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Showing posts with label nutrition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nutrition. Show all posts

Dieting And Weight Loss; It's Time To Face The Facts

Real talk though; we need to face the facts about dieting for weight loss.

On any specific approach over the long term, more people are unsuccessful than are successful. On all approaches combined, more people are unsuccessful than are successful. However... while successful outcomes are the minority, they are not exclusive to any specific approach.

What can we observe or logically conclude about what enables a person to be successful with any approach to dieting?

I suggest the following:
  • They enjoy & have an appetite for enough of the included choices of food that they are satiated, or at least that hunger levels are manageable.
  • Total energy intake is far enough below "an excessive" level that would preclude fat loss, but high enough to avoid or mitigate adaptive thermogenesis aka "starvation mode" in the common vernacular.
     
  • Ideally they're including a suitable amount of reasonably healthful and nutritious choices, but some famous "stunt diets" you may have read about prove it could be done on just potatoes, twinkies, macdonalds, ice cream & whey... whatever. None of which I would personally recommend but it demonstrates an important point.
  • The eating habits they adopt fit in with their lifestyle & circumstances, and they're able to stay enthusiastic and not gravitate back towards their old habits.
  • So their are any number of overly simple answers but the reality is that for most people, success is going to be something that you have to decide upon and keep working on, on an ongoing daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, year in, year out basis. Therefore you want "the path of least resistance" in my opinion.

Now... people often attempt to 'splain to me that their personally prefered diet (usually LCHF) is "more satiating" and therefore preferable over brute force starvation approaches which work in theory but backfire long term due to the effects on metabolism.

You can refer to the above for what is wrong with this logic. It would be satiating IF you happen to enjoy enough of the foods that fit this eating style and happen to consume enough of them to meet that "adequate but not excessive" energy provision that results in weight loss without metabolic adaptation.

However if you DON'T happen to enjoy enough of those foods, then it actually does become a brute force deprivation based approach. I still don't really understand how people can be quite so low in emotional IQ that they can't grasp this concept.

ANYWAY let's wrap this up.

With the right guidance you could achieve that "adequate but not excessive, satisfied but not stuffed, weight loss without metabolic downgrade" eating pattern on ANY selection of foods without feeling afraid or guilty about ANY particular choices or needing to rule anything out (other than on specific medical grounds obviously).

That's what I teach people to do.
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Interrupted / Intermittent Energy Restriction Sports Nutrition Strategy

Brand new for 2018, a new variation on the Flexible Fueling system inspired by the recent MATADOR (Minimising Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound) Study showing that greater weight loss results were achieved with a "two weeks on, two weeks off" approach to dieting compared to continuous energy restriction.

I want to try to skim over a couple of things that have been covered previously and get on to what's new. My Flexible Fueling approach (in fact, even before I started calling it Flexible Fueling) has always been about getting people OUT of that restrictive, further and further into deficit approach to IIFYM and getting them confidently enjoying a variety the delicious & nutritious foods that suit & appeal to them, to a total energy provision that is adequate, but not excessive.

Flexible Fueling Towards Intuitive Eating

I covered this in more detail recently, but suffice it to say that for many people it's enough just to get out of dieting, practice regular eating habits to ensure that they meet at least a conservative estimate of their minimum requirements, leaving a reasonable margin for error or variance so that they don't have to feel anxious about a social engagement where they may indulge a little... and to understand that as this is a conservative estimate of minimal requirements, before long they're likely to experience some hunger signals, which they should respond to accordingly with an increase to a more appropriate level of daily energy intake.

Flexible Fueling Towards Metabolic Capacity

My experience as a professional coach is that in the vast majority of cases, people's problems stem from attempting to restrict to an insufficient level of energy intake relative to their requirements. In the case of more experienced, more proficient, serious fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes this is a serious problem. Particularly with a younger, taller, more active client with a more advanced level of prowess at training it is imperative to increase steadily towards a target representing the highest level of energy intake that can be put to good use and produce a benefit in terms of athletic performance and condition.

