Losing body fat, getting into shape, getting 'dem summer shedz' is hard. Then why are people making more difficult than it already is? It seems that many people are stuck in the mind frame that the more 'hardcore' their nutrition is and the more 'hardcore' their training is the better results they will get. I can assure you now that this isn't the case. With people living busier lifestyles in this day and age the general public need to be as flexible as they can be with their lifestyle. Let me explain the stories of two different people.
Dave's 35. Dave's a banker, meaning he lives a busy lifestyle. He has a wife, child and a dog called Carlos. Dave’s decided that he's fed up looking in the mirror and wants to do something about it. With the goal being fat loss he joins the gym. He trains 3 times a week, eats 2,250 calories a day made up of 200g protein, 250g carbs and 50g of fat. Whilst at the gym he performs 20 minutes of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) one day, 8 minutes of Tabita on another day and 30 minutes of LISS (Low Intensity Steady State). He's a flexible dieter, meaning he tracks his food on a daily basis. He's pretty forgetful, and sometimes forgets to prepare lunch for the day ahead. Luckily for him there's a Subway around the corner. He pops in during his dinner break, grabs a bite to eat and fit it into his macros.
Over the course of 8 weeks Dave has shed 24 pounds. He's very happy with this result. His old jeans now fit him again and he's beginning to see the outline of his abdominals. Dave will continue to use flexible dieting; eating the foods he loves whilst fitting them into his macros. Some days he doesn't even track his macros. He's been doing it for so long he can now eyeball his food servings. Good on you Dave!
Malcolm's 20 years and he bloody loves squatting! He's a student. The only commitment Malcolm has is his 6pm-11pm job in Tesco down the road, where he works twice a week. He's also fed up of looking in the mirror and wants to do something about it and like Dave fat loss is the overall goal. Like Dave, he eats 2,250 calories a day, made up of 200g protein, 250g carbs and 50g of fat. He does 3 cardiovascular sessions a week, made up of 3, 40 minute LISS sessions. He follows a strict 'clean foods' only diet plan, where he eats the same meals all week, split into 6 small meals across the day to keep his 'metabolism burning'. He spends 2 hours in the kitchen every Sunday and Wednesday night preparing foods for the week ahead. He's also pretty forgetful, meaning he forgets his lunch box at home some days when he's at university. He's that hungry he can't wait until he gets home, therefore he eats whatever's going in the cafeteria, goes over his caloric goal for the day, stresses all day about it and promises himself that the ‘diet’ starts again tomorrow.! Over the course of 8 weeks he also sheds 24 pounds! He's very happy with his, but he's always craving chocolates, ice cream and pizza. At the end of the 8 weeks he goes on a binge, eating all of the foods he's craved, massively going over his caloric target whilst at the same time re-bounding some weight. After doing this he feels guilty for a few hours and promises himself that the 'diet' starts again tomorrow.
If you had to follow Dave's or Malcolm's 8 week progress, who's would you choose? Let’s conclude:
1. They both eat the exact same amount of calories a day, made up of the same macros. Unlike Malcolm who follows a 'diet plan' and eats 7 small meals a day, Dave can eat whatever he wants as long as he hits his total calorie and macro targets. This can be done in 2 massive meals or 6 smaller meals, it depends how he feels. Eating smaller meals a day does NOT keep your 'metabolism burning'. If you’re preparing 7 meals a day to achieve this then you may be wasting your time. There’s nothing wrong with eating 7 small meals a day. Maybe you have a small appetite. But to claim that doing this keeps the ‘metabilism burning’ isn’t backed up by any scientific data. Berkhan  claims that increasing meal frequency does not appear to favourably change body composition. Think of the bigger picture. Hitting your overall caloric and macronutrient target for the day is far more important than the total number of meals being consumed. Individual personal preference is also important on the total number of meals consumed per day.
2. They both train 3 times a week. Minus warm ups and cool downs Dave's total actual workout time is 58 minutes. Malcolm however (minus warm ups and cool downs) total workout time is 2 hours a week. Baring in mind they both lost the same amount of weight that's an extra hour of working out! There are other alternatives for repetitive LISS training. Tabita, HIIT and metabolic circuits can be performed in less time and provide similar results or in some cases, better results. These claims are backed up by Aragon, where he states ‘in long-term studies, both linear high-intensity and HIIT training is superior to lower intensities on the whole for maintaining and/or increasing cardiovascular fitness & lean mass, and are at least as effective, and according to some research, far better at reducing body fat’.
3. And finally, number 3 and this is my favourite....sustainability! Upon completion of the 8 week progress Dave continues to use flexible dieting, whilst Malcolm binges on foods that he has been craving throughout the 8 weeks. He re-bounds some weight after these binges, feels guilty and quite frankly he's sick and tired of eating the same foods over and over again. He could have simply factored these foods into his nutrition, rather than binge. That's why flexible dieting triumphs and other form of dieting. How many times have you heard ‘oh I went on the X diet and now I’ve stopped I’ve put it all back on’. McDonald  backs this up in his book by stating ‘the body is really good at storing incoming calories as fat after a diet and if you return to old eating habits, you can just watch the pounds come flying back on’. You shouldn't have to cut out the foods you love from your nutrition just for the sake of becoming lean. We're all human; we all get cravings but why use these cravings in a negative manner and go over your caloric target when you could have simply fitted them into your macros? There’s definitely nothing wrong with eating ‘clean’ foods. When fat loss is the goal 70-80% of your nutrition will come from ‘clean’ foods.
So there it is. Don't make fat loss harder than what it needs to be. Fit everything from your nutrition to your training into your lifestyle. 'Hardcore' is not always better. Oh, and for the record I used to be Malcolm. Life is so much better being Dave.
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1. [Berkhan, 2011] http://www.leangains.com/2011/04/critique-of-issn-position-stand-on-meal.html?m=1
2. [Aragon, 2006] Myths Under The Microscopes Part 1: The Low Intensity fat Burning Zone
3. [McDonald, 2005] A Guide To Flexible Dieting: How being Less Strict With Your Diet Can Make It Work Better