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TheoFit Q&A #2: What To Do After A Diet, Why I Don't Wear Captain America Shirts, And A Mini-Rant on "Fat Positive" Research
QUESTION 1. I’m not sure now is the time (since most people here are currently in a deficit), but I would love to hear an episode on maintenance. My 13 week cut ends this Saturday, and I am typically the type to fall off the wagon a bit when in maintenance mode.
ANSWER: This is a great question because, of the people who are disciplined enough to reach their goals, it is common, once you’ve reached your goal, to fall back into a place halfway between your original state and your goal, and remain there and get discouraged. For me personally, the #1 time my willpower breaks is when I have to switch from being in a calorie deficit to being in a calorie surplus. Because, remember — if your goal is fat loss, you want to be in a 20-25% deficit. But you can’t stay in a deficit forever. Once you hit your fat loss goal, you don’t want to go right into a 10% caloric surplus and start gaining muscle — you need to rehabilitate your metabolism. Otherwise, your body will be adjusted to burn very few calories in order to do what it needs to do. But your want it to be doing the opposite. You want your body to be burning as many calories as possible when you do start trying to gain muscle so that you can eat as much as possible. For instance, if you go right from a cut to a bulk, a 10% caloric surplus for you might be 2500 calories. But if you take 2-3 months to rehabilitate your metabolism in the way I’m about to describe, your 10% caloric surplus could allow you to eat 3000 calories.
The only exception to this is if you’re really skinny and have to eat more than you’re comfortable with in order to gain muscle. If that’s the case, you probably don’t need to do a cut anyway — you just want to gain strength and muscle, so might want to aim for a 15-20% surplus and adjust week-to-week if you end up gaining more fat than you’re comfortable with.
So, this is what you do after a diet — and some of you already know this — it’s called “Reverse Dieting.” This is where, when you’ve reached your fat loss goal, you continue your exercise routine, but add 100 calories a week gradually until you’re in a 10% caloric surplus, working your way up from your 25% deficit. So you may be adding 100 calories per week in order to go from 2000 calories a day to 2800 calories a day, to take you from a deficit to a surplus. Then you can start bulking muscle.
I’ll cover what it means to bulk in another episode. Your routine doesn’t change much, except you might cut back on some of the long-distance cardio. But that’s for another day.
The short answer to this question is this: If you want to maintain your fat loss results and transition out of your calorie deficit, add 100 calories per day one week at a time, probably of carbohydrates — so we’re talking about adding 25g of daily carbs one week at a time.
This is easier said than done. The hardest part about Reverse Dieting out of your cut and into your bulk. One of the ways I stay consistent in my caloric deficit is I use its simplicity to my advantage. Eating less becomes the form of discipline I’m accustomed to. So generally, when I start eating more, I feel like I’m cheating on my diet and becoming less disciplined, even though it’s a scheduled part of my diet program. So the hardest part is not letting yourself shift into an indulgence mindset where you accelerate that extra 100 calories a week to 1000 extra calories a day — and, all of a sudden, you’re overeating and indulging because all the rules you once knew that kept you on track are out the window.
So, in this time, it’s important to shift your conception of what it means to be disciplined. The tough part is that the solution here has to be psychological, since the primary reason Reverse Dieting is so hard is for a psychological reason. So, try to get excited about the fact that you can be excited about your workouts again. When you’ve been in a calorie deficit for more than a month — maybe even two or three months — your workouts are flat, and you feel terrible. But when you start slowly adding those calories back to your diet one week at a time, you can look forward to getting that glisten back in your eye when you go to the gym. Think about adding 5 pounds onto your lifts, 10 pounds, 20 pounds, 50 pounds. Getting 10 reps instead of 5, 15 instead of 10. All this is to come. But if you add all your calories all at once, you’re going to get all those strength benefits at the expense of all your fat loss goals. You’re just going to gain that fat back to get strength if you add all your calories at once. And more than that, you’re not going to be able to eat as many calories, because your metabolism will still be adapted to a low caloric intake.
Now might be a good place to note that when you lose weight, your metabolism isn’t “damaged.” It’s just adapted. So when you hear about how abusive these TV shows are and how these people who were fat now burn less calories than they used to, the response to that are several things — (1) Of course they burn fewer calories; they weight less. (2) It takes several months for your body to re-adapt to a higher caloric intake. So after a long time in a caloric deficit, your TDEE gets lower and lower (and if you’re confused about what your TDEE is, check out the Core Series article on counting your calories at theo.fit/core). But if you progressively re-introduce calories over time after you reach your fat loss goal, your metabolism will re-adapt to a higher intake and your TDEE will naturally increase, with no damage done. One final reason that those fat loss shows may so negatively affect the metabolisms of people on the show is that they don’t focus at all on retaining muscle — it’s mainly just high-paced cardio that probably results in serious muscle loss. So, when you’re trying to win a show based on total weight lost, rather than trying to lose fat and retain muscle, you’re becoming less healthy, because the number on the scale actually encourages you to lose muscle, which is just a terrible metric for overall health — especially if you want to create something sustainable.
Long story short: Try to shift the psychology of your program from having very reliable train tracks of restriction to keep you in line to something else — like a program that has more weight lifting requirements that will stimulate strength and muscle growth. When you’re in a 10% caloric surplus, diet isn’t the hard part — pushing yourself to work hard enough to stimulate muscle and strength growth is the hard part. So try to shift your hardcore discipline mindset from restriction in diet to output in your workout. Great question.
QUESTION 2. What's in your workout bag?
