10 Ideas for Easy Protein Snacks

Whether you’re traveling afar or have a crazy busy day full of nonstop activities, it’s really not as difficult as it might seem to hit your protein goal.

When tracking macros, it’s always helpful to have a few go-to items in your back pocket that you know can easily fit your daily macro numbers. With these quick and easy high protein snack choices, you can literally grab and go! Feel free to add to this list or make your own full of your favorites to reference when time is lacking.

1. Protein Chips
There are a few variations of high protein chips on the market, but the one that tops them all for flavor/macro ratio by far is Quest chips. When traveling or on vacation, these are lifesavers with only 120 calories: 1.5F/5C/21P for an entire bag! They have many flavors to choose from such as sea salt, barbecue, salt & vinegar (my personal favorite), and sour cream & onion.

2. Jerky
Jerky is the perfect high protein snack on the go! A typical 3 oz bag of turkey jerky is about 240 calories: 1.5F/15C/39P and it’s delicious! Most beef jerkys are just a few grams higher in fat per serving. Whatever your macros may be, anyone can fit in some jerky for a quick and easy high dose of protein!

3. Protein Bars
There are tons of protein bars out there these days, with more and more brands popping up by the minute it seems! Unfortunately, some have horrible macros and misleading marketing. This is why knowing what you are looking for and how to read labels is so important! Make sure and always look at the serving size as some companies include one bar as 2 servings. If you’re cutting, you’ll probably want to go for high protein, low carb, and low fat. If you’re in a caloric surplus, go for whatever you want! Some of my personal favorites for the highest flavor with decent macros are Quest bars (these have high fiber too!), Kirkland/Costco bars (similar to quest but cheaper), Fit Crunch bars (higher in fat but incredible taste), and ONE bars. For a delicious homemade protein bar recipe check out our Chewy Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bars!

4. Protein Cookies
Similar to protein bars, you really need to know how to read a label when choosing protein cookies as the same tricky marketing techniques apply. Protein bars typically have better macros than protein cookies, but if you’re craving a cookie and can swing it in your macros, they make a great sweet snack! Some of my favorite cookies for flavor/macro ratio are Buff Bake cookies and Protein Cookie Company. We even have some easy homemade protein cookie recipes here at Avatar! Check out our Shortbread Protein Cookies, Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Protein Cookie, and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies!

5. Protein Puppy Chow
Protein puppy chow is so easy to make and a perfect alternative to that addictive Christmastime snack that you can’t stop eating! By making some easy substitutions that don’t minimize the flavor, you can re-vamp any recipe including this one! Check out our Pumped Up Protein Puppy Chow recipe and get your snack on!

6. Protein Dips
There are so many amazing dips you can make with simple high protein ingredients! Some of my favorite tricks are using nonfat greek yogurt or low fat cottage cheese and mixing it with a little sugar free fat free pudding mix and a little stevia to taste! Eat it plain or use it as fruit dip! There’s also some great savory options as well! Check out our Protein Packed Enchilada Layer Dip and Creamy Hot Crab Dip for high protein savory dips!

7. Protein Muffins
Protein muffins are SO incredibly easy to make and the flavor possibilities are endless! My one piece of advice would be to never use whey isolate when baking because it turns recipes into protein cardboard. Blends usually work great for baking. Try some of our recipes like our Blueberry Chia Seed Protein Muffins and Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Protein Muffins. Feel free to substitute your favorite fruit and flavors and get creative!

8. Energy Bites
Energy bites are a great protein snack on the go! Many of the energy bite recipes you find online have very high-fat content due to use of nut butters. Feel free to substitute lower fat binders such as mashed banana for better macros. One of my favorite tricks is using vitafiber as a binder as it adds tons of fiber to energy bite recipes and has 0g fat. Check out our S’mores Energy Bite recipe to get started!

9. Chicken/Tuna Salads
At restaurants, I’ve always stayed away from any kind of chicken or tuna salad because the fat content is insanely high from the REAL mayonnaise. You can easily substitute real mayonnaise for lighter versions or even greek yogurt! Check out our 4-ingredient creamy Fuji Apple Chicken Salad that tastes incredible and is only 181 calories: 6F/6C/24P per serving!

10. Nonfat Greek Yogurt Snacks
Nonfat Greek yogurt is so versatile and delicious when mixed with other simple ingredients! Prepare some overnight oats by combining your favorite fruit, oats, greek yogurt, a little almond milk, and stevia and placing in a mason jar overnight for a delicious high protein breakfast or snack the next day! Add cocoa powder, Stevia and/or sugar-free, fat-free chocolate pudding mix to Greek yogurt to make a tasty high protein chocolate pudding. Blend Greek yogurt with your favorite fruit and some almond milk for a high protein smoothie snack! The possibilities are endless!

For more super easy, mouth-watering high protein snacks, check out our recipes here at Avatar Nutrition!

9 Food Hacks To Help You Enjoy Your Favorite Foods & Lose Fat

NEWSFLASH: The food you eat while dieting doesn’t have to suck!

Say goodbye to chewy chicken, tasteless Tupperware tilapia, and flavorless rice. With these macro hacks, you can enjoy your food while dieting—and have fun doing it!

1. Panic-Free Pasta

As your carbs drop, you may not be able to “afford” the carbs in regular pasta noodles. Luckily, there are lots of ways your favorite pasta dish can ditch the carbs and keep the flavor. Spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles are the perfect way to pack in micronutrients and volume without the extra calories. They soak up whatever flavor is in the dish, so you don’t have to worry about it tasting bland.

Shirataki noodles, made from the Japanese konjac plant, are another great option for low-calorie pasta. While ordinary spaghetti has 26g carbs per serving, shirataki noodles have only 1g (and only 5-10 total calories per serving)! Just make sure to rinse and cook them well before adding to your pasta dish. For more pastas that are rich in flavor and low in carbs, check out these easy recipes:

2. Bargain Burgers
When it comes to burgers, the possibilities are endless! If you still have enough carbs to allow for buns, Healthy Life brand makes an excellent 80-calorie bun (0.5F/19C/4P). Or, if you can’t make room for a bread bun, try swapping it out for grilled portobello mushrooms. Low-sugar ketchup and olive oil mayo taste just as good as the real thing but with substantially better macros. And of course, the leaner the beef, the better!

And even if you don’t have the carbs for a bun, you can enjoy the mouth-watering taste of a burger with a “Big Mac Salad.” (This one is an all-time favorite of mine.) Just load up a big bowl of lettuce, lean ground beef, a few pickles, tomatoes, low-fat cheese, and drizzle it with low sugar ketchup and olive oil mayonnaise. I promise it will blow your mind… and taste buds!

3. Pizza Slices of Heaven

Sometimes you’re on a diet but still want to eat a whole pizza. It happens to me all the time—and I’ve got the solution! Use a high-fiber, low-carb tortilla as the crust. (I like Extreme Wellness or La Tortilla Factory brands.) Put it on a greased baking sheet, add marinara sauce, low-fat cheese, turkey pepperoni, and whatever else you’d like. You can also go in deep on low-macro pizza crust by mixing cauliflower rice with an egg and a little flour. Get creative with it and have fun! Oh, and check out these awesome macro-friendly pizza recipes:

4. Low-Calorie Ice Cream
Low-calorie ice cream products have BLOWN UP in the last few years and making these creamy spoonfuls fit your macros is easier than ever! If you have relatively low carbs, I recommend Halo Top, Enlightened, and ProYo brands. If you’re on really low carbs, grab some Arctic Zero and make sure to melt it for at least 10 seconds in the microwave before eating. You can also jazz it up with a protein brownie (which we’ll get to soon!) and some low-calorie chocolate or caramel sauce.

Here’s a quick hack for yummy, filling protein ice cream: Grab a blender and throw in some ice, protein powder, 30-calorie almond milk, stevia/Splenda, and just the tiniest dash of xanthan gum (too much will hurt your tummy, trust me on that). To make it creamier, you can add a tiny bit of the good stuff: coffee creamer, whole milk, etc. Adding frozen berries can also help make the consistency closer to regular ice cream.

5. Movie-Night Popcorn
No movie night would be complete without movie theater popcorn to snack on… except that movie theater popcorn is about 1,238,403,934 calories. (Okay, maybe a smidge less.) This is one of my favorite hacks of all time, and it’s so easy! Pop a bag of low-fat popcorn in the microwave, then add a few spritzes of zero-calorie spray butter (not a TON—it does have measurable calories if you use a lot), sprinkle some salt in, and shake it up. BOOM, problem solved! Enjoy your movie with macros to spare!

6. Perfect Peanut Butter
One of the most shocking realizations when starting to track macros is discovering what a serving of peanut butter actually looks like. (Spoiler alert: it’s tiny!) Fortunately, there’s a way to trick your taste buds with a peanut butter substitute that tastes amazing! All you have to do is get some peanut powder (Jif brand has the best macros I’ve seen), add a little stevia/Splenda, and just a bit of water until it yields a peanut butter-like consistency. Spread it on a muffin, toast, oatmeal… whatever you’d like! Now you can save those precious fats for the rest of your day.

7. Dressings and Condiments

Low-sugar ketchup and olive oil mayonnaise are GREAT substitutions for the “real thing,” and both are easy to find at the store. Mustard has zero calories and you can even add a little stevia/Splenda to make zero-calorie honey mustard. Bolthouse Farms dressings taste amazing and are all 35-45 calories per 2 tbsp—compared to the 140-170 calories in typical dressings. Walden Farms’ pancake syrup is their most popular product and tastes incredible for zero calories. Next time you go to the grocery store, take some time to look at the various reduced-calorie items and judge for yourself if they are truly “worth the macros.” You can almost always find something tasty that fits your needs!

8. Low-Carb Chips
Low-carb tortillas have so many uses, but maybe the best is turning them into chips! Lay a low-carb tortilla on a baking sheet coated with nonstick spray. Then spray a little nonstick spray on the tortilla itself and flavor it with salt and any seasonings you’d like. You can even make sweet chips by adding a little cinnamon and stevia. Bake for a few minutes at 350 degrees and watch them very carefully so they don’t burn! The savory chips are great with salsa or hummus and the sweet ones are perfect with fruit dip!

9. Protein Brownies
Get ready for the easiest, quickest, and highest-protein brownie you’ll ever make! It’s a lifesaver for those late nights when you’re craving chocolate but don’t have the carbs and fat to spare. Put a scoop of protein powder (preferably not isolate) in a bowl with one tbsp of cocoa powder, stevia to taste, baking soda, and water. Mix until it’s a brownie batter consistency. Then just heat it in the microwave for a minute or so until it’s a little gooey in the middle. Voila! The perfect protein brownie awaits.

Now you’ve got some great tools for hacking delicious meals on budget macros. No matter what your tastes, flexible dieting—and a few clever tricks—can keep you making progress while eating however you want! Now get out there, try these macro hacks, and embrace the yum!

9 Common Myths About Gaining & Building Muscle

The truths of muscle-gain can be well-hidden behind bro-science, gym lore, and internet dogma.

