I often meet with clients who tell me that they have been trying to lose weight for years and simply cannot do it no matter how hard they try. After we speak, I’m usually able to identify two or three changes that most people can start out with that lead to fairly immediate weight loss. Other situations are a bit more complicated and require more education before any real weight loss can be expected. I also see clients who appear to be doing everything right but still cannot lose. In those instances, a bit more detective work often reveals that these clients, usually women, require a diet break.
A diet break? What is that?! Put simply, many of us diet too hard and/or for too long. It fatigues our bodies and our minds, and we need a break to recover both physically and psychologically. Our bodies are amazing, and will adapt to virtually anything we put them through. That includes caloric restriction. If we do it long enough and hard enough, our bodies try to compensate for it by reducing our metabolism and altering hormone production. Neither of these is good for long term weight loss. Thus, the need for diet breaks.
During a diet break, the goal is to increase your caloric intake to a more normal level. This gives you a mental and physical break, and allows you to begin a new dieting phase with more calories from which a deficit can be created. For example, if you stop losing weight and end a diet phase at 1500 calories, you’d likely need to start the next diet phase below 1500 calories to lose weight. Alternatively, if you start introducing more calories back into your diet on a gradual basis, your body can acclimate to it without gaining back all of the weight you just lost, and then you can start a new diet phase at 1800 or even 1900 calories.
When do I use diet breaks with my clients? First, I use them with clients who have been in deficits without any real progress for considerable periods of time. I usually have them take a break for a couple of months. That doesn’t mean eat everything in sight; it just means eating at a level commensurate with their needs at a maintenance level, and being more relaxed about what they are eating and when. Second, for clients who want to lose more than five to ten percent of their bodyweight, I use them between dieting phases. I find my clients have greater success dieting for a maximum of three months, then taking a break for a couple of months before embarking on a new dieting phase. They lose weight more effectively and keep it off for longer than if they try to lose it all at once.
If you have been dieting forever and don’t seem to be making any progress, maybe a diet break is what you need. We’d love to help!
I work with a lot of athletes and one of the biggest conundrums my clients face is that they have many goals. They want to improve their performance, they want to lose fat, and they want to gain muscle. All of these are great goals to have. The problem is, they don’t always play well together. Let’s break them down into pairs to find out why.
Improve performance/Lose fat
This pairing is difficult, but not impossible to achieve. With the right mindset, nutrition plan, and exercise plan, it is possible to see performance gains while losing fat. It’s not easy, and performance definitely will suffer if you don’t do it right. If, however, you are willing to pay careful attention to your diet, eat mostly whole foods in the right proportions for your exercise needs and weight loss goals, and work intelligently on your performance, you can make gains in performance while losing fat. The key here is planning. If your diet does not align properly with your exercise demands, you can have poor results both from a performance and weight loss perspective. When a client tells me that s/he wants improved performance and weight loss at the same time, I am careful not to put them into a large caloric deficit immediately and to ensure that they eat enough to maintain their training regimen. This enables gradual weight loss (the best kind if you want to preserve muscle mass) and maximizes performance at the same time. A large caloric deficit may result in quick weight loss, but at the expense of performance and muscle mass, neither of which constitutes a desired result.
Improve performance/Gain muscle
This pairing can also be achieved, depending on your definition of improved performance. Apart from very slow grow stemming from months and years in the gym, adding muscle mass requires being in a caloric surplus. A caloric surplus equals weight gain and that equals, well, fat in addition to muscle. (For more on that, check out Massing for Muscles, Part I http://www.fit-fab.com/finding-your-fit-fabulous/massing-for-muscle-why-did-i-mass). As a result, while you probably will be able to move more weight in the gym on a mass, things like body weight movements and cardio inevitably suffer. The good news is that after you finish adding muscle and diet appropriately to cut fat and preserve the new muscle, body weight movements and cardio come back quickly and with a vengeance. Again, this strategy requires careful planning and execution in the kitchen and in the gym for maximal results. Without the right training strategy and volume, you’ll end up putting on very little muscle and more fat than you would like.
