Most people agree “dieting” rarely works. Usually, lost weight is regained. Instead, seek gradual achievement of healthy weight via sound, sustainable nutrition (and exercise, bro). And then consciously, actively seek weight maintenance.
But unless you live with otherworldly consistency, even “maintenance” will have small ups-and-downs. Some days, calories from food and drink exceed those you burn. For maintenance, then, you need other days when calories burned exceed those consumed.
Sure, let’s acknowledge not all calories are created equal. And weight alone, without considering body type and muscle/fat mix, isn’t the only thing that matters. But all that granted, if you routinely take in more calories than you’re burning, even by a little, you’ll eventually gain weight you don’t want.
Here’s an illustration of how inevitable—and how high-impact— “calorie surplus” days are. And then, suggestions for how to balance them with modest, measured “calorie deficit” responses.
CALORIE SURPLUS DAYS: WHY THEY’RE INEVITABLE (even HEALTHY, IN A WAY)
Monday breakfast through Friday lunch, you avoided most refined sugars and flours, and high-saturated-fat things. You ate good carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fruits & vegetables. You avoided overeating, and stayed hydrated.
Congratulations, man. Sincerely. This week, you did a lot for your long-term health. And shorter-term, you improved your physical performance capabilities, plus how you look and feel.
Now it’s Friday evening, though. Over the next 48 hours, you will likely: Have a few drinks (maybe both weekend nights); Eat 1+ bigger, less-healthy restaurant meals; and/or Have extra desserts or snacks (while out, or watching sports, or at a BBQ or kid’s birthday party).
Within a normal guy’s life, these things aren’t bad. You’re having fun, spending time with friends and family, not “obsessing” on nutrition and making it a source of stress in and of itself. For these reasons, I often have a “pig day.”
CALORIE-SURPLUS DAYS: HOW THEY ADD UP
For most of us, the occasional calorie-surplus day is part of leading a normal and well-balanced life. But unless counter-balanced, these days add up, dude.
Example: Say my work-week nutrition/exercise plan, on top of my individual base metabolic rate has me roughly in calorie balance. Then assume, over the weekend, I have just three more drinks, one higher-calorie meal, and one incremental snack/dessert.
The extra booze is 300-600 calories (beer more, wine and liquor less – unless you mix liquor with caloric things). Let’s say it’s 450, and the larger meal and extra snack/dessert kick in another 450. By the way, this 900-calorie total is conservative vs. what any kind of “living large” weekend might include. But for our purposes, let’s use 900.
So, what’s 900 extra calories? About ¼ pound weight gain (each surplus of 3,500 calories = one pound). So if my typical weekend = 900-calorie surplus and I don’t counter-balance it, each month I gain a pound and each year I gain 12 pounds.
Even if I have just a 150-calorie surplus each weekend, I’d still gain two pounds per year. That may not sound like much…is “20 pounds per decade” more attention-getting?
Holy s**t. It’s not hard to see how two-thirds of American adults are overweight (and one third are “obese”), according to the U.S. National Institute of Health.
To avoid this, you either need to have weekends (and business trips and business dinners and holidays and vacations) feature the same discipline as a normal day…OR, you need to compensate on normal days.
Since my xample weekend was plus 900, compensating means I need minus 900 over the next five days (180 per day). For a ~2,500 calorie total many guys target, that means “minus” days need to be about 7% fewer calories.
I’m making this sound more scientific than it needs to be. The simple message: some days are “gain” days, so others need to be “loss” days. If you keep frequent tabs on your weight or how your clothes fit, you can be more intuitive and less mathematical.
CALORIE-DEFICIT DAYS: OPTIONS FOR ACHIEVING THEM WITHOUT “DIETING”
Whether you’re in intuitive or math mode, you need calories-deficit days. Here are ways to achieve them without extreme “diet” behavior.
1. Drink only water (if not already doing that as a baseline). Calories from beverages are either “empty” (soft drinks, alcohol) or “less valuable than solid equivalents” (fruit juices, which compare negatively to the underlying fruit from a calories and nutrition perspective).
If you drink milk or milk-based drinks, this might be an exception. But, you still may be better off with an alternative on calorie-deficit days, e.g. almond milk.
Diet drinks? The calories math says they work. But some studies suggest they provoke a sweets/calorie craving that undermines their benefit. Also, longer-term effects of artificial sweeteners aren’t fully understood.
2. Eat like normal…just a little less. This is easy for “measured” things like oatmeal (about half the time, I eat 20% less than normal of my killer oatmeal). For other things, consciously put a bit less on your plate. Or if it’s something you buy prepared like a sandwich or restaurant meal, leave a little bit uneaten.
I know this is hard—I’m a charter member of the Clean Plate Club. But this is a discipline you can impose on yourself, and once you do, it gets easier.
3. Eat like normal, but reduce or leave out something high-calorie. Like bread or cheese, especially. Then sub in something that fills you up, but with fewer calories (and often, better nutrition anyway). Examples: VEGETABLES and lean protein.
4. If you snack (I do), cut out one snack and space other eating occasions out more. Use the clock here, as in “I won’t eat lunch until 1:30 pm today.”
5. Don’t eat after dinner. This cuts out a snack, but also helps your body avoid late-night calories that don’t get metabolized as well as those eaten while physically active. An emptier stomach is also better for sleeping.
6. Stay hydrated. Good for all kinds of reasons. But especially when applying any of the above, hydration helps deal with minor hunger sensations.
GAIN DAYS, LOSS DAYS: MAKE THEM PART OF weight maintenance
In the OlderBeast quest (feel great, look our best, keep getting happier, and live long), we need new philosophies and disciplines.
This awareness of calorie balance, and evolving a lifestyle where each “up” has its corresponding “down,” is an important example.
It’s Monday morning as I write this (and I had a great weekend, thanks). So on my end, and maybe yours too, it’s time for some weekday penance.
“Nobody told me there’d be days like these.” (John Lennon, Nobody Told Me-click to listen)
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