So, you’ve come to a point where you’re sick and tired of running around in circles when it comes to your training and nutrition plan. You’ve been dieting for a while, and although you’ve had some hiccups here and there, you’ve been pretty consistent. However, the rapid changes and progress you saw when you started have now slowed down greatly. You finally decide that it’s high time you buckle down with your eating, and finally create that amazing “chiseled abs” look you’ve been dreaming about since you’ve started on this workout journey. The next steps you’d have to take to really kick things to the next level is to grab the bull by the horns, clean up your diet, and really dig deep to jump into fat loss full swing, right?
So let’s say that your next steps to getting that six pack has you tracking your meals, and through some calculations, you’ve found that you’re eating far less than you should be in order to see safe and effective fat loss… The question then becomes what do you do? Keep dieting harder, therefore eating less and less… Or take a STEP BACK to up your calories for a while in order to see your fat loss goals become a reality?
Many people choose the step that would make the most sense to them, cutting calories further in order to see fat loss continue. But what if I told you that might not be the ideal step… What if I told you that in order to really see your fat loss goals take off, you should instead consider raising calories to maintenance for a while, and then re-embark on a dieting protocol once your body has had a moment to stabilize itself, and upregulate metabolism – as well as important hormones related to it.
One of the biggest obstacles that many dieters face is that no one is taught the PROPER way to diet. They are not taught that dieting should happen in cycles, and those cycles should be periods of being in a caloric deficit, followed by periods where calories are set at maintenance for their current weight and stature. From there, the dieter would continue rotating between this kind of set up until physical goals are met. It’s in this constant ebb and flow that one can reach their goals without having to hit plateaus. Or, if a plateau is seen, getting off of it becomes a much easier (and more effective) ordeal.
Blasting Off Plateaus Through Cycling Calories
The process of dieting isn’t a process in which the body WANTS to be in. We’re not designed to be especially lean and svelte. While you’re simply trying to look fabulous, your body sees your fat loss efforts as being starved to death, and it will do whatever it can to prevent that from happening. You see, your body’s MAIN concern is your survival. So in order to get to where you want to get to physically, you almost have to gently coax your body to change.
One of the ways you can begin to do that is by not starting your diet in a huge deficit. Once you’ve figured out the amount of calories you should be eating per day to maintain your weight (an easy equation is 14 X bodyweight, or 15 X bodyweight if you are really active), you can simply start with an small deficit of about 250 calories from that number. Or in another approach, you can choose to take a deficit between 10-15% of your maintenance calories. Being intelligent about how you begin your fat loss program leaves you much more room to be able to adjust when you hit a plateau.
Now understand that plateaus are caused by a downregulation of metabolism, as well as a host of hormones that are responsible for keeping your weight in a place your body feels most comfortable. After prolonged periods of dieting important hormones like t3 (thyroid hormone) and most importantly, leptin, decreases. Leptin is known as the master hormone when it comes to metabolism and how its presence positively effects fat loss. Now, there are a few ways to increase leptin such as what’s seen in doing refeeds (which we will discuss in another topic), but you can upregulate leptin by eating at maintenance as well over a period of a few days or weeks. This step alone can help to restart stalled fat loss once you begin embarking on your dieting phase once again.
After spending a few days, or weeks in some cases, at maintenance, your body has all the tools it needs to rev up your metabolism and allow for greater fat loss; kicking you off of that plateau and setting you on the path once again towards your goals.
How Long Should Fat Loss and Maintenance Cycles Be?
Figuring out what set up works best is really based on the individual. One thing that’s for sure is that bio-feedback is important. So in essence, listening to your body and closely tracking progress is what’s key in determining what your next moves should be when it comes to fat loss. You can easily start your fat loss plan seeing how your body responds over a period of 4-6 weeks. If you’ve taken a small deficit from maintenance calories, then you can easily adjust a little more by decreasing calories a little further for an additional 4 weeks or so to keep things moving along. If you notice that your body is still responding after your initial caloric drop, then there’s really no need to make sweeping changes, you can simply leave your diet the same and continue to sail in until fat loss slows down.
If you notice that after a few weeks of fat loss, let’s say after 8-10 weeks or so, that your progress has slowed or stalled, that is the time you may want to consider eating at maintenance for a few days. Taking a full week, or maybe even a simple two week break from dieting to eat at maintenance can do wonders for your body, your mind, and your plan. Once that time is up, you can then start to decrease calories at your new maintenance level (assuming you weigh less than you did when you started your diet) just as you had in the beginning.
Now, if you’re someone who is coming from a long stint of eating in a caloric deficit (like if you were dieting for over 3-4 months or more without a break), then it’s a more intelligent move to take a step back and eat at maintenance for at least a full month, and maybe even longer, in order to upregulate and stabilize your metabolism and hormones. Once you begin dieting again, you should see your fat loss efforts become more fruitful – and your six pack eventually more visible.
Dieting isn’t rocket science by any means… However, you should always consider dieting SMARTER and not simply dieting HARDER in order to successfully reach your body transformation goals.