The word “dieting” conjures up a variety of notions in different peoples’ heads.
Mainly however, they’re ones of negativity.
Folk tend to assume that dieting has to come along with restriction, suffering, deprivation and extreme hunger. But is this the case?
More recently, with the rise in popularity of flexible dieting, the pendulum is swinging the other way.
The general public see pictures and posts from flexible dieters and IIFYM-ers displaying proudly all the delicious foods they’re eating while dieting and losing body fat.
Whether that’s huge bowls of ice cream, big meals out at restaurants, homemade cakes and pastries, or the poster child of If It Fits Your Macros – the pop tart, it makes this whole dieting thing mightily confusing.
Is losing fat and cutting calories still something that only crazy folk who can put up with through-the-roof hunger levels do, or actually, is it a pastime that allows you to freely eat junk food, and maintain a constant state of fullness, happiness and freedom?
What can you expect? Let’s take a look …
The Different “Levels” of Dieting
Before we go too far, it’s important to take note of the different levels of dieting.
These can be broken down into three tiers. 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 most of the general public, and 70-80% of people are striving for. It doesn’t involve having a ripped six-pack, walking around topless in front of a camera, or even wishing to look like a cover model. It simply encompasses losing weight, feeling healthier and getting a little leaner.
Level 2 – Getting Lean
10-20% of people want to take things a step further.
They might like to do a photo shoot or turn heads on holiday, but above all, they want visible abs. This will probably require males to drop down to 8-12% body fat and females to 12-15%.
Level 3 – Shredded
Now we’re talking bodybuilding and physique competitors.
This is the more extreme end of the spectrum, and requires extra willpower, dedication and discipline.
At the very minimum, men will need to be at most 8% body fat, and perhaps even closer to 4-5%, with striated muscles and a high level of vascularity.
Females are looking at 10-13% body fat, with a six-pack, and definition in their biceps, quads, calves – everywhere in fact.
Only a tiny minority of people will ever want to achieve this, but these guys and girls are out there.
As a level 1 dieter, you shouldn’t really have to suffer and struggle too much.
Sure, there may be times you’re a little hungry, or have to make a tough choice when you’re out with your friends – do you have your usual extra large cheeseburger with fries, onion rings, an ice cream sundae and a couple of drinks, or do you go for a steak and salad, or even the burger, hold the fries and a few 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 hit macros better.
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.
The Grind Begins
Level 2 dieters may start to have a bit more trouble when dieting.
Getting leaner feels great, and you’ll most likely find that seeing improvements in your physique, and getting to the kinds 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 to this level, your calorie levels will have to drop further (usually by cutting carbs and fats) which can lead to drops in energy levels and mood swings.
This is dependant on your calorie intake and how you cope with dieting generally.
But hunger is often an issue. And when you’re hungry, you can turn into a slightly tetchy person! You may find though, that certain tricks such as eating bigger meals, employing some sort of fasting protocol, adding cardio rather than cutting calories when you hit a plateau, and carb back-loading can all help make dieting easier.
Sacrifice to Win
As much as flexible dieting makes the whole process of getting lean much easier, and more socially acceptable, getting really, really lean can still suck.
Here’s what you may find –
- A drop in libido
As your body fat drops, your testosterone levels can do too. This causes a drop in libido and sex drive.
- Feeling cold
Less body fat = less insulation, so expect to be wearing more layers, and having more hot showers if you live somewhere that’s not exactly tropical already.
Your body will be putting more of its efforts into keeping you going on a restricted calorie intake, and therefore will need more rest, meaning it’ll try to get you to have more sleep.
You’ve got a choice when flexible dieting. You can hit your macros with whatever foods you want and eat things like Big Macs, pastries and pizzas (if you have the macros for these,) but it’ll mean eating nothing but chicken and broccoli the rest of the day.
Or you can eat more nutrient-dense foods like veggies, lean meats, fruits, whole-grains and low-fat dairy to fit your macros.
Either way, some hunger is inevitable, and even diet drinks, chewing gum and changing meal timings might not be enough to fix this.
- Obsessions with food
Prepare to get a little turned on by the Food Network channel and cooking magazines. (Seriously!) Hunger and cravings can create an unhealthy relationship with food, and you start thinking about your post-contest feast.
Does Cutting 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, and your meal plan makes you feel like crap, you’re likely being far too extreme.
The leaner and more aggressive you want to get, however, the harder dieting can be, and the more side effects you’ll experience.
One final point though – the more times you diet, the easier it gets, as your body becomes accustomed to carrying lower levels of body fat. Hence it’s important that once you’re “done” dieting, you reverse out of this state slowly, spend a longer time in a caloric surplus, then diet down again gradually, rather than constantly yo-yoing between excessive deficits and surpluses.