Sometimes, even before we begin our efforts towards attaining our fitness goals, we are wondering about cheats and breaks. This is a practical approach in a sense, because we are all human and we cannot function like machines or programs do. So this article is intended to address:
- How we should ideally set our goals and expectations in a realistic and beneficial manner before we plan to achieve it
- What can motivate us all the way to success?
- Once we have a goal and a plan, what about cheats?
- What is a diet break and what is its purpose?
Setting real goals
How much is too much?
For losing fat, a goal of 0.7% to 1% of your body weight should be the upper end of your weekly goal. If you add strength training into your plan, and you are a beginner at it, you will probably gain muscle too which will further reduce the change you will see in the scale. This should not discourage you. Infact, you are progressing at an amazing pace when this happens. You have the first 6 months of your strength training time to lift to your limits and gain muscle at a rapid pace.
For advanced lifters, it is generally impossible to gain muscle on a calorie deficit. Make good use of this time termed as “newbie gains” and few months later you will wow everyone with the amount of inch loss you get, the amount of strength you build, better immunity, drop in cloth sizes and overall quality of life.
For gaining muscle, the average rate is about 0.4-0.8kg per month for men and 0.2-0.4kg per month for women. If you are gaining weight at a more rapid pace, chances are that you are gaining fat.
Loose skin and stretch marks
When you intend to lose a lot of weight, these are often concerns for you. If you lose weight fast, your body does not get a chance to tighten the skin accordingly. Even if you lose weight according to the guidelines above, it is possible to end up with loose skin. Strength training can increase the muscle under the loose skin and give it a better appearance.
However, there will be areas where you can’t possibly fill up all the skin with muscle (eg: belly area or breast area). Many do claim that chest exercises help reduce breast sag, but it is not scientifically proven. There are many “remedies” claiming to reduce stretch marks, and while it is always good to moisturize and massage the skin, there is no proof that these remedies really work.
So you can take of yourself by moderating the speed of your progress and giving your skin, good nutrition and care. Still if you don’t do away with these issues, you should see them for what they indicate. They indicate your persistence and patience and success.
It is very real that motivation cannot be sustained all the time. You see something or hear something motivational and you get really charged up to pursue your goals. After a while you see something tempting or just feel lazy and tired and dump your goals. Is this what happens to you? How do we really overcome this? I would say there are two ways and you can do both together.
Firstly, if external motivation is really important for your progress, you have to devise ways to make sure you get your dose whenever you are low. Use your community, social media and your home or office cubicle for this. Make sure you spend time with people who are positive influencers. Use Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter to fill your feeds with fact-based content that address your goals. Find what seems to always motivate you and stick those pictures around your house, download the sound bites that help you and put them on your playlists. Shut down anyone who creates negativity around you. Its ok to “be rude” and tell them to stop talking/judging because they demotivate you. You are not obligated to listen to everything everyone says. If they persist, put on headphones. 🙂 You have to protect your goals and your drive.
Secondly, chuck motivation. It’s so unreliable and it depends on your hormones and circumstances. You don’t skip brushing your teeth just because there is no motivation, right? Build habits that work. Go at it like clockwork. Refuse to listen to cravings and mood swings. Ask any person who has a transformation story you admire. They would have had days they just didn’t want to do stuff but they did it anyway for their goals. Remember why you started and remember that you can’t lose if you don’t quit.
Cheats and Costs
Intelligent people tend to cheat and skirt the rules where patience and persistence is required. Intelligence can give you shortcuts to attaining many other goals in life such as money or power or efficiency. However, fitness is something which one cannot attain with intelligence alone. There is no shortcut to lose fat or gain muscle. Some cultures value physical fitness even in intellectual work positions that seems compulsive and judgemental today. However, one of the main justifications they provide for this is that attaining and maintaining physical fitness requires a level of discipline and patience which are traits that they value.
So regarding cheats in diet,
- Stop obsessing over cheats. Focus and plot for compliance and adherence. Make use of your intelligence to creatively address your need for variety and distraction without cheats.
- Stop accepting your own excuses for cheats. You are just fooling yourself off your potential. Find a way around your constraints. Everyone has constraints. Constraints apply to you career, study, child care, home care and even gaming. Yet, if it matters to you, you find a way around it. Fitness is the same. Remember, the only time when there will be no constraints on you, will be when you are dead.
- Cheats don’t just rob you of progress towards a fit body. They leave you frustrated why all your efforts do not show the results you wish for. They rob you of your trust in yourself and in the fact that you can do nigh anything if you set your mind at it. Don’t end up with an inner voice that says “Yeah, right” in a sarcastic way when you define your goals. Shut that voice up and stop cheating.
- Everyone falls. Everyone stumbles. Even the best of the best. Whether you sit there feeling guilty and pathetic or rise up and move forward with renewed commitment… that will define how far you go.
Have you ever played a sport or a game or even led an attack or a defense with a high drive to win and persist? The basic thing to do is to play to your strengths and cover your rear(weaknesses) and manage it by good strategies designed to overcome situations that are bound to happen.
Fitness goals are the same. Make sure you plot against your cravings or human weaknesses. Protect and project your strengths. If you fail, analyze the failure and plot your defense and play again without giving in to negativity.
For example, if you typically find your resolve breaks under work stress or relationship issues, figure out how you can control the damage and persist. Maybe you reach for a big bag of nuts, maybe a few samosas,… things you cannot afford to add to your diet chart. So don’t wallow in guilt. Plot against this situation for the future.
Find things that you find appealing and can add to your chart. Keep those options handy. Don’t fight your urges more than you must. Give in a little without surrendering and adjust it at dinner or the next day. Appreciate yourself whenever your strategies succeed and even when the fail. We fight and if we can’t win, we live to fight another day.
Diet breaks are typically taken after 3-6 months of strict calorie deficit when you have achieved some progress but recently things have not been moving at a great pace and you are really struggling to keep at it. It consists of a few weeks(or a couple of months) where you eat around maintenance calories and allow your body and mind to reduce the stress introduced from a term of continuous caloric deficit. There are both psychological and physiological implications for a long term caloric deficit. Diet break allows your body to balance out the threat perceptions and gets it ready for your 2nd innings.
During the break, you still monitor your body and workout, but you do so without hoping to see a drop in weight or measurement. You enjoy your maintenance phase, enjoy better progress at workout(because of higher intake). You could even try reverse dieting to slowly revert any metabolic adaptations. While some amount of laxity is ok to introduce in the diet tracking, be careful to monitor so that you go not end up gaining a lot of weight. Your body’s natural satiety cues could be unreliable for a while after a long deficit. After your break, you will be able to better push yourself towards your goals.