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Usual chain of events upon setting Custom Flexible Dieting Guidelines for a new client.

Here's how it usually plays out.

1. I crunch the numbers and set introductory intake targets, to set a benchmark.

Generally speaking, the total calorie range in these introductory targets will be the lowest I'd ever consider appropriate for this client. The targets for dietary fats, protein, and carbohydrates are in a "this much is adequate, closer to this amount is probably more ideal if you don't find it too difficult" format.

More often than not, the total calorie target is still quite significantly higher than the client has been attempting to limit to in the past.

2. The client is a little overwhelmed by all these numbers.

This is normal, and usually I'll tell them something like "you don't have to nail it right away, just do your best and we'll try to hit a little closer to the mark more consistently in the weeks ahead. We have forever to get it right".

3. The client finds it so easy to hit their targets, they imagine they must be doing it wrong.

We're so used to the idea that it's really hard to lose weight, and that getting your diet right is complicated and difficult, it often seems to create some cognitive dissonance when a new client finds it so easy to hit the targets I've given them.

Often the client is convinced they will not succeed despite hitting their intake targets quite accurately, due to including some "not clean" choices here and there. On investigation of their food logs, I usually find they are actually still a little short on total intake, and I advise they should have actually taken a second serving of whatever "bad" choice of food they were concerned about.

4. Perhaps just as often though, the client reports in that they are exceeding their fat target, and falling a little short of their protein target.

Regarding the fats, remember we're talking about a minimum target, the least I would consider adequate. Therefore, exceeding it is exactly what should be happening. It would actually be quite unlikely to fall short of minimum adequate fats, other than in very deliberate and restrictive circumstances.

As to the protein? Just do your best for now.

5. Upon weighing in, the client has lost weight. Or at least failed to gain weight despite eating a lot more.

If the client has lost weight, we'll stay with the targets we have until we have reason to move them. If not, we will increase until we reach a level of total intake most suitable for results from training.

In some cases the client has not actually lost weight, but there is an observable improvement in body composition. Aka "leaning out". This is due to more appropriate fueling, and the body having resources available to adapt favourably to training.

6. Client reports being incredibly hungry, despite now eating perhaps 50 or 100% more than previously, and still seeing better results.

We increase minimum targets accordingly, and in some cases I set no upper limit on intake. In other words "no less than this amount, but listen to your body and if it tells you it wants more, you better give it some".

Eating more but not gaining weight, or eating more and actually losing weight, and feeling more hungry than ever is a sure sign that your body is taking up all of the fuel and resources that you are providing, and putting them all to good use in recovering and adapting favourably to training, just the way you want it to.

The conventional wisdom that you will lose more weight by eating less and less and less is baffling to me. To see any results from training, you must provide adequate fuel and resources for the body to utilise. The closer to "ideal" levels, the more pronounced and consistent the results, but "adequate" will still get you there. Most of the way at least.

7. The client reports a few bad days, failing to adhere to their targets.

This happens because people have lives outside of training. Careers, social obligations, birthday parties, or maybe they just really felt like pizza one night.

I'm never remotely concerned when this happens. Almost without exception, they still report in with good progress at the end of the week.

8. The client quickly unlearns any ideas about not being cut out for success in weight management, any hang ups about enjoying different choices of foods, and becomes more confident and enthusiastic about training and consistently hitting closer to ideal intake.

Boom. Goes. The. Dynamite.

Stop thinking "Weight Loss Diet", start thinking "Sports Nutrition"

I wrote this up and posted it elsewhere the other day, but then I realised it was more suited to this blog with more of my better pieces of writing, where people will hopefully be able to find it.

For anyone out there who is in the habit going to the gym, the track, whereever else to train or exercise for any or all of the following reasons:
  • to lose weight
  • to be healthy and active
  • to change your body condition
  • to improve performance and perhaps to compete in sport
You had better be thinking in terms of SPORTS NUTRITION more so than “being on a diet”. If you’re thinking something like “oh that’s for after i’ve lost the fat” or “that’s for people who are better at sport than I am” you’re in for a frustrating and unpleasant time.

If you’re participating in training & exercise to produce any result, you need the appropriate nutrition plan to enable said result. “Dieting” aint gonna do it.

Here’s what the evidence suggests on appropriate sports nutrition.
  • get enough total cals.
  • get enough protein.
  • get enough dietary fats.
  • your five + serves of fruit and vegetables will go some of the way towards meeting your carbohydrate requirements.
  • you are likely to need a lot more than you’ll get from fruit and veg though, and it doesn’t really matter where you get the rest from.
  • get enough fiber.
  • meal timing and frequency doesn’t seem to make much difference so go with what suits you.
  • "clean" foods verses "other" foods doesn’t make any difference so go with what suits you.
  • anything else i’ve forgotten or omitted? (probably) doesn’t make any difference either so go with what suits you.
it’s weird how “sports nutrition” is actually easier than a “weight loss diet”, right?

