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Have You Destroyed Your Metabolism With Restrictive Dieting?

This is the most common concern I hear from women when I do a consultation. They're on low calories, not really getting anywhere. Have had short lived success on even fewer calories on other programs before, but found it was unsustainable, made them miserable, and backfired long term leaving them in a state where they needed to continue to restrict just maintain a less lean condition that they started with.

BUT... when they've tried to entertain this notion of "eat more to weigh less" they just found that the scales started creeping up a little, panicked, and went back to what they were doing before.

Sounds familiar?

Here's the thing about eating more:

Food has weight of it's own.

Therefore... when you eat more, you might find that the scales tell you that you've gained weight, but really you haven't. You just have the weight of more food passing through the digestive system. Obviously we're talking about a few hundred grams or maybe a kg here and not several kilos. In people with a higher body fat percentage you also get much wider fluctuations in fluid retention which you wouldn't be aware of if you weren't in the habit of weighing yourself.

So... in the event that you happen to weigh in on a day when you're at the lightest end of the range that you fluctuate within, and then a week and a half later you happen to weigh in on a day that you're at the heaviest end of the range that you fluctuate within... that can be very confusing and misleading too.

So... you eat more food, and the weight of that food might be reflected on the scales. The energy sourced from that food (up to a certain point, anyway) is still of benefit to you. The energy sourced from carbohydrates is referred to as GLYCOGEN and this goes to the muscles to be used to power your next training session. If I remember this correctly from my text books, 1 gram of glycogen comes with 3 grams of water.

If that sounds like a bad thing, it isn't.

So what can happen is that you eat more, feel like you can train harder, feel a better over all sense of general well being... but the scale does not move at all in either direction. In this case... you'd expect at least the weight of the food, right? To my way of thinking in this case you've lost at least an equal amount of weight from body fat as you've added via "volume of food" and what has been made available to be stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.

This is why you'll often have the experience where people's weight has not changed, but their body measurements, pants size or whatever else have decreased quite significantly. Energy is being stored in the muscles, put to good use at training, then replenished. A similar amount is being pulled from fat stores (likely for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and not being replenished, because the body has better things to do with that energy and the luxury of being able to do so.

Different people are in different circumstances and there's no "one size fits all" answer.

For significantly larger people of a higher body fat percentage who may have been active but are beginners as far as what we might call "actual training" goes... I'd suggest being less concerned with the scales, more concerned with establishing regular and appropriate eating habits as opposed to dieting, and enjoy working on improved proficiency at exercise and appreciating changes in how your clothes fit as your dimensions change.

For those who are quite active and more athletic, but just not as lean as they'd like to be despite attempting to stick to very low calories of... oh... lets say anything below 1500 calories per day... certainly your metabolism has adapted to manage the workload it is accustomed to on the energy provision it is accustomed to... but it is ruined? No.

If you've tentatively tried eating a little more without a change in fortunes, the situation is most likely that you still haven't increased by enough to allow your body to benefit from your efforts at training, rather than merely to cope.

So, ideally what we want is to build an appetite and build the confidence to work towards levels of fueling where we see improvements in performance at training, improvements in condition, and fat loss at a rate that means that you lose more weight from a reduction in body fat than you add from the increased volume of food passing through your digestive system and the weight of glycogen being sent to those muscles to make them look full & firm and capable of explosive power in the gym.

That's ideal, and it's not always so easy to do on a linear basis.

I happen to have a great protocol to facilitate this though.

Cliff note version of how I suggest you consider going about this.

  • Immediate / First Two Weeks: Come from whatever insufficient level of fueling you're at now, to something that's at least adequate.
  • Next Two Weeks: Increase to what should be a more optimal level of intake. You may see the scales creep up a little for reasons described above but try not to let it mess with your head too much.
  • The Following Two Weeks: return to merely adequate fueling, and you should find that you drop whatever "volume of food" weight gained the previous two weeks, and then a little (or ideally a more significant amount) more. 
  • And So On: So far we've only come to a conservative estimate of more optimal intake, but I usually find at this point the system is working well enough and people are feeling good enough that we're confident to try working to a more adventurous estimate of optimal, and so on until we find our true maximal level.
Not many people seem to have much of a grasp of this stuff. Most people will still tell you that when your body adapts to cope with high levels of activity on low levels of caloric intake, the only answer is to add even more activity &/or cut to even fewer calories. You already know that's impossible.