This does not mean a "bulk and cut" strategy.

Serious fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes as described above have a high energy requirement and potentially massive capacity for energy flux AKA the amount of energy that could be expended or otherwise utilised. As you increase towards this amount, a leaner and more athletic condition will be the result.

If you've been following me for a while you'll know all of this already, and you'll know it's what I've been talking about for years and everyone else is slowly starting to catch up to, including a bunch of suck ass motherfuckers who've argued with me in the past. PROLONGED & EXCESSIVE LEVELS OF RESTRICTION CAN ONLY BACKFIRE AND CANNOT RESULT IN MAINTENANCE OF A LEAN ATHLETIC CONDITION. Rather, that sort of nonsense is only conducive to a regression in physical condition and the development of an eating disorder.

So much for the "skim". Let's cut to it.

The Flexible Fueling Punctuated Periodisation Protocol

What we're doing here is inspired by the MATADOR study, but it's a little different and also I don't like to have anything to do with the notion of "restriction", so I had to come up with a cool name of my own for this variation on the strategy.

Refer to the graphic below, and I'll explain how it works.



For the first two weeks, we start at the most conservative estimate of absolute minimum requirement. Often this is still more than the amounts people are attempting to work with when they come to me. I drew this as a curve, as we're likely to find that it does in fact turn out to be overly conservative and that we need to come a little higher, towards a more reasonable, more workable reflection of our minimum requirement.

For the next two weeks, we work to a conservative estimate of Metabolic Capacity.

In theory vs in practice.

In theory, so long as you're in caloric deficit your body will draw upon fat stores to make up the difference, right? And the further into deficit, the more fat loss, right? And if you're not seeing fat loss, you're not in deficit, right?

Bull. Shit.

Real quick... what a lot of these fucking imbeciles out there don't quite have the brain capacity to grasp is that there is a difference between for example a 90kg male aspiring body builder who has just done a "bulk" on say 3500 cals per day, and a female athlete on 1400 calories per day or an overweight mature age female with a decades long history of extreme crash dieting. The male could cut to 2500 calories and see fat loss due to being "in deficit" and may find at some point that he needs to cut further to keep leaning out. That's not how I'd do it because I'm smarter than that, but that's why they think "if you're in deficit you lose fat, when you're not losing fat cut further into deficit". The female athlete can't possibly cut any lower and should never have been instructed to cut that low to begin with, YOU GET ME?

So, in pursuit of your goals you need more than just "restrict, restrict further and keep on restricting indefinitely until you hate your fucken life". You need a system where you work to intelligently calculated targets, and assess your response to those targets until you find what feels right and works right for you, allowing you to enjoy life and enjoy your best and most sustainable results from training.

Assessing the response and revising the strategy.

In theory you should see fat loss and therefore weight loss in that two week period at minimal intake. Interestingly though, some people will not see weight loss at that phase, but will see fat loss during the next two weeks while working to higher intakes. In which case, the question is whether the period of restriction is unproductive or whether it is necessary as the fat loss is a response to coming out of deficit. There's only one way to find out. If the period of restriction proves unproductive then it makes sense to find the lowest productive level of intake and consider that the new minimum.

If there is no fat loss at either level, you may decide to repeat the period and give it a little longer to see if it kicks in. Or you may logically conclude that since you can't go any lower, and since a conservative estimate of the most you could benefit from didn't do the job, you can only conclude that intake is still not high enough and a further increase to a less conservative estimate is required, as indicated on the chart at Week 7 & 8. In fact... if fat loss is apparent I'd still be likely to conclude that our conservative estimate is indeed quite conservative and I'd be optimistic that an increase to a less conservative level will prove productive.

At the very worst if we do overshoot that maximum level of intake and see an increase in weight beyond what would be explained simply by having more food passing through the digestive system, we have two weeks back at minimal intakes just around the corner that will resolve that, and we know to set our higher target more conservatively next time.

