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The Latest On Weight Loss, According To Science And My Observations

As fate would have it, quite a few interesting articles regarding research related to weight loss have come out in the past few weeks since I posted my "why we  should probably all stop offering weight loss coaching" article of a few weeks ago.

Now, unfortunately the fact remains that long term success with weight loss goals is a statistically unlikely outcome. Therefore I suggest that anyone making any promises about weight loss with the inference of "guaranteed" results is at best overly optimistic or at worst a damn dirty liar. Certainly though there are people out there who've lost weight and kept it off... so if you have a weight loss goal, and let's quantify that and say you have a permanent weight loss goal, what you probably want to be concerned with is figuring out where your best chances of success lie, and with avoiding the mistakes that all the unsuccessful people are making.

First let's talk about exercise. You should be doing some resistance training.

This is probably not news to anyone who has followed my various social mediums for more than a few minutes by now.

Resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your health, whether you have a weight related goal or not. Reiterating about 5000 of my previous entries though, and this is important so make sure you're paying attention this time, the purpose of resistance training is a lot less to do with "burning calories" and a lot more to do with inspiring your body to take up and put more energy and resources to use in supporting lean mass, ideally at the expense of fat mass.

So it's not just that you expend energy while training (although you do, and that's good) but that your body has something productive to do with the balance of energy that remains.

And by the way for what it's worth, it absolutely IS possible to gain lean mass at the expense of fat mass, especially for beginners but also even in more experienced athletes and enthusiasts.

Q: What's a good resistance training program for a client who wants to lose weight?

Exercise selection and variations in programming obviously will vary between individuals, but generally speaking the best resistance training program for a client who wants to lose weight is the same program that you would give her if she didn't want to lose weight... subject to her levels of confidence and proficiency at exercise.

Where most people with a "weight loss" focus will screw this up is by messing with the program, adding stuff in, leaving rest periods out, performing the whole routine as a super set or a circuit, and so on, with the idea that they "need to burn more calories to lose weight". So there's an obvious mistake you should decide right now that you will resist the urge to commit in future.

A couple of related links on this point:

Just a little more on the many benefits of strength / resistance training:

I may have digressed a little so peruse those additional links at your leisure. The first one may be especially pertinent to many of the people reading this entry.

Back to the main point as per the included image above, diet is key but resistance training will facilitate the best and most consistent results.

Paradox: Diet is the key, but "diets" don't work.

Diet is a contentious topic.

On the one side of the fence you have the people who insist upon some variation of the "all they have to do is stop eating crap food, cut out carbs, cut out grains, and eat clean" theme, and on the other side of the fence you have the people who insist "all that matters is that they are in caloric deficit". However, according to the International Journal Of Obesity, “it is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term”. So with one or two very rare, very notable exceptions, both camps are full of idiots.

Now I covered an abundance of evidence in this weight loss bullshit busting master post (not to mention all the other master posts), a while back... so rather than being redundant and repeat myself again and again, let's skip to the new stuff. Suffice it to say though, it's NOT about "clean eating" and it IS about "calories in, calories out", but it is NOT about "less and less and less calories in, more and more and more calories out".

At a certain point with such approaches... whether by deliberate caloric restriction or by omission of energy dense food choices to the effect of caloric restriction... all you are doing is training the body to manage the workload, rather than to actually benefit from training. It may be more accurate to say that you are training the body to require that level of workload (expenditure) at that level of restriction (intake) just to maintain a heavier and fatter condition, and if those levels are unsustainable then weight gain / regain will occur. As would appear to fit with the observation quoted earlier.

Again though, this has been a contentious topic. The majority of the "calories in calories out" crowd until very recently have insisted that there is no way for the body to adapt to prolonged and excessive levels of caloric restriction so as to preclude weight loss. Rather they would insist "if people are in deficit they see fat loss, if they're not seeing fat loss they're lying to you about how much they eat". 

Now since the Biggest Loser Study a year or so back, people in that camp have begrudgingly admitted that the body WILL adapt to prolonged calorie deficit and this WILL preclude further fat loss, but have continued to insist that the answer to this is simply to restrict even further into deficit and/or increase expenditure further with additional exercise & activity. I did mention that I think most of them are complete fucking idiots, didn't I?