The briefest of browser searches will turn up all kinds of kooky nutrition and training advice. If you stick with it long enough, you might figure out how to sort the knowledge from the nonsense; but we can save you a lot of time!

Let’s pick apart some of the common “commandments” of muscle-gain—you’ll be surprised how many are fruitless, misleading, or just plain wrong.

 

1. Thou Shalt Eat All the Protein

The first chapter of the bro-science bible would probably expound that, to put on lots of muscle, you need to eat lots of protein. The logic goes like this: You want to put on muscle, and muscle is made from protein; so, it stands to reason that, if you want to maximize the amount of muscle your body can synthesize, you have to eat as much protein as you can. Right? Not really.

Science doesn’t back up this claim. In fact, studies that have compared the effects of moderate-protein and very-high-protein diets on hypertrophy show the contrary: after a certain point, increasing daily protein to extreme amounts will not increase the muscle you gain [1]. This doesn’t mean that you should scorn high-protein diets—in fact, high-protein diets can have other benefits including satiety (making you feel full) and muscle retention [2]. But if your aim is to gain muscle, you don’t need to guzzle every gram of whey you can find.

How much protein should you eat, then? The optimal range is probably between 0.6 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (1.4 and 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight) [3]. For a 150 lb person, this means eating between 90g and 135g of protein per day; or for someone who weighs 200 lb, eating between 120g and 180g per day. (Notice that, far from being a hard-and-fast number, there’s a lot of wiggle-room here.) If you’re resistance training (and you absolutely should be to build muscle!) then you don’t want to eat protein below this range consistently. However, eating protein above this recommendation might increase the feeling of fullness (if you need it), and it might satisfy a preference for meat and dairy—but it won’t make you gain more muscle.

(For more details on how much protein you really need, check out our article here!)

 

2. Protein Is the Only Macro That Matters

Protein is very important for gaining muscle. Your body must have a positive nitrogen balance (meaning, protein to spare) in order to spend that surplus on building muscle tissue. But protein isn’t the only thing that matters. Physics will hit you hard if you think just eating lots of protein will transform you into a Greek statue. For that, you need to eat a surplus of calories too. Just like you can’t lose weight without eating in a deficit, you can’t gain weight (and muscle is weight) without consuming more total food. The most important thing your macros will do for you here is put you in a surplus.

After total calories, second on the list is nailing down your protein intake so you’re consistently in that optimal range (0.6 – 0.9 grams/pound of bodyweight/day). But unless you were already eating tons of carbs and fats, and very low protein, simply adding protein probably won’t put you in much of a surplus.

Carbs are great for helping you eat a surplus of calories since they don’t fill you up as much (making them easier to consume in a surplus) and they’ll provide more of the fast-burning energy you’ll need for hard, muscle-building workouts. Also, carbs will stimulate the anabolic hormone insulin, which, among other things, helps synthesize muscle tissue by preventing protein breakdown and helping you reach a positive nitrogen balance [4].

3. Thou Shalt Eat All the Calories

While the laws of physics demand that you eat a surplus of calories to gain muscle, no rules require you to gorge down a pizza and a bucket of buffalo wings every day. The popular concept of “bulking”—eating as much as you can to maximize muscle-tissue synthesis—is no more scientific than “eat all the protein, bro.”

Just like how eating protein beyond 0.9g/pound bodyweight doesn’t buy you any extra muscle gain, eating ridiculously high calories doesn’t yield any increase in muscle-growth over time. Your body has a maximal capacity for synthesizing protein into muscle, and, beyond a certain point, no amount of calories will make it go faster. Those excess calories will get put to use, rest assured—you’ll find them lurking around your stomach, hips, and thighs as the softer stuff you probably don’t want.

Want to find out how fast you can reasonably (and naturally) gain muscle? Check out our article here!

 

4. Cardio Will Ruin Your Gains

Cardiovascular (or endurance) training can interfere with your body’s ability to increase muscle and gain strength—that much is clear [5]. Cardio takes up time and energy that you could put toward more valuable muscle-building workouts. And cardio might increase catabolism (energy break-down) in the body by stimulating catabolic hormones (like cortisol) when you want the opposite (anabolism, synthesis, growth) [6]. However, the amount cardio you can get away with (with minimal or no downside) is less clear, and needs more science to say for sure.

A hard-gainer struggling to add mass may do better by removing cardio (decreasing calories out) instead of eating even more (increasing calories in); but that doesn’t mean everyone should nix some endurance training. In fact, many studies have shown that concurrent training (endurance and resistance training within the same week), can still cause muscle growth. When groups of subjects did concurrent training, there was an interference effect for strength (meaning they gained less strength than if they had only resistance-trained) but they still gained muscle, albeit in a different pattern (only fast-twitch muscle fibers grew—possibly because the other, slower-twitch fibers were too fatigued or depleted by the endurance training) [5].

So yes, you can do some cardio and still put on muscle. That said, you’ll have to ignore another piece of prevailing bro-science: that you can do as much cardio as you want, so long as it’s HIIT. High-Intensity-Interval-Training has been touted as a cure for the interference effect between endurance and resistance training.

Since HIIT’s intensity and duration are similar to resistance training, proponents argue, the stimulus isn’t directly opposed to the process of putting on muscle, and may even help. While that’s true to an extent [7], HIIT is still an exhausting form of cardio, and can ultimately detract from the energy your body needs to build muscle, especially if performed before a lifting session. Remember that the focus of a muscle-building period should be resistance training, and that, whatever the type or mode of cardio you choose, moderation will be key.

(Want more on cardio and muscle gain? Here’s an entire article for you!)

5. Thou Shalt Do 8-12 Reps

Doing sets of 8-12 reps will build muscle, but it isn’t the only way. In fact, the idea that any particular number of reps is best for hypertrophy has been hacked to smithereens in recent years.

Let’s crush the mythology of the 8-12 rep-range…

First, understand that volume is king. Volume, usually expressed as weight times sets times reps, is the clearest predictor of hypertrophy. If the total volume of training is going up over time, muscle mass will likely follow, because adding muscle is the body’s adaptation to handle increased workloads [8]. And while 8 reps, 10, reps, or 12 reps will work fine to accomplish this, the supremacy of total volume means that no specific way of achieving it is better or worse than another. So, you can still get enough volume to build muscle with 6 reps, or 15 reps.

Understanding this simple fact is important. Some people prefer light weights and high reps (like sets of 15, 20, or even 30—those crazies), and some people prefer heavy weights and low reps (like 4-6)—both of which are in that reasonable range for muscle growth. If you think that lifting in these zones will undercut your gains, you’re missing out on what could be your favorite style of training.

Sets of 8-12 might be a convenient middle-ground for many people, straddling the line between heavy strength training and the lung- and muscle-burning adventure into higher reps. But it shouldn’t be seen as anything special, and there are downsides. A narrow range of reps doesn’t leave much room for variation or progression over time. Also, sticking to the middle-ground cleaves off the value you can get from using the ranges on either side: reps lower than 8 will increase strength very efficiently, and help you to add volume (by increasing weights) over time; reps higher than 12 will increase your work capacity, allowing you to do more work (again read: volume) in the gym and recover faster between sets and reps. Plus, the pump and burn you’d get from sets of 15-20 are hard to match with lower reps.

6. Never Exercise a Sore Muscle

There are two big reasons why this isn’t true:
1) Exercise is actually a great—possibly the best—way to get rid of lingering soreness [9].
2) Within reason, a sore muscle isn’t much different from a fully-recovered muscle.

If the pain is severe, you’ll see diminished performance and force-production from sore regions of the body [10], but you can still do light work in the gym, improve recovery, and continue trekking down the muscle-brick road.

And keep in mind that avoiding ever training a sore muscle cuts down on either the intensity of your workouts (so you won’t get sore) or the frequency of your workouts (like a once-per-week muscle-group split, or even skipping sessions because you’re still sore). Both options are unnecessary and antithetical to the point of what you’re doing: to build muscle, you have to train hard, and you have to consistently accumulate training volume over time.

7. Thou Shalt Train to Failure

Taking every set to the point of failure (where you can’t do any more reps) simply isn’t necessary to build muscle. In fact, you don’t have to take any of your training to failure. As a style of training, many studies have validated that training to failure works [8], but so does leaving reps “in the tank” at the end of a set, which is likely a better long-term approach [11].

Here’s why you should limit or avoid it: If you train to failure, your training will be more exhausting, require more rest between sets (or require you to use much less weight), and leave you with no wiggle-room for a planned progression in the weeks or months to come. For example, if you can only do 10 reps, and you do 10 reps, you can’t be certain you’ll be able to increase to 11 or 12 reps next week. Beginners may be able to, but an intermediate or advanced trainee will quickly get stuck and see their returns from the gym diminish. If you did 7-8 reps instead, you know that next week you could do 8-9, and the week after that 9-10. You gave yourself more time to get stronger, and were just as productive.

Furthermore, you’ve skipped out on the extra problems that training to failure entails, like needing a competent spotter for safety, pounding pre-workout to stave off the inevitable burnout, and the aches, pains, and injuries that are more likely when you take exercises to the max.

8. Your Workouts Must Be Long

We’ve all seen that muscle-head: He’s in the gym six days per week, and no matter what time you go, it’s like he’s always there. Maybe you go up to him and ask how long he trains, and he says “4 hours” with a proud smile. He has to train that long, he explains, because he needs to get just so jacked. It’s the only way.

Luckily, he’s wrong.. Many research studies have created lots of hypertrophy with bare-bones, short-and-simple workouts that couldn’t take longer than a half hour. Is that a solution for the long-term? Certainly not, and it is true that the longer you seek to gain muscle, the longer your training sessions may need to be. But the quest for higher volumes of training (per session) need to be balanced against the suggested downsides of gruesomely long training sessions: burnout, decreased effort and motivation, and perhaps even a suppressed immune system [8]. If someone is always taking longer than 90-120 minutes to train, they’re probably making up for poor programming and exercise selection, and wasting lots of time in the gym. This is the “smoke ‘em out” plan for muscle-growth, and it isn’t optimal or necessary.

The bottom-line here is: sessions can be short, and the gains still be sweet.

9. Thou Shalt Confuse Thy Muscles

We’ve all heard the speech, probably in an Austrian accent, where we are commanded to train with lots of variety, both within and between sessions, in order to “shock” our muscles into growing. The argument goes like this: Your body will seek comfort, normalcy, and homeostasis; so long as you can continue training in ways your body doesn’t expect, it will be forced to maximally adapt because it’s a new stimulus each time.

But let’s be clear: The only part of your body that can “expect” something to happen is your nervous system (the thing reading this article). Your muscles adapt to stimuli, and while throwing a new stimulus at your muscles every time you train will make your workouts hard, it won’t make them more effective.

The appeal to authority (“Well, Arnold did it!”) doesn’t help, since the claims here aren’t supported by any good science. What’s more, you can find examples of other successful bodybuilders with the opposite philosophy (like Ronnie Coleman, who famously did the same back routine for years). Ultimately, you shouldn’t concern yourself with their training philosophies, since they were taking “supplements” that you (probably) aren’t taking!

