It’s now June 2017 and my competition season is over for the timebeing. I’m so pleased to say that I finished this season walking away with a second place finish at PCA British Finals, two first place wins at the PCA Bodypower Classic and Saxon Classic, and with my first outing on the PCA ProAm Stage. All in all, a pretty successful season for me.
So, what now?
Now that British finals are over, I have a few ideas in my mind about what may come next, after a season filled with so many amazing memories, and having learned so much. But short-term, it’s time to focus on health, wellness and memories again. Any competitor knows that post-show can be a testing time for us and there are a few strategies we can use to deal with it in the most beneficial way possible. Any good competitor, coach or nutritionist must take time out to assess the best method for each athlete and individual person, and so for me, I hope to provide an alternative view on what is socially accepted as the norm, reverse dieting.
Reverse dieting – what even is it?
I wrote a blog post here all about reverse dieting, explaining what it was and how it supposedly works. So it would be a bit pointless for me to write about it all over again. Feel free to read up on that before continuing on… For the purpose of this blog, I am talking about reverse dieting in relation to the stage immediately after a prolonged energy deficit, after say dieting for a long period of time, such that you have hit your goal, and your calories remain low, and expenditure high. I speak of this, as opposed to the type of reverse diet where you may have consumed consistently low calories for years, and are aiming to increase your calorie intake / muscle mass etc.
I wrote in my previous blog, that after coming out of competing last year, I entered in to a relatively slow reverse diet. I had decent success with this, and you can see here the difference in my competition physique last year, to my off season physique before starting competition prep at the beginning of this year, 2017. I managed to gain some muscle and some fat, increase my strength and live a happy balanced life of training hard, supported by good nutrition and better memories. I loved my shape. I looked and felt like an athlete.
So, if it worked for me last time, why have I decided to go against the norm and avoid reverse dieting this time around?
What the reverse diet crowd don’t share
Like I said in my earlier post, reverse dieting is HARD. Trying to stick to what is essentially an energy deficit, despite no short-term goal is tough. Throw in to the mix a multitude of cravings, missed social occasions, extreme hunger and a little body dysmorphia from being stage lean for a prolonged period of time, and you have a recipe for binge-city. With coaches prescribing macros to their clients, with the line that “we will slowly increase calories to avoid excessive fat gain”, and said client craving ‘off plan’ food so badly that they eat it, and subsequently lie about it to said coach, and the rest of the world, we then have secret binge-city. And what do we do to avoid people knowing that we’re binging? Ah yes, we lie, restrict our subsequent energy intake and do some extra cardio to ‘get rid of the water’. Then we get super hungry again. And then what?
I put a post recently on my Instagram regarding my diet in this week post-show. I have been highlighting the importance of focusing on getting nutrients in, rather than excluding the less nutrient-dense (ahem, pizza) foods. For me, post-show should be less about further restriction, and more about variation in macros, micros, tastes and textures, revolving around social experiences, cravings and health. It can involve good nutrition practices, eating pizza, eating salads, eating ice cream. It can involve them all. Where has this time limit come from, from people giving themselves ‘x’ number of days before ‘getting back on plan’? Where have you got this number of days from? Your coach? Your mind? What makes you think that, in 48 hours, you’ll have lived out every food-related dream that you’ve had for the past 6 months, and you’re keen to eat chicken and rice for every meal again? What we tend to find, is that some people manage to stick to this reverse macro plan for 3 days, shout about positivity, then realise that they still want a pizza, eat the pizza, then think ‘screw it, I’ve had a pizza I may as well have a tub of ice cream and biscuits because I’m starting again tomorrow’. And we start the cycle again.
The number of messages that I received from girls who felt alone in response to this post, that social media was telling them that everyone else was on track with a reverse diet, whilst they sat at home secretly binging and hating on themselves, was ridiculous. These girls, who follow so many competitors on Instagram, who document their ‘successful’ reverse diets on their stories and pages, when in reality, a lot of these girls (I’m not saying all), are still eating off plan, binging and restricting to some extent.
Please note, that I am talking in this post from experience. From client stories. From reading. From friends. I am not generalising and I am certainly not saying that every person goes through this period after a spell of extreme dieting. They do NOT. What I will say, is that it is far more common than you think. And this post is for those of you who feel isolated, like you’re failing because you have managed to stick to your diet for 3 months, yet now can’t manage more than a few days. You are NOT alone. And you are NOT failing. Unfortunately, this is common, and you WILL get out of it. You just need to figure out your management strategies.
What am I doing?
This time around, my methods are simple. I am immediately back to intuitive eating. No tracking (other than the mental tracking that goes on in my head as Nutritionist, that I can’t avoid). No obsessing. I am aiming to get in as many varied nutrients as I can. I aim to feel satiated after every meal (not full to the brim, but no longer hungry). I aim to get back to fueling some heavy sessions (after this relative deload week post-show).
For me, I feel most comfortable at about 8kg over stage weight (roughly, I don’t weigh myself often in improvement season). Not only do I feel better, healthier and more confident when I am heavier, but one of the main influences on resting metabolic rate is body size. The larger the body size, the greater the metabolic rate. So if I can get my body size up, then my metabolic rate will increase too. Anyone that knows me or follows my prep, knows that I eat a lot, that my metabolism and energy expenditure is high, and so relatively speaking, I can avoid going super low with my energy intake. Part of the reason for this, is my dedication to restoring and improving my metabolism and the influences on my metabolism, wherever possible.
