Losing fat is hard.
Losing a lot of fat is harder.
But neither is as hard as maintaining a super lean physique — without going nuts.
You’re probably willing to put up with dieting if you know the end is in site. What you’re not willing to tolerate is the hunger, stress, social isolation and other issues that usually prevent you from staying super lean.
Sure, you can suck it up and be miserable. Or, you can use the strategies in this podcast to make staying lean much, much easier.
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**Armi Legge:** For many people, losing fat is extremely difficult. You might even be one of these people. Eating less and making other lifestyle changes can be a major pain. If you’re severely overweight, these changes often need to be substantial.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to diet down to extremely low body fat levels, you also usually need to do a lot of caloric restriction, exercise diligently, refuse a lot of tasty food and be very conscious of what you eat most the time. However, most people can lose weight and so can you.
But there is something that’s much harder than weight loss: maintaining weight loss.
Pretty much everyone can lose weight. Keeping it off is the real challenge. Depending on what data you’re looking at, something like 90% of dieters end up regaining all of the weight they lost. Another study found that only 17% of Americans are able to maintain a 10% weight loss after 1 year. Basically, our bodies are much better at storing fat than they are at losing it.
Combine that with what researchers call an “obesogenic environment,” where we’re able to buy or prepare thousands of calories with minimal effort, and you can see why it’s hard to maintain weight loss. This becomes even more of an issue when you’re looking at very low levels of body fat– usually less than about 8% – 10% for men and 15% – 18% for women.
I recently got a facebook question from Eigal about how to maintain this kind of body composition year-round. Eigal had dieted down to about 8% body fat– and by the way, congratulations, Eigal, since I know you listen to this– and wanted to know how he can maintain that level of body fat without going nuts and being hungry all of the time.
While this podcast is mainly going to focus on maintaining very low levels of body fat, everything here applies to people who want to be at a normal, healthy body composition as well or maintain any level of weight loss.
My name is Armi Legge and you are listening to Impruvism Radio, the podcast that gives you simple, science-based tips to improve your health, fitness, and productivity, hopefully without making you go insane.
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So you’ve lost a lot of fat. You’re done dieting. You feel good. And you want to maintain your awesome new physique. If you haven’t lost fat yet and you’re still striving toward an ideal weight, go listen to podcast #10 with Eric Helms, where we discuss almost everything you need to know about dieting and training for fat loss. That’s impruvism.com/fat-loss-podcast.
If you already listened to that interview, then you’re familiar with some of the problems that you can encounter when trying to maintain extremely low levels of body fat. Here are some of the main issues you can expect when dieting down to low body fat levels.
– Lack of libido
– Precipitation with food. Quick side note– one of the things researchers found when they starved conscientious objectors during World War II in the Minnesota starvation experiment was that the subjects almost all started collecting cookbooks because they were so obsessed with food. Anyway, moving on . . .
– Dieters also often experienced anhedonia, which means you don’t get the same kind of enjoyment out of daily activities as you used to.
– Loss of strength and/or athletic performance
– Loss of muscle mass
– Low body temperature and hypersensitivity to cold
– Obsession with not wasting foods
– Preparing food a certain way and developing kind of weird rituals around food
– A reduction in resting metabolic rate
– Extreme hunger and an inability to feel satisfied after meals, even when you’ve eaten what would seem like a substantial amount of food
Some of the physiological adaptations that cause or accompany these changes are:
– Low heart rate
– Low leptin levels
– Low thyroid levels
– Increased insulin sensitivity
– Increased fat storage enzymes
– Increased muscle efficiency, which means you generally burn fewer calories for the same amount of movement.
All of these problems are present with almost any kind of weight loss. It’s just a matter of degree. Someone dieting to 5% body fat is going to have far more problems with fatigue, hunger, and muscle loss than someone going from 40% body fat to 30% body fat.
At a certain point, there’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate all of these adaptations but there are some ways to minimize some of these problems while dieting.
Again, after a certain point, you’re just going to feel horrible no matter what, which is why bodybuilders, models, and athletes generally never stay super lean all year round.
Frankly, being at 4% body fat for a guy or 7% – 9% for a woman is generally just not sustainable or healthy and usually most people feel pretty good about themselves at higher body fat percentages anyway.
