So you do the hard part and start dieting. You are a couple weeks into cutting your calories and everything is going great. Then around 3 – 4 weeks in you start to hit a road block. Your weight loss stagnates. You feel lethargic. Sex drive diminishes. This is an all too common situation we see when it comes to cutting weight to get lean. We’re here to help you recognize the signs and stop it in its tracks.
The Number 1 Mistake People Make When Cutting
Getting straight to it. The number one mistake we see people make when they start trying to get lean is cutting their calories too quickly. It can be an extremely easy mistake to make. You get motivated to diet. You start by cutting out one meal a day and pushing back your feeding window. You see progress the first week and start to think that more is better. You’ve built up a good baseline of mental toughness so you keep pushing. Maybe you go to OMAD to pump up the results. Then 3 – 4 weeks in you start to crash.
This problem is widespread and can be easy to miss if you are not paying close attention. It is caused when you go from eating a standard diet of 3ish meals a day and dial it back too quickly. If you are used to eating 2500 – 3000 calories per day and immediately cut that number back to around 1800 you will see results in the first couple of weeks. Then slowly but surely the wheels start to fall off. You’re tired all the time. Libido drops and you can’t focus on menial tasks. This is because you pushed too hard too quickly and your body has begun to go into starvation mode.
Effects of Aggressive Cuts
When you begin cutting you will see results regardless of which methods you deploy. The trick is it do it in a calculated manor.
As we’ve discussed previously, Leptin is an extremely powerful neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of fullness. When you are weeks into an aggressive cut your Leptin levels tend to decrease significantly. This is primarily because Leptin is produced by your body’s fat cells. As a result when calories and weight begin to drop drastically your body will work to balance things out by dropping Leptin levels. Because Leptin levels respond to overall calorie intake, carbohydrate intake, and your overall body fat levels they are heavily impacted when you start dieting.
Low Leptin Levels can cause:
- Low libido
- Decreased energy
- Lower strength and endurance
- Reduced metabolic function
On average, men tend to see decreased testosterone levels when they begin to aggressively diet. This is primarily because testosterone levels depend heavily on adequate fat (cholesterol) and carbohydrate (starch) intake. When you begin dieting most people will work to minimize their fat and carb intake and instead focus on getting plenty of protein. While this may be an effective fat loss technique it will come with some unwanted side effects.
Possible side effects of low T caused by dieting include:
- Low libido/sex drive
- Low energy/motivation
Down Regulated Thyroid Function
Thyroid hormones work to moderate your metabolic rate and overall well being. When you begin to enter a prolonged dieting phase it is natural to see your thyroid start to down regulate. This is known as hyperthyroidism and it will significantly inhibit your weight loss goals. The specific causes of hyperthyroidism are extremely complex and if you’re interested, we recommend you check this out to learn more.
Hyperthyroidism causes your body to have difficulty metabolizing the calories that it takes in. This will be compounded if you are coupling your aggressive cut with extremely strenuous exercise. Signs of hyperthyroidism include:
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased strength/endurance
- Mood swings
Signs to be Aware of
At this point, we’re sure you are sufficiently scared of the potential effects of an aggressive weight cut. Here are a few signs to keep a close eye on.
This is the first one on the list because we know it is one that guys will often become aware of first. You start to lose your virile energy. You lose interest in sex and in pursuing sex. For any young and active guy this can be an alarming issue. The big thing to look out for here is if you stop experiencing “morning wood”. All guys are familiar with this. When everything is working well you often wake up raring to go. If you notice this stops happening over a prolonged period (a few weeks) its highly likely that you cut calories too quickly and need to taper back.
Lack of Focus
When you first start dieting. It is likely that you will experience increased focus and energy. This is because your body can devote less ATP to breaking down food and use that energy on other tasks. After several weeks into an aggressive cut this will begin to wain. If you notice after a few weeks that you can’t sit down and focus on everyday tasks (like writing a blog) its a sign you might need to up your calories a bit.
If your Leptin/Ghrelin levels are all over the place. If your Thyroid is out of wack. It is highly likely that you will experience feelings of restlessness or difficulty sleeping. If you get in bed after a long day of work and working out and still have trouble sleeping it is likely these are the reasons to blame.
