Why Diets Don’t Work:
It’s a very common scenario at the beginning of each year:
You change your diet dramatically, cutting out the foods you enjoy and replacing these with less quantity and less enjoyable foods in the pursuit of a leaner, more defined physique. It’s very common to succeed at this for around 3-4 weeks, before a cheat meal turn into a weekend binge and you fall off the wagon- regaining any weight lost and giving up on your health and fitness goals.
Additional note: This common lull in activity and proper eating between January and late spring is then capitalised on by fad companies like detox teas, cleanses, juice diets in the weeks and months just before the summer holidays who promise to get you lean fast. Do not get lulled in to these Fitness Fads- they are useless long term and a waste of money (in our and many scientists’/health professionals’ views)!
This doesn’t make you a failure, this just makes you human. We have cravings, we have stresses, and we have a limited amount of time to devote to nutrition each day and week- and all these influences mean we seek comfort and enjoyment in food, or retract time from it during busy periods and opt for easier, faster food options that tend to be less filling, but higher calories and very moreish! In fact, some studies have suggested that 95% percent of people regain at least the weight lost from dieting in the two years after losing weight on a given diet- furthering the need for you to actually believe in your diet, and make sure you can adhere to its possible restrictions and demands.
This is the same for those of you looking to drop fat, and those looking to build muscle- progress will stall as your nutrition falters.
How do I make a diet stick?
First off the word diet means the way you are eating will not be permanent, and thus by association it will most notably not be sustainable. If you want something to work long term it has to be sustainable, and suitable for you, period. These factors include enjoyment, cost, preparation time and of course how realistic the chosen style of eating is for you (and those that eat with you, your partner or family) long term.
Nutrition can be roughly categorised into 3 main styles of eating; clean eating, flexible dieting and IIFYM- please read more about these in this article. We strongly feel that for the majority of people flexible dieting is the most sustainable option of eating for results and health long term.
As well as being sustainable for you a diet must take in to account calories and an idea of macronutrient splits (the amount of protein, fats, carbohydrates and fibre consumed per day) for performance and health. Simply eating healthily is not optimal for progress, given you have no idea if you are eating the right amount of calories and macros for your goals. You could be eating far less than you actually need to, to lose fat, or far too little than you need to build muscle.
How do I build the right diet?
If a diet is made or suggested for you or constructed by you, it should not be unnecessarily restrictive in regards to both calories and types of foods (without good reason). As we have mentioned you absolutely do not have to eat clean in order to drop fat- you actually do not even need to eat healthily to drop fat- total energy balance (whether you have consumed more or less calories than used that day) determines this, not whether the calories have come from a stick of butter or a vegetable stick. Eating for body composition goals and eating for health can be completely different, and we feel Flexible Dieting is the best middle-ground between the two for sustainability, results and enjoyment!
Our first tip to building a diet that works for you is finding out how many calories you eat on average per day. If your weight has stalled on this intake, you can either increase your activity, or drop calories by 200-300 in order to try and facilitate further fat loss.
Secondly we would advise you to adapt your diet rather than change it altogether. We mean to keep eating at the most suitable periods of the day (within reason) and build foods you like and crave into your diet daily. This integration of your vice foods will help prevent the urge to binge on weekends or evenings.
Include at least five portions of vegetables and fruits per day, alongside 1.5 – 3.5 litres of water dependent on your size (higher end for larger men, people who are active and/or in a hot climate, less for lighter individuals). The increase in fibre and water intake will likely be fantastic for gut health, feelings of fullness and assisting with fat loss and health and performance in general. Aim for around 20-40g of fibre per day.
Aim for at least 75% of your calories from traditionally healthy foods, and 25% from foods you enjoy, per day. This will increase the enjoyment in your diet, whilst ensuring that you are sourcing the majority of your calories from nutrient-dense food groups. Although not perfect for health, this style of eating is arguably better for your peace of mind and creating healthier relationships with food and controlling your weight long term. Once you have increased your skills in regard to flexible dieting and cooking moving towards an 80:20 split would be our advice.
Aim for between 3-5 meals per day. Eating more meals than this per day will likely result in overeating, and may reduce the amount of muscle you can build, and for many the sustainability of the diet too. Space these meals evenly throughout the day, aiming to eat a meal 2 hours before you train, and within 1 hour of finishing your workout. If you have trouble with eating at a certain time of day, this Homemade Meal Replacement Shake or these Smoothie Recipes are ideal to replace a meal!
Don’t demonise carbohydrates- they do not make you fat. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for your body and brain, and reducing carbs to minimum may have negative effects on performance. As well as opting to go zero carbs being totally unsustainable for most people, cutting out carbs is simply slashing your daily caloric intake, which is what allows for fat loss given it puts you in a caloric deficit for the day. Carbohydrates have the same calories per gram as protein and less than half the calories of a gram of fat- and whilst both fats and protein are essential for survival, when dropping calories a reduction in carbs and fats (and potentially in some cases protein) should be considered.
Consume more of your carbohydrates around your workouts, with around a third in both your pre and post-workout meals. This structure of carbs will allow better performance and optimised recovery (alongside protein). In meals high in carbs, bring your fats down- raising these further from your workout for a more level energy balance throughout the day.
Make smart swaps. By this we mean if you always have a greasy pizza (or two) on a Tuesday, instead opt for a less caloric pizza such as a thin crust or a Pizza Express pizza over a Dominoes (even though their dip is the most delicious sauce on the planet). Other swaps could be low fat cheddar replacing normal cheese, diet soft drinks to replace normal full sugar options, squash with water instead of a sugary energy drink, lower calorie alcoholic beverage choices, bacon medallions instead of streaky rashers and so forth.
These are all very basic tips to help you gain control of your own diet once and for all. Our LDNM Guides all make nutrition and eating for progress simple, flexible and effective. We are also on hand as and when you need help with any aspect of your training and nutrition!