“The Secret to Dieting is to STOP Dieting!” by Paul Nobles

“The Secret to Dieting is to STOP Dieting!” by Paul Nobles

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I’m about to let the cat out of the bag.

The secret to dieting isn’t a secret at all – it just doesn’t sell a lot of books or fat loss systems.  Nobody within the industry wants this, but I’m goin’ for it.  Are you ready for this?

The secret to long-term, effective dieting is to stop dieting.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by this.

Let’s say that for a while now, you’ve been eating mostly whole foods but you’ve occasionally had a few treats.  You’ve been intuitively consuming about 1,400 calories on average.  Let’s propose that you want to lose weight.  You buckle down, cut out the treats, but make up for it by eating more whole foods and end up at the same 1,400 calorie average each day.  Would there be any real benefit?  It might surprise you to find that there would be no substantial change related to your weight, but almost certainly no benefit to your body composition.

To mobilize fat, the answer would logically seem to be that you need to cut calories.  After all, when you took the treats out, it didn’t make a significant difference.  Changing the quality of the food didn’t work, so it must be that you’re eating too much.  I already went over this in my previous article on “The Danger Zone”, but as you cut calories closer and closer to your basal metabolic rate (or resting metabolic rate) your body adjusts with a stress response and holds onto fat to keep you alive.  When you’re in an extreme energy deficit for too long, your body doesn’t want to lose fat; you have already played your “eat less” trump card.

This is where a lot of people play their “do more” trump card and obtain similar results.  In the beginning the scale seems to move but that soon ends.  The net result is that you are eating almost nothing and working out all of the time. Life sucks, but you’re scared as hell to add more food into the mix, even though you know that’s probably what needs to happen.  It’s either that or you resign to having no control over your body, and for a lot of people, that’s when the wheels come off.

What if You Had It Mostly Right?

When someone purchases Met Flex for Fat Loss and starts Eating To Perform, we walk them through how they can tip-toe into eating more without gaining a lot of fat.  When a person coming from a depleted background adds more energy (food) into their plan, it’s rarely an issue because all of the mechanisms that were being repressed become activated again.  Muscles depleted of glycogen become full again and performance is increased; this spurs an improved metabolism.

In a very short period of time, the net result is a measurable improvement that can be seen in the gym, on paper using body fat tests, as well as in the mirror.  Even when someone puts on a few pounds, it’s rare for that extra weight to be all fat – in fact the opposite is true, and the great majority of people put on several lbs. of lean mass in just a few weeks with little-to-no increase in body fat percentage.  It turns out that your body wants to be mostly fed!  This brings me to a point I’d like to make: you probably had it mostly right, but you ignored the most obvious conclusion for the most logical conclusion.  Virtually every system I mentioned in the previous three articles works like a puzzle – you were just missing a piece.

 

Let’s stick with the puzzle metaphor for just a second.  Let’s assume that being mostly fed, most of the time, was the missing piece.  There’s nothing you could do to force any of the other puzzle pieces to fit or make it work.  You need to right piece!

The Pieces Don’t Fit

Let’s review a couple of the fat loss methods I’ve already covered – the pieces that don’t fit.

“Eat Less/Do Less”

As I mentioned in a previous article, the most effective way to lose fat (not the best way) in the short term is to first overeat, and then dramatically reduce your food intake while you do virtually nothing.  Let’s break it down.

Why is the “do virtually nothing” part important?  Because doing things makes you hungry.  When you’re hungry and you ignore the signal to eat, it’s a huge stressor.  When you overeat (specifically on carbohydrates) it inhibits many of the hormonal functions that tell your brain to mobilize fat.  This might surprise some people but your fat actually talks to your brain through a hormone called leptin.  Keeping insulin either too high or too low inhibits this function – trading one extreme (eating a lot) for another extreme (eating a little) will always render negative consequences in the long-term.

“Eat Less/Do More” or “The Danger Zone”

By far the least effective and most harmful way to approach fat loss is the “eat less/do more” model.  Unfortunately, a lot of fat loss advocates champion this approach.  They have a great fall back plan when their systems don’t work too – they blame it on their clients.  This is nothing but a cop-out.  Let me explain why.

