Over the past year+ I have executed a nutrition / training plan that has culminated in some substantial physique changes. Moreover, I have continued to learn and refine my skills as a coach within the process. I am going to share that process, including many sub-topics of reference, in hope that you may find value or benefit from them. Feel free to skip to and read what you feel applicable or of interest, and for those seeking a more elaborate walkthrough I have linked a video where I discuss my cutting / peaking process in detail including what metrics I tracked and adjustments made along the way.
With the introduction out of the way, I will post some highlights for what I achieved through execution of this cutting phase. For a point of reference, my goal was to bring my best physique possible while still maintaining a semblance of a normal life (work, family, extra-curricular). I did put a number on what that would look like with a target of sub 10% body fat; however, I did not have a goal weight (one was input as a metric for my weight loss trending). Here is a snapshot of the outcome:
Weight Loss Trending
Weight loss is never a linear process, and that is apparent in my tracking over the months of my cut. The goal is to minimize the degree of variance between spikes and that is done through consistent dietary adherence and movement.
DEXA Scan 4/2/2022
- 8.6% Body Fat
- In the 0 percentile of men my age
- 164.3 lbs. of lean mass
- I had only 15.4 lbs. of fat remaining on my body
Here is a cool heat chart showing lean mass vs. fat based on color coding. You can also readily see my scoliosis of the spine in this image.
I feel it is of importance to note that my end result is the product of years’ worth of periodized nutrition, training, and body recomposition cycles. When I did my first DEXA in 2013 I was in the 39th percentile of men for body composition. Here are my numbers for the past 5 years from subsequent scans:
- 2017 – 3rd percentile
- 2018 – 4th percentile
- 2019 – 3rd percentile
- 2020 – 2nd percentile
- 2021 – No scan
- 2022 – 0 percentile
It is for this reason I titled this blog as I did to reference “years in the making.” It has taken years of planning, learning / adjusting, and execution to arrive at where I did for my 2022 cut.
Blood work and biomarkers
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get my results from the full panel of blood work that was recently ran to share with you all. I will highlight that when going over them with my MD nearly all were in an excellent place (within optimum ranges), including fasted blood glucose, vitamin d, thyroid function, etc. Those that were a bit out of range were my total cholesterol was an 82, which is actually too low and not ideal overall. This may be a product of just how clean my diet was during the cutting phase. Lastly, my creatinine levels were elevated and that is likely due to some dehydration and early testing with water manipulation prior to my peak week. Blood was drawn a week prior to my photo shoot.
Preparing for my fitness shoot
To answer the initial question of “Why do it in the first place?”, well… I’ve put decades into health and wellness. Each year I approach anew with the goal of bringing the best version of me forth. I readily understand that as I get older it will become increasingly difficult to achieve a certain physical look and have already seen declines in some areas. I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish over the years, and as with past years had a goal of looking better than I have ever looked (at least at the young age of 41). For that reason alone, I chose to capture it digitally. Additionally, I like to push my mental boundaries and knew that to reach the level of conditioning I desired for this year I would need to put a date in the books. This helped with staying the course, to really lock in when the diet and training became difficult, knowing I had a deadline for achievement. Lastly, it gave me something to look forward to. A common question I ask my clients is “What is food to you, or what importance does it hold?” The reason for doing so is to get them to understand that there is so much more to life than what we consume. Many people, myself included in the past, assign to much value to food and its place in their lives. If the goal is to instill permanent change with dietary habits and your relationship with food, then you need to lessen the importance it holds in your life and the control it holds over your sense of happiness / contentment.
Long term sustainability, or success with dietary habits around food, won’t be easily achieved if you don’t have other things on the calendar to look forward to. In short, food cannot be your only source of excitement, stress relief, or celebration.
Prepping for a photoshoot was a rather interesting experience. I’ve put together an overview, so you’ll have a general idea of how it’s done and walk away with some specifics regarding my approach.
Getting into photo-ready shape
While it’s not as simple as just getting super lean, you do need to accomplish this before you start thinking about things like peaking. There’s really no point in taking pictures if you’re not ready for them. “Photo ready” can mean a lot of different things to different people. For those involved in transformation contests, for example, it’s quite basic: if your after pics look a lot better than your before pictures, you’re in “photo ready” condition, right?
