With the onset of your cut, it's important to remember that it is just another phase of your fitness journey. Another step along a journey of many steps. As fat starts to shed it may be tempting to stay in this phase for the fat loss benefits. But rest assured, you'll find that over time if you cut too long or too deep, it will work against you rather than in your favor. So, what to do? Cue the diet break.
As the name suggests, a diet break is just that, a break from your diet and a return to maintenance or eating at TDEE. Diet breaks can come in several forms, from simply a cheat meal or a refeed day to a full diet break which can last for a couple of weeks.
WHY ARE DIET BREAKS NECESSARY
During your cut phase, cals are adjusted slightly below TDEE with a 5-15% deficit. When cals are reduced, your metabolic rate slows to accommodate the decreased intake. Similarly when fat loss or weight loss occurs, your metabolic rate can also be impacted. This slowing of the metabolic rate can, in turn, slow your fat loss. Quite the vicious cycle, I know. To add further insult to injury, if you stay too long in a deficit, your body will start to adjust and think your deficit is actually your new maintenance. When fat loss stalls you may instinctively want to decrease calories further, however, this could potentially do more harm than good. By taking a diet break, you help return your metabolic rate to normal as well as your hormone levels, all of which will aid the fat loss process once you return to eating at cut. Additionally, a diet break can also serve as a psychological break if you struggle with sticking with your plan.
WHEN TO TAKE A DIET BREAK
Diet breaks should be planned anywhere from 4-12 weeks of your cut phase and should last for 1-2 weeks. If you have a vacation, special occasion or even a stressful time ahead, this would be the perfect time to write a diet break into your schedule. After all, if you're vacationing you'll probably want to kick back, loosen up the diet strings a bit and enjoy a little indulgence. Why fight it? The same can be said for times of stress. Scheduling a diet break might lessen the load slightly.
HOW TO DO A DIET BREAK
As already mentioned, a diet break is a return to maintenance calorie intake. If you've adjusted your macros during your cut, you'll want to return these to maintenance levels as well. Carbs are generally the most manipulated macro during cut, so be sure to bring this back to normal. As usual, your protein shouldn't change much and should be at least 1g/lb bodyweight. Although cut phases should never be overly restrictive, if you are cutting back on any foods or macro groups, this is a great time for a comeback! Now, a diet break should not be confused with a free for all or an excuse to visit your local all-you-can-eat buffet. Stick to your maintenance cals and macros and you'll do fine.
Interestingly you may find that as you increase your cals for your diet break you may experience a whoosh or drop on the scale. This whooshing affect may be the result of water being released from fat cells which previously stored fat. You may also find that during your cut phase you weren't able to perform as well with some lifts due to the reduced cals and possibly lower carbs. If that was the case, you should find your strength return to normal during the diet break and return to maintenance cals and macros.
There are many reasons to incorporate planned diet breaks into your nutrition plan. From a physiological perspective, the full diet break is recommended as it allows your body to return to normal levels, which in turn can aid your fat loss efforts. From a psychological perspective, it's just nice to return to maintenance eating for a little while. With that said, it is strongly recommended for anyone doing a cut phase to include a full diet break at least every 12 weeks, if not more frequently, into your plan. While it seems counter-intuitive, trust that it will work in your favor in the long run.
I am a huge advocate for stress management and ridding your life of stress whenever possible.
Have a stressful relationship? Get rid of it. Have a stressful job? Quit. But there are times when you can't eliminate the stress, for example, when something tragic happens to you or a loved one, or in my case, you actually enjoy the thing that is wreaking havoc on your life.
For the better part of this year I have lead a project that was under staffed with an overly ambitious timeline. To keep my sanity, I've had to make a few adjustments to my normal routine.