You aren’t eating, and you’re engaged in some manner of extreme exercise, but the scale ain’t moving.  You asked your “diet guru” to just “tell you what to eat”, so they did and now you’re starving, you’re crabby all the time, and you can’t get to sleep, let alone STAY asleep.  You wake up in the middle of the night and you follow your instincts; you EAT.  This is of course followed by feelings of guilt, because you’re not midnight snacking on chicken and broccoli – you go for the stuff you know will work, the energy dense stuff like ice cream, PB n’ J, and cold pizza.

That’s when your “diet guru” openly questions your resolve.  They point to the four people on the wall that “made it.”  “Made it” is of course relative because many people that lose weight this way end up looking like a smaller version of their heavier selves – they end up skinny fat.  More importantly, it doesn’t stick for a lot of folks because they weren’t taught how to sustain their results.  This is why I find it ironic when someone that is heavy says to me “the only thing that has ever worked for me was Weight Watchers and being active”.  In my opinion, they are wrong; the magic happened after they got off Weight Watchers and started to eat again.  What truly worked was the process of dieting and then rebounding.  It’s sort of like saying “the hammer did all of the work” when nail and wood are integral parts to the equation.

What Works & What To Do!

Eating enough food works every single time.  It’s not that you can’t diet occasionally, but every time you cut calories, you are making a concession to your capabilities as a human being.  Now, that isn’t to say that you can’t perform well and maintain a good looking body – far from it!  I’ll talk about what works, and break down some fat loss strategies that are ready for the long haul.  To begin, let’s consider a question I’m sure many of us have asked ourselves at one point or another:

“What do lean people know that I don’t know?”

Lean people don’t carry excess fat.  That sounds obvious, but when you think of what that really means, that breaks down to less stress on their overall system.  If you give me a lean person with little-to-no work capacity, I can get them up to speed quickly.  Their recovery ability is typically greater because their resting heart rate is usually lower.  Are there one offs?   Sure there are, but I am talking to the majority of people about things that might not be completely intuitive.  Heart rate plays a big role in everything we’re talking about (which is, by the way, a big reason why activity shouldn’t be compromised during this process because you are ultimately always playing a game of catch up).

Body Recomposition

Lean people don’t always have the fat loss puzzle solved though; many people keep themselves lean by excessively undereating or over working themselves.  This doesn’t set you up to be more capable when it’s time to move some furniture, lift a weight, or really do anything requiring absolute strength.  For these folks, the answer is to bring their daily caloric intake up to match their level of activity.  If they incorporate resistance training, they’ll typically build muscle while maintaining the amount of fat they have on their body, resulting in a net decrease in their body fat percentage.

This is typically known as a recomposition.  It’s a slower process, but since the person is already lean, patience is not typically an issue.  Developing muscle and strength overnight is not a reality.  Most lean people have some element of the activity component dialed in. Unfortunately, many people I would define as “lean” don’t define themselves as lean because everyone believes they have more fat to lose than they actually do.

So the first answer is a recomposition option where the person would increase their energy intake to match their activity levels and add in some resistance training (preferably slow, heavy work).  Cardio is the enemy for people trying to build things up, but there is a sweet spot and we see it every day in our gyms – the people with the most favorable body composition and the greatest work capacity are often the people who eat the most.

The “I’m Stuck!” Folks

Let me first describe who these people are.

The men they are around 20% body fat.  The women are around 30%.  They’ve tried everything but they can’t seem to get the needle to move.  Many of these people are average or even above-average gym members – not quite competitive athletes, but when they show up, you know they’re there to work.  They are often “confused” because nothing seems to be working, but they seem to perform well in the gym.  The biggest problem for these folks is, quite frankly, not a problem at all.  They are fit and healthy, and very capable; they have the puzzle almost completely figured out…Except for the fat loss component.

The issue here is that they probably under eat in an attempt to lose fat – they may have been doing so for a long time, so their athleticism (which seems good) has actually never realized its full potential.  This whole “fat loss” thing is always in the way.  These people are down for a 30 Day Paleo Challenge EVERY SINGLE TIME.  They often believe that one or two “bad” choices derail them from attaining “fat loss” nirvana.

