Almost everyone wants to “tone up a bit.” Or else, they want to lose “___ pounds.” If you’re in the fitness industry, odds are, you deal with fat loss.
There are a number of approaches one can take when guiding someone to achieve fat loss. Today I want to look at a few of the paths people can take, and hopefully shed some light on which approach matches a given situation.
So often, I see people pursue a less than ideal path because they’re doggedly following a solution that worked for a friend. In other cases, someone will wisely try to get some outside help, but they’ll be limited by the skill set and personal biases of the fitness professional in question. Lastly, I see many people attempt to do more of what’s not working, hoping they’ll get a different outcome. This last approach may not be the most “rational” per se, but it is distinctly human. So if it’s been you up until now, don’t feel bad!
Let’s look at some approaches and see if we can’t find some clarity…
Addressing Emotional Issues Around Food
In this approach, instead of attempting any actual diet, the goal is more about process than outcome.
Here’s the single greatest challenge for many people seeking fat loss; they should build a foundation by doing this work FIRST. For example, at MFF, folks who have issues with food would benefit by working this out with something like Beth Wittig’s SoulBodySystem BEFORE they do Snatched. However, since this approach doesn’t guarantee weight loss (at first), most people who need it choose to focus on results first. And consequently, they deal with a lot more anxiety and frustration than necessary, not to mention unsustainable results.
Examples: Beth Wittig’s SoulBodySystem, working with a life coach, working with a therapist, the work of Geneen Roth, etc. Any dietary approach that addresses the emotional side of why and how we eat.
Who Will It Work For? Although it would be my greatest wish for most people to go here FIRST if they have underlying emotional issues around food, it seems the people most willing to attempt this are those that are rock bottom. They’ve tried all manner of diet before, and are finally willing to go into the heart of the matter. Additionally, when someone has a history of disordered eating, this is a great way to go.
Who Will It Not Work For? There are two subsets of people that will struggle with this approach. The first category is those that NEED this work, but are fixated on seeing short-term results. The second category is people with relatively healthy relationships with food who want fast and dramatic results. Since these people aren’t predisposed to self-destructive eating behavior, this step isn’t necessary.
BOTTOM LINE: If you have issues with food, you are gonna have to address it at some point to achieve sustainable results. (TWEET THAT SHIT!) Why? Because if you don’t deal with it, it’s still gonna be there when you reach whatever that short-term goal is. I’ve seen this over and over again. This is a crucial component to a happy lifetime of sustainable overall health and fitness. Do it first, do it during, but you have to do it.
This approach is great because it allows people to focus on food quality, and not just quantity. Additionally, it doesn’t require the regimentation of calorie counting. In many ways, Paleo and Atkins are two different variations of the principle-based approach. There are obviously many ways of approaching this with a number of different principles. Precision Nutrition offers a good general template for this.
The downside to this approach is that by definition, it’s not the most precise. And in some cases, by focusing on certain foods and eliminating or restricting other foods, adherents inadvertently undereat drastically.
Using principles as a guide can be very sustainable, but only if it’s not “all or nothing.” Folks who expect to give up a food item or food group for life rarely succeed. Allowing moderate indulgences seems to be necessary to eat like this for the long haul.
Examples: MFF’s Snatched Type B, MFF’s Snatched II Type B on Steroids, many different pop diet strategies like Paleo, Atkins, Mediterranean, etc. There is variety of styles of dieting that would be considered principle-based, and the principles themselves are often conflicting from one style to another.
Who Will It Work For? This is great for folks who don’t want to deal with calorie counting or cooking, and are not eating very well to begin with. When someone’s diet is a bit messy to start, this is generally better than all-out calorie counting, as the latter is usually unnecessary. Additionally, by not having specific calorie goals, people with perfectionist tendencies have a wider bulls eye of success to shoot for. Lastly, folks looking for a sustainable model that honors the general principles of health and hotness will usually do better here than calorie counting.
Who Will It Not Work For? As you’ll guess, folks with underlying emotional issues are always best to deal with them first and foremost. Additionally, on the other side of the spectrum, folks with ambitious physique goals with a deadline (bodybuilders, actors getting in shape for a role, someone prepping a new physical peak for a wedding) will generally require more discerning strategies. This is particularly the case if the person in question already eats pretty well.
Behavioral Change (“Habit-Based”) Approach
This approach is a specific system for applying principle-based eating.Research has shown time and again, that many people struggle when they try to apply a bunch of new strategies at once. (TWEET THAT SHIT!) If they DO succeed, it’s very rare they do so in a sustainable manner (think of the typical New Year’s resolution, all but forgotten by January 15th)
By focusing on one “habit” at a time until a given habit is mastered (usually two weeks), those attempting to adopt new principles can slowly layer them. The elegant simplicity of this approach leads to higher success rates than going to outright calorie counting, or adopting several new food principles all at once. By giving people one habit to work on at a time, perfectionists are less likely to be overwhelmed and more likely to stick with it.
