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Showing posts with label flexible dieting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label flexible dieting. Show all posts

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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Interrupted / Intermittent Energy Restriction Sports Nutrition Strategy

Brand new for 2018, a new variation on the Flexible Fueling system inspired by the recent MATADOR (Minimising Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound) Study showing that greater weight loss results were achieved with a "two weeks on, two weeks off" approach to dieting compared to continuous energy restriction.

I want to try to skim over a couple of things that have been covered previously and get on to what's new. My Flexible Fueling approach (in fact, even before I started calling it Flexible Fueling) has always been about getting people OUT of that restrictive, further and further into deficit approach to IIFYM and getting them confidently enjoying a variety the delicious & nutritious foods that suit & appeal to them, to a total energy provision that is adequate, but not excessive.

Flexible Fueling Towards Intuitive Eating

I covered this in more detail recently, but suffice it to say that for many people it's enough just to get out of dieting, practice regular eating habits to ensure that they meet at least a conservative estimate of their minimum requirements, leaving a reasonable margin for error or variance so that they don't have to feel anxious about a social engagement where they may indulge a little... and to understand that as this is a conservative estimate of minimal requirements, before long they're likely to experience some hunger signals, which they should respond to accordingly with an increase to a more appropriate level of daily energy intake.

Flexible Fueling Towards Metabolic Capacity

My experience as a professional coach is that in the vast majority of cases, people's problems stem from attempting to restrict to an insufficient level of energy intake relative to their requirements. In the case of more experienced, more proficient, serious fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes this is a serious problem. Particularly with a younger, taller, more active client with a more advanced level of prowess at training it is imperative to increase steadily towards a target representing the highest level of energy intake that can be put to good use and produce a benefit in terms of athletic performance and condition.

This does not mean a "bulk and cut" strategy.

Serious fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes as described above have a high energy requirement and potentially massive capacity for energy flux AKA the amount of energy that could be expended or otherwise utilised. As you increase towards this amount, a leaner and more athletic condition will be the result.

If you've been following me for a while you'll know all of this already, and you'll know it's what I've been talking about for years and everyone else is slowly starting to catch up to, including a bunch of suck ass motherfuckers who've argued with me in the past. PROLONGED & EXCESSIVE LEVELS OF RESTRICTION CAN ONLY BACKFIRE AND CANNOT RESULT IN MAINTENANCE OF A LEAN ATHLETIC CONDITION. Rather, that sort of nonsense is only conducive to a regression in physical condition and the development of an eating disorder.

So much for the "skim". Let's cut to it.

The Flexible Fueling Punctuated Periodisation Protocol

What we're doing here is inspired by the MATADOR study, but it's a little different and also I don't like to have anything to do with the notion of "restriction", so I had to come up with a cool name of my own for this variation on the strategy.

Refer to the graphic below, and I'll explain how it works.



For the first two weeks, we start at the most conservative estimate of absolute minimum requirement. Often this is still more than the amounts people are attempting to work with when they come to me. I drew this as a curve, as we're likely to find that it does in fact turn out to be overly conservative and that we need to come a little higher, towards a more reasonable, more workable reflection of our minimum requirement.

For the next two weeks, we work to a conservative estimate of Metabolic Capacity.

In theory vs in practice.

In theory, so long as you're in caloric deficit your body will draw upon fat stores to make up the difference, right? And the further into deficit, the more fat loss, right? And if you're not seeing fat loss, you're not in deficit, right?

Bull. Shit.

Real quick... what a lot of these fucking imbeciles out there don't quite have the brain capacity to grasp is that there is a difference between for example a 90kg male aspiring body builder who has just done a "bulk" on say 3500 cals per day, and a female athlete on 1400 calories per day or an overweight mature age female with a decades long history of extreme crash dieting. The male could cut to 2500 calories and see fat loss due to being "in deficit" and may find at some point that he needs to cut further to keep leaning out. That's not how I'd do it because I'm smarter than that, but that's why they think "if you're in deficit you lose fat, when you're not losing fat cut further into deficit". The female athlete can't possibly cut any lower and should never have been instructed to cut that low to begin with, YOU GET ME?

So, in pursuit of your goals you need more than just "restrict, restrict further and keep on restricting indefinitely until you hate your fucken life". You need a system where you work to intelligently calculated targets, and assess your response to those targets until you find what feels right and works right for you, allowing you to enjoy life and enjoy your best and most sustainable results from training.

Assessing the response and revising the strategy.

In theory you should see fat loss and therefore weight loss in that two week period at minimal intake. Interestingly though, some people will not see weight loss at that phase, but will see fat loss during the next two weeks while working to higher intakes. In which case, the question is whether the period of restriction is unproductive or whether it is necessary as the fat loss is a response to coming out of deficit. There's only one way to find out. If the period of restriction proves unproductive then it makes sense to find the lowest productive level of intake and consider that the new minimum.

If there is no fat loss at either level, you may decide to repeat the period and give it a little longer to see if it kicks in. Or you may logically conclude that since you can't go any lower, and since a conservative estimate of the most you could benefit from didn't do the job, you can only conclude that intake is still not high enough and a further increase to a less conservative estimate is required, as indicated on the chart at Week 7 & 8. In fact... if fat loss is apparent I'd still be likely to conclude that our conservative estimate is indeed quite conservative and I'd be optimistic that an increase to a less conservative level will prove productive.

At the very worst if we do overshoot that maximum level of intake and see an increase in weight beyond what would be explained simply by having more food passing through the digestive system, we have two weeks back at minimal intakes just around the corner that will resolve that, and we know to set our higher target more conservatively next time.

More likely though especially in the younger, the taller, and especially the more active people with a higher level of athletic prowess, everything works out better than expected and by the third cycle of the strategy we're confident and enthusiastic to get more adventurous with our higher targets.

Beyond Twelve Weeks

Having worked to different levels we'll have learned what's the least we can expect to last a few days or a week on, what's the most we can currently put to use while producing a leaner condition, and what's the optimal level of fueling relative to our requirements. We can then make an educated decision how best to proceed, either eating intuitively in accordance with our new habits and the healthy appetite we've developed, or by working to an optimal target for an extended period, or by continuing with the Punctuated Periodisation Protocol.
It's about enjoying life, enjoying the intellectual stimulation of working to a strategy, enjoying the physical stimulation of training, and enjoying the best and most sustainable results in athletic performance and condition.

Of course... such a complex and convoluted approach is not for everyone, which is why Flexible Fueling works on a spectrum between the "towards intuitive" to the "towards capacity" approaches, with this being somewhere in between. And it goes without saying that there's only ONE person capable of coaching this approach. Other people calling themselves "IIFYM" or "Flexible Dieting" guys and girls can't even begin to grasp this stuff. They literally just think "keep eating less, you must be lying to me and eating more than you say you are" is what passes for coaching.

