I shot a video blog in the gym but there was a bit of background noise from the radio and so on so here’s the text version to go along with it.
If you wanted to succeed where others have failed, what would you do? Should you do the same as everyone else, or something different? Do what hasn’t worked out for anyone, or do the opposite?
When it comes to dieting for weight loss, we know the statistics say that 95% of the time diets fail to result in long term, sustained weight loss. Worse than this, the reality of dieting in the conventional sense is that not only do people regain the weight they have lost, but they continue to gain weight and end up more over weight than they were in the first place.
Those are the stats and I might dig up the studies and add links later but really, you know this is true already. It’s a common story from people who’ve done whatever diet and “it was good, I lost 10kg. But then when I stopped I put on 15kg”.
Why this happens is pretty simple. All diets that result in weight loss do so by restricting energy intake. Either by using meal replacement shakes, low calorie meal plans, excluding certain foods, or whatever. The people selling them might try to tell you there is some other reason to do with the inherent goodness or badness of certain foods… but that’s bullshit. It is about energy intake.
Now the problem here is that these by definition are not sustainable approaches. You temporally reduce energy intake, and temporarily lose some weight. Then what? You go back to your old eating habits and regain the weight. You go back to your old habits either because the diet has a duration built in, or just because you’re fed up with eating things you don’t like and missing out on the things you do like.
So, you return to your previous eating habits, your previous energy intake, and your previous weight. That’s best case scenario. Quite likely you actually over eat and go beyond your “normal” energy intake as a result of having restricted for so long. Worse still though, is that for however long you have been restricting energy intake you have actually been training your body to run on less fuel, to conserve energy, and prioritise the storage of energy within fat stores.
You gain weight, or more specifically you gain fat by habitually consuming an amount of energy that is in excess of your requirements. While dieting, you train your body to get by on less energy. Therefore when you return to your regular eating habits, they are effectively more excessive than they were previously.
I could bore you with the science on this, but do you really need it? You’ve observed this happening enough times already. You know it is what happens.
Now, this applies to people who are in training with an athletic condition goal too.
Active people have a higher energy requirement than less active people. People participating in sport, even more so. People training for a lean body condition need to provide a suitable amount of protein and energy so as to allow the body to priortise fueling the muscle at the expense of body fat.
In my observation over several years, people who are training but not seeing results are usually not over eating. If they are just training and not paying any attention to diet, maybe they are. If they are training and paying some attention to diet, especially with calorie targets or a “clean eating” approach, they are usually not eating enough to provide the energy and resources that they require to facilitate results.
So then. What happens?
Training regularly, not gaining any weight, not losing any weight, not leaning out or seeing any changes in body composition. Usually, people will start to talk about going on a cut. Cutting carbs, eating clean, whatever you call it, whatever method… it’s reducing energy intake just the same as people going “on a diet” would do. However in this case, we’re failing to see results at training due to not being adequately fueled, and we reduce even further.
This may result in some small change in condition, but it will be temporary at best as the level of dietary restriction is unsustainable. Or worse, upon failure to see further changes in condition the athlete may conclude that further restriction is called for.
This can, and frequently does spiral out of control with disastrous consequences.
Let’s cut to the chase here.
Dieting, in the conventional sense serves no purpose other than to train your body to run on less fuel and to conserve whatever it can. The very opposite of what you want you want if you have a long term weight loss goal.
In active people training with a performance or condition goal, your requirements are quite high and you will not see results in terms of improved body composition (aka more muscle, less fat) by slashing further and further below those requirements.
Rather, active people should do the exact opposite. The exact opposite of what most people do. When you want to succeed where others have failed, you do something different.
Therefore. Rather than slash intake for a temporary result, then eventually gravitating back towards your usual habits and usual (or worse) condition, maximise intake towards the uppermost, optimal amount of total energy that you could expect to utilise for performance, recovery, and positive adaptation to training.
Train the body to put more and more energy and resources into lean mass where you want them, enabling greater performance and improved condition. When you return to eating more in accordance to your appetite, you’ll still be at a suitable amount, but less than your body has gotten used to.
Where do you think it is likely to draw energy from to make up the difference?
Dieting trains the body to run on less, and then it doesn’t know what to do with a normal amount. Fueling up trains the body to put more and more to good use.