Weight loss diets seem have so many rules, and if you don't get everything just right, it all comes crashing down like a house of cards. Only these foods, never those ones. Eat only at these times and never after this time... those aren't even the craziest of the ideas out there, not by a long shot.

In sports nutrition though, the move increasingly is towards more flexible approaches based on providing adequate resources, from whatever sources and on whatever schedule suits the individual. All of that other stuff is really of no consequence.

Just eat healthy. What does that mean though?

It's pretty good advice, although somewhat generic. I see variations on the theme all the time in "motivational" type images on blogs and facebook and so forth; "skip the diet, just eat healthy".

Hard to argue with. Exactly what constitutes a healthy diet, though? It's worth asking, surely?

The problem with such a question is that once you've answered it, you've also defined what makes an "unhealthy" diet. That is... "here's what makes for a healthy diet, therefore anything else is unhealthy". That's how most people seem to think, from my observation. It is problematic.

The tendency I've noticed is to think of a list of all the things that are probably a good idea, and then if you're not doing all of them you have an unhealthy diet. And the logic continues that if you have an unhealthy diet, you'll not be successful in your weight loss or body condition goals. This is highly problematic.

So let's start at the opposite end of the issue, and discuss what would make for an unhealthy diet. It stands to reason that if we can define "unhealthy", anything else is quite suitable for good health and good results from training.

An unhealthy diet would be deficient in important vitamins and minerals.

This is important for good health in general, more than for weight management or performance and results at training. I had to double check this point with a client of mine who happens to be qualified as a Diet Tech (yeah that's right) to be sure, but generally speaking as long as you get your five (or more) serves of fruit and vegetables per day, you're not likely to be deficient in any micronutrients.

Especially if you eat a variety of different types, different colours ("eat the rainbow", as the saying goes) you're going to get a pretty good spread of vitamins and minerals. More's better, but 5 serves a day will do.

So that part is pretty simple.

An unhealthy diet would be excessive in calorific intake.

This is the obvious one. Now... depending on who you listen to and which blogs you read you'll be told that only carbohydrates are the problem, or only fats are the problem, or only certain types of one or the other from certain sources are a problem. That's all horse shit. Excess calories are excess calories, regardless of where they come from. If you consume more than your body has a use for, it will be stored as fat.

Now... it's normal and perfectly healthy to be carrying a certain percentage of body fat within a certain range depending on if you're a man or woman. Excessive body fat though... we all know it's not healthy whether we want to face up to that or not. There are host of other symptoms that are associated with excessive intake, clogged arteries, heart disease, inflammation and so on... people like to argue about which source of calories is responsible, but this is missing the point entirely. The issue is that we are in excess of our requirements, not the source of the excess calories. Regardless of the source, if we were not in excess there would be no issue as the body would find something productive to do with these energy resources.

So, rather than worrying about which food choices are healthy or unhealthy, simply focus on not being in excess of your requirements. However...

A diet that is of an insufficient total calorific intake would also be unhealthy.

As explained above, we don't want to be in the habit of regularly consuming in excess of our energy requirements. But with that being said, energy is still an important resource that we require for good health. Especially in active people who are trying to create a lean and athletic body condition through hard and strategic training, to be insufficient in energy intake can mean that all of that training is actually to the detriment of your physical health.

It is somewhat baffling to me that so many people in the industry or just fitness enthusiasts believe that the way to achieve great results from training is by depriving the body of an important resource, usually carbohydrates but quite often just "all" forms of intake. It is not enough simply to meet your micronutrient requirements, or even your protein requirements. A diet that does not provide sufficient energy to maintain a healthy body weight while accounting for the type and amount of activity your participate in is unhealthy.

An unhealthy diet would be rigid and inflexible, with no regard for your psychological needs.

We're designed to enjoy food. Even within a fine tuned nutritional plan designed to produce elite level performance and results from training, there should be a focus on meeting those requirements from choices of foods that you enjoy and will look forward to eating, rather than on choices that don't enjoy but are "good for you". There should even be room for some choices purely for indulgence.

Rigid diet plans that ban any indulgent choices, that are based on will power and discipline, that imagine that your body treats calories from more enjoyable sources differently to ones from more "virtuous" sources, and leads to feelings of guilt or failure associated with the perfectly natural human behaviour of enjoying food, is clearly unhealthy and an entirely irresponsible thing to promote.

So, what then would a healthy diet mean?

Get your five or more serves of fruit and vegetables, get enough protein, enough dietary fats, enough carbohydrates and fiber, enough total energy intake, but not too much. Boom you have a healthy diet.

Oh and all this talk about it being too expensive to eat healthy? It’s as expensive as your tastes dictate. That’s all.


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