what to expect when 'dieting'
for level 1-3 dieters
I preach a lot about how ‘easy’ flexible dieting is.
The thing is….this does not mean it’s a complete walk in the park.
You still have to be accountable.
You still have to place some limits and restrictions on yourself.
You still need to prepare and cook the majority of your meals, track your intake, and make some intelligent food choices to ensure you’re staying the course.
That said, it’s a hell of a lot more enjoyable than following a fixed, boring meal plan or a fad diet.
The ability to eat almost anything you want is the reason why most people get the wrong impression with flexible dieting, and think that fat loss will be an absolute breeze. But it just isn’t always the case, particularly if you do have ambitions revolving around very low body fat levels.
So, let’s clear up some confusion and look at what you can expect when dieting (flexibly).
the different levels of dieting
Before we go too far, it’s important to take note of the different levels of dieting. For now, we’ll concentrate solely on a fat loss diet or a “cut” rather than talking about bulking or maintaining.
level 1 - general fat loss
This is what approximately 70-80% of people are striving for. It doesn’t involve having a ripped six-pack or aspiring to look like a cover model. It simply encompasses losing weight, feeling healthier and getting a little leaner.
What to Expect –
As a level 1 dieter, you shouldn’t really have to suffer and struggle too much.
Sure, there may be times when you’re a little hungry, or have to make a tough choice when you’re out with your friends – do you have your usual large cheeseburger with fries and a couple of pints or do you opt for a sirloin steak with a salad, or even the burger but hold the fries and have a couple of spiced rum and diet cokes instead?
On the whole though, all you need here is a little calorie restriction, and the willpower to make a few sensible food choices to aid satiety and help you better hit your macros.
Happiness, energy levels and motivation generally shouldn’t dip. In fact, as you see results, and improve your diet, you’ll probably even feel better than you did before.
level 2 - getting 'lean'
About 10-20% of people want to take things a step further. They want visible abs and probably want to turn a few heads with their shirt off. This will likely require males to drop down to 8-10% body fat and females to 12-15%.
What to Expect –
Getting leaner feels great, and you’ll most likely find that seeing improvements in your physique, and getting down to the type of body fat levels that turns heads, and makes people in the gym notice you is a great driver to push on.
However, to get down to this level, your calorie levels will have to drop further (generally from carbs and fats) which may negatively impact energy levels. This is dependant on your current calorie intake, how much muscle mass you carry and how you cope with dieting in general.
Regardless, hunger is often an issue. Having said this, utilizing certain tricks like eating bigger meals, using a fasting protocol, increasing activity level/frequency instead of lowering calories when you plateau, carb cycling, etc. can all make the dieting process easier.
level 3 - shredded
Here we’re talking bodybuilding and physique competitors.
This is the extreme end of the spectrum, and requires extra willpower, dedication and discipline.
We’re talking 4-7% body fat for males, with defined muscles and a high level of vascularity.
And about 10-12% body fat for females with a six-pack, and definition in all areas.
Now that we’ve defined the levels of dieting, lets take a look at what each of them would entail…
What to Expect –
This is where some serious commitment, adherence and sacrifice will be required. Aside from VERY few people, getting down to these body fat levels is a temporary thing (bodybuilding/physique competitions). Unless you have superior genes or are on performance enhancements, sitting in the low single-digits is an undesirable place to be.
Here’s what you may find -
- Hunger – you’ve got a choice when flexible dieting. You can hit your macros with whatever foods you want and eat things like burgers from fast food joints, donuts and pizzas (if you have the macro budget for these), but it’ll likely mean eating nothing but plain chicken and broccoli for the rest of the day.
Or, you can eat more nutrient dense, calorie-friendly foods like veggies, lean meats, fruits, whole-grains and low-fat dairy to fit to your macros in an effort to better control hunger.
Either way, some kind of hunger is inevitable at this level of dieting.
- Fatigue – food is energy, so when food intake is lowered, tiredness will occur. In an effort to keep you going on a calorie restricted diet, your body will try to get you to sleep more, not to mention recovery will take much longer.
- Lowered Energy/Gym Performance – as with the point above, fatigue means lowered energy. Because of this, energy and performance in the gym will likely be affected in a negative manner. With lowered bodyweight comes lowered muscle mass (even with optimal calorie deficits). Strength levels will decrease and so too will your calorie burn in and out of the gym.
- Feeling Cold – less body fat equals less insulation, so expect to be wearing more layers, and taking more hot showers in the winter, especially if you live somewhere that’s cold to begin with (like here in Canada!). Life is cold at 5% body fat.
- Food Obsessions – prepare to have food on your mind 24/7. Hunger and cravings can create unhealthy relationships with food, and you’ll likely have your post competition/event feast planned to a T well before the date.
- Drop in Libido – as your body fat drops to these levels, your hormones (particularly testosterone) can too. This causes a drop in libido and sex drive.
does dieting have to suck?
The bottom line is that cutting only has to be as bad as you make it.
If you’re a level 1 dieter, and you hate every minute of your life, you’re likely being at least a little too extreme.
The leaner and more aggressive you want to get, however, the tougher dieting can be, and the more side effects you’ll likely have to deal with.
One final & important point though – the more times you diet, the easier it gets, as your body becomes accustomed to carrying lower levels of body fat. This is why its very important that once you’re done a dieting phase, you reverse out of this state slowly, spend a longer time at or above caloric maintenance before dieting down again as oppose to constantly yo-yoing between excessive deficits and surpluses and damaging your metabolic rate in the process. You’ll find it much easier to consistently control and improve your body composition over time if you do so.
Better yet, make it even easier by allowing me to help you. By doing so, you can eliminate the guesswork and get the body you want easier, faster, and most importantly, more enjoyably - without every feeling tied down by your diet.
If you think we'd be a good fit shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop a comment below.