I certainly think so; however, one caveat is that unless you’re truly lean, most after pictures will typically be impressive only when they are sitting next to before pictures—it’s the difference between the two that makes them so. If you want to have pictures that stand out as “impressive” on their own, without the virtue of comparison, you need to achieve a very respectable level of leanness.
For my shoot, the target for photo-ready was sub 10% body fat. I am happy to say that I was successful in that endeavor and my DEXA scan had me at 8.6% body fat a week out from my pictures.
How do you get there?
This post alone has many sub-sections that hopefully provide a good deal of insight into adjusting your approach to elicit fat-loss and positive body composition change. Aside from that, keep in mind that at Adaptive Transformations we have an experienced coaching staff that would love to work with your personally if you have a goal of peaking for a photoshoot or specific event. Even if your end goal is simply feeling more comfortable in your own skin. We are here to help, so reach out.
Here is the base formula that I applied for my cutting phase. More on this in the deep dive video linked in this document where I walk through my dietary process, adjustments, timing, and reasoning (for those interested).
Coach Erik’s Protocol
- I started out with a more aggressive cut that used calorie / carb cycling. Less calories during the week and a 2-day refeed each weekend to restore glycogen stores, keep metabolic adaptations at bay, and ensure I had energy to get after my training regimen.
- I applied a 16/8 intermittent fast through the duration of my cut. This helped with digestion and allowed me to have larger, more satiating meals due to the compressed eating window each day.
- Density training with progressive overload application was implemented for the duration of my cut. The goal of any cut is to maintain as much lean mass as possible while cutting down. My training maxes did come down a bit, especially on compound lifts, however I ensured maximum effort was put forth in the gym so my body “understood” the lean mass I did have was needed.
The subsequent section of prep should not be followed by an amateur nor be implemented without guidance from an experienced coach and adherence to advice from your MD. We (Adaptive Transformations) do not recommend that you apply these techniques. It is being provided for informational purposes only.
Water loading and depletion
One of the ways to look your best and maximize how lean you appear is to become as “dry” as possible. This means that you need to lose as much subcutaneous water as you can, so your skin “fits” tighter to your body, allowing your muscle to show through. Holding water can make you look loose / soft.
Now, it’s important to say that you can’t just stop drinking water—at least not at first. You put your body into “flushing” mode by consuming a large amount of water. Up to 3 gallons per day.
Here’s the way it works. You drink a large amount of water, which will down-regulate a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone is a hormone that acts to conserve sodium and secrete potassium. Thus, the intent of water loading is to essentially train your body to eliminate water frequently, and in larger amounts.
Around 18 hours from when you are going to shoot, you CUT water intake. And when I say cut water, I mean that. The day before the shoot, you should be drinking no more than 3 total cups of water. The day of the shoot, no more than half a cup to a cup. Because of the hormonal environment created by the load, you’ll continue to excrete water, despite the drastically decreased water intake.
This process will help you shed most of your subcutaneous water and look as sharp as you can. Other strategies that can be used in place of or in combination with water manipulation are; use of a mild herbal diuretic (like dandelion root), tanning, the sauna, and hot baths with Epsom salt.
Glycogen depletion workouts
For the purposes of clarity, let’s just give a broad definition of glycogen itself. Glycogen is a polysaccharide substance stored intramuscularly (and in the liver), that is replenished by carbohydrates you’ve consumed.
Functionally, glycogen breaks down into glucose as a quick and readily available form of energy. Aesthetically, as we’ve alluded to, it tends to make you look “fuller” and larger. The depletion, and subsequent carb-up, which will make you look bigger, fuller, and allow you to pump to the extreme.
Why deplete just to turn around and refill?
The goal is to deplete and then refill in the right way, allowing for something called super compensation. In essence, the deplete/carb-up process creates an opportunity to temporarily over-fill muscular glycogen for a very limited window. The result (when timed and performed correctly), visually, can be astounding.
