In the wake of my prep that has begun for my October photoshoots (9 weeks out as of 2 days ago!), I figured now would be an appropriate time to unveil some of the tips and tricks that I use when dieting. I’ve prepped 3 different times in the past and have dieted down from an “off-season,” so to speak, many more times. While I don’t believe in wildly fluctuating body weight (and consequently bodyfat) while transitioning from in-season to off-season and back, I think the following points are applicable to any and all dieters. I’ve covered the ways to minimize hunger here (cliff notes: be realistic, moderate exercise, be smart with food choices, find an eating pattern that works for you, and suck it up), so I’ll avoid repetition and focus on new ideas I haven’t covered yet.
1. Drink water and/or other calorie-free beverages.
It may not do much, but at least it’s something. Sometimes that simple hand-to-mouth motion is an itch I need to succumb to. Hot coffee and hot teas tend to be popular amongst dieters too – just make sure you’re not adding sugars or creams, which would destroy the purpose. I’m a can-of-Diet-Mountain-Dew kind of gal, and if you ask me, there’s no harm in a little bit of diet soda. For water, aim to guzzle down at least a gallon a day.
2. Plan and prepare your meals ahead of time.
You never know when something comes up unexpectedly and you find yourself with only enough time to grab something from the fridge before running out the door. Sleeping through your alarm, lingering too long at the laptop – we’ve all been there. You don’t want to be caught unprepared and forced to resort to the nearest drive-thru or paying an exorbitant amount of money for a measly little salad. Don’t let it happen. Set aside a day and devote just a few hours to prepping your meals for the week ahead (I like Sunday afternoons, as I’m typically not doing much else). Pre-chop your veggies and portion them into individual containers; cook your meats and grains in bulk (chicken and steak keep well for 3 or 4 days in the fridge, while grains will last a bit longer); keep emergency protein powder and nuts in your purse, car, and/or at work.
3. Get used to being a functional cook.
On that note, don’t try to get all fancy schmancy with your meals. I used to spend hours obsessing over ways I could be creative and get the most bang for my macros buck. Those are precious hours I will never get back. Now I’m a minimalist cook and prepare my food just enough so it’s edible and it’s seasoned properly. Cinnamon protein donuts, pumpkin protein cake, lasagna made with eggplant – say what? Looking at a recipe with more than 4 ingredients gives me a headache and I’ve found that it really isn’t worth my time. This means I’ve resorted to simple, oftentimes cold food. Do the bare minimum that you have to do in the kitchen and go on living your life.
4. Take advantage of the post-workout window.
There was once a time when folks believed that the post-training meals should consist of waxy maize and a scoop of whey, but now we know better. The post-workout (PWO) window is the optimal time for your body to utilize any sugary carbs that you ingest. I’ve successfully dieted down numerous times while consuming Cinnamon Toast Crunch, ice cream, and even bagels – in fact, they may have been my saving grace. As long as you keep the fat and fiber content low, any carb source will do. I encourage you to get creative here and use this time to get your junk food fix.
5. Be aware of diet-friendly places to eat in your vicinity.
I always have my go-to places in the neighborhood that I know I can go to whenever I’m in a bind and need to keep up my dietary adherence. Look up the menu before you go to a restaurant, too, if you think you’ll need more time to find a suitable option for yourself. This will help to minimize any stress and anxiety you may experience when going out to eat (which is actually not an uncommon phenomenon amongst dieters). Order a lean protein of some kind with fibrous veggies – one of my favorites is a simple chicken salad with double meat. Remember that you can always ask for no sauce, dressing on the side, etc. if you need to.
6. Set a deadline and keep your eyes on the prize.
I remember watching an episode on The Biggest Loser in which the contestants, divided into teams, had to stand in front of a giant bowl filled with donut holes for a total of two minutes each. Whichever team had the most number of donut holes still remaining at the end of the round was the winner. It was heartbreaking to watch some of these folks – grown ass adults! – scarf down the food without a second thought as though they’d been starved for days. Delayed gratification will take you far in life, and it applies to physique goals, too. The food will always be there. If you know you have to get in shape by a certain date, then use that as motivation to stay on track. Having an endpoint to the process will help to alleviate those I-need-it-now feelings that attack you at night.
7. Let everyone know.
Accountability, accountability, accountability. Would you be more or less likely to reach for those m&m’s if you know that everyone in the room knows you’re trying to get healthy? The more eyes watching you, the better. Social proof. Just think about how ashamed you would be to show up to work after the weekend after a binge fest knowing that you’d have to report to your coworkers that you’ve gone up a notch in that belt buckle?
8. Celebrate small successes.
Don’t wait until you’ve reached your 50lb weight loss milestone to get excited over the progress you’ve made. Every inch and every pound lost absolutely counts, so don’t discount them. Did you finally break that ancient habit of late-night kitchen rummaging? That is huge. Did you abstain from reaching into the bread basket at dinner? That’s monumental. Remember that success is the culmination of tiny victories made along the way. Every decision that you make counts, so embrace everything that you do right to move you closer towards your goal.
9. Set high standards for yourself, but let loose every once in a while.
This means you should still have a social life. I’m adamantly against missing out on important outings and events with friends and family because you’re afraid you’ll mess up your diet. I’ve done this before and it wasn’t a fun experience. It is dumb and almost makes the dieting process not worth it in the first place. I mean, why are you trying to get leaner? To look and feel better, right? What’s the point of being more in shape if you’ve lost all your friends? What’s more, I’ve found that my dietary adherence goes up overall if I know that I get to have one meal a week (without consequence!) to eat my favorite bacon cheeseburger followed up with a giant scoop of full fat ice cream.
10. Remember that no matter what, consistency is king.
It doesn’t matter if you think you’re the most hardcore dieter in the world if you’re switching from Paleo to vegan to the Zone every other day. If you want to carb cycle, then that’s fine. Keto? Sure, feel free to try it out. But for crying out loud, stick with it. Give whatever plan you’re following a fair shot and absolutely do not let your emotions influence your decisions. I know it’s hard, and that’s why a lot of folks prefer to hire someone to help them with their meal plans; it takes the guesswork out of it all. Day in and day out, stay true to the program.
If you’ve been stuck in a rut, I hope that some of my pointers have been helpful to you. Millions of people around the world attempt to diet everyday and the large majority of them fail. You don’t have to be one of them.