Never underestimate the power of consistency. Yes, variation is an important part of program design, but consistency and adherence are more important. If you think using lots of different exercises is fun and doable, then go for it. But if you only have an hour in the gym three times a week, focusing on a more meat-and-potatoes plan of a few core movements and accessories will take you a long, long way.

 

 

REFERENCES

[1] Antonio J, Peacock CA, Ellerbroek A, et al. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2014). 11(19).

[2] Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2013). 11(20)

[3] Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise (2007). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 26(4): 8.

[4] Chow LS, Albright RC, Bigelow ML, et al. Mechanism of insulin’s anabolic effect on muscle: measurements of muscle protein synthesis and breakdown using aminoacyl-tRNA and other surrogate measures. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2006). 291(4): E729-736.

[5] Leveritt M, Abernethy PJ, Barry BK, et al. Concurrent strength training and endurance training. Sports Med (1999). 28(6): 413-427.

[6] Bell G, Syrotuik D, Socha T, et al. Effect of strength training and concurrent strength and endurance training on strength, testosterone, and cortisol. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (1997).

[7] Tsitkanou S, Spengos K, Stasinaki AN, et al. Effects of high-intensity interval cycling performed after resistance training on muscle strength and hypertrophy. Scand J Med Sci Sports (2016). (Online publication ahead of print.)

[8] Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2010). 24(10): 2857-2872.

[9] Cheung K, Hume PA, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Med (2003). 33(2): 145-164.

[10] Clarkson PM, Nosaka K, Braun B. Muscle function after exercise-induced muscle damage and rapid adaptation. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (1992). 24(5): 512-520.

[11] Willardson JM. The application of training to failure in periodized multiple-set resistance training programs. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2007). 21(2): 628-631.

The Complete Guide to Reverse Dieting

In a perfect world, dieting is simple.

Eat less, maybe move more, and watch yourself transform from caterpillar to butterfly. Lather, rinse, and repeat until satisfied.

But, for some reason, the clockwork of calories-in vs calories-out gets fuzzy. We all know somebody—maybe it’s us—who just can’t seem to lose weight. They try and try. They seem to do all the right things. They track, restrict, and fail. What’s going on?

That reason is called “life.” And I don’t just mean the roller coaster ups-and-downs of family, work, traffic, and potato chips. I mean biology. Because there’s no way around it: the fat loss formula is calories-in vs calories-out. The trouble is that, when we track macros, we’re only controlling the calories-in side. The other side of the equation is your metabolism—the complex machinery of organs, hormones, and movement that controls the amount of energy your body burns each day. Sometimes that’s the problem.

But what if you could control that side, too? What if you could rev up your body’s metabolic engine until dieting is not only possible—it’s easy? If you could do that, you’d be well on your way to that perfect world.

Well, you can. It’s called “reverse dieting.”

 

What is Reverse Dieting?

I’m going to tell you a secret.

You’ve heard it before—maybe hundreds of times—people saying they have a “slow metabolism” that keeps them from losing weight. They say it like it’s their lifelong burden; like it’s written in their stars.

But here’s the secret: It’s not really true. I mean, their metabolism might be slow right now, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Metabolisms change over time; they adapt.

We live with the consequences of that all the time. When we constantly restrict food, our metabolism adapts by getting more efficient at living on fewer calories. To your body, a deficit isn’t a tactic for slimming down—it’s a challenge to survival. So, it adapts. Put your body in a long-term deficit, or an uncertain back-and-forth between restricting and binging, and it will start “living cheaper.” For dieting—when you want to burn as much energy as you reasonably can—that can be a big problem.

There are lots of ways your body can “downregulate” your metabolism:

Your metabolism can be thrifty, but you can also teach it to be extravagant… or at least middle-class.

And that’s where reverse dieting comes in. Like a diet that goes backward, you can add calories or macros each week and train your metabolism in the opposite direction: up [3]. It takes a while (we’ll talk about how long later) but when it’s over you’ll be able to cut from (or maintain on) higher calories… one step closer to that perfect world.

 

How is This Possible?

Your metabolism is a horribly intricate thing, but we’ll keep it simple. When we say “metabolism,” what we really mean is TDEE, or “total daily energy expenditure.”

Let’s boil that down.

The first piece of the puzzle is your “basal metabolic rate” or BMR. This is the energy your body burns to stay alive, and accounts for about 60% of your TDEE [4]. Your heart beating, stomach churning, lungs breathing… all the important stuff. As we covered, your BMR can be lowered by a caloric deficit as your organs, sensing the danger of starvation, start to conserve energy. By steadily moving in the other direction, your organs might start to use more energy each day.

Next is your activity. Scientists break this into two parts: exercise and non-exercise activity. Obviously, any movement requires your muscles to work, which costs energy. How much is highly variable, because everything from standing to sprinting falls into this category. Sedentary people don’t burn much energy here, while professional athletes can as much as triple their BMR expenditure with exercise. When you eat plenty of food, your body has no problem spending on activity. But as you steadily drop calories, it’s likely that your body naturally moves less. It makes sense: you feel hungry and tired and terrible, so you stop fidgeting, walk less, and fizzle out in the gym. As you reverse diet and add calories back in, you aren’t running on fumes anymore and you can start burning more energy without even trying.

The last piece of the puzzle is also the smallest: TEF, or the “thermic effect of food.” This is the energy your body needs to chew, swallow, digest, absorb, and process what you eat. At only 10% of your TDEE, it doesn’t make a huge difference what happens here [4]. But, as you eat more food on a reverse, you’ll start burning more energy just from eating, which is nice!

As your metabolism changes, so does your maintenance. (If you burn more energy, you can maintain your bodyweight on more food. If you burn less, you have to eat less.) And as your maintenance calories change, so do your deficits and surpluses. The same food that might be a surplus (a recipe for weight-gain) before might suddenly become a deficit! That’s the power of reverse dieting.

Changing your metabolism, for better or worse, changes your ability to diet. Simple.

(Quick disclaimer: At Avatar, we try to keep everything scientific, rooting all our decisions and recommendations in cold, hard facts. Make no mistake: reverse dieting is very “scientific.” But there isn’t much research about it yet. Everything you read here is based on what little research there is, and what we’ve seen from thousands of cases where people have used reverse dieting to improve their metabolisms.)

So, you’re probably ready to ask: “Sounds great, but does any of this really work?”

Absolutely! The transformations (for bodies and lives) are so incredible that sometimes it seems unreal—but it’s very real. Throughout this Guide, we’ll share a few of the success stories reverse dieting has created.

 

Should YOU Reverse Diet?

Well, do you have trouble dieting? If so, then yes.

It’s seriously that general because it comes down to one question: Why is dieting so hard? There could be many reasons—hunger, willpower, social pressure… but all of them stem from how (or how not) awful your deficit needs to be. The lower your calories have to go, the harder it is to stick to the diet. If you have to eat less, you’ll be hungrier—and that sucks. If you have to eat less, you’ll struggle more with willpower—that sucks, too. If you have to eat less, you can’t have one more slice of grandma’s pie—that sucks, and she might write you out of the will. But each of these things could be solved (or at least improved) by being able to diet on more food.

So, ask yourself :

If you’re in any of these situations, it’s definitely time to reverse diet. But reversing isn’t all about fixing the doom-and-gloom! It can also be a positive step after dieting success, such as:

  • If you’re coming off a diet and ready to eat more and jumpstart your metabolism.
  • If you’re happy with your physique and just want to be able to eat more food.

Maybe you didn’t answer “yes” to any of the problems listed, and it’s not the time to reverse. But keep these signs in mind as you set out on a fat loss journey. Not everyone gets there, but it’s a powerful tool to have in your back pocket when you reach the inevitable “now what?”

And remember: Most people don’t fail because their diets weren’t good enough. They fail because their diets left them with nowhere to go. 6-week challenges and cleanses end, and you can’t just eat rice and fish forever. Reverse dieting changes that. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

What to Expect While Reverse Dieting

In most cases, two things will happen: You’ll add lots of calories to your diet, and you’ll gain a little weight. This is the hardest part to accept for most people. I mean, especially if your long-term goal is to lose weight, why would you spend some time purposely eating more and maybe gaining weight? Because you have to set yourself up for success. You have to be willing to do what it takes to achieve the long-term part of the long-term goal. And if you’re stuck, if you’re unable to restrict more or make progress, where else are you going to go? You have to be willing to gain a few pounds now to lose dozens more later.

(It’s worth talking about that a little more. Let’s get something straight: It’s not easy to forget about the scale or to convince yourself that it’s okay to gain a few pounds. We’re not saying it will be easy, but we are saying it’s necessary. Ultimately, the scale is a scale, so don’t do it for the number on the dial—do it for you! Reverse dieting puts the power back in your hands.

And you’ll be tempted to say, “I want to reverse diet—really—but this isn’t a good time. I’ve got this party/wedding/cruise coming up, and I just want to lose a bunch of weight for that. After it’s over, I’ll happily reverse diet into the sunset.” But it doesn’t work like that. There’s always that thing around the corner that you’d love to lose weight for. There’s always another party, wedding, or cruise to set goals to. And if you didn’t need to reverse, we’d tell you to go for it! But what you do now affects what happens after that wedding, and if you drive your metabolism even farther into the ground, you’ll have that much farther to go on the other side. There’s never a “good time,” there’s just now.)

With all that in mind, understand that this process is slow, systematic, and designed to limit weight gain as much as possible. In fact, in many cases, people don’t gain any weight at all!

In the rarest cases, the gods of flexible dieting smile down on us and people actually lose weight while reversing. When this happens, it’s usually because someone is transitioning out of a diet, and although calories are going up, they’re still in an overall deficit for the first several weeks. However, some lucky few end up losing weight throughout their reverse diet. This probably happens because their metabolism is speeding up faster than the system adds macros, effectively erasing the weekly surplus from the reverse.

But, while no one would blame you for hoping to maintain or lose weight while reversing, the most likely scenario is that you’ll gain a small amount. If you struggle with that idea, you might find that the mental shift—putting your long-term goals ahead of your short-term fears—can be just as life-changing as the reverse diet itself.

 

How Long to Reverse

At Avatar, we recommend reverse dieting for at least 12 weeks. From what we’ve seen, anything shorter just isn’t long enough to get the adaptations that make reverse dieting a game changer. A better recommendation would be to reverse for somewhere between four and eight months.

Why is that so broad? Because the length of your reverse diet is very individual and depends on several factors:

  • How fast you reverse (based on the Avatar setting you choose, which we’ll get to soon)
  • How your body responds
  • How comfortable you are with the weight gain
  • How high you’d like to get your calories
  • Your long-term goal

But, in general, you have to keep in mind that the point of a reverse diet is to make your body adapt to more food, and adaptation takes time. That’s why committing four to eight months to reversing is important: it gives your body time to make the changes you need.

