Successful Dieting: What Really matters?
Honestly: What actually matters when it comes to being successful with your diet? I have fielded this question hundreds of times. To specific individuals the answer is: It depends. When it comes to general terms, the answers may surprise you!
Over the past 10 years I have made lots of observations in clients trying to lose weight. Every person I’ve coached is a unique situation, but success always leaves clues. Recently a very popular dieting app from Renaissance Periodization (RP) analyzed over 10,000 “successful” dieters (links below). They defined a “successful” dieter as someone who made at least half of their progress toward their initial weight loss goal, and were able to separate varying degrees of success all the way to people who achieved and surpassed their initial goal. Another popular social media, science based, fitness influencer Jeff Nippard recently posted his interviews with 5 weight loss experts (link below). There are definitely some common threads.
Armed with my personal experience, data from thousands of RP results, and some nutrition experts I will let you know what really matters, and what doesn’t, when it comes to being successful at losing weight. I will also give you a few tips on how to set up your next diet for success!
Before we look at what really matters, let’s first take a look at some things that don’t really matter! Keep in mind we are only focusing on the ability to successfully lose weight and we are not looking at optimizing your total health or making it "easier" to be successful. Then I will let you know what you should put more focus on to ensure your success, no matter where you are starting! Heck a few of these things might actually relive some stress around dieting so you can actually enjoy.
While this article is aimed more toward weight loss, some of the same things will apply to adding muscle.
Read time: 5 minutes
THINGS YOU PROBABLY THINK MATTERS… BUT NOT SO MUCH:
While age can have an influence on a lot of different factors in our lives, it doesn’t necessarily influence if you will or won’t be successful in your weight loss journey. In fact a recent study showed slight changes in resting metabolism after the age of 65! What might be lost in a few extra calories from an optimally functioning metabolism or natural daily activity can be gained in extra resources, experience and discipline to put toward your plan. Dr. Mike Isretel from RP said the data showed average ages from all groups of successful dieters were the same. If you think you can or can not, you are probably right!
Starting Weight and Body Fat Levels
Starting with a higher weight and body fat levels can have an influence at the potential rate than you can lose weight and can make it easier to start losing weight due to the tendency of small behavior changes having a larger impact. It does not have a factor in your chance of success.
Eating Whole Food vs Packaged/Restaurant Foods
Admittedly, this was a shocker for me, and had RP not had the data to back it up, I still wouldn’t believe it. The percentage of successful dieters that ate more packaged and restaurant foods were similar to those who ate more of their own prepared foods. There seems to be an equal trade off between the benefits of satiety and nutrient density of self prepared foods and the benefits of convenience and time saving of picking something up quickly.
When it comes to whole foods vs highly processed ones, there will definitely be differences in how easy it will be to stick to your plan. Whole foods give you the added benefit of additional micronutrients, how full you will feel and how many calories you use to digest that food, but that can be a discussion for a different day!
It doesn’t matter if you have had the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past 5 years or can’t possibly stand to eat the same breakfast 2 times in the same week. When looking at weight loss success or failure, do whatever works for you with confidence!
The average successful dieter usually feeds about four times a day. There are some people who feel super energetic eating six or seven times a day. Others, myself included, having any more than four meals, you feel most of your day is dedicated to cooking, eating and cleaning. I’m not trying to pick up an extra side job at my own personal restaurant, I’m trying to change my physique! More importantly than the number of meals you eat in a day, is what works best for your lifestyle and schedule!
One thing that may be important is the frequency of protein intake. The body can not store nutritional protein to be used when you need it. So it will search for protein in your body (like your muscles) when it needs it. While overall daily intake still reigns supreme there are some small benefits for retaining muscle with regular protein feedings while you are awake. It is recommended a minimum of 3 feedings of protein spaced through the hours you are awake.
Following the tips below outweighs the importance of always being on your feet and active during the day or that extra workout. In fact many medical weight loss programs (such as Ideal You) will recommend that you do not exercise so you can eliminate as many dietary calories as possible. If that is a “healthy” option, is an entirely different topic. I think you know where I stand on that. But the good news: You don’t have to get 3 workouts a day and 20,000 steps in order to move the scale!.... but seriously, you should be active most days.
WHAT YOU PROBABLY DON'T WANT TO HEAR, BUT REALLY DOES MATTER:
Consistency is king when it comes to dieting success. Selecting an eating plan that you enjoy and can do with regularity is the number 1 driver of long term success.
Time Spent Dieting
When I worked at a big box gym and early in my career, I thought 90 days was a great time frame. Thirteen weeks, with someone losing one to one-and-a-half pounds per week creates an amazing transformation picture… for people who could make it that long. What I noticed is that around weeks six to eight a majority of people started to fall off even if they took off five even ten pounds of fat. Missing the thirteen week target they felt a bit defeated and went back to their old ways and gained most of the weight back. When we opened our own studio, we shortened our challenge lengths. To the outside observer, people were getting “less” for their money, but more people were sticking to the program and we were getting much better results with people having more focus in less time!
So how long is the best fat loss diet length? Planning your calorie deficit time anywhere from 6-10 weeks seems to be the sweet spot for most successful dieters. This is where having an experienced coach can really pay off. Managing your fatigue, personalized tips and being able to see warning signals before you crash can get an extra few weeks out of your diet and help you to transition to a manageable maintenance phase, where you keep your results after.
A Caloric Deficit
Dr. Eric Helms states very clearly: When it comes to fat loss, “it comes at an energy deficit”. So burning more calories than you consume. He does note there is a small potential for body re-composition, or losing fat while gaining muscle, but that window is very small for most dieters.
Realistic Weight Loss Rate
Quick results are cool and get lots of likes on Social Media, but they rarely show you the long term outcomes. If you want proof, just look at the results from the show “The Biggest Loser”. Contestants were pushed to their physical and nutritional limits almost every day. It resulted in jaw dropping transformations, but once the cameras were gone, most contestants reported going right back to where they started, and some even reported regaining even more weight. In the world of long term, sustainable weight loss, the tortoise almost always beats the hare. A solid target to aim for is around 0.5 - 1% of your body weight lost per week. For most people that is about 0.25 - 3lbs per week. While it might be frustrating to only see the scale inch down, you will minimize muscle loss and be able to manage your fatigue to lower your risk of a relapse.
Following the Plan or Advice From Your Coach
There is a reason why nearly every diet out there has success stories. They had people who followed the plan. From the all in, hardcore plan of “75 Hard” all the way to subtle daily habits of “Noom” there is no magic power granted to one style of eating or one diet plan. In fact, it is very likely that an established and highly qualified local coach charging $100 per session would give you just as good, if not better, of a health/fitness plan than a celebrity trainer charging $1,000 per session. Find a plan that speaks to you and that you can stick to long term. Then take the advice from your coach and follow it as closely as possible.
So there you have it! Put your energy into finding something you can do consistently, set realistic goals in a time frame that you can manage, create a calorie deficit and follow the plan and adjust it as needed. You can finally stop stressing about when you eat, what you eat, how frequently you eat it, how much you currently weigh, how hold you are and how much time you have to exercise. I hope that this created some clarity for you so the next time you are trying to drop a few pounds of fat, you can really focus on what matters and stop sweating the stuff that doesn't!
Don’t forget to check out our blog on 10 Dieting Mistakes That are Keeping You From Your Goals!
Don't believe me? Check these out:
Renaissance Periodization: Lessons from Studying the Most Successful Weight Loss Dieters