More likely though especially in the younger, the taller, and especially the more active people with a higher level of athletic prowess, everything works out better than expected and by the third cycle of the strategy we're confident and enthusiastic to get more adventurous with our higher targets.

Beyond Twelve Weeks

Having worked to different levels we'll have learned what's the least we can expect to last a few days or a week on, what's the most we can currently put to use while producing a leaner condition, and what's the optimal level of fueling relative to our requirements. We can then make an educated decision how best to proceed, either eating intuitively in accordance with our new habits and the healthy appetite we've developed, or by working to an optimal target for an extended period, or by continuing with the Punctuated Periodisation Protocol.
It's about enjoying life, enjoying the intellectual stimulation of working to a strategy, enjoying the physical stimulation of training, and enjoying the best and most sustainable results in athletic performance and condition.

Of course... such a complex and convoluted approach is not for everyone, which is why Flexible Fueling works on a spectrum between the "towards intuitive" to the "towards capacity" approaches, with this being somewhere in between. And it goes without saying that there's only ONE person capable of coaching this approach. Other people calling themselves "IIFYM" or "Flexible Dieting" guys and girls can't even begin to grasp this stuff. They literally just think "keep eating less, you must be lying to me and eating more than you say you are" is what passes for coaching.

Update:

Here's the revised version of the graphic representation of the strategy.

Now, exactly how this plays out is likely to vary from each individual to the next, but road testing this myself and with some clients what I've found is that at a certain point (week 9 on this version of the graphic) you realise that while you could reduce back down to those conservative, minimal intake targets, it's not actually doing you any favours to do so. So rather than cut back to minimal, you merely reduce from "less conservative" back to "conservative".

Also I've added a column for Week 13 & 14, where having established where our true maximal level aka metabolic capacity is, we have a good feel for an optimal level which is just shy of maximum, where we maintain absolute best performance and condition indefinitely.
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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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Why I stopped coaching weight loss for a few years there.

This was originally posted under another title on the old blog. A title that is no longer accurate since I'm now offering weight loss strategies again. Read on and it will all make sense, hopefully.

This is more complicated than you probably think.

People tend to want everything broken down into just one slogan or soundbite that either suits their biases or that they find easy to argue against. The reality is, there are a lot of angles to cover here. I'll do my best to cover them all within a reasonable word count, but I make no promises on that last part.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get started.

For reasons that will hopefully become apparent, I'm actually going to start with the conclusion, and the conclusion is actually a paragraph borrowed from something I posted on instagram the other day, as follows:
More than ever, the longer I do this and the more people I work with as a professional coach, the more I truly believe that our focus needs to be on simply enjoying the physical challenge of productive training, and enjoying the intellectual challenge of working to a productive fueling strategy, as well as assessing your physiological and psychological responses to each as you learn to do more of what keeps you strong, healthy & happy, and to reject whatever doesn't.
That sounds great, but what's the problem with wanting to lose weight?

Well I'm glad you asked. First of all though, that headline at the top of the page doesn't translate to "I don't want to coach fat people" or anything silly like that. Also, I always object to anything that gives anyone a message to the tune of "you might as well not bother trying, just accept that where you are is where you're supposed to be", so that's definitely not my point either.

Obviously I've helped people to lose weight successfully in the past. Clients, other people who follow my pages and put the pieces together for themselves. Some with medical conditions such as autoimmune diseases. Some who got on top of a restrict, binge & purge type eating disorder and lost weight. Some who rather generously credit me with facilitating a "life saving" level of weight loss.

A handful of fast facts about diets and weight loss:
  1. All diets work for the same reason; they create a caloric deficit.
    Whether people are aware of the amount of calories or whether due to restriction of food choices, any changes in dietary habits that result in weight loss infer a caloric deficit.
  2. Different named diets, low carb approaches, balanced approaches... when the energy and protein provision is matched, the clinical evidence suggests there is little if any difference in the results of different approaches. So there is not just "one correct" or "one best" set of eating habits we should all adopt.
  3. Regardless, the statistics are that over the long term there is no approach that has a high success rate. People tend to regain the weight.
  4. In fact, 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, what is the problem then?