Once you’re a few months into your reverse, it makes sense to wonder how far this will go. When you feel like you’re approaching the end, ask these questions to figure out if it’s a good time to stop:

There’s no need for reverse dieting to go on forever. If you answer “yes” to any of these, it’s time to take your winnings and exit gracefully.

 

What to Do After a Reverse

Maintenance. A thousand times: maintenance!

Your body doesn’t like mixed signals. This applies to yo-yo dieting, and it applies here: You can’t switch back and forth between extremes. For that reason, we recommend everyone coming off a reverse diet go straight into a long period of maintenance. This helps your body recognize this as your new baseline, and—if you took your time with the reverse—you should be able to maintain on much higher calories than before.

How long to maintain? Well, that part gets a little hazy, but it seems like the longer the better. If you want to really solidify the results of your reverse, the conservative option is to maintain for the same length of time you spent reversing.

After Maintenance, you’ve opened a choose-your-own-adventure of possibilities:

 

How to Exercise While Reversing

Reverse dieting success is maximizing your metabolism while gaining as little weight as possible. And while the system takes care of the metabolism part, there are a couple things you can do to minimize weight gain on a reverse.

First: Lift weights! Reverse dieting gives you extra fuel every week, and you can put that energy to the best use by training hard and building muscle. We talked about how your organs use a substantial amount of your daily energy, and while you can’t do much to make your liver churn out more calories, you can build metabolically useful muscle! If you finish your reverse with more calories and more muscle, you’re going to be on top of the world .

Second: Don’t lean on cardio to minimize weight gain! It’s tempting to add cardio into a reverse diet to keep up with the surplus, but this is counterproductive. With resistance training, you’re directing those extra calories to something useful in the long-run (muscle), while cardio will just burn up the extra calories, and your metabolism won’t be able to adapt. The point of the reverse is to be in a slight surplus, and if you undercut this with cardio you’re spinning your wheels.

 

Carb Cycling, Refeeds, and Diet Breaks

Many people will wonder if a reverse diet is the right time to use tactics like refeeds and “diet breaks.” As you’re experimenting with the freedom of eating more rather than less, it makes sense to think about really letting loose on some days. Reverse dieting is a key part of flexible dieting, and the “flexibility” part is about reaching your goals while enjoying your life. Certainly, refeeds, diet breaks, and cycling up and down with macros like carbs can help with this, but it has to be done intelligently.

That means “cheat days” have no place in a reverse diet. Reverse dieting works because it is slow, methodical, and controlled. Designating certain days to go ham on a stack of pancakes or eat everything in sight isn’t about training your metabolism—it’s an excuse for gluttony. And just like it would if you were regular dieting, this will throw off your progress, storing extra calories as fat without doing much for your metabolism. Say “no” to cheat days!

But you can say “yes” to refeed days and carb cycling. Both refer to intentionally eating more carbs/fat on some days while eating less on others to balance out your weekly macros. That way, you can plan on eating more on days you know you’ll be hard-pressed to stick to lower macros (like the weekends, or on hard gym days when you’ll be hungrier). If you make sure the average calories each week are the same, eating more on some days and less on others won’t hurt your progress!

Refeeds and carb cycling can be tricky to implement on your own—they require some careful calculation. But if you’re using Avatar, you can do this easily by setting High and Low days in your profile. The High days will give you more carbs and fat, while the Low days balance them out. On a reverse diet, the difference between High and Low days needs to be smaller, because the Low days can’t drop below your estimated maintenance. The system will keep you at or above that maintenance to continue training your metabolism in the right direction—up!

It’s important to remember that there’s nothing magical about refeeds or cycling your macros. The overall effect will be the same: you’ll be in a small surplus each week, on average, which will strengthen your metabolism and cause some weight gain. These tactics aren’t special or necessary—they only matter if they help you stick to the diet. But that’s where they shine: Having the control to eat more or less on certain days can make reverse dieting that much easier. And when life is easy, the goals get closer, faster.

 

Choosing the Right Goal Setting

You can choose from three different reverse diet settings, from slowest to fastest:

  • Conservative
  • Moderate
  • Aggressive

Which one is right for you? The answer is almost always the Conservative Reverse Diet. This setting will optimize the “success” of a reverse: minimal weight gain with maximal calorie gain. The only downside is that it’s slow. This setting will add the fewest calories each week, giving your metabolism the best chance to “catch up” and adapt. If you’ve ever scoffed at the cliché “slow and steady wins the race,” this is the time to take it to heart.

There are times, though, when Moderate or Aggressive reverse dieting are acceptable choices. For instance, if you’re a physique athlete coming out of a deep, dark deficit, it makes sense to reverse faster and get back to a more normal intake as quickly as you can. In this case, you could stagger the settings, starting with Aggressive, then slow down the process to Moderate, and finally to Conservative. As weight gain starts to accelerate (faster than calorie gain) it’s wise to switch to the next slowest setting.

But for most people, it makes more sense to start on the Conservative setting. If you think you can handle more without putting on an uncomfortable amount of weight, then you can consider going more aggressive.

 

In The End

In the end, reverse dieting isn’t about the seemingly magical effects on metabolism, it’s not about boosting TDEE or improving hormone profiles…

Reverse dieting is about freedom. How freeing will it be to think, “the best thing I can do for my body right now is eat more food?” It sounds insane! But it’s not. When you’re frustrated, frozen, or lost, it’s the way forward.

Reverse dieting is about control. Because so many of us struggle to control our bodies—maybe we think we don’t have the willpower to diet, maybe we say our bodies are too stubborn and just won’t lose fat. We’re wrong. We’re just not setting ourselves up for success.

Reverse dieting is about succeeding where so much has failed you. Because you can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect something to change. The next diet, and the next diet, and the next… they’re not the answer. It’s time to play it smart. Picture that Future You, see their success, and wonder what you did to make it possible. Invest in yourself.

And give it a try.

 

 

REFERENCES
1. Rosenbaum M, Leibel RL. Adaptive thermogenesis in humans. International Journal of Obesity (2010). 34(1): S47-S55.
2. Levine JA. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (2002). 16(4): 679-702.
3. Deriaz O, Tremblay A, Bouchard C. Non linear weight gain with long-term overfeeding in man. Obesity Research (1993). 1(3): 179-185.
4. Levine JA. Measurement of energy expenditure. Public Health Nutrition (2005). 8(7A): 1123-1132.

Motivation is Overrated

How many of you wake up in the morning, hit the snooze button at least once, and then 9 minutes later, get up blurry-eyed, heading straight to the bathroom, after which, you wash, and then proceed to the kitchen to get the coffee pot started?

alarm clock

This scene happens day after day.  You could even do it blindfolded.

Did you ever stop and think why?

One word:  Habit

I am sure you have heard the following quote from Will Durant:

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore is not an act, but a habit.”

(It is often misattributed to Aristotle.  The quote is a summation of Aristotle statement on man’s actions and it is found in Durant’s work, The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers.)

The opposite also applies.  Our habits can also lead to mediocrity and our downfall. How many of you have knowingly practiced doing, thinking, and acting a certain way?

raising hands

I better see everyone’s hands.

We all do.

We have practiced certain mannerisms and actions for so long they have become habitual. Think of a smoker who has a cigarette immediately after lunch and has done so for the last 20 years.  He or she probably doesn’t even think twice when lighting up.

Think of yourself behind the wheel when you get into your car.  You don’t say to yourself, “Ok, I’ll buckle my safety belt now,” before starting the engine.

You just do.  

That’s where you want to be with your nutrition. Adhering to your macros should eventually become habitual, because the more you automate this behavior, the more you increase the likelihood of your success.

If motivation really worked in the long haul, we probably wouldn’t have New Year’s Resolutions.  Year after year, full of vim and vigor, people of all ages embark en masse on the perennial, mostly futile exercise of setting well-intentioned goals for the coming year.  Many of these goals consist of clichéd aspirations, such as losing the last 10-20+ pounds, finally getting fit, smoking cessation, or finally putting pen to paper to write that New York Times bestseller that has been percolating in someone’s head for the last 10 years.

Sadly, the “gung-hoers” are picked off one by one, week after week, and by the end of say- two months, their goals have once again shifted to the back-burner of their minds, only to be revisited when the feeling of “motivation” strikes them again, maybe in the form of bathing suit weather, an upcoming birthday, or a high school reunion.

If asked, many people offer one, or more, of the following excuses:

“I forgot.”
“I didn’t feel motivated anymore.”
“I had a weak moment and fell off my diet, and I haven’t been back, but I will.”
“Oh, I didn’t have time. I’m just SO busy!”

What people often fail to realize, is that feeling of motivation is finite.  Much like those hot romantic feelings that go with budding relationships, motivation eventually wanes and calms down.  That enthusiasm, in the beginning, won’t always be there and will usually return sporadically.  So, to rely on motivation to get you going, especially during the times when you are most tired or stressed, is setting you up for failure and disappointment.

Focus on Successful Habits Instead

“Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.” ~ Jim Rohn

To form a positive habit:

  • First, what is your goal?  Define it clearly.  Think S.M.A.R.T. here (“Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, Time-Specific.”).
  • Next, ask yourself, “Is my daily routine or way of thinking, helping me or hindering me, from succeeding in my goal?”  List those items that are hindering you, and brainstorm ways to effectively address them.
  • Thirdly, list some “mini” habits that can help you succeed.

Yes, we’re going to start small.  

This fantastic concept was introduced to me a couple of years go in Stephen Guise’s gem of a book, ‘Mini Habits: Smaller Habit, Bigger Results’, and it’s what finally got me to floss my teeth on a regular basis.  Even after I had two painful and costly periodontal (gum) scaling on two separate occasions, it still wasn’t enough to get me to put that waxy string between my chompers.  I would be all over it for maybe a week or two, and then I would get lazy and forget about it.

floss

However, this mini habit is what did the trick:  Every evening, floss only two teeth.

Yup, that was it.

As ridiculous as it sounds, it got me flossing every evening because I figured since I was already flossing two, why not floss the rest of them.  To this day, I don’t even think twice about it.  The practice has become habitual.

With clients, who have a hard time sticking with an exercise plan, I suggest for them to start small and with an achievable number.  This ensures two things.

  1. I want them to build them up with small wins because as the adage goes, “Nothing breeds success like success does.”
  2. And it ensures a greater degree of compliance, and again, with consistency, this builds a habit.

The key thing is that the new behavior must be consistent and repeated over a period of time, longer than the supposed 21-days-to-form-a-habit line that is often dished around.  According to research conducted by University College of London 2009 and published in the European Journal of Psychology (2010), it takes an average of 66 days for a new habit to form [1].

Sometimes You Just Have to Act

We all have days when we just don’t want to do jack-sh%t.  These are the days when you must dig deep and muster the energy to do what needs to be done. I have a suggestion for that, too.

Just start doing the thing you don’t feel like doing.  

I am serious – it works!

There are days when I don’t feel like going to the gym, but I tell myself, “Do at least 15 minutes of weights or cardio.”  Once at the gym, it’s like my mind and my body figure I’m already in there working out why not keep going.  45-60 minutes later, I’ve nailed my workout like nobody’s business.

