Archive for month: June, 2015

A must-read if you're interested in willpower/behavioral psychology.

It’s Friday and you’re wrapping up a difficult week. Work’s been dreadful, your boss has been on you for shit that’s not even your fault, and on top of all of that, you’ve been craving sugar every waking minute. You’ve been on this new diet, you see, and you’ve sworn off everything “bad”: no cream in your coffee, no freakin’ ranch dressing on your pathetic little salad, no cookies, no ice cream, no fun. Your coworker Sally Sue told you before that this is what needed to be done to get shredded for the summer, so you went ahead and threw out all the junk food you had stashed away in your kitchen cupboards. You stuck to sad lettuce, you choked down dry chicken breast, and you cried tears of despair as you quietly sipped down that kale smoothie.

But it was Bob’s birthday at work today, and of course someone had to bring in a cake from Publix to celebrate. Ugh. Why does it have to be someone’s birthday? Doesn’t everyone know that you have a freakin’ diet to stick to? Rude.

You stick your nose up as paper plates topped with sugary goodness are passed around the room over lunch. You purse your lips together as your stomach growls loudly in protest, and it takes everything in you to stick to your celery and carrots. After a round of office gossip, you slunk forlornly back to your cubicle and try to get back to finishing up that Excel project before heading home for the weekend.

An hour later, you get up for a pee break and you can’t help but notice the birthday cake still sitting in the break room as you walk by. There’s still a bit left – plenty, actually. But no. You’re determined. No sugar no fun!

But as the hours go by, your mind keeps wandering back to that cake. It’s only 20 steps away. So easy to get to. Your lunch, quite frankly, tasted like cardboard, and you have been feeling rather lethargic. You could use the sugar boost, right? You could let loose just a tiny bit to reward yourself for a solid week’s worth of work, can’t you?

Okay, just one small bite, you tell yourself. For Bob. After all, I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings by not partaking in his celebrations, right? Happy birthday, you sonofabitch.

Whoa. Ohmigodthistastessogood. Is this what heaven is like? But what about your diet?

Ah, what the hell, you think to yourself as you reach for another slice of birthday cake. And then another. And another.

Before you know it, half of the remaining cake’s been devoured and you’re sitting in the corner of the room, frosting smeared all over your face. You can hardly recall the past 10 minutes as you stare blankly ahead. Your heart’s racing and you know you’ve totally blown your diet, but there’s absolutely no turning back now. Might as well finish off the cake before the day is over….

Uhh... so that happened.

Uhh… so that happened.

What happened?

I’m willing to bet that you or someone you know has been through a similar situation before. (I know I’ve definitely been guilty of this.) Let’s discuss what happened in the scenario above from a psychological standpoint.

Restrained eating describes the phenomenon in which an individual must actively exert effort to avoid the urge to eat, particularly foods that are deemed “forbidden” (Herman & Mack, 1975). This tends to be the default for people wanting to lose fat. Contrast this with unrestrained eaters, who do not set foods off-limits. (If you’re thinking that this reminds you an awful lot of the difference between “clean eaters” and flexible dieters, you’re not incorrect.)

A high score on the 10-item Dietary Restraint Scale (Herman & Polivy, 1980) is considered a risk factor for eating disorders (Jacobi et al., 2004), particularly bulimia nervosa. In other words, the more you restrain your eating, the higher the likelihood that you will develop eating disordered tendencies. But how could this be the case? Why is it that trying to be “better” about your food choices could actually backfire?

We tend to operate via bright lines, according to Dr. Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. According to him, bright lines are a set of straightforward, unambiguous rules that help us function. And while this can be useful and beneficial in many situations, when it comes to our diet, this can land us in a lot of trouble.

A must-read if you're interested in willpower/behavioral psychology.

A must-read if you’re interested in willpower/behavioral psychology.

Instead of, “Oh, I’ll just moderate my sugar consumption,” it’s, “I will never eat cookies ever again — ever!”

Dieting is typically associated with self-imposed boundaries (Herman & Polivy, 1984): calorie restrictions, shunning of your favorite chocolate cake, and swearing off your favorite treats for good. The list goes on and these boundaries vary from one individual to the net, but one theme is common amongst all: “I’m not allowed to eat that.”

This is not a problem, but only insofar as the individual actually sticks to the diet, day in and day out, for long enough to see the fat loss results desired.

No biggie, right?

This is life.

Unfortunately, life happens, and we don’t live in a bubble. There are bachelorette parties, get-togethers with old friends, and Aunt Judy pops in for an impromptu visit from out of town and whips up baked goods in the kitchen.

As well, the more self-control you exert turning down foods, the more your willpower storage is depleted (Baumeister, 1998). And the more your willpower is depleted, the less likely you are to continue exercising that self-control to do the harder thing.

Aw, shit.

