How many times have you said the following phrase regarding your diet?
“It’ll work for other people, but not for me.”
Or how about:
“I must be doing something wrong.”
And finally, comes the dreaded: “There’s something wrong with my body.”
Once you’ve thought those words, it’s game over.
Because suddenly we’re convinced that the rule of calories in versus calories out doesn’t apply to us. It works for everyone else, but not us. We’re some kind of scientific marvel. (1)
Why do we do this?
Well, partly because we’re programmed to expect instant results. Believe me when I say three weeks of dieting will feel like a lifetime if your inner voice is setting off alarms every 30 minutes telling you it’s not working.
Sheer frustration takes over, and we f**k it all up long before we’ve gotten to where we want to be.
And partly because it is hard to lose weight.
There’s no way around it. It’s part of the process. Heck, that’s why 80% of all dieters pile weight back on within a year.
So how do you make sure you’re in the 20% that lose weight and keep it off?
The “trick” (for want of a better word) is to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, and being mentally prepared for what’s to come…
Sure, we’ve all got that annoying work friend who snarks, “Just eat less and move more…”, but f**k those guys. This is like telling a drowning man “Just sink less, swim more” or someone with financial problems to simply “poor less, rich more”.
Losing weight often involves changing the habits of a lifetime, and that’s a real motherf**ker to accomplish, so if you’ve done it, then well done to you.
But if you’re just starting out, I hope you’re prepared for the long haul…
There’s a myth that it takes 21 days to form new habits. In fact, research shows a more factual number to be 66 days (10 weeks). (2)
Then there’s the fact that losing weight actually gets harder as you go.
That’s right. You will reach sticking points. After starting out really well, losing weight seemingly easily, you’ll eventually reach a brick wall where progress seems impossible.
And this breaks almost everyone.
And if it hasn’t struck yet, rest assured, it’s coming…
When it does strike, you will doubt everything you’re doing is the right thing. And there will be moments where you convince yourself you should quit and start the latest fat loss fad diet because some dude at the gym said they lost 10kg in one afternoon dump.
And this would be a bad move.
What’s Your Body Fat Set Point?
We all have a body fat set point.
This is the body fat level our body is accustomed to and will try its best to maintain.
Whatever your set point is, your body wants to keep you there as long as it can. Two people are rarely the same.
If we suddenly reduce our calories to insane levels and hope for the best, we will typically lose weight in the initial 1-2 weeks (a combination of water loss and the fact our body didn’t see the drop coming), but the body will respond by adjusting the rate at which you burn calories.
This is where nutrition plays a pivotal role…
Ever done a crash diet and found yourself four weeks in, starving but losing no more weight?
Then you know.
The body is the smartest machine you or I will ever operate. It’s a living, breathing, learning computer. And the further away you get from your body fat set point, the more efficient it becomes at functioning on a lower calorie intake. (3)
Ultimately, it doesn’t give a flying f**k what you want to look like.
Its only focus is staying alive, and it loves the status quo, so it will do its best to learn how to survive on less fuel if necessary.
The leaner you become, the more efficient it becomes.
That’s why those first few pounds are easier to melt off, but the last few are a real b**ch.
It doesn’t seem to matter that we’re pounding the treadmill every day, and eating like a rabbit… because fat loss is still slower than a f**king James Bond movie.
(Sorry, never liked ’em.)
How Do We Defeat This?
Remember when Rocky had to re-train to beat Clubber Lang?
Well, we kinda have to do the same thing. We need to re-think our dieting strategy if we want to score a victory.
If we go to war against our body, it’s a war we cannot win.
That’s for sure.
The more we reduce our daily calorie intake, the more efficient it becomes. Your metabolism is slowed to the point where you’re expending fewer calories during exercise, and you’re even able to digest food with less effort, too. (4, 5)
To make matters worse, production of the hormone which tells us we’re full (leptin) reduces, and production of the hormone which causes hunger (ghrelin) increases. (6, 3)
This is a bad situation to find ourselves in because we feel hungry all the time, and when we do eat we never feel fully satisfied, and STILL fat loss has slowed to a crawl so we’re frustrated to f**k…
If we fall off our diet right here we have a recipe for binge eating and rapid weight regain.
