Nick never looked forward to going on holiday. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy spending time with his wife, or being off work, sipping drinks in the sun, and eating out on warm evenings in the bustling restaurants littered up the coast. It was knowing that a good part of the holiday meant being at the beach, or lounging by the pool. Both are situations that lend themselves to catching some rays, which usually meant taking off his shirt for the rest of the world to see. This didn’t just make him feel uncomfortable, it filled him with dread, and in the weeks leading up to the flight, it was all he could think about. Even sunbathing in his back garden, with no one but his wife to see him was out of the question.
Nick, by his own admission, was out of shape. He had a decent amount of muscle behind him from his years of training, but in the last few years, he hadn’t focused on his diet like he used to. He’d struggled with yo-yo dieting before reaching out to me for help. As I started working with him, he showed me pictures of him as a younger, leaner, and more confident man. He’d already had a physique he was proud of, I wondered why the idea of getting it back was such a sticking point. Nick finally told me that he’d used extreme, crash dieting, or ludicrous “6 weeks to shredded” fad diets to get lean before. What looked like a confident and happy expression on his face, hid what had become a fear of dieting, hunger, and restriction. To put Nick back on the road to renewed confidence, and a leaner physique, we needed an approach that was so easy, it hardly seemed like he was making any changes at all.
The difference between crash dieting to your goal or taking it slower comes down to one thing; mindset. Nick’s idea of what dieting was; punishing restriction, brutal Calorie deficits, and a list of foods that he absolutely had to avoid, is not in line with the reality. If you find yourself 12 weeks away from a holiday, or just want to lean down for the summer, you don’t have to wait to crash diet 3 weeks before. Making smaller, almost unnoticeable changes to your eating right now can have a huge effect. Not only do I know this from advising some clients to do exactly that, I can also back it up with science.
- A study from Frost et al. (2007) looked at how much weight people lost with different Calorie deficits on diets lasting 12 weeks.
- 80% of the people in the study were on a diet of 1,000 to 1,200 Calories.
- Their predicted weight loss was supposed to be 39 pounds. After the 12 weeks of dieting were over, they had lost a very non-earth shattering 6.4lbs.
- In another group of people, the diet was set up so that each person would be in a 500 Calorie deficit.
- The predicted weight loss was 19lbs, and after 12 weeks, they had lost 11lbs.
That’s 4.6lbs more than the people who were on a 1,000 to 1,200 Calorie diet. The reason for this is very straightforward. It wasn’t starvation mode that stopped people losing weight, it was the fact that they weren’t sticking to the diet in any way. This is one case where a hefty drop in Calories backfires, and the mindset and loss of adherence to the diet would in no way be right for someone in Nick’s position. Making things as easy as possible would take the edge off, and would result in weight loss without really trying. The way to do this is simple; let me introduce you to the 500 Calorie challenge.
Think about what you ate or drank yesterday. Even better, get a pen and paper and write down exactly what it was. Every last thing. Be honest now, or this exercise won’t work. Now, have a close look at it all. Out of all of it, what is the first thing you’d shave off? When I get my clients to do this exercise, certain things pop up again and again.
- The flat white from Costa they might have on the way to work and the other one at their desk during the afternoon slump add up to 358kcal
- A can of full-fat coke? 139kcal
- The usual packet of crisps in the car on the way home add up to 150kcal
- The cheeky danish after you’ve already had breakfast can throw in another 350kcal
We are all creatures of habit, and what can seem like completely random events are just unexplained patterns. This is the same with the food you eat. Over the week, once you hone in on it, you can predict when the little bits of food that add up happen and strip them away.
This is the crux of the 500 Calorie challenge. It’s not supposed to feel like dieting, it’s just an awareness of the number of Calories in what you’re eating and how easy it can be to drop them. For instance, swapping the flat white for an Americano will net you 358kcal back into the Calorie bank. Dropping the crisps next brings the total to 508kcal, effortlessly maxing out the 500 Calorie challenge in one fell swoop. If you don’t think it’s that easy then you just haven’t tried it. Write down what you eat and drink for a whole week if you have to, and the easy to remove excess will emerge.
As a transition to a full-blown diet, with all its restrictions and Calorie counting, this bridges the gap perfectly. A 500kcal deficit should, in theory, net you 2lbs of fat loss over two weeks. This is just enough easy motivation to step things up and get into the diet properly.
Here at the start of May, we’re about 12 weeks away from most peoples summer holidays. If you are thinking about how you want to look by August, but despise the idea of actual dieting, then I recommend taking this approach. Take the time to look at your diet, strip away a bit of Calorie-laden padding, lose some weight without trying, and watch your mindset switch in only a couple of weeks.
Transitioning from eating whatever you want to dieting can be tough, but putting it off and burying your head in the sand won’t help you get lean for that beach holiday in a few months. Instead of crash dieting 4 weeks out, use the 500kcal challenge to get into the right headspace and start losing weight without even noticing.
Want to lose weight while still going out to eat the foods you love? Get the eat out stay lean system and never worry about eating out again.