I don’t feel like writing so I get on my keyboard and tell myself, “Just type one paragraph.”  A page or so later, I feel like I’m on my way to writing a New York Times bestseller (ok, I would not go that far, but I do feel pretty good myself).

There is something to “acting your way to success.”

Start with changing behaviors, not mindsets. It is much easier to ‘act your way into new thinking’ than to ‘think your way into new actions.’ Recurring and consistent performance results from behavior change will lead to lasting changes in the way people feel, think, and believe in the long run. ~ Jon Katzenbach

Again, consistent behaviors over time = our habits.

Habits do not change overnight.  They take time, but when they do change, motivation doesn’t hold a candle to them.

So Remember:

  • Motivation is overrated.
  • Our very success or failure in life depends on our habits.
  • Automate behaviors to form successful habits.
  • Start with mini-habits to ensure early success.
  • Sometimes you are just going to have to “act your way” to your goals, and just do what needs to be done.

 

References:
[1] Lally, P, van Jaarsveld, C H M., Potts, H W W, et al. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998-1009.

Geraldine Oliver | Facebook | Instagram | Website

7 Hacks to Master Flexible Dieting

“Counting macros? That takes far too much time – there’s no way I’ll be able to do that every day.”

“I’d love to track, but I’m so busy already. Weighing and logging my food just won’t fit into my schedule. I’ll just eat clean instead.”

On the face of it, flexible dieting seems massively time-consuming.

Sure, you have the trade-off that you get to eat more or less whatever you want. You don’t have the luxury of that with a rigid and restrictive diet. However, even the staunchest of flexible dieting advocates can’t argue that it doesn’t take up at least a few precious minutes every single day to weigh out foods, put them into your tracking app, and then manipulate what you’re going to eat to fit your macros.

And that’s what puts so many folks off when starting a flexible diet. Even more disheartening is when people who love the concept, and make the effort to work out their macros start out okay, then struggle to fit everything in and so throw in the towel.

You’ve invested in your physique, your fat loss, and your performance, so here are some science-backed strategies to make logging and tracking a habit so that you will never fall off the flexible dieting wagon.

Do You Have the Time for That?

Let’s think of the things we do every day that takes time, yet we don’t even notice:

  • Showering
  • Cleaning your teeth
  • Doing hair/make up
  • Making coffee
  • Eating breakfast
  • Watching TV
  • Scrolling through Facebook on your phone
  • Checking the news headlines

These eight activities take a good 30 to 60 minutes in total and all happen before 9am each weekday morning. Yet, we don’t ever stop to question why we’re doing them, or really complain that they’re chores.

morning coffee
If it’s important, you’ll find the time to do it!

Why?

Because they’re habits.

We’re so used to doing them every single day (or at least five days per week, with some leeway at weekends) that we’re accustomed to our routine. We factor in the time taken as just a part of life.

It’s this forming of habits that’s absolutely critical to making flexible dieting work for you.

The Science of 66

You might have heard that it takes 30 days to form a habit. Some say 21 days, and others state that it’s 28. Take an opinion poll though, and you will probably end up with anywhere between 3 and 5 weeks given as the timeframe.

But this is wrong.

A 2009 study from the “European Journal of Social Psychology” found that it actually takes over double this amount of time to fully form a habit.

The average number of days it took for participants to stop thinking of a new activity as an inconvenience which required excess thought power was 66 days. [1] Therefore, if you go into a diet thinking that you will find things easy within a month, you could be setting yourself up for failure.

Due to personality type and propensity toward being accurate and analytical, some dieters will take to tracking macros like ducks to water and have no trouble nailing everything from day one. Others will struggle though.

“If you go into a diet thinking that you will find things easy within a month, you could be setting yourself up for failure

If that’s you, there’s no need to worry that you’re forever doomed to dieting failure or that tracking, weighing, and measuring will always feel like a huge burden on your time. you will simply need to accept that forming a habit takes longer than 30 days, and you will also need to have the tools in place to make flexible dieting easy and autonomous.

Here are our top 7 strategies to help you form the flexible dieting habit and make hitting your targets a breeze.

1. Estimate Low-Calorie Foods

It might not be all that hardcore to start with simple steps, but it’s by far the best way to make real progress with flexible dieting. In an ideal world, you may weigh everything you eat, and you certainly would if you were doing a contest prep. But the majority of people can get away with a degree of estimation.

spinach

Lower-calorie foods, such as green veggies, don’t need to be weighed or measured precisely. Because they’re so low in calories, you can probably just eyeball the serving size and you won’t be too far off. Your estimated 1 cup portion of broccoli may actually be 30 calories one night and 45 the next, but in the grand scheme of things, eyeballing green vegetables speeds things up without slowing down your progress. The same can be applied to other lower-carb, non-starchy vegetables, and even very lean portions of meat or fish, provided you’re pretty good at eyeballing.

2. Focus on Behaviors

We’re so used to concentrating on outcome-based goals, such as lifting a certain amount of weight or getting to a particular number on the scale.

But outcomes don’t happen unless habits are in place. It’s great to want to get your body looking a certain way, but you will only ever get there once your habits are formed and you’re doing everything consistently.

Instead of being fixated on scale weight, body fat, or gym performance, for your first month or two of flexible dieting, put your goal emphasis firmly on tracking. Do that and the results will come without you needing to worry about them.

3. Play Games

Thinking of tracking as a game is a great way to ensure that you stay on course. If you’ve got friends who are getting into flexible dieting too, then see who can log in and track the most days in a row.

Geeky? Maybe. Successful? You bet.

4. Make a Meal Plan

You should never follow a cookie cutter meal plan that you grabbed on a random website or were given by a coach with no mention of macros, but there’s no harm in working out a daily menu that you can roughly stick to. To increase variety, make up two plans that hit your day’s target macros, or perhaps have a variety of options that you can substitute at every meal.

5. Use a Food Company

Don’t want to cook? There’s no shame in that. Within the last few years, plenty of companies have shot up offering healthy macro-friendly meals to suit any flexible dieter’s needs and macros.

While they may be a little pricey, if you can spare the cash, they certainly make tracking a lot easier.

6. Track the Night Before

Many newbie flexible dieters fail to track their food as they eat it. Instead, they tell themselves they’ll enter it when they have more time at the end of the day. More often than not, this results in missed targets or not tracking at all. After discovering that they’ve overshot their targets or can’t be bothered to enter their food, they decide to start fresh tomorrow … only to forget again.

If you don’t feel that you can spare the time to track as you go, plan your macros the evening before. Whether you do it on the bus or train on the way home from work, on the couch watching TV, or as you prep your food, it doesn’t matter—the important thing is that you’re ready.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

7. Prep on the Sabbath

Batch cooking on a Sunday has been a godsend for dieters for decades. Cook up a few different types of protein (chicken, lean ground beef, fat-free ground turkey, or even some fish) and pack it in 4-6 ounce portions in zip lock bags. You can do the same with veggies, and even measure out your protein powder in advance, and take these to work with you.

meal prepping

Protein is the macro most people find hardest to hit, so making sure you have this (and your greens) handy is a surefire success hack.

Carbs and fats are usually easier to come across in the form of fruit, cereal, pretzels and low-fat chips, but if you want to be extra prepared, there’s no reason why you couldn’t pre-cook and measure some rice, pasta, or potatoes as well.

Remember 66

Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you some time to get accustomed to tracking. This is normal, and it can take up to (or even over) 66 days before you become a natural.

Adopt the seven strategies above and you will have everything you need to put flexible dieting on autopilot.

 

References:
[1] Phillippa, Lally et al. How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation In The Real World. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998–1009 (2010)

Answered: Cardio or Weights for Fat Loss?

The great gym divide: Weights vs. cardio.

Walk into any gym across the country and ask people what they’re training for, the almost unanimous response would be ‘to look better.’ Why then, are peoples’ approaches so polarized?

Half the folks in the gym pound away at the treadmill or the elliptical, while the other half lift dumbbells or barbells and grunt away on machines.

When you to ask each group what they were training for, it’s likely the cardio folks would answer “to lose weight” while those in the weights section would respond with “to build muscle.”

cardio or weights

To the unknowing, this makes sense.

After all, cardio burns calories (which is crucial for weight loss) and weight training breaks down and rebuilds muscle tissue, which makes you bigger.

But what does the research say? Is the common belief that cardio is better for weight loss right, or is the bodybuilding fraternity onto something, even if they don’t know why?

What Burns More Calories?

Let’s talk calorie balance.

For fat loss, you need a negative calorie balance (known as a deficit) where you’re burning more calories than you consume.

It would make sense, therefore, that the most beneficial use of your gym time is the one that burns the most calories, as it pushes you into a bigger deficit, and thus means you drop weight quicker.

When we look at calories burned per 30-minutes of exercise, the activities that come out on top are high-intensity cardio drills or sports, such as running and cycling (the faster you go, the more calories you burn), swimming, handball, water polo, rock climbing, and certain gym machines [1].

A study from the Journal of Applied Physiology compared aerobic training (AT), resistance training (RT), and the two combined (AT/RT). Their results found that in terms of body mass and fat mass, both AT and AT/RT had the greatest impact, though AT/RT required double the time commitment. They concluded that aerobic training was the optimal mode of training for weight and fat loss [2].

The trouble is, studies like this tend to be somewhat short-sighted.

“As your body gets better at doing cardio, the oxygen cost of exercise goes down so that you burn fewer calories for a given amount of work.”

Over time, the body may adapt to regular cardio sessions—and not necessarily in a way that will be helpful for fat loss. As your body gets better at doing cardio, the oxygen cost of exercise goes down so that you burn fewer calories for a given amount of work. Your body becomes more efficient. This may mean that you have to do longer and longer sessions to burn the same amount of calories you were when you first started.

Also, if you try to accelerate fat loss by choosing cardio over lifting weights, your risk of muscle loss and metabolic slowing may be greater. Metabolism and muscle play a key role in long-term fat loss success.

Muscle and Metabolism – Key Players in Fat Loss

The main thing weight training helps with is building muscle, and while that may not seem like a major concern when fat loss is your primary goal, muscle is vital for burning fat and getting leaner.

Aerobic training may help decrease body fat, but it does little to increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR) [3].

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Research suggests that for every kilogram of muscle you have, you burn around 13 calories per day—and that’s just while sitting [4]! When exercising or moving around, having more muscle can mean burning hundreds more calories. This will make fat loss easier in the long-term even if you carry only a few pounds of extra muscle.

A secondary, shorter-term benefit of resistance training is the immediate rise in metabolic rate.

This is known as EPOC, or Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, and refers to the increase in calorie burn AFTER a training session as your body attempts to repair itself and replace energy stores used up in training.

Where muscle damage is minimal with cardio, the EPOC effect isn’t too great. With resistance training, however, the body has to work hard to repair and grow new tissue, and so increases its calorie expenditure to cope with this. EPOC may contribute an additional 6-15% to the calories burned during a session (5), and it seems that the higher intensity the exercise, the higher the EPOC (6).