Lose fat/Gain muscle
Apart from people who are brand new to eating and exercising appropriately, it is almost impossible to gain muscle at the same time you lose fat. Losing fat requires being in a caloric deficit, and gaining muscle requires a caloric surplus. By definition, the two are mutually exclusive. There is, however, a way to do both over time. It’s called periodization. In one phase, your focus is on losing weight. In another, your focus is on gaining muscle. By utilizing these phases in a comprehensive nutrition strategy, you can improve performance, lose fat, and gain muscle. Interested in learning more? We’d love to chat!
It took me three decades, but I finally did it. I had the biggest breakup of my life last year. No, not with my wonderful husband of fifteen years, but rather with my scale. While I still weigh in daily (more on that below), I refuse to allow what it says to shape the way I feel about my body and my fitness. Here’s why:
First, the scale will fluctuate wildly on a day to day basis. What you ate the day before, how much rest you got, how much stress you are under, what your hydration level is, and what your activity level has been like all impact that number, each and every day. I started weighing myself daily about a year and a half ago to desensitize myself to what it said. Over time, I began to see it as a data collection tool. There was no rhyme or reason to why I weighed two pounds more one day than I had the day before, and still less to why I weighed four pounds less three days later! If you really are interested in what your scale number is, try weighing yourself more often, not less, and use the weekly average of your weight over time to see trends emerging.
Second, if you add muscle, the number on the scale may go up, but you may look more fit and toned than you did before. Many athletes weigh twenty or thirty pounds more than you would expect.
Third, I really don’t care what the number on the scale is as long as I fit into and feel confident in my clothes. Pants in particular are a great proving ground. I have one pair of pants that were uncomfortable on me when I was at the skinniest of my skinny fat years, but fit me beautifully now even though I weigh more!
Finally, I am less concerned with what the scale says than I am with how I feel and perform. As I steam on steadily toward my fifties and beyond, I want to prepare my body to be in the best shape possible so that I can age gracefully and live an active and healthy life for many years to come. I now measure success by improvements in my medical markers, with a tape measure, and through my energy, vitality, and sports performance.
Is it time for you to break up with the scale too?
In 2015, Mat Fraser finished second in the Crossfit Games, which are designed to seek out the fittest of the fit, for the second year in a row. In 2016, he crushed the competition, winning by nearly two hundred points. He attributed his dominance in part to a change in nutrition, admitting to Men’s Journal that he hadn’t had the best of diets in prior years. While that wasn’t the only key to his success, it is something that all of us who work out recreationally can change to help us achieve peak performance in whatever it is that we want to do. Here are three simple steps you can take to help you make your food fuel your goals in a more effective way:
Go green. Most Americans do not consume enough vegetables, and leafy green vegetables in particular. Broccoli, kale, argula, asparagus, lettuce and spinach all contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They have very few calories, so you can eat lots!
Go lean. Be thoughtful in your meat selection. Choose cuts of meat that are ninety percent lean or leaner. Even a five percent difference in fat content can make a big difference in the calories that you are consuming. Consider fish as well, as most varieties, especially of white fish, are very low in fat.
Go clean. Choose single ingredient products that don’t come in boxes or cans. Usually, you will find these products on the exterior of the grocery store rather than in the center aisles. Most things that are packaged or processed have little nutritional value.
Try implementing one of these steps for a couple of weeks, then add another for two more weeks, then the third. Most people feel and perform better with these few small dietary changes.
Amy Mariani is the owner of Fit & Fabulous LLC in Winchester, Massachusetts. She is also the nutrition coach at www.mountainstrength.com. Her mission is to help people eat healthy and love life.
Please note that you should consult with your physician prior to embarking on any major changes with regard to your nutrition. Unfortunately, absent authorization from a medical professional, we are unable to provide individualized nutrition coaching to anyone under the age of eighteen, or to persons with certain medical conditions. We are always happy to work with authorized medical professionals under these circumstances.