So moving on . . .
Using the techniques in this podcast, I think you can maintain a pretty awesome physique while avoiding most of these problems that we just learned about.
Remember, this podcast is about maintaining a lower-than-normal body fat percentage without feeling hungry all of the time, obsessing about food, and losing your strength and performance. You could just starve yourself and count calories like nuts, which I’ve done before, but you won’t be happy and I definitely was not when I tried it.
I like to focus on the fundamentals before all else, so let’s start with the basics.
The main goal when trying to maintain a low body fat percentage is to lower your set point, or what researchers sometimes call your “adipostat,” which is like adipose tissue or fat tissue and stat like thermostat.
Your set point is a fairly narrow range of body fat that your body tries to maintain. When you eat below your set-point, leptin and other hormones like thyroid drop and you get hungry, more lethargic, your resting metabolic rate slows, etc. Basically, all of the adaptations we just talked about.
When you eat above your set point, the opposite tends to be true. Your appetite usually drops, you become slightly more active, and your resting metabolic rate increases a little bit.
The problem is that this system tends to be asymmetrical. It defends less against overfeeding than it does against underfeeding, which is largely why it’s easier to gain weight than it is to lose it or, in this case, maintain fat loss.
Your set-point is largely determined by your genetics, but it can change based on a variety of factors, including your environment, your food choices, your activity levels, and several other variables that we’ll talk about today.
As an example, let’s say you have a genetic predisposition to staying at around 13% – 15% body fat, which for most guys is just above where you can start to see your abs, which kind of sucks. When you try to lose weight, your body fights back. When you gain weight, it doesn’t try quite as hard to help you maintain your body fat levels.
With easy access to a bunch of high calorie, tasty foods like the red velvet cake I posted on facebook recently, and a sedentary lifestyle, your set point might ratchet up to around 20% or 25% body fat. If you make wiser food choices, stay active, and you use some of the other techniques I’m about to talk about, you can do the opposite. You can slightly ratchet down your set point to a lower level so you don’t run into quite as many of the problems we talked about earlier.
Wherever your set point readjusts to is called your “settling point.” Now some researchers make a big distinction between the terms set point and settling point, but in realty no one really uses set point as a specific, immovable level of body fat, so frankly, this is just a matter of semantics. It’s nice to make a distinction in some cases, like in some research studies when you’re delineating between genetic and non-genetic causes of fat gain, but for our purposes it’s not really important.
So to keep things simple, I’m going to refer to this level as “set point” from here on.
This spot, whatever you want to call it, is the level at which your body starts to get worried that you’re starving to death and it starts making changes to prevent that from happening. Our goal is to help reprogram your set point. There are a ton of ways to do this, but in this podcast we’ll focus on your macronutrient intake, your food choices, when you eat, your exercise levels, and your choice of exercise. I’ll also mention a few other variables that people tend to overlook as well.
1) Make a smooth, gradual transition from dieting to maintenance.
How you transition from your fat loss diet to the diet you’re going to maintain or the weight you’re going to maintain is extremely important and it’s something a lot of people screw up. It’s best to slowly taper your caloric deficit down over time as you get to lower levels of body fat.
This gives you an almost seamless transition from dieting to maintenance. At the end of your diet, you are basically eating only a few hundred calories below your maintenance needs. There is no firm transition to being on your diet to being off your diet. It’s really just one smooth process.
There are several reasons I think this method works better than conventional approaches.
First, it helps you adapt to a more long-term and flexible mindset, where your diet becomes part of your life and not your entire life. This also helps you adopt and ingrain a lot of the habits and behaviors that you’ll need to maintain weight loss in the long-term.
If you diet hard for 8 weeks and lose a bunch of fat with a large caloric deficit with maybe some weird diet like juicing or whatever, it’s likely that you’ll revert back to the same behaviors that made you overweight in the first place. You see this a lot in dieters.
If you take things slowly, you will find strategies that make you lose weight without even thinking about them. Basically, all of the behaviors that help you to lose weight are going to help you maintain weight loss. So spending some time upfront ingraining these behaviors during your diet is going to make you far more successful in the long run.