Getall the sleep. As the project started to heat up, I made sleep my priority above all other activities, aside from the care of my family. When my sleep is off, everything is off. I start making bad decisions and am truly just rotten to be around. I have even had occasion to fall asleep during a meeting – my colleagues have the pictures to prove it! While 8 hours (or more) of sleep is ideal, I find I can get by on 6 when necessary, getting an additional few hours on the weekend. To ensure that I get my sleep on, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.
Tea in general is relaxing for me. I prefer a mint or jasmine green tea, but also drink chamomile when it's bedtime. Yogi Bedtime seems to do the trick if I'm feel particularly wound up.
Melatonin. I don't use it often, but when I'm having trouble staying asleep, I find that I get 8-10 hours of solid sleep and don't wake up groggy. Usually the following night's sleep is just as good.
When I have several ideas and/or to-dos bouncing around in my head right before bed, I know it's a recipe for broken sleep. So before going to bed, I do a brain dump by either writing down or creating a voice memo of all these things. This way I'm not worrying that I won't remember them and waking up hours earlier than I should.
Let it go. Don't be afraid to let things go. My training regimen is down to one strength session per week. Yup, just one. I could push myself and ‘get it in', but I know myself well enough to know that I'd be risking injury. In order to get in more training sessions, I'd have to rob my sleep and that is not an option at present. As an alternative, I make sure I maximize my NEAT throughout my day, walking to work, taking the stairs two at a time, etc. It's what I can manage at the moment and it helps me to still feel active.
Find something that relaxes you. A friend turned me on to Ultimate Yogi over the summer. Of the 14 or so classes, I really only do one – Gentle. This routine relaxes my body and mind like nobody's business. If I could, I'd do it daily. Whether it's yoga, meditation or a soothing bath, find something that helps you to unwind, both mentally and physically.
Eat good. Don't let stress be an excuse for a poor diet. While I'm not tracking my food currently, another one of those activities that I had to let go, I still manage to eat to my plan…most days. Under normal circumstances, I prepare about 80% of my snacks & meals. Nowadays, it's closer to 50%. However, I keep some prepared foods on hand, such as Trader Joe's lightly seasoned grilled chicken, pouches of tuna and salmon. Simply add some veggies, salsa, and avocado for a great meal in minutes. Similarly, when ordering in, I order something similar to what I might have prepared. For snacks, I keep fresh fruit, turkey jerky, quest bars and other protein supplements within my reach.
My project is in the home stretch, as they say. I'm rounding third and can almost taste the normalcy. For the past few weeks or so my work days have averaged between 12-15 hours, but amazingly, I don't feel stressed. I miss my normal, but I'm practicing patience knowing that it is not far away.
In the past, I would have been consumed with not gaining weight during this time, ‘working out' at the same level to maintain a scale number and keeping my cal intake low. Even though my training volume has been reduced substantially, my calorie intake has not changed. My strength is good and I am even hitting a few PRs. My mind is clear and focused. So much of my ability to get through this period is simply due to a better understanding of how my body works and what its needs are. After two years of EM2WL, it still proves itself to me over and over again. I miss my beloved iron that I only visit once a week, twice if I'm lucky, and my EM2WL peeps. It has been a roller coaster of a year, but I'm still thriving!
Well this has been a long time coming. I've been meaning to sit down and put all of what's been happening with me for the last year, since my transformation story, on paper. So much has transpired I'm trying to decide exactly where I should begin.
Ok, I'll start from July of last year, I went to Jamaica to celebrate my bff's 40th and had an absolute blast! I was at the tail end of my metabolic reset, in which, I had only gained four pounds. I totally enjoyed all the fine delicacies and didn't count a thing. I was on vacation, loving every minute of it and I vowed I would never ever ever diet on vacation again. I know I ate a surplus some days, the food was amazing and I was determined to try everything. I got back and had gained all of ZERO pounds. WHAT???? So back to Cathe STS Meso 3 and over the rest of the summer I was lifting heavy and eating at cut.
