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Diet Periodization

Diets, we’ve all tried them with more or less success. But let me hit you with some scary facts first. Within 1 year of weight loss, about 80% of people will gain it all back. Within 2 years we are talking about 85% and within 3 years and over this number climbs up to 95%. So success rate of diets is about 5%. What makes the difference between a diet that is successful long-term or a diet that is only successful short-term and guarantees gaining the weight back, and more?

Enter: DIET PERIODIZATION

This concept has been long adopted by many athletes already, but very few people realize it’s very useful for your average Joe that wants to lose some pounds.

So what do we do when periodizing our diet? We start thinking about weight loss in a bigger picture. I’m sure you have a goal in mind that should be the end of your diet cycle (eg. losing 20lbs). But what’s your plan after? And how, in detail, are you trying to get there? Is your diet split into phases? Do you have a plan for each phase? Sounds complicated, I know, but try to stay with me here.

If you’ve been weight training you might understand a concept of periodization while trying to get strong. Let’s pick an example of a goal of 220lb back squat:

You have a starting point – let’s say your 1RM (1 Rep Max) now is 160lbs. We’re not going to load up a 220lb bar a tell you to squat it!. So we need to design a program that gets you to 220lbs over the course of weeks/months increasing and decreasing intensity as needed.

Now, let’s take this concept back to the diet world. To get you from 220lbs to your desired 160lbs of bodyweight, we are going to need a plan. A plan that uses periods of diet, recovery, reverse etc. to get you where you want to be over the weeks/months AND to make sure you stay within your goal weight.

PRE-DIET PHASE

First we have to make sure that you are actually ready to diet. Lot of people make a mistake of diving head down into the diet not realizing that it may not be the best option. Then they get discouraged because they don’t achieve the results they hoped for.

Before you decide to diet there are a few things to consider:

  1. Are you eating enough as it is?
    • You can’t pour from an empty cup. Meaning if you’ve already been eating in a caloric deficit for a long period of time, your body might be adapted to little food and your only way to make things better is to reverse diet (slowly add food and rebuild metabolism).
  2. Do you sleep enough?
    • One of the biggest enemies of weight loss is sleep, or the lack of sleep. Sleeping less than 7hrs daily can have a significant influence on your metabolic rate, your hunger levels and energy levels. I’m sure you’ve noticed that you feel more hungry or you tend to snack more after a bad night of sleep. And not just any snacks, we tend to reach for comfort foods – cookies, donuts, cakes, chocolate, ice cream etc.
      Although weight loss is possible on a little sleep, most weight comes from lean body mass (LBM), so your muscle mass. We build our LBM while recovering/sleeping. Lowering you LBM is lowering your metabolic rate, so you burn less energy overall and the vicious circle continues.
  3. How are your stress levels?
    • We live in stressful times. 24hrs in a day is not enough to get everything done and deadlines attack you from all sides. Add lack of sleep (see above) and you can have the best intentions and be perfect on your dieting but the weight stays the same.
      If you are going through a stressful period in your life, maybe dieting is not the best option at this point. Because no matter how you look at it, dieting and energy restriction is adding another stressor to your body that is already fighting with everything else in your life. So in order to introduce new stress in life, we need to get rid of the current stressors.
      High cortisol levels (stress hormone) over time can impact blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. So no matter how hard you try, your body is not stupid and in stressful times it will try to protect itself, thus making weight loss extremely difficult.

DIET PHASE

No stress in our lives, sleep has improved and we have been at our maintenance calories for months now. It’s finally time to diet!

This is probably the easiest phase that everyone has tried at least once. General rule: As long as you are in a caloric deficit, you will lose weight no matter which strategy you pick. But how long should you diet (be in a deficit)? It depends.

  1. As long as you still see changes in one of these areas, then keep going
    • Weight is still going down
    • Body composition changes
    • Change in measurements
  2. Weight loss has stopped, nothing has changed for a few weeks, maybe need to try something new (i.e. DIET BREAK)
    • No changes in any of the tracked markers
    • You are starting to feel fatigued, irritated
    • Energy is lower than usual
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Drop in performance
    • Increased stress

In case no. 2 it may be time for a DIET BREAK.

Diet breaks can be anywhere from 3 to about 14 days and are more or less optional. We increase calories up to the maintenance to repair any hormonal or metabolic damage caused by prolonged deficit. You can either plan your diet breaks or just “go by the feel”. General rule is: the longer you diet, the bigger the need for a diet break. For many people the general time frame to include a diet break is around 12 weeks of dieting. If you’re dieting for longer than 16 weeks, you should definitely implement these before continuing with a deficit.

RECOVERY PHASE

Something most people never even heard of. Let’s say you hit your goal of 20lbs lost. What do you do after? Go back to the old ways, forget you ever dieted and hope for the best? Wrong! This behavior is exactly what got us where we were before!

It’s time to recover. Remember, patience above all. So leave the celebrations for later because it’s still time to dig in.

When it comes to recovery phase we usually stay at the same intake that got us to our goal for a little while – 3-6wks usually. This is to ensure that our new body weight “gets registered” as the new set point and it will give your body some time to adapt to this new shape and form.

THE DIET AFTER THE DIET

It’s time to slowly bring the calories up. Wait, but it makes no sense, you’ll gain it all back up again! Not true.

See, the difference between, getting right back up to the same old habits prior to weight loss and this reverse diet is the controlled manner in which we go about it.

Every diet sooner or later decreses your metabolic rate. Goal of the reverse diet is to increase it once again so you can controlled your new weight more easily, eat more food without guilt, overall stay healthier and to also make sure that if you ever decide to go into a cutting phase again, you’ll have a perfect starting point.

I would go as far as to claim that reverse diet post weight loss is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. It prevents you to gain all the weight back and gets you out of dangerously low caloric state that can prove to be harmful down the road.

THE CONCLUSION

As you can see the diet phase itself is just one small piece of the puzzle and we all usually know that to lose weight we have to eat less. But what is more important is what you do after. Periodizing your weight loss will ensure that you not only lose weight successfully but you will also keep the weight loss for months and years.

– Zuzana Foldiova