According to the calendar it’s officially Spring.
So even if there’s still snow on the ground and the Easter bunny has lost an ear to frostbite, one thing is clear: fat loss season is in full court press.
But forget Spring — have you noticed how some people seem to be constantly dieting? Month after month, even year after, they track and count and weigh (and stress).
Why do so many stop making progress?
Provided you’re not on a strict deadline, one of the smartest things you can do to help reach your body composition goal is to occasionally stop trying. As in take a break.
Now that doesn’t mean to ditch your healthy lifestyle and start binging on every sweet vice like a sailor on shore leave. It means just stop stressing about it.
Eat a little more; a lot less structured and a little more “instinctively.” You know, live.
Until your body says you’re ready to resume your journey.
According to my friend and fat loss expert Dr. Jade Teta of Metabolic Effect, prolonged dieting – “as in eat less, exercise more” — eventually becomes an insurmountable stumbling block.
Teta says when you follow this for too long, the body eventually fights back by increasing hunger and decreasing energy levels, while at the same time lowering resting metabolic rate by around 300 calories per day. Oh yeah, and hunger goes through the roof. Not good.
Now if you’re 3 weeks out from a bodybuilding contest or photo shoot you’re pretty much screwed – apart from some bodybuilder voodoo, your only (legal) option is to just suck it up and count down the days to showtime.
However, if you’re on a “slow & steady” lifestyle approach, you’re better off just chilling out and allowing yourself to eat more — anywhere from an extra 250 to 500 calories a day, perhaps more, perhaps less.
If you’re stressing about gaining all your weight back, increasing the volume (provided you’re not doing hours of hamster cardio already) or intensity (my preference) of exercise will help mitigate fat gain.
And it feels pretty good too. Doing energy system work, especially higher intensity stuff, is surprisingly less life sucking when you’re not starving. You actually perform well and feel almost like an athlete. Almost.
This adjustment may feel like a big pause and in a way it is, but it’s beneficial to thyroid health and keeps leptin at a reasonable level.
Not being on a hardcore diet for extended periods also makes you an infinitely more interesting person to hang out with. Just an observation.
So when do you start dieting again?
When this new level is your new normal.
Here’s what I’ve learned while completing my PhD studies in broscience at Zubaz State University:
Whenever you try to “take” your physique somewhere – whether it’s lose a load of chub or gain 10 pounds of (hopefully lean) mass – it’s better to start from what I call “net-zero.”
Net-zero is when your body is at a set point. You’ve all been there – maybe you’re there right now? It’s when you can basically “forget” about what you’re doing and just live and your body doesn’t change much.
Have a rough few weeks and miss some workouts and meals? Your weight stays the same. Spend a long weekend in Vegas eating (and drinking)? You maybe go up a pound up, if that.
Now, normally net-zero kinda sucks. Cause it means you’re “stuck,” in a rut, a plateau.
But it also means that your body is “stable.” And ready to make a change – if you give it a serious push.
From net-zero you can either buckle down and push the calories and volume to gain mass, or start lowering calories to lose fat.
But look how many folks do it:
They diet for 16-20 weeks, take after pictures, and then immediately jump right into a “mass phase.” Oh they add mass all right – much of it bodyfat.
Or they do the opposite – they kick and scratch and eat to pack on 20 pounds in three months, and then overnight cut their calories in half and start doing cardio because the calendar (and their waistline) says it’s “time to diet.”
That’s a recipe to lose whatever muscle they just fought to put on.
Check The Method
Whenever you make a significant weight change, in either direction, you need to “sit” on it for at least a few weeks (usually months) to let things stabilize.
Yes, you’ll always have some “weight creep” but there’s a difference between a few pounds and blurred definition and 20 pounds and chipmunk cheeks.
This has been a hard lesson for me. I was always that guy who laughed at bodybuilders talking about taking 25 or 30 or even 50 weeks to lose 20 pounds for a contest.
“Twenty pounds,” I’d scoff. “I can lose that in 8 weeks.”
And I could, and would. Then I’d put 15 of those pounds back on in a weekend.
The slower you go and the more you start from square one, the better off you’ll be.
If you’ve been in an extended fat loss phase but things have slowed to a glacial pace (and you don’t have a firm deadline looming) take a break. Try to “settle in” at your new level of leanness. Make all those new habits a lifestyle, not just “things that you’re doing to lose weight.”
Eat a bit more, rest more, and train for “performance”, not to get smaller. Assessing things like waking body temperature, mood, and libido can be helpful.
Resume “dieting” when things stabilize – and most importantly, when you feel like doing it.
On the flip side, if you added a bunch of weight, cruise for a while.
Stop “bulking” or forcing meals and just live. Eat when you’re hungry. Think about other stuff. Better yet, do other stuff. At least then you’ll have something to talk about other than your diet, which I for one would appreciate.
The Track Meet
Building a better body is not a sprint, but it’s also not a marathon either.
It’s more like a full-day track meet – a series of brief sprints interspersed between long gaps of recharging your resources and biding your time.
You’re not “finished” but you have made ground. Accept the progress you’ve made and make this new territory your new “home base.” Settle in and prepare for the final push to victory.
Some guys just want to look good. Others are willing to learn what it takes. Which guy are you? Click here to learn more about building the body you want.