Chances are good that you’ll eventually cave. Probably not on day one, maybe not on day five, but somewhere down the line, sooner or later, you’re just going to be too damn weary, and that ice cream is going to be too tempting to resist.

Come on - you know you want it!

Come on – you know you want it!

What happens next is called counter-regulatory eating, or the what-the-hell effect in more colloquial terms: once some dietary rule is broken, all hell breaks loose, and you write off the rest of the day, weekend, or even the month as you binge on all the foods that were previously forbidden.

You’ve crossed that bright line.

Counter-regulation is indicative of binge eating tendencies. In fact, the greater the degree of counter-regulatory eating, the more severe the binges (McCann et al., 1992). What’s more, Polivy & Herman propose that dieting is actually the cause of binge eating behavior (1985). If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense; the body is not wired to thrive under extreme dietary restrictions and will fight back (ferociously so, might I add) to ensure that you get the calories it craves.

This falls in line with restraint theory, which states that individuals restrain themselves from things that they deem enjoyable yet detrimental (think peanut butter, chocolate, ice cream, and cookies). Furthermore, dietary restrictions make individuals vulnerable to disinhibiting stimuli such as high-calorie preloads and emotional distress and ultimately can lead to increased weight gain in some cases (Herman & Polivy, 1984). For example, if you’ve banned all sugars from your diet but you find yourself standing in a donut store at 11p.m. on a Saturday night, there is a high likelihood that your diet rules will be abandoned for the evening. Or the weekend. Or what the hell, maybe even the rest of the month.

Donuts

Smells like sweet, sweet trouble to me.

 

Interestingly, higher dietary restraint is correlated with higher body mass (Klesges et al., 1992) as well as greater weight cycling history (Lowe & Timko, 2004) – quite the opposite of what common sense might dictate.

What can you do?

Okay, so we’ve established that setting restrictions on your diet when you’re trying to lose fat won’t set you up for long-term success, however tempting it may seem. And it’s understandably easier to set black-and-white rules about what you can and cannot eat, but that doesn’t quite work out, either.

So what to do? The answer is clear:

  • If the goal is fat loss, you want your everyday diet to mimic your regular diet as much as possible.
  • Try not to label foods as “good” or “bad,” as doing so can lead to feelings to guilt can ultimately can contribute to self-sabotaging behaviors.
  • If you enjoy sugar, don’t eliminate it completely for the sake of fat loss martyrdom; rather, moderate your intake. As long as you keep your total calories and daily overall macronutrients in check, some sugar won’t negatively impact your fat loss efforts. (See related: “Sugar – The Sweet Truth,” an excellent write-up by Menno Henselmans on Bret Contreras’s blog.)
  • Find a way to make your nutrition program enjoyable. The more you enjoy your diet, the more likely you are to stick to it. And the more consistently you can stick to your nutrition program, the more successful you will be. If that means having a small handful of m&m’s every evening to keep your sanity in check, then so be it.

  • Finally, let good enough be good enough. Your nutrition is never going to be perfect, but the great news is that it doesn’t need to be. When you boil it all down, consistently adherent will beat sometimes perfection any day.

 

 

References

Baumeister, R., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., and Tice, D.M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 74(5):1252-65.

Boon, B., Stroebe, W., Schut, H., & Jansen, A. (1998). Food for thought: Cognitive regulation of food intake. British Journal of Health Psychology. 3:27-40.

Heatherton, T.F., Herman, C. P, Polivy, J., King, G. A., & McGree, S. T. (1988). The (Mis)measurement of restraint: An analysis of conceptual and psychometric issues. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 97:19-28.

Herman, C. P., & Mack, D. (1975). Restrained and unrestrained eating. Journal of Personality. 43(4):647-60.

Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (1984). A boundary model for the regulation of eating. In: A. J. Stunkard, & E. Stellar (Eds.), Eating and its disorders ( pp. 141 ± 156). New York: Raven Press

Jacobi, C., Hayward, C., de Zwaan, M., Kraemer, H. C., & Agras, W. S. (2004). Coming to terms with risk factors for eating disorders: application of risk terminology and suggestions for a general taxonomy. Psychological Bulletin. 130:19-65.

Klesges, Robert C.; Isbell, Terry R.; Klesges, Lisa M. (1992). Relationship between dietary restraint, energy intake, physical activity, and body weight: A prospective analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 101(4): 668-674
Lowe, M. R. (1993). The effects of dieting on eating behavior: A three-factor model. Psychological Bulletin. 114:100-21.
Lowe, M., Timko, A. (2004) What a difference a diet makes: Towards an understanding of differences between restrained dieters and restrained nondieters. Eating Behavior. 5:199-208.
McCann, K. L., Perri, M. G., Nezu, A. M., Lowe, M. R. (1992). An investigation of counterregulatory eating in obese clinic attenders. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 10:461-71.
Polivy, J., & Herman, P. (1985). Dieting and binging: A causal analysis. American Psychologist. 40(2):193-201.
Rogers, P. J., & Green, M. W. (1993). Dieting, dietary restraint and cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 32:113-16.
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Dr. Stu Phillips joins us for this latest interview, and we discuss the following:

– What are his thoughts on the RDA for protein?
– What is the optimal protein intake for a physique-oriented individual?
– Is there an upper limit to protein intake?