Update:

Here's the revised version of the graphic representation of the strategy.

Now, exactly how this plays out is likely to vary from each individual to the next, but road testing this myself and with some clients what I've found is that at a certain point (week 9 on this version of the graphic) you realise that while you could reduce back down to those conservative, minimal intake targets, it's not actually doing you any favours to do so. So rather than cut back to minimal, you merely reduce from "less conservative" back to "conservative".

Also I've added a column for Week 13 & 14, where having established where our true maximal level aka metabolic capacity is, we have a good feel for an optimal level which is just shy of maximum, where we maintain absolute best performance and condition indefinitely.
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The belief about food that you need to change in order to see success.

So, here's an idea for a post that I've had for a little while... and I want to start by letting you know that it is partially an observation and commentary on the fitness industry, but it will have a conclusion that will not only be applicable to the general public, but actually could be of potentially life changing significance to serious fitness enthusiasts who struggle with the nutrition side of things.

This was inspired by something that came across my social media feeds last week which I don't seem to be able to find again right now, so perhaps I'll misquote this, but it got me thinking anyway. It was something to the effect of "how to change your client's belief systems about foods" so that they'll have good adherence, or... be successful... or something.

Now, this got me thinking because generally speaking, when you look into these things you tend to find that the "change in belief systems" actually infers adopting a lot of beliefs that don't quite stand up to scrutiny and aren't actually factual. These sorts of things are intriguing to me. It's easy enough to just write everyone off as a scam artist or a Pete Evans style delusional simpleton repeating a bunch of nonsense and trying to brainwash other people into believing it... but in some cases that would be a little unfair, as you have actually quite decent people with the best intentions of contributing positively to the industry by teaching valuable skills to aspiring professional coaches.

With all that said, the question remains: why is it that good and intelligent people would believe so passionately in things that just aren't factual?

Well, that was a long introduction so let's cut from the chase from this point on. Refer to my rather excellent flow chart below, and let's start at the top and then work down just the green boxes on the left hand side.



Pretty simple, right?

You read... oh, let's say you read "Good Calories Bad Calories" or you watch one of those food documentaries on Netflix, and it tells you "this is the problem, and this is the solution". Fortunately for you, your reaction happens to be "hmm... well, that seems to make some kind of sense, and doesn't sound too difficult to me, so I'll give it a go". And what do you know, it actually works and you actually see good results.

Fantastic. So, seeing results you have every reason to believe "obviously this works" and it's not unreasonable to extend that to "obviously this works, and it works for the reasons I have been taught. This is what everyone needs to do".
That'd be an understandable conclusion, but really... all we really know at this point is that it happened to suit you, and it happened to work. We don't necessarily know that it worked because what convinced you to try it in the first place was 100% factual.

Now let's back up though and we'll follow the chart but end up in some of those red boxes.

You hear about something or are instructed to do something by your coach, and you can see these other people very enthusiastic and having a good time with it. Maybe you think "ok that sounds easy enough", or maybe you think "this sounds awful, but fuck, what choice do I have if that's what it takes?". Either way, in this example, you give it your best shot, but for some reason you just can't seem to make it work.

Or... actually you know what? Maybe you don't even give it a shot because it sounds that awful and you're just that lacking in optimism about your chances of pulling it off. Contrary to the way a lot of the fitness industry seems to think, this can be entirely understandable. You're told a diet that is high in animal fats is required, and you want to be a vegan. Or you're told a grain free diet is required, but you love bread and cereal. Or you might even be told a vegan diet is required, but you love steak. Maybe you're just one of these people who only really likes a rather limited variety of foods and isn't very good at trying new ones. I'm in the minority but for whatever it's worth, I for one would not blame you for giving up without even trying under any of those or similar circumstances.

But in any case, in these red squares... either you're not enthusiastic and not able to adhere to it, you attempt to force yourself but it still doesn't work, or you were actually quite enthusiastic and you're pretty sure you're doing everything you've been told, but it's still not working. If you or your coach really believes "it you do this it works, if it's not working you're not doing it right, and it has to be done like this and no other way", then you're screwed. Especially if you're one of those unfortunate people who spent a lot of time mouthing off online about how stupid everyone else must be, and then found your condition going backwards no matter how much harder you tried to stay in ketosis, just saying.

Here's the wild card though. That other box all the way on it's own on the right.

Let's start again from the top. You get told about something and how great it is, it may or may not really make sense, it may or may not be based in reality, but either way you already have some other approach that you like, which is working out very nicely for you.

Now, for some reason... that's a situation that not many people in the online fitness world seem to be able to imagine. Think about it... how could two different people be doing two different things, and both of them successfully? How could someone think that is good, when I think this is good? Are they trying to insult me, or what?

Honestly, it gets so silly. But here's the thing.

As per what's in the green section of the chart, here's what we can assume about every person out there who is having a good time and maintaining improvements in condition.
  1. They have a decent approach to training that they get stuck into enthusiastically.
  2. They have an approach to nutrition that they believe is the best, that happens to suit them, and actually does consistently give them enough of all the energy and nutritional resources that they need to facilitate results, at least to the level at which they've achieved so far.
Also let's specify that we're talking about people who've maintained a degree of success for... oh, let's say five or more years. We're not talking about people who did some "miraculous transformation" for about half a season but then regained 30kg or something like that, and we're not talking about the people who will eventually come clean and confess that they were miserable the whole time either.

We can probably safely say that no one who has been successful long term was doing something that didn't appeal to them, that didn't suit them, that they hated, or that they forced themselves to believe in even though it didn't really seem to make sense. We can definitely say that they don't have the same approach, or even necessarily a similar approach to one another. And while many people will want to believe that there is a specific, scientific reason why their personally preferred approach is "the best" approach for anyone... if you like the approach, if the approach is working out for you satisfactorily, it should be enough just to be confident and to be enthusiastic about having found the approach that is best for you.

In short, the belief that you need to change is that there is ANYONE out there being successful by doing ANYTHING other than what happens to most appeal to them and what happens to best suit them. And if they try to tell you anything else, they're full of shit.

So, the take home point from all of this, for you.

For everyone out there saying, "but you can't do it unless you cut out grains and never eat cereal for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch again", there are people out there who are doing it while eating cereal for breakfast or whatever else. For everyone out there saying "but you can't do it on a vegan diet" there are some incredibly successful vegan athletes out there as well. The same goes for anything to do with the number of meals per day, the timing and frequency of meals across the day, the same again for any other, more elitist ideals about what people "need to" do, or what they should and should not want to do as far as their approach to nutrition goes as well.

Now obviously there are some technically concerns that come into this. Your dietary habits cannot be conducive to excessive energy intake if you expect to develop a leaner condition. At the same time, your dietary habits must provide an adequate total level of energy intake, and an adequate level of protein intake, to facilitate improvements in performance, recovery after training, and to maintain and increase lean mass. Also you need to get enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from some of the healthy stuff.

