I think all too often we think that to eat well means to CUT OUT foods.
And this attitude is what causes many people to never want to make dietary changes.
And I don’t blame them!
Who wants to think that eating well means cutting out tons of calories or the foods they love?
But eating well isn’t about cutting out…It can actually be about adding in, making swaps and FINDING BALANCE.
The focus on CUTTING OUT is what gets us into trouble. It is what makes us feel deprived. It is what makes us not want to stick to our program. It even can hinder us from getting the results we want.
This focus on cutting out is what makes people think that eating well means suffering.
It leads people to never want to commit to a lifestyle change because eating well is too difficult and doesn’t even get them the results they want.
Sometimes this belief that eating well is just about cutting out leads to people cutting out too much.
For instance, while cutting calories is necessary if your goal is weight loss, there is such a thing as cutting out too many calories. Cutting out too many calories can slow your metabolism and stall your weight loss.
Sometimes by actually ADDING IN higher calorie days, especially on days when you are more active, you can keep your metabolism running strong.
Also, sometimes by ADDING IN those foods you love on a cheat day or in moderation a couple of times a week can keep you on track. They can keep you moving forward toward your goals.
Sometimes if you don’t add in any indulgences, you feel deprived and those feelings of deprivation may lead to an all out binge that will completely derail your progress.
Basically what all this means is that if you restrict yourself too much, if you cut out too much, you are going to stall, and maybe even derail, your progress.
Also people think that with eating well they have to cut out all of the food they love and that just isn’t true!
Ever heard the quote “Strive for progress NOT perfection?”
Well that is exactly what you need to do. It’s all about the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time you eat what your body needs, 20% you indulge in what your mind wants!
Start making small changes, don’t just cut out everything at once.
Those foods that you love, that you feel you can’t live without, SHOULD NOT be the first foods you remove from your diet.
And on top of that, you aren’t simply cutting out foods, you are swapping them for healthier variations.
If you enjoy french fries, you don’t have to cut them out completely! Either you can choose to indulge in them as part of your 20% OR you can find a HEALTHIER VARIATION.
For instance, you could BAKE fries in your oven!
If you don’t find ways that you can ENJOY eating well, you aren’t going to stick with the lifestyle change.
AKA YOU CAN’T SIMPLY CUT THINGS OUT!
You need to find BALANCE with eating well and indulging. You need to find HEALTHY SWAPS for those foods you love the most.
And you need to make slow steady changes so that each change becomes habit before you start working on something else.
Eating well doesn’t have to feel like punishment and it most definitely isn’t only about cutting things out!
I got into an interesting discussion last night with clients about diet and what they SHOULD be eating every day. Women especially seem to get very obsessed with restricting their calories when they are trying to lose weight.
My simple answer when they asked me what they should be eating and how many calories they needed was:
Your body’s needs change daily.
They of course rolled their eyes at me and shook their heads because they knew I loved giving that very vague answer.
Some days you are super active and require more fuel while other days you aren’t as active and don’t need as much. Some days you are super hungry while other days you aren’t.
Yet so many people restrict their calories (and their carbs) to the exact same level each and every day.
And that maybe why they aren’t getting the results they want.
You need to fuel your body’s needs. And those needs aren’t the same day-to-day.
If you do an intense workout, YOU ARE GOING TO NEED TO EAT MORE. If you deprive yourself of food when your body needs it, you are going to hinder your progress – be it weight loss or strength gains.
Just like if you eat too much on days when you aren’t active you are going to hinder your progress.
Eat when you are HUNGRY.
People are often shocked when I say this, but…IF YOU AREN’T HUNGRY DON’T EAT! And if you are…THEN EAT!
There is really no most important meal or the day. If you aren’t hungry for breakfast, then don’t eat it!
And if you are hungry at 10 p.m., EAT!
You aren’t going to get fat just because you ate after a certain time of night. If your body needs the fuel, it will use it no matter when you eat. It isn’t like your metabolism decides to just shut off because it is 8 p.m.
Your body is pretty good at telling you what it needs.
You just need to learn how to listen because most people don’t really pay attention. They mistake boredom for hunger or even thirst for a need for food. They can also get caught up in thinking they need to eat every few hours or their metabolism will just shut off so they force down food even when their body isn’t really asking for it.
So how do you learn to listen to your body? How do you know when to cycle your calories and carbs?