And more.

Give it a listen below.

Breakfast: Omelet stuffed with turkey and veggies and topped with cheese; side of grapefruit sprinkled with Stevia.

I want to talk about the strategies that I use to prepare for a social event.

Whether it be an afternoon barbecue, a birthday party, or even a wedding, as a fitness-minded individual, it makes sense to plan ahead so you can enjoy your time and indulge in some food (and drink!).

Is it possible to be waist-deep into prep and still partake in social events? Absolutely. In the video at the end of this post, I’m actually five days out from weigh-ins for my first powerlifting meet and I’ve just made some cookies to bring to a cookout. (As a sidenote, yes, I did end up making weight! Hoorah!)

Keep in mind, now, that these are not rules by any means; these are merely guidelines. Many of you may thrive using the strategies that I use. Others may find that it’s too much work and you’re much better off going with the flow. I encourage you to experiment with different approaches and find what works best for you.

Here’s what I recommend for the day of the social event.

Workout

If you have the means, then definitely try to get in a training session.

You don’t have to go crazy here; the point is simply to get in some movement. I like to use this opportunity to tackle one of my harder training days, like a squat or deadlift session. Otherwise, whatever you had planned will work just fine.

This aspect is something you may or may not get to depending on where you are and what your schedule is looking like.

The point is that you want to prime your body for the nutrients you’ll be consuming later on. This is especially important if you’re planning on indulging a bit, as exercise – both aerobic and anaerobic – increases insulin sensitivity [1] [2].

Don’t overthink this part. You can do a heavy strength training workout, a depletion workout, a sprint session, or even just some simple glute work.

If you’re looking for workout ideas, here are a few free resources of mine:

For a strength training program, check out this 4-day training split I wrote up not long ago. You can do any of the days prescribed, though I’d recommend one of the full-body workouts if you’re planning on indulging in some goodies later.

For a 15-minute quick workout, try this kettlebell circuit:

If you only have 10 minutes (and believe me, everyone can spare 10 minutes), you can do my dumbbell conditioning circuit:

or my Better-Than-Sex Glute Pump:

If you legitimately cannot find a 10-minute window to carve out of your day and you swear up and down that you are unable to squeeze in even the quickest of workouts, then… okay. Don’t sweat it. (Uh, literally.)

Nutrition

Use the daytime to load up on nutrients that you’ll likely be lacking in later. For most of you, that should be protein and vegetables.

Breakfast is the perfect opportunity for you to load up on an omelet stuffed with meat or something equally high in protein. If I know I want to make room for indulgences later in the evening, I’ll even let myself get up to 50 grams of protein in breakfast alone. Think of this as a form of front-loading nutrients, if you will.

Breakfast: Omelet stuffed with turkey and veggies and topped with cheese; side of grapefruit sprinkled with Stevia.

Breakfast: Omelet stuffed with turkey and veggies and topped with cheese; side of grapefruit sprinkled with Stevia.

Why do I love protein?

Because it’s anabolic [3] and is positively associated with lean body mass [4].

Because it increases satiety [5].

Also, meat is delicious [6].

(And yes, while it’s true that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is maximally stimulated at 30g protein [7], it’s not inherently harmful to consume more than that in one sitting. So if you know that you’ll be short on protein later on, go ahead and load up.)

Around two hours after breakfast would be when I’d recommend getting in a workout, if possible (see above).

After that, maybe a scoop of whey protein and perhaps some form of carbohydrate before you head out the door. The reasoning for this is two-fold: one, it’s simply another opportunity to ingest protein before the festivities begin; and two, whey protein stimulates MPS [8] – this is good! As far as the carbohydrate, there does appear to be some evidence indicating that carbohydrate has an additive effect on MPS [9].

Don’t worry too much about meal frequency. You won’t retain more fat simply because you consumed three larger meals today, and conversely, you won’t burn more fat by eating more frequently [10]. From a practical standpoint, you may find it easier to consume bigger, less frequent meals, simply because it affords you the ability to squeeze in more calories per feeding.

And finally, you may be wondering about nutrient timing. How soon after you workout should you have your post-workout meal? A review by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld suggests that the evidence is not as we once thought. More specifically, they indicate that the pre- and post-workout meal should not be separated by more than 3-4 hours given a 45-90 minute resistance training bout [11]. So relax. This means there’s no need to panic and chug down a protein shake the minute you put down the dumbbells (I admit that I used to do this – whoops!), and you can simply eat whenever the next opportunity presents itself.