Second, a slow approach to weight loss does a much better job of maintaining muscle mass or even eliminating the loss of muscle mass while dieting.
When the body doesn’t sense a huge caloric deficit, it’s much less likely to tap into what you might call your emergency reserves, or muscles in this case, than it is to dissolve your fat stores.
Third, a slower approach to weight loss generally minimizes the negative adaptations we talked about a moment ago like metabolic rate slowdown, low leptin levels, lethargy, food cravings, hunger, etc. Basically, your body isn’t as concerned about you starving to death because you’re only dropping calories slightly.
It’s fine to diet hard at first with a huge caloric deficit, but I think as you get closer and closer to your goal weight, you need to gradually reduce your caloric deficit.
So step one is to diet intelligently and gradually in the first place. Now let’s talk about how to set up your diet once you are at your goal weight.
Step 2: Optimize your macronutrient ratios.
I’m going to assume you know roughly how many calories you need to maintain your weight. If not, then record your food intake over a week or two and use that as a baseline. Deciding how many of your calories will come from protein, fat, and carbs is crucial to maintaining a low body fat percentage.
Protein is easily the most important macronutrient in this regard and studies have generally shown that people who eat more protein have a much easier time maintaining weight loss than those who eat less.
There are several reasons for this:
1) Protein helps spare muscle mass while dieting.
Studies have shown that people who eat more protein almost always lose more fat and less muscle on the same caloric deficit. They have also shown that the standard recommended daily allowance is usually not enough to prevent muscle less. That’s 0.8g per 1kg.
2) Protein helps you stay full.
Protein has the greatest effect on suppressing appetite, far more so than carbs and fat. This is true in both the long-term and in between meals.
Whole foods that are high in protein, like meat, also tend to require more chewing, which can slow down eating time and reduce the total number of calories you consume in a meal.
3) Protein has a higher thermic effect than carbs and fat, which means you burn slightly more calories eating a higher proportion of your food from protein than carbs and fat. The difference isn’t much, only about 70 – 100 calories per day in most cases, but it’s a nice bonus.
So protein intake should be high. For most people, that means at least 2g per 1kg of lean mass, which is about 1g per per pound of lean body mass.
Now let’s talk about your fat intake.
Most evidence indicates that a moderate fat intake is generally better than an extremely low or high fat intake. In most cases, this means around 20% – 30% of your calories from fat.
For awhile, researchers thought that extremely low fat intakes were best for fat loss and weight loss maintenance because fat has over twice as many calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, so it’s technically easier to overeat.
That has been proven to be incorrect, for the most part. Really low fat diets tend to taste like cardboard and severely limit your food choices, which makes them hard to maintain for any length of time.
Fat also tends to help maintain fullness between meals over the long-term and adding a small amount of fat to meals can help you stay full much longer.
There are also some negative health consequences from overly restricting fat intake. Low fat diets tend to make sex hormones like testosterone drop and it also may interfere with the production of other hormones as well.
Fat is also needed to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins and really low fat intakes, like less than 10% of calories, can sometimes cause nutrient deficiencies.
So as a starting place, get around 20% – 30% of your calories from fat. After you set your protein and fat intake, you fill in the rest with carbs.
Carbs tend to boost leptin and thyroid levels more than protein and fat, so I generally think you should be erring on the side of a little extra carbohydrate rather than a little less. Carbs are also important for maintaining moderate to high intensity exercise performance which, as we will talk about in a minute, can also be an effective way of maintaining a low body fat percentage.
Lastly, there are a lot of extremely filling and nutritious foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, my red velvet cake, etc., that are high in carbohydrates and there is really no reason to completely avoid them. Plus, cookies are tasty and giving up cookies is simply not acceptable.
Letting yourself have a moderate to high carb intake also allows you much more flexibility in your food choices, which pretty much always improves long-term results.
You may need to adjust your macronutrient targets as well over time or depending on your circumstances. If you’re doing a lot of exercise or lifting weights or both, then you’ll probably need more carbohydrate. If you’re sedentary, you may need to eat less.
