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My friends are coming over for a cup of tea today, so I decided to put my apron on and bake cupcakes! Today I’ll be making chocolate flavoured cupcakes with green matcha & coconut icing. Like many of my recipes, this one is created for people who are intolerant to dairy and gluten, but nonetheless the cupcakes still taste amazing.
Yield: – 12-15 cupcakes, prep time – 30 min, baking time – 30 minutes, total time – 1 hour
Total calories per portion: about 260 kcal
Protein – about 5g
Carbs – about 15g
Fat – about 20g
200ml almond milk
3 scoops of vanilla protein (optional)
2 Tbsp stevia
80ml cup rice bran oil (you can use peanut or almond butter if you prefer but the dough will be drier)
To lose 4lbs during a diet, yet gain 6lbs back within a few weeks of finishing it is a sadly familiar scenario. In the previous article “Why diets never work and what to do” we discussed in detail why fad diets generally have poor results. We also presented some of the best alternatives to fad dieting, with the goal of achieving desired ‘body correction’ and avoiding starving the body. This article is devoted to exit strategies for diets.
Any process embarked on should have an exit strategy.
Dropping a diet without planning is the equivalent of stopping your car in the middle of the motorway, or jumping out of the airplane before landing – not recommended!
In the previous article “Why diets do not work…” we discussed the body’s reaction to various ‘cut’ diets. Here’s a quick refresher:
A decrease in calories leads to metabolic slowdown due to inevitable negative metabolic adaptation. Being adapted to lower calories, the body burns less ingested nutrients for energy. The more you reduce your food intake, the lower your metabolic rate becomes and the lower the quantity of nutrients which are used for body maintenance. Muscle degradation occurs as a side effect of many diets. This is a result of the body using its own muscle tissue for its energy needs when it is being starved, rather than burning fat as the latter is used to store nutrient deposits for a ‘rainy day’. A final and important point is that the less muscle tissue the body has, the lower its metabolic rate. Consequently a decrease in food consumption leads directly to muscle degradation during ‘cut’ diets, resulting in a situation in which the dieter is both eating less and getting fatter.
By instead taking a path of balanced and healthy eating, you could achieve visible sustainable results and reach a desirable body correction. This, in combination with the right training strategy, is the right solution.
Now let’s imagine a situation in which you are a healthy eater and regular exerciser. You have adopted the right nutritional strategy and follow an appropriate fitness plan for your body’s needs, but you want to achieve even more.
In this instance so-called “manageable cut dieting” may be suitable.
Imagine that you achieve this additional goal; fantastic! But what next?
You always have two options: to either return to your normal eating habits, or follow a correct exit strategy. In the first case the pattern will be more or less classic. If you are a healthy eater, you will inevitably gain weight after the diet is over and your metabolism will accelerate due to an increase in calories. Super-compensation will occur and you will come back to your normal body weight and body composition with an additional 1-3% of body fat. This is the most favorable scenario. However, you have to be ready to be slightly “softer” for a while until all your bodily processes are settled. If you are not a healthy eater, you will probably fall into the vicious circle of any diet, described above.
The second scenario, which involves a smart exit strategy, is a bit more sophisticated in terms of execution but at the same time will definitely help to keep your physical achievements for longer. It may even shift your body composition permanently and allow you to be lean all-year-round. This is exactly what happened to me after 3 years of competing.
Exit strategy recommendations:
Increase calories gradually.
It is always very tempting to start eating all your favorite treats after a diet. However, keep in mind that your body will have become extremely sensitive to all previously excluded food sources. Be careful and conscious with carbs and fats first of all. Lane Norton (one of the most notable experts in metabolic damage) believes that the best way to smooth the transition to a non-dieting state is to increase your carbs by 10%, and fats by 1%, every week. Such moderate increases boost the metabolism and help the body to adapt to a new macronutrient modulation, without drastic changes in body composition.
Track protein intake
Protein consumption also should be trackable. In the majority of smart fitness diets (not fad diets) protein intake is sufficient at the ‘cut’ stage. Macronutrient increase usually happens on account of carb and fat intake. However, some strategies such as various “detox” programs exclude or minimize protein consumption for the entire duration of the diet. This leads to severe muscle loss and metabolic damage.
Conversely, there are some diets (Dr. Atkins and his numerous imitators) that exclude carbs almost completely. One of the biggest misconceptions behind such an approach is that the human body does not need anything apart from protein. This in turn gave birth to the following misunderstandings of the human body: One is that you can eat any amount of protein and not gain fat. In fact, any excessive amount of protein is converted into glucose by the liver via the neoglucogenesis process. Excessive glucose and fatty acids not used for energy are literally converted into body fat. So keep your protein intake attuned to your body composition, type of exercise you do and your activity level, but be careful with any extra amount consumed. If you want to increase muscle mass the nutrition strategy you follow should be allied with your training and supplementation plans to achieve desirable results. Eating mountains of protein without a smart plan will not bring benefits. On the other hand, excessive consumption of protein can even be dangerous and lead to unexpected fat gain, increased acidity and an additional burden placed on the kidney and the liver. For more details about this, read my article “How much protein should be eaten”.
