Step 1: Diet properly
“Dieting properly” means different things to different people. In our context here, that means dieting with both the right macronutrient ratios and the right food choices as well as dieting slowly. And I mean a lot slower than you think you need to diet. The number one reason people weight cycle is because of they crash diet too aggressively, fall off, regain weight, then try and diet again… only to fall off yet again. That is the hellacious weight cycling I’m speaking of that we want to avoid at all costs.
Preserving as much muscle mass while dieting should also be a key factor when dieting. Research shows that the compensatory hyperphagic (overeating) responses from dieting and lower body fat levels will remain in place until the fat-free mass that was lost is restored. This means even if you gain fat back and are now at a heavier body weight but have not recovered fat-free mass, you’ll still experience this hyperphagic response. That’s no bueno for our weight maintenance efforts.
You preserve muscle mass by dieting slowly, maintaining a high intensity in the gym and by eating the right macronutrient ratios coupled with quality food choices (i.e. a high protein diet, whole food sources). All factors are intertwined and cannot be looked at individually.
Step 2: Have a plan afterward
You’ve done the show. You’ve gone on the cruise. You’ve hit your goal weight. It’s over right? Wrong. Very wrong. The work is far from over and this might be the hardest part, actually. The initial 4-12 weeks post diet will be extremely challenging. The leaner you are, the harsher the adaptations will be. Having a plan post diet is absolutely critical after a harsh diet. The plan can and will change, but you still need to have a plan and healthy habits in place so you don’t have a terrible and immediate rebound.
First, keep your habits in place. The first to go is people prepping and planning their food. When you’re dieting, the goal seems fairly easy to hit and stick with. The hard days are “worth it”; afterward, they seem meaningless. Oh, I’ll just snack on this… trust me. I’ve been there 976 times and counting. Also, keep your training, daily activity, movement in place. Don’t suddenly drop off all cardio and sporadically get to the gym. Keep on it!
Another important thing here is to bring up your calories immediately so that you don’t overeat. “But Laurin, you said don’t regain a bunch of weight. Why would I bring up my calories immediately?” Bringing up calories in a strategic manner is far different than compensatory overeating. This is the worst case scenario. Mainly because people have compensatory overeating episodes coupled with restriction, and the cycle continues. Typically with clients, I like immediate bumps with calories and a larger drop in cardio. From there, we then slowly work food up and slowly work down cardio to a manageable level.
The biggest factor here is simply the degree of leanness you achieved. If I have a lifestyle client, we are not getting to body fat levels of that of a physique client. It’s all relative; but regardless of the leanness, there will be adaptations.
Step 3: Gaining some weight is normal (and necessary)
After dieting aggressively to an uncomfortable level, it’s normal and okay to gain back weight. And the more aggressive the diet or fat loss, the more aggressive you need to be on your approach to gain weight back. This again applies mostly to the physique athlete who has gotten exceptionally lean for the stage. This is not acceptable for normal living conditions, for males or females.
However, what if you haven’t stepped on stage but you’ve just dieted to lose those 30 pounds you can’t stand? In most cases, you will need to go through several cycles of dieting and reversing; and repeating until you’ve been able to maintain your goal body fat. And when I say several cycles, I typically mean several years. It’s not a bad or shameful thing for your progress to take time. 12-week transformations don’t mean a thing if you can’t keep the weight off. Period.
My goal of this two-part series was to arm you with information on what is happening while you diet and what to expect afterward. This way, you can keep your long term, strategic goals first and foremost without getting sucked into the quick fix B.S. the world is already rife with.