THE PHASE DIET
The Evolution of Nonlinear Dieting
Calories in versus calories out is the irrefutable law of fat loss.
If you want to lose fat, you have to consume less food; in turn, your body starts burning its own excess stored energy (body fat) and fat loss kicks in. Keep forcing your body to burn its own fat stores for long enough and voila: you iz ripped.
While this is true and makes sense, unfortunately, the physiological semantics mean absolutely zilch to your body.
Basically, your body’s a dick – no, not that kind … a dick, like this guy:
And, like the Guy above, your body gives absolutely zero fucks about your fat loss goals.
Take a look at this:
Now, if I were to ask you what’s the next symbol in the sequence, I’m pretty sure you’d reply: a triangle, duh.
Now, look at this sequence:
What’s the next symbol, now?
Assuredly there’s a math genius out there reading this with some contrived answer; for the rest of us, I’m sure we can come to the agreement that there’s no way of knowing.
This little exercise was done to illustrate Linear and Nonlinear Systems.
The first sequence is an example of a linear system, meaning: given the information of the prior symbol in the sequence, you could make an intelligible guess as to what the next symbol would be.
The second batch of symbols were an example of a Nonlinear system: given the information of the prior symbol and even the ones that came before that, it’s impossible to accurately predict what the next symbol will be (ignore this if you’re a telepath or some sort of Psychic).
You see, the human body is a nonlinear system and things like the calories in versus calories out model – a linear system – at best, give us only a guide of how things will go.
People have a tendency to approach the body [a nonlinear system] with a linear mentality i.e – If I do X, I’ll get Y; If I eat X calories, in Y weeks I’ll have Z amounts of fat loss.
The problem with this approach is that you’re fighting fire with fire. And, eventually, Nature will win.
Fat Loss: Man Versus Nature
There’s bit of a catch 22 that comes with fat loss and dieting.
You want to lose fat and get ripped.
Your Body wants to gain fat and not be ripped.
This tumultuous struggle between man and nature is the fons et origo of your dieting woes.
And for one reason: Survival.
The ultimate goal of the Human Body is to keep us alive. And while we’ve evolved to no longer face the threats our ancestors once did like, say: starvation, famine or, you know, being chased down by a Sabretooth Tiger; our bodies, unfortunately, didn’t get that memo.
Thus, when the body senses our energy intake getting lower than it would like – as it inevitably will during a fat loss diet – it’s going to do everything in its power to stop us from losing fat.
Scientists have hypothesised that we have what is known as a ‘set point’. This is the weight [and body fat], that genetically, our body is comfortable maintaining.
If you look at the image below, the circle is your hypothetical body and the arrows are pointing to either end of the body fat spectrum [both below and above your set point as the body works both ways]
This ‘setpoint’ is like a ‘keep-me-alive’ setting for our body – once we get too far past our set point it sets off some alarms. These alarms set in motion some physiological defences that stop us from losing any more body fat.
While there are a host of changes that take place, for our purposes, you only need to really know about the main ones:
Leptin is a hormone produced in your fat cells that regulates metabolic rate, appetite, and a few other things such as mood and libido.
Often referred to as the ‘master’ hormone, leptin controls a lot of other hormones that play a role in regulating fat loss. Leptin levels correlate with total fat mass and total caloric intake: the higher your body fat, the higher your leptin levels and the lower your body fat, the lower your leptin levels.
As you begin to get leaner your leptin levels begin to drop, bringing with it increased hunger.
- Thyroid Downregulation
The Thyroid hormones T3 and T4 ‘govern’ your metabolism. As you diet longer and get leaner, leptin levels drop and so do levels of T3 and T4, leading to slowed metabolism. Hence why the leaner you begin to get the harder it becomes to continue getting leaner.
- Increased Cortisol
If you haven’t heard of any of the other hormones, I’m pretty confident you’ve heard of cortisol; the infamous stress hormone. While cortisol is often made out to be the ‘villain’ of the physique composition world, it isn’t the hormone itself that is bad. In fact, it’s needed for burning fat.