ANSWER: Several things! I’ll link all these in the show notes — currently:
QUESTION 3. Do you have a captain America workout shirt?
No! If you have a Captain America shirt, I don’t judge you. I love Captain America, and I’ve seen people with those shirts, and I’ve had a little twinge of temptation to get one. But I don’t wear that shirt for the same reason I don’t get a Batman tattoo even though I really want one — The reason you like superheroes is because they look cool in those outfits and with those symbols, but you don’t look cool in those outfits and symbols. The exact opposite, actually. The only reason you should wear a fake Captain America outfit workout shirt is if you want people to look at you and think, “That guy’s not Captain America…” Because that’s everybody’s first thought. You’re just not Chris Evans. And in every way that you’re not as perfect as Chris Evans, that will be the first thing that sticks out to people who see you.
So again, I don’t begrudge those people. I think it can be a genuine expression of fandom, and if you wear it as a fan and not trying to convince yourself that you to some degree participate in the coolness of Captain America, then by all means, please do wear the shirt. But I caution against the delusion that wearing it somehow tricks people into thinking, “Is that guy … does he have that shirt because there’s some chance he has some Captain America qualities?”
QUESTION 4. For a few months now I've been getting back to the gym, starting off with cardio on the treadmill for 15 minutes then going up to 20 minutes. Along with eating healthy I have loss some belly fat and I feel more comfortable than I did before. Yet, I still have some belly fat and I know that cardio alone just won't do, but it was a good starting point for someone like me who hasn't been exercising for years. I'm ready to start lifting weights and I've been coming up with some lifting weight workout plans and days to attend the gym. Tell me if this sounds fine: On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays I'm going to lift weights then right after do some cardio on the treadmill. Then on Sunday, instead of heading to the gym, I have some weights, they're 5lb weights (not very heavy, I know) to work out just to add some workout productivity. Question: On Tues, Wed, and Friday I don't know if I should walk and lightly jog or just walk after the weight training and how long I should be on the treadmill. I don't want to overexert myself by working out 5 or 6 days a week but slowly escalate to that as I progress with the days I have planned. Some advice would be great.
ANSWER: Hey, this is a really great question! And it’s such a great question, I developed an entire workout program around it called the CORE SERIES, which you can access at theo.fit/core. The short answer is: Yes. What you’re doing is good. I do deal with this in the weightlifting program articles in the CORE SERIES, but just to briefly answer your question — yes, you can walk on a treadmill incline for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes after your weight routine. That’s what I recommend to people who are trying to do as much as possible without burning out. And you’re also right to start lifting weights. Unless you’re a genetic freak, you’ll always have some degree of flab if you’re not lifting weights. The only people who aren’t genetic freaks who get in great shape without weights are people who have the level of willpower where they can throw themselves into a bodyweight program that lasts like an hour and a half 4-5 times per week. I actually have a bodyweight program too, that I’ve tried to develop to get as much results as lifting weights in the gym. You’ll never get anything that does as much for you as lifting weights, but you can get a lot done with a bodyweight program if it’s designed properly, which mine is.
QUESTION 5. I get that I have to hit my calorie deficit, but what percentage of that has to be healthy food?
ANSWER: Great question. The short answer is this: When it comes to immediate fat loss, a healthy diet is much more about how much you eat than what food you eat. So we have a myth that if we eat a diet rich in micronutrients — like vitamins and minerals — we are eating a healthy diet, even if we are over-consuming macronutrients — like proteins, carbs, and fats — to the point where we are gaining fat. But if your immediate health or physique concern is fat loss and muscle retention, hitting you deficit is much more important, and the amount of micronutrient-rich food you eat is less important. There’s now an infamous story about a Kansas State Professor who ate a calorie deficit of only junk food and twinkies for 2 months and lost 27 pounds because he consistently hit his calorie deficit.
Having said that, generally speaking, unhealthy food — like processed food and junk food — is less filling than healthy food. For example, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice is less filling than eating an orange. Typically conceived healthy foods — like kale and spinach and broccoli and lettuce — have very few calories in large volumes. So, if you ate 500 calories of Kale, you’d be very full, and probably have a stomach ache. But you could eat 500 calories of cashews or peanuts in a single handful and forget you even ate them 30 seconds later.
However, I don’t like Kale. So thankfully, this isn’t the kind of diet where I tell you that there are certain “superfoods” that are essential to your diet. There aren’t. Kale has no special properties at all. And I never eat it. There are dozens of low-calorie foods you can choose to eat that fill you up. We’ve listed them elsewhere, but here we can just list a few:
This is just a random list of low-calorie foods I use to fill up.
The point is this: From a psychological perspective, eating a lot of green foods and lean beef, and cutting out processed food, allows you to feel more full while eating a caloric deficit. If you cut out processed foods from your diet, you might even eat a larger amount of food than you did when you were in a caloric surplus — it’s just not as many calories.
Also, eating nutrient-rich foods will enable your body to function and think better. So, aside from feeling less full because you’re eating processed foods in a calorie deficit, you’ll also probably feel a bit sluggish and drained as well. Whereas, if you eat micronutrient-rich foods like vegetables and lean meats like top round steaks and chicken and fish, you’re going to feel more clear-headed, you’re going to feel healthier, and you’re not going to be perpetuating your cravings for bad food during your diet.
So, in summary, the benefits of eating micronutrient-rich food in a calorie deficit is: (1) You feel more full, (2) You function better mentally and physically, and (3) You teach your body to crave micronutrient-rich foods, rather than keeping them craving micronutrient-poor and calorie-dense junk foods.