Nov. 2012 – Back to post baby weight & devastated
I noticed the end of September, my weight started creeping up slowly. Since I was lifting heavy and eating right, I tried not to become concerned. Well, my son transitioned to wearing a pump to manage his diabetes, and I didn't have one full nights sleep for over three weeks. I had to get up every three hours to check his blood sugar. You talk about exhausted… 9pm, 12am, 3am, 6am every single night. By the top of November I had an extra 20lbs and I couldn't believe how I'd gone from toned and svelte to thick and fatty. I just knew it had to be my thyroid, and though my numbers looked fine, I decided to switch from synthetic to a natural thyroid replacement pill. My numbers plummeted and though in cut mode the weight didn't budge. I was back to my after baby weight and all the muscles I was so proud of, seemed to disappear into oblivion. You talk about devastated…
I felt everything people would write me about…frustrated, scared, anxious, and obsessed with that scale. I couldn't understand how I went from nicely toned with just a wee bit of fat to shed, to a thick girl with layers of adipose tissue that seemed here stay! During the next few months the doctor and I worked on getting my thyroid level right. Though the temptation was there to slash calories drastically, I absolutely refused. I ate at a small deficit 10-15% and took off an extra 200 to account for the low thyroid. Lifting and cutting and still nothing moved much. Well the cutting business, wore on my nerves, so back to TDEE I went. I figured if I wasn't losing or gaining at cut or TDEE then why not enjoy my food???
Fat starting to come off – noticing muscle gains (20lbs heavier)
So, I believe it was March or April, I'm still looking for answers since my thyroid numbers were now level. Goodness, though I'd shed a few pounds, I was stuck at 170lbishhhhhhh. During my hunt for some type of viable explanation, I found a Sweaty Betties vid, on adrenal fatigue. Things started to make sense. Severe stress, lack of sleep, growing older can all contribute to causing adrenal fatigue. Lord knows I was sleep deprived, and the start of the gain was when I was getting up all through the night….ahhhhh haaaaaaaa! Light bulb blew up…lol… I mean for weeks no sleep and I was absolutely stressed in general with family issues, plus the strain of my full time job and my 2nd job that I love, EM2WL. Well, I read and watched more vids and started the supplementation suggested, but, I was still having sleeping issues. I found that my free T3 was a bit too high so we backed down on the thyroid med a little bit.
Ok, so now I'm sleeping ok, thyroid numbers are good, I'm lifting heavy, I invested in the Body Media Fit (boy did I underestimate my numbers, but that's for another blog, in time…lol), eating at small cut, starting to see some fat loss but still stuck in my big clothes. So, I decided to take some pictures and bam, I see some muscular maturity…more dense muscle than when I was at 154lbs. Yes still almost 20lbs heavier but I could see that all the gain wasn't just lumpy fat, but that there was some nice growth that transpired unbeknownst to me. I got excited and then the brain starts saying over and over…”now it's time to shed all the excess fat so you can start wearing some of your smaller stuff…aren't you sick of wearing the same three jeans?” Oh my gosh, I then became obsessed about the numbers…YES!!! Exactly what I type a few times a day to others, NOT to do!
More mature muscle and v-taper development
After whining to the Kikster one day, I realized, I was causing myself unnecessary stress and I said that is it! No more scale…No more logging… and NEW CLOTHES BABY! Oh yes, the sausage queen went into retirement. I hit the outlets and bought nice fitting jeans. Matter of fact, I went all out and bought tops too, even though my top size didn't change, hey, I went for the gusto. Feeling good again because a sausage I was not any longer…lol. My plan was to weigh in after a month, but now way over a month later, I have no desire to step on the scale. Listen, during my no scale or logging time..whew, I haven't been stressed about a single number. And logging for over a year has taught me how to hit numbers,macros, blah blah. So no sweat there either.
