There are 4 Case Studies throughout this article. I would encourage you to read them all because the examples may apply in a general way. Enjoy and let us know what you think in the Facebook Comments.
You’re reading this article because let’s face it, fat loss has alluded you – probably for a long time. To be clear, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach but the good news is that the concepts I’ll talk about in this article can be applied to anyone! A mother of two working to keep herself in shape so she can take better care of her family, a firefighter or paramedic who trains to meet the physical demands of their job, all the way to a competitive Games athlete brushing shoulders with the top 3 – I want you to understand that everyday people and elite athletes have some of the same holes in the way they eat. This means that the same solutions also apply.
So struggling with nutrition isn’t costing the majority of people a spot on the podium or an Olympic medal, but when the difference between success and failure comes down to seconds in competition and grams on the scale, a more precise approach to the way you eat could be the thing that pushes you over the top. In this article, I’ll explain the rationale behind the ETP methodology and give you some examples of how it can be applied to a broad spectrum of people.
Extreme Moderation – The Most Misunderstood Concept Related to Dieting
The message behind Eat To Perform is that constant dieting is the problem. By dieting, we mean restricting Calories (whether intentional or unintentional). The concept isn’t something most people even consider because all they can focus on is the frustration they’re going through over how much body fat they have. Even relatively lean people often wonder why they have been “eating clean for a long time” but just can’t rid themselves of the fat below their navel.
Why do people struggle to lose body fat? The answer is actually quite simple but almost no one has tried it. If you want to achieve your fat loss goals and maintain a good relationship with food, you need to take a moderate approach!
Contrary to popular belief, most of us are willing to put in a lot of work when we want something really badly. At the very first sign of results, we may buy in completely and it’s easy to go off the deep end. Indeed, we’re drawn to extremes – low Calorie and low carb diets for instance – because we assume that they’ll give us the most bang for our buck. This also gives us something to attribute our unhappiness to. Carbs, Calories, fat, processed foods, we drop them all like a sack of potatoes into a volcano because we believe that the middle path is for suckers.
Unfortunately, the opposite is usually true and going to extremes doesn’t end well. It’s not because these approaches don’t work, but because they don’t work forever. There’s no exit strategy, so you just keep hammering away until you’re eventually exhausted and you end up at square one. If there’s one thing I know is true, it’s that if a diet isn’t sustainable – if you can’t see yourself doing it for the rest of your life – then it’s not worth it.
Dieting Y0ur Way to Obesity
I was once on a podcast with Amber Rogers from the Go Kaleo blog and someone asked her how she got fat in the first place (which was a little rude). She tackled it head on. She said “I dieted my way to obesity.” To illustrate what that means, I’m going to give you an example of a guy who dieted for years, never got the results he wanted (actually quite the contrary), couldn’t keep the weight off, but finally found his way by learning to expand his work capacity and focus more on building rather than subtracting. I’m very familiar with this example because it’s based on my personal journey.
To begin, I was eating in excess before I decided to buckle down. I went through a few different approaches. The first time I used Weight Watchers. The second time, I gave “The Zone” a shot, and then ultimately Paleo for a third go at losing fat. The amount of time I took between each of these methods was kind of random and undetermined. To be clear, none of these “diets” were the problem in and of themselves, although they contributed. The real problem was that I viewed restriction as the answer and never considered a moderated version of expansion.
For the first leg of the journey, we have Weight Watchers. I was 215 pounds and dieted for roughly 4-6 months with that method. At the time, I was eating freely with almost no movement or exercise. Based on what I know now, I’d estimate that my Calorie intake averaged between 2,500-3,000 Calories. When I was on Weight Watchers I would opt for an extreme solution so I’d drop to 1,200-1,500 calories. The first few weeks were an adjustment with lots of guilt related to eating when I was hungry. At the time I didn’t understand that Calories have meaning and so I was opting for a lot of foods that weren’t real food. I was hangry a lot.
Ultimately though, I zig-zagged my way to hitting my goal of 185 pounds. Remember Weight Watchers is not the problem here, I certainly could have opted for a reasonable approach but I wanted to solve the pain as quickly as possible and get back to eating normally. Ironically, in retrospect, I was eating a very low amount of protein. If I had eaten an adequate amount of protein I would have conserved a lot of muscle but since I didn’t, I just looked like a smaller version of my formerly heavy self. Yes, I lost body fat but in the process I lost muscle as well and because of that, my metabolism became compromised. At the time though, I was in my 30’s and things weren’t so bad.
One of the most important things related to eating in a deficit is to understand that when done in a smart way, your body up-regulates. You can do almost nothing and still gain lean mass but if you were eating in a restricted way and you simply start eating normal, your down-regulated metabolism can’t catch up fast enough. You end up with more fat than lean mass.