Aside from that? You require an approach that you're enthusiastic about, and are able to adhere to with a reasonable level of consistency. What better reason to be enthusiastic than because you truly believe it is best approach for you? What better reason to believe that, than because you have actually designed and continued to refine the approach to be what is best for you?
This is how I like to do it, the way that suits me best, and I'm more than happy with the results. How anyone else prefers to go about it is irrelevant. I have my own story. They aint me and this isn't their life.
Now, as coaches I believe it is fine to only offer one approach that you specialise in. I only offer one approach, and if someone tells me they're looking for something different, they're free to and in fact best to go looking for another coach who specialises in that, because I won't accept them as a client. But as coaches whatever we are telling people in support of our preferred approach should be truthful, and where applicable should be able to be supported by credible scientific evidence as well as every day observations. It shouldn't be bullshit that robs the people who aren't suited to that approach of the belief that they too can be successful.

Why not come and discuss this post with us on my facebook page?
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Intuitive Approach vs Metabolic Capacity Approach to Sports Nutrition


Your metabolic capacity is an amount of energy that you would benefit from, put to good use, or otherwise expend in a day if it was made available.

As described in the video and elsewhere on my blog, a lot of the time people are restricting to an insufficient amount, not getting anywhere, and are mislead into believing that that amount is their "maintenance" and that since they're not seeing fat loss on that amount, they have no use for any more.

This is incorrect.

You may be restricting to an insufficient level of fueling and your body may have found a way to adapt and manage it's workload on that amount of energy, but the only reason you aren't burning more is because more has not been made available. What we're talking about here is the difference in approach between being interested in an amount that you can restrict to and get by on vs fueling to the amount that you can benefit from.

On an individual basis, we have a couple of options of approaches that might be the most appropriate depending on the circumstances. In reality there is a wide grey area and some overlap between the two, and for most people the best strategy will be somewhere in the middle but perhaps leaning a little towards one or the other. Unfortunately, what most people are doing elsewhere is an anorexic approach based on continually reducing levels of energy intake while increasing levels of energy expenditure.

Flexible Fueling Towards Intuitive Eating.

All of a sudden I'm wondering to myself, are we talking about an intuitive approach to sports nutrition, or a sports nutrition approach to intuitive eating?

Either way.

A successful approach to intuitive eating will result in simply having consistently appropriate eating habits that meet your nutritional requirements without exceeding your energy requirements. In other words, eating habits that leave you satisfied, but not stuffed. If you run a little late for a meal or a little short on calories, you get a little reminder in the form of hunger signals, and you respond accordingly.

Without repeating too much of literally every other post I ever published and being redundant, the method is simply to calculate a conservative estimate of a barely adequate energy intake, set whatever meal schedule seems most appealing, and plan accordingly with a selection of foods both of the delicious and the nutritious varieties.

Being of conservative estimate of barely adequate, we anticipate that if training is consistent and as proficiency improves, increases in energy intake will be required, and we are mindful to assess progress and hunger signals for signs that it is time to do so. If those signs are not forthcoming, perhaps we start dropping a few hints to give the body the idea "there is more here if you can use it, just ask".

Flexible Fueling Towards Metabolic Capacity.

For more advanced and elite athletes and in particular for those where a history of eating disorder or body image issues are less of a concern, this approach would entail calculating a conservative estimate of Metabolic Capacity, deciding upon the appropriate increments and the schedule upon which to increase intake to that amount, and then simply following the strategy diligently.

Once that conservative level has been achieved and maintained for a suitable duration, the situation can be assessed with a view towards increasing further still to a less conservative, or even a more adventurous estimate of the greatest amount that the athlete can utilise and benefit from.

Update: The DHPT Punctuated Periodisation Protocol for optimal fueling. 

Perhaps this is only for the people who are really extra enthusiastic about working to more advanced strategy, but this graphic represents the new "Interrupted Energy Restriction" based strategy, designed to build confidence & condition while working towards those optimal and maximal levels of fueling.

This is for the more ambitious people, and it's just one more reason why I'm the Innovator In Sports Nutrition, just like it says on the t-shirt!

Sports Nutrition For Serious Fitness Enthusiasts

Diet culture really has no place in the world of fitness enthusiasts. Your nutritional habits do have to be appropriate at the very least, or more optimal if you are ambitious &/or competitive.

Unfortunately what most people are instructing or advocating on their social media pages is actually an anorexic approach. All of those infographics we've seen lately, instructing people to get into deficit and continually slash intake further and further any time progress stalls while also increasing energy expenditure... literally those are anorexic and bulimic messages and approaches. We must reject them, and we must practice sensible, sustainable and appropriate sports nutrition strategies to actually meet our energy requirements to produce our best athletic performance and condition and our best quality of life.
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Why I stopped coaching weight loss for a few years there.

This was originally posted under another title on the old blog. A title that is no longer accurate since I'm now offering weight loss strategies again. Read on and it will all make sense, hopefully.

This is more complicated than you probably think.

People tend to want everything broken down into just one slogan or soundbite that either suits their biases or that they find easy to argue against. The reality is, there are a lot of angles to cover here. I'll do my best to cover them all within a reasonable word count, but I make no promises on that last part.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get started.

For reasons that will hopefully become apparent, I'm actually going to start with the conclusion, and the conclusion is actually a paragraph borrowed from something I posted on instagram the other day, as follows:
More than ever, the longer I do this and the more people I work with as a professional coach, the more I truly believe that our focus needs to be on simply enjoying the physical challenge of productive training, and enjoying the intellectual challenge of working to a productive fueling strategy, as well as assessing your physiological and psychological responses to each as you learn to do more of what keeps you strong, healthy & happy, and to reject whatever doesn't.
That sounds great, but what's the problem with wanting to lose weight?

Well I'm glad you asked. First of all though, that headline at the top of the page doesn't translate to "I don't want to coach fat people" or anything silly like that. Also, I always object to anything that gives anyone a message to the tune of "you might as well not bother trying, just accept that where you are is where you're supposed to be", so that's definitely not my point either.

Obviously I've helped people to lose weight successfully in the past. Clients, other people who follow my pages and put the pieces together for themselves. Some with medical conditions such as autoimmune diseases. Some who got on top of a restrict, binge & purge type eating disorder and lost weight. Some who rather generously credit me with facilitating a "life saving" level of weight loss.

A handful of fast facts about diets and weight loss:
  1. All diets work for the same reason; they create a caloric deficit.
    Whether people are aware of the amount of calories or whether due to restriction of food choices, any changes in dietary habits that result in weight loss infer a caloric deficit.
  2. Different named diets, low carb approaches, balanced approaches... when the energy and protein provision is matched, the clinical evidence suggests there is little if any difference in the results of different approaches. So there is not just "one correct" or "one best" set of eating habits we should all adopt.
  3. Regardless, the statistics are that over the long term there is no approach that has a high success rate. People tend to regain the weight.
  4. 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, what is the problem then?

