So far in this series so far we have:
Discussed what metrics to track and why
Learned how to ensure you’re losing a strong ratio of fat to muscle
Discussed how to distil your goal down into numbers and we now have a mapped out timeline of how long the process will take.
You’ve also hopefully got some macro and calorie goals too.
So, all set!
This, I suppose, is where the process starts to become a little murky and typically, this is where most people fail.
Because now you actually have to go out into the real world and take action.
Of course, over the first few week, you’ll probably have no problem sticking to the process. If you went through the goal setting process in part 2, I’d venture that you’re likely feeling quite positive and upbeat.
Usually, 8-12 weeks is all that is needed for someone to make drastic changes to their leanness and when you frame it in that way, “it’s just 2-3 months”, we usually think it doesn’t sound too bad.
Eventually and with predictable regularity, there are a few obstacles that everyone faces on a diet:
Social temptation is your standard “we’re getting a takeaway tonight, fancy one?” when you don’t have the calories scenario.
Personal temptation Is when you convince yourself that skipping a session is OK, when going a few hundred calories over your daily target for the sake of an extra slice of cake isn’t that bad, you need to live a little after all.
Engrained habits are the biscuits you always have with your coffee and the syrup and cream you’ve always had in your latte that are hard to break away from.
When faced with these decisions on day 1, you’ll gracefully decline, remembering the goal at hand and feeling dedicated to succeed.
3,5 and 10 weeks in however, there are two factors that will always work against this depleting willpower and discipline.
Your hunger and your mind.
These two things are, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes
“the fly in the ointment, the crack in the lens”
They are what stand between hitting your targets and stringing together days of effective actions and habits…and where you currently are.
As the amount of time you’ve been dieting increases you’ll start to experience hunger pangs that become unbearable and insatiable.
You’ll start to self-rationalise, justify and obsess.
Learning to manage these two factors the KEY to managing a sustainable and realistic fat loss diet.
After all, when all is said and done, everything else is just theory. If you’re unable to handle what actually happens in the trenches when fat-loss starts to slow and hunger prevents you from falling asleep. No amount of research reviews and data will help you.
You need some strategies to manage, overcome and prevail
Why hunger derails you and how to manage it
Before I begin, Yusef recently wrote a huge resource on hunger and satiety as well as how to manage it.
This is a brief summary and some additional tips.
In short, hunger is simply your drive to eat and ultimately, to feel satiated, we don’t need a hugely complex explanation here. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we’ve all experienced hunger at some point or another.
It is unfortunately a rather complex mechanism influenced by mechanical factors, hormonal factors, food choice and behaviour. There is no quick fix to just “stop” hunger.
If you’ve never been successful with a fat-loss diet before, I’d imagine hunger and food cravings played a big part in your downfall.
As you get leaner, hunger can increase in magnitude and become more unpredictable. You may find yourself feeling hungry immediately after a large meal for example or craving very specific salty foods.
Hunger will exaggerate the issues brought to the table by social temptation, personal temptation and engrained habits.
The willpower and determination that would normally manage these temptations are weakened by the stomach rumbles and hunger pangs. It isn’t long before the temptation becomes a binge.
So, how can we tip the scales in our favour and manage hunger for as long as possible:
1) Experiment with meal frequency
When I reduce calories I always bring meal frequency right down. Typicallly on a rest day I’ll eat 2 meals (12pm and 7pm) and on a training day, I’ll eat a small meal before training. This is a basic iteration of intermittent fasting
2) Manipulate food volume
Because there is a mechanical aspect to hunger, it means that there is some benefit for getting as much food as we can from the calories we eat. This could be as simple as opting for chicken instead of beef, choosing lower fat options or trying any of these options. Vegetables are a key player here, especially leafy greens, they should form a large part of your diet.
3) Be rigid with your timings.
There is some research pointing towards “ghrelin entrainment” which is a fancy way of saying that we tend to get hungry at the same time every day. When in a fat-loss phase, I will usually have 2-3 meal templates that respect my macro targets and I make sure I eat roughly the same sized meal at the same times each day. The exception here is my higher calorie day on the weekend where I allow much more freedom.
There are the tips I’ve found to have the greatest impact on dealing with and successfully stemming hunger. For a much more comprehensive guide, see Yusef’s article.
Why your mind-set derails you and how to manage it
On a very basic level, we only ever seek to change how we look because we believe it will make our lives better.
We think it will make us feel better about ourselves, feel healthier, be more attractive and ultimately, for a lot of people…
Get more sex
(Yes, I said it, it’s the truth)
Leanness and all we think it will bring is something we are connected to on a deeply emotional level, as a result we tend to experience a good degree of cognitive bias.
In other words, we are more prone to think in ways that will yield to sub-optimal decision making.
Here are some examples of this and how to correct it:
1) Hyperbolic discounting
I know, sounds complicated doesn’t it!
This is simply the phenomenon that we fail to perceive our happiness in a linear fashion. We give greater weight to happiness right now than we do happiness in one years time, even one hours time.
This leads to the justification of actions that tend to deviate us from the path that we originally set out on when something appealing enters our immediate sphere
How to fix it – the backpack analogy
This idea originated from an entrepreneur called Justin Cooke. It is a simple and elegant explanation of why we often take action when we don’t want to.
Think back to when you were a kid playing outside. You’re about to jump over the garden fence and into the park, what is the first thing you would do?
Take off your backpack and throw it over first.
Whether you like it or not, you need to jump over the fence after your pack. You’ve got some skin in the game.
At the moment that we hyperbolically discount, we do so because the immediate pain or missing the opportunity is much greater that our perception of the future pain. So we take the donut, skip the gym…whatever your crux is.
In this example, the backpack analogy can be elegantly compared to social accountability. If you know you’ll be letting someone down by slipping up, you’re much more likely to stay the course.
As humans, we hate being thought of badly by our peers, that is a pain greater than most others we experience. Creating an accountability group or hiring a coach that you check in with is the best way to do this.
2) Parkinson’s Law of Triviality
This law, as we sometimes refer to as “getting bogged down” refers to when we give disproportionate weight to trivial matters and often ignore the bigger picture.
Missing the forest for the trees.
There is a good reason that Yusef and I enjoy this video as much as we do
The lady in question is giving disproportionate weight to the fact that her metabolism is slow, she eats the wrong foods at the wrong time and in the wrong way.
The reality – she’s eating a calorie surplus.
While a PropaneFitness reader would never make such a heinous mistake, we do become less and less rational as the diet takes hold.
It’s normal to see people focus on carb timing, pre workout meals, types of fats and minutes of cardio, neglecting the fact that actually, they’ve dropped exactly the amount of weight they set out to each week.
As we get further down the line, we assume the devil is in the detail, lose sight of the bigger picture and become predictably irrational.
How to fix it – keep it visual
I like to log everything in a spreadsheet and I have clients do the same. Daily weigh ins, macros and training, all in cold hard numerical formats.
A mirror and downlighting combined with a few editions of Men’s Health can be a slippery slope to reaching for the fat-loss pills and juicer.
Keeping records of your progress, plotting planned progress against actual is the easiest way to keep yourself removed from the details.
Of course, it goes without saying that the best way to do this is to get these decisions out of your psyche entirely.
It’s a Wrap
That’s it for this series, I hope you’ve found some. Any queries, questions or comments in how to implement this advice into your life, you can get in touch with us on our Facebook page.