You eat healthy, you train hard, you weigh your food, track macros and rarely cheat. Still, though, that scale isn’t where you want it.
So, why aren’t you seeing better results? The answer is: you’re dieting too much.
Yes, that’s a thing. And, yes, it’s incredibly common (particularly among females). Chronic dieting not only doesn’t work, it can have serious mental, physical and emotional side effects. The truth is, there are actually times when it’s beneficial to not worry about dieting, to give yourself that break.
If you’re in a constant calorie restriction it’s probably a big factor (if not THE only factor) as to why you aren’t reaching your goals. You’re also setting yourself up for injury, adding a ton of stress and not hitting your true strength potential.
But how do you get out of that cycle and start to make real changes?
1. Accept the fact that you can’t be on a diet 24/7.
Easier said than done, we know. But you have to get over the need to constantly diet or you’ll never get to where you want to be.
Athletes trying to lose weight are often so hesitant to take in calories for fear of gaining weight that they don’t realize the kind of restriction they’ve been in for months (and, in some cases, years). Even hard-core bodybuilders with single-digit body fat percentages relax their nutrition for a period of time in the offseason.
No one can be perfect year-round! It’s a recipe for disaster. That’s why any nutrition coach or program worth its salt (RP Strength, Working against Gravity, Black Iron Nutrition) will cycle you through stages of building, maintaining and then being in a deficit.
It’s such a common problem that certain programs, like RP Strength mandate that if you’ve been dieting recently you have to go through a maintenance cycle. If you can’t accept that you can’t diet all the time you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
2. Prioritize muscle gain
If you’re a 5’7” female and 135 lb. you have might to build some muscle first to get to the level of lean that you want. But too often we go off of body fat and say something like, “OK, I’m at 23 percent body fat and I want to get down to 15 percent, so I need to lose X amount of weight to get me there.’ But leaning out isn’t just a simple math problem.
At some point your body views muscle as an energy source. And if you’re a chronic dieter you’re losing muscle instead of prioritizing it and using it to get lean. Muscle will help you burn more calories faster, help you get stronger, feel better and lift more (Duh). And, no, it doesn’t just morph into fat if you don’t use it.
Those people you see on Instagram that are super tiny and jacked? They probably had to add weight at some point. World class powerlifter Marisa Inda has been very upfront about the cycle of adding and cutting that took A DECADE. A lot of our Nutrition Series athletes said the same. The key is to not freak out initially when you start eating more.
3. Don’t skip phases
There are three phases of dieting: massing, maintaining and cutting. As an athlete, you need to spend time in all three. I repeat, you NEED to spend time in all three.
How much time and how often you should be in each is highly individualized. But you have to get out of the constant thought process of ‘Oh my gosh, I need to eat less!’ Maybe you do need to eat less. But you also might need to go through periods where you’re strategically trying to add some muscle or just maintain your weight, before trying to cut again.
It’s called muscle building, not muscle reducing! You can look good and perform well in the gym. But you have to be patient and trust the process.
4. Recognize when to Stop
If you’ve been dieting for awhile and your weight hasn’t budged in 2, 3, 4 weeks, if your calories are already low, you may have to go the other way and start adding more food back in. Again, people don’t want to hear this because they’re often terrified of gaining weight.
But what’s often missed when you’re eating to a deficit is that you aren’t at 100 percent. Weightlifters and powerlifters who cut to get into a lower weight rarely hit all-time PRs. They know that some strength is lost along the way. When you’re cutting, your recovery can be tougher, your sleep and training can also take a hit. Adding some food back in when you hit a wall can fix sleep, energy levels and your ability to hit your training numbers. Giving those areas a boost —and your body a break—can also set you up for success down the road.
If there’s one thing you take from this article let is be this: you can’t just diet your way to optimal body composition and you can’t stay at these super low numbers. That’s not how you get real, sustainable results.
Photo Credit: Erica Livoti