Why You Should Stop Perma Dieting

A vicious circle leading nowhere and how to break it.

Permanently dieting is the number one mistake people make after they achieved their first big fat loss goal. They are happy they look and feel the way they do now and afraid that gaining weight will kill the goals they achieved. They want to maintain the shredded look, but often maintaining is the hardest thing to do, leading only to more restraint than the diet itself. Read on to learn more about these problems and how to get rid of them!

why is permanently dieting a problem?

First of all, my understanding of perma dieting is spending a very long period of time in a caloric deficit or at most maintaining a rather low body weight. Permanently dieting has several problems, interlocking to slow down weight loss, muscle building and generally make your life quality quite miserable:

  1. Relationship to food: dieting for longer periods of time can lead to a difficult relationship to food. You start classifying foods in “good” and “bad”. You start to distance from other people because social eating scares you. Prolonged dieting can also lead to eating disorders like binge eating just because you always restrict food intake.
  2. Metabolic adaption: the longer you stay in a calorie deficit, the more you body adapts to it. It literally shuts off non-essential processes to save energy. While these processes are temporary and reversable (by eating more), they still contribute to the fact that you always need to push harder to lose weight the longer you diet. This explains why many people experience weight loss plateaus. This can also lead to the “perma cutting lifestyle” where you feel like you are constantly dieting, yet never getting any results.
  3. Lacking muscle growth: related to the metabolic adaptation problem mentioned above, muscle growth is down regulated when dieting. Putting on muscles and maintaining it, is an energy costly process, so your body will skimp on it when deprived of energy.
  4. For women often no or very irregular menstrual cycle due to hormonal disbalances: even if it may sound as a blessing to not have your period, in the long run it could lead to health problems like osteoporosis. In addition, it is the worst hormonal status for hypertrophy.

A viscious circle

Most people start their fitness journey with the wish to lose body fat. Which is a great goal to have, as it improves health, general fitness and usually, if done right, teaches you good eating and exercise habits. So now, that you achieved your goal and are proud of yourself, you (hopefully) want more. As you are now way leaner, muscles start becoming visible, but also the lack of certain muscles. You always thought that your butt was too fat, but now that you have lost that much weight, your butt is too small. Also having visible abs is nice and all, but most of the time nobody sees them anyways, so now you want to “look like you lift”, which means you want the classic signs of hard work: traps, impressive arms, a wide back, a juicy butt and massive quads. Quite frankly you need more muscles.

What happens to perma dieters? They know that the body weight has to go up and they start eating a little more. The scale goes up and they begin to get nervous. After a month or two and a few kilos heavier they are already so afraid of gettig fat that the transition into a cutting phase again.

This viscious circle can go on for years and whenever you see people who really train a lot but never seem to progress, I would say they are probably caught in the perma diet circle. Wanting more muscle, but being afraid to gain fat, never spending enough time in a surplus to signal their body that it is now safe to build and retain muscles.

A way out

Building muscles is most effective in a caloric surplus by slowly gaining weight. A surplus is a solid signal for your body to build muscles as our body now knows that it can afford to do so. Remember to get in loads of protein as your body needs the building blocks for it! While, in theory, you can build muscles in a deficit (body recomposition), it just isn’t as effective and quickly grinds to a halt over time, especially if you don’t have the greatest genetics for hypertrophy.

Well, that means you need to bulk! For most people bulking is way more challenging than cutting. They think they have to bulk very slow in order to gain as less fat as possible. Well, let’s calm down. A perfect lean bulk is pretty unattainable as this would mean you need to track calories even more obsessive and meticulous as when dieting. So yes, you will gain more fat than you may like. Get over it: losing fat is by far more easier than building muscles! While you can lose a lot of fat in a relatively short time, building muscles is an incredibly slow process and gaining a little body fat to ensure you get the best muscle building process possible is worth it every time! I think it is safe to say that not gaining body fat means not building muscle (after you made your newbie gains)!

Realistic time frames

Hopefully you are now convinced that you need to bulk. Great, but how long? You often find 12 week bulking phases, but this is usually way too short. Twelve weeks are just a blink of an eye when building muscles. These 12 week blocks originate from elite sports coaching, where 12 weeks is usually the most time an athlete has between two competition seasons, where he can afford to focus less on his discipline an more on hypertrophy.

Usually you want more than 12 weeks. Let’s take a look at athletes that focus solely on building muscle: natural bodybuilders. These guys/girls usually only compete every second or third year, sometimes even less if they want to make the jump into a higher class. Most of the times they are in a caloric surplus. While you probably don’t need to bulk as long as a pro bodybuilder, it is generally a good idea to bulk at least twice as long as you spent time cutting. So if you did a relatively short cut of three months, the next half year should be spent in a caloric surplus.

While you could interrupt a bulk with a mini-cut (4-6 weeks), it is generally better to stay in a surplus to build momentum. Think of it like pushing a car. In the beginning it is quite difficult to get the car to move, but once it does, it is easy to keep it rolling. Mini-cutting forces you to start over again, so use it sparingly.

but I’m a girl and afraid I will look manly!

Sadly females are especially prone to the perma dieting trap. Our society still wants females to be tiny, skinny and weak and many are afraid to look like they lift. Not only are most women afraid that they wake up as Arnies anabolic using sister after their first serious training session, they are also afraid of looking too big when they start bulking.

Perhaps this is the time to reflect on how you think a woman should look like. Do YOU think you are manly or are others only using this construct to put pressure on you? Remember that many people will try to pull you down because they cannot handle the cognitive dissonance they experience when they see your healthy lifestyle and their unhealthy lifestyle next to it. So instead of pulling themself up to your standard, they will try to pull you down because this is easier. Simply avoid those people and suround yourself with positive people who support you.

You also might think you will get as fat, maybe even fatter, as you were before your diet. Remember that body fat can be dieted away quite quickly, but building muscle takes years. You also might have a twisted idea of what your “improvement-season” look is going to be, painting a picture much worse than reality.

Chantal in her off-season. More than a year of controlled bulking, almost 10kg heavier than after her last diet. Not manly at all!

Go and bulk!

If you are one of the people who are caught up in the perma dieting trap, I hope you are by now convinced that you need to make a change and start a serious, controlled bulk. Be prepared that the scale weight will go up quite fast in the beginning, which is just the result of eating more (and digesting more). Relax and stay with it. Don’t obsess over single scale readings, watch weekly averages and trends. Go for a 0,5-1% rate of gain per week and see where it takes you. Make sure you get plenty of protein, veggies and fruits and enjoy having more freedom to fit in treats and social occasions. And of course, train hard!

Are you struggling with a boring diet or are you not enjoying your training anymore? Contact us and let us talk how we can reach your body composition or strength goals and let training and eating be fun again!

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