If you’re counting macros – and even if you’re not – it may be a good idea to save up a good portion of your carbohydrate and fat allotment for the evening. This is especially important if you’re on a tight deadline and have a good reason to have to be strict with your diet.

Above all, don’t forget that total calories (followed secondarily by macronutrient intake) for the day will matter the most.

Mindset

Woo! My favorite topic, and arguably the most difficult aspect for many individuals to master.

First off, don’t freak out. The whole point of attending a social event is to have a good time, right?

Counterregulatory eating, more colloquially known as the “what the hell effect”, is all too common. Popularized by Roy Baumeister, the term describes the phenomenon in which dieters binge once they’ve had a small taste of something that they’ve deemed forbidden [12]. This food bender may last for one meal, one weekend, a week, or even a whole month. As Baumeister so aptly explains, dieters rationalize this behavior by thinking that “[v]irtue cannot resume until tomorrow,” so they proceed to stuff their faces while they can.

You may have experienced this. I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past. And I can guarantee you that it’s no fun.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to not set strict black-and-white rules to begin with. As soon as you set a food off-limits in your mind – say, your favorite m&m ice cream sandwiches – then all of a sudden, simply sitting there actively resisting the treat depletes your willpower [13]. (In contrast, non-dieters, or those who had not set the food off limits, experienced zero willpower depletion.) This is no bueno if you want to succeed in the long term.

I understand that it can be hard to embrace the idea that you can have one cookie and not derail all your progress. There’s nothing sexy about moderation, after all.

But.

Remember that you’re going into this with the intention of having a good time. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

So relax.

Be mindful about what you eat and stay in the moment. Pile up on protein and veggies at the event if that’s available. If not, don’t worry. Because though you may not always be able to control what you eat, you can always, always control how much.

You’re in charge here. You get to decide when to put the fork down. You get to say when enough is enough.

Trust that you have all the mental tools you need to succeed.

And finally: If all of this seems like waaaay too much work for you, then forget about it. Not everything is worth stressing out over, and if you’d rather just coast into a barbecue and wing it, that is totally okay.

You do you.

 

[1] Goulet, E.D., Melancon, M.O., Aubertin-Leheudre, M., Dionne, I.J. (2005). Aerobic training improves insulin sensitivity 72-120h after the last exercise session in younger but not in older women. Eur J Appl Physiol., 95(2-3):146-52.

[2] Van Der Heijden, G.J., Wang, Z.J., Chu, Z., Toffolo, G., Manesso, E., Sauer, P.J., Sunehag, A.L. (2010). Strength exercise improves muscle mass and hepatic insulin sensitivity in obese youth. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 42(11):1973-80.

[3] Phillips, S.M., Hartman, J.W., Wilkinson, S.B. (2005). Dietary protein to support anabolism with resistance exercise in young men. J Am Coll Nutr., 24(2):134S-139S.

[4] Leidy, H.J., Carnell, N. S., Mattes, R. D., & Campbell, W. W. (2007). Higher protein intake preserved lean mass and satiety with weight loss in pre-obese and obese women. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 15(2): 421-29.

[5] Leidy, H.J., Carnell, N. S., Mattes, R. D., & Campbell, W. W. (2007). Higher protein intake preserved lean mass and satiety with weight loss in pre-obese and obese women. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 15(2): 421-29.

[6] There’s no actual study out there that supports this, but my belly – and my fellow meat-lover friends – can attest to this statement.

[7] Symons, T.B., Sheffield-Moore, M., Wolfe, R.R., Paddon-Jones, D. (2009). A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc., 109(9):1582-6. 

[8] Cameron JD, et al.(2010) Increased meal frequency does not promote weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 103(8): 1098-101.

[9] Koopman, R. et al. (2007) Coingestion of carbohydrate with protein does not further augment postexercise muscle protein synthesis. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab., 293(3):833-42.

[11] Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1): 5.

[12] Herman., C.P., Mack, D. (1975). Restrained and unrestrained eating. Journal of Personality, 43:647-60.

[13] Vohs, K.D., Heatherton, T.F. (2000). Self-regulatory failure: a resource-depletion approach. Psychological Science, 11:249-54.

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In the latest episode, Layne Norton and I answer listener questions. Here’s what we covered:

  • What are the best methods you have used to create personal brand awareness online without resorting to scammy tactics on social media?
  • When reverse dieting, how do you know when enough is enough?
  • How do you choose your clients, your crowd, the events, or the publications you work with in such a sprawling and varied industry?
  • What do you think of the “squat everyday” protocol?
  • Other than the bench, squat, and deadlift, what are our favorite exercises purely for enjoyment?
  • When cutting, what is the first variable you manipulate when you stall?

 

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