Cutting is not a lifestyle
Most people understand the necessity of sacrifice for gain in other arenas of life. We know we will have to pay in money and hard work to go to college and earn a degree. We know that if we want to be able play the piano there will be hours of boring practice and invested time.
For some reason, however, whether it be a culture of instant gratification or the power of an innate sensation like hunger, many people fail to apply the same logic to dieting. There tends to be an attitude that cutting weight should not be uncomfortable and that the way you eat when dieting should be sustainable. Neither of these is realistically the case.
Something that is critical to keep in mind when cutting is that this state of dieting is temporary. Dieting to lose weight is not sustainable and it is not supposed to be. It is a state of deprivation. Expect it to be uncomfortable. Expect it to be hard work that must be done in order to achieve a goal. Once your weight loss has been achieved, your next goal will to be to maintain your new body weight. This maintenance state can be a lifestyle and it should be sustainable and comfortable.
For example, maybe you love: having a few drinks on the weekend with friends, popcorn and butter at the movies, having date night with your significant other and ordering wine and dessert with your meal. These things can and should be a part of your lifestyle during periods when you are not trying to lose weight. These can fit into an otherwise healthy consistent maintenance diet (or maybe in a mass phase).
The more you try to fit this kind of normal lifestyle into a cut, however, the less successful you will be.
The people who are most successful at losing weight and sustaining losses are those that go all out during a three-month diet. They stick to the plan strictly, lose the intended weight and begin maintenance at which point they develop a healthy lifestyle and can relax.
Those that try to include little cheats here and there throughout the diet tend to lose much less, obviously, but on top of this, they prolong the cutting process substantially, endure much more stress, and take longer to achieve their overall goals.
Your body is evolutionarily designed to store fat and hold onto it for dear life -literally. When sustenance was less readily available, having fat stores was extremely beneficial, like you-don’t-die-of-starvation-beneficial.
Luckily we live in the 21st century and unlike our ancestors we get to eat food, every day. (Hopefully five to six times a day if you are following RP). Our risk of starvation is non-existent and so excessive fat storage is pretty biologically useless for the modern person.
Here’s the thing though, since the days of hunting and gathering, dying young and being constantly hungry, there has been no evolutionary pressure to evolve into fitness models. Getting there or to some level of leanness means fighting your body to remove its fat.
When you start cutting weight, your body’s response is “oh @#*!, we’re dying”.
You are not by any means dying, but if you continued to diet indefinitely eventually you would. The problem is your body doesn’t really know the difference between a temporary cut to remove excess fat and eternal starvation – it doesn’t know the cut will be over in three months so it sounds the alarm: hunger.
What is dying is your fat – you are losing tissue that you consciously do not want, but that your body is evolutionarily programmed to hold onto. So if you want that fat to go, you must feel hunger.
For many of us who have given blood (dead lift scrapes), sweat (obvs), and tears (you know we’ve all done it once) to gain some muscle, feeling hungry might also initiate anxiousness about muscle loss. The good news about that is two fold:
1) If you are following an RP style diet, you have chosen a scientifically based nutrition structure that will allow you to optimally maintain muscle and strength while losing fat.
2) You can test for muscle loss easily yourself. Is your strength being maintained or increasing? (If you are on RP I’m guessing the former at very least and probably the latter). Yes? Great. Hunger in this case means you are losing fat and keeping muscle. Ultimate goal: achieved.
So savor that feeling of wanting to jump eight-year-olds for their snickers bars / steal your child’s goldfish crackers / sit on the floor of the bakery isle eating entire cinnamon roll platters with your hands. You are on your way to being lean.
That all being said, sometimes hunger gets a bit out of hand and you have some desperate moments.
Tips to combat hunger without ruining everything:
- Caffeinated beverages: Have volume and therefore take up space in your empty, angry tummy. As a bonus they also suppress appetite and help you get through tough workouts.
- Sugar free jello: Barely any calories and takes up empty belly space. Also almost tastes like real dessert. (At the end of a three-month cut it sometimes tastes like all you ever wanted in life).
