The Diet & Intense Exercise Mindset

The first core content blog; what is the diet & exercise mindset and why it could be holding you back from achieving your long term health & fitness goals.

[1500 words - 5mins 30secs read time]

This is the first article in my core content series.  These articles are designed to give you an insight into my coaching philosophy and methods that I use with my clients.  In this article, you will learn about the diet and intense exercise mindset, which is the usual way of doing things for many people whose goal is to lose weight.

What is the Diet and Intense Exercise Mindset?

The Diet and Intense Exercise Mindset (DIEM) is a weight loss focused strategy.  It typically consists of:

  • An intense focus on weight loss (on the scales)
  • Trying to lose weight as quickly as possible; under one pound a week may be seen as unsuccessful.
  • Rules and restrictions; large calorie deficits, cutting out entire food groups and/or certain foods..
  • Exercise focused on maximum calorie burn.  You may focus on long, boring cardio sessions or focus on high-intensity training - with calorie burn being your main focus.  
  • Labelling foods, entire days or yourself as ‘good or bad’.  You are either on or off a diet, and there is no place in between.

The DIEM involves cutting your calories back (being in a calorie deficit) and increasing your exercise output with the sole focus on losing weight, generally as quickly as possible - even at the expense of other markers such as health, energy and well being.  

The Diet Cycle

The dieting cycle is something that plays out for most people whether it be over days, weeks, months or years.  It is personified by a desire to lose weight and putting all your card on the table to get to your goal as quickly as possible.  The dieting cycle follows a fairly predictable sequence that plays out as weight yo-yo’ing over time.

Has that cycle played out in your life at all?    

Why is the DIEM the go-to method?

There is a reason that it is common to go for the latest diet/exercise program when trying to lose weight.  If there were no benefits to you, the diet industry wouldn’t be a multi-million-pound industry.

And that benefit is the initial weight loss and positive feelings that achieving some success brings you.  You want to feel good.  You want to look good.  And you generally want those things as quickly and as easily as possible.  And diets are positioned and marketed as the best method of doing both of those things.  They give you a framework that almost guarantees the initial weight loss.

And if you have followed a diet in the past you have probably seen results.  Can you think back to a diet that has really worked for you?  By ‘really worked’, I mean has it helped you achieve your long term goal and maintained that goal?

You may romanticise about the results you saw in the first week or month of the last diet you followed.  Thinking back to how well that diet worked and forgetting the periods after can seduce you into thinking that the diet works and that it was only your willpower that let you down.  

The risks of long term dieting

Our bodies are amazing machines.  They are made to survive.  And as you’ve probably read elsewhere, there is a disconnect between our primal bodies and the fast-paced modern life we live.  The human body is still designed to survive periods of drought and famine, in a time when we are living in the complete opposite; high availability of tasty, calorie-dense foods and jobs that mean we do not need to move much.  We are able to eat more food than ever, whilst the need to move as much as possible has disappeared for many.

When we enter a period of dieting, which our body perceives as drought/famine, we have various automatic physiological and psychological mechanisms in place to help us either survive (reduce energy output) and/or seek out more food.

These mechanisms include:

  • A lowered metabolism due to changes in thyroid hormone and also due to eating less and weighing less (save energy).
  • Increased hunger and desire for high calorie processed foods (seek out food)
  • Decreased energy both in everyday life and during exercise (save energy)
  • Feeling less full/satisfied after a meal (increase energy input)
  • A decreased desire to train (save energy)
  • If, in addition, you are training with high intensity/frequency your overall performance may drop off.
  • Weight gain (usually in the form of fat).  A combination of loss of muscle and increased hunger can mean you gain more weight in the long term, with more of that weight being shuttled to body fat.
  • Increased preoccupation with food/food thoughts.

The longer and more intense the calorie deficit/form of dieting the more these mechanisms will work to help you ‘survive’.  And each time you have to restart a diet you may have decreased feelings of motivation and lower confidence as you know what you have to put yourself through to get back to where you were last time.

You may start to blame your genetics or metabolism, but these are normal adaptations to cutting way down on calories, being super restrictive and generally not moving as much.  It is the normal and expected results of prolonged dieting.

There is also one thing that lingers from the DIEM.  And that is lingering food thoughts and restrictions that last even when you are not ‘on’ a diet.  These may lead to feelings of deprivation and feeling like you are on a diet, even though you are not ‘on’ a diet.

The Obvious and Not So Obvious Forms of Dieting

Dieting can be as obvious as following a plan that you have bought or may not be so obvious.  Here are a few examples:

  • Cutting out entire food groups (carbs or fats) or certain foods i.e. bread.
  • Looking at and analysing the calorie count on the packs of food you buy.
  • Skipping meals, even if you feel hungry.
  • Making up for being bad - working out more to negate a meal or cutting back more to make up for bad meals.  
  • Weighing out food to the gram and/or recording in an app for prolonged periods.  
  • A disproportionate amount of your blogs/social feed is about weight loss/physique etc.  
  • Cleanses/supplements marketed as fat loss boosters.

Diets DO have a place

I’m not here to bash diets, but rather offer a different and better long term outlook.  Diets do have a place, but I prefer to use the term focused fat loss (FFL).  By switching the terminology we can hopefully change the mindset behind the plan.  

The focus is on maximising fat loss (not purely on the scale), whilst trying to maintain as much performance and muscle as possible.  FFL involves having a plan to maximise fat loss whilst minimising the negative psychological and physiological effects of dieting.  You want to feel and perform as well as possible as well as to be able to get on with your life.

A period of focused fat loss may last 8-12 weeks.  There is a definitive end and therefore light at the end of the tunnel.  The plan is very clear and concise.  You get your results and move onto something more sustainable for a period, before the negative physiological and psychological rear their ugly heads.  Successful long term fat loss may look like the graph below; periods of focused fat loss and periods of maintaining.  During the periods of maintenance you are able to restore your energy levels, hunger levels, motivation and mindset.

How successful long term weight loss may look.

And this is the method I am using in my (trial) Focused Fat Loss Transform coaching program.  A planned period whereby you focus on your nutrition and exercise to maximise fat loss, before moving onto a more manageable plan that allows you to maintain your results (Lean Living Coaching)

Is there a better way?

If you have been trying for a long time to achieve your long term goal, without much luck, then it may be time to try a different approach.

What if there was a better way to achieve your long term goals?  One where you improve your health & well-being whilst achieving your body composition goals?

There is, but it requires shift in your mindset.  This mindset shift includes:

  • Understanding the difference between weight loss/fat loss and weight gain/fat gain.  Your weight can fluctuate by a few per cent based on the amount of food you ate, the type of food and what it contained.  
  • Changing your expectations of weight loss.  What is a good rate of weight loss?  Can you keep on losing weight without any breaks?
  • Having a nutrition and exercise plan that works in the long term.  One that works alongside your lifestyle and your physiology.
  • Focusing on more than just weight loss.  Changing your markers of progress.  You may start to focus on your energy, mood, subjective well being and performance in the gym.

In the next two articles, I will introduce you to the habit-based approach to health, wellness and weight loss and how that shows up in my Lean Living Coaching Program.   

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