Well that depends.

In theory, you make changes in dietary habits resulting in a caloric deficit. You lose weight, and so long as you do not revert back to habits resulting in a caloric surplus you should not regain the weight. Therefore the simple explanation is that the problem is down to continuance of adherence. Or so it would seem.

As an example, here's how it is supposed to work, and for that matter actually does work.

Imagine I have a new personal training client who is a younger woman and let's say 5, 10 or 15kg overweight due to not being in the habit of being active, and perhaps in the habit of over indulging a little too often. As a competent and responsible trainer, I get her started with a decent, strength based training program, and the appropriate energy targets at a suitable level of deficit and with a reasonable margin for error. If she follows my instructions with some level of consistency she'll certainly lose weight as she develops a more athletic condition.

Assuming she then maintains her interest in training and does not revert to an excessive energy intake, she should not regain any weight. That's how it works in theory anyway. I want to move on but first let's just acknowledge that what I've described is not really a "weight loss approach" the way most people would go about it.

So, whether it is working to a caloric deficit, whether it is sticking to this particular diet and this particular set of foods... if the people continue to do it, it would continue to work, right? You'd like to think so. So why don't people just keep doing it?

Reasons for non-continuance of adherence:

There could be any number of reasons and I'm not forgetting that mere complacency or even delusion are two of them, but it would be a flagrant cop-out to pretend that those are the only reasons and therefore absolve trainers & health coaches from their obligation to provide approaches that are feasible and efficacious over the long haul.

In simpler terms, I'm asking you just humour me and consider entertaining the mere possibility that people sometimes lose motivation because the approach has stopped producing results, or simply because the approach is impractical and any expectation of continued, long term adherence was entirely unreasonable.

Weight loss dieting tends to be of an extreme variety, either with strict low calories, strict food exclusions, or both. Strict adherence would prohibit ever going out to eat socially, visiting your parents for a home cooked meal, having a takeaway night or ordering home delivery. These approaches tend to be temporary by design, and as discussed, the long term consequence is greater weight gain.

With that in mind and getting back to my hypothetical client we described earlier, if we focus on developing an interest in a productive approach to training, we can expect weight loss. However if we focus on weight loss and my instruction is a low carb, low cal, clean eating style of extreme and restrictive diet, as well as high intensity activity "to burn calories"... any expectation of continued long term adherence is overly optimistic at best, any weight loss is temporary at best, and the long term consequence would be weight gain, a worsened relationship with food, and likely a decrease in enthusiasm for exercise as well.

In the case of a second new client of a higher and more excessive weight, it is very likely that their current weight is actually the consequence of previous attempts at weight loss perhaps over a period of years or even decades, and this is the outcome we wanted to avoid with the first hypothetical client. For this reason, it would make no sense at all to give them more of the same now. It would make no sense to take an attitude of "we need to lose weight first" via the same restrictive and unproductive approaches.

There are benefits to any amount of activity over being inactive, and benefits to getting out of restrictive dieting and developing more consistent, structured and appropriate eating habits and a healthier relationship with food. When the type of activity resembles some form of what we might describe as "productive training", in a more overweight or obese client we can expect significant decreases in measurements as the body begins to better ultilise energy and resources in support of lean mass at the expense of fat mass, as well as numerous other health benefits.

Here's the curious thing. While seeing significant results in fat loss you'd expect to see confirmation of this when weighing in on the scales, but the reality seems to be that this is not always the case right away. What a pity it would be to fail to value or appreciate the good results in fat loss, strength and performance at training, improved health markers and the rejection of restrictive dieting, just because the scales do not confirm these results with the corresponding loss of body weight.

There's more though. 

To wrap up and reiterate, by developing an interest in productive training and with suitable sports nutrition guidance there will be certain client profiles where weight loss is very likely, certain client profiles where weight loss could be expected but cannot be guaranteed, and let's not forget there will be some for whom weight loss should not be seen as an acceptable outcome at all.

My observation is that when people are focused on and overly concerned with weight loss per se, even when given a good and productive approach to training and the appropriate instruction, the tendency will be to sacrifice the efficacy of the training strategy by falling back into weight loss type behaviours and mindsets as previously described. For example, making changes or additions to the training program "to burn more calories", and to skip meals or otherwise fall short of the prescribed levels of fueling that are required to facilitate any sort of results.

Ironically, it will be the very things that people feel compelled to do because they "are trying to lose weight" which ultimately prevent them from reaping the many benefits of a sensible and productive approach to training.

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with having body composition and condition related goals, we must pursue them with sensible, effective and productive approaches and attitudes, and resist the social conditioning that sees us more inclined towards the extreme, destructive and ultimately futile methods typically associated with trying to lose weight.

Come and let me know what you thought of this post, on my facebook page.
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Contrary to popular belief, a caloric deficit does not guarantee fat loss.


I know, I know; I'm like a broken record at the moment and I have written more posts on this exact topic over the past few years than I can even keep track of.

Good though, sometimes you need hear things a few times before they really sink in. Especially when it's different to what you're used to hearing.

IIFYM = "if it fits your macros".

An approach to sports nutrition about calculating and then planning to meet your requirements for energy, protein, carbohydrate & dietary fats. Treat fibre as an additional macro too in my opinion.

I reiterate and emphasise this point: it is SUPPOSED TO BE about calculating your ACTUAL requirements. When people just say "if you're in deficit you'll see results in fat loss" or whatever, all that infers is that you're not exceeding your requirements. It doesn't suggest that you're getting what you need. In most cases it's just some arbitrary level of restricting on the basis that it can't possibly be enough, therefore tough it out, be accountable, distract yourself from hunger, etc.

Seeing fat loss DOES mean you are in deficit but not seeing fat loss DOES NOT necessarily mean that you are not in deficit, and the solution to a plateau or stall in progress is not necessarily to slash intake further into deficit.

Here's the thing, just as an example:

At let's say 700 calories per day into deficit, progress stalls.
For one of my clients who comes to me in this circumstance, I'd actually do some maths, predict what level of energy intake I'd expect to produce best results, and work with the client on a strategy to increase towards that amount.
I don't do maths based on "calculating a deficit" but for argument's sake let's say we're going to increase until we're only 150 calories per day in deficit.
Higher TEF, RMR & NEAT no longer compromised, resources actually available to recover & benefit from training. We will see better results.

Others argue "if you're in deficit you see fat loss and if you're not seeing fat loss you're not in deficit" and therefore the approach is just "whatever you're doing now, subtract a few hundred calories and that's your new target". That's garbage. Enforced anorexia is all that it is.

The issue in most cases that I see isn't that "you're no longer in deficit" but rather "you're too far into deficit and have been so for far too long". Over restricting. Excessive levels of restriction, and often excessive & unproductive levels of expenditure.

