Author: Scott Smith
Adopting new diets to lose weight has become an American obsession. An obsession we utilize to combat our obsession with food and saving energy. And they often time work in the short-term but inevitably stall out as does our motivation to stay the course. Why is that? And how can we break the cycle and have more sustained success?
I propose to you the “Zig-Zag” approach. This is not a gimmick. This is not to be confused with “Yo-Yo” dieting! This is how many professional fitness experts eat year round (as habit for me by now) in order to maintain low body fat levels. There are three goals to this dietary approach…
1. Lower body fat mass.
2. Increase lean mass.
3. Be consistent for AS LONG AS TAKES to reach your goal!
In order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in. Right? Yea, we’ve all been told that Scott. So how come its not working for me?
You have been in too large of a caloric deficit, for too long, or too many times, or all of the above.
It’s really hard to build, let alone maintain muscle mass when you are starving yourself. After time, you will sacrifice these precious calorie burning factories and lower your metabolic rate to the point where even a 1200 calorie diet will fail to reduce your body weight further.
Furthermore, long periods in a caloric deficit can increase stress hormones which force your body into holding on to body fat stores for dear life! Compound this with the fact that your body will not have sufficient energy for effective workouts and your mental state will lead to “burnout” symptoms. It’s not hard to see why pure calorie restriction is not a viable long term strategy.
You have not been periodically doing resistance training in a caloric surplus.
Here’s where it all comes together. When I have a weight-loss client who is frustrated with a plateau in their progress they are always surprised (and slightly terrified I’m sure) when my response is “Looks like its time to eat more and lift heavy things.” We have basically reached a cross-roads and have two options…
1. Restrict your calorie intake further or…
2. Increase your calorie intake and training intensity
I like option two better. The catch is that means a weight loss goal takes longer to reach due to the fact we need to gain a little bit of muscle back in order to lose a lot of fat later on. And this process repeats itself until the goal is finally reached. It takes patience and discipline which don’t sound appealing when compared to bullshit informercials promising a quick fix. But it is really the best path to sustainable, lifelong, weight management. And you can take assurance that it really does work!
So here’s one way to do it…
1. First, you need to know how many calories it takes to maintain your current weight. There are apps that can estimate this for you but for more accuracy you should log your food and compare that number to your weight changes until you find this state of equilibrium. Sorry, but this does take some work on your end, but you will learn a ton! Try using www.myfitnesspal.com.
2. Secondly, view your diet as a two phase (Zig and Zag) attack. Spend two months with the goal to reduce body fat and preserve muscle. Reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories per day for 5 days of the week. Seek to take in your normal intake on the other two days. Workout your hardest on your two normal calorie intake days.
3. Spend one month with the goal to increase your muscle mass and reset your metabolism. Increase your calories by 300 calories over your maintenance number for 5 days a week (which may have lowered a bit during your two month deficit). Increase your workout intensity on these 5 days while in a caloric surplus.
4. Repeat until you hit your goal.
Don’t worry, you DON’T have to log your food year round but it does take some effort on your part to figure out the initial numbers in order to make this system work. If you are consistent and honest with your food logging, you will quickly get calibrated, and in time, be able to run this system without always having to plug everything in. (Though it is a good idea to do a food log from time to time to refocus and make sure your metabolic needs are accurate).
The hardest part is not the food tracking, but rather the discipline to repeat the cycle until you hit your target. You have to really commit to the paradigm shift that your results are not solely based on the scale (body weight) because for one third of the year you are actually going to be gaining a little weight back … intentionally!
This is not a two steps forward, one step back thing either. If you truly do your best to cycle your focus in this “zig-zag” manner, it is my belief that you will have a psychological edge in lifelong moderation and take three steps forward every time.