Forewarning: This post could also be titled ” Why it sucks to be lean”.
Long before I started dieting for my first figure show last fall I knew I was going to reverse diet when it was over. The information was out there and I couldn’t see a reason why you wouldn’t do it. The idea of a reverse diet, specifically after a show, is to help you re-adapt in to real life and avoid the post show bingeing and inevitable fat gain. Reverse dieting is a process where you slowly increase your caloric intake in a methodical manner to heal your metabolism all while staving off excess fat gain. In other words, I could stay show lean and eat more food (win!). Plus, I would still be following a flexible dieting program where you eat what you want.
The first day of my reverse diet was two days after my show. Immediately, my protein intake dropped and my carb intake increased (wooohooo!). In my mind it was going to be easy, I had dieted this long and now I was getting more carbs, how hard could it be? Well, let me tell you, the first few months after the show were HARD. I would say 100x harder than getting to the stage. I still wasn’t eating very much and with the drop in protein, I was hungry, all of the time. There was no “I have to stand on a stage in a bikini” to keep me focused. My friends and family thought I was done dieting and the invites out to eat or to have a drink were much more frequent.
The numerous advocates of flexible dieting and myself will tell you that this will increase the variety of nutrients you intake as well as stave off negative connotations with food. This is true; if you have the macronutrient numbers to do so. Now with that said, many people who start flexible dieting will have a substantial amount of macronutrients to take in, or never diet down until they do. They can fit in meals out with friends, a beer here or there etc. But, it’s a whole other story when you have to get lean enough for the stage. For the most part, and in my case, to get that lean you don’t get very many macros at the end. Therefore when I started my reverse diet I was still eating “poverty macros”. So while I was still choosing what I wanted to eat, the restrictions were still there. That piece of cheese on my lean turkey burger, too much fat at one meal and would screw the rest of my day. The bun…maybe half of it if I was lucky. The point was..my flexible diet wasn’t all that flexible because I didn’t have the metabolic capacity to handle it.
I was lean though, boy was I lean. Six months AFTER my show and I was 3% LOWER in body fat and eating about 38473829 more calories a day. I was doing it; I was slowly but surely eating a normal amount of food and maintaining a lean physique. On paper, this looks like the perfect reverse dieting example. I could fit almost anything I wanted in, and I was leaner than I had ever been in my life. It was paying off and I was thankful I stuck with it. And then… one day, about 2 months ago (8 months after my show) I gave up everything I believed in and stopped reverse dieting.
And here’s why:
- My motivation hit the floor. I had been training hard and counting every piece of food that went into my mouth for an entire year at this point, and one day I just wasn’t in it anymore.
- My calories were so high that I could eat pretty much what I wanted, so why keep counting?
- I was sick of numbers, for once I wanted to eat and not worry about how many grams or ounces it was, let alone planning out my days ahead of time (that shit gets old).
- Although my macros were high and I could fit in a lot, I still couldn’t fit in everything. Going out to eat I could do, but I couldn’t order what I wanted and it sucked. I would think “why can’t I eat the chicken sandwich, I’m not trying to get on stage anytime soon!”
- This is the biggest one: I still felt restricted. Even though I could fit in a hell of a lot of food, the whole process still made me feel restricted. I could eat a lot but coming out of such a long dieting phase left me always feeling restricted, and wanting more.
- I was too lean. Being lean is great, but it isn’t healthy all year round. My hormones were way off, I went to the doctor and some of them were undetectable, let alone other issues with being too lean.
- I still had food issues. Dieting does funny things to you and it makes you obsess about food, what you’re going to eat, when you’re going to eat it, what you wish you could eat, etc. I couldn’t go to a restaurant and leave food on my plate anymore. It was like every chance I had to eat was my last chance, even though I was eating more than I ever had in my life! It was a mental game of being restricted for so long and carrying it with you.
So I finally got fed up. I decided one day that I was only going to count macros during the week, and then only days that I didn’t work out, and then I gave it up all together. What did I do? I ate a lot, and I ate what I wanted. It was the feeling of freedom, even from a non-restricted diet, to let go. What happened? I gained weight and body fat, which is fine, as I needed to. My hormones evened themselves out and my body was happy again. I could go to a restaurant and only eat part of my meal until I was content. But, I also slowly resorted back to the traditional American diet. I was eating more fat than my body needed and less protein than I should. My gym sessions were suffering, and I was tired more often. So last week, I started to reverse diet again.
And here’s why:
- My body and mind finally recovered from a year of dieting.
- I realized if I kept on the path I was going I was going to put on more weight than I could take off easily.
- With a healthy mindset I wanted to build my metabolism through the roof (hello macronator!)
- I knew my workouts in the gym were hurting because of the imbalance in my macronutrients and I wanted that hard work to pay off.
- Flexible dieting when you are in the right mindset and have enough calories to support your body, truly does make reaching your physique goals easier.
- Most importantly, mentally I was ready to get back on track.
- I have specific physique goals and hope to step on stage again next year. Therefore I need to be working towards those goals.
So I am now two week into my new reverse diet. My mind is healthy and so is my body. I am truly eating a wider variety of foods and more nutrient dense choices. I am eating more than I ever ate in my life and continue to build my metabolism week by week. I allow myself more freedom since I am not in contest prep. A meal un-tracked once or twice a week is not going to hurt me and it gives me a break from the rigidity. I am still less than ten pounds from stage weight, and know that if I do this right the next time I diet for a contest I will not have to cut so much food from my diet (which equals a better mind and body!).
What does this mean to you?
I don’t want this to be a bash on reverse dieting, but I do want to let you know the reality of trying to maintain a lean physique year round. I am still a huge enthusiast of flexible dieting and specifically reverse dieting. I believe that it is the most sound and healthy way to reach your goals. What this means is that when you eat so far below your metabolic level and maintain a very low body percentage your body and mind do things to adapt and I was not ready for those things at the time. Next time (yes there will be a next time!)I will start dieting at a higher metabolic capacity level so I don’t have to drop as many calories, I will not try to stay so lean for so long, and I will increase my calories at a faster rate to reach my body’s healthy level.
What about you? Any dieting stories from the past? What do you do to stay on track?