Getting back to it, let’s talk about the depletion workout. As the name implies, this is a specific workout intended to completely deplete remaining muscular glycogen. Just about any higher rep protocol will do for a depletion workout, and for my peak week I utilized a lactic acid training methodology.
Carbing up, peaking
As previously noted, you’re re-filling glycogen stores and allowing for / seeking super compensation. Secondly, taking in carbs works synergistically with your water depletion to help you look your best.
According to most bodybuilding and contest prep experts, a gram of carbohydrate pulls 2.7g water into your muscle; and since you’re not taking in any water by the time you start carbing up, the remaining subcutaneous water you’re holding will be pulled into the muscle, helping you achieve a higher level of dryness and a more ripped look. As an additional means of pulling subcutaneous water, I loaded creatine in my peak week to pull additional water into the muscle.
That covers the depletion of both glycogen and water—I look leaner but not as big. The goal, of course, is to have the best of both worlds. And that is the purpose of carbing up. These differences might seem small, but at the final stages of a cut this can make a big impact.
For an in-depth overview of my cutting phase, including my “peak week”, please see the video below:
I will now jump into many sub-topic discussions that provide insight into how we coach at Adaptive and for consideration on implementing some of these processes on your own. I hope you enjoy this bonus content and are able to take away a better understanding around applying nutrition to help you achieve the best version of you.
We are always here if you desire experienced coaching to help ensure your success.
Controlling what you can – coaching tools
Daily movement, in particular step counts, play an important role in fat loss and are another component of energy balance to leverage outside of adjustments to nutrition or caloric targets. A common question around this is if I count the calories burned towards a planned deficit? For example, if I ate 2400 calories from food and that was my maintenance calories and I burned 300 calories walking that would put me in a 300-calorie deficit thus making me lose weight (over time with consistency).
Now that people have fitness trackers and macro tracking has become more simplified many are plugging in the data to have an idea of where they are (which is great). The key consideration here is to discuss what we know vs. what we don’t know and how it factors into ensuring we’re making progress. What I often hear as a coach or from people in general is “I’m in a calorie deficit and have been for a month but haven’t lost any weight.”
Short answer, you’re not in a deficit.
The definition of a caloric deficit is not what your phone says. It’s not a calculator on the internet. That’s not what determines you’re in a deficit. What determines you’re in a deficit is seeing progress, seeing change in measurements, seeing visible body composition change. For that reason, I want to get into what the tools I use as a coach are and how you can apply these tools for yourself. I am a big fan of data, but also acknowledge that all the data in the world is worthless if we are not actually making progress.
What do I look at as a coach? What I try to do is put every one of my clients in a position where I can look at a variety of data to allow me to make educated decisions on plan adjustments. It helps me to answer the question, “Are we making progress or not?”
I don’t go by calculators to determine if I should make an adjustment. I go by these three things, and I recommend you do as well. First, you should be stepping on the scale. Now, I believe in stepping on the scale every day when I’m trying to lose fat. Why? Because it takes away the importance of one day over another and it is just data.
Next, you want to focus on averages because there are going to be spikes and valleys throughout the process of weight loss. Don’t get overly excited because the scales down four pounds one day, you might have just sweat a lot the day before and likewise do not be bothered if the scale is up four pounds, you might be sore from a workout or maybe yesterday, you had a ton of sodium, or if you’re a female, maybe you’re dealing with your cycle.
There are a lot of reasons why the scale goes up and down, most of them are related to water. Stop worrying about just the scale as a sole indicator of progress, but if you’re trying to lose body fat and you’re trying to recomp, the scale is a useful tool, so we don’t want to discard it.
The second tool for fat loss is measurements, because when you’re losing body fat measurements change. Especially the waist, thighs, hips, chest and shoulders wherever you want to take measurements you’re going to see improvements. You can do calipers if you know how to do that, but you don’t really need to. And the third thing is going to be pictures, that’s how you determine successful weight loss.
Basically, what you want to do is ensure you are controlling what you can. If you’re eating 2400 calories a day, which is your maintenance based on tracking and you’re walking your 10,000 steps and that’s burning 300 calories, that’s great, but understand that we burn far more calories through NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis).
