Finding the 'Middle Ground'....
I tend to find people in one of two places: -
1. Restricting themselves by removing everything they enjoy eating, training loads, being very rigid and obsessed about food,
2. Eating everything in sight, feeling guilty, stress eating, eating unconsciously.
Sound familiar? I bet you have gone through periods where the weight has fallen off. You gave up alcohol, you cut out carbs, you trained like a maniac. But it just couldn’t last. And when it didn’t you found yourself gorging on everything in sight - even things you didn’t even like eating!
There appears to be very few people who can sit comfortably between these two places.
A place where food intake is managed but not obsessed over.
A place where calorie intake is increased to keep weight and body fat levels stable, but not so high that weight gain occurs.
A place where there is the inclusion of foods you enjoy eating without the feelings of guilt and failure attached.
Where you are exercising and training with enjoyment and focus, not because you feel you have to punish yourself.
Have you been constantly restricting calories? Are you burnt out by constantly obsessing over everything you eat.
Maybe it's time to find that 'middle ground'....
First you need to calculate your maintenance calories (the number of calories you require to keep your bodyweight/body fat stable). You can use the really simple formula below: -
Bodyweight (kg) x 22(Female)/24(male)
Then multiply this number by a your Physical Activity Level: -
1.1: Sedentary - very little activity day to do (less than 3,000 steps per day)
1.2: Relatively sedentary but a little activity (around 3,000-5,000 steps per day)
1.3: Somewhat active (5,000-9,000 steps per day)
1.4: Moderately active (9,000-12,000 steps per day)
1.5: Active (12,000-15,000 steps per day)
1.6: Very active (15,000-18,000 steps per day)
1.7: Extremely Active (18,000+ steps per day)
The steps are just a guide.
So, take a 80kg male who is somewhat active: -
80 x 24 = 1,920
1,920 x 1.3 = 2,496
So, this individual requires approximately 2,500 calories to maintain weight/body fat,
Now, given these are only estimates we now need to see what happens in reality. So the goal would be to consume that many calories every day for 1-2 weeks whilst keeping track of body weight on the scales and waist measurements. Both measurements should stay relatively stable (note that bodyweight may fluctuate day to day so keep a weekly average - see here for more on tracking your weight.)
If you find that your weight increases, decrease calorie intake a little. If your weight drops, increase a little. The goal here is to find the amount of calories that maintains your weight.
Why is it important to find your maintenance calories?
Dieting is a stress on the body. Restricting calories can start to have negative consequences for the body if done for long periods of time, such as: -
-Reduced levels of activity
-Reduced BMR (as a consequence of losing weight you burn fewer calories at rest)
-Reduction in leptin levels, which in turn reduces your metabolic rate
-Reduction in Thyroid hormone levels, which in turn reduces your metabolic rate
So, you can see that over time, dieting will suppress your metabolism, making it increasing difficult to lose weight.
Therefore, periodically increasing calorie intake to baseline levels helps to restore your metabolism, making weight loss easier should you want to drop calories again. In the fitness world, these periodic increases in calories are known as ‘re-feeds’ and ‘diet breaks’.
A ‘re-feed’ tends to be shorter in length (3-5 days). The increase in calories tends to come exclusively from carbohydrates, with fat levels kept as low as possible.
A ‘diet break’ tends to be anywhere from 1-2 weeks in length, but can be longer if necessary.
If you take nothing else from this post, please heed this advice: -
Make sure you diet for a defined period of time (generally no longer than 12-16 weeks). When you stop dieting, make sure you don’t fall completely off the wagon, but eat to your maintenance levels to allow your body to recover. If you still have more weight to lose, you can reduce calories again after a couple of weeks at maintenance.
Dieting shouldn’t be ‘boom or bust’. It’s time to find the middle ground…