Increase physical activity
It is clear that any increase in food consumption provides the body with additional energy. This increased energy should be burned up, in order to avoid undesirable body fat formation after a diet. As the metabolism is still slow after the period of reduced calories the only way to make sure you are on the right track is to increase your physical activity until the metabolic rate is normalized. The question is how we can do this in a more efficient and productive way. Obviously, we can not spend 2-3 hours a day doing low intense steady state (LISS) cardio as some so-called ‘fitness gurus’ recommend. That sort of free time is far too scarce for most of us. The best way to increase activity after a diet is to increase the intensity of your normal workout by increasing resistance (weight), or the number of receptions. Another recommended tactic is to add 15-20 minutes of highly intense interval (HIIT) cardio after your workout.
After any diet all bodily processes are altered. Being excluded for a while, and then re-introduced, some food sources could provoke digestion problems and cause bloating and other unpleasant consequences. You need to help the body to start working properly. Short, 2-3 week courses of digestive enzymes and friendly bacteria will be beneficial.
Metabolic boosters are another useful thing. Two of the most well-known natural metabolites are chili and black pepper. Just add a pinch of those to your meals.
The next possibility is an insulin controller. Keeping going without simple carbs for a period of time increases insulin sensitivity. Add 1-3 tablets of chromium to your meals to avoid insulin spikes. Also be careful with fruit: Those fruit with a high glycemic index such as mango, figs and other exotic fruits likely will be harmful for your six-pack.
Check your list of wellbeing factors daily
Try to get eight hours of quality sleep, fresh air (and, at least, a one-hour power walk outside) and attempt to keep your stress levels low. These three wellbeing factors should always be checked and whenever possible, observed. High cortisol levels (stress hormones) alone could ruin all your fitness and dietary efforts. Insufficient sleep, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, and constant tissue hypoxia (lack of oxygen) will make change impossible.
Check your body composition
This is a pretty obvious point, but very often ignored. After a diet, it is essential to know what the proportion of your lean muscle mass is to your body fat percentage. Check it once every two weeks, a reasonable length of time to let your body react to new nutrients and any adjusted fitness plan. Ideally, both figures should stay unchanged or increase very slowly. Keep an eye on them. If you notice a drop in muscle mass or an increase in body fat of more than 4lbs within a two week period, your exit diet should be reconsidered and adjusted accordingly.
Have you ever noticed that after any diet, the pounds inevitably pile back on? Not only that, but people often actually gain more than they lose after finishing a diet. The idea of dieting is fundamentally flawed, with the process frequently being useless, painful and even dangerous to the person following it. In this article we are going to shed light on fad diets and provide you with some recommendations on how to avoid mistakes, and achieve long-term results.
Are still considering dieting?
What does an average diet consist of? They vary enormously in terms of the type of food stipulated or prohibited, timeframe, and degree of strictness. However, there are a few common features. Let’s examine them briefly.
All fad diets are low in calories and rely on a nutrients deficiency principle. That means a dieter consumes fewer calories than he or she burns. This usually leads to a certain weight loss, but a series of studies have shown that the drop in body weight usually occurs predominantly as a result of muscle – but not fat – loss. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface, the body experiences a significant metabolic slowdown.
All diets are short-term (up to a few weeks). First of all, that does not allow the body to change in the longer term. Secondly, it means that a dieter will soon return to his or her “normal” – often unhealthy or semi-healthy – eating habits. These dietary habits caused weight gains in the past, so it’s fairly certain that the same thing will happen again.
All diets impose strict restrictions on the type and quantity of food consumed. That might provoke not only temporary mood swings and fatigue but also long term hormonal problems. Another consequence can be malnutrition (i.e. a deficiency of some important micronutrients and vitamins). It could impair bodily functions and negatively impact the overall health of the dieter.
Now, let’s dig a little deeper.
Very often calorie restriction in the course of a dietary programme is too extreme, and has no scientific basis. The buckwheat diet, green diet, zero carbs diet, fruit diet and even the lemon-water diet are just few examples of type of diet which are – to put it bluntly – complete nonsense. Do people lose weight on such diets? Yes, they do. Do they gain it back? Yes, and it happens very quickly.
Decreasing calorie intake is another form of dieting. People keep their eating habits unchanged and just reduce the size of the portions or general quantity of their food intake, and exclude “criminal” food such as white bread or refined sugar. At first glance, this approach looks logical. Curbing excessive unhealthy food consumption will inevitably lead to weight loss. However, it is temporary. Having reached his or her target, a dieter reverts to “normal” eating habits, quickly gaining back everything that was lost, plus a little bit more, after every diet.
Another important point is that dieters almost never measure what they eat (we’re not speaking about bodybuilders, who, in opposite, obsessively weigh every ingredient). All food intakes is approximate and cannot be precisely replicated every day. Eating in public spaces makes tracking exact consumption even more complicated. It is impossible to be certain how purchased meals were cooked, and what additives such as oils, sugar, starches and so on were used. I’ve heard this stock phrase a million times: “I eat healthily but can’t lose fat”. When I start analyzing what people really eat I always see an abundance of hidden salt, sugar and fats in ready-to-eat or processed meals consumed. As a result, a dieter has fluctuating macronutrient intake (proteins, carbs, fats, fibre as well as salt and water) from day to day without any degree of consistency, consuming extra unnecessary nutrients that negatively impact the body in both the short and long term.