Now, I had a stupid idiot argue the other day that (paraphrasing) "if you're not seeing fat loss then you ARE at maintenance and NOT in deficit", but if we can facilitate fat loss at a HIGHER intake... then the LOWER amount that had ceased to result in fat loss due to compromised NEAT & RMR is clearly also in deficit.

Now... it's simple and correct enough to just say "you require enough, but not too much" or "you require a deficit, but an appropriate level of deficit and not an excessive level of deficit". You require that resources such as carbohydrate & protein are available to produce improvements in condition as an adaptation and benefit from training.

To me that is simple enough but it seems to be too complex for most of these chumps to grasp with their primitive intellect and myopic application. Being in deficit does NOT guarantee results, and slashing further and further into deficit recklessly and indefinitely is a dead end. LITERALLY.

Want more? See also: Ending The Unhealthy Obsession With Calorie Deficits
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There are far more intelligent options available to you than "bulk & cut".


This is an updated version of an infographic I made a while back that you might have seen already.

The "fuel gauge" graphic to the left represents what your current level of fueling might be, relative to your energy requirements as defined on the right. What I've added is the highlighted rectangles.

I've been a little irritated a few times recently to see people who should know better advocating for very low calorie "cutting" diets for females with fat loss goals. Even more so when the suggestion is that the only alternative to extreme calorie restriction is to "bulk first", for some reason.

Bulking and cutting might be required when your goal is to be a massive body builder or to compete in sports at a higher weight class. For people with a fat loss goal, you most certainly do not need to "bulk first" and actually increase levels of body fat. As I talked about here and on facebook recently, bulking & cutting is rarely an appropriate strategy for a female client whether a beginner or a more advanced athlete. At least, not in the context that people usually employ it.

The problems with how people usually bulk & cut:

In theory and when done properly, when bulking you accept that you'll gain some fat as you add lean mass and increase strength, but hopefully the amount is minimal, depending on how much mass you intend to add.

So, for most people that's a period of getting further out of shape before they get to get into shape. Especially if you're a woman reading this, how do you REALLY feel about the idea of getting further from goal condition (aka fatter) before we can get into leaner condition? Not so great right? Psychologically it is pretty hard to deal with, especially when you switch gears to cutting mode and all of a sudden become all too aware of how much more fat you have to lose and how much further you are from your goal condition than when you started. It's that "my god, what have I done?" feeling and it blows.

So that's bulking and you do add lean mass but also fat mass. Then comes cutting, when you restrict as far into calorific deficit as is necessary to lose fat mass. Again, you accept that you may lose some lean mass but ideally the idea is that you lose mostly fat mass and minimal lean mass.

In actuality though... when you restrict further and further into calorific deficit, your body finds it preferential to squander lean mass rather than to draw any more from fat stores than it absolutely has to. Performance at training and Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is also sacrificed, as you just aren't taking in enough energy to function on.

Now... why this is particularly problematic is that I keep seeing people who should know better telling people, and even with audacity to tell ME of all people, that when people are not seeing results in fat loss, regardless of how far in deficit of a sufficient level of energy intake they already are, if they're not seeing fat loss they need to slash intake even further. This is madness.

Further, I'll suggest from my observation that many people's supposed "bulking" period is really just a stint at working to targets that are "barely adequate" as per the chart. So in this situation there's no period where the body actually gets to prioritise putting energy and resources into the muscles and into lean mass where you want them, while drawing more from fat stores. At all points you're only at various levels of "conserve energy and survive as best you can under the stress of this level of activity".

This is why people might do a bulk every winter and a cut every spring, but over the long term they don't really produce any improvements in condition. They just end up back where they started, because they restrict to a degree that does not support an increase in lean mass, assuming they even achieved any increase the previous season anyway which they may well have not.

Basically, you have a period that involves adding fat mass, and a period that involves squandering lean mass. How does that sound like a strategy that is conducive to your condition goal?

You have more options in nutrition strategy than just "bulk or cut".

For some reason, not a lot of people seem to get this, and even more baffling to me, many of them are actually hostile to the concept. However, it's important to understand that just because you are not currently producing any changes in condition, this does not necessarily mean that you are "at maintenance" and that any increase in energy intake would mean "caloric surplus" and be "bulking".

You have better options, but it takes more competence than the average so called "macros coach" appears to possess. Bulk and cut... calculate an amount that's clearly too much and have them get fat working towards that, then calculate an amount that's insufficient at best, and keep slashing further until they develop an eating disorder. Pffft. That's garbage.

Wrapping this up, part 1: Winter Strategy. Performance & Anabolism. 

Assume we're talking about serious people who's level of activity is consistent, but who are not seeing improvements in condition. They may be paying no attention to their eating habits & energy intake, or they may have some sort of idea they're working to. They may have habits and levels of energy intake that are consistent, or they may have eating habits and levels of energy intake that are erratic. In any case what we can logically infer is that they do not have eating habits that result a level of energy intake such as is required to produce those desired changes in condition as an adaptation to training.

In a more advanced and experienced athlete with greater amount of time spent active and a greater level of prowess at training, the prospect of over eating other than while deliberately bulking is somewhat implausible. Even in beginners, my observation is consistently that if people are trying to "diet" or "eat clean" or even if they think they are doing IIFYM in accordance with their own estimations or even working to targets they have paid for... they're restricting to a level of energy provision that is insufficient to facilitate improvements in condition.

Our goal is to indulge our passion for training and to enjoy seeing improvements in condition from season to season and from year to year. I'm labelling this the winter strategy but really it's what you should probably start with immediately regardless of the season if you're currently at that unknown, insufficient or erratic level of intake.

As per the graphic, start at a level of energy intake that you'd consider a conservative estimate of what might be adequate to support goal weight, condition, and level of activity. Even if that goal weight is lower than current weight, and even if that level of intake is greater than current level of intake. From here, increase incrementally towards what your equations would determine is the maximal amount you could put to use in facilitating improvements in performance and increases in lean mass without "bulking" or significant weight gain beyond the weight of more food in your digestive tract.

Understand that although energy intake is significantly increased, we expect to see improvements in condition including fat loss.

Wrapping this up, part 2: Summer Strategy.

As per the chart, I'd suggest the above is a logical strategy for the Autumn (aka Fall) through Winter months. Maintaining that level of fueling means the body has had a chance and had resources available to prioritise increases in lean mass and making more energy available in the muscle cells, at the expense of fat storage. Therefore, by Spring you'll be stronger and leaner than you were in when you started... but you're also in a position to now apply a strategic level of caloric deficit to draw further still from fat stores. Rather than restricting to an insufficient level of intake for extended periods and squandering those lean mass gains the way people often do with a conventional "Spring Cut", we should still ensure we are working to levels of intake that are adequate to maintain performance and lean mass, while drawing further from fat stores to make up the difference.

