These days, many people think losing body fat means forgetting everything they know about food and eating nothing but organic meats, plain leafy greens, nuts from exotic rain forests, and other esoteric foodstuffs that are supposed to work ancient, Paleolithic forms of dietary magic.
This trend of dietary eugenics has turned getting fit into an almost masochistic ritual of denial that leaves people frustrated, hungry, and downright miserable, dreaming of the felonies they would commit for a few spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry’s.
It doesn’t have to be like this though. Losing fat doesn’t have to suck. You don’t have to go to war with food cravings every day, hungry and alone.
You can absolutely lose fat while enjoying your favorite foods every day with a sane, tupperware-free approach to eating and without falling into the common dietary pitfalls that cause people to throw in their dietary towels and inhale entire jars of peanut butter.
In this article, I want to discuss the three most common mistakes people make while trying to lose fat that trigger and amplify food cravings and then give you some simple tools you can use to keep your temptations at bay.
When it comes to weight loss, let’s face it: we want results, and fast. And the fastest (and worst) way to lose weight is to simply starve ourselves.
Sure, severely restricting calories makes the number on the scale go down and maybe we can power through at first in the name of sweet, sweet gainz, but eventually our resolves begins to crack. And it’s often when we’re alone in bed at night, after another ridiculous 1,400-calorie day of chicken breast and green slop.
The fact is starvation dieting comes with several serious “side effects” and is a surefire way to fail in your quest to get lean…
When someone loses 6 pounds in a week, at least 50%, and as much as 75-80% of it is water, and could actually be gained back within 1-2 days of overeating.
Your energy levels plummet, you become mentally clouded and even depressed, and, last but not least, you get pummeled by food cravings.
You see, one of the things that happens is your body’s balance of two vital hormones that relate to hunger and satiety–ghrelin and leptin–get thrown out of whack, and all hell breaks loose in your belly and brain.
In simple terms, when ghrelin is high and leptin is low, which is what happens when we eat too little for too long, our brain interprets this as a signal that we need food now, and well, that’s when the fun begins.
Coincidentally, carbohydrate is the most effective macronutrient for boosting leptin levels, which triggers feelings of fullness, and which is why we often crave all our favorite sweets and treats when in the throes of food cravings.
What’s the solution, then? How much can we restrict our calories to maximize fat loss without sacrificing our muscle and sanity?
Well, if you maintain too small of a calorie deficit (10% or smaller), the slow rate at which you’ll lose fat can create its own problems. You’re likely to get bored with the process and the lackluster training and eventually give in to the mental fatigue and just eat your brains out.
Remaining in a calorie deficit for long periods of time also slows down your metabolism, which isn’t a huge problem in and of itself, but necessitates that you properly reduce your calorie intake over time to continue losing fat (something many people don’t understand or do and then wonder why they aren’t losing fat anymore).
The bottom line is both scientific research and anecdotal evidence supports the use of a calorie deficit of 15 to 25% to optimize both fat loss and hormone balance while also retaining lean mass and supplying enough food to keep us from developing carnal feelings toward our favorite baked goods.
I’m a big proponent of rapid fat loss over “slow cutting” and personally do everything I can to maximize fat loss, including using a 20 to 25% calorie deficit -Mike
“IIFYM” is a phenomenal tool for long-term dietary compliance, craving management, and overall lifestyle enjoyment. And there’s something perversely gratifying to eating some ice cream every day while dieting down to shrink-wrap body fat percentages.
There’s a point where it goes too far, though–where eating too much unprocessed food becomes detrimental to the overall process of dieting.
When you’re working out your meal plan for fat loss, “saving” a couple hundred daily calories for something sweet isn’t a problem, but when you’re stripping your meal plan bare to “squeeze in” a 1,200-calorie banana split, you’re going to have problems.
When you get too carried away, you stick yourself in a situation where you’re slamming down far too many simple sugars and other high-glycemic carbohydrates, which means energy swings, which in turn means hunger and craving swings.
Eating too many high-calorie processed foods also means your meals will be quite low in overall food volume, which means your stomach will be empty for longer periods of time, which elevates ghrelin levels and kicks the craving snowball down the hill.
What’s the solution to all of this?
It’s simple, really. With just a few meal tweaks, we can keep energy levels stable throughout the day and avoid cupboard-clearing catastrophes.
Both protein and fiber are great for providing a jolt of satiety, curbing hunger and mitigating ghrelin spikes. Just a few hundreds calories of protein and fibrous carbohydrate can be enough to fill us up for several hours.
Dietary fats also provide satiety, but they take longer to work than protein and carbohydrate. They slow down the digestion of our meals as well, which helps keep us full for longer periods of time.
As a general rule, if you split your daily fat intake between your 2 to 3 largest meals, you’ll see the biggest satiety benefits.
If you’re like most people, “weight loss” is synonymous with swearing off carbohydrates and just about anything you actually like to eat. This is silly.
I hate resorting to cliche, but in this case it’s warranted: when it comes to the nutritional value of a fat loss diet, the good ol’ 80/20 rule works quite nicely.
That is, if you get 80% of your daily calories from unprocessed or minimally processed nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, meat, dairy, and the like, you can “get away” with “spending” 20% of your daily calories on nutritionally challenged but oh-so-tasty goodies.
This 20% “wiggle room” is plenty to give you enough of the “good stuff” to curb cravings, and many people find that simply knowing they could eat candy and Pop Tarts is enough to reduce the desire to actually do so. Personally I opt for things like chocolate and homemade baked goods and desserts of various kinds.
Busting your ass in the gym without noticeable results sucks. And feeling like you have to suffer to make gains sucks just as much.
I hope this article has beefed up your nutritional arsenal and given you some effective ways to beat food cravings and prevent dietary failures, and to, dare I say, make fat loss an enjoyable process.
Harry Barnes is an Ante & Postnatal Instructor and Personal Trainer from Glossop, England.
His goal is to marry your fitness goals and ambitions with your current lifestyle. With a mix of flexible dieting and heavy lifting, he’ll help you reach your goals with as much as ease and enjoyment as possible.
You can find Harry at his website Harry Barnes Health.