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Showing posts with label caloric restriction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label caloric restriction. Show all posts

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.

Come and discuss this entry on my facebook page.
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Contrary to popular belief, a caloric deficit does not guarantee fat loss.


I know, I know; I'm like a broken record at the moment and I have written more posts on this exact topic over the past few years than I can even keep track of.

Good though, sometimes you need hear things a few times before they really sink in. Especially when it's different to what you're used to hearing.

IIFYM = "if it fits your macros".

An approach to sports nutrition about calculating and then planning to meet your requirements for energy, protein, carbohydrate & dietary fats. Treat fibre as an additional macro too in my opinion.

I reiterate and emphasise this point: it is SUPPOSED TO BE about calculating your ACTUAL requirements. When people just say "if you're in deficit you'll see results in fat loss" or whatever, all that infers is that you're not exceeding your requirements. It doesn't suggest that you're getting what you need. In most cases it's just some arbitrary level of restricting on the basis that it can't possibly be enough, therefore tough it out, be accountable, distract yourself from hunger, etc.

Seeing fat loss DOES mean you are in deficit but not seeing fat loss DOES NOT necessarily mean that you are not in deficit, and the solution to a plateau or stall in progress is not necessarily to slash intake further into deficit.

Here's the thing, just as an example:

At let's say 700 calories per day into deficit, progress stalls.
For one of my clients who comes to me in this circumstance, I'd actually do some maths, predict what level of energy intake I'd expect to produce best results, and work with the client on a strategy to increase towards that amount.
I don't do maths based on "calculating a deficit" but for argument's sake let's say we're going to increase until we're only 150 calories per day in deficit.
Higher TEF, RMR & NEAT no longer compromised, resources actually available to recover & benefit from training. We will see better results.

Others argue "if you're in deficit you see fat loss and if you're not seeing fat loss you're not in deficit" and therefore the approach is just "whatever you're doing now, subtract a few hundred calories and that's your new target". That's garbage. Enforced anorexia is all that it is.

The issue in most cases that I see isn't that "you're no longer in deficit" but rather "you're too far into deficit and have been so for far too long". Over restricting. Excessive levels of restriction, and often excessive & unproductive levels of expenditure.

Now, I had a stupid idiot argue the other day that (paraphrasing) "if you're not seeing fat loss then you ARE at maintenance and NOT in deficit", but if we can facilitate fat loss at a HIGHER intake... then the LOWER amount that had ceased to result in fat loss due to compromised NEAT & RMR is clearly also in deficit.

Now... it's simple and correct enough to just say "you require enough, but not too much" or "you require a deficit, but an appropriate level of deficit and not an excessive level of deficit". You require that resources such as carbohydrate & protein are available to produce improvements in condition as an adaptation and benefit from training.

To me that is simple enough but it seems to be too complex for most of these chumps to grasp with their primitive intellect and myopic application. Being in deficit does NOT guarantee results, and slashing further and further into deficit recklessly and indefinitely is a dead end. LITERALLY.

Want more? See also: Ending The Unhealthy Obsession With Calorie Deficits
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Why you failed to see results with your last IIFYM plan.

Even though I have some new followers I’m going to go ahead and assume everyone knows what “IIFYM” means, feel free to ask if you require clarification.

If you’ve done some form of an IIFYM approach in the past and found you couldn’t stick to it or it didn’t work, I’m going to explain why. First though let’s draw some distinctions, as there might be more than one possible situation.
  • Scenario (A): Had an IIFYM plan but was complacent about actually working to it, it was more like a vague idea of what I thought I *should* be doing.
  • Scenario (B): Had an IIFYM plan but really ate by intuition / appetite / randomly and logged at the end of the day hoping to be on target.
  • Scenario (C): Had an IIFYM plan, diligently attempted to work to it with strict adherence, but it was too hard and I kept giving in to hunger and over eating.
  • Scenario (D): Actually stuck to it, distracted myself from the hunger, only eat clean foods… still didn’t achieve a damn thing in terms of improved results.
There aint (but then again there kind of is) a “one shot” answer that covers all people, all circumstances and scenarios.

Now, Scenario A barely requires explanation. You have to actually DO the thing in order to make it work.