It’s the dose that makes the poison. If cortisol levels remain high over a long period of time (like during a diet) it can have an impact on your fat loss goals. During a diet, cortisol levels increase and if you don’t manage this increase, it can make fat loss harder and yes, even cause muscle loss.
This cascade of Hormonal turbulence results in everything you not wanting to happen, to happen; like:
- Fat loss plateaus
- Increased feelings of lethargy, fatigue and lack of energy.
- Loss of muscle mass
- Decrease of Anabolic Hormones like Testosterone
- Increase of Catabolic Hormones, like Cortisol
- Increased hunger and cravings
All of this results in you either giving up on the diet as the lure of that cheesecake seems a lot more appealing than the need for a ripped set of abs or, even worse, giving up and then eating your way back up [and sometimes even past] your prior starting weight.
While all of this sounds pretty damn horrible – well, no, it is pretty damn horrible – there is a way to overcome this issue and It’s what I call PHASE or Phasic dieting.
Enter PHASE Dieting
As time goes on, it’s becoming more and more evident that a cyclical approach to dieting and calorie intake is more beneficial than a linear approach.
You can only push your body so much before it pushes back. When the body starts pushing back, most people respond with trying to push back harder; mano a mano. Resulting in a dieting deadlock: you stop making progress, and your body’s pretty pissed off.
The key is to make as much progress as you can and stop pushing just at the right moment to keep fat loss humming along and your body happy.
This is what The PHASE Diet does.
The PHASE Diet is the nonlinear approach to tackling the nonlinear system that is your Body.
How to PHASE your diet
This flux between deficit and maintenance will prevent the deleterious side effects of dieting kick in; resulting in smooth, continual fat loss.
When you’re in a calorie deficit you’re signalling your body to burn fat. Depending on how much fat you have to lose, you can keep progressing for a while. Eventually, your body catches on and starts doing everything it can to stop you from losing any more fat.
At this point, you bump calories up to a maintenance intake, allowing the body to relax, as it realises you’re not starving, and it stops pushing back.
Maintenance is the quote–unquote sweet spot of calorie intake during the PHASE diet. It’s just enough calories to signal your body that you’re not starving, thus preventing the side effects that come with dieting and, preventing fat [re]gain as you’re not in a calorie surplus.
All in all, the PHASE Diet has you coaxing fat loss while keeping all the negative side effects of dieting at bay.
As for the positives? Well.
Benefits of The PHASE
- Psychological Break
Dieting is a mental game. And the longer you stay in a deficit, the harder this mental game becomes. Eating at maintenance for a week or two gives you a psychological break from dieting by letting you eating ‘normally’ again. This is especially important if you have a lot of fat to lose.
- Hormone Recovery
Losing weight will induce some form of hormonal downregulation as mentioned earlier. Eating at maintenance for a week or two can help upregulate your hormones.
- More Food
Let’s face it: dieting sucks but is a necessary evil. Eating more food during the maintenance phase will allow you to eat the foods you couldn’t during the first fat loss phase, and get your mind right so you can smash the second phase of your diet.
- Muscle Preservation
Depending on how lean you start and how lean you plan on getting; muscle loss becomes more of a risk the longer you stay in a deficit. Phasing between a deficit and a period of maintenance can help prevent muscle loss.
- Increased Fat Loss
Dieting is a stress on the Body, thus increasing stress hormones like Cortisol, which in turn can cause water retention. During the maintenance period, when calories are aplenty, the body relaxes; stress hormones drop and with it the water it’s been holding on to. This drop in water often leads to a leaner, tighter looking physique.
Think of it like a biological Woosah.
Another factor at play here is the increased energy levels that come by way of increased calorie intake. More energy equals better workouts and more calories being burnt.
