I like to fantasize that people read my blog and follow the nutrition plans I create because, like OMG, good food is totally awesome! Seriously, you don’t care about building muscle, dropping a few el bees, hammering workouts, or looking sexy bare pickle, right? You just want to eat healthfully because it’s the right thing to do, right?
Most of us have ulterior motives, be it weight loss, fitness, or an upcoming high school reunion. For example, my cycling friends typically go glassy eyed when I launch into my usual alimentary ramblings until they hear the word ergogenic, as in “intended to enhance physical performance, stamina, or recovery.” Suddenly, I become the Most Interesting Nutrition Nerd in the World, provided I can tell them something that’ll make them go faster on the bike.
But one of the hard parts about helping people to use proper nutrition to reach their goals is that it requires patience. Creatine will help you build mass, but not as quickly as shooting up steroids. Coffee will give you a pre-workout boost, but not like a line of coke. But we’re willing to use the healthier, sustainable solution because it tends to work better in the long run and, well, we don’t want to accidentally die or something.
… except when it comes to weight loss. In my experience, there’s something about the desire to look good in a bathing suit that turns even the most levelheaded, balanced adult into Augustus Gloop wanting to look like Charlie Bucket via Veruca Salt’s bratty tactics. “I want to be skinny now, Daddy! NOW! NOW! NOW!… and I want a squirrel.”
When people get like this, the first thing they typically do is go on a starvation diet. Much to my frustration, this typically works. But it rarely lasts. Mega-calorie deficits aren’t sustainable. You lose the weight, but you don’t learn how to eat to keep the weight off, so you usually gain it all back. Furthermore, you’re more likely to burn out and quit your diet or, worse, injure yourself working out because you’re not eating enough to recover properly.
Unfortunately, this type of advice often falls on deaf ears given people tend to feel that they have control of the issue and that they are going to be that one exception to the rule that slinks through the gauntlet without a scratch. (Of course, if they had control, they wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with.) But this is all a moot point now because I no longer need to advice people using logic and common sense. Thanks to findings presented this year to the European Congress on Obesity, I can now use Science!
A study looked at two groups of dieters. Group one ate 500 calories a day for five-weeks. Group two ate 1,250 calories a day for 12 weeks. In the end, the two groups lost a similar amount of weight—19 pounds on average. So the 500 calorie folks lost weight faster, but they also lost 3.5 pounds of muscle mass, whereas the 1,250 calorie group only lost 1.3 pounds of muscle mass. In other words, 7.7% of weight loss came from muscle loss for the 1,250 group while 18% came from muscle loss for the 500 calorie group.
Long story short, when you starve yourself, your body goes into a catabolic state and breaks down more muscle for fuel. You are literally eating yourself alive. These results are preliminary and the study has yet to be peer-reviewed, but given how stark they are, they warrant consideration.
Some astute readers may note that Beachbody has a few “photo shoot” style quick diets that lowball calories. Honestly, they’re not my favorite part of the gig, but people are going to do stuff like this whether we guide them or not, so I’d rather make those options available within our programs. That way, we can help them do it in a reasonable manner. We can also help people transition to a longer-term, higher-calorie, more-sustainable plan. (And, for the record, even our most extreme options only last for 3-5 days and they’re certainly not as low as 500 calories!)
In this era of supermodels and quick fixes, We all feel pressure sometimes to get thin fast. (Especially women.) But low-balling calories doesn’t work in the longterm– and it’s super destructive. Stick to a 500-calorie deficit (or so) and choose clean, healthy foods. Even without counting calories, a diet full of fresh fruits and veggies, but free of fried foods and refined carbs, and mixed in with a challenging workout regime is bound to produce results.
If you do this, you’ll get to where you want to be. Imagine a life where you don’t have to crash diet for every wedding or tropical vacation. It could be yours, but you need to take your time getting there.dieting