The fitness industry can be a veritable mine field for the average person and the diet side of things is no exception. With so many ‘experts’ claiming their way is the best way and so many vastly different approaches, to something that comes naturally to almost every other animal on the planet, except human beings. It’s no wonder people are getting confused about their diet.
Some of the most prominent approaches to diet are; IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and flexible dieting that focus on macro-nutrient ratios and or tracking calories, keto and other versions of low carb diets, IF (intermittent fasting) of various lengths and frequency, vegan and vegetarian diets, paleo and other caveman type diets, clean eating and various forms of carb cycling.
Each and every one of the above approaches has research backing it up, ‘experts’ promoting it and plenty of results and successes from people using them. All of the above approaches also get a bashing from devotees of the other diet methods, often with studies proving why their diet works and others do not.
The truth is, all of the above approaches to diet are not based on ‘hard, proven, beyond any reasonable scientific doubt, facts. They are all based on theory. This is something everyone needs to be aware of, too many of us read something and take it as gospel. Have an open mind and be aware of the differences between facts and theories.
Looking at all of the above approaches, they can all work, they all have an element of truth to the method, but they won’t all work with everybody.
Do you need to count calories? In my opinion no you don’t, but it can be highly effective, as the end of the day, prolonged excessive calorie intake is what drives weigh gain, no matter the style of diet you choose to follow.
Many of the keto and low carb enthusiasts believe fat accumulation is driven by elevated insulin levels, due to too many carbs too often. They are ‘sort of’, right to a degree, chronically elevated insulin is seriously bad news, not only does it turn off fat mobilisation and increase fat storage, it can also lead to insulin resistance and then diabetes. However, even if you ate no carbs at all, but your daily calorie intake was the same as, say, former world’s strongest man Eddie Hall, you are going to gain weight. It’s not all about insulin and carbs are not evil.
The same could be said about a flexible approach, If you want a lean muscular physique, even if you stick to your calculated calorie needs and lift weights, but eat like a jerk, getting the majority of your calories from garbage sugary carbs, with chronically low protein intake intake, there is a very good chance that you will eventually lose lean muscle and even potentially gain some body fat, even if your scale weight stays the same. Calories are king, but nutrients do matter, a lot.
Intermittent fasting can work great too, but not if you keep going way over your calories needs, in your daily ‘feeding window’.
The truth is, they all have pros and cons and differing approaches will work for differently for different people. Personally I used to prefer to cut carbs when I wanted to lose fat, I hated counting calories.
When I was on ‘low carbs’, I liked to have a ‘cheat day, which is basically a carb refeed day, but I wouldn’t restrict any food, if I wanted pizza and ice cream, I’d have it. I used this as a mental break and meant I could have a social life, try having friends if all you eat is chicken and broccoli.
This was an approach I used for a long time, it did help me get learner, whenever I used it. However, I almost always lost some muscle and strength, along with the fat. The bottom line is, even though I pigged out on a cheat day, my weekly calorie deficit was probably too large and even though my protein was high, the lack of carbohydrates effected my gym performance, meaning I couldn’t train at the right intensity to maintain my muscle mass.
I used to believe, high carb sugary foods brought out the glutton in me and a IIFYM approach didn’t work very well for me, I thought, ‘I can’t just eat one slice of pizza, I have to eat the whole thing, just like I can’t stop at one snickers ice cream bar, I’m doomed into eating the whole box or boxes.
Well these days, I tend to hover somewhere between, tracking, fasting, IIFYM and ‘clean eating’, (I should really say, eating whole, nutrient dense foods, processed foods aren’t dirty, they just tend to have more calories and less nutrients). I eat a combination of what I like and need, keeping an eye on my daily calories, protein, carbs and fats, eating plenty of quality nutrient dense foods, along with a little something of what I like on most days.
So let me wrap this up by saying; keep an open mind, don’t take any one fat loss method, as cold hard fact, look at all the methods available to you, the pros and cons of each and what would suit your tastes and lifestyle. Then when you think you’ve found the best fit for you, stick to it for at least 2 months, track your progress, take note of how you feel, if it’s working and you don’t hate it, you are on to a winner, keep it up, make it a lifestyle, not just an 8 week experiment. However, if you aren’t progressing and you hate it, then it’s likely not the approach for you, but from this experience you will probably figure out what approach would fit you better. When you do, get on it and stick with it.