HOW TO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:
Think before you eat. It’s really that simple. For example….If you just ate like an hour ago (and it was a filling healthy lunch) and you are sitting at your computer doing some boring work and are struck by a desire to just eat, ask yourself, “Am I hungry or am I bored?” I’m guessing more often than you know, your answer will be BORED. Maybe try drinking some water before you dive in. Dehydration is also another common trigger of “hunger pangs.” And so is stress. Think before you eat.
While I know many people may be shocked by what I will say next….Fasting can be a great way to get in tune with your body. I’m not suggesting you start starving yourself, but occasional intermittent fasts can be a great way to realize how often you eat for reasons unrelated to hunger. I found I became way more in tune with my body when I did intermittent fasting.
I no longer NEED to eat at certain times. And some days I don’t eat till late in the afternoon while other days I need to eat something the second I get up.
The point is though that I can RESPOND to my body’s NEEDS. I don’t just have to eat because I’m conditioned to mentally want something at a certain time of day.
Another great way to get in tune with your body is to keep track of your diet, activity level, emotions and lifestyle.
I know this sounds super annoying, but it can be super helpful if you are really struggling to make a healthy lifestyle stick. There are going to be common trends. Emotions may trigger eating binges. Or you may find out that on certain days when you were more active and ate more carbs you had better results than on days when you worked out intensely yet forced yourself to continue to restrict your carb intake.
Tracking reveals patterns so that we aren’t just guessing at what is going on. Guessing generally leads to frustration and failure.
WHEN/HOW TO CARB AND CALORIE CYCLE:
To put it simply as I stated above – eat when you are hungry and listen to what your body craves.
If you don’t workout, your body won’t need the carbs and calories that it does on days when you do workout. And more intense workouts, especially cardio workouts that really deplete your glycogen stores, are going to require more carbs and more calories.
Respond to your activity level and what your body is craving. (And just because your body is craving carbs doesn’t mean you have to give in and go eat a bunch of crap. There are lots of ways to do a carb re-feed without eating unhealthily.)
Plan days of low carb (around 50 grams) for days when you don’t workout or workout lightly. If you have a super hard intense workout, don’t be afraid to up your carbs to even 200-300 grams. Keep the carbs healthy, but fuel the workout.
While you don’t want your carbs to be up at 200g every day (because if you need that many every day you are probably OVERTRAINING), having a few days where you do get up over 150g is ok and even go.
Also, play around with carb timing. Have some carb refeed days and then have some days where maybe you just have carbs AFTER your workout when your body will quickly grab them up to rebuild.
Generally I break down my diet into three days.
Low day – Around 50 grams of carbs, high fat, high protein.
Medium day – Around 100-120 grams of carbs, medium/low-fat, high protein
High day – Around 200-300 grams of carbs, low-fat, medium protein
This basic plan works for me and I always feel energized.
But there are lots of ways to carb cycle – you can do whole day refeeds or just specific meal refeeds after your workouts.
I must say that there are times where I fast, workout and then basically just have carbs after my workouts and that is my refeed for the day.
The point is to listen to your body and not be stuck believing that the only way to get results is to restrict your diet completely.
While low carb can be a great way to kick-start your diet and may even have help you have great success, you may just find that carb and calorie cycling is what you need to get over that last little hurdle. Sometimes a little more can be better when it comes to weight or fat loss.
And while I have no problems running a half marathon fasted and after a week of low carb, you may just find that your body requires MORE carbs to fuel your activity level and help you reach the strength and performance gains you desire.
Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to eat more calories or carbs especially when your body is asking for them! You may just find your goals are easy to reach when you aren’t so militant about restriction.
Today I want to take a second and talk about weight/fat loss and dieting. While I always drive people to have performance goals, a great percentage of the clients I deal with do have weight loss goals as one of their reasons for wanting to start with training.
Some are completely aesthetic goals. Some are health related.
But whatever the reason, weight loss is a very common goal.
And many people think that weight loss or body fat loss means cutting everything out.
But can cutting out TOO MUCH actually be the reason why they aren’t seeing results?
If you cut out too much, your body is going to think it is starving. And when your body thinks it is starving, it is going to try to slow everything down so that it can protect the stores that it has.
AKA your metabolism slows down, which fights against you losing the weight/fat you were trying to lose.
Not to mention that if you aren’t fueling properly, your body is going to be stressed, which will negatively affect your hormone levels.
And you aren’t going to have the energy to workout or even really make it through the day functioning at a high level.
