It’s weigh-in day.
You step on the scale, looking forward to a new low reading, knowing that you’ve had a really consistent week, trained hard, not missed a single set, and nailed your nutrition to the tee, with calories counted and macros on point.
On you step, AND…..
Not only has the scale not gone down, it’s higher than it was last time.
“Never mind,” you think. “Scale weight isn’t the be all and end all, the measurements must show a difference.”
Out comes the tape measure, and no – that’s still the same too.
You were so sure that you’d see progress this week. You’re convinced that you should be in a deficit with your target macros and the amount of work you’ve been doing in and out of the gym, so not seeing any change whatsoever SUCKS.
It could be the case that you’ve genuinely hit a plateau, in which case you’ll need to do some juggling with your food intake or your exercise, but before you make any drastic changes, ask yourself –
Have I REALLY been that consistent?
Hold on, are you saying I’m lying?
Being accused of not being perfect with your diet cuts pretty deep, but hear me out.
Everyone thinks they’re accurate with their tracking and likes to believe they’re the most dedicated, precise dieter out there, but this isn’t always so. Even when we’re sure we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s not an open and shut case.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that obese subjects were prone to misreporting their calorie intake by an average of 47%. (1) That means they were eating close on one and-a-half times what they thought they actually were. i.e. a perceived 2,000 calories was closer to 3,000.
Okay, these were obese participants, who probably weren’t trying to diet, and weren’t skilled in the art of macro tracking, but if they can be out by almost half, then it’s likely that the rest of us can be at least slightly off at times too.
In this mini article series, I’ll run through the surprising ways you’re unintentionally sabotaging your diet, and how to fix them.
You’re Guesstimating Too Much
Do you need to weigh absolutely everything?
Unless you’ve hit a plateau and can’t figure out why, or you’re in prep for a show or photo shoot.
Sure, it might seem overly analytical, but it can all add up.
Foods like green veggies, low-carb fruit such as berries, and lean meats don’t contain many calories for their total volume, but they do still contain calories, and over-eating them can still impact your progress.
Let’s say your pre-set serving of broccoli in your tracking app is 40 calories, and you start off having pretty much that amount every time you eat broccoli. As you diet, you can subconsciously kid yourself that you’re still sticking to serving sizes, even when you’re not, and gradually start to make these serving sizes bigger.
Your broccoli servings creep from 40 calories to 50, then 60.
I can hear people bursting into tears now as I’m pretty much saying you have to weigh your broccoli.
I’m not, don’t worry. 99% of people will never need to get this inflexible and rigid with their diets, but for those in contest prep, it might be worth keeping an eye on.
20 extra calories from broccoli might not seem much, but as you go through a diet where you’re aiming for very low levels of body fat, you’ll start to choose more high-volume, low-calorie foods, which you probably won’t weigh.
Within a few weeks, you’re not just getting 20 extra calories from one serving of broccoli each day, you’re getting the same from your chicken, lean beef, egg whites, raspberries, and all your other veggies too, which could total around 100-200 extra calories daily or more.
Bottom line: If you’re progressing just fine, you can get away without weighing stuff like this.
But if you’re stuck at a plateau and can’t figure out why, it might be worth sticking everything on the scale for a week, just to make sure you’re being honest with yourself.
You Eat Out Too Much
Can you eat out and get lean?
But how much you eat out depends on your goals.
For my clients who are bulking or on high macros, I have no issue with them eating out regularly (even grabbing lunch out daily) if they’re good at estimating and are sensible with their choices.
For general dieters, then a couple of times per week is fine. (Or more if you’re going to sandwich shops, chain cafes and so on, where the food is all pre-packaged with macros listed.)
But for those of you in prep or stuck at a plateau, I’d limit your eating out to once or twice a week, at least until you’re done competing, or get past your roadblock.
You never know exactly how much oil the chef has used, and amounts of items like salad dressing and sauces are seriously hard to guesstimate.
Again, I’d never tell anyone not to have fun and eat out, or turn down an invitation from friends, but if you do visit restaurants pretty often, just ask yourself if you’re really being as honest with your tracking as you think.
If you’re dieting, it’s probably worth over-estimating the fat and carb macros in restaurant food just to be on the safe side, as these guys like to cook for flavour, not guys and girls with a predetermined macro allowance for lunch.
Inflexible or Just Accurate?
Think this all sounds pretty strict?
And that’s why I suggest using these two approaches (and the ones coming in the next two articles) for the short-term only.
We all get times when we hit a plateau and think “what the &*%£ ?!”
You may need to drop your macros, or you may need to just reassess how accurate you’re really being. Because wouldn’t a week of tightening things up be a hell of a lot nicer than having to drop 200 calories and add an hour of cardio?
Whether you choose to follow a predominantly ‘clean’, paleo, low-carb, high-carb or other style of diet, if you aren’t tracking & controlling your intake from a macronutrient standpoint, you’re likely going to be doing nothing more than spinning your wheels.
The more accurately do this, the more control you’ll have over the situation.
Educate yourself on the nutritional content of the foods you’re consuming; the notion that there are magical foods which assist with weight loss or muscle gain is absurd.