The Zone Diet & Paleo
Next up was “The Zone.” Now instead of 215 pounds I weighed 220 pounds. I not only gained 5 pounds, but I was fatter after my Weight Watchers experience. “The Zone” was certainly better than WW but it was a lot more work and I certainly wasn’t doing it to lose a few pounds. This time around I felt like I needed to get a bit more aggressive and I needed to lose more weight than last time. Once again I hit my number and got to 180 pounds.
Next, I discovered Paleo. I weighed 225 pounds at this time and it took me almost a year to get to my goal weight of 175 pounds. When it was all said and done I looked like an emaciated version of myself and I was routinely asked if I was sick or dying. I didn’t look healthy and I certainly wasn’t “thriving.”
This rinse and repeat cycle defined my thirties and if you want to see examples of what I looked like, Google me. At the time I was a professional poker player and a regular on The World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker broadcasts. I would show up as relatively thin, then another time as extremely overweight. Some of those pictures were very embarrassing.
Years later, I’ve finally figured out how to make food work for me and literally thousands of other people, no matter what their goals may be. I often say that I can teach you to diet using virtually any method you choose but you just can’t go “the other way.” What that means is you are meant to thrive.
Let Me Introduce You to The Wave Method
Rather than focusing solely on contraction and depletion, we promote expansion and growth most of the time. We follow it up with periods of focused dieting throughout the year. This is The Wave Method and you can read more about it here.
Now, when we say expansion we don’t mean blowing up like a balloon. We mean increased work capacity – getting better at exercise and having more energy for daily tasks – as well as maintaining and building lean tissue, which is the foundation of a healthy metabolism. There’s an argument for allowing a small window of weight gain – just a couple of pounds – but let me make it crystal clear that you’re at the helm and you can move at your own pace. You absolutely CAN control what “expansion” looks like for yourself. You CAN expand the amount of lean tissue you have in your body without adding weight.
This doesn’t mean you wouldn’t pursue fat loss…you just don’t push the pedal year-round. When you break it down, your metabolism isn’t static. It’s affected by how much you eat and what you do and when you spend a long time dieting, it slows down because that’s the signal you’re sending. Many people think they are eating much more than they actually are because they are carrying more fat than they would like. What’s really going on is that your metabolism has responded to dieting by down-regulating its function.
So let’s assume that restriction is the way you have chosen to reduce body fat. The question is, what do you do when it stops working? Naturally, you get sick of dieting and start eating more food again and that increases your metabolic rate. You enter into a period of expansion.
The issue, however, is that when most people call it quits on their diet, they don’t eat in moderation; they binge eat without an understanding of how their behavior will impact their body and before you know it, the weight is all back and it’s time for ANOTHER diet. If you can learn to maintain your weight rather than going from one extreme to the next, you’ll have a much easier time losing body fat.
So is the restriction the thing that is making the big difference, or is it the time of thriving or expansion? I’d argue that the expansion makes a much bigger impact when done right. Oddly enough, periods of expansion DO NOT require extreme activity to increase your metabolism and potentially increase your lean mass.
In reality however long periods of maintaining and building muscle ALSO contribute to fat loss because muscle is inherently not fat. I want to reiterate though that at no point have I mentioned extreme activity. Not only is it not necessary for the period of thriving that will contribute to a healthy metabolism, but for a lot of people extreme activity might be a contributor to their issues and not the solution. Certainly matching your energy intake with your energy output would alleviate some of those problems and that is a big part of what we do at Eat To Perform.
I always have to add this caveat because if I don’t people always point to the one time where they gained 10 pounds of muscle in 10 weeks as if that is the norm. If that’s the norm why aren’t you The Hulk now? Simply put, there are two times you will see the biggest gains: when you first start training (this is especially true with weight training) and when you start to address deficiencies in the way you eat. For a lot of people this means getting protein and carbs right. Which brings us to the “Ghostbusters effect”.
Everyone wants to do everything all at once: they want to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, get as strong as possible without actually lifting any heavy weights, put up a sub-5 minute Fran time without the grueling work. If this is you, you essentially have your streams crossed rather than focusing all of your energy towards a singular goal. You may see some results, but you’re more likely just going to chase your own tail or destroy the universe…whichever happens first.
It’s best to decide what your immediate goal is, give yourself a reasonable timeframe in which to achieve it, and dedicate all of your effort towards accomplishing it. An example might be that if you’re looking at getting a great deal stronger, doing so while dieting isn’t that enlightened. Similarly, if you are trying to build lean mass, doing a lot of one rep maxes while under eating will compromise your goals.
I have said this before and I’ll say it again: the Wave Method isn’t the only way to accomplish fat loss but I have seen enough high level programming to know that many programs have similar “waves” as it relates to how athletes should eat on Active Days, Active Recovery Days and Rest Days.
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