by Dani Taylor
The Basics of Cutting Diets
Dieting is simple, but not easy. As a fitness nerd and coach who lives to read scientific articles about fat loss, muscle building and the likes, I wanted to make a basic list of tips for cutting. This list is primarily geared towards people who are already in relatively good shape who are trying to lose the last 10 pounds of fat or so without sacrificing the muscle that they have worked hard to build. As always, I recommend working with a professional if you’re confused about the subject, but here are THE 10 most important things I have found in fat loss dieting.
Give yourself ample time and have a plan.
Aim to lose no more than 1-1.5 pounds per week, and sometimes even less than that is just fine too, depending on how your body looks, clothes fit, etc. Losing more than this amount (higher end for a larger man, lower end for a smaller woman) pretty much guarantees that some of the loss is muscle. Have a basic plan in place, even if it’s not super fleshed out, so you have an idea of where you’re headed and how you plan to get there.
Accurately track what you eat.
Write it down or use an app. Even if you slip a little bit, keep track of it! Your body may respond well to it and then you’ll have a useful piece of data to look back on and learn more about what works for your body and what doesn’t. Your plan is only as good as your records of it. Don’t forget that. If you hit a plateau and have no record of what you’ve been doing, how will you know what to change?
A hydrated muscle is an anabolic muscle! Aside from most people being chronically dehydrated and the health problems and sluggishness that can cause, many people mistake thirst for hunger. If you are always drinking water, you’re stopping the problem before it stops. Not least important, dehydrated fat cells are FAR less likely to be burned for fuel, so drink up
Fuel your workouts well.
It’s no secret that when you’re goal is to lose fat, you’re working at a caloric deficit (but not TOO much of a deficit), but you don’t want your workouts to suffer, so it is important that your pre and post workout meals still be substantial enough to make your workouts killer. I like to time most of my starchy carbs around my workouts (oats, sweet potato, brown rice, etc.)
Eat similarly every day.
You don’t have to eat exactly the same thing every day, but getting your body into a serious rhythm makes it so much easier to make progress. It also makes it easier to know what is doing what. Sort of like an elimination diet, where someone eliminates all possible allergy foods for a few weeks before adding them back in one by one to see what is causing the allergy, eating almost the same thing every day really keeps you in tune to small changes in your body when something is different. You can learn so much about yourself this way, for example, if I overcook my tofu, I will get bloaty and gassy, but never if it is cooked just right.
Set protein high enough to minimize muscle loss.
This does not mean eat all protein. It is hard NOT to get enough protein when eating at a maintenance or at a caloric surplus even when eating a whole food plant based diet. When working with a caloric deficit however, it’s a good idea to just make sure you’re still getting roughly the same amount of protein. For some, this means adding a shake in (Plant Fusion is my absolute favorite post workout protein shake when I’m doing them). For me, I prefer to eat foods, so I like to use tofu, tempeh, and sometimes seitan with a couple meals to make this happen. It’s also very satiating.
Load up on fibrous vegetables.
It is nearly impossible to over-do it on non-starchy vegetables. Things like lettuces, kale, collards, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. It’s actually a really long list. GO NUTS!
Go for volume in your complex carbohydrates and fats.
For many, the caloric deficit needed to lost the lats few pounds of fat are going to be coming from starchy carbs and fats. No one likes to eat less food, least of all me. The way that I like to work within this frame is to go for starchy carbs and healthy fats with the most volume. The most bang for my buck, so to speak. Some voluminous starchy carbs are: butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, air popped popcorn, puffed brown rice cereal, and even oatmeal (when cooked) are all pretty voluminous and filling. As for fats, they are more dense in their very nature, but avoiding oils, the most dense of all foods is going to help a lot in satiety and overall satisfaction. Nuts, seeds, nut butters (probably the most decadent food while cutting!), avocado and olives are much more satiating and have more nutrients than oils. On another note, I also avoid oils when I’m not cutting. I want to be chewing my food as much as possible and oils contain barely any nutrients.
Dieting for a length of time amount of time will start to mess with your hormones and stall your fat loss, among other things that you don’t want. When you’ve been dieting consistently for 4-6 weeks, it may be a good time to start implementing refeeds. During a refeed, you increase calories to your maintenance level, or even a little above. You aim to drop fat low (I avoid direct fat sources on a refeed day, so the only fat is coming from the other foods, like tofu, oats, beans, etc) keep protein roughly the same, and increase carbs all the way up to the caloric level you’re shooting for. For men, once a week is usually sufficient, and you can go pretty big, or a couple hundred calories above maintenance. Women tend to do better with smaller refeeds, but more frequently. Every 4-7 days usually works well for most women, and only up to maintenance level. Of course every person is different and this isn’t going to be the same for everyone, which brings me to….
Every 1-2 weeks, you should be re-evaluating yourself and your plan. What’s working? What’s not? How’s your progress? How’s your hunger? Energy? Cravings? All of these things play a factor and if you’re not re-evaluating at regular intervals, you can fall into a rut where you make no progress, drive yourself crazy with hunger, or lose significant muscle. Some people will be able to do on their own and can really learn a lot about themselves on this kind of a journey. But for many people, it is hard, almost impossible, to accurately evaluate themselves and it can be a good idea to have a second opinion, a coach or a trainer, checking in a making tweaks to take some of the second guessing (which is normal in a physique journey) out of your fat loss path.
End of bulking season vs. 4 weeks out from competition