You should also feel free to eat more or less carbs or fat based on your personal preferences. If you like fat more than carbs, then eat more fat. If you like carbs more than fat, then eat more carbs . . . obviously also eating fewer calories to stay within your calorie limits.
When it comes to carb and fat intake, I think going to the extremes in either direction is generally bad. If you don’t eat enough fat, you can run into hormonal and reproductive issues, hunger, and cravings. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrate, you can often suppress thyroid function, impair your recovery from workouts, and run into cravings from food avoidance.
A good plan is to generally consume at least 100g of carbs per day and no less than about 15% – 20% of your calories from fat. Your protein intake should stay high pretty much all the time. Within that range, you can shift things around to suit your personal preferences and activity levels.
Flexibility is one of the most important aspects of maintaining weight loss. So remember that you don’t necessarily have to stick to this specific macronutrient ratio all the time. It’s fine to eat less than 100g of carbs for one day or 0g of fat another day. We’re talking about averages over time.
There are times when you need to be more specific about your daily macronutrient intake, but for most people it’s not a huge issue if you go a little bit more to one side or the other on any given day. What matters is your average macronutrient intake over time.
I do think it’s best to try and hit your protein needs every day, but other than that, you can usually be pretty flexible about when you consume carbs and fat.
After you’ve set your macronutrient targets, it’s time to focus on food quality.
Step 3: Eat an overall healthy diet.
The term “healthy” is pretty meaningless but, in this case I mean a high intake of whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods. This generally means meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, some added fats like butter, and a moderate intake of starches like potatoes, bread, rice, etc. Then of course some junk food on the side because it tastes good.
I also usually recommend that people get at least 5 – 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day no matter what.
The “If It Fits Your Macros” approach to eating is fine in most cases, but I think it’s also a good idea to generally get at least 80% of your calories from whole foods like those mentioned a second ago and the rest from whatever you want.
And I mean whatever you want. There’s no such thing as a bad food or a good food. There’s food and whether or not it’s bad or good depends on the overall context of your diet . . . and your health . . . and your preferences.
There are some foods that are kind of in between junk food and whole food like pancakes or maybe cereal, but in general, just use your common sense.
I also have a little variation of the 80/20 rule that I use with some of my clients and myself that makes life much easier. If you want to eat pretty much all of your junk food one day a week or spread it out for 1 or 2 days so the 80/20 rule is a little skewed in the short-term, that’s fine. If you want to have all vegetables and meat one day and tons of cookies the next day, that’s fine. Again, we’re talking about averages over the long-term. And as long as you hit your macronutrient targets, especially protein, food quality just in the short term doesn’t matter.
But over the long term, it’s generally a good idea to try to get at least 80% of your food from the ones listed above, just general healthy food. And I’m not going to get into a big semantic argument about what that means.
As you can see, this system is incredibly simple and sustainable and really lets you eat pretty much whatever you want without blowing your calorie budget. Of course, this is assuming that you’re counting calories or macronutrients.
I think most people get better results by doing this and it allows you tons of flexibility and control, but a lot of people hate counting calories. If that’s the case for you, I think you can still use the same system. Focus on simple, whole foods that are moderately palatable and allow yourself the occasional indulgence.
There is a lot of good research showing that highly palatable foods like, say, coffee cake can override the normal signals that make you stop eating when you’re full. This is why you are able to eat a large dessert after a big meal despite being stuffed.
In practice, this means generally basing your diet around simple foods with minimal ingredients and generally eating those foods in a minimally processed state by themselves works best.
For instance, maybe having fruit and yogurt separately instead of mixing them or just having a plate of pasta with some marinara sauce instead of a really complex casserole. Again, this doesn’t mean you need to never have these foods, it just means you need to consume them in moderation and be mindful of your overall calorie intake if you’re going to indulge.
It’s also a good idea to limit the number of caloric drinks you consume, including milk. Generally, it’s much easier to overconsume liquid calories than it is from solid food.
So how do you know what moderation is? I’ve used that term several times. I think it’s best to base your diet off of real world changes in your body composition and quality of life. Here’s what I mean.
If you are happy with your diet, enjoying the food your love, feel good, and you’re maintaining the level of body fat you want, then don’t change anything and just keep up the great work. You are doing whatever moderation means.