Scenario B… much as per A. Humans are notoriously unreliable at accurately recalling their meals, snacks, portion sizes, and so on. Particularly if you’re prone to grazing rather than scheduled meals and snacks, and PARTICULARLY if you have some guilt/shame type associations with eating. In any case when logging meals retrospectively, you’re subconsciously very likely to fudge the numbers a little to match your targets. So on paper (or more correctly “in the app”) you appear to be bang on target but this may be far from an accurate record & recollection of what is actually happening.

Scenario C & D: your plan was shit.

The plan you have been given, likely paid some chump a few bucks for, it was shit. It was not based on a reasonable or accurate estimation of your energy requirements.

Or to be more fair… it is likely that your plan did not anticipate and account for changes in your energy requirements. This is a disagreement I continue to have with other trainers, coaches & random people who think they understand IIFYM and Sports Nutrition. The commonly held belief is that a client’s energy intake will need to decrease as they see progress in fat loss, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Real quick before we continue and as per the infographic above, lets define “level of activity” as follows:

Not merely the amount of time spent active, but the quality of the activity in terms of a more effective training strategy, intensity of effort, and your prowess at training as well.

Now… on this page you can safely assume that I’m talking about fueling requirements for people who are training with a productive strategy. It is a different matter if we’re talking about merely “being active”. For an inactive person who decides to “get active” by taking a one hour walk to the park and back every evening… that’s a great idea, but an excessive energy intake via inappropriate dietary habits will mitigate the potential benefits. In an active person participating regularly in productive & strategic training, with improving physical prowess and increasing intensity… insufficient energy intake will mitigate the potential benefits and the potential for facilitating those improvements in performance.

Both people in the above examples should practice appropriate eating habits relative to their energy & nutritional requirements, but in each example the focus is slightly different. “Not excessive” vs “not inadequate”.

More often than not, what active people on an IIFYM, or other calorie limited plan, but also while “eating clean” are actually doing is to restrict to an inadequate & insufficient level of energy provision… often due to failing to anticipate an increase in fueling requirement as the quality and level of activity increases and to maintain an increase in lean body mass.

Here’s the danger though, even when heavily restricting energy intake via reducing calorie limits or limiting food choices… when we do not see continuing results in terms of fat loss, we are inclined to, encouraged to, and in some cases instructed to assume that the only explanation must be “still not burning more than you’re consuming” and that the solution is to reduce calorie intake even further. This is likely to have disastrous consequences.

In our earlier examples… the person merely “being more active” with a one hour walk around the park will have a certain fueling requirement or limit which probably won’t change very much. A person participating in more productive training or more intense activity will have a higher fueling requirement. A person progressing from a beginner level of productive training to an intermediate level will have a higher requirement still and can expect pleasing results in terms of body composition and condition provided those requirements are met consistently.

Note also that this increase in fueling requirement may or may not be reflected in the “calories burned” records on your activity tracking devices.
For these reasons, if you start out as a beginner on a level of fueling suitable to a beginner, but you train diligently following your program… after a period of let’s say 12 – 16 weeks you’re likely to find that either (a) progress stalls, (b) you’re extra hungry and unable to continue to adhere to your fueling plan, or (c) both.

Unfortunately most so-called “IIFYM” style coaches will believe that a stall in progress requires a further cut in calorific intake due to now being at a lower body weight. This is incorrect. The client (aka you) will not be able to adhere to the level of energy restriction, and in the unlikely event that they can force themselves to do so, it will only be conducive to a regression of physical condition.

Even at a lower bodyweight, even when continuing fat loss is a required outcome, increases in lean mass and improved prowess and consistency at training will necessitate a higher level of fueling.

A competent coach must anticipate this and have a strategy in mind to keep up with these demands to facilitate on going results.

Most however do not.
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Ending the unhealthy obsession with calorie deficit.

Always take a selfie.
I'll try to make this as clear as I can. Calories In / Calories Out is definitely a thing, but people need to STOP worshiping this idea about "calorific deficit", because it's stupid.

Now, don't get me wrong... and in fact I'll address this pre-emptively before the inevitable strawman attacks start: you cannot lose fat in a calorific surplus. If you take in more calories than you can put to use, that energy gets stored as body fat. Calories from any source as well, mind you.