All those hours you are putting in at the gym may not be paying off because you don’t really have the energy to push your body to work as hard as it needs to for you to make the strength/muscle/cardiovascular gains you are looking to make.
And I bet you are now shaking your head, thinking, “But I need to really cut calories or I won’t lose weight! Even Bob Harper’s diet says to eat only 800 calories a day for three weeks!”
If you eat 800 calories a day and expect your body to function at a high level, you are kidding yourself. At that rate, you are going to stall very quickly and your body is going to revolt.
Plus, 800 calories from meat and veggies is going to affect your body way differently than 800 calories of M&Ms. You are going to see drastically different results if you eat the RIGHT FOODS.
You now may be thinking, “Ok so you are one of those “quality matters more than the number of calories.”
I do think creating a calorie deficit matters. BUT I think that quality of the food you consume matters just as much.
And while I’m a fan of low carb, I do believe that cutting out too much of ANYTHING, be in calories or a macronutrient, for prolonged periods of time leads to plateaus and potentially even backslides.
So what do you do if cutting out a ton of calories isn’t the way and it isn’t only about eating the right foods?
I call it carb cycling, but it could very well be described as calorie cycling as well.
I meet my body’s needs.
And every day my body doesn’t need the same thing.
Some days I completely deplete my glycogen stores. I do a super tough workout and have had a few days of lower carb. And now my body needs carbs.
And if I don’t do a carb refeed, I’m going to be a grouchy low-energy person. I’m going to be angry and not very fun to be around. My workouts will suffer and that will only serve to make me more peeved.
So I avoid letting that happen.
I do a carb refeed. I respect what my body needs.
Just like I respect the fact that on some days my body wants breakfast and on others it doesn’t. Some days it needs 3,000 calories and other days it is fine with only 1,500.
And the thing is, your body functions best when it is getting what it NEEDS!
If you want to lose fat, if you want to lose weight, yes, you’ve got to make changes to your diet. And yes, you will need to create a calorie deficit at points, but you’ve also got to respect what your body needs to keep functioning at a high level.
Because when your body functions well, it will also do a good job of losing the weight and performing well.
But on top of that, cutting out “enough” calories to lose weight, or cutting your carbs, doesn’t mean you do it to the same extent EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Cycle in high days. Cycle in low days. When you workout, fuel your workout. Replenish your body.
When you don’t workout, don’t give it calories or foods it doesn’t need.
The cycling allows you to create the calorie deficit and/or carb fluctuations you need over the weeks, months, or even years to lose the weight/fat without your body feeling deprived or stressed so that your hormone levels and metabolism work against you.
If you’re progress has stalled, take a look at your diet. You may just be cutting too much out.
Just like we vary our workouts to create some “muscle confusion” since our body adapts, we need to vary our diet since our body will adapt and try to prevent starvation if we cut out too many calories.
Have you ever suffered from the, “If I barely eat I’ll lose more weight” mentality?
When did you realize that NOT STARVING yourself actually led to greater results!?! (Maybe right now…..)
NOTE: STOP WEIGHING YOURSELF EVERY DAY! If you cycle calories and carbs, your weight will fluctuate day to day. Pick one day a week or even each month to weigh. Do not put it right after your carb refeed.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that it is almost impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
But we all know that conventional wisdom is wrong 99% of the time.
Conventional wisdom states:
- To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit.
- To gain muscle, you must be in a calorie surplus.
But actually, there is a way that you can!
Through calorie cycling, fasting, eating whole, natural foods, and doing strength training , you will be able to accomplish both goals at once – gaining muscle and losing fat.
Calorie cycling means eating more calories on the days when you workout (calorie surplus) and eating fewer calories on the days when you don’t workout (calorie deficit). By cycling days of higher and lower calorie intake, you will be able to lose fat without catabolizing your muscle or slowing down your metabolism.
Lean Gains has a great post called “Maintaining Low Body Fat.” In it he states the importance of calorie cycling to be both muscled and lean. He also states that, unlike with calorie restriction, calorie cycling will not only help you accomplish your fitness goals but will also have behavioral benefits as well!
Surplus calories should not be consumed each and every day, but in conjunction with training – when they are likely to be used for repair of damaged muscle tissues and recovery of glycogen stores. Conversely, slight underfeeding on rest days may have benefits mediated via mechanisms that kick in during calorie restriction (on top of the independent and positive effects of intermittent fasting), such as improvement in blood lipids and other health markers.