There is another sect of the “I’m stuck” folks.  My wife falls into this category and frankly, I couldn’t be happier.  She’s healthy and athletic, and she’s comfortable in her own skin.  She could prioritize fat loss if she chose to, but it doesn’t “weigh” on her (pun intended) the way that it does for other people.  Having a few glasses of wine and pizza on occasion is simply more important.  Personally, I think there are a lot of people in this group that just haven’t given themselves permission to be OK with themselves, chill out, and put fat loss on the back burner for a short while.  I hope after reading this, they can do that and realize that fat loss isn’t the be-all, end-all.  While it should be on the list of what matters, it shouldn’t always be so high.  If you eat well and perform well, and there is no legitimate health concern, just enjoy life on life’s terms.  “Six pack abs” just aren’t worth it.

The answer for this group is a bit more complicated, but like the first example, it often involves solving the “work capacity:food ratio” first.  The answer for many of these folks is to pick ONE of these options.  The first choice is to use their rest days as a way to eat less.  The problem is that most of these people don’t take many rest days.  The second option is to take a few weeks off to focus on fat loss.   Let me give you an example of what that would look like:

Most people find that they can keep their weight in check if they work out a lot.  The problem with this approach is that it’s hard to improve when you’re constantly breaking down your body and never resting appropriately.  In my experience with clients, to make significant headway with this approach you need at least three days off a week.  On the four days you’re working out, you are eating similar to the prescription we give in Met Flex for Fat Loss – fueling your workouts and eating adequate amounts of carbs.  The three rest days simply allow you to gradually become more aggressive with your calorie reduction.

Now, let me warn you:  if you are coming from an underfed background, you might want to start with the next suggestion before you even attempt this approach.

 

3 Months Off/3 Months Off

The next option is to Eat and Perform with an eye on the scale for three months, being up a couple of pounds while you are pushing your capacity is fine but anything more than say 5 pounds is enjoying the “Eat” part much more than the “Perform” part.  Once those three months is up you have earned three weeks of “eating less”.  The goal is to use that high functioning metabolism while it’s revving, hopefully you have kept in the ballpark of your old weight in this process or even made some slight fat loss gains either through a mild recomp or through your metabolism purring on a bit better.

Your work capacity should be super high at this point.  The bad news is you will only be working out 3 days a week with any intensity at all.  The goal is to simply be able to walk back into the gym without having to gain back too much ground.  In my view if you want to come back to relatively decent WOD’s you would do a full body lifting session once a week and then two HIIT sessions.  You could also WOD but scale down to account for your lack of energy.  You won’t be 100% yourself and so you need to keep that in mind.  Your lifts might suck more than your cardio.

For maintaining your performance levels, the first option is the best by far.  The second option will have you playing catch up a lot because you will lose some capacity with the time off or trying to perform in workouts at less than 100%.

People With a Lot of Fat to Lose

We figured this one out when we started our “Extreme Fat Loss” class on Monday’s.  Virtually everyone THINKS they have a lot of fat to lose – this group actually does.  There are basically two types; people that are overweight and people that aren’t heavy but carry a lot of fat (mostly because they keep their weight down by dieting to extremes too often, people often refer to this group as “skinny fat”).  The “skinny fat” folks are best to take the same approach as the “I’m stuck” folks, but fat loss is probably not optional for this group.

The other part that isn’t optional is the part about being comfortable in their own skin and their approach moving forward.  The reason for this is simple: this is a much more gradual approach than almost anyone would recommend for this group.  You will be eating mostly whole foods, but your approach will be a combination of the approach above.  For these folks, if you are a new to exercise the best approach isn’t to change how much you eat on workout days but what you eat.  Keeping amounts the same will fuel capacity on your workout days.

Here is the prescription:

I have found, for most people, that three days of working out and four days of rest is on the money if you want to get aggressive with your calorie deficit on rest days and still allow your body to adapt to the stimulus of training.  The goal is to keep getting better – if you are new, improvements should come in droves.  You can’t compare yourself to other athletes in the gym, so start tracking all of your daily accomplishments.  Strive to simply be better than your previous self.  Most people can ride this approach until they can get their work capacity high enough to start training four days a week, but many people have good success.  Over time, they move to a formula similar to the “I’m stuck” crowd.

