I love recording. Whether it was for an album, a b-side (showing my age here), or just making a demo; recording is a unique challenge. It’s not just about getting it right all the way through, and sitting back while everyone else gets on with their parts; it’s about making the track sound good. Every note played by stick or pedal is there to be scrutinised. Every bar can be torn apart until the tiniest inconsistency sounds like dropping a drum kit down the stairs. It’s was a challenge I relished and looked forward to.
However, I wasn’t always on my A game in every recording session. It wasn’t because I couldn’t play the part, it was because I had too much time. As Cyril Northcote Parkinson said in 1955, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Give me two days to get the drums done and I’ll nail it. Give me two weeks, two months, or two years; and you better believe I’ll be rushing to finish the job as the clock ticks down. I’m like this with dieting. If I give myself 12 weeks to reach a goal, that’s how long it will take, but with a hard deadline and half the time, I’ll end up just as lean.
Crash diets, or shorter, harder bouts of dieting, are often perceived as negative. We’ve all heard painful stories of how people got skinny in two weeks by following some fad-like juice fast that left them weak and undernourished, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A controlled low-Calorie diet might push you harder than a more meandering, relaxed eating plan, but there are many benefits to getting the job done faster, and almost none of the negatives stand up to scrutiny.
Before we get into how to go about designing a diet that will result in a new you in half the time, let’s make sure that crash diets actually work first. In theory, consuming fewer Calories than a more moderate diet should result in faster weight loss, which is what we want. This theory stands up well under scrutiny.
- Cutting on 421 kcal compared to 1,200 kcal results in 91% more weight loss over the same time period.
- If you cut Calories harder over 6 months compared to a more moderate diet, you don’t go into starvation mode, you just lose more fat.
The second biggest objection of faster dieting is that they are too tough to handle. It’s said that a more assertive diet will just result in bingeing or falling off the wagon, but anecdotes such as this might not be entirely accurate.
In a study from 2010, Nackers et al pitted a faster diet against moderate and slower diets.
- The fast diet group adhered to the program better.
- The fast diet group lost more fat.
- A greater percentage of people in the fast diet group maintained their weight better a year later.
It also turns out that a lot of people who believe they are dieting very hard are actually eating way more than they thought. Studies have shown that when people say they’re eating 1,000 Calories, they’re often consuming twice as much. This normally comes down to tracking errors, or hunger pangs causing snaccidents that add up over time.
Hunger is another reason people don’t often try to lose weight in this fashion. The belief being that hunger will be off the charts and life will be miserable. We all know that losing weight can be a bit of a drag at times, anything sucks compared to quaffing fizz and eating pastries with gay abandon, but fear of hunger shouldn’t be a reason to not start. In fact, very low-Calorie diets have been found to suppress hunger more than moderate diets.
From what I’ve written above, it can seem like faster dieting is a winner for everyone, but that’s not the case. There are no right or wrongs where weight loss is concerned, there are only the cold hard facts that you must consume fewer calories than you burn, and that it’s going to take some work.
A faster, crash, diet might be an option for you if:
- You’re pushed for time and need to be lean, quick
- You can’t be bothered with longer diets and would prefer to get the job done quickly before moving back to eating normally
- You like losing as much weight as possible over two or three weeks, interspersed with weeks of maintenance Calories
If you fit into one of those categories, then dieting faster might be for you. If not, a moderate diet is the way to go. The only thing I ask is that you don’t fall into the “juice cleanse” or “detox” fad diets promoted all over the net. Sure, they work for weight loss over a couple of weeks, but don’t expect to keep hold of any muscle mass, or be able to perform in the gym. Deadlifting two times your body weight for reps ain’t gonna happen on a glass full of kale and goji berries a day.
Having said that, the diet can still be super easy to set up. I’ll give you the deets on the easiest way here so you can get up and running right now. There are just a few steps to follow.
- Set your protein intake. I’d usually go with 1.6g to 2.2g per kilogram of body weight. Anything between that is fine, for example, 70kg x 2 = 140. 140g is now the number of grams of protein you’ll eat.
- Take the number you got in step 1 and divide it by the number of meals. You eat per day. I usually recommend 3 to 4.
- Fill those meals with lean protein sources. Chicken breast without the skin, turkey, egg whites, protein powder, zero fat dairy, and super low-fat cuts of pork or beef. For example, if your amount of protein was 140g, you might split that into 4 meals of 35g protein which is about 120g of grilled chicken or turkey, or around 300g of (raw) egg whites.
- Eat vegetables in at least 2 of your meals. You don’t have to track these, just think green and fibrous veggies like broccoli, green beans, kale, and cauliflower, and not starches like potatoes or parsnips.
I prefer to keep diets like this fairly short-term in nature. You want to hit it and quit, rather than drag it on, and stints of no more than 4 weeks are best. If you need to get lean quick, this is a really viable option, but dieting like this can still work over longer time frames if periods of cutting are interspersed with diet breaks aimed at maintaining. There are a few ways this can work.
- If you have 6 weeks to something that you want to look your best for, cut hard for 4 weeks, add Calories in the remaining two to “eat into” the event. Getting the hard work out of the way first before bringing things back up to maintenance means you’ll feel, and look great on the day rather than being distracted by hunger and looking flat.
- Over the long term, you can cut hard for two or three weeks at a time, then take a week at maintenance before jumping back into dieting again. You can still reach your goals in the same time frame as a more moderate diet, and with careful planning of where to put the maintenance weeks, you can time them to coincide with weekends away, weeks chock full of work lunches, or holidays.
- You can use a diet like this to “clean up” for a week if you’ve spent the last 7 days at a burger tasting convention, or any time you need to lose a bit of weight quickly over a week or so.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the need for a decent support network when doing a reasonably restrictive diet like this. While you’re cutting hard, trips to Nando’s, or Thursday pizza night might have to wait for a few weeks. If you don’t have friends or loved ones on your side, it can be hard to go it alone.
Dieting on as few Calories as possible can be a great way to lose more weight in less time. Ignore the “juice fasts” and “detoxes”, set up your diet in a smart, sustainable way, and reach your goal with time to spare.
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