincidence. The areas where we store fat also happen to be areas where large muscle groups reside (thighs, butt, abdomen). This doesn’t mean that fat is somehow attracted to muscle.

  8. Shelly says

    I would really like to know her training routine as well as if she has hit menopause yet. At our box, its all about heavy heavy heavy and very low reps (i.e. Cross Fit Total). You referred to her lifting for “10 reps” in several of her exercises – as a weight training WOD, that is unheard of at my box. I found that for me, my measurements DID go up, particularly in my arms, when I tried to lift ‘as heavy as possible’ for short reps. I am in my mid-40′s and went thru menopause at 38, so I realize I am unique.

    • says

      Shelly, Deb does not do CrossFit, and while we do work on maximal strength, we do it in a periodized fashion that includes multiple rep ranges, but that is not how she trained for this experiment. She lifted in reps ranges of 8 to 12, typical for hypertrophy (muscle mass gain). Approximately 70% of the women in my gym deadlift over 200 lbs, a couple over 300, and we have never put too much muscle mass on any woman. We are a fitness and fat loss gym and we want all our women to be strong, but we are not constantly pushing them to compete in anything. Of course, diet plays a big role in this. It could be a hormonal issue in your unique case.

  9. Tammie Bond says

    Thankyou…more inspiration for me…yea!
    Not only is Deb my role model she is the me I will be. I’m pretty sure I am in a similar mess as she was when she started out in this journey..can’t wait to be where she is. Thanks for the continued updates.

  10. Pamela says

    I noticed Deb’s measurements had gone up from last years update where she decided to lean out for the summer. Did she decide that those changes were not sustainable for her? Did she notice a loss of strength and return to her previous program?

    • says

      Deb just gets bored and changes things up often. She will want to lean out for a while, than when she accomplishes that, she will decide she wants to get really strong again. After some time spent lifting big weights, she will decide she wants to put on some muscle mass. Her measurements fluctuate with her whims, but it’s not because anything is unsustainable. It’s because Deb has reached a point in her fitness where her body will do whatever she asks it to do.

  11. Jayme says

    Greeat job Deb! My question lies in her lab panel, was there a measure prior and after the study? I ask as I was mortified as my LDL skyrocketed after 4 months paleo. I started a similar experiment on myself and went from LDL at 70, triglycerides at 70 and hdl at 60 to LDL at 134, trips at 71 and hdl to 80. I am 5’6 and went from 122 lbs to 118 and from 16 percent body fat to 13. My doctor is in a panick and I told her I did this myself she is giving me until May to bring the LDL back down. I am celiac and feel the best I have felt in a while.
    What gives or as Jason lies on the podcast, WTF???

      • Jayme says

        Thanks Jason. considering I have no other risk factors I am not all that concerned. The only thing that did spark my interest is that even in Robb’s book he mentions the LDL parameters as lower than 100. I do understand the ratios and particle numbers etc. I asked my doc for an advance lipid test and she declined to order.
        I enjoy Kressers podcast as well as you all and think I will continue to go with how I feel and for once in my life my gut feels good and I after years of marathonning I actually like how I look!

        Thank you truly for what you do and the lifestyle changes you have helped me make!

  12. Hillarie says

    I have much respect for Deb’s discipline and hard work. Especially on the food — I just ate 1/2 pound ground beef with some veggies (ala paleo shepherd’s pie) and it was an effort to get the last few bites down. But I will be fueled and ready to hit the weights later. Anyway, nice work Deb, and good job coaching, Jason. I am impressed. I look forward to the stories of your other experiments.

    • says

      Nah, go for awesome results instead of these tiny accidental ones. All that happened here is that we tried to make a woman bug and manly, but we failed. If you look at this as a beneficial way to achieve your goals, then you would have to be satisfied with some tiny measurement changes after 3 months of hard work. Shoot for the results Deb got back in the beginning.

  13. says

    Jason!

    Just wanted to say this has inspired me to try to gain some mass of my own. I’m a big fan of the blog and podcast, and as you hoped, this was “the nail in the coffin.”

    I’m 5’5″ and about 115 lbs- very strong for my size but I have always been lean. I lost a bit of weight during chemo for lymphoma, started eating paleo after my diagnosis but I think in the back of my mind I still restrict my calories a bit. I play roller derby and am a very serious athlete, so I do get cardio- but playing is my passion. It’s our off season right now and we are still practicing 3 days a week but I am going to use the next few months to lift big and eat more! Looking at what you had Deb eating, and seeing her results- I know if I want to get scary strong I need to EAT!