If you’re happy with your diet and enjoying the foods you love and you’re gaining body fat or have already gotten a little fatter, you may need to be more strict about either counting calories or choosing foods that help you consume fewer calories subconsciously.
If you’re not happy with your diet and you feel deprived but you’re maintaining low body fat levels, then push the limits a little more and be a little more flexible. Indulge in some of the foods you’ve been craving. Have some red velvet cake.
Basically, I encourage you to eat is much food as you can and whatever you want as long as you eat enough protein per day and generally keep your diet quality in that 80/20 range over time.
As long as you don’t go to crazy extremes in terms of over or underconsuming carbs and fat or junk food, this system tends to work perfectly with pretty much everyone who has tried it.
The reason this system works is because it’s adaptable to the individual. It doesn’t force you to start resorting to unsustainable, unenjoyable, or ineffective methods of restricting your calorie intake.
So you know how much to eat and you know what to eat. Let’s talk about when you should eat.
Step 4: Nutrient timing
Most of the stuff you read about nutrient timing, like the need to eat immediately post-workout, or needing to eat immediately before workouts, or how intermittent fasting is going to magically melt fat and build muscle is complete BS. However, I do think that some nutrient timing strategies can and should be used to help maintain a low body fat percentage.
This isn’t as much of an issue for people in a relatively normal level of body fat, but below about 10% for men and maybe 15% – 18% for women, I think these strategies are important. This isn’t as much of an issue for people at a relatively normal level of body fat, but below about 10% of men and around 15% – 18% for women, these strategies are more important.
First and foremost, choose a meal frequency that you like. If you like having most of your calories in one meal, go for it. If you like nibbling throughout the day, that’s fine, too. There’s really no evidence, at this point, that either meal pattern is necessarily superior in terms of health and/or body composition. It’s just about personal preference.
There is some evidence that eating fewer than three meals tends to increase appetite, but there’s also no evidence that eating more than three meals decreases appetite, either. Appetite is highly individual so I encourage you to find whatever works for you.
This also applies to the composition of your meals. If you want to have a meal that is almost entirely carbs, fat, or protein, that’s fine, too. Most people tend to prefer a balance of all three, but others, including myself, often like having something like a steak and nothing else.
There is one exception to this rule. I generally think it’s better to consume most of your calories, say 60% – 80%, after your workout on the days you exercise. This doesn’t mean you have to eat these calories immediately post-workout.
For example, if you work out at noon, it’s probably best to have around 60% – 80% of your calories between noon and whenever you go to bed.
That said, obviously your workout is more important than sticking to some specific nutrient timing scheme. So keep that mind before you get too into this.
On a daily basis, I think it’s generally a good idea to cycle calories. This doesn’t mean you need to set up a rigid system where you eat exactly 2,500 calories on one day and 1,500 the next. It just means you should have some days where you’re in a caloric surplus and some days when you’re in a caloric deficit.
It’s not entirely clear if cycling calories has a real advantage in terms of maintaining low body fat and at least one study found that cycling calories did not prevent the drop in thyroid that normally occurs while dieting. However, there were some methodological aspects of that study that make it not entirely relevant for a lean person trying to maintain the kind of low levels of body fat we’re talking about right now.
Cycling your calories can probably give you both behavioral and physiological benefits.
In terms of behavior, calorie cycling allows you more flexibility. You can eat more on a night out with friends and make up for it the next day while staying lean and happy.
Going through periods of over and underfeeding may also help avoid or reverse many of the negative adaptations to dieting we talked about before.
By inserting what are called “refeeds,” where you eat more calories than you need to maintain your body weight, your body doesn’t feel like it’s starting to death– at least not as much.
This is especially true if you consume a lot of carbs during your overfeed or refeed. Carbs tend to boost leptin, thyroid, and some other hormones and generally make people feel better. They also help refill glycogen levels, which helps support training and encourages you to move more. When you underfeed again, it’s generally easier to lose excess fat and you usually feel better.
Most people don’t feel that bad after a week of dieting. They feel bad after months of dieting and/or holding calories at a low level. If you insert short over and underfeeding periods, you can probably make it easier to maintain a low body fat level without feeling like crap.