Well that depends.

In theory, you make changes in dietary habits resulting in a caloric deficit. You lose weight, and so long as you do not revert back to habits resulting in a caloric surplus you should not regain the weight. Therefore the simple explanation is that the problem is down to continuance of adherence. Or so it would seem.

As an example, here's how it is supposed to work, and for that matter actually does work.

Imagine I have a new personal training client who is a younger woman and let's say 5, 10 or 15kg overweight due to not being in the habit of being active, and perhaps in the habit of over indulging a little too often. As a competent and responsible trainer, I get her started with a decent, strength based training program, and the appropriate energy targets at a suitable level of deficit and with a reasonable margin for error. If she follows my instructions with some level of consistency she'll certainly lose weight as she develops a more athletic condition.

Assuming she then maintains her interest in training and does not revert to an excessive energy intake, she should not regain any weight. That's how it works in theory anyway. I want to move on but first let's just acknowledge that what I've described is not really a "weight loss approach" the way most people would go about it.

So, whether it is working to a caloric deficit, whether it is sticking to this particular diet and this particular set of foods... if the people continue to do it, it would continue to work, right? You'd like to think so. So why don't people just keep doing it?

Reasons for non-continuance of adherence:

There could be any number of reasons and I'm not forgetting that mere complacency or even delusion are two of them, but it would be a flagrant cop-out to pretend that those are the only reasons and therefore absolve trainers & health coaches from their obligation to provide approaches that are feasible and efficacious over the long haul.

In simpler terms, I'm asking you just humour me and consider entertaining the mere possibility that people sometimes lose motivation because the approach has stopped producing results, or simply because the approach is impractical and any expectation of continued, long term adherence was entirely unreasonable.

Weight loss dieting tends to be of an extreme variety, either with strict low calories, strict food exclusions, or both. Strict adherence would prohibit ever going out to eat socially, visiting your parents for a home cooked meal, having a takeaway night or ordering home delivery. These approaches tend to be temporary by design, and as discussed, the long term consequence is greater weight gain.

With that in mind and getting back to my hypothetical client we described earlier, if we focus on developing an interest in a productive approach to training, we can expect weight loss. However if we focus on weight loss and my instruction is a low carb, low cal, clean eating style of extreme and restrictive diet, as well as high intensity activity "to burn calories"... any expectation of continued long term adherence is overly optimistic at best, any weight loss is temporary at best, and the long term consequence would be weight gain, a worsened relationship with food, and likely a decrease in enthusiasm for exercise as well.

In the case of a second new client of a higher and more excessive weight, it is very likely that their current weight is actually the consequence of previous attempts at weight loss perhaps over a period of years or even decades, and this is the outcome we wanted to avoid with the first hypothetical client. For this reason, it would make no sense at all to give them more of the same now. It would make no sense to take an attitude of "we need to lose weight first" via the same restrictive and unproductive approaches.

There are benefits to any amount of activity over being inactive, and benefits to getting out of restrictive dieting and developing more consistent, structured and appropriate eating habits and a healthier relationship with food. When the type of activity resembles some form of what we might describe as "productive training", in a more overweight or obese client we can expect significant decreases in measurements as the body begins to better ultilise energy and resources in support of lean mass at the expense of fat mass, as well as numerous other health benefits.

Here's the curious thing. While seeing significant results in fat loss you'd expect to see confirmation of this when weighing in on the scales, but the reality seems to be that this is not always the case right away. What a pity it would be to fail to value or appreciate the good results in fat loss, strength and performance at training, improved health markers and the rejection of restrictive dieting, just because the scales do not confirm these results with the corresponding loss of body weight.

There's more though. 