True words often seem contradictory.

You'll best facilitate fat loss and lean condition by working towards more optimal (aka higher) levels of fueling, especially after having survived an extended period in caloric deficit. However, you'll also best facilitate fat loss by working to strategic levels of deficit, having previously established and maintained a more optimal level of fueling.

You do not facilitate best results in fat loss by restricting to insufficient levels for extended periods, and obviously "bulking" in the conventional sense infers fat gain. Your goal is to enthusiastically enjoy and indulge your passion for training, and to see continuous, on going, perpetual improvements in condition.
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Why you failed to see results with your last IIFYM plan.

Even though I have some new followers I’m going to go ahead and assume everyone knows what “IIFYM” means, feel free to ask if you require clarification.

If you’ve done some form of an IIFYM approach in the past and found you couldn’t stick to it or it didn’t work, I’m going to explain why. First though let’s draw some distinctions, as there might be more than one possible situation.
  • Scenario (A): Had an IIFYM plan but was complacent about actually working to it, it was more like a vague idea of what I thought I *should* be doing.
  • Scenario (B): Had an IIFYM plan but really ate by intuition / appetite / randomly and logged at the end of the day hoping to be on target.
  • Scenario (C): Had an IIFYM plan, diligently attempted to work to it with strict adherence, but it was too hard and I kept giving in to hunger and over eating.
  • Scenario (D): Actually stuck to it, distracted myself from the hunger, only eat clean foods… still didn’t achieve a damn thing in terms of improved results.
There aint (but then again there kind of is) a “one shot” answer that covers all people, all circumstances and scenarios.

Now, Scenario A barely requires explanation. You have to actually DO the thing in order to make it work.

Scenario B… much as per A. Humans are notoriously unreliable at accurately recalling their meals, snacks, portion sizes, and so on. Particularly if you’re prone to grazing rather than scheduled meals and snacks, and PARTICULARLY if you have some guilt/shame type associations with eating. In any case when logging meals retrospectively, you’re subconsciously very likely to fudge the numbers a little to match your targets. So on paper (or more correctly “in the app”) you appear to be bang on target but this may be far from an accurate record & recollection of what is actually happening.

Scenario C & D: your plan was shit.

The plan you have been given, likely paid some chump a few bucks for, it was shit. It was not based on a reasonable or accurate estimation of your energy requirements.

Or to be more fair… it is likely that your plan did not anticipate and account for changes in your energy requirements. This is a disagreement I continue to have with other trainers, coaches & random people who think they understand IIFYM and Sports Nutrition. The commonly held belief is that a client’s energy intake will need to decrease as they see progress in fat loss, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Real quick before we continue and as per the infographic above, lets define “level of activity” as follows:

Not merely the amount of time spent active, but the quality of the activity in terms of a more effective training strategy, intensity of effort, and your prowess at training as well.

Now… on this page you can safely assume that I’m talking about fueling requirements for people who are training with a productive strategy. It is a different matter if we’re talking about merely “being active”. For an inactive person who decides to “get active” by taking a one hour walk to the park and back every evening… that’s a great idea, but an excessive energy intake via inappropriate dietary habits will mitigate the potential benefits. In an active person participating regularly in productive & strategic training, with improving physical prowess and increasing intensity… insufficient energy intake will mitigate the potential benefits and the potential for facilitating those improvements in performance.

Both people in the above examples should practice appropriate eating habits relative to their energy & nutritional requirements, but in each example the focus is slightly different. “Not excessive” vs “not inadequate”.

More often than not, what active people on an IIFYM, or other calorie limited plan, but also while “eating clean” are actually doing is to restrict to an inadequate & insufficient level of energy provision… often due to failing to anticipate an increase in fueling requirement as the quality and level of activity increases and to maintain an increase in lean body mass.

Here’s the danger though, even when heavily restricting energy intake via reducing calorie limits or limiting food choices… when we do not see continuing results in terms of fat loss, we are inclined to, encouraged to, and in some cases instructed to assume that the only explanation must be “still not burning more than you’re consuming” and that the solution is to reduce calorie intake even further. This is likely to have disastrous consequences.

In our earlier examples… the person merely “being more active” with a one hour walk around the park will have a certain fueling requirement or limit which probably won’t change very much. A person participating in more productive training or more intense activity will have a higher fueling requirement. A person progressing from a beginner level of productive training to an intermediate level will have a higher requirement still and can expect pleasing results in terms of body composition and condition provided those requirements are met consistently.

Note also that this increase in fueling requirement may or may not be reflected in the “calories burned” records on your activity tracking devices.
For these reasons, if you start out as a beginner on a level of fueling suitable to a beginner, but you train diligently following your program… after a period of let’s say 12 – 16 weeks you’re likely to find that either (a) progress stalls, (b) you’re extra hungry and unable to continue to adhere to your fueling plan, or (c) both.

Unfortunately most so-called “IIFYM” style coaches will believe that a stall in progress requires a further cut in calorific intake due to now being at a lower body weight. This is incorrect. The client (aka you) will not be able to adhere to the level of energy restriction, and in the unlikely event that they can force themselves to do so, it will only be conducive to a regression of physical condition.

Even at a lower bodyweight, even when continuing fat loss is a required outcome, increases in lean mass and improved prowess and consistency at training will necessitate a higher level of fueling.

A competent coach must anticipate this and have a strategy in mind to keep up with these demands to facilitate on going results.

Most however do not.
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Read This Before You "Eat More To Lose Weight"

This might seem like something of an ironic post coming from me of all people. 

After all, I'm the guy who's been saying "we need to fuel people for best performance and condition, not try to starve weight off them" for the past few years, when no one else seemed to be.

The message finally appears to be catching on, and more people are beginning to realise that slashing calories ever lower is as damaging as it is unsustainable. But before we arbitrarily replace the blanket statement of "eat less (and less) move more (and more)" with it's polar opposite, let's assess the situation to ensure that this time, we're actually giving advice that is good and helpful.

First though, let's bust some myths. 

Myth: You need to eat clean. It is the quality of foods that matters, not the calories. You don't lose weight eating "junk food", and any of the "wrong" foods will make you gain weight.

Nope. 

Of course we should all try to make sensible choices and include many healthy options, but your total energy intake is what influences your body weight.


Myth: Low Carb & Keto Diets are the best / only option for weight loss.

Nope.
Even more as of February 2018:

This was probably redundant after the previous section anyway, but there's no benefit to low carb or keto dieting over balanced diets of the same energy provision. Some people sure do seem to like them, but personally I would see VLC & keto diets as disadvantageous for most people with an interest in long term adherence for sustainable results.

Again though, the facts are that if you go from an excessive regular energy intake and lack of physical activity to less excessive energy intake and more suitably active, you'll lose weight. Whether you cut back on carbs, on fats, or cut back across the board... from more excessive to less excessive energy intake, and especially from inactive to suitably active, you will lose weight.

