Updated: Jun 27
If you’re looking to lose body fat, finding the path for you is not only critical to short term success, but long term sustainability. Sure, there are so many “diets” available, and this could be a whole topic on its own, but before we dive in head first, I’d like you to think for a minute and ask yourself…
Am I even ready to diet? What is my why?
The reality is, most people truly aren’t, or at least for the right reasons, but today we aren’t going to get in to the physical, mental, or emotional reasons why you shouldn’t. Instead I want to give you some tips I’ve learnt throughout my years coaching, plus being "in and out" of diets myself.
So, what should you be looking for when setting up your nutritional strategy, and what lifestyle factors do you need to take into consideration beforehand?
Here are my top five principles to ensure you get the most out of your journey, no matter how you choose to diet!
#1 Fuel – keeping this one simple, we need just enough fuel to perform well in day to day life, with the hopes of utilising stored body fat as and when required. What this means is that for a period of time, we can actually supply ample essential nutrients while being in a calorie deficit (see my post calories 101), but keep in mind not all foods are created equal, as foods can be both nutrient rich, yet low in calories, or high in calories but lack nutrient richness. The 6 essential nutrients are water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals.
For more information on the above you can see previous blog posts at www.johnpaulpt.co.uk
#2 Protect, and repair – ideally when trying to lose body fat, sure over time losing lean body mass is inevitable, but we certainly can hold on to as much as possible again by supplying just enough essential proteins, fatty acids, and as much protein sparing nutrients (carbohydrates, non-essential fats) as able and required. Not only are you trying to hold onto lean body mass, but also protect vital organs such as the brain, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, bladder, and skin while allowing all of their functions to take place.
It’s also important to note that prolonged periods of dieting may impair metabolism, which in turn can reduce output both short and long term, so it’s important to understand your “why”. If you are say a competitive athlete, and need to drop fat for your sport, I can understand your rationale, but for the everyday athlete like a working parent, reducing bodyfat should be the by-product of improving health markers, and even at your "ideal weight" metabolism should be optimised, not comprimised.
Training with the right intent can also help protect lean body mass, which is why it’s important to ensure your exercise program supports your diet, lifestyle, and does not impact recovery, and day to day life too much. Remember when food is low, you’re potentially more at risk of sustaining an injury, which is why careful planning, and monitoring is essential during the diet.
#3 Sustain – not only does the diet have to fuel, repair, and protect our bodies, but also be sustainable long term. This is where we can look at the types of foods being consumed, meal preparation, nutrient timing, and then personalise the strategy to not only suit your goals, but also fit into one’s lifestyle. Sure anyone can achieve fat loss by controlling their food volume, but a smart diet allows weight loss, while taking into consideration satiation, satiety, and day to day environmental factors, all of which can change constantly.
So another question here would need to be “are you adaptable”?
#4 Knowledge/compliance – if we have a better understanding of the various food groups, and the essential nutrients they can provide, then we are more likely to not only stick to our diets, but also have the most success…
For example, being able to adjust your nutrition to match your lifestyle requirements will be crucial if you’re a shift worker, just as knowing what nutrients are in specific foods will help you make good, sensible decisions when you’re out and about with friends, family, and co-workers. Lacking that understanding, or not knowing how to make certain adjustments, may lead to a fear of specific foods, feelings of guilt, and deprivation, all of which can eventually lead to periods of self-sabotage.
If you still don’t know what a whole food is, or worried if eating after 6 will cause more fat gain, then I’m afraid your diet maybe short lived.
#5 Realistic – this is where we need to ask the question “am I even ready to diet”, as it’s probably up there as one of the main reasons you’re potentially failing both short and long term. Before even venturing into a new diet strategy, you have to take into consideration the impact it may have on your current lifestyle choices and non-negotiables, including social events, being around friends, family members, and work colleagues.
This could go two ways….
If you are “ready to diet”, and do it with the thought of maintaining good health, losing a bit of additional body fat may improve your overall quality of life (if your current and future lifestyle choices require it), plus you may positively impact others during the process.
If you are not “ready to diet” then the opposite may happen!
This is why it’s important to build your strategy around your life, not the other way around!
You may not have realised it but dieting is actually an additional stressor!
And, if you’re already not coping very well with your current environment stressors, maybe have poor sleep hygiene, plus overexerting yourself, while being possibly undernourished, you’re really just adding fuel to the fire.
Notice above I mentioned not being able to cope with environmental stressors instead of having or being stressed out? Lots of people have stress, and sure removing the cause if you can is important, but how you manage that stress response is just as critical. Imagine if your body wasn't able to optimally produce specific hormones such as cortisol, which is your main stress hormone, how would you be able to handle a stressful situation?
If you had say low levels of cortisol, would this lead to being more under pressure and unresponsive, maybe anxiety, or depression?
Just a little food for thought...
Having your sleep, environment, and exercise in check will make your diet more sustainable, just as having a well structured diet will support your sleep, environment, and exercise, they all go hand in hand!
A lot of people think dieting will solve all of their underlying issues, especially the above, but I don’t think being “potentially overweight” is the reason for someone’s initial unhappiness. Instead I think that excessive weight gain, when having an effect on your overall quality of life, could be the by-product of other lifestyle factors, maybe previous failed dieting attempts, or using food and even alcohol in excess to escape, and replace something you can’t let go of just yet. If this is the case, it will help to work on, then discuss, and solve those underlying issues first and foremost.
I’d like to point out here that different people have different perceptions on what is classed as overweight, as not everyone, if anyone, should be a size zero, and not everyone carrying a bit of additional bodyfat is unfit, and unhealthy.
Also trust me when I say for the everyday athlete, being at your “optimal weight” shouldn’t be a battle.
Let that sit with you a minute…
So to summarize, not only the do we need to be asking ourselves, which strategy will lead to our desired outcome, but which diet will protect what you have, supply the most energy when required, cause the least amount of long term physical, mental, and emotional damage, yet provide the most sustainability.