The Diet Delusion: It’s Not All Sunshine, Rainbows, and Pop-tarts
Any of my nutrition clients can attest to the fact that I don’t expect perfection** when it comes to training and nutrition.
**Physique competitors are the exception to this, and they will be required to come damn close to perfection in regards to sticking to their nutrition and training requirements, so lets get that detail out of the way now. We are not talking about competitors here. We are talking about the average person looking to lose some weight.
Yes, I expect you to do the best you can, but I also understand that life happens and things don’t always go as planned. If you skip a meal or eat an extra one once in awhile the world will not come crashing down, causing your fat loss progress to come to a screeching halt.
Shocking. I know. Internet extremists and gurus be damned!
With that being said … I think we have gotten a bit lax on exactly what needs to take place in order to lose bodyfat. A lot of people seem to be under the impression recently that fat loss should be a walk in the park.
Everywhere we look nowadays, articles are being written to warn people of the dreaded caloric deficit and to lambast cardio in damn near any quantity. Pair that with the IIFYM crowd that is dieting, yet posting up pics of their daily Pop-Tarts and froyo, and it’s no wonder everybody is confused!
“I want to get leaner but I thought I didn’t have to do cardio… and I was under the impression that I could eat a lot of Pop-tarts?”
Uh, not exactly.
The Big, Bad Caloric Deficit
Everybody is scared shitless of the caloric deficit. They are worried that their metabolism will shut down and their fat loss will stall.
I will take some responsibility for this fear.
You see, I became so incredibly furious over the horror stories I constantly hear from people about how some dumb-dumb “diet coach” practically starved them to death on 800 calories per day that I inadvertently overcompensated. I shoved the pendulum a little too hard in the opposite direction in a desperate attempt to warn people, and in doing so I may have managed to erroneously lead people to believe that dieting should be easy.
Couple this with Pop-tart pics that are taking over the world wide web (interestingly enough, typically posted by very lean Physique athletes), and it is causing an extremely distorted picture for some people in regards to what it takes to whittle away some body fat.
Pop-Tarts, IIFYM, and Fat Loss
A word on Pop-tarts, froyo, and IIFYM. There seems to have been a resurgence in Pop-tart popularity as of late. Nearly everybody that follows IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) has an obsession with Pop-tarts, and interestingly enough, many of those people are extremely lean.
So what gives?
I promise you that no woman following IIFYM working successfully towards fat loss is living off of Pop-tarts (or similar foods). If a lean woman posts up a pic of a Pop-tart proclaiming that it’s her dinner, please understand that they have stockpiled some macros throughout the day to allow for that indulgence.
This means that the rest of her day was probably comprised of meats, vegetables and other whole foods.
I follow IIFYM, along with many of my friends, and we don’t typically post pics of our meat & veggie meals which comprise the bulk of our diet. Instead, we post pics of the foods that we “save up for”. Do not allow one picture here and there to lead you to believe that is all somebody ever eats and still manages to get diced.
Like everything in life, I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, however you are not the exception. You are likely the rule.
Hunger. It Happens. It’s Okay.
We have all read about the dangers of extreme dieting and the repercussions that it can have on our physique. “Metabolic damage”, “detrimental metabolic adaptation”, whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it, it happens. Crazy starvation diets cause a mess that is always a bitch to repair. It’s vital that people are aware of this and use caution when trying to subsist on 900 calories per day.
The problem here is that people are misunderstanding how this works and now everybody is paranoid. Any hunger pangs at all are causing people to frantically push the panic button, declaring something must be horribly wrong because – holy shit! – they are a little bit hungry!
Hunger is actually not a terrible thing. I don’t believe that we are supposed to live in a perpetual state of being stuffed to the brim with food. If that is what you enjoy, cool, but that behavior typically won’t coincide with fat loss.
Dieting: Normal vs Abnormal
When it comes to losing bodyfat, an energy deficit must be present. Period.
This is easier on some, but harder on others, so no two people will feel the same.
Assuming that your goal is to lose bodyfat, the following things could be expected and are quite normal for short periods of time, between refeed periods, which you should have in some form when dieting:
- Mild to moderate hunger, depending on what kind of deficit you are in and that day’s activities. (Non-training days seem to be a bit tougher for most, likely due to the lack of distraction from training, along with less carbohydrate.)
- Mild irritability
- Mild to moderate food cravings
- Slight dips in energy, particularly between meals.
- Mild to moderate discomfort.
Again, deficits are typically not super fun. There are ways to do it to make it as painless as possible, but plan on being a bit uncomfortable.
I feel like I shouldn’t even need to touch on these, but I will anyways.
The following things are not normal on a fat loss diet, and shouldn’t happen outside of a rare fluke:
- Sweats and shakiness
- Extreme fatigue
- Extreme painful hunger
- Inability to sleep due to severe hunger
- Constantly cold
- Loss of hair
- Loss of sex drive
- Inability to recover from training for days at a time
Cardio – It’s Not All Bad
Cardio has gotten such an incredibly bad rap that it’s become quite ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of cardio here and there for general cardiovascular health, stress relief, enhanced recovery, and/or to further increase an energy deficit.
Taking a brisk walk 20 – 30 minutes per week is a completely reasonable dosage, and if you can do it outside and get some fresh air I encourage you to do it, additional deficit needed or not!
Some people can get away with very limited cardio while losing bodyfat, while others will need some. Personally I would rather eat a bit more and spend 20 minutes walking and jamming to my iPod in the sunshine than to have to whittle my food consumption back, but that is a personal preference.
There is a big difference in doing smart cardio in the right dosage, and mindlessly hammering out “doubles” every day of the week.
Fat Loss Final Words (for now)
Fat loss doesn’t need to be miserable; far from it. I take a ‘minimum effective dose’ approach, which means we make the smallest changes possible that yield the biggest results without throwing my client into a tailspin of hunger and rage.
However, my clients do experience some discomfort and there are days that they are a smidge hungrier than usual, and that is okay.
- Don’t fear a slight caloric deficit. It is necessary for fat loss. This is what refeed days are for, and if you are in a sustained caloric deficit, refeed periods are not only necessary, but downright blissful.
- A little cardio can be a great thing for fat loss when prescribed in the right dosages and done responsibly.
- Nobody eats Pop-tarts all day long and gets shredded. If that was possible I’d be all over that! Hello, brown sugar and cinnamon, anyone??
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Tara @ Sweat like a PigOctober 10, 2013 at 10:44 am
As always, love your work Jen! I agree that people are becoming too fearful of metabolic damage and doing cardio. It's great that people are more aware about these issues, but the pendulum can easily swing in the other direction. I write a lot about metabolic damage, and I've noticed a lot of people think they have it, when they don't. Like you said, a little hunger is normal and doesn't mean your metabolism is shutting down. I walk every day for 30-60 minutes (purely because I live in London and have no other option!) and also do some kind of formal conditioning once a week. I still do cardio, but I caution against others doing it in the hopes of achieving their dream body.
As for IIFYM etc, I like to post pictures of my more 'naughty' meals because it's more exciting! I don't find my boring meat and veggie meals interesting. That doesn't mean I eat burgers and ice cream all the time! I also know that if I was serious about dropping body fat, I probably wouldn't be able to eat these types of foods at all given my insulin sensitivity. I think people are just looking for an easy way out when it comes to fat loss, but there isn't one!