Anyway. Increasingly, more and more evidence suggests that while fat loss IS dependant upon being in caloric deficit, we must work to appropriate levels of deficit where an expectation of adherence is not unreasonable, and where we are still providing sufficient energy and resources to benefit from training, and we must not restrict indefinitely but rather adopt a strategy of working at periods closer to metabolic capacity and at periods working from a greater level of deficit.

So, really that's almost exactly what I have been talking about for years... isn't it? 

Here are some links to relevant evidence:
Now... the approaches in each of those studies are different, but collectively in my opinion they more than sufficiently refute the "further into deficit (aka less calories in) always results in greater fat loss" doctrine as pushed by far too many halfwitted CI/CO & IIFYM proponents. 

Practical application of this information:

As coaches, as overweight or obese people, and even as fitness enthusiasts of non excessive weights, we need to be aware of and appreciate the paradoxical nature of things. To wit; an energy deficit is required to facilitate fat loss, but prolonged and excessive levels of energy deficit are associated with a higher body fat percentage in athletes and with greater long term weight gain in the overweight and obese. It is similarly ironic that when changes in body weight are seen as the most (or only) important outcome of an exercise program, we tend to adopt less effective approaches due to being overly concerned with "burning calories" and we are less inclined to pursue and appreciate the many benefits of productive activity.

Regardless of whether we are overweight and obese people or whether we are relatively lean and more active people, we need to move away from a "dieting" mentality where we glorify or consider necessary the arbitrary restriction of food choices, or over restriction of energy intake. We need to cease associating the suppression or ignoring of our bodies' hunger signals with discipline, will power or other strength of character and these virtues with the attainment and maintenance of a lean and healthy physical condition.

Rather, we should take an interest in learning and practicing a productive and beneficial approach to exercise and activity. We should practice regular, consistent, structured and varied eating habits to an appropriate but not excessive total energy intake. As per the links above, there may be some evidence to support the practice of eating more earlier in the day and less later on... but I would suggest whatever meal and snack schedule each individual finds convenient, appealing and sustainable to achieve "appropriate but not excessive total energy intake" by default without being too concerned about occasional divergences.

This could simply be described as practicing self care and healthy habits, and this alone should prove conducive to better physical and emotional health as well as a leaner condition, whether actual weight changes occur or otherwise.

For those who are enthusiastic to work more strategically to maximise their potential to see the most significant and sustainable results, the process should involve periods of working closer to a "maximal" level of intake representing metabolic capacity, and periods of working to a merely "adequate" level of intake which is at a significant deficit, but still suitable to a reasonable expectation of adherence, and to reap the benefits of training without resulting in comprised metabolic rate.

Please come and discuss this entry on my facebook page.
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The Evolution Of A Coaching Strategy & Training Philosophy

To the right of the screen is a pictorial representation of an idea that has been banging around inside my brain for a little while, trying to find it's way out.

As you can see, we have a Training Strategy and Fueling Strategy which are separate, but parallel to one another. You wrap the two of those up together and you begin to have what we call a Coaching Strategy.

Let's elaborate.

Your Training Strategy encompasses your exercise selection, your program split, your sets & reps strategy, your prescribed rest duration between sets, and so on. Here I'm only really talking about concepts related to resistance training... we may also choose to incorporate High Intensity Interval Training, Low Intensity Steady State cardio... running, rowing, cycling, swimming... the choices are endless.

Ideally though we make choices strategically and we put them together in away that makes sense in the context of the pursuit of our goals. Note that as obvious as this seems, a lot of people fail to really grasp the concept, as all they're really thinking is "to burn calories".

Similarly your Fueling Strategy should be inspired by more than just the idea that "it's good to eat clean", or that "you lose body fat while in a caloric deficit". I have approximately 8 million articles elaborating upon this point already so I'll leave it at that just this one time in order to move forward.

So, at this point we have the strategic training program, and we have an idea of our fueling requirements. When you put the two of those together and you start to consider "how can I facilitate confident, consistent, enthusiastic adherence", then you go beyond merely having a training & fueling strategy, and you begin to have an actual Coaching Strategy.

Again note that a lot of people fail to grasp this concept, even though in some cases they have branded themselves as coaches and charge others a hefty fee for instruction and advice that is impractical and ineffectual, and expectations that are unreasonable if not impossible.