Sometimes people stop eating completely for a while (“detox” fasting). This is probably the most terrifying scenario in terms of negative metabolic adaptation and the degree of harm it inflicts on the body.
Juice diets, which are currently extremely popular, are another example of outrageous fad strategies that inevitably cause overcompensating fat gain after the diet is over.
To recap, people do lose weight during diets but mostly due to three key factors:
loss of body water due to loss of muscle glycogen (1 molecule of muscle glycogen retains 3 molecules of intramuscular water keeping the body hydrated),
loss of intestine bulk due to extremely low food consumption.
Now, let’s look in more detail at muscle loss. Why is this factor important? It has been scientifically proven that muscles burn more calories for maintenance than fat. In other words, two 130 pound individuals with the same activity levels but with different body composition (let’s say, the first has 10% of body fat and the second – 30%) have completely different daily calorie expenditure. Who is going to burn more? Obviously the first one, as he has more muscle tissue.
Another interesting fact is that the human body starts burning muscle tissue for energy when calorie intake is insufficient. Fat is used to store nutrients for the body in case of starvation, which is why the human body tends to keep it for as long as possible, destroying muscle tissue first. It’s a survival mechanism. Only in certain circumstances the body uses fat for energy (for example, when a certain heart rate is reached). Muscle loss during fad diets is inevitable even if a dieter continues exercising, and the less muscle tissue the dieter has, the fewer calories he/she burns. That’s why prolonged fad diets provoke muscle degradation and, as a result, significant metabolic slowdown.
Let’s say a couple of words about metabolic adaptation (slowdown/damage). This probably the simplest correlation to explain: The human body is both ingenious, and highly efficient. Survival is its main objective, so the fewer calories consumed, the fewer calories used. The body becomes very efficient and stores everything possible to deal with the possibility of starvation. In other words, the less you eat – the less you burn. And it works the other way around: the more generous the food supply, the less the need of the body to store fat for a raining day. However, don’t forget about food sources. Fat-laden, sodium-rich and sugar-heavy processed food never brings benefits. When boosting your metabolism, always opt for whole foods.
To sum up, when a dieter starves him/herself for a prolonged period, negative metabolic adaptation occurs. In combination with inevitable muscle loss it causes even more dramatic consequences – a dieter simply starts gaining more and more weight, while eating less and less.
Cortisol is a human stress hormone. Overwork, fad diets, long and exhausting cardio sessions, over-exercising, and lack of quality sleep, sunshine and fresh air are only a few examples from the long list of cortisol boosters. High cortisol levels cause major water retention (in case of some extreme female dieters, up to 25-30lbs). Moreover, high cortisol slows down the metabolism even further.
To diet or not to diet
Taking into account all of the above evidence, the question must be asked: is it actually worth dieting?
The answer should be obvious: No, if we’re talking about fad diets.
Another, related, question is how can we achieve targeted body correction?
It’s all about long term life-style changes: Short-term diets don’t provide long term results and may be harmful, whereas permanent changes to your eating habits bring long-term benefits.
How to start and what to do
Here are just a few simple tips that could make your healthy eating easier, and more effective.
Always rely on a scientific, fully customized approach! Generic diets and programs work poorly. Don’t copy someone else’s strategy. Most likely it was designed for an individual with a different somatotype, body fat percentage, activity level and other differentiating factors.
Would you perform dentistry on yourself? I didn’t think so. Always rely on professionals. Hire a qualified nutritionist to design the right strategy for your needs and guide you through the journey. It’s not going to be easy, as any life-style change requires complete focus, dedication, patience, and competent support.
Never starve yourself. Remember, fad diets are harmful.
Accept that finding healthy food in public places, or around your office, is pretty much impossible. Make it a habit to carry around a few little Tupperware boxes containing your freshly made meals. You will definitely be hungry at some point. Take care of yourself and don’t allow hunger to force you eating rubbish, or to starve.
Try to avoid processed food. This step alone will be hugely beneficial in the long-term.
Always put your health first.
Fast food and junk food cravings only exist in your head. The normal human body does not need junk food at all. Believe it or not, our brain can work perfectly on complex carbs. The human body is able to produce endorphins and serotonin without eating mountains of sweets. Our ancient ancestors never knew McDonalds or Nutella and lived happily without them. So the biggest monster lives in our own heads. Stop feeding it!
Take your time. The human body needs a far longer time to change than we tend to believe. Give yourself time. Be generous. Healthy eating will start working sooner or later. Just be consistent
Keep calm and eat your chicken (or broccoli/spinach/cod – whatever suits you!). Stress slows down the metabolism, making the body store more fat and retain water.
Sleep well and get enough fresh air every day. It’s a basic rule and you shouldn’t make excuses for yourself.
Just as you can’t be “almost pregnant”, you can’t “almost eat healthily”. You either do it or you don’t. The more you cheat the more you crave. It is better to eliminate junk food from your diet completely. Good luck!