Unfortunately, that rapid weight regain also causes us to create new, smaller fat cells. The average size of our fat cells helps our body to determine its preferred body fat set point. But this time around, the average size of our fat cells is smaller (because we have more of them), which effectively tells the body it’s still below the preferred body fat set point.
So we keep storing fat.
This is why the aftermath of a diet sees most folks end up heavier than when they started. (7)
So how do we defeat this and make our body work for us?
Well, have you ever heard the expression: “Choose your battles wisely”..?
I’m sure you have.
It applies perfectly here.
You see, the trick is not to start this war in the first place.
Repeat after me: Fad diets suck!
The body is too smart for them.
I’m always preaching to you guys that the more extreme the diet, the more extreme the rebound, and there does appear to be some correlation between the number of times a person has attempted overly restrictive diets and the amount of weight regained over the years.
Our mission for quick results ends up slowing the process down by years.
Example: We’ve all got one friend who constantly seems to be on the latest celebrity diet but has never got in any kind of shape, right?
Instead of focusing on calorie restriction, I want you to focus on calorie preservation.
Lowering in stages is far better than suddenly dropping.
Diet on as many calories as you can get away with, and lower it only when you need to.
If we’re currently eating, say, 3000 calories each day with an unhealthy diet then we could lower this to around 2700 and see great results.
Naturally, the body will adapt to this and eventually the weight loss will stop (see above, it’s its job), but now we simply lower it again.
Taking this approach may be more long-term than some bulls**t “30 Day Detox” you saw on Instagram, but it’s far superior in terms of losing weight and keeping it off.
It’s the movie equivalent of watching all the Marvel pictures, as opposed to your friend who just went straight to EndGame and wondered why the f**k everyone was blasting each other.
Because “The C Word” is the key to your results.
I’m not talking about carbohydrates. Or cortisol. Or any of the other things which have been blamed as the reason you’re not losing weight. The real C word is consistency. (8)
By taking a few days to establish your current calorie intake, then lowing it by 200-300 calories, you will give yourself the best possible chance of sticking to your guns when the going gets tough.
This makes the process of dieting for fat loss as simple as possible.
In fact, your biggest enemy will be yourself.
You see, these are perfectly normal adaptations that will occur with any weight loss diet. But we’ll convince ourselves there’s something wrong with us.
We’ll see people at the gym who have started crazy crash diets and lost a lot of weight in the early stages (see above), or people who have jumped on PED’s and used them to significantly enhance fat loss in a short time…
… so the temptation to slash calories in a bid to “speed things up” will always be there.
Here’s the thing, though…
You now know why that approach does not work.
It’s why none of my clients do crazy fad diets.
It’s no longer about dieting hard. Instead, think about dieting smart.
Who do you think finds it easier to see continuous results in the gym: the girl who dropped her calories to 500 per day and started doing two hours of cardio, or the girl who dropped from 1900 to 1700?
The first girl has nowhere to go when adaptations occur.
She can’t realistically go lower in calories, and she can’t exercise any more because she’s either a) dead, or b) has to go to f**king work.
To put it bluntly, she’s on the brink of metabolic adaptation and she can’t see any results.
The second girl can simply lower her calories to 1500 (or add in a bit of cardio to create an extra couple of hundred calorie burn) and wait for the next sticking point.
Which brings me to our next section; once we’ve lost our target amount of weight, how do we make sure we keep it off?
How Do We Keep The Weight Off?
Maybe I’m wrong, but I presume you’re not just trying to look great for a week or two…
Ideally, we want to look f**king amazing and stay that way, yeah?
So we need to have a plan for the diet after the diet.
I’m talking about the stage when you reach your goals, and are happy with your weight. What we do next will determine whether we become another statistic and pile all the weight back on.
We’ve already taken our time and been strategic in reducing our calories, and that represents phase one of proper fat loss dieting.
Phase two requires a little more patience.
Even if you’ve gradually dialed down your calories in order to lose weight without starving, we don’t want to consume our current caloric intake from the peak of our fat loss diet for the rest of our lives, so now we should begin the process of increasing calories.