To wrap up and reiterate, by developing an interest in productive training and with suitable sports nutrition guidance there will be certain client profiles where weight loss is very likely, certain client profiles where weight loss could be expected but cannot be guaranteed, and let's not forget there will be some for whom weight loss should not be seen as an acceptable outcome at all.

My observation is that when people are focused on and overly concerned with weight loss per se, even when given a good and productive approach to training and the appropriate instruction, the tendency will be to sacrifice the efficacy of the training strategy by falling back into weight loss type behaviours and mindsets as previously described. For example, making changes or additions to the training program "to burn more calories", and to skip meals or otherwise fall short of the prescribed levels of fueling that are required to facilitate any sort of results.

Ironically, it will be the very things that people feel compelled to do because they "are trying to lose weight" which ultimately prevent them from reaping the many benefits of a sensible and productive approach to training.

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with having body composition and condition related goals, we must pursue them with sensible, effective and productive approaches and attitudes, and resist the social conditioning that sees us more inclined towards the extreme, destructive and ultimately futile methods typically associated with trying to lose weight.

Come and let me know what you thought of this post, on my facebook page.
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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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I don't do meal plans. I do Custom Flexible Dieting Guidelines.

Pretty average photo from training
yesterday. I thought my shoulders were
looking good though.
I just don't, and I won't no matter how much someone asks or how much they offer to pay me. I just don't feel comfortable telling other people what to eat. The idea stresses me the hell out, to be honest.

If you really do want a meal plan via me, I will crunch the numbers as I always do via my Flexible Fueling system and then forward those guidelines to a real dietitian to talk to you about your food choices. I haven't had one for a while, but I do still from time to time get told "no I want you to do it"... well, that aint gonna happen.

Now if you were considering looking for a meal plan online, or if you were looking to hire a trainer who'll tell you what you are allowed to eat and what you are not allowed to eat, here's what I think you should keep in mind.

What makes for a good meal plan?

Purely from a nutritional point of view, a meal plan is good if it provides everything that you need and no excess. So enough total energy, enough protein, fiber and a good spread of micronutrients suitable to maintain good health, an appropriate weight range, and good performance and results at training.

That's what you need in a meal plan purely on nutritional grounds.

A lot of the time you might see meal plans on offer from trainers or even less qualified "wellness guru" types, and they're kind of a one size fits all proposition with a bunch of healthy foods listed, and the inference is that since they're all healthy foods it's a good plan and you'll be getting everything you need. This is often far from the case as just throwing together a list of "healthy foods" in no way ensures meeting an adequate energy intake for performance at sport or adequate protein for adaptation to training.

Often this is the case with "clean eating" type plans for sale or available for free online. There is simply no consideration given to energy and protein requirements, and they may fall dangerously short of a suitable amount for an active person. Anyone can throw together a list of healthy foods... and most of the time that's all you're getting. A list of healthy foods and perhaps another list of other foods that are banned for no legitimate reason is a long way from being a decent sports nutrition plan that will ensure results. It is probably the opposite.

Now assuming you do have a plan to meet your individual requirements in terms of total energy, protein, and plenty of vitamins and minerals via healthy & nutritious choices, that's great. However, there is more to a good meal plan than simply being nutritionally appropriate.

A good meal plan is one that not only delivers everything that you require, but even more importantly is one that you can stick to long term. A plan that has designated meal times or meal frequency that does not suit you as an individual, you won't stick to for long. A plan that includes mostly foods that you find unappealing, you won't stick to for long.

If you're anything like me and a lot of other people, if you don't like the foods you probably won't even attempt the plan. Because you know it is unworkable. Assuming you do try, you're likely to put off eating for as long as possible and then end up having something else instead and probably way too much of it. Or you might force yourself to try the scheduled meal and lose your appetite half way though as you're not enjoying it. This would mean either you go underfueled defeating the purpose of having a plan in the first place, or again you end up ravenous at some point later on and over eat something that isn't on the plan.

None of this is conducive to good results or to a good relationship with food.