There’s not much evidence you need to cycle your calories on a daily basis. If you want to be in a caloric deficit for a week and then slightly overeat the next week, that’s probably fine, too.
In general, obviously, you need to eat roughly at maintenance calories to maintain your weight, but overeating a few days and undereating a few after that is still going to help you maintain a low level of body fat over the long-term . . . hopefully without you going nuts.
Notice that I said “a slight over or underfeeding.” Severely restricting calories and then binging is not what I’m talking about. I tried that, too, and it did not work nor was it fun, by the way.
Eating below maintenance also allows you to reap a few positive health benefits as well. You generally become more insulin sensitive while underfeeding. You also have more free time because you don’t have to eat or prepare food as much. Many people often feel more productive on days when they’re in a slight caloric deficit, too.
Another important thing about nutrient timing is that it’s generally a good idea to overfeed on the days that you work out. This is true for both endurance and strength athletes. If you train every day, as many endurance athletes do, then it’s generally a good idea to overfeed on days when you have your hardest workouts.
I always find it very funny that people act like calorie cycling is a revolutionary concept when, in truth, high level endurance athletes have been doing this for a long time. They often eat above maintenance on some days and below maintenance on other days like rest days. If you’re strength training or lifting weights, I generally think it’s better to eat more on the days you lift as the extra calories will generally get shunted more toward muscle tissue.
So far in this podcast, we’ve talked about exercise a few times. Now let’s look at it in more detail and see how we can use it to maintain a lower level of body fat.
Step 5: Exercise
There are several major benefits of exercise in terms of helping you maintain a lower body fat level.
Strength training should generally take priority over other forms of exercise. It helps you maintain your muscle mass and it doesn’t require as much time. It can also burn a fair number of calories if you’re willing to work a little more, but that should not generally be your main goal with strength training.
Exercise of any kind tends to improve appetite control over time. This doesn’t mean exercise completely stops hunger, but it seems to improve your ability to match your hunger levels to your true caloric needs.
Researchers believe there’s a minimal level of exercise where people tend to naturally just eat more than they need to maintain their weight. This level is probably different for everyone and it doesn’t seem to take much exercise to improve appetite control, either.
There’s also some evidence that exercise can help blunt appetite in the short-term but that’s obviously not true for everyone. One of the main reasons behind this is that exercise tends to improve leptin sensitivity in the brain as well.
This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to do lots of formal exercise. You can often get huge benefits by moving around more during the day. If you don’t enjoy exercise, try to maximize your daily movement before resorting to formal exercises, if you don’t enjoy it.
If you do, then do both. Try using a standing desk, park further away from buildings, buy a pedometer, etc.
Another reason exercise tends to help maintain body composition is that it allows you to eat a larger volume of food. The total volume of food you consume is another cue your body uses to sense how much it should be eating.
If you reduce your food volume, you generally get hungrier. If you increase your food volume, you generally feel more satisfied. And if you’re interested in this, Barbara Roles is a researcher who has done a lot of work in this area.
If you’re able to exercise enough to eat a fair amount of food to maintain your weight, you will generally have an easier time of maintaining a low level of body fat without getting hungry. This doesn’t mean you should rely on tons of cardio to burn a bunch of calories. If you don’t enjoy cardio, you will be miserable.
Lots of cardio also tends to limit your ability to gain strength and size. This isn’t to say you can’t or should never do cardio, but use it wisely. If you enjoy cardio and you want to maintain low levels of body fat, then keep training and use all of the other tips in this podcast. I still recommend that you do some strength training, however.
And finally, let’s talk about some of the psychological traits you need to adopt to maintain a low level of body fat. Again, without going crazy.
Step 6: Be flexible.
How you view your diet is arguably the most important aspect of maintaining low body fat levels. This starts with being flexible.
Expecting perfection is a recipe for failure and when you think about it, there’s really no such thing as a perfect diet. The “perfect diet” is the one you don’t have to think about constantly. If you’re always worried about screwing up, if you obsess about eating more than you should at every meal, if you’re having a nervous breakdown because you can’t find the calorie amount of a certain food, you need to change your perspective. I’ve been there and it’s a miserable way to live.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that people blow small infractions or mistakes out of proportion.
