I’m sorry to break it to you, but there will come a time when you need to in a calorific deficit in order to lose body fat. And you will be hungry. Cutting and hunger are bedfellows.
I know many lifestyle plans (and indeed non-sustainable diets) try to promise you’ll never be hungry. And if they are resetting you to a more normal eating pattern and volume that’s probably true. But to take your body to a lower fat level than it would naturally settle at, you are going to have to make some sacrifices.
If your aim is to get down to a healthy BMI, then you will not ever need to worry about this. If you don’t ever need to hit a certain weight for a competition, or have any vanity or physique goals, the same also applies. In which case, grab yourself a biscuit with that cuppa, read the rest, and enjoy that it doesn’t apply to you 🙂
I speak from experience here, as continuing to try and push strength and endurance gains and yet lose body fat becomes a game of diminishing returns. Certainly the CNS can still be recruited, and there may be advancements there, but the energy to do hard workouts drops as calories drop.
I’ve recently (under the guidance of a nutrition coach) dropped my calories in order to try and shed some fat, even at the detriment of my training. It may sound daft doing this while training for CMS. But there is never an ideal time. It worked for me right now in the lead up to some time away when I will be having a training break. I will be able to relax and let my body recover in that time ready to come back and hit training hard again.
There are some strategies you can apply to offset the pains of hunger, and I’ve certainly employed a few of them.
- Ensuring that you have a decent intake of protein. Protein is satiating; more so than the equivalent fat and carbs for the same calorie intake. In my case, I wanted protein to ensure I maintained my lean muscle mass as much as possible and helped my body repair from the training.
- Carbohydrates are still necessary, even with low carb or carb cycling. But starchy carbs are more filling than fast-acting ones. And fibrous carbs help digestion and a feeling of fullness.
- Fruit is not the enemy and can be useful as a fibre source, and for getting a decent range of nutrients into the body. It is also possible to freeze it and use it in a protein smoothie, where it can be more filling than just a shake and some fruit. Or choose the very low-calorie options as a means of eating bulk amounts for minimal calories.
- Make use of leafy green vegetables and salad leaves. Again for food volume without a large number of calories.
- Fill up on fluid. Be that water, tea, coffee, or even diet/zero drinks. The volume helps to trick the mind into thinking you are full. It also helps keep the body functioning well, clears out toxins, helps with recovery from training, and all the other reported benefits of a good fluid intake.
- Make use of herbs and spices to flavour things to keep it interesting. Chicken breast, rice, and broccoli do not have to be the staple cutting diet.
- Use shirataki noodles or rice; these are very filling, voluminous, low-calorie, and high in fibre. They are best eaten with a sauce or spices as they take on that flavour. Otherwise, they taste a bit weird!
- Sugar-free jelly can help deal with sugar cravings. But also something else low in calories and high volume. Spotting a pattern here yet? 😉
- Learn how to suck it up and develop strategies for dealing with the food demons when they demand you have more. Be that accountability to someone or a group of people, distracting yourself with a hobby or exercise, mindfulness or meditation to rationalise the problem away. Or just accept being hungry. Whatever works for you!
An example of a meal I’ve enjoyed recently is this gammon and spiralized salad.
The entire plate has the following macros: 269 calories, 11g carbs 10g fat, 33g protein. It was easy to prepare and filling. But it requires that I am more organised with my food than if I do not need to be so conscious of my macros (with them so low). I also need to take food with me to work daily and can’t easily wing it with purchased items unless I don’t want to eat later in the day!
There are certainly times I wished to give in and eat more, but the scientist in me was interested in using myself as an experiment as well as the final result. I want to settle at a lower body fat level than I’ve spent the last few months. I wanted to address how lean (or not) I looked. And I wanted to make my weight categories with ease at future competitions while still having better strength.
I’m happy that I’ve managed to make strength gains with lean muscle changes while eating at maintenance since I’ve started doing full body barbell workouts three times a week alongside my kettlebell training. These gains helped to keep me motivated. Visual changes from that spurred me on to deal with the pain (mental mostly) of the reduced calories even though I didn’t see immediate results. I learnt a lot more about the effect of carbs on my body (through carb cycling), and about dealing with water retention.
I was pleased that at the end of the process that I’ve dropped several centimetres all over my body, especially my waist. I am getting my body fat measured soon so I can’t comment on that yet. But a useful comparison is that at my previous lightest and smallest I weighed about a stone lighter than now (I had very little muscle mass then), but trousers that are sliding down now didn’t!
I’m still nowhere near lean enough for any ripped pictures or to enter a competition but I am happy 🙂 And I can see vein pump after a hard training session! However, I am now at the point where I’m struggling again in training and know that I need to start doing more on the endurance side of the kettlebells. So it makes sense to see how I go from here, eat to fuel my training, and evaluate later in the year.
I know this is a world away from getting stage ready, but it is still quite a step for someone who has often been overweight (or at least over fat) for much of their life! This process has only been a period of a month. The guys and girls that are stage ready have my utmost admiration for the effort (and calorie restriction) that they have had to put in to get that lean over a much longer period.
I think with cutting, rather than just slowly and sensibly getting to a healthy body weight, that comfort needs to be sacrificed. Do you have what it takes? A bit like some of the things I discuss in Is Your Health a Habit?, examine your motivations and decide if that is what you want. It will require much more effort, and if you don’t want to make that shift into uncomfortable, then maybe you don’t really want it.
I’m certainly not ready for stage lean at this point. But I am proud of my progress.PS: For those that go on about clean eating, or the sweeteners in the diet drinks I mention above,
PS: For those that go on about clean eating, or the sweeteners in the diet drinks I mention above, Examine.com has the following to say:
There are no studies that indicate any long-term health risks from drinking diet soda. Diet Soda (defined as calorie free carbonated beverages sweetened with aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-potassium, or other non-caloric or minimally caloric sweeteners) is not harmful to health, well-being, or body composition.
There is no evidence that diet soda inhibits fat loss, or that it even spikes insulin levels to levels that would be detrimental to health.
Current research that attempts to link diet soda with health issues did not have equal caloric consumption.
(Examine.com is an independent organisation that is one of the best resources on examining science behind supplementation objectively.)