Q: I’ve been trying to get into some semblance of contest shape. My problem is that I will lose five to six pounds in a week, but then I’ll have a major diet breakdown and I gain back six to eight pounds in just a couple days. I punish myself for a week and get the weight back off, but then I get so hungry that I have another breakdown. How can I make progress and get into the kind of shape that I see you displaying in your photos in IRON MAN?
A: I’ve seen this kind of pattern before. What it involves is overtraining and overdieting, which creates too large of a calorie deficit that’s not sustainable, and eventually your body and brain rebel.
You have a major breakdown in which you can’t control your appetite. That results in a big bodyweight rebound, which consists of a combination of glycogen repletion, water retention and fat. Then you feel you must punish yourself, so you overtrain and overdiet, trying to get back to where you should be. The calorie deficit is so large that it leads you into another breakdown. It’s a the proverbial vicious cycle, and it leaves you frustrated, with a completely wrecked metabolism.
As I’ve always said, there is no substitute for consistency. You must consistently train hard and eat clean in order to achieve and maintain a lean, muscular physique. You must not make training and diet a means to an end. You must make it your lifestyle and make it livable.
So often people ask me how I’ve stayed in such great shape for so many years. The answer is that I’ve consistently trained hard and eaten clean— and I’ve been able to do that because it’s my lifestyle. It didn’t happen overnight, but almost 20 years ago I gave up fried foods, desserts, candy and sodas. I gradually made eating healthful foods my lifestyle—all the time, not just during precontest training. And now I have almost no desire to eat the bad stuff that I regularly consumed growing up. (I guess that means I wasn’t really grown up until I was about 33—and it’s still in question at 53.) When I finally fully embraced the bodybuilding lifestyle, the whole process became infinitely easier.
One thing that you need to change immediately is your mental approach to training and dieting. You have to stop beating yourself up for being less than perfect, and you have to stop using training and diet as punishment. That’s negative. Eventually, you’ll get sick of the punishment and give up completely.
Training should be fun. It should be something you enjoy and look forward to. Yes, it’s often painful, but when you associate the burn and the soreness with progress, you come to love it. And while nobody really likes dieting, when you feel better from eating clean and you see the changes in your physique that it brings, it becomes much more rewarding. In order to become and remain successful as a bodybuilder, you absolutely must become friends with your training and diet rather than using them as punishment.
Finally, the thing that you really need to do to extract yourself from this vicious cycle is to come up with realistic goals and expectations and work steadily and consistently to achieve those goals. Rather than trying to drop five pounds per week, set your sights on consistently losing one pound per week. In order to lose five pounds of bodyfat in one week, you must burn 2,500 calories per day more than you eat. That’s almost impossible to do without losing lean tissue, a.k.a. muscle—and it’s virtually impossible to sustain unless you are morbidly obese.
To lose one pound of bodyfat per week, you only have to create a 500 calorie-per-day deficit. That’s easy to do. What’s more, you won’t get overly hungry, and you can be certain that everything you are losing is bodyfat. If you’ve been on training-and-diet programs that get you to lose five or more pounds per week, dropping one pound per week will be a breeze. Most important, it will be something that you can live with and sustain.
So make friends with your training and nutrition programs, and adopt them as your lifestyle. If you do fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on your program and keep it steady as you go.
One more recommendation: Don’t have cheat meals. I find that after I haven’t eaten something for a while, I lose a taste for it and just don’t want it anymore; however, if I periodically eat something bad (say, pizza), I get the taste back in my head and I crave it. That makes dieting very difficult. So don’t remind yourself what the junk food tastes like, and you’ll be better off.
Have fun living the bodybuilding lifestyle. Enjoy the journey as well as the results.
Train hard, and eat clean.
Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at www.IronManMagazine.com. Click on Blogs in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected]. IM