Update: Upon demonstrating that Low Carb approaches are not required or preferable for weight loss, it is almost inevitable that a special pleading, goal post shifting argument will be made of the "but if they have Type 2 Diabetes..." variety. Let's knock that one on the head while we're about it, too.



Myth: When Weight Loss Stalls, Add More High Intensity Calorie Burning Cardio Workouts.
Nope.

As stated above, from inactive to suitably active is a very good idea indeed, but let's assume we're talking about people who are already quite active and participating in training. Adding more and more non-productive high intensity activity to burn calories is not only impractical, but the links above show that it will offer no benefit.

Take home point here: train productively, for enjoyment and for the specific benefits of the choice of activity. Not "to burn calories".


  Myth: The 5:2 Diet, Intermittent Fasting, Meal Frequency & whatever else.

Eh...


Again; "energy provision vs energy requirement" is the rule that matters. Forcing yourself onto a different meal schedule may mean that you eat less, but it is still the change in amount of energy intake that influences body condition, and not the change in timing of energy intake.



So far, all of this supports "eat more to lose weight". Should you really though?


Active people require a certain amount of energy and resources in order to be able to recover and adapt to training. If you're restricting to a low level of energy intake with the misguided "calorie deficit" approach, a lack of progress is likely to be due to falling well short of that amount. Introducing more "calorie burning" activity only squanders what resources you have made available in an unproductive manner.


Bottom line here: being under fueled and over worked is not conducive to good results, even when weight loss is a significant aspect of your goal.

Is that what is actually happening though?


As the saying goes; the first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool

For inactive people who are not involved in sports or training, even a "normal" amount of food will be in excess of an amount that you are putting to use, which means weight gain. In this circumstance, "eat more to lose weight" would almost certainly result in rapid gain of an even greater amount.

Here's where it gets complicated and the issue becomes contentious.

Actually not a myth: Humans are extremely likely to under estimate food / energy intake and over estimate activity levels.





It is important to include these studies for two reasons, the first of which is that people who are fixated on the calorie deficit model are likely to show you them with the inference that they prove that "the problem is that they're eating a lot more than they think they are. If they were eating the amount that they think they are, they'd be in deficit and therefore they'd be losing weight".

Yes, but no.

It's important to notice that these studies are not of athletes or on people of less excessive weight who are participating in sports or training. In my years of experience as a coach, when active people come to me and report that they are working to restrictive and low targets without seeing progress, I tend to believe them and we consistently see much better results as we increase first towards an adequate and then closer towards a more optimal total energy and macronutritient provision... including when weight loss is a goal.

Regardless, we do know that a disparity between perceived and actual intake is very common, so unless we are actually working to a plan to hit our current targets, we can't assume that we are. Intuitive eating is awesome IF you're still making progress, but if your eating habits are erratic, unscheduled, unmeasured and inconsistent... we have no reason to consider the total energy provision to be anything other than an unknown and random amount.

On a related note...

To my way of thinking just adding "more" to a random amount isn't much better than slashing below an unknown amount. Where you end up is anyone's guess.

Let's cut to the chase.

If you're overweight and inactive, first and foremost you need to become suitably active.
People who are already active, assess your consistency at training. If you're working to targets based on requirements for 5 sessions per week but you've only been making 2 lately, eating more is not likely to have the desired effect.

Now, if you're training consistently and especially if you're progressing from a beginners level to an intermediate level, from lower intermediate to upper intermediate and so on... your fueling requirements will increase as the demands on your body to perform, recover from, and adapt to training are greater.

If you have a set of intelligently determined targets for intake, but you've just been winging it as described above, you will need to start actually planning your daily intake in advance to ensure adherence to those targets, and then assess the results.

Good performance at training, good energy levels outside of training and improvements in condition might suggest that your targets are appropriate all along but you just weren't hitting them. If you had "beginner level" targets but you're not really a beginner anymore and you see no improvement in condition, that might be a good sign that you need to recalculate with your new level of consistency and proficiency in mind.  If you last 3 or 4 days and then find you are ravenous and eat everything in sight... are you thinking "start over again and this time be more disciplined" right now? Screw that. It's a sure sign that you need to recalculate and increase daily intake accordingly.

When you're training consistently and seeing good progress without paying much attention on the nutrition side, you can safely assume you're getting it right either through good intuition or because you've practiced the appropriate habits for long enough that your appetite is well tuned to your requirements and your body trusts you to listen when it tells you that it needs more. When you're not seeing progress, you need to go back and plan in advance to meet appropriate targets, and then assess the situation.

Best results will always come when training is both consistent and strategic, and fueling is closer to optimal rather than further into deficit. At the very least, you must be working to exceed a minimum adequate requirement. A couple of times with more advanced athletes I have only set a minimum requirement with an official "no maximum limit", and the results were nothing short of amazing.

Bottom line: best long term results will come from consistent participation with a strategic and productive approach to training, and anticipation of increased fueling requirements as performance improves.

A little update:  if you're looking to get started with an introductory training program & fueling guidelines, see the weight loss tab on my blog right here.
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Ending the unhealthy obsession with calorie deficit.

Always take a selfie.
I'll try to make this as clear as I can. Calories In / Calories Out is definitely a thing, but people need to STOP worshiping this idea about "calorific deficit", because it's stupid.

Now, don't get me wrong... and in fact I'll address this pre-emptively before the inevitable strawman attacks start: you cannot lose fat in a calorific surplus. If you take in more calories than you can put to use, that energy gets stored as body fat. Calories from any source as well, mind you.

However... the EMPHASIS on being in calorific deficit is all wrong. Note how I used to capital letters to emphasise the word emphasis just now. I'm not saying "take people out of deficit". I feel like I can't just say what I'm saying any more, I have to specify what I'm not saying as well, every paragraph or so. I'm going to go ahead and predict that a few people will still miss that and make stupid comments all the same once I share this to facebook.

Why not focus on being in deficit though?

As a profession coach and trainer and a specialist in Flexible Dieting with an interest in eating disorder awareness, recovery and avoidance, I've had active and athletic people come to me on... one particular example that I have in mind is a female athlete who came to me a few years back on 1300 calories a day and quite unhappy. She is now well aware that she REQUIRES a 3000 calorie a day minimum in order to see best results and performance at training, and to remain injury free.

That's something of an extreme example with very high fueling requirements, but it is quite common for me to reverse diet a female athlete from as low as 1100 or even 900 calories per day all the way up to 23, 2400, maybe 2600 calories per day subject to the amount they actually require to facilitate good results at their level of prowess at training.

Predicting an amount that is in deficit is easy. Literally, it's any amount that's less than would support current mass (including fat mass) and activity levels. All of these programs and diets where you just have an arbitrary amount like 1200 calories to restrict to, that's just about being in deficit and it's stupid. Some "macro plan" that doesn't end on a round number? Also stupid. Those "these are the only foods you're allowed to eat" type plans? They're not even smart enough to understand that how you'd lose weight on that plan is because you would be in deficit.