How to Avoid
Now that we’ve sufficiently scared you. Let’s discuss a few tips and tricks you can deploy to help avoid these nasty side effects.
Keep the Carbs Up
Since carbohydrate levels are extremely important to Leptin production we recommend keeping your carb intake relatively high for as long as possible. If you are going to be dieting for a prolonged period of time we recommend that you consider carb-cycling or possibly incorporate a refeed day into your protocol.
A refeed day is essentially a day where you over eat relative to your dieting protocol. The focus on these days should be to get sufficient carbohydrate so that you can replenish your glycogen stores and signal to the body that it should not down regulate leptin production.
Cardio, Keep Volume Low
Cardio will naturally be a part of any effective weight-loss plan. This is primarily because it is an easy way to get the body moving, the metabolism pumping and burn more calories through out the day. If you are going to incorporate cardio into your weight loss plan (we think you should) it is important to do it in the right way.
When we say do it the right way we primarily mean don’t overdo it in terms of volume. We recommend you opt for low intensity steady state cardio such as walking or extremely short bouts of high intensity cardio.
If you decide to go with walking aim for about 7000 steps per day. This level is sufficient to burn some extra calories but won’t put too much stress on the system. If you hate walking and prefer to get cardio over with quickly we think its best to incorporate short wind sprints. Keep the volume low and aim to sprint 2 days per week max.
Overdoing cardio is an easy way to put unwanted stress on your body. It sends stress signals to your body and can cause the breakdown of muscle tissue if overdone. As mentioned before, muscle mass is extremely critical to maintain while dieting.
So do some cardio. Just don’t go crazy.
Sleep, Get Tons
Sleeping a sufficient amount 7 – 8 hours per night is extremely crucial when embarking on a weight loss journey. Sleep is where your body recovers and it is when your hormones reset. If you struggle to get a sufficient amount of sleep at night we recommend you try and incorporate some short naps throughout the day. An early afternoon nap of 45 minutes to an hour can be an effective way to mitigate signs of sleep deprivation. That being sad, naps won’t save you if your sleep hygiene is terrible. Still a useful tool to deploy.
Over Training, Don’t Do It
When you begin dieting its easy to simply keep the same workout routine that you used when you were eating a normal amount of calories. This is a mistake. You are cutting. As a result you will be eating less calories and have less energy to apply towards working out.
If you are used to training 5 – 6 days a week try to taper it back to 4 days per week. Focus on heavy compound lifts and don’t go crazy with the volume. If you do, you will stress out your body and send your hormones spiraling. Whats important here is that you keep lifting weights to show your body it needs to hold muscle tissue. This can be achieved with a few short (but intense) sessions per week.
Example of a Good Cut
As you can see by now we don’t recommend that you immediately enter an extreme cut where you reduce your calories by more than 500 per day. Instead, opt for a moderate calorie cut. A 200 – 300 calorie cut per day is plenty sufficient for weight loss. Start small and start slow.
Once you have been on a 200 – 300 calorie reduction for at least 3 – 4 weeks you will start to see a plateau in your weight cut. Keep the plateau up for an extra week and then drop your calories another 2 – 3 hundred. This will make sure that your cut is sustainable and you don’t send your body out of wack. It will also help you avoid the inevitably weight rebound when your cut is over.
Say your normal diet is 2500 calories per day.
Start with cutting that number down to 2200 calories per day. Sustain this deficit (within range) for about a month. After your weight begins to settle, keep it up for one more week. This will make sure you squeeze every last pound of fat loss out of your current plan.
After this extra week, cut another 200 – 300 calories. Meaning you would aim for about 1900 calories per day. Rinse. Repeat.
Wrapping it Up
There you have it. The biggest problem we see when it comes to weight loss and dieting (for those that are serious) is doing too much too quickly. As you can see this can have a myriad of negative health implications. Instead, start slow. Be consistent. When you see you are at a plateau keep the same regimen for ONE extra week. Then cut again. Sounds simple in theory but their is a reason this is such a prevalent problem. Thats because its an easy trap to fall into. We hope you read this, and avoid it all together.
Hope this helps.