Pros

  • It’s my system, so clearly I’m a fan, but I’m going to be honest with you – one of the biggest “pros” is that ETP will (obviously) fuel your work capacity.  You will be mostly fed, but you will need to put those extra nutrients to good use or it will become a “con”
  • You’ll train better, rest better, you will have better sex.  All-in-all, you’ll enjoy the life of someone that isn’t consistently starving or eating themselves into misery

Cons

  • It’s slow and the results aren’t linear.  The basic idea is that for the rest of your life you will use food as fuel to become a higher-functioning human being.  I like to say we are the system people use once they are done with dieting.  This is for the rest of your life – it’s not a thirty day, 3 month, or one year challenge (all of our challenges are actually just breaking down the time intervals of our approach)
  • Because the results aren’t linear, it can appear more complicated to put into practice than some other methods  

You never completely solve health, but when you make it a bigger priority and you are patient with your results, you will end up with better answers than any “diet guru” can provide you because you essentially find the things that work best for you and you continuously look for improvements to that approach.  All of that, of course starts with becoming comfortable with yourself NOW and being willing to accept all of the realities of a lifelong journey.

Those realities include success, failure and confusion.  I don’t have a problem with someone saying they are confused, but I do have a big problem with them using the word to victimize themselves.  Life is a puzzle and it’s up to you to figure out the answers.  We have a staffed support forum (the Science Lab) to help you with this, but in the end it’s your journey.  We’ll support you and answer your questions along the way, and hopefully that will make the journey a smoother ride, but trying something and failing isn’t wrong – it’s only wrong if you give up.  If you continuously search for a better solution, you’ll eventually arrive at a successful conclusion.

Summary

  •  The secret to long-term, effective dieting is to stop dieting.
  •  It might surprise you to find that by eating “clean” without cutting calories, there would be no substantial change related to your weight, but almost certainly no benefit to your body composition.
  • When you’re in an extreme energy deficit for too long, your body doesn’t want to lose fat; you have already played your “eat less” trump card.  This is where a lot of people play their “do more” trump card and obtain similar results.  Life sucks, but you’re scared as hell to add more food into the mix, even though you know that’s probably what needs to happen.
  • When a person coming from a depleted background adds more energy (food) into their plan, it’s rarely an issue because all of the mechanisms that were being repressed become activated again.

The Pieces Don’t Fit

  • The most effective way to lose fat (not the best way) in the short term is to first overeat, and then dramatically reduce your food intake while you do virtually nothing.
  • The least effective and most harmful way to approach fat loss is the “eat less/do more” model.  Unfortunately, a lot of fat loss advocates champion this approach.  They have a great fall back plan when their systems don’t work too – they blame it on their clients.

What Works & What To Do!

  • Eating enough food works every single time.  It’s not that you can’t diet occasionally, but every time you cut calories, you are making a concession to your capabilities as a human being.
  • Lean people don’t always have the fat loss puzzle solved though; many people keep themselves lean by excessively undereating or over working themselves.  For these folks, the answer is to bring their daily caloric intake up to match their level of activity.
  • The biggest problem when people get stuck, quite frankly, is not a problem at all.  They are fit and healthy, and very capable; they have the puzzle almost completely figured out…Except for the fat loss component.  The issue here is that they probably under eat in an attempt to lose fat – they may have been doing so for a long time, so their athleticism (which seems good) has actually never realized its full potential.
  • The answer for many of these folks is to pick ONE of these options.  The first choice is to use their rest days as a way to eat less.  The problem is that most of these people don’t take many rest days.  The second option is to take a few weeks off to focus on fat loss.

People With a Lot of Fat to Lose

  • Here is the prescription:  I have found, for most people, that three days of working out and four days of rest is on the money if you want to get aggressive with your calorie deficit on rest days and still allow your body to adapt to the stimulus of training.  The goal is to keep getting better – if you are new, improvements should come in droves.
  • You never completely solve health, but when you make it a bigger priority and you are patient with your results, you will end up with better answers than any “diet guru” can provide you because you essentially find the things that work best for you and you continuously look for improvements to that approach.
  • If you continuously search for a better solution, you’ll eventually arrive at a successful conclusion.