However... the EMPHASIS on being in calorific deficit is all wrong. Note how I used to capital letters to emphasise the word emphasis just now. I'm not saying "take people out of deficit". I feel like I can't just say what I'm saying any more, I have to specify what I'm not saying as well, every paragraph or so. I'm going to go ahead and predict that a few people will still miss that and make stupid comments all the same once I share this to facebook.

Why not focus on being in deficit though?

As a profession coach and trainer and a specialist in Flexible Dieting with an interest in eating disorder awareness, recovery and avoidance, I've had active and athletic people come to me on... one particular example that I have in mind is a female athlete who came to me a few years back on 1300 calories a day and quite unhappy. She is now well aware that she REQUIRES a 3000 calorie a day minimum in order to see best results and performance at training, and to remain injury free.

That's something of an extreme example with very high fueling requirements, but it is quite common for me to reverse diet a female athlete from as low as 1100 or even 900 calories per day all the way up to 23, 2400, maybe 2600 calories per day subject to the amount they actually require to facilitate good results at their level of prowess at training.

Predicting an amount that is in deficit is easy. Literally, it's any amount that's less than would support current mass (including fat mass) and activity levels. All of these programs and diets where you just have an arbitrary amount like 1200 calories to restrict to, that's just about being in deficit and it's stupid. Some "macro plan" that doesn't end on a round number? Also stupid. Those "these are the only foods you're allowed to eat" type plans? They're not even smart enough to understand that how you'd lose weight on that plan is because you would be in deficit.

Now, on a personal level, "I just eat these foods and avoid those foods" is fine if people are happy with the food choices they're making and the results  they're seeing. I don't mean to insult people for not having a working knowledge of nutrition... other than the ones who are trying to enforce those choices onto others, and especially if they're charging money for it.

I have digressed. Where was I?

Picking an amount that is in deficit is easy, but it's not what is good.

As a coach who is giving sports nutrition advice, you need to be focused on how much people require, AKA how much they can utilise. That is, how much they can put to good use to fuel performance, to recover, and to adapt to training with the creation of lean mass. FKN IDIOTS WHO ARE BOUND TO SHOW UP TO TRY ARGUE WITH ME PLEASE NOTE: "how much they can put to use" does not translate to "a calorific surplus that would preclude fat loss", no matter what way you try to twist it.

Going back to those examples of mine from eariler: As a coach, you're never going to find out that your athlete requires 2400 or 2800 or 3000+ calories per day while you're thinking "results come from being in deficit, if you were in deficit you'd be seeing results". You won't have the BRAINS OR THE BALLS to raise their targets that high, so long as you're still married to and they're still enslaved by this brain dead notion of being focused on "calorific deficit". Rather, you're likely to slash intake targets even lower, clutch at straws about "not eating clean", or accuse the client of lying about their intake. These are the sort of things I keep getting told about, anyway.

Understand this: Not seeing fat loss does not necessarily automatically infer that you are "not in deficit" or that eating more would mean "going into surplus". While in deficit, tapping into fat stores is only one of many adaptations the human body might make and not necessarily it's preferred option. The further you go into deficit of an adequate amount, the less energy and resources the body will make available for other functions in order to preserve those fat stores.

Bottom line? If you're an athlete (and by this I mean anyone training with an interest in improving performance and body composition) you need to be fueled in a manner to facilitate performance and maintain condition. You can't build or maintain lean mass without making those resources available.
If you're a coach... if you're a trainer, train people and fuel them for results. We're supposed to be qualified professionals, stop trying to starve people thin with the same sort of logic I'd be dismayed to read on some kind of pro-ana blog.

You're not doing IIFYM if all you're doing is calculating a deficit, much less if you're just slashing further and further below some arbitrary amount.
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Your coach only *thinks* he or she is doing IIFYM.

Well, maybe not your coach. Hopefully your coach is great. Maybe I’m your coach or someone I’m friends with is.

There are a few good ones out there, but for the most part I see a lot of people appointing themselves coaches and entirely butchering the concept of IIFYM.

The difference between how I do things with my Flexible Fueling strategy vs how most people seem to do things with what they think is an “If It Fits Your Macros” strategy is as follows:

Most people are calculating a DEFICIT and working to that, while I am interested in calculating a target for best performance and condition.