The downside of this approach is it obviously takes some time for the pay-off. In an instant gratification world, it’s not always exciting to hear that you need to commit for 6 to 12 months.
As mentioned, I’d estimate that 70-80% of people will do better with this approach than looking to overhaul one’s diet overnight.
Examples: MFF’s FUEL, Precision Nutrition. Although it’s not a diet book, this approach is highly influenced by Leo Babuta’s Power of Less and the science of behavioral change.
Who Will It Work For? People who are really ready to commit to a long haul approach to slowly and steadily change their relationship with food. Although physique results like fat loss may come slower, this seems to be the most sustainable way of improving your habitual dietary intake. This is also great for people who get anxiety trying to adopt a more comprehensive approach all at once.
Who Will It Not Work For? Once again, when someone has a tight deadline or is looking for a rarefied goal (moving from pretty lean to really REALLY lean), this won’t be the way to go. Furthermore, it should be noted there are plenty of people who don’t need a slow and steady approach. In the case of the highly disciplined outliers, the slow buildup may be a slower build than necessary.
Calorie counting has the unique distinction of being the most precise when looking for dramatic and time efficient results. Additionally, there are unique learning opportunities when you’re actually getting a feel for how many calories are in the foods you habitually consume.
The downside is it can be annoying as hell. It requires a lot of front end work to learn how many calories are in what types of food (though using an online calorie calculator or app like myfitnesspal.com makes this easier than ever). Furthermore, it’s hard to be successful with this approach and eat out a lot if you don’t know approximately what’s in the food you’re eating. Lastly, knowing how to at least prepare food is required (to be clear, this is not a joke, we’ve worked with many people who truly didn’t know how to turn on their oven at first).
Examples: MFF’s Snatched Type A, most bodybuilder style diets, If It Fits Your Macros (IFFYM), any diet based around a calorie calculation formula such as the Harris Benedict or Katch-McCardle. More advanced dieting strategies like carb cycling are essentially advanced versions of calorie counting. Weight Watchers is also a form of calorie counting.
Who Will It Work For? If you’re willing to do the work to figure this out, and you’re willing to prepare a lot of your food, you can have a lot of success here. This is the reason virtually everyone who NEEDS a certain physique outcome goes this route (bodybuilders, fitness competitors, actors preparing for a role). If you’re not prone to obsessive behavior and/ or you like this type of regimentation, this can work great for a specified period of time.
Who Will It Not Work For? I don’t think this approach works for most people looking for a sustainable approach. While many people do choose to count calories forever, and some do so in a way that makes them happy and not obsessive, for most this is not ideal.
Additionally, obsessive personalities, and people who struggle with all-or-nothing thinking have a hard time if they don’t do it perfectly. Either because they don’t understand the science of fat loss, or because by nature they’re perfectionists to a fault, this is not going to be the best path. Lastly, if there are underlying emotional issues that need to be dealt with, calorie counting is at best a short-term fix.
Creating Your Path
I don’t think there’s one path for everyone. Furthermore, I don’t think everyone will need all the different strategies available. It really depends on your goals, your background, your preferences, and your predisposition to anxiety and emotional issues relating to food.
The first step needs to be making sure the foundation is set. Based on the severity of someone’s challenges with eating, this could be some combination of food therapy, life coaching, or a program devoted to addressing it like Beth Wittig’s SoulBodySystem.
If someone doesn’t have a lot of built up energies around food or eating, this first part can be skipped.
In the perfect world, the next step for 70% of people would be a principle- based approach. This allows for the opportunity to learn about healthy eating without adding the complexity of counting calories (provided one uses a reasonable template). Particularly since in many cases, this just isn’t necessary yet. If someone is predisposed to anxiety and perfectionism, the habit-based approach is definitely the easiest and most painless way to layer in these general principles.
For many people the above approaches are will be all that will ever needed to maintain a healthy body weight and eat reasonably for their long-term health. If someone is looking to reach a physical peak, however, calorie counting generally becomes necessary. Furthermore, many people will find awareness of calories and occasional calorie tracking to be a useful educational tool in a long term and sustainable diet.
In my experience, the greatest challenge is that most folks want the fast results, but tend to be reluctant to apply the very strategies they need. (TWEET THAT SHIT!) When you’re six weeks out from summer, you want to be speedo ready NOW. It’s daunting to think that you need to work with a coach or address your patterns of self- sabotage.
This is almost exactly akin to the weight lifter who doesn’t want to drop his weights down substantially and improve his technique. Even though this will lead to far more strength and success in the long run, the step back before the two steps forward is too much to bear for many people.
And ultimately, I don’t know that there’s a wrong choice here. As always, I’m an advocate for people having awareness about their own preferences, then making a conscious choice. I hope these explanations provide some insight into the paths YOU can choose on your way to your health and hotness goals.
I’d love to get some comments and hear some thoughts about my new framework for looking at all this. What do you think? Are there other approaches one can take? Have you tried any of the above approaches and had notable successes or notable failures? Drop us a comment!