As for some causal Sunday reading, we return to T-Nation and a new article by Chris Shugart based on a failed study where researchers looked at three idiotic strategies for fat loss.
Chris Shugart summarized the study by asking three questions as to how to approach fat loss. These three questions were:
- Drop calories immediately to the lowest, safest level and suck it up?
- Drop calories just a little below maintenance intake and wait patiently?
- Drop calories a bit every couple of weeks, working your way down to an aggressive deficit?
Shugart then continued; “With the first approach, you probably expect to lose more fat and uncover those abs faster. With the second, more relaxed approach, you don’t expect rapid results, but it beats being really hungry all the time. The third approach is somewhere in the middle.
What works best? That’s what researchers wanted to find out in this study.”
Well, all three approaches are idiotic. The most common one in the fitness industry is simply somewhere between 1 and 2 combined with “cheat days” or “refeed days” as some coaches prefer to call them to sound more “scientifically” aligned.
In other words, they lower energy intake somewhat drastically and then they eat pretty much whatever they want on, for example, Saturday. While they claim that this will counter metabolic slowdown, it’s a great way to introduce eating disorders and for some, the acute poisoning from eating total crap, and the sugar cravings the day after make them binge eat well into Sunday as well.
The problem with reducing food intake below “maintenance levels” is that your body adapt within days, lowering your metabolic rate and also your desire to actually move around, the “X factor” as in spontaneous movement. You use less energy in rest, and you move less without realizing it, and thus expending a lot less energy in total – and all that while suffering from eating less and getting hungry and experiencing cravings due to nutrition deficiencies (because your diet plan sucks.)
As I mentioned many times. Most people do not consume enough animal-based foods even when in energy surplus, which are our only source of bioavailable nutrients – our only way to get what we need to optimally sustain health. Reducing your food intake, if you do not consume solely meat, animal fat and organ meats will lead to nutrient deficiencies. And a body with nutrient deficiencies will slow down or even halt many biological functions and it will also constantly give you signals of hunger and cravings to increase the likelihood of you eating something that will actually nourish you.
Now as you probably can imagine, the third option with slowly decreasing food intake every couple of weeks is pure murder. First weeks might be fine as the lack of food is not that great, and you might have some stored nutrients in your organs to rely upon. But as you start to develop nutrient deficiencies, you at the same time continue to decrease your food intake, which also means that you further and further slow down your metabolism, make your hormones plummet, accelerating your deterioration. Well, there are actually coaches out there using this approach. Total insanity.
Shugart did a good enough job of summarizing it in his article, so let’s simply see what he wrote.
“Researchers divided 14 weight-lifting women into two groups with either an aggressive or moderate caloric deficit. Both groups logged their meals using a macro-counting app and followed the same training program.
- The Aggressive Dieting Group: Right off the bat, these women dropped their calories low (25 kcals per kg of FFM or fat-free mass) and were told to stay there for 8 weeks. This is called “constant” dieting.
- The Moderate Dieting Group: These women started their diets with a modest calorie drop (40 kcals/kg FFM), lowered cals every two weeks, and finished the final two weeks like group one: 25 kcals/kg FFM. This is called “progressive” dieting.
Using a hypothetical woman weighing 145 pounds with 22% body fat:
If she were in the aggressive/constant group, she’d consume 1300 calories every day.
If she were in the moderate/progressive group, she’d consume 2320 calories in the first two weeks, drop roughly 250 calories every couple of weeks, and finish the final two weeks at 1300 daily calories.”
Which Group Had the Best Results?
In theory, the fist group would have experienced somewhat greater fat loss result as they had a much greater energy deficit over the course of the experiment, and they would also have lost more muscle mass, as they would actually be starving.
However, the study failed and the moderate/progressive group lost a bit more body fat (-3.75 pounds) compared to the aggressive/constant group (-2.6 pounds,) simply because the aggressive-group could not keep up with the severe restriction and cheated, as found by checking their food logs. With that said, self-report nutritional records are prone to error, especially when you are suffering so much that you cheat and actually record some of it. In other words, many of them probable ate even more than what their logs showed, because they were too embarrassed to log all of it.
So, any kind of severe food restriction will ultimately lead to cheating, and that is out of survival as you quickly become malnourished and your body is desperately signaling you to eat more 24/7.
How to Use This Info
Shugart recommended to choose “whatever ‘flavor’ of calorie deficit is the most sustainable.” Then he added, “for most people, that’s a 300-500 calorie deficit with a high protein intake for best results.”
Of course, after that statement he plugged their protein powder once again, as he does in every single article.
He also added that a “non-linear” approach might be the best choice, as in food restriction for five days and then above maintenance for two days, focusing on “good food choices.” And yes, I’ve covered this approach in several articles and it’s slightly better than any of the above, or the regular bro-science diets used in bodybuilding or fitness.
With that said, food restriction will always lead to a decrease in metabolic functionality as well as disturbed hormone levels, simply because you do not get enough nutrients for the body to work optimally. The only way that approach would work is if you only consumed small amounts of nutrient-dense animal foods like organ meats, ruminant meat, egg yolks, and some animal fats. But why restrict yourself is such a manner when there are better and much simpler ways?
Now, fasting on the other hand is protective, as the body turns to autophagy (recycling of damaged cells) while actually increasing hormone production, at least for a short while (5 to 7 days, then it will decline, but fasting for that long for fat loss is dumb anyway.) When fasting, your muscle mass is initially protected and your growth hormone skyrockets, allowing you to utilize body fat stores for energy even more efficiently.
So, the best approach to fat loss is to eat normally and then fast two days a week. Extremely simple. Actually, it’s so simple that most people would not need coaches, and especially not supplements. Hence, people like Shugart will never recommend it, because there is no money to be made.
Many of my readers already know how to do this, as most information is already available on this website for free. Most of what you need to know about our species-specific way of eating is covered, what is really important for health, as well as the best ways to lose body fat safely and effectively.
Still, I do offer coaching for fat loss as I also have bills that needs to be paid. While I love to share knowledge and help people for free as much as possible (and I do every morning,) it does not keep a roof over my head, nor me and my family fed. With that said, my coaching programs are full-fledged personalized educational guides, teaching you everything about real human nutrition and how to progress and thrive after your goals has been reached. So, some of my clients simply wish to learn more, put all that information into something structured, and get new ideas how to better organize their lives, while others want some more information while simultaneously giving back for everything they’ve learned from my website by hiring me.
Of course, if you’re a trainer or coach, or if you already have a good idea about all of this but have some specific areas that you are concerned about, I also offer consulting sessions.
Now, go on and have a great day!