You can count your daily steps as a part of this. For those of us that are busy throughout the day getting up and moving. Maybe you have a job working in a gym, maybe you work in a restaurant, maybe you are a nurse, etc. If you’re on your feet, getting a lot of steps daily, that is a lot of calories burned. For most, if this is your normal routine, you will adapt by eating more to compensate because your body is going to tell you to do so. However, if you actually start tracking your calories and paying attention to your needs, that might be all that is necessary to lose weight, it just takes a small amount of accountability.
Our bodies have internal processes that tells us when to eat and when to stop eating, sometimes we ignore them, sometimes we listen. The idea is that what I’m doing as a coach, and what you should be doing, is capturing and making decisions based on the data. Give yourself a couple of weeks at a set number of macros and do the same exact exercise, cardio, and maintain the same activity levels.
Next, we should see if there’s been progress in the pictures, in the measurements, and on the scale (trending average). And if there’s not, it is at that point you consider making an adjustment. This is how coaching works, and you are going to become your own coach, through this process.
Let’s talk about controlling what we can in the context of food intake. Now, a lot of people will say to me coach, I’m hitting my 2,000 calories, and I’m not losing weight. Okay? Are you truly hitting 2,000 calories? Because here’s what happens when I have tackled a cutting (fat loss) cycle. When I am cutting, I’m a bit more detailed than the average person. (If you watched the video at the top of this post you understand).
Therefore, you see my clients consistently reaching their goals. If you’re following my company, the results clients get is because they’re paying more attention. We’re not guessing that we’re hitting our calories, we’re weighing our food and we’re learning the foods that digest well with us, and then making intuitive adjustments.
If you’re just eyeballing food or if you’re trusting a restaurant nutrition fact sheet as what’s going to get you there it will be difficult to ensure success.
“The problem is if you’re not making your own food, there can be a huge variation in the number of calories, just because you scan a food item from a restaurant and went there and ate that does not mean that’s what you got.”
Alternatively, if you cook, prepare, and weigh your own food, you are really reducing the likelihood of errors, remember, control what you can. You are now controlling your food intake by preparing your own food. You’re also saving money and so a lot of times the things that make us good at optimizing our health are good for our lives overall.
What else can we control when it comes to controlling what we can?
Are you being consistent, have you set up a routine where you can sustain and execute your training plan? Does your training plan consider and/or complement your goals and nutritional approach?
Inconsistent weekly exercise can make or break a plan as it alters the energy balance that was factored into creating nutritional requirements. Get your exercise done. Perhaps you go at lunch time, maybe you go after work. Are you putting everyone else first and letting your needs and desires take a back seat? Control the desired outcome by creating an environment where training for you is just a part of your day.
We don’t think about brushing our teeth. We just do it. Make your daily routines towards health and wellness the same. Just do it. Just get in and do your training each day as planned.
Your cardio, or steps you’re already tracking, you’re doing a good job with tracking your steps but understand that your activity can vary from week to week.
You might not think of it, but maybe you play in a recreational sport league and some weeks, you’re playing three games and some weeks you’re playing one. Well, that’s a big difference. Understanding that might impact your overall performance and weight loss, in addition to your effort in the gym. All these things can really add up.
If you’re only focusing on the big picture, the smaller details may derail your result. Let’s look at my calories and let’s look at my fitness tracker, but there’s a lot more that goes into that.
Another big one. And probably, the thing that I’ve learned to pay attention to the most with my clients is stress, anxiety. I’ve come to believe that stress can prevent fat loss from happening, even in the face of low calories and high cardio. There is an inflammatory response that locks the body up and prevents fat loss from happening. Thus, it is important to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep. I realize that sometimes that’s easier said than done.
If you are in a particularly stressful season of life, fat loss might not be the best goal. Perhaps maintenance would be more appropriate and readily achieved. Keeping up with your workouts might be a better goal. And then you can reconsider focusing on fat loss when you are getting better sleep, when you are getting better recovery, when life stress is in a better place overall.
These are the things that we can control. I have never, in my life, had a client, that was preparing their own food, tracking their diet, not make progress. The ones that I come across, I’m like, hey, we need to have a discussion because we’re not seeing progress, so something is out of place. It is then my job as a coach to course correct and figure out what we are missing to get them back on track.