The setup will vary depending on how much fat you have to lose (see table below). The more fat you have, the longer you can stay in a deficit without the perilous side effects coming on.
Conversely, the leaner you begin your diet, or become in the process of dieting, the more important it is to apply a PHASIC approach to your nutrition plan at regular intervals.
You’ll note that the maintenance phase is one to two weeks regardless of body fat levels. The reason for this is quite simple: it takes anywhere from 3 – 10 days for hormones to ‘reset’ after a dieting stint. While 3 days may be more than enough for the physiological side of things to recover, I personally prefer the 10-14 day mark as it gives the person a mental break from dieting, enjoy more food and get ready for the next phase of dieting.
Keep in mind that the above are some rough guidelines. If you get to the timeline given above and still feel great, awesome – keep dieting. The key is to pay attention to signals from your body rather than rigidly following the guidelines.
Some things to look out for:
Hunger is a concomitant part of the dieting process. However, if your hunger levels are becoming so strong that they’re causing you to think of food all day long or how you’d rather ravage the local buffet than spend a night with Mia Khalifa; maybe it’s a sign for you to bump to maintenance for a while.
Facetiousness aside: libido – lack of sex drive – is also a strong sign that you should bump back to maintenance.
- Strength Levels
If you aren’t dieting too aggressively, there shouldn’t be much strength loss given you’re eating sufficient protein and still lifting in a similar fashion to what you were before the diet. If you find strength levels are going down week on week, then it could be a sign to reign things in for a while.
- Stalled Fat Loss
Yes. I’m fully aware that this is going against everything you’ve been told. But, if you’ve dropped calories more than 25% from maintenance intake and you still aren’t seeing any fat loss, it may be time to take a little break from dieting.
And, no. This isn’t some eat-more-calories-lose-fat-fitness- sorcery-cos-fuck-you-law-of thermodynamics. It’s usually the water retention hiding actual fat loss (refer back to benefits of the phase section).
There will, inevitably, be some lack in energy as a consequence of reduced caloric intake. However, it shouldn’t be so bad that it starts to affect your day to day functioning. If fatigue and energy levels are starting to become increasingly bad, this is another tell-tale sign that you should be phasing back to maintenance.
The PHASE Diet: Beyond Dieting
While the focus of the PHASE Diet in this article is on fat loss, its benefits extend way beyond just that.
This is a point that’s often forgotten amidst the glamour of fat loss results. Diets fail, not because losing fat is hard; for the most part, it’s pretty simple, but because maintaining the fat loss after the diet ends, is.
Most people will crash diet, lose a ton of weight but then not be able to maintain the fat loss in the long run.
Why is this?
Like the setpoint, Scientists have also hypothesised the settling point. This ‘settling point’ is the new weight and body fat your body becomes accustomed to.
However, for you to maintain this settling point, the key is to give your body enough time to adapt to the new bodyweight.
Think of it like moving into a new neighbourhood; new people, new surroundings; everything’s a bit uncomfortable for the first few weeks, but eventually the more time you spend in this new neighbourhood the more familiar things become, and the more comfortable you become.
This is where the maintenance phase can be extremely beneficial if you have a lot of fat to lose.
Instead of going straight from your starting weight to your new body weight, phasing allows your body to incrementally get accustomed to the changes in body weight, meaning you’re more likely to sustain it.
Drop a little, maintain, get comfortable, drop a bit more. Maintain new bodyweight.
Yep. The PHASE Diet can and should also be applied during a mass gaining phase. This will result in:
- Less fat gain
- More muscle
- A healthier hormonal profile
But, I’ll leave that for another post.
The Wrap Up
As cliche as it may be, taking one step back, two steps forward really is the approach you want to be taking when optimal body composition is your goal. The body isn’t a linear system, so trying to approach it like one is setting you up for failure. The PHASE Diet allows you to tackle this issue and, more importantly, gives you every chance of maintaining your new physique after the hard work of dieting is done.
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