“Why are you making me eat so much food? Aren’t I trying to lose weight?”
That’s essentially the question that someone asked in my Minimum Viable Fitness training group. More specifically, he felt silly stuffing his face every day with ice cream and the like on a program focused on fat loss. He wanted to know if he could just have minimum numbers of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, then eat until satiety.
Here’s my candid response to him. I apologize for typos and whatnot… I did not intend on turning this into a blog post.
I’ll explain my reasoning as to why I’m grinning maniacally while everyone has tummy aches from feeling too full. Please read in full.
So first, it’s important to separate physiological from psychological reasoning… (In reality, you can never truly separate the two as it relates to fitness, but it helps for explanatory purposes)
First, the physiological perspective:
1. What I am trying to is get everyone to do is build muscle while on a caloric deficit. Doing so is particularly challenging, given that dieting in order to lose fat (i.e. creating a caloric deficit) generally puts your body in a catabolic state, while adding muscle requires an anabolic environment.
The only way to guarantee the constant progression of muscle is to tightly control your weekly caloric deficit, and there’s a very fine line… “simultaneously losing fat and building muscle” is one of the hardest things to do in all of fitness. (luckily, most of you are new to training and that gives you an advantage for now.) A difference of 1000 calories throughout the week (<40g carbs/day) may determine whether or not you’re actually putting on muscle while you diet. For 99% of you, your macros are optimized so that you’re at the perfect rate of simultaneously building muscle and losing fat.
2. Losing some weight/fat, is in fact, incredibly easy. Anyone can go on a juice fast and lose 5 lbs. The difficult part is getting to your goals and then keeping that fat off. That’s because as you diet and lose weight, your metabolism tends to down regulate slightly… proportional to your new weight, lean mass, and caloric (especially carbohydrate) intake.
Everyone here will stall out on the way to reaching their goals. The only way to break that stall is to decrease the amount of food that you’re consuming. If you don’t start out a diet with a high intake of food, then you have nowhere to go… you’ll essentially be nearing your ceiling (or floor, I guess) by week 8. If you start with a high food intake (as high as possible to still lose 1-2 lbs/week, in fact), you’ll have plenty of room for macronutrient adjustments as you go on.
From a psychological perspective:
There are certain things that our bodies (and brains) are very good at “sensing” right from the get go since birth. Here are two example: 1. whether a body part is injured and 2. whether or not a weight is heavy. These are not skills, so much as they are instinctual… they were probably required for human survival at some point. Trying to go toe-to-toe with that jaguar despite having a broken foot or not realizing that boulder that you’re trying to lift is too heavy was probably a death sentence for early man. For things like these, you should certainly listen to your body. It will tell you a lot
Then there are things, for various reasons, that people are not very good at sensing – the amount of “hunger” you should be feeling when you lose weight, the ROI of a particular training session, etc. These are highly specialized skills that *can* be developed, but for the most part, people suck at them… sometimes for a very long time. Sometimes, they are skills that you will never improve because of the complex, ever-changing systems involved. Stock picking is an example of one of these skills; an individual can never actually improve in this ability.
For the things above, people tend to take heuristics that are familiar to them and couple them with a goal. “Oh I need to lose weight? I must need to feel hungry. Oh, I feel hungry? I must be losing weight.” “Oh I want to get strong and be in great shape? I need to sweat my ass off at the gym. Oh, I’m sweating profusely? I must be getting in a great workout.” This coupling is literally one that is ingrained… hardwired… literally, I suspect, down to the neurons firing in your brain.
What I am trying to get you to do is decouple “senses” from “predicted outcome” so that you disassociate how you feel and whether it’s a marker for success.
When you are feeling full every day and see the scale go down 1-2 lbs/week, you begin to think very differently about fitness… just like when you feel like you didn’t sweat enough at the gym, but after a few weeks, become stronger and fitter than you’ve ever been before. The activities above literally act as a mental training of sorts, just as important – and arguably more challenging – as the physical one.
Now, I know you weren’t intending on feeling hungry and mentioned just eating those macros to satiety… but I suspect that there’s a very big difference, with regards to this “mental training,” when you’re losing 1-2 lbs/week and feel just-satiated vs. feeling stuffed.
When I talk about the “rewiring of the brain” I am not just using a metaphor. I suspect that there are actual neurons being formed, just because I now have a very good sense of what “feelings” should lead to what “outcomes.” But the only way to build those up is to disassociate the ones you had before.