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Big News: I'm relocating to Yanakie, Prom Country, Victoria.

The big news and perhaps the worst kept secret of the past few months is that I'm about to fulfill my life-long dream of retiring (well, more like semi-retiring) to within site of my favourite place in the world for as long as I can remember; Wilson's Promontory National Park.

If you've been following my instagram you might have noticed I took a few trips out that way recently, but only the members of my Perform, Refuel, Recover, Adapt group were in on the secret that I was actually house hunting.

So, once my settlement on the new place happens circa July, I'll be moving in, renovating a little, and most importantly setting up a kick ass private gym for myself, any of my online clients who'd like to come for a visit / vacation, and of course any interested locals will be welcome as well.

So stay tuned and especially on my instagram there'll be a lot more interesting content in the months ahead as I document setting everything up and exploring the area.

For my Online Clients:

There's lots to do and see around the Yanakie, Corner Inlet, Waratah Bay & Wilson's Promontory areas. Mountains to climb, hikes to hike, scenic tours by air or sea... you name it. There are several options of affordable holiday rental accommodation within walking distance of my new place, and I'll also have a guest room for those I'm especially comfortable with. Glamping on my property may also be an option, I'll have to check if there are any council restrictions on that.

For any curious locals:

I've been in the Fitness industry since around 2010, coaching out of the world famous Doherty's Gym in Brunswick as well as with clients from all around Australia and the rest of the world following my online coaching strategies. I'm best known for my innovative approach to sports nutrition, and online activism against restrictive, fad diets and the proliferation of eating disorders amongst fitness enthusiasts.

Jump to my new Personal Training In Yanakie info page for conditions and package details.
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Best Evidence Based Practice vs Best Emotional Intelligence Based Practice


I deliberately made the title a little bit more intriguing for click bait purposes. The reality of the matter is that the best practice IS an evidence based + emotional intelligence based approach.

To the right you can see a little graphic that I whipped up earlier. The first venn diagram is something you might have seen variations upon before, and I had the second diagram in mind to tie together a few of the topics I've covered on facebook in the past.

I had a post a while back about coaching strategies, and how I really think the importance of having a good coaching strategy can't be overlooked. Of course people need an effective training program, they need an appropriate nutrition strategy, but they need more than just that... and as far as I'm concerned it's not just "accountability" either.

What's also important is that people come into a program with some idea of how the training strategy works, some idea of how the nutrition strategy works, and that they're confident and enthusiastic to give it their best try. The coaching strategy in my opinion should be something that builds and increases those levels of confidence, enthusiasm, optimism and ambition, and in my opinion the outlook should be a positive one based on enjoying the challenge.

What should those strategies be based on, though? Refer to the first chart.

This is something else that appears to be often misunderstood.
  • Best Scientific Evidence will support whether something is necessary, beneficial, worthwhile, or otherwise. Note however that just because it might not be necessary to do something in a specific way, this alone is not always a reason not to do it that way. See the following point.
  • Professional Observation & Experience may influence how the coach feels is the best way to approach those necessary & beneficial aspects. For example; "in my experience with my clients, we seem to maintain better enthusiasm, better adherence, and therefore better results and altogether a more positive experience when we go about it this way". For this reason, anecdotal evidence is still valid in discussing what makes for best evidence based practice. For some reason this remains a point of contention.
  • Client's Needs & Goals obviously another crucial point that people seem to overlook. 

This applies to each individual aspect of the coaching strategy, and the coaching strategy as a whole. Otherwise... well, here's a flow chart that I made which I think is pretty cool, too:

Now... we could be talking about weight loss goals, athletic condition goals, whatever goals. And I do seem to write about weight loss a lot lately for a guy who doesn't really think weight is the thing we should be primarily focused on. Either way though, here's the thing; the purpose of these articles isn't to promote weight loss or to sell weight loss or whatever else.

The purpose is to protect people, right?

To protect people from the belief that there's some certain diet that they need to be on to lose weight, some certain choices of foods that they need to avoid or else they'll get fat, some reason they should have been able to stick to some awful dietary regime despite being hungry and miserable... and in specific reference to what is considered "evidence based" in online fitness & coaching cliques, to protect people from the idea that they can reasonably be expected to heavily and indefinitely restrict caloric intake to extreme levels of deficit, or that this would actually be conducive to best condition.