This is a very simple point that seems to baffle a lot of people who for some reason believe they are in a position to give advice to others.

A plan that is "good" in terms of providing everything that you need is worthless if it is not conducive to enthusiastic adherence. If it is unworkable due to meal schedules or food choices... it might be a good plan for someone else, but it's not a good plan for you. The plan needs to fit the person. It is not a failing on your part if you can't force yourself to work with an unworkable situation.

Now if this plan does indeed provide all of the nutritional resources that you require, the assumption is that we actually know what those requirements are. What amounts of various resources such as total energy, protein, fiber and so on. If the person providing the plan can't tell you what those are, then it's just a stab in the dark and they are full of shit. We don't know your requirements, we don't really how much this plan provides... but it's all good food so obviously it does provide exactly the amount you require and no more or less. 

That's unreasonably optimistic, in my opinion.

Certainly though, a competent professional (such as myself) can determine those requirements with reasonable accuracy. So, rather than a plan that is basically an "eat it, it's good for you" proposition that may or may not deliver everything that you need, we can plan to meet all of those nutritional requirements with a variety of our preferred choices of foods that will be suitable to long term adherence. More to the point, we can also create a new plan whenever we feel like it, based on whatever foods we feel like eating that day.

Obviously you can't just abuse the concept and still expect to end up meeting all of your targets, but with a little planning and preparedness you most certainly can produce great and sustainable results with whatever choices of foods best suit you.

This is what Flexible Dieting and IIFYM is all about. In my Flexible Fueling system, I give you the targets and simple guidelines to assist you to build your own plan that you'll be enthusiastic and optimistic about sticking to.

And it's pretty easy.

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Common sense look at IIFYM, continued.

Read the previous entry first, it's all about the If It Fits Your Macros approach to nutrition planning for weight loss.

For long term results, all diets either succeed or fail due to providing the appropriate amount of calories. I always talk about “appropriate to maintain your goal weight” to rule out unhealthy over restriction, but as long as you are consuming less than is required to maintain your current weight, you will lose weight.

Regardless of absolutely everything else, at the end of the day you're either getting the right amount or you aint. It really is that simple.

Well... almost.

Appropriate calories is the top priority, but we also need to pay attention to the ratio of calories from protein, carbohydrates and dietary fats as well. Contrary to popular belief, all of these macronutrients are important, although ideal ratios will vary from one person to the next.

By now you can probably imagine how this theory on nutrition got its name. Someone asks “I'm trying to lose weight, is it OK to eat [insert particular food choice here]?”, and the answer invariably is “if it fits your macros”. In other words, if overall intake is suitable to fuel, recover and adapt to exercise while maintaining your goal weight, individual choices of foods do not matter.

Now quite often the particular food that they might be asking about is a perfectly healthy, normal choice of foods that there's no good reason to avoid. With that being said though, even the healthiest foods will cause weight gain if eating them means that you end up consuming more calories than are necessary to maintain your current weight. Similarly, even a less healthy food choice will not cause weight gain unless you exceed your maintenance level of calories.

So, does this mean people can eat junk food and still lose weight?

It depends. Junk food tends to pack a lot of calories into a small amount of food, and usually those calories are predominately from sugars or fats. Junk food also has that addictive quality where (if you're anything like me) even though you say “I'll just have one”, you end up going back for another 6, or until there's none left. So, while it's possible to include some food purely for enjoyment rather than for nutritional content, it makes it a lot harder to end up meeting your targets for overall calories and macronutrient ratios at the end of the day.

Why IIFYM is the logical choice for weight loss.

OK! Going back to that list of common diet tips from earlier, astute readers might have picked up a couple of references to some legitimate approaches in amongst a lot of stuff which is pretty much nonsense. So if you're offended because you think I'm talking about favourite approach, or something your favourite body builder uses, or for any other reason because you think I'm saying “that's no good, that won't work” hold up for a moment while I explain.