For instance, sometimes a client may be making their kids food and have an extra bite without reporting it. Or if they are eating outside of the home regularly and doing more guessing than accurate tracking of foods. When you do those things throughout the day it can add up to a few hundred calories over that period of time which can literally stall your progress depending on what phase you are in.
It’s about understanding the big picture and understanding that we start to conserve energy as we are in a caloric deficit. Our body starts to fight the fat loss by conserving energy. You might find yourself wandering in the kitchen. You might find yourself not getting off the couch as much. You might find yourself avoiding activities that you normally do. You might even reduce involuntary movements you aren’t readily aware of such as hand movements or fidgeting.
When I diet down, there is a point where I start to conserve energy and I must really pay attention to adjust my plan accordingly. I need to get up more often, I need to intentionally go about my day so I am doing more things that are burning calories that I find enjoyable because what I would prefer is all people lose weight without having to do something they don’t enjoy.
What works for you is best and understanding that you must control what you can, remove the variables and trust the data.
Cut stalls and adjusting
Stalling is a natural part of any cutting phase. To start this area of discussion, I’ll talk about what determines a stall because most of us use the scale as a single point of reference. And if you’re just using the scale to determine success, the thing you must know, is the scale represents water more accurately than anything else. Most of our body is water, 70-80%. So, when we are seeing numbers change on the scale, at least in the short-term a lot of times it’s water. When we eat carbohydrates, when we take in sodium, when we have sore muscles, our body stores more water.
Now, when it’s stored in our muscles (glycogen from carbohydrates) that’s considered lean body mass. But if you’re only looking at the scale to determine success you might not realize you’ve improved your body composition. So, first things first, when you’re doing a cut, you need to take pictures from multiple angles in consistent lighting.
You also need to take some measurements. Why? Because you want to have more than one unit of measure because what if you get on the scale and it’s the same way as it was last week, but your waist is down an inch, that is a positive sign of progress, right?
Body fat around the waist can really change things. And you might miss that if you’re not taking pictures because a lot of times, especially what I noticed when I lose weight, I lose a lot of body fat on my lower back. And if I were to just look in the mirror every day, I’d be like, damn, I’m not changing. Seeing the back change over time can be quite startling. You can’t see that without pictures. This is why you need more than one data point.
Back to stalling, and what may cause a stall in fat loss during a cut…
One of the primary culprits is inflammation. What is inflammation? Inflammation is the body’s response to stress. Depending on the length of the cut it could be chronic stress, or acute if the process of fat loss was taken on too aggressively.
You might not ever be fully recovering. Meaning your body is in a constant state of shock. You’re basically training > eating low calories, training > eating low calories, training > eating low calories, not getting enough recuperation especially if you’re adding in cardio. And what will happen is over time you will impair your body’s ability to recover.
When you have chronic or systemic inflammation, your body holds on to water. That water weight can look funny on the scale. So, you might even be leaner, but visually you’ll look worse. Furthermore, if you reduce carbohydrate intake, your muscles will tend to be flatter (smaller), but inflammation is making your body hold more water.
Inflammation is the first one. How do you fix it? If inflammation is the issue this is where it can help to take some additional rest days, put extra emphasis on sleep, and perhaps consider a diet break (see signs you may need a diet break). Each of these methods play a role in helping to address inflammation and to allow your body to recover so that it isn’t as resistant to shedding fat.
Signs you may need a diet break
- You’ve been nailing your nutrition, cardio, and training 100% but haven’t seen progress for 3-4 consecutive weeks when reducing calories.
- All the sudden you’re more food focused and find yourself snacking more or struggling with adherence.
- You’re having difficulty falling and staying asleep, when before you had no problem. And there’s no other external factors that would have caused the shift (caffeine intake / timing).
- You aren’t excited to train, sessions feel like they’re dragging on (a grind) when they didn’t before, and you aren’t recovering well. Internal drive or desire to train as plunged.
- You generally feel “slower” or like you’re dragging both physically and cognitively. Low energy.
For 1-2 weeks, increase calories to maintenance, with the primary increase coming from carbs. Cut cardio in half or remove altogether. Focus on rest, de-stressing, sleep, and a decrease in caffeine intake if possible.