Having a Coaching Strategy as we've described hopefully signifies that you actually have people's best interests and well being at heart. When you think a little more deeply about all of this, what you start to develop is an all encompassing, overall philosophy on training.

In my opinion.

We should see ourselves as fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue fitness and training related goals, for enjoyment and to enrich our lives. It can add a sense of direction to our lives at times when that may be lacking. It should compliment and better facilitate success in our other interests and other aspects of life, rather than detract from or come at the expense of them. The psychological aspects, effects and consequences of training should be seen as being of equal importance as the physiological, and in fact it should be considered that the best and most sustainable results in the latter can only be attained by prioritising the former.

Further, in my opinion.

As a coach your aim should be to provide the knowledge, the strategies and an overall outlook on training that facilitates permanent results via reasonable methods for those who are serious and enthusiastic.

As an athlete, serious fitness enthusiast or as a beginner who is serious about becoming more enthusiastic, you should be aware that any of these short term "transformation challenge" type of programs promising miraculous results via extreme and unsustainable approaches will be more conducive to failure, a worsened relationship with eating, with exercise, and a regression in condition over the long term. The people marketing them are well aware of this.

Practical application in real life?

Think about 99% of what you see in those stupid infographics and everything else you see on social media fitness pages. How to avoid trigger foods, how to manage your hunger and stick to your calorie deficit, how to burn more calories at exercise, and so on. A load of garbage.

Rather than being about trying to find ways to force strict adherence to a dietary regime, your outlook on training should be about finding a balance where you have confidence in your established habits and your ability to break from your established habits as necessary, while facilitating the successful pursuit of your training related goals, however modest or however ambitious they may be.

A strategic approach is about more than just burning calories and restricting intake. A philosophical approach is about more than just futile attempts to force adherence to what is neither reasonable nor advantageous via concepts such as will power, discipline, or accountability.
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The belief about food that you need to change in order to see success.

So, here's an idea for a post that I've had for a little while... and I want to start by letting you know that it is partially an observation and commentary on the fitness industry, but it will have a conclusion that will not only be applicable to the general public, but actually could be of potentially life changing significance to serious fitness enthusiasts who struggle with the nutrition side of things.

This was inspired by something that came across my social media feeds last week which I don't seem to be able to find again right now, so perhaps I'll misquote this, but it got me thinking anyway. It was something to the effect of "how to change your client's belief systems about foods" so that they'll have good adherence, or... be successful... or something.

Now, this got me thinking because generally speaking, when you look into these things you tend to find that the "change in belief systems" actually infers adopting a lot of beliefs that don't quite stand up to scrutiny and aren't actually factual. These sorts of things are intriguing to me. It's easy enough to just write everyone off as a scam artist or a Pete Evans style delusional simpleton repeating a bunch of nonsense and trying to brainwash other people into believing it... but in some cases that would be a little unfair, as you have actually quite decent people with the best intentions of contributing positively to the industry by teaching valuable skills to aspiring professional coaches.

With all that said, the question remains: why is it that good and intelligent people would believe so passionately in things that just aren't factual?

Well, that was a long introduction so let's cut from the chase from this point on. Refer to my rather excellent flow chart below, and let's start at the top and then work down just the green boxes on the left hand side.



Pretty simple, right?

You read... oh, let's say you read "Good Calories Bad Calories" or you watch one of those food documentaries on Netflix, and it tells you "this is the problem, and this is the solution". Fortunately for you, your reaction happens to be "hmm... well, that seems to make some kind of sense, and doesn't sound too difficult to me, so I'll give it a go". And what do you know, it actually works and you actually see good results.

Fantastic. So, seeing results you have every reason to believe "obviously this works" and it's not unreasonable to extend that to "obviously this works, and it works for the reasons I have been taught. This is what everyone needs to do".
That'd be an understandable conclusion, but really... all we really know at this point is that it happened to suit you, and it happened to work. We don't necessarily know that it worked because what convinced you to try it in the first place was 100% factual.

Now let's back up though and we'll follow the chart but end up in some of those red boxes.

You hear about something or are instructed to do something by your coach, and you can see these other people very enthusiastic and having a good time with it. Maybe you think "ok that sounds easy enough", or maybe you think "this sounds awful, but fuck, what choice do I have if that's what it takes?". Either way, in this example, you give it your best shot, but for some reason you just can't seem to make it work.