First up, I'm not in competition shape and I do not coach people in contest preparation. If anyone out there wants to tell me that specific meal timing or frequency (some of the other stuff too) gives them an edge in contest preparation I am happy to take their word for it. With that said, the body builders I follow and attempt to learn from mostly just talk in terms of “this macro ratio for off season, and this ratio for contest preparation”.
 
Either way, we're not talking about nutrition plans for contest preparation here. What I'm interested in is taking people from overweight or obesity into amazing shape, and getting the best results possible with the simplest possible approach.

So in the case of an overweight or an obese person who may have tried to lose weight without lasting success several times already, the last thing they need is a complicated plan that focuses on the minute details rather than the big picture. They most often already have a bad relationship with food and have formed any number of negative beliefs about their ability to lose weight (“I can never stick to a diet” or “I don't like healthy food”, for example).

The last thing these people need is some complicated set of rules that is at best fine tuning for elite level competitors, and at worst entirely irrelevant.

Instead, what if you could build your own weight loss diet based on foods you will actually eat, and timed to fit your schedule? As long as it actually does fit your macros, how could you possibly go wrong?

Making it work.

Obviously it's not just a matter of choosing your favourite foods and going to town on them. We need to determine our target calorie and macronutrient guidelines first, and then start developing a meal plan to suit. One option would be keep notes on all meals, snacks and beverages consumed in a day, and then tally up the macronutritional content. From here it is easy to see which are the bad choices that are putting you into surplus calories (which means weight gain), and swap them out for some more appropriate choices. In many cases it may not require a particularly drastic change in eating habits.

Oh, you still want more?

Drop your details in the box at the top of the page, and there'll be a whole heap of quality, free information coming your way. Alternatively you can visit the brand new Flexible Fueling website instead, and subscribe there.

I've been writing about this IIFYM stuff for quite a while now, way before it went mainstream. Here's one of my earliest articles about IIFYM, and another comparing IIFYM with conventional weight loss dieting.
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How the diet industry exploits vulnerable people.

I really should say "diet scam artists" rather than "diet industry" because I don't like to tar the genuine people people with the same brush as the horrible ones.

Over the past month or so I seem to have made a bit of a name for myself by calling out certain people and products for the dangerous and unhealthy methods they are pushing, or for the offensive and unethical business and marketing strategies they use.

I was thinking about it, and it kind of makes sense. I had a career in Security for 9 or 10 years, and most of that I would describe as "standing my ground against horrible people" and "looking out for vulnerable people". It makes sense that I've found myself doing more or less the same thing in terms of trying to stop horrible people from exploiting vulnerable people with harmful messages and dangerous products related to diet and weight loss.

So far I've been calling out the worst people in the world as far as the world of (what is supposed to be) health and fitness is concerned, in the order that they've come to my attention.

First up, literally the worst thing imaginable. I called out Dr Charles Livingston and asked him how could sleep at night while his Fat Loss Factor Diet Program Is Marketed To Anorexic Teens Via Spam Floods On Tumblr And Pinterest. He didn't want to talk to me though, for some reason.

While on the subject of the Fat Loss Factor, that's not all these people are up to. It came to my attention that   the "success stories" on their marketing sites are actually Stolen Before and After Photos From Tumblr Weight Loss Blogs. That is, they steal photos from people who've lost weight through putting in the effort with exercise and sensible nutrition, and claim credit for it even though the people have never used their product. That's pretty shifty!

Word is spreading about these horrifying tactics, and a few other websites have ran reports about it since.

Finally I called out a so called "celebrity fitness guru" for pushing some of the most ridiculous ... no, not "some of" but actually THE most ridiculous nonsense disguised as exercise advice that I have ever seen in all my days. You call also read about how the Tracy Anderson Diet Plan Results In The Same Effects Of Malnutrition As Found In Anorexia Patients in another article I reference.