Another reason why many cuts may not work is because you end up trading cardio or activity in the gym for non-exercise activity. What do I mean by that? Let’s say that later today you’re going to do a cardio session at the gym and you’re thinking about walking your dog. Upon thinking about walking your dog you decide it does not sound so good because you know want to save your energy for the planned cardio session.
This is what is termed as a swap of activity. Just because you increase your cardio, doesn’t mean you increase your caloric deficit because if you decrease any other activity that you would normally do throughout the day to conserve energy, you just traded it. You essentially traded something that you would have enjoyed doing for something you probably don’t enjoy doing.
It’s very important that we pay attention to our NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Now we all have fitness trackers these days, they’re even built into our phone so you can start to just look at your daily movement and realize that on some days you are less active.
It’s not just about cardio, it’s about how much we move and when we start to get low calorie, we start to conserve energy. Our hand movements might be less; we might bounce our head to music in the car a little bit less. We might take less trips off the couch, we might start looking for ways to conserve energy. Our bodies are very good at energy conservation so just because you cut your calories and up your cardio, doesn’t mean you increase your deficit if you just traded that for less movement throughout the day.
Another factor to discuss is digestion, because digestion slows down when we reduce calories and increase our activity. Our body becomes better at absorbing calories from our food, but that’s not the digestion I’m concerned with. What I’m concerned with is, when we make these swaps within a low-calorie diet, we look for high volume foods. Some of the high-volume foods we use like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, while being wonderful in small doses, can really tie up our digestive systems, and it can cause excess fermentation of those things and you’ll start to get gassy and bloated.
By the end of the day, this gas and bloat can make absorption of your food a little more difficult and it can start to cause a backup in digestion. As a result, you’ll have less frequent bowel movements, you’ll have more gas and bloating and what does that mean? It means more water in the digestive system and what is represented on the scale? You guessed it, water. So, again, you could be leaner but because your digestion isn’t functioning properly, and your inflammation is up, your fluid retention is up. This causes the impact on the scale.
Something that I pay attention more than usual when I’m targeting a very lean physique for myself, or if it is a goal of a client, is sleep. When I start to get very lean (below 10% body fat) it happens to me. It happens to them; it’s going to happen to you. When you are low body fat, your sleep will decrease.
There’s a lot of theories on why this might be, but basically, I think of it like this, our body has an alarm system that says we’re not getting enough food and our body fat stores are low for survival. We need to be awake more to go get more food.
We are awake more, our sleep cycles get shorter. If you are sleeping less, your metabolic rate slows, you’re burning through less calories throughout the day. A lot of times people say, I know I’m in a caloric deficit but I’m not losing weight. The caloric deficit is a very dynamic process.
Your body fluctuates all the time. What is the fix for this? If you’re not getting good sleep, you can take a sleep aid or supplementation. That’s not the first thing I would suggest. You might want to start by watching what time you’re having caffeine. You might want to consider implementing a bedtime routine or going to bed at the same time each night.
When I find that my sleep cycles get shorter, sometimes I’ll try to squeeze in a nap if possible. If you are only sleeping 5 – 6 hours at night, you would be amazed what an hour nap can do for you.
You might be thinking, geez Coach Erik there are a lot of issues that can arise during a cutting diet. That is 100% true and a big piece of why I recommend having a coach to assist with navigating through the obstacles. Aside from that, what I’m going to explain to you is a possible solution to all these problems, and that is refeed and recovery. A refeed is when we bring up carbohydrates intentionally, but we still pay attention to our overall calories.
As an example, let’s say you are down to 1100 calories, I might just bring your calories up to 1300 1400 calories for two consecutive days but make the bulk of that through low fat carbohydrate sources. That will bring about restoration. The digestive system reinvigorates, the muscles recover, and sleep improves.
What else is it going to do? It’s going to improve your training. I would also have you do less cardio to reduce inflammation in the body. Therefore, if you refeed and recover, you’re going to get multiple benefits from it. You’re going to feel better, and it can put fat loss back on track.
