An Introduction to Dieting Part 1

Right or wrong, the fact is that January is when people tend to kick off their attempts to diet, get fit, etc.  Many gripe about this, we can quibble about the relative merit’s of using what is fundamentally an arbitrary date as a starting point but that doesn’t change the reality: the holidays are over and January is when dieting starts (as well, Fat Loss Happens on Monday).  For that reason, among others, I’m going to republish a version of something I originally published in 2015.

This is actually an excerpt from the Women’s Book which I’d note has now been split into two volumes (Volume I is one nutrition, fat loss, etc. and Volume 2 will be about training) of which the first is nearing completion (I promise).   However, it’s undergone enormous rewriting since I originally published it, including the addition of a completely new section.   So I’ve unpublished the original to republish the updated version in two parts over the next two weeks.


Chapter 15: Introduction to Dieting

Having addressed a number of fixes to the issues that women face when attempting to change body composition I want to move into the practical aspects of setting up what I consider to be an optimal diet or nutrition program for women. This will include a number of topics including daily calorie intake, the nutrient composition (both in terms of amounts and food choices) of the diet, around workout nutrition, meal frequency and patterning and others.

These recommendations certainly differ from some fairly official recommendations but most of those recommendations are either many years out of date with the research or were never meant to apply to dieters or athletes in the first place. They will also likely run counter to what many women believe is a proper way to eat/diet or have seen recommended to them. The reality is that much of what women choose to do or have recommended to them is either ineffective or outright damaging. It may cause menstrual cycle dysfunction or problems with bone health, iron or thyroid status. That’s on top of the amount of information that comes out of approaches geared for or towards men; as I’ve reiterated, women have issues that men will simply never face.


10 Tips to Deal with Holiday Weight Gain

So after my little exposé on Sol Orwell telling outright lies about me a few weeks back, I wanted to run a piece I’ve been running since 2008.  It’s a bit late but there are still 3 problem weeks left until New Year’s.  I won’t put anything else up, this will give me time to work on the book before having to deal with new content.  So without further adeiu, I give you the annual running of 10 Tips to Deal with Holiday Weight Gain.  Enjoy!

For the body obsessed or even normal dieters, the holiday period from around October through to January can be a true minefield. Between the specific holidays of Halloween (mercifully passed), Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with endless goody baskets and parties, folks run into problems maintaining the habits they try to follow the rest of the year.

A lot of strategies exist to deal with this time, especially among the body obsessed, although I’d consider few of them particularly healthy from a mental or psychological standpoint.  One is to become a social pariah. Can’t control your food at parties? Simply skip all of them. While this might avoid food issues, it’s also a way to make your friends and co-workers think you’re an anti-social asshole.  Which is fine, I guess, if you are an anti-social asshole.  But it won’t do much for your inter-work relationships.

Another common one is to take the needed meal or food (e.g. turkey, broccoli, plain sweet potato) with you in a Tupperware bowl. I’ve heard of folks doing this at Thanksgiving dinner, usually so that they can sit and look down upon their family members with an air of superiority. “Oh, I can’t believe you’d eat that, that’s why you’re fat.” Newsflash folks, not only are we talking about a borderline eating disorder at this point (see also: orthorexia/Chris Shugart), that kind of insanity just makes your family uncomfortable. So don’t do it.  Better to stay home than be an asshole.

Of course, at the other extreme are the dis-inhibited eaters who just go completely crazy and eat everything in sight, gaining a considerable amount of weight and fat in the three months of holidays. It can happen and I’m not saying that it can’t. Of course, if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter, you can just say “I’m bulking” as you shovel down the third piece of cake but I’ll assume that you actually want to keep a lid on weight/fat gains during this time period. Balance please.


More from the Mailbag

Ok, I know I promised something special last week but with all of the grinding and gnashing of teeth over the election, I would hate for it to get lost in the noise.  So instead I’ll throw a quick mailbag together which I don’t mind getting lost in that noise.  In today’s questions, I’ll address the idea of reverse cyclical dieting for mass gains, DB’s for growth, muscle gain and metabolic rate in beginners, artificial sweeteners and gut health and yohimbine and water retention.