Now, on a personal level, "I just eat these foods and avoid those foods" is fine if people are happy with the food choices they're making and the results  they're seeing. I don't mean to insult people for not having a working knowledge of nutrition... other than the ones who are trying to enforce those choices onto others, and especially if they're charging money for it.

I have digressed. Where was I?

Picking an amount that is in deficit is easy, but it's not what is good.

As a coach who is giving sports nutrition advice, you need to be focused on how much people require, AKA how much they can utilise. That is, how much they can put to good use to fuel performance, to recover, and to adapt to training with the creation of lean mass. FKN IDIOTS WHO ARE BOUND TO SHOW UP TO TRY ARGUE WITH ME PLEASE NOTE: "how much they can put to use" does not translate to "a calorific surplus that would preclude fat loss", no matter what way you try to twist it.

Going back to those examples of mine from eariler: As a coach, you're never going to find out that your athlete requires 2400 or 2800 or 3000+ calories per day while you're thinking "results come from being in deficit, if you were in deficit you'd be seeing results". You won't have the BRAINS OR THE BALLS to raise their targets that high, so long as you're still married to and they're still enslaved by this brain dead notion of being focused on "calorific deficit". Rather, you're likely to slash intake targets even lower, clutch at straws about "not eating clean", or accuse the client of lying about their intake. These are the sort of things I keep getting told about, anyway.

Understand this: Not seeing fat loss does not necessarily automatically infer that you are "not in deficit" or that eating more would mean "going into surplus". While in deficit, tapping into fat stores is only one of many adaptations the human body might make and not necessarily it's preferred option. The further you go into deficit of an adequate amount, the less energy and resources the body will make available for other functions in order to preserve those fat stores.

Bottom line? If you're an athlete (and by this I mean anyone training with an interest in improving performance and body composition) you need to be fueled in a manner to facilitate performance and maintain condition. You can't build or maintain lean mass without making those resources available.
If you're a coach... if you're a trainer, train people and fuel them for results. We're supposed to be qualified professionals, stop trying to starve people thin with the same sort of logic I'd be dismayed to read on some kind of pro-ana blog.

You're not doing IIFYM if all you're doing is calculating a deficit, much less if you're just slashing further and further below some arbitrary amount.
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I don't do meal plans. I do Custom Flexible Dieting Guidelines.

Pretty average photo from training
yesterday. I thought my shoulders were
looking good though.
I just don't, and I won't no matter how much someone asks or how much they offer to pay me. I just don't feel comfortable telling other people what to eat. The idea stresses me the hell out, to be honest.

If you really do want a meal plan via me, I will crunch the numbers as I always do via my Flexible Fueling system and then forward those guidelines to a real dietitian to talk to you about your food choices. I haven't had one for a while, but I do still from time to time get told "no I want you to do it"... well, that aint gonna happen.

Now if you were considering looking for a meal plan online, or if you were looking to hire a trainer who'll tell you what you are allowed to eat and what you are not allowed to eat, here's what I think you should keep in mind.

What makes for a good meal plan?

Purely from a nutritional point of view, a meal plan is good if it provides everything that you need and no excess. So enough total energy, enough protein, fiber and a good spread of micronutrients suitable to maintain good health, an appropriate weight range, and good performance and results at training.

That's what you need in a meal plan purely on nutritional grounds.

A lot of the time you might see meal plans on offer from trainers or even less qualified "wellness guru" types, and they're kind of a one size fits all proposition with a bunch of healthy foods listed, and the inference is that since they're all healthy foods it's a good plan and you'll be getting everything you need. This is often far from the case as just throwing together a list of "healthy foods" in no way ensures meeting an adequate energy intake for performance at sport or adequate protein for adaptation to training.

Often this is the case with "clean eating" type plans for sale or available for free online. There is simply no consideration given to energy and protein requirements, and they may fall dangerously short of a suitable amount for an active person. Anyone can throw together a list of healthy foods... and most of the time that's all you're getting. A list of healthy foods and perhaps another list of other foods that are banned for no legitimate reason is a long way from being a decent sports nutrition plan that will ensure results. It is probably the opposite.

Now assuming you do have a plan to meet your individual requirements in terms of total energy, protein, and plenty of vitamins and minerals via healthy & nutritious choices, that's great. However, there is more to a good meal plan than simply being nutritionally appropriate.

A good meal plan is one that not only delivers everything that you require, but even more importantly is one that you can stick to long term. A plan that has designated meal times or meal frequency that does not suit you as an individual, you won't stick to for long. A plan that includes mostly foods that you find unappealing, you won't stick to for long.

If you're anything like me and a lot of other people, if you don't like the foods you probably won't even attempt the plan. Because you know it is unworkable. Assuming you do try, you're likely to put off eating for as long as possible and then end up having something else instead and probably way too much of it. Or you might force yourself to try the scheduled meal and lose your appetite half way though as you're not enjoying it. This would mean either you go underfueled defeating the purpose of having a plan in the first place, or again you end up ravenous at some point later on and over eat something that isn't on the plan.

None of this is conducive to good results or to a good relationship with food.

This is a very simple point that seems to baffle a lot of people who for some reason believe they are in a position to give advice to others.

A plan that is "good" in terms of providing everything that you need is worthless if it is not conducive to enthusiastic adherence. If it is unworkable due to meal schedules or food choices... it might be a good plan for someone else, but it's not a good plan for you. The plan needs to fit the person. It is not a failing on your part if you can't force yourself to work with an unworkable situation.

Now if this plan does indeed provide all of the nutritional resources that you require, the assumption is that we actually know what those requirements are. What amounts of various resources such as total energy, protein, fiber and so on. If the person providing the plan can't tell you what those are, then it's just a stab in the dark and they are full of shit. We don't know your requirements, we don't really how much this plan provides... but it's all good food so obviously it does provide exactly the amount you require and no more or less. 

That's unreasonably optimistic, in my opinion.

Certainly though, a competent professional (such as myself) can determine those requirements with reasonable accuracy. So, rather than a plan that is basically an "eat it, it's good for you" proposition that may or may not deliver everything that you need, we can plan to meet all of those nutritional requirements with a variety of our preferred choices of foods that will be suitable to long term adherence. More to the point, we can also create a new plan whenever we feel like it, based on whatever foods we feel like eating that day.

Obviously you can't just abuse the concept and still expect to end up meeting all of your targets, but with a little planning and preparedness you most certainly can produce great and sustainable results with whatever choices of foods best suit you.

This is what Flexible Dieting and IIFYM is all about. In my Flexible Fueling system, I give you the targets and simple guidelines to assist you to build your own plan that you'll be enthusiastic and optimistic about sticking to.

And it's pretty easy.

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