If we bang our calories right back up in celebration of reaching our goals, well, I covered earlier exactly what we can expect to happen.
Our body will respond by creating more fat cells, we’ll pile weight back on, and likely end up heavier than when we began. It’s not worth it.
So do this instead.
Reverse dieting is a strategy which sees us gradually bring our energy intake up to maintenance levels over a period of weeks, or months.
Each time we create a small increase, we allow time for our metabolism to adjust, before going again.
Protein should already be set to maximize muscle growth and won’t need to go any higher, but we can increase our calories by tinkering with carbohydrates, fats, or both.
As a rough guide, I like to increase carbs and fat by 5% each, then monitor my body’s response for 7 days.
If I’m feeling happy and haven’t regained any body fat, I’ll try increasing again the following week.
If I reach a stage where I do gain more body fat than I would like, I’ll go back down and give myself a little longer to adjust, then go up again.
Using this method, you should be able to retain the vast majority of your hard-earned leanness while working your calories way back up to a level you can sustain long-term.
As a side benefit, long-term reverse dieting also makes your next attempt at a cut far easier.
Use me as an example.
Coming out of my last fat loss phase I ate around 2600 calories each day. Using reverse dieting, I was able to slowly increase my daily calories back up to, and beyond, where I was previously without sacrificing my new results.
By the time I thought about cutting again, I was eating roughly 5400 calories per day, so could in theory “cut” on a massive amount of calories.
If you were wondering how I ate 4000 calories per day, that’s how.
Not everyone will get that high, of course. I’m a very active guy. But it illustrates the point. It’s all about retaining those results while trying to establish your new baseline calorie intake. Consistency and patience are required.
What If You’ve Crashed Dieted And Now You’re Stuck?
What if you’ve already dropped your calories down to -1000 per day, have been hammering the cardio, and fat loss has stalled?
Has the damage already been done for you?
Everything is not lost.
This situation is easily rectified. Once again it requires the two things I’ve been mentioning this entire article; consistency and patience.
And also a new one: willpower.
Refer back to the previous section on reverse dieting. I’d do the exact same thing in this situation, starting from our current super-low calorie intake.
Begin increasing your calories slowly, working them back up, and monitor your response.
This requires a great deal of willpower.
Willpower to stop yourself panicking every time you increase, worried that you’re going to suddenly pack on tons of body fat and gain 100lbs.
You see, in my experience, when people have a history of crash dieting and/or reducing calories too quickly, we mentally condition ourselves to fear increasing calories. We worry ourselves into defeat.
Ever skipped a day at the gym and felt fatter when you looked in the mirror?
That’s the s**t I’m talking about.
It’s like a mild mental disorder that most people who go to the gym have (you’ll never be as jacked as you wanna be, and you’ll immediately be drawn to your flaws even if you look great to other people), so trusting yourself to increase calories can be hard if your previous outlook has always been about deprivation and self-punishment.
I get it.
Heck, I’ve done it.
How long it takes to work your calories up really depends on you.
I advise taking small, measurable steps with each increase, so I usually reverse diet for weeks, maybe months, using minor increases of 5% each time and monitoring the response in terms of weight, measurements, and look/feel.
The most important thing to know is, even if you’ve f**ked up with fad diets in the past and your metabolism has ground to a virtual halt on super low calories, all is not lost.
You can get back on track, and with the right approach, you will do just that.
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- Howell S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2017)
- Lally P., et al. How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. Euro J Soc Psychol. (2010)
- MacLean P. S., et al. Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. (2011)
- Miles C. W., et al. Effect of circadian variation in energy expenditure, within-subject variation and weight reduction on thermic effect of food. Eur J Clin Nutr. (1993)
- Jéquier, E. Leptin signaling, adiposity, and energy balance. Ann N Y Acad Sci. (2002)
- Löfgren P., et al. Prospective and controlled studies of the actions of insulin and catecholamine in fat cells of obese women following weight reduction. Diabetologia. (2005)
- Jackman, M. R., et al. Weight regain after sustained weight reduction is accompanied by suppressed oxidation of dietary fat and adipocyte hyperplasia. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. (2008)
- Stewart T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. (2002)