The vast majority of diets fail within the first few weeks. Once we start a diet, any diet, just the fact that it is a decrease in calories and a change from what we were used to doing, we will invariably drop some pounds within the first few days. But after that first week, and once the body adapts to the new diet is when the real diet begins. The same is true of contest diets but on a much more complicated level. We cut our calories, we start cardio, we start taking fat burners and we lose weight. After a few weeks, however, the weight loss stops. So now we cut even more calories, add even more cardio and take even more stimulants. We lose another couple pounds, but after a week or two, it stops again, except now we look flat and feel exhausted. So what are we doing wrong?
Below are the top four strategic errors that are sure to smother even the most resolute diet efforts:
Too much, too soon: We start a diet, and we start it hard. We throw everything into the diet. We cut calories, we start an hour or two of cardio per day, we hop on all the pre-workouts, fat-burners and cutting compounds we can find. It works great! But, after a few short weeks, it stops, and since we are already ultra-low on calories, already doing tons of cardio, and already at our physiological limits of stimulants, it leaves us with nowhere to go (except to cut even more). The problem with this strategy is that it shocks the system a little too much, and with massive action comes a massive reaction. The body reads what’s happening as a threat to its survival and quickly adjusts by shutting you down. It slashes metabolism and initiates all sorts of body processes and releases chemicals so it doesn’t die. Generally, it’s better to do the minimum to achieve a desired effect. Start with just diet changes, and see what happens. Cut 20% calories or so from your diet and do no cardio or stimulants just yet. If it doesn’t yield results within a week, you can take the next step, if it does, you can still take the next step. This is not unlike being a pool shark and hustling money. If he shows up and plays his best game first and just dominates his opponent, he may win a lot of money in his first game, but no one will want to play him after the first game. If, however, he sandbags a bit and saves his best game for later, it won’t be such a shock to the crowd and he can get big money games going forward.
Bad timing: Never is timing your macro intake more important than when you are on a highly restricted diet. The body is using everything it gets right when it comes in and is storing nothing. For this reason, it’s very important to build your diet around your training and body clock. The bulk of carb intake should be in advance of training to both give us the fuel for intense workouts and prevent the body from falling too deep into a deficit and reacting by shutting down the metabolism. As a generality, focus your highest caloric intake before your highest energy expenditure, and keep it low when you are not doing anything. We can only pull from body fat at a limited rate, and sedentary times are a great time to live off body fat. Protein should be kept constant for the most part, as it is needed always to preserve muscle.
Predictability: Another mistake that can make for a frustrating and unsuccessful diet is not monitoring body cues and making the correct adjustments. We are trying to take our body fat to levels that our body does not want to be, and as such, even if you do everything right it is going to fight us on it. The way to overcome this is to trick it and stay one step ahead. Cycling carbs, adding in cheat days/meals, replacing carbs with fats and vice versa and cycling energy expenditure are all strategies to keep the body guessing. What is required varies greatly from person to person, so experimentation is required. Try a week of heavy cardio, then stop, or have a day or two where you drastically increase or decrease carbs, then monitor how your body reacts. As they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.
Water Intake: It’s amazing how many dieters still don’t drink enough water. Water is literally the conduit by which every process in our body happens. The body uses water to operate the kidneys, liver, digestive tract and everything else. Slowing body processes is as simple as reducing our water intake. Having even a small shortage in water for an hour a day can put a halt on fat mobilization. Stay plenty hydrated at all times. If you drink a certain amount every day, add ½ gallon spread throughout the day and see how you feel. If you feel better, or even different, the chances are you weren’t getting enough.
Diets can be tricky, and they are unpredictable. What worked for one person may not work for another. Even what works for one person one week, may not work at all the next week. Our body is an incredibly adaptable machine and we have to be able to adapt one step ahead of it to get it to do what we want.