I don’t know too many people who actually enjoy dieting. The word itself just conjures up images of limp, steamed broccoli and dry, baked chicken. I can’t tell you how many times I almost died while choking on flavorless chicken that my body insisted on trying to reject mid-swallow. Dieting is dangerous. However, I don’t know too many people who aren’t interested in losing at least a few pounds of fat. There are a few tricks that you can use to enjoy the foods you love while still improving your body composition and gaining confidence.
The only way any diet (I really hate that word) works is by establishing a calorie deficit, or burning more calories than you consume. Paleo, Mediterranean, clean eating, vegetarian/vegan, it doesn’t matter for fat loss. You have to burn more than you consume. The problem with eating the tasty stuff is that it’s generally loaded with fats or sugars. You know, the stuff that actually makes it worth eating. Most people are well aware that a bowl of strawberries has significantly fewer calories than a bowl of strawberry ice cream, yet for dessert, most people are going to pick that ice cream. So knowing this, what can we do about it?
The first and easiest thing to do is just eat a smaller portion. Use a small glass instead of a heaping bowl. Use a teaspoon to eat it instead of a serving spoon. Actually take your time and enjoy it instead of shoveling it into your mouth as fast as you can. Eat it stress free, knowing that instead of getting a 600-700 calorie bomb that’s going to make you feel sick the next day from sugar overload you’re going to enjoy a 100-200 calorie treat that will satisfy your taste buds while not leaving your gut wrecked. This method works best for people who already have a pretty decent handle on their food intake and are already eating 80-90% clean, with plenty of protein and vegetables. This also works well with people who have some self control. If a small cup of ice cream inevitably turns into six small cups of ice cream, this might not be the best strategy for you.
The second strategy to try is more of a carb cycling approach. This method works better for people who are doing three to four fairly intense strength training sessions a week. Higher carbs are necessary for recovery, so on these workout days you can get away with a slightly looser food intake than on a non-training day. You want some pizza? Go for it. You want a burger? Chomp down. Again, there are some things you want to keep in mind. You have to be extra careful on non-training days to keep protein intake high while keeping carbs a bit lower. You still want to be getting some activity in on these days to help with energy expenditure. When feasting on pizza and burgers its really easy to overdo it. A couple slices of cheese pizza won’t derail your progress. A large meat lovers pizza will. A quarter or even a half pound burger is fine, especially when home made. A quadruple stack burger with extra large fries and a milkshake? Significantly harder to come back from. Remember, your day to day calorie fluctuations aren’t a progress killer, but if you can’t maintain that calorie deficit over the weeks or months, you won’t see progress.
A third way to go is intermittent fasting. It involves going for longer than normal spans of not eating in order to shorten the window in which food can be consumed. So instead of eating breakfast upon waking, you might not eat until noon, and then eat two to three meals between noon and 7 or 8pm. The thought process here is that it’s easier to stay in a calorie deficit while eating larger meals by simply reducing the time slot in which you allow yourself to eat. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in more information, feel free to check out Precision Nutrition’s article on intermittent fasting.
The last thing to try if none of these strategies sounds appealing is the old fake it method. Try a lower carb higher protein “ice cream” instead of the pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Make your own cauliflower crust pizza with low fat cheese instead of hitting up Pizza Hut for a stuffed crust pizza. Trying out new, healthy recipes that can be consistently used in place of the higher calorie meals might help satisfy those cravings while making you feel less constricted by your diet. I’ll be honest, this is my least favorite method. I will take the real thing over a knock off any day, but I’m also happy to put in the physical work to lessen the impact on my waistline. (It’s actually
half the entire reason I work out.) However, for those who can’t handle cheat meals without going off the rails, this is probably the best option.
A few notes before I wrap up. Any diet can help you lose fat, as long as 80-90 percent of the food that you’re putting into your body is healthy. Lean protein and vegetables should make up the bulk of your diet while healthy fats and complex carbohydrates compose a smaller amount. The actual ratio of fats to carbs isn’t set in stone, as different people are going to process both of these nutrients differently. The “good stuff” should be viewed as treats, and preferably accompany an intense workout. Eat well, train hard, and enjoy the results.
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