Let’s say you went 1,000 calories over your caloric limits for a day. For a lot of people, that might start a month long binge where they regain all of the weight they lost while dieting. When you really think about it, that small period of overeating could be corrected with one or two days of eating 300 – 500 calories less per day, which they’d probably been doing for several months without a major problem. Then you’d be back to where you were with no progress lost and no change in your physique.
No one loses their physique due to one meal or even a day of binging. People get fat by constantly eating more than they need to over the long-term.
It’s generally a good idea to keep counting at least some aspects of your diet. For many, calorie counting works well over the long-term. For others, counting servings works. For a lot of people, counting the amount of fat they eat can help prevent overeating as it’s generally easy to consume a lot of fat without realizing it.
Having some kind of objective way of monitoring your food intake helps keep you honest and aware of your food choices.
There was actually a study not too long ago that found that people who were asked to keep a diet record lost about twice as much weight over five months as the group that didn’t.
It’s also a good idea to weigh yourself at least once per week, preferably more. This helps you keep yourself motivated and helps you spot weight gain because it severely impacts your appearance or your health.
You shouldn’t make any big changes based on day-to-day fluctuations and scale weight, but if you consistently see your weight creeping up over several weeks and you notice a little more fat on your stomach or some other part of your body– maybe thighs if you’re a woman– it’s time to reduce your calorie intake or exercise a little more.
Keep in mind that your weight can fluctuate by up to 5 – 10 pounds due to changes in water weight. And if you’re a woman, your menstrual cycle can cause shifts in water weight that are even more than that. So don’t get too worked up over small changes in scale weight in the short-term.
Since we’ve covered a ton of information in this podcast, let’s do a quick review of everything:
1) Make a smooth, gradual transition to your maintenance diet instead of being strictly on or off your fat loss diet.
2) Keep protein intake high, around 2 – 2.5g per 1kg of lean mass, or around 1g per pound of lean body mass. If you’re a woman, it can be slightly less than that.
3) Keep fat intake moderate, around 20% – 30% of calories as a starting place.
4) Keep carbs moderate to high to fill in the rest of your calorie needs.
5) Adjust your fat and carb intake to your preferences and your training. Generally aim for at least 100g of carbs per day and no less than 10% of calories from fat.
6) Get at least 80% of your calories from whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods. Get the rest from whatever you want.
7) Eat whatever meal frequency is most convenient for you and helps you control your appetite and support your training.
8) Cycle your calories. Go through periods of over and underfeeding. This can be on a day-to-day basis or on a weekly basis.
9) In general, try to eat more on the days that you work out and less on the days that you don’t.
10) Lift weights.
11) Move as much as possible during the day.
12) If you enjoy cardio, keep training.
13) Put small mistakes into perspective and don’t let your diet rule your life.
14) Count at least part of your diet, whether it’s calories, grams of fat, grams of protein, servings of food, or whatever. Have at least one kind of objective way to keep track of what you’re eating.
15) Weigh yourself as least once a week and adjust your diet or exercise levels if you start to gain fat.
My final piece of advice for maintaining a low level of body fat is this:
If there isn’t a problem, there isn’t a problem. If you’re healthy and enjoying your diet and you’re happy with your weight and body composition, then relax and enjoy the rest of your life and stop worrying about it. There are far more important things in life than being lean or thinking about being lean.
Speaking of more important things, if you enjoyed this podcast, the best way to show your appreciation is to leave a positive review and ranking on iTunes. To do so, navigate to impruvism.com/itunes and you will be redirected to where you can leave your comments. You can also search Google for “Impruvism Radio” and find the same page.
Thanks for listening and I will see you next week.
1. Kraschnewski JL, Boan J, Esposito J, et al. Long-term weight loss maintenance in the United States. International Journal of Obesity (2005). 2010;34(11):1644–1654. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.94.
2. Speakman JR, Levitsky DA, Allison DB, et al. Set points, settling points and some alternative models: theoretical options to understand how genes and environments combine to regulate body adiposity. Dis Model Mech. 2011;4(6):733–745. doi:10.1242/dmm.008698.