Or... actually you know what? Maybe you don't even give it a shot because it sounds that awful and you're just that lacking in optimism about your chances of pulling it off. Contrary to the way a lot of the fitness industry seems to think, this can be entirely understandable. You're told a diet that is high in animal fats is required, and you want to be a vegan. Or you're told a grain free diet is required, but you love bread and cereal. Or you might even be told a vegan diet is required, but you love steak. Maybe you're just one of these people who only really likes a rather limited variety of foods and isn't very good at trying new ones. I'm in the minority but for whatever it's worth, I for one would not blame you for giving up without even trying under any of those or similar circumstances.

But in any case, in these red squares... either you're not enthusiastic and not able to adhere to it, you attempt to force yourself but it still doesn't work, or you were actually quite enthusiastic and you're pretty sure you're doing everything you've been told, but it's still not working. If you or your coach really believes "it you do this it works, if it's not working you're not doing it right, and it has to be done like this and no other way", then you're screwed. Especially if you're one of those unfortunate people who spent a lot of time mouthing off online about how stupid everyone else must be, and then found your condition going backwards no matter how much harder you tried to stay in ketosis, just saying.

Here's the wild card though. That other box all the way on it's own on the right.

Let's start again from the top. You get told about something and how great it is, it may or may not really make sense, it may or may not be based in reality, but either way you already have some other approach that you like, which is working out very nicely for you.

Now, for some reason... that's a situation that not many people in the online fitness world seem to be able to imagine. Think about it... how could two different people be doing two different things, and both of them successfully? How could someone think that is good, when I think this is good? Are they trying to insult me, or what?

Honestly, it gets so silly. But here's the thing.

As per what's in the green section of the chart, here's what we can assume about every person out there who is having a good time and maintaining improvements in condition.
  1. They have a decent approach to training that they get stuck into enthusiastically.
  2. They have an approach to nutrition that they believe is the best, that happens to suit them, and actually does consistently give them enough of all the energy and nutritional resources that they need to facilitate results, at least to the level at which they've achieved so far.
Also let's specify that we're talking about people who've maintained a degree of success for... oh, let's say five or more years. We're not talking about people who did some "miraculous transformation" for about half a season but then regained 30kg or something like that, and we're not talking about the people who will eventually come clean and confess that they were miserable the whole time either.

We can probably safely say that no one who has been successful long term was doing something that didn't appeal to them, that didn't suit them, that they hated, or that they forced themselves to believe in even though it didn't really seem to make sense. We can definitely say that they don't have the same approach, or even necessarily a similar approach to one another. And while many people will want to believe that there is a specific, scientific reason why their personally preferred approach is "the best" approach for anyone... if you like the approach, if the approach is working out for you satisfactorily, it should be enough just to be confident and to be enthusiastic about having found the approach that is best for you.

In short, the belief that you need to change is that there is ANYONE out there being successful by doing ANYTHING other than what happens to most appeal to them and what happens to best suit them. And if they try to tell you anything else, they're full of shit.

So, the take home point from all of this, for you.

For everyone out there saying, "but you can't do it unless you cut out grains and never eat cereal for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch again", there are people out there who are doing it while eating cereal for breakfast or whatever else. For everyone out there saying "but you can't do it on a vegan diet" there are some incredibly successful vegan athletes out there as well. The same goes for anything to do with the number of meals per day, the timing and frequency of meals across the day, the same again for any other, more elitist ideals about what people "need to" do, or what they should and should not want to do as far as their approach to nutrition goes as well.

Now obviously there are some technically concerns that come into this. Your dietary habits cannot be conducive to excessive energy intake if you expect to develop a leaner condition. At the same time, your dietary habits must provide an adequate total level of energy intake, and an adequate level of protein intake, to facilitate improvements in performance, recovery after training, and to maintain and increase lean mass. Also you need to get enough fibre, vitamins and minerals from some of the healthy stuff.