lost 1/2 inch in waist…I'll take it
What's been happening since? All the jeans I bought are looser…tehehe. The ones I'm wearing today were a bit snug when I bought it. I could hear Kiki's voice saying, ” Now the purpose of your shopping trip is to “desausage”…why are you going to buy those sausage makers?” LOL. I know I should have left them right there, but they were on too good of a sale. Oh so glad to report they fit smashingly today. Also, the break from all the tracking has allowed me to shift my focus to physical goals. I've always wanted to dead lift and squat my weight. My lift sessions have gone to another level. Not worrying about all the tracking keeps me nice and mellow. I also decided to stop dwelling and focusing on the negatives…I wish I looked like this, look at that lump, why can't I see a striation here or there yet…blah, blah, and negative blah. Now, I congratulate myself on new feats tackled and I point out the positive changes I see in my friend, the mirror.
Ok, ok, ok, so I can't tell you I've lost x,y, or z, BUT, I can tell you I've lost a half inch off my hips, waist, and thighs. I can say I surpassed my dead lift goal, met the squat goal, and I'm blowing past other personal records during my lift sessions. I can also see a nice progression which others have noticed too. I have also conquered the hardest part of the journey…the mental voyage. And lastly, I can say I'm enjoying the stress-free non-tracking lifestyle and appreciating every positive thought I now have about me:-)
Q: I'm seriously getting discouraged. I've tried EVERYTHING, and it doesn't work. Even the things that you've said. I feel like I've been stuck since the holidays. I originally had my cals set at 1200, I was losing ok until the holidays then I hit a serious plateau after falling off the wagon, w/my holiday eating. I tried to get right back on track in Jan, but the scale wouldn't budge. So I added a bit more cardio to see if that would help. After a couple weeks I got frustrated, and the extra cardio was making me SO hungry. I kept reading about people upping their cals, and since I was starving, and it seemed to make sense, I upped mine to 1400. February, I read your posts about bulking, and figured since I wanted to gain some muscle, and wasn't seeing results w/low cals, I'd just focus on muscle building. So I upped my cals to 2300 and started lifting heavier in addition to my 60 minutes of cardio 5xs a week, which, after a week, I saw you tell someone that that was too much cardio, so I cut back. But I kept lifting heavy like you said. I was hoping to see some good muscle definition, but I just felt like I was getting bigger. After 2-3 weeks I couldn't see any of my muscles, even the ones that I could see before. So I couldn't take it anymore , I had to add the cardio back in, because, I think I need more than most people. Plus I know that you just don't like cardio, so that's your reason for not doing it. I also just really felt like I was eating WAY too much, and had to drop my cals, but I only reduced them to 2000, nothing crazy. I also decided to try out Paleo, because a lot of my friends are seeing success with it, to see if it would help me break my plateau, and with Paleo, I find it harder for me to get in more than 2000 cals. But in March, the weather just started getting so warm, that I dropped my cals to start my cut. I just couldn't take bulking anymore, and I HAVE to get the weight off and start losing weight, I really wanna be able to rock tank tops and shorts this year. So I set my cals at 1600, and switched to higher rep weight workouts, and I read that HIIT cardio is better for weight loss, so I'm doing that now. But now I just saw that low-intensity cardio is actually better for fat burning? I'm just so confused and getting frustrated with it all! NOTHING is working!!
A: Wow! That was a mouthful, girl, lol. I certainly feel your frustration, it can be tough when you're trying to find the key that will make it all click for you. And you certainly have tried it all…
Your body doesn't know whether it's coming or going. Seriously, hun, not to knock your willingness to try new things, tweak here and there to find what works for you, and even listen to me (bonus points for that one)…but, you have to pick a plan and stick with it. Your consistency with any one program is key to finding out if it will work. But trying out 18 different things at once, and not giving any of them enough time, will only keep you in a cloud of confusion…with nothing to show for your efforts, including losing weight.