Weight Training = A Better Physique

Let’s say for a moment that both cardio and weight training bring about the exact same amount of fat loss over the long term.

Which do you think would give you the better physique—doing just cardio, or doing just weight training?

Unless your idea of the perfect body is one that lacks definition and is prone to injury, then we can all agree that weights will probably give a better physique.

weights for toned body

Without sounding too much like a fitness magazine for middle-aged women, weight training gives your body better shape and tone. If you’re dieting down for any kind of competition or photo shoot, then we also know that resistance exercise is vastly superior for retaining lean tissue and preventing muscle loss [7].

As much as anecdotal evidence shouldn’t be the basis of any argument, there’s a saying that ‘success leaves clues.’ Enough men and women who’ve developed incredible physiques have performed weight training as their main form of exercise, so it’s safe to say that the argument of whether weights or cardio gives a better physique is pretty much decided.

How About Health?

Your mind is probably drawn to cardio when you think about what’s better for overall health and longevity, and while it’s true that cardio does have a host of cardiovascular benefits, resistance training does too. It also has many others.

Greater muscle mass is associated with lower inflammatory markers and risk of chronic disease, as well as greater bone density [8,9]. So there’s no need to automatically swap to cardio if your goal of training switches away from aesthetics and more toward being healthier and living longer.

Living in Harmony

You don’t need to choose weights or cardio.

Why not do both?

A 2008 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research noted that resistance training and cardio can support each other under the right circumstances, and should probably both be included in an effective program [10].

It all comes down to this: What are your goals?

However, if in doubt or pressed for time where you need to choose one over the other, weights should form the majority of your routine.

Plus, fat loss and a calorie deficit can be achieved by diet alone, and Avatar Nutrition can make this happen. Therefore you want your training time and efforts to go towards the type of training that will most improve your physique. i.e. weights.

Don’t take a side – it isn’t weights versus cardio; it’s about how each suits your goals.

 

References:
[1] Publications H. Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. 2016. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities. Accessed November 27, 2016.
[2] Willis L, Slentz C, Bateman L et al. Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012;113(12):1831-1837. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011.
[3] Dolezal BPotteiger J. Concurrent resistance and endurance training influence basal metabolic rate in nondieting individuals. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1998;85(2):695-700.
[4] Wang Z, Ying Z, Bosy-Westphal A et al. Evaluation of specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues: Comparison between men and women. American Journal of Human Biology. 2010;23(3):333-338. doi:10.1002/ajhb.21137.
[5] Laforgia J, Withers R, Gore C. Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2006;24(12):1247-1264. doi:10.1080/02640410600552064.
[6] Paoli A, Moro T, Marcolin G et al. High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2012;10(1):237. doi:10.1186/1479-5876-10-237.
[7] Geliebter A, Maher M, Gerace L, Gutin B, Heymsfield S, Hashim S. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1997;66(3):557-563.
[8] Wolfe R. The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;84(3):575-482.
[9] Olson T, Dengel D, Leon A, Schmitz K. Changes in inflammatory biomarkers following one-year of moderate resistance training in overweight women. International Journal of Obesity. 2007;31(6):996-1003. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803534.
[10] Davis W, Wood D, Andrews R, Elkind L, Davis W. Concurrent Training Enhances Athletesʼ Strength, Muscle Endurance, and Other Measures. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008;22(5):1487-1502. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181739f08.

Spartan Workout: 5 Lessons the Historical Spartans can Teach us about Fitness

Ever since Gerard Butler inspired millions of “bros” of all ages to start doing sit-ups in his iconic role as King Leonidas (Frank Miller’s 300), the fitness industry has been flooded with Spartan themed workout programs. While the fitness industry has a bad habit of being dominated by fads and gimmicks, is there anything we can learn about fitness from the historical Spartans? Are these 300 workouts and Spartan Races grounded in any kind of reality?

For about 400 years, the word “Spartan” was synonymous with absolute physical prowess on the battlefield. The sky over Greece bore witness to the crippling fear inspired by the thunderous march of the sons of Heracles, the mighty Spartan phalanx. The wall of spears, shields, and muscle that obliterated all who would dare oppose it what preserved by a core set of values that are often overlooked by the modern observer, but it is the system brought forth through the legendary lawgiver Lycurgus that allowed for the unparalleled success of the Spartan War machine.

The entire structure of Spartan society was organized in such a way that the Spartiate (full Spartan citizens) were focused on nothing other than perfecting their abilities as warriors. Spartans didn’t farm, cook, or maintain their buildings. The only purpose of a Spartiate was to be the ultimate realization of a true warrior.

Throughout the peak of Spartan civilization, there were approximately 10,000 Spartiate. These were supported by the Perioeci (free people, but not citizens) who were the craftspeople of Sparta, and by the Helots who were the descendents of enslaved Messenians. Perioeci and Helots comprised the bulk of the Spartan population which was estimated to be around 300,000 to 400,000 in total.

In the time of the Spartans, that prowess was the literal difference between life and death. This is a big part of the reason why the Spartan society was essentially set up in such a way that Spartiate could operate as the professional athletes of their time. Given that the Spartans had the ability to focus solely on their physical and military training it only makes sense that they would stand out from other warriors, but merely having free time is by no means a guarantee it will be put to proper use.

Yeah, these guys definitely work out.

There must have been at least a few things they were doing right with their physical training to stand out so profoundly from other contemporary professional warriors and many of these lessons apply to our own experience in the modern world. Fortunately, the stakes aren’t quite as high!

So what are the key takeaways the historical SPARTANS can teach us about physical fitness?

Let’s dive in… THIS. IS. HISTORY:

1. Fitness isn’t just a young person’s game

Because the Spartiate made up such a small percentage of Spartan society, and the glue holding the entire social experiment together was the fighting ability of the individual Spartan, it was crucial that every Spartan be fit for combat as long as physically possible. This was even built into their laws. Lycurgus mandated that every Spartan citizen be fit for battle until the age of 60. That’s right, a Spartan citizen was expected by law to be fit enough for hand to hand combat, in full bronze armor, under the blazing heat of the Mediterranean sun up to the same age people in the modern world are typically adjusting their knee braces before shuffling through the doors of a buffet.

There’s not a whole lot about basic human biology that’s changed from the 5th century BC to modern times. This means that the same kind of physicality imbued in the citizen soldiers of ancient Sparta is lying dormant within all of us. Age is by no means a reason to give up on being fit and healthy – there are even studies demonstrating the ability of Octogenarians (80-90 year olds) to experience muscle hypertrophy with resistance training! Aging does not have to define the way we use our bodies to experience the world around us.

Fitness is a choice you make every day, regardless of age.

Thankfully we don’t have to use our bodies to deal with spear wielding enemies trying to turn us into a shishkabob, but the same physiological adaptations the Spartans gained from their lifestyle of constant training well into the later stages of their life cycle are the ones we can use ourselves to live active and healthy lives in the modern world.

2. Having a “tribe” helps

What’s the biggest fitness tribe out there? If you guessed Crossfit, you’re probably right. There’s a million different opinions on Crossfit and they are usually intensely polarized. Whether you’re a fan of Crossfit or not, you can’t deny the fervent energy that Crossfitters have as it relates to being a part of that brand.

Crossfitters have loyalty to their “box”, and to all the people sweating it out alongside them through their often grueling workouts. There really is a bond that develops when people share a common struggle; especially when that struggle is linked to physical exertion. This is seen throughout all kinds of highly physical team sports as well, think “Friday Night Lights” and Football in the United States, and Rugby through much of the rest of the world. The bonds go deep.

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

So what does having a tribe of fellow fitness enthusiasts have to do with ancient Sparta? A lot actually.

One of the institutions that Lycurgus (The legendary law giver credited with creating the laws of Sparta) brought to Sparta was the Syssition. The Syssition was a common mess hall that could be thought of almost as a clubhouse for Spartans warriors to hang out at. At the Syssition combat units of Spartans would eat their meals together and socialize between their military drills and physical training sessions, strengthening their sense of loyalty to one another and further developing “team chemistry.”

Lycurgus feared the danger of private living in regards to the fitness of his envisioned society of brother-warriors.

“… so that they might eat with one another in companies, of common and specified foods, and not take their meals at home, reclining on costly couches at lavish tables, delivering themselves into the hands of servants and cooks to be fattened in the dark, like voracious animals, and ruining not only their characters but also their bodies, by surrendering them to every desire…”

From the words of Lycurgus, it’s clear that pre-reform Sparta had some issues with gluttony and a lack of willpower – this led to many instances of near annihilation at the hands of their rivals the Messenians.

The bonds formed within companies of Spartans at the Syssition certainly played into their effectiveness as a society of warriors, and translate into the modern world as a sense of accountability and belonging when you become a part of a “Fit Tribe.” You can find that same kind of connection in so many places whether it’s an accountability group for tracking macros, your strongman or crossfit facility, or even in a recreational sports league. It’s all about pushing your physical limits and overcoming adversity with a group of like minded people on the same mission.

3. Fitness helps maintain a strong society

All throughout the world nations are facing a tremendous problem in obesity. Citizens of their respective countries are breaking down prematurely due to preventable health problems and placing major economic strain on their societies as a result. In 2012, Type 2 diabetes in the US alone cost approximately $245 billion. It’s going to take time for concepts such as tracking macros, reverse dieting, and an evidence-based approach to exercise and nutrition to catch on. The way things are going with global health it won’t be a moment too soon, and from his ancient grave Lycurgus would validate the warning signs all around us.

It’s obvious that Lycurgus understood the importance of physical fitness as part of a strong society. Every Spartan underwent was the Agoge – a 13 year long rite of passage and veritable physiological forge that crafted the bodies and minds of future Spartan warriors. Such a tremendous investment of time and training into literally every citizen of the City-State of Sparta resulted in a robust people that had no need of fear for their rival neighbors in a brutally violent time.

However, all of this fell apart after the Spartans defeated the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War (Big fight between Sparta and Athens after the Persians were booted out of Greece, Sparta won and took control over the entire Athenian trade empire).

After that victory, Sparta fundamentally changed as a society, and one of the many changes that took place was that it was no longer mandatory for Spartan citizens to participate in the Agoge. It only took about 3 generations after the reforms for Sparta to fall apart and become unrecognizable when compared to their high water mark as a society of unparalleled warriors.

Poor health is a massive economic drain on any society.

Fighting ability and effectiveness on the battlefield was one of the core traits that made Sparta such a force to be reckoned with – so we have to ask ourselves, what is the modern day equivalent? What is the true cost on a society of citizens that aren’t reaching their full potential in their fields as a result of being burdened by their own bodies? Surely it’s a financial drain on the economy, but likely that’s just scratching the surface of much deeper problems.

If nothing else, this lesson should at least serve as an ominous warning shot across the ocean of time.

4. Exercise can start at a young age

While we don’t recommend giving your kids bronze age weapons and armor and telling them to have at it, we do highly recommend encouraging them to be physically active!

“You’ll thank me later.”