Aside from that? You require an approach that you're enthusiastic about, and are able to adhere to with a reasonable level of consistency. What better reason to be enthusiastic than because you truly believe it is best approach for you? What better reason to believe that, than because you have actually designed and continued to refine the approach to be what is best for you?
This is how I like to do it, the way that suits me best, and I'm more than happy with the results. How anyone else prefers to go about it is irrelevant. I have my own story. They aint me and this isn't their life.
Now, as coaches I believe it is fine to only offer one approach that you specialise in. I only offer one approach, and if someone tells me they're looking for something different, they're free to and in fact best to go looking for another coach who specialises in that, because I won't accept them as a client. But as coaches whatever we are telling people in support of our preferred approach should be truthful, and where applicable should be able to be supported by credible scientific evidence as well as every day observations. It shouldn't be bullshit that robs the people who aren't suited to that approach of the belief that they too can be successful.

Why not come and discuss this post with us on my facebook page?
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How Caloric Over-Restriction Makes Binge Eating Inevitable.


Just a little something I’ve been working on.

Here’s the thing with caloric deficits and binge eating. 

I put these numbers together as a hypothetical case study on a female of average height and a certain undisclosed age. Suffice it to say, if you’re taller than average these targets would be overly conservative. If you’re younger; also overly conservative. But the factor that really makes the biggest difference and which tends to be entirely neglected by most people writing about CI/CO and IIFYM style approaches is level of proficiency and productivity at training.
So, for a beginner who has a fat loss goal, we would start out in deficit. According to a lot of social media posts and infographics, all that matters is that you are “in deficit”, and so long as you are in deficit you lose body fat, and if you’re not losing body fat you’re not in deficit. 
Well, that's actually garbage.
Somewhat insufficient and unsustainable levels of energy intake can be an appropriate strategic move at times, but only for short periods and with the understanding that is not really enough, and the anticipation that an increase will be required within a predicted duration of time.
So in this example the client is instructed to begin at 1400 calories which should be considered an overly conservative estimate of her requirements. As part of an intelligent strategy, the reason for doing so might be to learn to recognise and respond accordingly to hunger signals... however in this case, it is simple caloric restriction in order to be at a significant level of deficit. While the client is told "you'll see fat loss due to being in deficit", this is only half of the truth, and what also happens is that the body adapts by compromising energy expenditure at training, at rest, and at activity outside of training as well.

At a certain point fat loss will cease to occur, and what the client is likely to be told according to the many infographics doing the rounds of late, is that she is "no longer in deficit" and must either cut caloric intake further or increase energy expenditure via extra training sessions or more deliberate activity outside of training. However, at this point all she is really doing is training the body to manage, and for that matter to require this increased level of work load at this level of energy restriction... and this cannot and will not result in improvements in athletic condition.
Now, the further we instruct the client to restrict intake further below this already insufficient level of energy provision, the greater the magnitude of the inevitable binge eating episode that will follow. 
Reiterating & understanding the situation correctly at this point.
This level of restriction will preclude any improvements in lean athletic condition, as the resources are simply not available to recover from and adapt to training, other than with the adaptations necessary to cope with (rather than benefit from) the workload. Since we have attempted to restrict even below that amount, the inevitable binge episode will be of a magnitude to bring average intake to a level that is merely sufficient to do so and maintain weight.
So, this means the client is no longer in deficit?
Nope.

This is a conversation I have had a few too many times, where I'm attempting to explain this situation and citing examples of clients who've been a lot happier and seen major improvements in performance and condition by increasing towards more optimal levels of energy intake in accordance with my instructions. "But Dave, what you don't understand is that she hasn't mentioned that she is binge eating, so that's why she's not in deficit". Wrong you stupid motherfucker. I am well aware that she is binge eating, as that is the problem she has come to me desperate for help with. 
What you can see in the chart above is some estimates of what might be the maximum amount this client could benefit from or otherwise expend on a daily basis at different levels of proficiency at training. The greater your consistency and proficiency at training, the higher the amount you can put to use and benefit from. The more severe the level of restriction on a daily basis, the more mathematically improbable it is that a single (or even a couple of) binge eating episodes on a weekly basis could "erase the deficit" and result in a caloric surplus so as to preclude fat loss.

Rather, the situation is that even taking binge episodes into account, total intake is still only to a level that allows the body to manage / cope with the workload, but not to a level that facilitates improvements in performance and condition. To benefit from training you require a certain level of energy intake and other nutritional resources, in order to recover from and adapt favourably to the level of stress you are subjecting your body to.

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