When you add in too many things at once, you have no idea which thing worked/didn't work. Be wary of changing certain eating and workouts aspects at the same time, if they are both a change to your current routine. Say you're currently doing no cardio, yet lifting weights 3 times a week and you decide that you'd like to see how your body would react to a larger deficit. You elect to lower cals or add in cardio. Pick one. Doing both at the same time, not only brings on a myriad of other issues that I've already written about, but confuses you when/if you see a drop on the scale that week. Which caused the drop? Less food? The cardio? Both?…Or worse, was a drop prevented due to the combo?
Also, consider not doing too many changes with your food at once. A few examples would be:
eliminating entire food groups (meat/dairy/grains),
changing macros considerably (low carb, low fat),
If you did them all at the same time, how will you have any idea which is working/not working? Suppose you only needed to change one of those things, but…because you start seeing results, you have to keep them all changed, because no one thing was pinpointed. So, now you put yourself in the position to either have started something that you can't finish– setting yourself up for failure because it's just too hard– or resign yourself to living a life of unnecessary deprivation.I know that it's hard because there is just SO much info out there, and we're constantly inundated with what others are doing that's “working” for them, but that doesn't change the basic tenant of fat loss. Consistency. There will always be a plethora of methods, techniques, and waves of thought that will pique your interest, but that does not mean that you throw all caution to the wind and jump on every bandwagon that comes your way…especially all at once.Yes, you should be willing and prepared to change your current regimen if it's not working. Yes, you should be willing to listen with an open mind when someone presents an aspect of health/weight loss/training that is completely different from what you've been doing (especially when it is backed by sound research). Yes, your regimen should be ever changing, like the seasons of the year. Long enough to enjoy, yet ending just as you've become acclimated, with the promise of return in it's due time.
It should not be like a celebrity marriage, ending before it even begins. Doomed from the start because there are way too many outside forces involved, with the “newest” thing just awaiting the opportunity to catch your eye and lead you astray.
We all need to take the time to become in-tuned with our bodies and understand what action leads to what result. This ONLY comes from taking time with each individual change to understand the bodies reaction to it, see if it leads in the desired direction. Yet at the same time realizing that quick fixes will NOT last forever. So, when you hear something that sounds interesting, and you'd like to give it a try, take a moment and evaluate:
How long have I been doing what I'm currently doing?
Is what I'm currently doing working?
How does this “new” thing differ from my “current” thing?
How long is it taking other people to receive results using this new method? (max and minimum amount of time) And what are those results?
How much time am I willing to dedicate to this method?
What changes, relative to my weight/height/body composition/bodyfat % am I hoping to see?
How will I feel if I put in 4-6 weeks with this method and receive/not receive the results that I want? (Remembering that some changes require longer commitments than others)
If I find that this plan/method/idea works, for me/I'd like to give it longer than 4-6 weeks, how will I incorporate it in with other things that I've found to “work” for a fully comprehensive, personalized to me program?
Allowing yourself the time and thought process such as this, will not only help to steer you from the “lose 10 lbs in 10 days” nonsense mentality promoted by mass media, but will help you to be more prepared for adapting your regimen to different methods that you find yourself wanting to try. Giving yourself guidelines ahead of time, will also aid in keeping you committed and calm with your new changes, instead of second guessing yourself within a week, running to a new “tweak” or compounding on the current one. It will also help you to evaluate, how/if to incorporate it in with other changes that you've found that work. You may find many things that “work” along the way, but is not necessary to try/attempt them all (especially all at once). It is also, of the utmost importance, to always have the elusive “trump card.” In the dieting industry, these are known as “stubborn fat loss” methods. Don't dive into these too soon in your journey, as “stubborn” means that you should already be fairly lean (as in visible abs), and are trying to get the last vanity pounds to move (as in competition or photoshoot lean). These techniques are NOT for the general fat loss community with lots of fat to lose.
In the game of fat loss, you NEVER want to throw all your cards on the table, from the jump.
Keep things fresh, always have a plan, but…always have another trick up your sleeve.
STOP Spinning your wheels and Get OFF the Rollercoaster!
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