Spartan children started the Agoge at age 7 when they were grouped together into Agelai which roughly translates to “herds.” In these agelai the boys would eat, sleep, live and exercise together, all the while crafting their bodies to withstand the next stage of development that was to come five years later at the age of twelve. Those who proved themselves to be worthy of this advancement entered into the next stage of the Agoge.

The period of age between twelve and eighteen saw even more brutal changes as the physical aspects of Spartan warrior life reached a new level of intensity. A boy going through this phase of training was only allowed one tunic each year and was forbidden to wear a cloak. The boy would be cold, dirty, and hungry, searching for sustenance and literally fighting to survive.

These kids were basically living the ancient equivalent of Navy Seal training for six years starting at age twelve. Quite the contrast to doing Fortnite dances and complaining about slow WiFi.

Though the demands on their growing bodies were extreme, it should be noted that Spartan kids weren’t just perfecting their physical craft. During the Agoge, they were also taught things like philosophy and music – these were incredibly well rounded little warriors with minds equally as sharp as the points of their spears.

It’s easy at a young age to seek the path of least resistance as the comfort you likely experienced as a toddler just a few years back still rests warmly on your memory. However, kids are more than capable of developing physically and mentally even at young ages, and that growth if allowed to flourish can give them major advantages over their sedentary and coddled peers.

5. Kicking butt isn’t just “for the boys”

Living in the modern world and arguably the most progressive time in human history, it’s easy to forget the full depth of the struggles women faced throughout history. Just for perspective, women’s suffrage in the United States wasn’t even ratified until 1920, and if you rewind the clock of history further back, it becomes all too common of an occurrence that the most basic human rights were routinely denied to women. This was NOT the case in ancient Sparta.

“Spartan women were equally imposing as their male counterparts.”

The Agoge was crucial in the development of a young Spartan man, but it must not be forgotten that Spartan girls endured extensive training as did their brothers. Spartan women were regarded in the ancient world as being far more powerful and influential than their contemporaries throughout the Greek world. Not only were women encouraged to develop their intellect and refine their bodies, but they also had the right to own land – pretty much unheard of throughout most of the ancient world.

This balance between men and women was also reflected by the laws regarding Spartan marriage. A Spartan girl was not allowed to marry or have children until she was eighteen years of age.

This was largely to ensure the production of healthy babies through a fully matured and capable mother, but it also led to Spartan girls entering into marriage of their own accord at a more emotionally stable time in their lives. Since the majority of the time their husbands spent was either at the Syssition, training, or on campaign, women had the responsibility of assistance with non military matters.

Strong and confident women were the norm in ancient Sparta; strength in all aspects permeated throughout the women of this city and earned them a parallel reputation to their maile counterparts.

A truly great and powerful society respects the women in it just the same as men, another powerful lesson from history that we need to listen to and learn from!

The Spartans have been gone now as a culture for over 2,000 years, but the lessons we can learn from them are applicable to this day.

Macro Friendly Classic Bacon Cheeseburger

CALORIES: 338

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SERVING SIZE: 1 burger

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YIELDS: 1 serving

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*Protein: 40 G

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*Fat: 10 G

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*Carbs: 22 G

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Cut the carbs and fat in HALF with this lower carb, lower fat, higher protein (40 grams!) version of your favorite all-American classic bacon cheeseburger! Feel free to add your favorite toppings and condiments!

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– 112g 96% lean ground beef
– 1 slice fat free American cheese
– 1 hamburger bun
– 1 tsp Famous Dave’s steak & burger seasoning
– 2 pieces cooked center cut bacon

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– 4 oz 96% lean ground beef
– 1 slice fat free American cheese
– 1 hamburger bun
– 1 tsp Famous Dave’s steak & burger seasoning
– 2 pieces cooked center cut bacon

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  1. Form beef into burger patty and season both sides with seasoning.
  2. Grill or cook burger over stovetop to desired doneness.
  3. Place cheese on burger while it’s hot so that it melts perfectly.
  4. Construct burger with bun, beef patty, bacon, and any other toppings of choice.

Suggested Food Feature Update

Need ideas for foods to help you hit your macro targets?

It’s really common (especially as a new user) to have a rough time figuring out what you should eat to help you hit your targets.

To help you with this, we created the suggested foods feature on the tracker!

If you need ideas for proteins, carbs, or fats – just click the appropriate category and browse the suggestions there. You can also pull this up while shopping at the grocery store and put the suggested items in your cart so that they are on hand when you need them!

Enjoy!

How to Identify a Fad Diet or Weight Loss Scam

You don’t need 20/20 vision to look around and see that obesity is on the rise, it’s a growing problem that’s only been getting worse over the years, and it seems like the industry most logically suited to turn back the tide has been an absolute failure (at best).

How bad is the failure, especially considering the industry itself has been growing at an unprecedented rate? Well, in the United States, nearly 75% of adults are either overweight or obese. So pretty bad.

Truthfully, the reason why the health and fitness industry has failed so miserably is that it has attracted a hoard of predatory leeches eager to feed off of your insecurities and sell you on false promises and quick fixes.

Over the years, their tactics have grown ever more sophisticated and they can operate effectively behind technological smoke screens. False information spreads at unprecedented rates (thanks social media). In this age of mass communication, nutritional claims are completely unregulated and often made entirely for the purpose of generating profit. Actually helping people lose the fat plaguing their lives and destroying their health is less than an afterthought to most of these marketers.

Wait – so you mean to tell me the chocolate and banana diet isn’t legit?

That’s a key word to emphasize: marketers. These are people who are simply looking at the financial side of things and viewing people as numbers…numbers they can sell stuff to.

These are people who come from the world of business and sales first and foremost, and see the obesity epidemic as a fantastic opportunity to make money. Do not confuse these people with qualified health and fitness professionals who are out there to build a career by genuinely helping people gain control over their lives and health!

This is the heart of the problem:

Those who are actually qualified to help and make a difference in your life spent their time refining the skills and learning the information necessary to provide accurate and effective nutrition and fitness guidance. In a perfect world, great fitness professionals would hire effective marketers to grow their business. However, the expense of bringing on a legitimate marketing agency is more than most trainers and dietitians can afford, and that’s assuming they have enough of a business background to realize the importance of doing this (and can properly vet talent along with doing a million other business related things right).

“Okay – now that we’ve finished covering cellular metabolism, it’s time to move on to Facebook ads.”

It’s truly a rare thing to find an organization in the health and fitness space that has both competence and effectiveness in the application of nutritional science and business acumen.

Fortunately, there are a few effective ways of separating the con artists from the people out there genuinely trying to make a positive impact on your life.

Without further ado…

Here are 5 helpful guidelines for identifying a weight loss scam:

1. Forcing clients to be dependent on special foods or devices

Anything that’s going to put a weight loss service into the “scam” category is going to be a nasty thing by nature, but this one is particularly nefarious as it plays on human psychology.

Here’s how this one works:

A special shake, food, device, or supplement will be used in conjunction with an extremely low calorie diet protocol, and of course (due to the low calories) weight is going to come off rapidly. However, the companies pushing these particular scams are going to want you to attribute that “positive” result to the usage of their products.

A great example of this would be a multi level marketing company pushing a “detox” or “cleanse” drink, and then talking about how their cleanse/detox allows for fat loss to take place. And sure enough, as you’re choking down some proprietary blend of “superfoods” or magical greens, you’re also seeing weight come off the scale at an unprecedented rate.

The key to weight loss is spending all of your money on BS supplements so you can’t afford groceries. Sign up 3 friends.

So when you stop using the products and go back to your normal life, the number on the scale will surely go back up, and it’s in your head–IT’S YOUR FAULT. (at least that’s what these companies want you to think)

Of course you know that you’re “bad” for not using their products any more, and if you want that same result you’ve got to go back to the same product, and they’ve successfully trapped you in their oh-so profitable cycle of psychological destruction.

2. The promise of rapid and dramatic weight loss

Sustainable and effective weight loss diets balance out the rate of loss with your own ability to control your appetite, prioritizing mental and hormonal health and the preservation of lean body mass.

Ineffective and damaging crash diets put you in extreme calorie deficits to achieve drastic short term results, that of course go away just as fast as they came.

After all, doesn’t “lose 30 or more pounds in a month!” sound so much more appealing than “lose up to 6 pounds in your first month”? Of course it does, and that’s why you see this kind of messaging spread all over the covers of some of the most popular weight-loss publications, and any variety of magazines at the grocery store check-out line.

“Lose 5 pounds in your first week with _____’s fast five, guaranteed!”

We’ve probably all had that line drilled into our heads at one point or another and there’s a reason why it stuck.

It’s effective marketing and it sells like crazy. However effective marketing should never be confused with an effective diet.

3. Promotion of Nutritionally Unbalanced or Extremely Low Calorie Diets

Much the same as the Bubonic plague spread over Europe in the 1300s, extreme low-calorie weight loss clinics and nutritionally unbalanced fad diets have multiplied at an alarming rate, like parasites clinging to the obesity epidemic.

B-12 injections at weight loss clinics are claimed to assist in boosting metabolism and shedding unwanted fat, but the truth is there’s no solid evidence (according to the Mayo clinic) supporting these claims. These types of clinics are known for prescribing extremely low calorie diets to go along with the injections, and grow their business rapidly by using just about every unethical trick in the book related to fad diets and weight loss scams!

These B-12 weight loss clinics raise all five red flags that scream “Weight Loss Scam”:

– Forcing clients to be dependent on special foods/devices (B-12 injections)
– Promising rapid and dramatic weight loss (a predictable result of starvation protocol)
– Promotion of an extremely low calorie diet (this one is pretty self-explanatory)
– Collecting large sums of money upfront
– Failing to encourage a permanent lifestyle change

It’s NEVER the product or supplement that’s responsible for rapid and dramatic weight loss, it’s ALWAYS the extreme low calorie diet protocol!

Now what about nutritionally unbalanced diets?

There’s plenty of these out there as well. In fact there’s more than we can cover and still keep this a blog post! If we went over all of them, it would more or less be an encyclopedia. Here’s a short list of examples that most of us are probably familiar with:

– Carnivore Diet: promotes eating literally nothing but meat
– Ketogenic Diet: without proper instruction and supervision, can result in severe nutritional imbalances and adverse health outcomes (elevated uric acid, dangerously low blood pressure, constipation, fetal harm and stillbirth, etc.)
– Ornish Diet: promotes eating such minimal amounts of fat that essential fatty acid needs may not be met
– Vegan Diet: complete exclusion of animal products, which can result in micronutrient deficiencies

I’ll show you how to get jacked and shredded bro – please don’t do any independent research.

All of the above diets have extreme claims associated with them, and extreme claims are super marketable and effective at grabbing people’s attention. If you or someone you know has had personal experience with one of these diets, reflect on why that diet was chosen. Was it because you reached the conclusion on your own it was best for your health and fitness goals? Or was it because someone else convinced you it was the right thing to do?

Really think about that for a while, and then take time to reflect on the long term sustainability of that approach and what ended up happening when returning to normal post-diet life. You’ll probably have some lightbulbs go off.