I want memories. I want pizza with my boyfriend. I want French bread and cheese with my daddy. I want veggie calzones with my work colleagues. I want nourishing meals with my best friends. I want Sunday lunch with my siblings. I want mummy’s veggie sausage roll. I want Scottish fish and chips and pizza crunch (deep fried pizza non-Scottish friends, don’t mock until you’ve tried, BEST EVER) with my best friends. I want nourishment.
This is NOT for everyone. I am well aware, that I have a lot of knowledge surrounding food that not everyone has. I can eyeball and know what I’m eating. I have trust in myself that I will not only eat enough food to support my goals, but that I won’t undereat either.
Too many people are jumping straight on this ‘intuitive eating’ bandwagon. People who don’t necessarily have this strong relationship with food. Those who don’t necessarily understand food groups.
If you feel like this is you, you feel lost and unsure and are negative on yourself, first off, be kind to yourself and remember that this is temporary. In addition, here are a few management strategies that either I have used in the past, or use with clients in similar situations:
- Don’t over-restrict. If you find that you’re starving most of the day, sticking to your macros until you get home, this is when you’re likely to binge. You’re hungry, you’re tired, and you want to feel full. Try increasing either the volume of your meals, or the portion sizes, to avoid extreme hunger. And certainly do NOT restrict the day after a binge, just carry on with your planned nutrition to avoid a binge-starve cycle.
- Diet flexibly. Track a little bit of what you fancy in to your macros. Be that a chocolate bar, toast or a tattie scone (my Scottish bikini girls know). You can eat these foods and still hit your macro targets, and hopefully minimise your cravings.
- Hit your meal macros, then allow additional treats on top. You’re allowed a treat. Don’t feel like you’ve screwed your day because you had a flapjack. Even on your macros and a treat, you’re still likely in an energy deficit so won’t do your reverse any harm. This is far better for you, than having that flapjack and thinking ‘screw it, I’ll eat 10 more now’.
- Increase your calories faster. Accept that you’re going to gain some fat anyway, and it’s far healthier to do so from larger wholesome meals, than smaller meals with subsequent binges on top!
- Set implementation intentions. This is something I work a lot with clients to do, to avoid certain behaviours that can be detrimental to progress. These should be in the form of: “If I feel a binge coming on, then I will take a 10 minute walk instead”, or “If I want a pizza, then I will order a small one instead of a large and mindfully eat it”. These should be realistic, and you must write them down. Put them in your phone. Stick them on your mirror. And stick to them. Remind yourself of them every day, and if you feel the behaviour occurring, revisit them. Remind yourself what you promised yourself at the start of the week.
- If you want a treat, plan a social occasion to eat with friends and make memories. Instead of ordering that Nandos to takeaway and eat at home, get some friends and go and sit in together. Make memories with those macros!
- Keep training but do NOT overtrain. Do not do extra training to compensate for the additional food intake. This just mentally sets you up to ‘allow’ binges, knowing you can go train it off afterwards.
- Stop tracking! Come off your reverse diet and see how you feel eating intuitively for a bit. It isn’t for everyone, and if you don’t have the knowledge of food to ensure that you get sufficient protein to support your goals, this may not be for you. But if you know your food groups and rough nutrient compositions, do you really need an app to reiterate this for you?
- Be kind! Remember, it’s a matter of days or weeks since your show / holiday / shoot. You can’t expect your mind to jump back to normality immediately. You’ve trained it to think this way, time to train it out. Gently.
How do you know what works for you?
- Previous food relationships. If you have been a binger in the past, unfortunately, competing can reignite this trait. One of the key triggers for a binge in someone, is hunger. When on prep, you’re so set on the prize of stage time, that you wouldn’t dare go off plan, so binges are far less likely to occur. With no short-term goal in sight after a show, this focus dissipates slightly. Combine this with a reverse diet, which means starting on a lower than maintenance calorie intake, where you will be hungry, and you have a recipe for binge-starve-city. Are you one of these people? If not, and you have never suffered with the binge mentality around food, you may still experience this post-show. However, you may prefer the restriction of food, in which case, a strict reverse plan may work well for you. If you have always been regimented with food, always tracked your intake and restricted yourself in some way, a reverse diet may work well.
- Body image. Where, genuinely, do you feel most comfortable in your own skin? I know that my happiness in myself will actually IMPROVE with weight gain. So why prolong something that’s going to make me happier, for the sake of meeting some sort of social media norm that says I should reverse diet, slowly build muscle and minimise fat gain? Likewise, if you prefer yourself in a leaner physique, and you know that gaining body fat is psychologically distressing for you (I’m not going in to that today), then slowly increasing calories and subsequently body weight, may be far better for you to handle mentally.
- Priorities. What are your priorities right now? Do you have another goal (show, holiday etc.) that you desire a specific physique for? Do you want to improve your health, hormones and nutritional intake? Do you have so many missed social experiences with friends and family, that you know that you need to put them first for a while (sure, you can have family time whilst dieting, but little things like being able to eat cake with your nana or enjoy the peanut butter your sister made you can’t be rivaled)? Do you want to feel included in your work team by eating lunch with them? I’m not saying any of these should come first, and only you yourself know what is important. What are your priorities?
Ultimately, it’s time to think about what will make you happiest? Be able to say you stuck to macros (even if you didn’t)? Abs? Memories? It’s your call.