When people are focused on calculating a deficit, the question is “a deficit from what?” and also for that matter “a deficit of how much?”.
Often it’s a deficit from “however much you’re currently getting, on average”. So, you track your intake for a few days, work out how many calories it is, average it out… there’s your “maintenance”. Subtract some amount (it might be 500 cals for example) and there’s your new target to be in deficit.

Bullshit.

If you’re not working to any targets to begin with, your current intake is just some random amount. Subtracting an arbitrary number from this random amount and assuming the result will in some way resemble an appropriate (forget “optimal”) target for performance, recovery and adaptation to training is … :\ … I was going to say “overly optimistic” but it is actually just flat out illogical.

That’s not IIFYM, it is just calorie counting and calorie restriction based on the conditioned assumption that you’re eating too much to begin with and the entirely illogical premise that you can best build a lean, strong and healthy body by depriving it of the energy and resources that it requires. It’s still just an attempt to starve weight off although people feel like they’re being more scientific because they’ve done some poorly applied mathematics first.
The thing with calorie counting and restriction is that… like we discussed in my popular rant on facebook yesterday, you’re just training your body to run on less fuel and still somehow get through training and get through your day.

Regardless though, if it is not restricting to a dangerous level you may still see results BUT the reality is that most people (myself included) don’t really have it in them to dial in strict adherence indefinitely. At best people will be motivated to dial it in hard and tight for a few a months… individual mileage will vary but let’s say 12 weeks is a reasonable amount of time before someone will either start to become a little complacent even if they’ve had good results or say “this is bullshit and I quit” if they have not had good results.

Now this won’t be half as bad as compared to someone who has done some of the more common very low calories + restricted food choices “clean eating” type nonsense but STILL… if you’ve trained your body to get by on an inadequate level of fueling, when you get complacent and drift back towards less structured eating habits it’s likely to be a greater energy intake than you’re used to getting, and I don’t have to tell you what happens to that energy that you’ve trained your body not to require.

Rather than that, consider this.

Twelve weeks building up towards higher, optimal, maximum usable energy and macronutrient targets to facilitate best performance at training, best recovery from training, and promotion of lean mass at the expense of fat stores as an adaptation to training.

Now, for the people who want to clutch at straws and try to pull me up on semantics; YES, obviously “the most you can put to use” is less than an amount at which you would not draw on fat stores due to energy intake being beyond your requirements. So indeed we are still “in deficit” but there is very real difference in the results of calculating our energy and macro targets intelligently with a focus on “how much we can put to good use for best results” vs “how far into deficit”.

You require a certain amount of energy just to be alive, to run your organs and regenerate skin cells and all manner of functions you’re not even really aware that you’re doing. Then you require a certain amount to get through your day able to tolerate… I mean, to interact with others and perform your job at work or at study. We burn a certain amount at training although the real value of training is not the energy that we expend but in how we adapt, and we require a certain amount further to all these other requirements to facilitate this recovery and adaptation to training.

Being at a strategic deficit can be advantageous as we will tap further into fat
stores to make up for the shortfall in energy provision vs energy requirements.
However, being too far into deficit simply means not providing the necessary resources to do all of those good things we talked about in the paragraph above, and running yourself into the ground while actually hampering fat loss at the expense of lean mass. The opposite of what you are actually trying to achieve.

So let’s wind this up.

Let’s say similarly to what we discussed earlier, 12 weeks of building up towards optimal, maximum useable, sports nutrition targets for best performance, recovery and adaptation to training. During that 12 weeks the challenge will be in eating enough to meet your requirements even when you’re not feeling hungry. Beyond that 12 weeks, depending on the individual you might find some people decide “this is bloody great and I can keep this up as long as feel like it and keep driving towards better and better performance and results”, which is great.

Other people are likely to think “that was great but I think I have a pretty good handle on this now and can just make good choices to eat when I’m hungry, confident that I’ll be getting it close enough most of the time” aka “intuitive eating” and that is also great.

My observation of that latter option is that intuitive eating after a period of working towards maximal targets will come in at a slight deficit due to no longer doing the “eat even if you’re not hungry” part. What happens when we’re at a slight, strategic deficit? As discussed a couple of paragraphs earlier, we tap even further into fat stores to make up the balance.
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