    Anyways, just wanted to say thanks! And I thought you’d like to hear that this did what you intended!

    Eva

  14. Lynn says

    After reading your article about “Giant Women,” I thought I’d share my experience. In Jan of 2012 before my 52nd birthday, my husband and I joined a Crossfit box and unbeknownst to us, began a life-changing experience. We were going through the motions of the WODs with great success and then in March began learning about the paleo diet. Although my husband is retired military and never been close to obese, he always struggled to keep weight off. I on the other hand, never varied from my 125 lbs more than about 5-10lbs except when pregnant. About 6 years ago, I worked seriously with a trainer for about a year with my goal being to get as strong as possible. I finally decided I would not worry if I bulked up as I always had in the past. My results were nothing compared to where I am today with both strength, appearance, weight and measurements and my husband’s results are even more amazing. We have done two Whole30 challenges in the last year which I’m sure helped with our results. We use hydrostatic testing to monitor progress. My first test results on 3/1/12 were: 137lbs, 102.15 lean lbs, 34.85 fat lbs = ~25.5% body fat. My latest results 10/29/12 were 117.2lbs, 101.25 lean lbs, 15.95 fat lbs = ~13.6% body fat.
    My lean mass has fluctuated depending on my protein consumption (it’s hard to eat enough to build more muscle!) but my strength difference is amazing! – We keep journals and my 1RM increases have been as dramatic as my fat loss! I now dead lift 210lbs! I am having a hard time putting on mass where earlier in my life, I would have told you I was one those women who carried a lot of muscle. Little did I know that there was a lot of fat sitting on top of that muscle that made it LOOK bulkier. I now am very lean and often have strangers come up to me and compliment me on my arms and fit appearance.
    I suspect two things with the assumptions of “Giant Women.” These women who feel “bulky” may being carrying more fat on top of their muscle than they realize and/or their masculine partners may be intimidated by their strength and fitness level that surpasses theirs! If they knew how healthy we are and how sexy we feel when we are strong and fit, they would always encourage us.

  15. says

    Wow! I love seeing stuff like this, people often overlook the fact that lifting weights does in fact burn a lot of calories. And the fact that Deb lost a couple pounds and gained all that muscle (muscle is heavier than fat, after all), that really goes to show how much fat she must have burned.

  16. mdingo98 says

    not hating but…does Deb have a full time job? I work 12 h our shifts. ICU nurse is a physical job, stressful too. I love to lift but have a problem with eating. Got my weight down with Michael Eades book. Now back heavier than ever!!! 55yo on HRT. thyroid okay. HDL 68. Have a family to feed so can’t go to expensive options. Is paleo for me and where to start?

    • Deb says

      Yes I have a full time job-plus :) I am on my feet about 12-15 hours, four days a week. But I wasn’t able to do that until I got fit. Before Paleo and CPC, I was run down and sick, I couldn’t do much if anything! I did work, but had to break up all my shifts over an entire week, because I couldn’t handle it otherwise.
      I can relate to your situation, all I can tell you is my life is much different now and not only can I handle those hours, but I can do more! like activities with my four grown kids, zip lining, rock climbing..etc.. all because of Paleo. I would start now, life is too short to wait! Start here and check out EPLifeFit.com

  17. says

    Really enjoyed the article! This thought obviously is highly prevalent still. Though with so many women getting great results such as Deb and with articles like this one more and more will realize their fitness goals – even it is in such an “unorthodox way”. Haha. Thanks again – going to share. Logan – TravelFit Adventures

  18. NJ Paleo says

    This is a really fascinating “experiment” and kudos to Deb on her amazing work! Deb, you rock, girl! I must have been going about it all wrong because I have recently tried increasing weights in my workouts and increasing calorie intake, and while I did succeed in strength gains, I have put on a lot more fat than I would like to have. Guess I’ll have to keep experimenting.
    Anyway, I love reading about the women who have changed their lives through lifestyle! Would love to hear about more!

    • Deb says

      Thanks ! :) Lots more on Everyday Paleo, not just about me, but, Angela, Katie, and a few other folks Jason has trained. The process still amazes me.

  19. Laura says

    Deb’s results are making me wonder again about the mechanics of lean mass gain vs. fat loss. Did she lose fat and gain lean muscle mass at the same time? Seems like she wasn’t doing any kind of cycling with her diet, just eating right and lifting.

    Jason and Deb, you’ve clearly spent a lot of time answering comments here, but I’d love to hear what you have to say about this!

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