Particularly in the context described above, the term "evidence based" as been so abused over the past few years that is become virtually meaningless. Everyone thinks they're evidence based, no matter how little evidence there actually is that supports their position, no matter how much evidence refuting their position which they dismiss arbitrarily or simply refuse to acknowledge... some seem to think that simply by considering themselves "evidence based" people that they're automatically right about everything despite their total inability to provide a compelling argument in support of their opinion, or an intelligent thought on anything else, either.

Now, when you're talking about weight loss or you are talking about lean athletic condition... here are some facts I don't think you can dispute;
Individuals have been successful via a variety of approaches, but not by just one particular approach to the exclusion of all others.

Despite this, no approach that exists has a good track record of success, especially "long term" success in weight loss without weight regain.
In fact, according to the International Journal Of Obesity; “it is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term.”

So... everyone on social media is an expert on weight loss, but no one (well, relatively few people) is actually losing weight successfully. Everyone seems to want to 'splain what everyone else should be doing, and what every dietitian, nutritionist, GP & other health professional and their respective organisations should be recommending for weight loss.

Here's the thing; if there's no approach that exists with a proven track record of resulting in long term, sustained weight loss... arguing in favour of ANY approach is not being "evidence based" no matter how many times you use the phrase or how many links you drop.

The only argument on the subject that is evidence based is to point out the futility of attempting to force people en masse on to any dietary regime based on restriction, deprivation &/or the omission of any particular food choices.

Any evidence based approach should have a good outcome, but if you scroll back up a little to my beautiful flow chart, you'll see that somewhere in between "evidence based approach" and "best long term outcome" there's some unknown point at which it all breaks down and doesn't quite work out the way it is supposed to.

So, really the discussion isn't "Evidence Based vs Emotional Intelligence" so much as it should be about applying some emotional intelligence to an evidence based approach. Because as per the flow chart above, when you leave the emotional intelligence part out of your coaching strategy, all you're really heading for is a great big question mark.

Any form of intelligence seems to be in short supply amongst humans these days, but emotional intelligence might be the rarest form of all.
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Dieting And Weight Loss; It's Time To Face The Facts

Real talk though; we need to face the facts about dieting for weight loss.

On any specific approach over the long term, more people are unsuccessful than are successful. On all approaches combined, more people are unsuccessful than are successful. However... while successful outcomes are the minority, they are not exclusive to any specific approach.

What can we observe or logically conclude about what enables a person to be successful with any approach to dieting?

I suggest the following:
  • They enjoy & have an appetite for enough of the included choices of food that they are satiated, or at least that hunger levels are manageable.
  • Total energy intake is far enough below "an excessive" level that would preclude fat loss, but high enough to avoid or mitigate adaptive thermogenesis aka "starvation mode" in the common vernacular.
     
  • Ideally they're including a suitable amount of reasonably healthful and nutritious choices, but some famous "stunt diets" you may have read about prove it could be done on just potatoes, twinkies, macdonalds, ice cream & whey... whatever. None of which I would personally recommend but it demonstrates an important point.
  • The eating habits they adopt fit in with their lifestyle & circumstances, and they're able to stay enthusiastic and not gravitate back towards their old habits.
  • So their are any number of overly simple answers but the reality is that for most people, success is going to be something that you have to decide upon and keep working on, on an ongoing daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, year in, year out basis. Therefore you want "the path of least resistance" in my opinion.

Now... people often attempt to 'splain to me that their personally prefered diet (usually LCHF) is "more satiating" and therefore preferable over brute force starvation approaches which work in theory but backfire long term due to the effects on metabolism.

You can refer to the above for what is wrong with this logic. It would be satiating IF you happen to enjoy enough of the foods that fit this eating style and happen to consume enough of them to meet that "adequate but not excessive" energy provision that results in weight loss without metabolic adaptation.

However if you DON'T happen to enjoy enough of those foods, then it actually does become a brute force deprivation based approach. I still don't really understand how people can be quite so low in emotional IQ that they can't grasp this concept.

ANYWAY let's wrap this up.

With the right guidance you could achieve that "adequate but not excessive, satisfied but not stuffed, weight loss without metabolic downgrade" eating pattern on ANY selection of foods without feeling afraid or guilty about ANY particular choices or needing to rule anything out (other than on specific medical grounds obviously).

That's what I teach people to do.
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