4. Collecting large sums of money upfront, and forcing clients into contracts for expensive, long-term programs

While there are legitimate reasons for collecting up front payments for services in some cases, there are many cases where this is an application of the “sunk cost fallacy.”

Well, already spent $500 on this nonsense, may as well keep going?

The sunk cost fallacy is an economic term that basically means someone has already invested so much in something that they will continue to invest in it, even if they know it’s no longer something they want or need. An example of this would be going through with something like an NPC bikini competition, even after you’ve decided that all the dieting and deprivation is miserable. “I’ve already spent all this money on a posing suit, and paid this entry fee – so I’ll keep making myself miserable even though I hate it and know that I’m going to rebound like crazy as soon as the show is over.”

Raise your hand if the above statement sounds familiar…

The same concept applies to diet systems that will collect a large, often non-refundable payment up front, and then convert to a lower monthly payment plan. You’ve already made this big investment, so why would you cancel?

That’s you psychology being tapped into, and unless they can give you an incredibly good reason why there’s high upfront cost, you better go on high alert as you’re likely dealing with an overpriced and sub-par product or service.

5. Failure to encourage (or even allow for) permanent lifestyle changes

Do you know what happens to someone at the end of a diet that doesn’t develop a permanent lifestyle change, or include a post-diet maintenance plan?

If you guessed that they gain the lost weight back, you’d be correct the vast majority of the time. Congratulations!

This is why you see so many companies pushing extreme diets that WILL work in the short term. The omit the real cause of the dramatic weight loss (slashing calories) from their marketing materials, all the while knowing that the dieter will think that the program is somehow unique and magical.

With virtually no knowledge of how weight loss works, and without a lifestyle change or maintenance plan in place, the crash diet will inevitably result in weight regain… and of course repeat business when the dieter has nowhere else to turn but back to the manipulative program that gave them the impressive (but temporary) result the first time around.

They gained all the weight back – LOL

People are creatures of habit and after seeing some kind of success with a diet, even if that’s a crash diet, there is a high probability of them returning to it right around the start of the next year come resolution time. This is the cheap repeat business that so many unscrupulous health and fitness companies rely on… The customer thinks that the product or service works because the scale was moving when they were with them, and of course it was moving the wrong way when they left.

So what’s a confused person who needs to lose weight to do?

If you guessed “come back to the same shady company that set them up for weight regain”, you’d be right again. Congratulations again.

The basics of real change:

Transformations are great, but the transformation you can keep for the rest of your life without feeling restricted and miserable is infinitely better.

You’ll get this permanent transformation by following an approach that’s sustainable long term (think decades), learning the all important “why” behind the changes in your body composition and health, having an exit strategy for the fat loss phase of your diet that is going to work (we call this a reverse diet), and finally having an understanding of the most basic truths of what food really is (protein, carbs, fat, micronutrients, and fiber). All of this will give you the tools necessary to sustain results for the rest of your life.

Your body is the vehicle that your consciousness uses to experience life, and the more in control you are of the vehicle, the more amazing your time in this world will be!

Moving Targets Feature Update

A lot of y’all asked for moving targets to not be quite so harsh – so we made it where the adjustment can now be spread over the rest of your check-in period!

(Just select “dispersed”)

You can edit this by going into your settings gear and making the change to your preference there.

From the coaches, to the developers, to the administrative staff – we heard your feedback, and put it into the system…

The Secrets of Fat Loss

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: fat loss is rarely linear.

What does this mean for you?

It means that your fat loss journey is going to look and feel much more like a swashbuckling “sails and cannon” era trip across the ocean than a first class Emirates flight.

*Notice weight sometimes goes UP, even when hitting your macros

If you’ve decided to embark on this journey of improving your health and body composition, there’s more than likely going to be a few storms that come along to rock your boat. In weight loss, you’re likely to encounter things like an unexpected cake at the office, or a night out with friends – things that throw you off. Fortunately, mornings where the scale doesn’t do what you’re expecting it to are going to cause a lot less harm than an angry Kraken.

So when you’ve been hitting your macros, and you see the scale go UP on weigh in day, don’t “abandon ship” and cry out into the skies that all is lost, take a step back and look at what may have caused the fluctuation, and what you can DO about it!

Fortunately your odds of running into an actual Kraken while on fat loss are extremely low.

WHAT CAUSES WEIGHT FLUCTUATIONS

There’s really four main categories of things that can cause weight fluctuation while on a fat loss diet:

1. Changes in energy expenditure
2. Change in energy intake
3. Fluid retention
4. Higher carb day before weigh-in

The first two are pretty straightforward (changes in your net energy consumption) and easy to identify – for example, let’s say that you’re an active amateur athlete and play in a recreational city basketball league, but you pull a hamstring and end up missing a couple practices, workouts, and a game on the weekend.

In this situation, it’s clear to see how your energy expenditure would go down, and if your intake remained the same, it’s likely that the deficit you were in would turn into a surplus. As a result you would see either a sharp decline in the rate of weight loss, or even a little gain. If it’s only a week, most of the weight you see coming on is just glycogen (stored carbohydrate energy) stores and the water associated with them being replenished. So no need to be terribly concerned here, one check-in with the Avatar Nutrition system will detect the change in actual expenditure and adjust accordingly.
The same goes for change in intake – if your activity levels stay the same, and you find yourself eating like it’s your last day on earth, your going to blow past what your ideal intake for fat loss is and end up gaining weight back. In some circumstances, this could be considered a “binge”, and in other circumstances, you are simply finding yourself in a spot where you mindlessly blew over your targets because you either underestimated the macros of something, or you just “stopped caring” for a day or two. (this is also why “cheat days” are a terrible idea, a couple days of mindlessly overeating will easily wash out the deficit you fought so hard to achieve earlier in the week.)

Ima sit this one out coach

Now we’ll move onto the more “sneaky” things that aren’t as easy to detect that could be affecting the direction the scale is going in unforeseen ways…

These are mostly related to fluid retention, which can make the scale go up even when you’ve been successfully hitting your deficit targets.

High Sodium meals:

Meals that are high in sodium can lead to fluid retention, this is because your body tries to keep a constant ratio of water to sodium in your system. So, if sodium levels are increased, hormones that tell your body to hold onto fluid are released – thus causing fluid weight to increase.

Stress:

Long term exposure to stressful circumstances can cause the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is directly linked to fluid retention and water weight. So if you’re stressed out, even with calories out exceeding calories in, your weight might go up on the scale!

Lack of Sleep:

Lack of sleep is another contributing factor for placing stress on the body, and as such is linked to higher cortisol levels and the resulting increase in water weight.

Another important thing to consider is the way that your intake is structured throughout the week – if you’re doing “refeed” days, or using a setting like high/low days on Avatar, planning a higher carb day the day before a weigh-in can cause your weight to jump up the next morning. This is because with a day where you have a higher carb intake, if you’re going into a large caloric surplus, the glycogen stores inside of your body are being replenished. The glycogen in your body is bound to water, and the combination of glycogen and the water bound to it of course carries weight, which will show up on the scale.

As a side note, when you first go on a diet and energy out exceeds energy in, your body will burn through your stored glycogen and the water that was bound to it is excreted. This is why people usually drop weight at a rapid pace when they first cut back on carbs!

There’s a lot of factors that come into play with weight going up or down on the scale during a period of fat loss; fortunately, the more understanding you have of these factors, the better you are going to be at manipulating the variables to your advantage, and ultimately getting where you want to go in spite of the inevitable setbacks!

IMPORTANCE OF TRENDS

Now notice the overall direction of the TREND…

If you were to only look at the individual data points, in the case of fat loss the week to week comparison of progress, any time the line trended up you would have every right to be panicked and furious. However, when you take a few steps back and look at things from a long-term perspective, you can start to see the trend that shows you’re overall going in the direction that you want to, and even though there are bumps in the road, you’re getting closer and closer to your dream destination.

Everything comes down to averages, if you were to hop on the scale every hour on the hour throughout the day, you would notice that your weight fluctuates wildly – it could go up and down as much as 5 pounds per day easily! This is one reason why it’s so important to be consistent with the time of day that you weigh yourself. If you log a weigh in one week first thing in the morning, and then the next week right before bed, you are not accurately representing the changes that are happening in your body. You MUST (for the purposes of having adjustments in response to your progress) weigh yourself at the same time, under the same conditions each week. We recommend weighing yourself on check in day first thing in the morning, immediately after you get out of bed and use the restroom, and before consuming and fluids or food. This means you’ll be logging a weight within a few minutes of your alarm clock going off.

Now when it comes to trends, the longer you spread out the timeframe, the less extreme fluctuations are going to be, but still you are more than likely going to see them. As mentioned earlier, these could be from things that cause fluid retention or changes in your energy balance, or you could simply be at a point where the need for an adjustment is in place, and you’re due for a caloric reduction to keep the process going.

If you find yourself to be a person whose weight fluctuates significantly no matter what you do, it could be a good idea to take weekly averages and use those. This means weighing yourself every morning throughout the week, at the same time under the same conditions, and then adding up all of those weights and dividing by 7 to create a weekly weight average. You would then do the same thing for the next week, and when the time comes for an adjustment, you would compare the averages of each week in totality to minimize the effects of daily fluctuations. We actually build out an average weight feature in the AVATAR SYSTEM that does this, so if you’re an Avatar user you can just plug your weight into the daily weights feature and the averages and weekly average comparisons will be done for you.

Don’t worry – we’ll handle all the nerdy data analysis, you just be consistent!

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be consistent with the way that you collect data, be it when and how you weigh yourself in the morning, or the way that you’re estimating portions when tracking macros. Consistency of measure tends to wash out inaccuracies in the way that you measure over time, and this is one of many elements that make flexible dieting truly flexible.

In my own recent experience with fat loss, there’s been multiple weeks where my weight went up even though I was hitting my targets!

This is all part of the normal process, and when following the adjustments we can see that my progress ultimately has trended exactly where I wanted it to be. It’s easy to get frustrated and quit the moment something doesn’t go as expected, especially when you’ve been working hard and really trying, but if you can take those critical steps back to “not lose sight of the forest for the trees”, you’ll easily be able to course correct and get back on track to accomplishing what you set out to.

It’s also very important to take progress photos along the way (ideally in the same lighting with the same angles) so that you can appreciate the real progress you made on days when you check in and the scale didn’t do what you wanted it to. The more objective information you have at your fingertips, the better equipped you are to be in full control of your circumstances.

RECAP

It’s very rare that weight loss looks like nice, smooth downward sloping ramp – more often than not it’s going to look like a stock market graph. Jumping up and down all over the place, but ultimately trending in a definite direction over time!

So if you hit your fat loss macros, and saw your weight increase, think back about all the things that could have possibly led to that result, and the moment you distinguish what happened – you’ve given yourself the power of choice in terms of how you can approach the situation!

Fluctuations are a normal part of the process, just accept them for what they are when they do take place, scream your frustration into a pillow if you have to, and dust yourself off as you get right back on the path to your results.

To learn more about weight loss using our MACRO TRACKING SYSTEM visit Avatar Nutrition today!