- Sugar free gum: Occupies your mouth and allows you to taste sugary tastes without adding calories. Cinnamon roll flavored sugar-free gum once saved my life (not really but it helped me get through a super rough cut).
- Dill pickles: Don’t lose it and eat the whole jar, but a couple will help with cravings and they are a savory option in a sea of sucralose based low-calorie treats.
- Flavored water: Drinking plenty keeps you belly full, gives you the feeling that you are getting a treat, and fends off constipation.
- Waldemans items: Never taste these when not on a diet, but if you have been cutting for a long time, the calorie free caramel can really liven up your casein pudding at night.
Do not let your emotions ride the weigh-in roller coaster:
Your weight will go up and down. As much as you try to be a robot, biology is not down with that kind of accuracy and fluid changes will absolutely make your weight variable from weigh in to weigh in. As women we can expect this ride to be even more exciting thanks to monthly hormone fluctuations (weeeee!).
When you are goal oriented and working hard it is difficult not to obsess over things like variability, but here are some rules to live by that will help keep you sane and things in perspective.
- Freak out if you have been dieting less than 3 weeks
- Freak out if one weigh in is a bit higher than the last
- Freak out if your weight shoots up before or during your period
- Weigh yourself every day
- Weigh yourself at different times wearing different amounts of clothing or on different scales and try to obsessively estimate weight
- Keep your own graph in excel of your biweekly weigh ins. Calculate your average losses per week after a few weeks of dieting and shoot to be losing around 0.5% – 1% body weight per week (in most cases this is a good rule for pacing)
- Take pictures every few weeks and compare to before pictures in the same poses, same clothes, same light
- Take note of changes in how clothes fit, compliments from friends, new definition to muscles – irrespective of whether the scale is changing as fast as you think it should
- Keep track of your period and weight changes surrounding it so you know what to expect that time of the month.
DO (for athletes with weight class goals for competing):
Prepare to cut to a little below the desired weight a few weeks to months before your competition to avoid stress and give you room to eat to perform the day before and day of your competition. This will also give you some time to maintain and get comfortable in your new body size before competing.
Managing Expectations for female athletes: On average, females tend to be lighter than males but tend to have similar expectations for overall weight loss in say a 3 month diet time frame. A 200 lb male might be able to drop 15-20 lbs relatively easy in a 3 month diet and that gets up to about 7-10% of his bodyweight. A 140 lb female expecting to drop 15-20 lbs might be in for a shock at how hard that can be for a 3 month time frame. That’s well over 10% and gets up closer to about 15% of their total bodyweight. That will likely require some SERIOUS aggressiveness (and a decrease in quality of life via caloric restrictions) in order to get that done in 3 months. A 10% drop in bodyweight over 3 months when dieting is a BIG deal, so keep that in mind.
Even if you weigh yourself a couple times each week, it WILL go up and down. This is why it’s important to focus on the weekly trends and to keep in mind why the weight is going up. Here is a list of reasons your weight might be up:
- Intramuscular water retention (after a hard day of training, your weight might be up or stable as the previous day).
- Bloating (from salt intake, carb intake, etc.)
- Cheat meal (pro tip – NEVER weigh yourself the morning after having a cheat/free meal)
- Lack of sleep
- Hormonal cycle
- Possible muscle gain (more likely if you’re brand new to diet/training)
Remember not to panic if your weight jumps, stay the course and if you are not adding in calories to your diet or deviating from the plan, it is HIGHLY unlikely that you are gaining tissue if your weight is up from a few days or even a week before. Tracking data is probably the best thing you can do as it will help you be able to predict and manage your expectations if the scale isn’t where you want it to be.
Want to simplify the dieting process? Check out the RP Auto Diet Templates that are designed with simplicity in mind so you don’t have to worry about what to eat, when to eat it, or how much to eat. It’s all laid out for you by the professionals at RP!
This article was written by RP Female Health Consultant, Dr. Melissa Davis (PhD in Neuroscience, world class grappler, & competitive bikini athlete) along with RP CEO/Founder Nick Shaw. Between the two of them they have worked with thousands of clients over the last several years.