A good physique should be an asset, an asset of great value. It should bolster your confidence, impress your friends and support your life. However, for most, an impressive physique becomes a weighty anchor – a reason to skip social events, avoid alcohol and research their next training plan rather than spend a night with friends.
To some, such obsessive behaviour will seem foreign, ridiculous even. But those who really become absorbed by the pursuit of physical change will know all too well the problems that arise when trying to strike a balance between diet, training and being sociable. By their very nature, a “diet” or a “plan” involve distinct elements of control and measure, aspects you rarely observe in a restaurant or night club. For this reason the easy option would seem to be abstinence and it would be easy to argue that an active social life and high levels of performance (low body-fat or very impressive strength/power) don’t go hand in hand.
Sure, we all do this ultimately for ourselves, not to look good on the dance-floor, but it would be a very vain individual that was soley content with remaining indoors, surrounded by tupperware, pouting at the bathroom mirror. Most of us WANT to go out, enjoy ourselves and still have a great physique, we just falsely believe that we can’t do both and one always takes a hit.
This isn’t about depriving yourself, sitting at a table of gorging friends abstaining from any alcohol or food because it might not exactly fit your macros. It’s about being the enigma that seems to be ALWAYS eating out and ALWAYS drinking yet still sports vascular arms and a six pack. Or being the girl that never strays from the food she loves, yet always keeps her size 8 figure.
That’s what’s cool – the “effortless” look, the look that leaves family and friends dumbfounded, cursing your superior “genetics”.
However, despite outward appearances, genetics have nothing to do with success in this regard, it’s merely a simply understanding of metabolism and nutrition that allows metabolic roguery, jumping hurdles that cause most to trip and fall.
It’s important to appreciate that any social event involves one key variable, magnitude. This magnitude will determine the damage it could presents to a dieter and therefore the measures that we need to take in order to avoid it being an issue. There are many opportunities to socialise that may involve food as an option, here you can choose to indulge if you wish but it wouldn’t be considered a social requirement. There are others that centre around food, you’ll quickly be categorised as the ‘boring’ friend when you always forgo restaurants or birthday parties – come on guys, that simply isn’t cool. What’s more, you can go, have your cake….. and eat it.
These situations are interesting when you give them thought. Most people when probed would reply that they would feel pressured to overeat in a social situation. That said, next time you go out for food, observe what your non-weight training, non-dieting friends do – stuffing themselves? Unlikely. In my experience, most operate an impressive level of measure and restraint, more or less eating to satiety, they enjoy their food until they’re full at which point it quickly leaves their thoughts. Those who have been in the physique game for long enough have learnt the many faces of food – the anabolic friend that’s there when you need it and the lipogenic mistress tempting you at your every turn. I have no discussion of this point past mere anecdote but every weight training man or women I have ever come across struggles psychologically with the apparent “freedom” a break in the routine creates. “You mean there’s 4 types of cheesecake!! Holy F***!!!”. If this thought resonates with you then the answer to success may be simpler than you think – mimic your friends, choose something you like, eat until you are no longer hungry, then socialise and enjoy yourself. Just because you CAN indulge doesn’t mean you NEED to.
This said, I find this approach quite dull and it wouldn’t do to simply issue the advice “just eat less guys”, I like to be able to eat my fill and (like most who spend a few days a week under a barbell) have a hearty appetite that simply isn’t filled by a few slices of pizza or one course.
When faced with a situation involving a large (or several) meal(s). I employ the following strategies, some are influences from the Grandmaster himself, with my own “in the trenches” tweaks. Note, I only ever employ this when dieting for a photo shoot/holiday etc, otherwise I really don’t think it’s worth the stress, I simply go out, eat (more than) my fill and have fun.
I know the following:
- I know my caloric budget for the day, let’s say this is 2500kcal
- I know I will likely overeat, compared to my normal meals.
- I know food choices will be poor, in the sense they will be very calorie dense and have a poor satiety value. I will probably be difficult to count/track what I eat.
You need to create a caloric sink. Despite what you may immidiately assume, I don’t use these days as refeed opportunities. A refeed when done properly requires strict conditions and careful monitoring. This is not usually possible at such events. I actually normally relish nights where I eat “off” my regular diet, it affords novelty and keeps things fresh but its still a fairly normal day of dieting. What I mean by a caloric sink is skewing my caloric intake favorably around the event and widening my margin for error. For example, If my maintenance intake was 2500kcal (usually I’d try for a 500kcal deficit), I know that feasibly I could consume up to 2500kcal with no damage. This leaves a large margin for calorie consumption at whereever I’m going. So, to do this, I fast (save a splash or two of milk in my coffee) until an hour before the event.
(If the event is at lunch time or mid afternoon, I fast as usual and eat how I describe below at the meal. If my calorie goals are then filled for the day I usually fast for 24 hours (eat-stop-eat style) until the following lunch time or later. This keeps me on track and usually the fast is very easy.)
Next, I’ll consume a large protein bolus before heading out, along with some fibre and a litre of water. Personally I stick with a few chicken breast with salad leaves and a large shake with psyllium husk. This serves two purposes, I somewhat fill my protein requirement for the day and I attenuate any runaway hunger I may have from extending the fast past it’s usual hours.
Finally, I use the “eyeball” method. I’m not about to sit and track everything I consume at a resteraunt or party, meticulously calculating whether or not I can afford that 5th biscuit. Instead what I do is assume meals fall into 500kcal brackets. For example, a regular sandwich (500kcal), 2-3 small biscuits (500kcal), a small starter (500kcal). What’s important is most of these options are under 500kcal, but by rounding the number it becomes easier to create the building blocks of your evening.
This is extended to pizza (1500kcal), pasta dish with creamy sauce (1000kcal) etc etc. “eyeballing” is a skill, something you can practice. Try preparing a meal for yourself with different ingredients and guessing at the calorie content, then track the food and see how far off you were. You’ll eventually learn what different size meals contain. Obviously the method isn’t watertight, it requires sensible application, but it will create the illusion of eating ad libitum, allow you foods you love and make you savor meals out and other diet “opportunities”, not roadblocks.
Keep this strategy in your back pocket at all times and use it to your advantage as much as possible, if you can have fun and enjoy yourself socially on a diet your better off in every respect. Now, the next time your invited for food you can view the opportunity with gusto and anticipation rather than annoyance and defeat.