As I said on my facebook the other day, there will always be differing opinions on the best methods to lose weight and get into shape, and what's best for one person may not necessarily be the best choice for someone else. What's not up for debate though, is that human beings are a species that requires food. Any time some moron starts telling people "stop eating food if you want to lose weight", there is gonna be a fight.

People need to consume The Right Amount of food. Not too much, not too little. There's a false perception that "less calories" or "eating as little as possible" is better for weight loss... but how could "less than enough" possibly be better than "The Right Amount"?

By the way, Dr Oz; you're next.

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IIFYM: If It Fits Your Macros

This “If It Fits Your Macros” or IIFYM approach to eating seems to be really growing in popularity so I am going to go over the facts as I see them for educational purposes.

First off, for those of you who just don’t know, “macros” is short for “macronutrients” and refers to the ratio of calories sourced from protein, carbohydrates or fats within your total daily intake. Unless you’re one of those fortunate people who seems to be able to just get it right by intuition, if you have a specific body composition goal (for example; reduce body fat, increase muscle mass) in mind, you are going to need to consume the right amount of calories each day, with the right balance of macronutrients.
In short, “if it fits your macros” has become the default answer for a lot of people to any question along the lines of “can I eat [insert type of food] and still lose weight?” In other words “eat whatever you want, as long as you end up hitting your nutritional targets”.

Generally speaking, I like this approach. But lets look at the pros and cons to see how it really works out.

The Good.

Obviously the best part is that you get to eat whatever the hell you want, rather than following some restrictive, boring “diet plan” some clown marketing person has come up with. Bottom line, if you’re not enjoying what you’re eating, you’re going to struggle to keep to the plan. So by eating the foods that you enjoy and even the odd treat thrown in, you’re far more likely to stick to the plan long term.

Now as far as the science goes… here’s the theory in rather simple terms; on a daily basis, you’re either eating (a) enough food to gain weight, (b) enough food to lose weight, or (c) precisely the right amount of food to maintain your current weight. Pretty simple right? Regardless of the amount or frequency of meals, high or low GI, etc etc, you are either getting the correct amount of calories to achieve your goal, or you are not. Simple!  Of course, as the body uses different types of calories for different purposes, you need to get the balance of macronutrients right as well. Not necessarily down to the last percentage point, but somewhere in the vicinity.

The Bad.

This of course means that you have to do your homework, and actually learn about your calorific and macronutrient requirements, as well as the breakdown of calories in the foods that you eat regularly. I really think you should be doing this anyway though, if you really want to be in control of your destiny in as far as reaching your fitness / body composition goals.

Of course nothing in life is as simple as “just eat whatever you want”. You CAN eat whatever you want, but of course the more empty calories (aka junk food) you consume, the harder it is to end up arriving at your nutritional targets. So, with careful planning you might be able to sneak in that treat in the mid afternoon, but you’ll need to compensate at other times of the day with meal choices that are higher in protein and lower in fats and or sugars.

The ugly.

So the bottom line is, hit your correct amount of total calories, with the correct balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates. All three of these macronutrients are important, and a surplus or lack of any one of them will hamper your efforts in achieving your goals.

This next part seems to often be overlooked by proponents of the IIFYM philosophy; it’s easy to say “meal times, glycemic index and so forth are not important as long as you hit your macros”, BUT you also want to make it through the day without feeling like you’re starving, right? So it is often best (depending on your targets and your goals, of course) to choose foods that will keep you feeling full for longer, and contain less calories in a larger serving size. Junk food is called junk food because it tends to be the opposite, aka large amount of calories in a small serving, but even “junk food” won’t make you fat if your total energy intake is not inappropriate.

So there you have it, people. Actually, I would have said “make it fit your macros” is probably a better choice of phrase, because if you want to indulge in some treats, you do have to make allowances for it.

Want more?

This is quite an old entry and who would have known when I wrote it that I’d go on to become a well known IIFYM or (as we now call it) Flexible Dieting specialist. If you’d like a lot more information in line with current best practices, head on over to the Online Coaching page and drop your details in the box.
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