Reverse Cyclical Dieting for Mass and DBs for Growth

I was thinking if you do like eat 2700-2800 calories or 200-300 calories surplus on Wednesday through Sunday, that could increase muscle growth, because you are in a surplus while muscle protein synthesis is right there.  But you also fast with a ton of protein on Monday/Tuesday so can’t see why you would break down muscles.

also are dumbbell exercises only, a huge problem in the long run for a natural bodybuilder?, like you get up to a 100kg bench press and like 100kg lunges and stuff, but squat is harder to do, but not all bodybuilder squat that have big legs i have heard.

Ok so there’s two questions in the above.  The first is about using Monday/Tuesday as essentially Protein Sparing Modified Fast Days (PSMF, my Rapid Fat Loss Handbook) and I assume he’s asking about doing such to limit fat gains (if he’s asking something else, I’m unclear).

This actually isn’t a new idea, I believe it was Fred Hatfield who first put this out there suggesting to train and eat at a surplus for 5 days and then diet for 2 days.  For whatever reason, it never seemed to catch on.  I’d also point out that as protein synthesis can run up to 36 hours and fasting on Saturday could limit growth from Friday.  So a single day fast might be better here and there is a recent article in the NSCA journal suggesting that athletes who need to keep bodyweight/bodyfat in check might benefit from such a strategy. I’d be inclined to start with a 6/1 pattern.


New Podcast with Iraka Nutrition

So a bit of a deviation from the planned followup to last weeks Carbohydrate Classifications article since I couldn’t get my head around the topic of GI and GL for this week to write anything or continue with the article.  Thankfully, a podcast I did with Juma Iraki of Iraki Nutrition was published today so I’ll cop out and link to it instead.

In this podcast, Juma and I discussed fat loss. Topics covered are:

1. What genetic and environmental factors can contribute to making fat loss more difficult for some people?

2. What is the difference between fat set points and settling points?

3. When combining high activity and low calories without seeing progress, what might be causing the stall?

4. How does leptin, ghrelin and cortisol affect body weight regulation?

5. Metabolic adaptations seem to affect some people more than others.  What are strategies that one can use during a fat loss period to reverse some of these adaptations to some extent?

If you just can’t get enough of my mellifluous voice, click here for more interviews and podcasts.


The Transition Phase Between Dieting and Gaining

I received a question in my mailbox having to do with manipulating calories and macronutrients for optimal transitioning from gaining to dieting phases and vice versa and this seemed like an excellent impetus to write about this topic in some detail.  Because while a lot of people tend to jump back and forth from one to the other (often, I think, spinning their wheels a bit), taking a more long-term approach, a nutritional periodization of sorts, can be beneficial in terms of working with rather than against the body’s inherent physiology.

Bulking to Dieting Transition Phase: The Pre-Diet Phase

Way back in the early days of bodybuilding you would hear physique athletes talk about a “hardening phase” which was meant as a transition from their off-season bulking to their contest diet.  Now, in hindsight, it probably had as much to do with switching out their drugs from heavy androgens to more anabolic compounds to reduce water retention but it basically entailed “cleaning up the diet” to prepare for the actual contest prep.    This was always kind of ill defined but probably had to do with food choices, taking out most of the junk and eating “cleaner” whatever that actually means.  Guys would report losing a bit of fat while still gaining a bit of muscle (perhaps the LTDGE which I really need to write about sometime although the switch in drugs was probably part of it too) and, well, hardening up.

And while this idea has sort of fallen out of favor, I think it has a lot of merit and bears revisiting.  I even wrote about it fairly extensively in the forthcoming, I swear it will be done this year, women’s book, although I called it the Pre-Diet Phase there.  This was meant to entail a 2-4 week span where calories were brought to estimated maintenance and training was adjusted to prepare for a formal dieting phase.

At least within the context of women’s dieting, this is primarily to keep women from doing what they too commonly do: cut calories way too hard and add too much cardio all at once which causes all kinds of problems.  Women can actually cause problems with menstrual cycle and thyroid function with as little as 5-7 days of excessive cardio and calorie restriction and the Pre-Diet Phase is structured to help avoid that by only allowing one or the other to change at once.