And then there’s the fact that people simply get more productive with a lessened focus on food on rest days – they get stuff done. But this effect is unique for the short-term. It’s certainly not something that occurs with prolonged dieting, where thoughts of food may become overwhelming and obsessive. I actually prefer to have a few dieting days now and then. I’ve noticed I am at my most productive during those days and I certainly don’t experience “dieting” symptoms such as increases in hunger.
So, cycling between overfeeding (training days) and slight underfeeding (rest days) is another excellent strategy to remain lean regardless of your goal. The benefits are not only physiological, but also behavioral.
So to sum it up – calorie cycling helps you get the calories you need on training days to build muscle while calorie restriction on non-training days helps you create a calorie deficit so that you can lose fat.
Fasting is a great way to create a calorie deficit while also maintaining your lean muscle mass and even increasing it! Mark’s Daily Apple actually had a post about fasting the other day in which Mark states:
[Fasting] increases fat oxidation while sparing lean mass. Since what we’re trying to do is lose fat (rather than just “weight”), the fact that fasting increases hormones that preferentially burn fat and decreases hormones that inhibit fat burning is extremely desirable.
Fasting increases hormones such as the growth hormone, which is not only one of the “premier” fat burning hormones, but is also involved in muscle growth!
How does growth hormone promote both?
Growth hormone promotes lipolysis, which is the breakdown of lipids and involves the hydrolysis of triglycerides into free fatty acids followed by further degradation. This process produces Ketones, which are found in large quantities in ketosis, a metabolic state that occurs when the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies, which can be used by the body for energy. AKA…the body starts using fat for fuel!
So during fasting more growth hormone is released which promotes lipolysis and the body begins to burn fast for fuel so that you lose fat!
The growth hormone increase during fasting also means increases in muscle mass. It stimulates both the differentiation and proliferation of myoblasts, which are a type of embryonic progenitor cell that gives rise to muscle cells. Growth hormone also stimulates amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in muscle and other tissues.
What all this means is that growth hormone helps your muscles absorb what they need to repair and grow while also helping your body use fat for fuel!…AKA fasting helps you gain muscle and lose fat!!!!
Whole, Natural Foods:
So when people tell you it’s all about calories in vs. calories out to lose weight, they are to some extent right. If you just want to lose weight on a scale, yes…you just need to eat fewer calories. BUT if you want to lose fat and retain lean muscle mass, the type of calories you consume DO MATTER.
There have been numerous studies proving that eating more protein helps people looking to lose body fat retain lean muscle mass.
After 12 weeks, our study found that the group of women who followed a reduced-calorie eating plan while consuming a higher level of protein was more effective in maintaining lean body mass during weight loss compared to those who consumed the same amount of calories with less protein.
So if you are in a calorie deficit, eating protein will help you spare your lean muscle mass so that all you are losing is fat.
Protein is also essential for muscle growth. The amino acids that make up protein are needed to help repair muscles after a strength training workout so that they grow.
And guess what more muscle means? More fat burning! When you gain muscle, your body has the ability to burn more fat.
So by consuming protein you aid your body in the preservation and ADDITION of lean muscle mass, which, in turn, will help you burn more fat!
How do you build muscle? Through strength training! What can help you lose fat? Strength training!
So what can intense workouts help you do? Gain muscle and lose fat all at the same time! Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen one of the top Crossfitters? Enough said.
Anyway, lifting heavy weights for fewer than 12 reps will help you gain strength and add muscle. The ideal rep range for muscle growth or muscle hypertrophy is usually considered to be between 8-12 reps. I however believe that if you use challenging weights no matter how many reps, will gain strength and therefore gain muscle.
No matter what rep range you believe to be ideal, stressing the muscles through strength training will cause trama to the muscles which will cause them to repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger in the process (especially if you eat the right type of calories!).
And not only does strength training help you gain muscle but it is better for fat loss than spending hours on a piece of cardio equipment. Even Women’s Health Magazine says so!
When you skip the weight room, you lose out on the ultimate flab melter. Those two sessions a week can reduce overall body fat by about 3 percentage points in just 10 weeks, even if you don’t cut a single calorie. That translates to as much as three inches total off your waist and hips. Even better, all that new muscle pays off in a long-term boost to your metabolism, which helps keep your body lean and sculpted. Suddenly, dumbbells sound like a smart idea.
So start lifting those heavy weights! Strength training will help you build muscle AND burn fat!
See? Conventional wisdom is wrong again. You can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. I know I did!