Body fat and the mental aspect of being lean
I’ve never been more self-conscious than when I am at my leanest and I think a lot of that stems from doing something so extreme to achieve a desired visual appearance. I have never looked at myself in the mirror so much, almost daily and constantly analyzing like, well, I need to lose fat here. Always feeling there are areas to improve or second guessing my larger plan, and scrutinizing. Psychologically, it becomes this large part of your identity, and you think that other people will see you in that same way. It can really be a mental struggle as I noted about feelings of insecurity and in a way, it became how I defined myself. You can begin to define yourself as a number or physical appearance of how lean you are. Care needs to be taken to understand that more extreme physiques are temporary and to remove assignment of self-worth to a specific level of leanness. Understanding that your physique is not the only area of value you bring to the table is key. This is also why switching to maintenance or putting back on healthy levels of body fat can be a difficulty. We will tell ourselves, “How am I going to like myself, or will others accept me, if I gain body fat?”
This leads me into our final sub-topic of discussion…
The diet after the diet
A very sobering fact is that roughly 90 percent of people who lose a significant amount of weight eventually regain just about all of it. Why is it so difficult to keep the weight off? The answer is both simple and yet complex. Gaining a significant amount of weight (there is no estimate on exactly how much) doesn’t just fill up our fat cells; it changes our biology. Our bodies act as if that higher weight is our normal weight. This phenomenon has been labeled as a body set point and possibly plays a role in the struggle that many face over the years with body weight.
Many carry the scars from past dieting efforts that ultimately led to regaining the weight lost… often gaining back even more than what was lost. This can lead to a sense of impending doom, even after a successful diet phase, that can make doing what is necessary to retain the results an even more difficult prospect (more on that soon).
One thing that I don’t think gets talked about enough is the susceptibility and vulnerability after a dieting phase. You are the most susceptible to regaining weight after your best dieting effort. Both physiologically and psychologically.
Physiologically, your metabolism has adapted (by down regulating) and your body has perceived a lack of energy coming in. Therefore, you are prone to store excess calories as body fat as a survival mechanism. Psychologically, you are coming out of a period where a few more sacrifices were made, and you might be feeling like the restraints of dieting have just been released.
Most people screw this up by dieting too long and too extreme. In general, the more extreme the diet, the more extreme the metabolic adaptation and eventual slap back.
If you finish a cutting phase and immediately feel out of control around food that is an indicator that you likely didn’t go about it in the right way.
The phase after the diet is equally as important (if not more so) than the dieting phase itself. That will be your most susceptible and vulnerable state. Another mistake that many people make is a lack of stabilization.
You just finished a successful cut…
Let’s make sure you know how to maintain those results. We need to stabilize before we can do anything else. If you were to look at a chart of your weight loss efforts throughout your lifetime, for the general population it would look like a back and forth between peaks and valleys.
I’m just guessing based on my experience, but am I right? If so, the goal shouldn’t be to constantly push your ceiling higher. It should be to elevate your floor and close that gap that exists between the ceiling and the floor. When you do push for a slightly higher ceiling, we must stabilize the floor over time before we can push again. Otherwise, you’ll continue to be stuck in the loss and gain rut, or yo-yo cycle.
I just finished my cut on April 9. I did a photo shoot on April 10. Now I need to stabilize and mitigate risk. Clean up any shortcomings and apply lessons learned from the experience. I’ll be working on elevating my floor for the next 9-12 months. Then, I’ll tackle the ceiling again.
I phase things according to my life and my preferences. I like to be my leanest during the warmer months, but I also like to have the max amount of flexibility while pursuing my goals. My dieting phase went from mid-December 2021 to early April 2022. Now I will stabilize while restoring metabolic function and gradually including a more flexible approach.
My timeline is not of significance for your efforts, but the key principles still apply. You are the most susceptible to regaining weight after your best dieting effort. Which means you shouldn’t be restricting too hard or too long. Next, you should stabilize and stop pushing the gas pedal for a while. Maintain your results while you work on a higher floor. Then you can decide if you want to make another push.
This is the most effective way to gradually and systematically achieve your ultimate body composition goals while maintaining a high level of food freedom and ensuring that you do not regain the weight you lost.