Q: I'm confused. Some people who are EM2WL say they zig zag their cals, but yet they tell newbies to eat the same thing everyday. I think one of your videos even says not to zig zag cals. Which one is it? Is zig zagging calories bad somehow?
A: You're right, we have published a few articles and vids that caution people to hold off on zig zagging calories straight out of the gate (first few weeks). EM2WL gets a lot of newbies who are recovering from an Eating Disorder (ED) or ED-like mentality, as well those who are not fully convinced of the process. So we will often recommend to those who are new and coming from extreme deficits that zig zagging calories can send their body mixed messages. (Much of EM2WL research is rooted in ED recovery — including severe caloric restriction — as well as metabolic damage).
This isn't so much that the zig zagging itself is an issue (zig zagging that centers around TDEE is a good thing). The issue is that when people who have not fully grasped the EM2WL philosophy decide to “zig zag,” they tend to do so drastically (i.e. 3000 one day, 1100 the next, unlike your more sensible zig zagging). Because of this, their body will view it as binges, and then holds on to the extra from the high days. Many will use the “zig zag” concept as an excuse to be only “half-in” — they will eat more a few days per week, randomly, but still net below BMR on other days. Then they bloat, retain water, feel sick, or gain weight, and blame EM2WL. Their body never fully grasps/trusts that they are going to feed it properly (or regularly) and reacts accordingly.
Because of this, they don't trust that eating more will “work” for them, and they run back to low cals.
Eating as close as possible to their new calorie goal (with enough carbs, and far enough above BMR), for the first few months, will help many people to avoid this scenario. Choosing to stay consistent in the beginning helps:
- newbies accept the mindset of eating more
- ultra restrictive dieters to get used to netting above BMR
- those who need more time, room to slowly get cals/carbs up to a reasonable level (rather than jumping 1000 cals up, bloating like crazy, getting scared and quitting)
- under-nourished bodies to adapt and accept that their caregiver will eat enough,and be willing to let go of the extra that it's been hoarding due to fear of starvation.
When a person incorporates zig zagging calories or other methods later in the journey, they will likely still eat enough overall cals, and their body will have no prob with the higher/lower cal days, because they are still within reasonable range.
Make sense? I know that zig zagging is a big key for many veterans in the EM2WL fam, so we don't want to minimize, shun, or call it “bad.” However, when we are dealing with such a wide variety of people, we try to suggest the safest method possible for everyone. The lack of consistency in eating the right amount (and types) of cals is what actually hurts many in the beginning if they aren't smart about it. But, once most people get used to eating enough, vets find that they naturally zig zag anyway:
- they have have learned to listen to their body – and understand that some days will simply be “eat-all-the-food*” days – so they just take a TDEE day (highly recommended)
- many find that they are hungrier on workout days (especially lifting!) & they eat back exercise cals or increase carbs to re/pre-fuel
- many don't log their workouts, so depending on the burn, their net cals are different each day, and they purposely eat according to the level of activity that day
- many move toward a lifestyle of no longer logging their food (which is the ultimate goal), and follow their innate hunger cues (once they can be trusted again)
- they feel NO guilt for doing so, because they understand that eating for fuel must coincide with life, and that restriction when ravaged with hunger only leads to a binge later
Basically to keep the process as simple as possible, we just say eat the same thing every day until you and your body have adapted to the fact that you will be eating more from now on. Once firmly rooted, adjust to your lifestyle. When coaching so many people, keeping it basic/simple helps a TON, because everyone's lifestyle is so different. Some prefer zig zag, but others despise it because eating exactly the same works best for their schedule.
It's all about making it work for you.
*”Eat-all-the-food” days are exactly as they sound: days where you feel like you could eat the house. It's best not to fight your body on these days and force a cut. Restriction typically begets binges. Give yourself a full TDEE day, and allow yourself to eat up to, and even over TDEE. You will likely find that you not only prevent yourself from a major binge later, but that by simply giving yourself permission to eat, you may not be as hungry as you thought. And hey, if you truly are that hungry, at least your body knows that it can trust you to listen.