What comes to your mind when you hear that someone is on a diet? Restriction, deprivation, keto, vegan, low carb-high fat, high protein-low carb? The concept of dieting is commonly associated with negative connotations like severe restriction (i.e. having to restrict oneself from certain types of foods for a predetermined amount of a time). This is used as a common marketing term for many trends and fads, that are attempting to combat the obese-friendly society we live in. A common occurrence in health and Bootcamps for fitness is participating in an “x”-week challenge and being given a recommended food list or some form of a rigid meal plan. For this period of time, you may unknowingly restrict your carbohydrate intake through eating less processed and sugar dense foods. Protein intake may increase, which promotes growth and/or retention of muscle mass and satiety. Fat intake may reduce because the foods that are generally advocated are less abundant in this macronutrient, which is highly energy dense (at 9 calories per gram). You may also increase your energy expenditure through moving more, which hopefully puts you into a calorie deficit. At the end of this period of time, the important question to ask yourself is, what have I learnt about managing my health when not participating in a diet?
Having the freedom post-diet can lead to weight regain for a multitude of reasons. You may be craving foods you have avoided and binge or you may want to reward yourself for being committed and this can lead to a large number of calories being overeaten regularly. This inevitably leads to gradual weight gain. The issue arises from not being taught how to apply sustainable nutrition principles to your lifestyle and behaviour long term. This does not mean you need to be having chicken breast and green veggies at every meal, but rather, finding a balance to your daily dietary choices that you can adhere to. One potential way to avoid this pitfall, is to not think of dieting in an on-or-off manner, but to think along a spectrum of periods in which you may need to pay more or less attention to what you are eating to achieve certain body composition goals. Having an all-or-nothing perfectionist approach to dieting, ironically promotes the abandonment of diets, greater overeating and subsequent weight regain (1-2). How many times have you heard someone describe how they broke their diet and the cascade of events led to the consumption of a near Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson style cheat meal?
An alternative method is to consider dietary choices along a spectrum and to play with three different factors of accuracy, flexibility and consistency (3). If you want to be very accurate, you will most likely need to limit flexibility for a consistent period of time. For example, a goal to lose 5kg in 8 weeks, before going on a holiday or attending a wedding may need to involve keeping a log of food and limiting eating out. This is because you will be able to know with more certainty you are closer to your calorie target. Conversely, if you want to maintain your weight, lose fat and build muscle gradually over the course of a year; it may become very monotonous and socially isolating to be pedantic with your food choices. The solution in this case is to practice dietary flexibility which allows a balanced life. You may be able to eat out every weekend and enjoy a meal with friends or family that is not tracked at all, but limits liquid calories, has a higher protein option and a small dessert. Let’s not forget, if you want to build muscle and improve performance in the Gym Preston, more accuracy with tracking food intake can be effective and there will be more flexibility in choices. It all depends on your goals, amount of time available and what you can adhere to with your other life commitments.
Binary thinking can have drawbacks with many different health and fitness endeavours. This is commonly the case with food choices that may be deemed good or bad. Instead it is more reasonable to think that there are more or less nutritious foods. The aim should be to eat more nutritious sources, so that we can perform better at our daily activities and maintain good health long-term. Food does not always need to be taken away when trying to change our body composition. There is research indicating that adding certain types of highly fibrous and satiating foods to a diet can make weight loss easier, by tricking our brains to thinking we are fuller with less calories (4). However, next time you are craving a cherry ripe, a baked triple chocolate cookie or mum’s delicious homemade banana bread you may consider that this food will provide more calories and less nutritional value, than an apple or a yo-pro, but it tasted good, you enjoyed it and life goes on. Tomorrow, maybe choose the alternative instead! (see below for a comparison of macronutrients, which show that is not the end of the world if you do want a treat).
When your goal requires a more rigid approach, utilising a coach to keep you on track is highly useful. Without the constant check-ins, calorie and exercise targets and objective feedback from my bodybuilding coach, I would have had a very tough time staying consistent and achieving my goal of stepping on the bodybuilding stage in 2019. This is definitely an extreme example, but the same principles apply when working towards specific and challenging targets. However, for the majority of the time understanding how to manage your dietary intake so that you are generally going to be making good nutritious choices, allows a much more manageable way to maintain a healthy body composition.
In summary, consider avoiding periods of on -or-off dieting, in which you limit foods you enjoy. Alternatively, consider thinking along a spectrum, in which you may need to focus on what you are eating more of, if you desire accurate results or you may be happy taking your time and employ more flexibility. Overall, it is the ability to stay consistent and adhere to long term dietary behaviours that will result in managing a healthy body composition.
(Stay posted for future blogs on training, nutrition, lifestyle and behavioural strategies!)
By Ryan Marinelli
Food comparison (keep in mind these are general guesses and actual macronutrient content may vary, but if you satisfied a craving for an extra 90-150 calories, don’t sweat it!)
- Cherry ripe (52g bar 248 calories 2.1g protein, 13.0g fat, 28.4carbs)
- Baked triple chocolate cookie (51g cookie, 250 calories, 3g protein, 13g fat, 31g carbs)
- Homemade banana bread (90g slice, 323 calories, 3g protein, 15g fat, 42 carbs)
- Apple (200g 104 calories, 28 carbs, 0 fat, 0 protein)
- Yo-pro (160g tub, 103 calories, 15g protein, 8.6g carbs, 0.5g fat)
1. Lethbridge, J., Watson, H. J., Egan, S. J., Street, H., & Nathan, P. R. (2011). The role of perfectionism, dichotomous thinking, shape and weight overvaluation, and conditional goal setting in eating disorders. Eating behaviors, 12(3), 200-206.
2. Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., & van Trijp, H. C. (2015). How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behaviour and weight regain? Journal of health psychology, 20(5), 638-648.
3. Helms, E., Valdez, A., & Morgan, A. (2018) The Muscle & Strength Pyramid: Nutrition 2nd ed.
4. Eiselt, A. K., (2019). How the Brain Control Eating Behaviour. MASS, 3(12), 58-71.