People are finally wising up to fad diets. Things like the Atkins and the 5/2 and the ketogenic and the million other silly ways to lose weight are beginning to drown under the, ahem, weight of science and common sense.
We know that losing weight is mostly a matter of calories-in balanced against calories out, so the prevailing wisdom is that diets should be sustainable, with people saying things like: “Don’t lose weight too quickly, you’ll put it back on with interest”.
But what exactly does “sustainable” mean? After over-indulging this Easter, many City workers will be thinking about shifting weight in time for their summer holiday, which isn’t all that far away. The good news is that there’s nothing wrong with aggressively working towards a goal within a short time frame.
In an ideal world I always encourage my clients to aim for at least 12 weeks before they should expect to see reasonable changes. However, not everyone has the time or the patience to commit to a full three months. If a client tells me they need to get results in a short space of time, I won't say we can’t do it, but I’ll be realistic about what needs to be done for this to happen.
If you have six weeks to get in shape – say you’re up for a big film role, or a Victoria’s Secret event – then you need to accept that you’re going to have a crappy few weeks. There will be hard work, it will take a lot of willpower, you won’t be going out drinking and in some cases, you may be training more than once a day. I wouldn’t usually recommend this approach, but if your goals are that important, I’ll coach you through it, and make sure you’re in the right state of mind. This process is similar to someone who’s doing a transformation and only have a few weeks before their final photos are taken – if they aren’t where they need/want to be, sometimes you have to be aggressive.
The key is to look closely at how you're feeling. Only then should you start looking at changes in weight or definition or diet. There’s no point in me coaching someone to a goal if their head is in a place where they’ll eat a 16-inch pizza and drink 15 pints the following day (believe me, I’ve seen it happen).
Last November a friend of mine asked me if I’d pose for a photoshoot for her – I looked at myself and said "no chance!" I’d been slacking for months. But throughout the day, I kept wondering how long it would take me to get lean again. I set myself a challenge to eat just 1,000 calories a day, when I’d usually eat around 3,000. That’s a huge reduction and I worked out that if I was to continue to exercise each day, I should lose around 4kg.
So I hit the gym every morning and kept to the diet, usually only eating after 4pm, saving my food for an evening meal.
It wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but I saw dramatic results in a short space of time. Throughout the experiment, my energy levels stayed relatively high and, weirdly, I found I was going to bed later most nights. My workout intensity dropped, but I still managed to train every day. My work performance didn’t change, either, with no major headaches or “crash” periods.
Now, I hear you say, how is that sustainable? Well, three months on, I’m now eating around 2,500 calories a day, my diet is more flexible, and I'm consistent with my training, but I'm far leaner than before – I’m in the shape of my life.
Again – seriously, please listen to this part – I do not recommend dieting like this. The point I’m trying to make is that you can aggressive pursue goals, see quick results, and then adapt your lifestyle to maintain your achievements.
In some cases, people put weight back on, especially after low calorie “shake diets” or” juice cleanses”. This is because they simply return to their normal eating habits. But if you plan for the weeks and months after your aggressive diet/fitness regime, there’s no reason it can’t be part of a sustainable lifestyle.
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