I hate to break it to you, but dieting is not a lifestyle.
That program – you know the one with the limited foods list and cap on calories? It can not support you long term. That “cleanse” that was supposed to last a couple weeks (but you’ve been using to control your weight for the last few years)? It needs to die.
Calorie deficits, no matter how they’re packaged: intermittent fasting, clean eating, veganism, juice fasts, meal replacements, keto, plant-based keto and so many more – are meant to be short term phases, not the dominant theme of your year – year after year after year.
Here are 5 ways to know if you’ve earned the right to be in a calorie deficit. This ensures that the calorie deficit actually produces the results that you want because there’s nothing like intentionally limiting your food and not seeing your body change!
If you’ve spent a significant amount of time not dieting
Short term fat loss phases are earned after spending a significant amount of time not attempting to do so. Hear that again, fat loss phases are earned after not attempting to do so for a very long time – perhaps most of the year, in fact.
Having a predictable, relatively easy fat loss phase results from spending significant time in maintenance or weight and body composition stability. Remember, the metabolism is dynamic and flexes with calorie consumption. If you’ve been restricting for a long time and are currently surviving on very low calories, your metabolism has adapted to that reduced calorie intake. Dropping calories even lower is not the answer. Alternatively, if you’ve been maintaining your weight and body composition, sleep well, perform great, and generally feel awesome you might be ready for a short, temporary fat loss phase.
If your hormones are happy
If your goal is a relatively easy, short and painless fat loss phase, best believe your hormones should be in a good place. Things like brain fog, fatigue, poor sleep quality, low moods, dry skin, brittle hair, irregular menstrual cycles, terrible PMS, and acne might be signs and symptoms that something is up with hormones and therefore, starting a cut is not a good idea. Work on those things first.
If your digestion is on point and gut health is great
Truly, we are only as healthy as our gastrointestinal system. If the goal is a relatively easy, short and painless fat loss phase, best believe your hormones need to be happy. And, so much of that hormone regulation is dependent on how well digestion and absorption occurs in the gut. In addition, much of the conversion from inactive to active forms of hormones happens in the gut and none of this can happen if you’re not digesting food or absorbing nutrients properly, your gut lining is compromised, or you have an overgrowth of bad bugs.
If you’re noticing gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or even acid reflux – your body is trying to tell you something and you need to pay attention. It’s best to look for healthy, clear skin, stable moods, 1 to 3 solid, soft bowel movements per day, and minimal gas and bloating before proceeding with a fat loss phase.
If you have a strong mindset about why you want to engage in a calorie deficit
Ask yourself why you want to reduce calories and be in a deficit? And also why? And also why?
The point is to really dig deep and ask yourself about why you want to lose weight or body fat. Here are some reasons wanting to engage in a cut include: achieving a thigh gap, gaining more control of a stressful or chaotic situation, impressing someone else or becoming something someone else wants you to be – you might not be ready. Changing your body won’t make you more worthy, adored, or liked.
So, if you can confidently conclude that your reasons for seeking a leaner body composition are not rooted in any of the things mentioned above, you might have a sound and strong mindset to start a calorie deficit.
If you have the bandwidth to support diligent macro tracking
A fat loss phase is driven by data. If you can’t dedicate the time and energy to tracking macros and all that goes with it: planning ahead, shopping differently, eating alternatives at restaurants and social events, prepping often -then it’s not the right time.
Similarly, if you’re not in a place to be in charge of your food because you have a lot of travel coming up, you’re headed to vacation, you have guests in town, or you’re participating in a lot of celebrations (birthdays, retirement, anniversaries), then it’s probably not the right time to go into a fat loss phase.
Consider that you might not perform at your absolute best during a cut phase. Your physical ability and energy output might be limited depending how drastic the calorie deficit. This is not the time to be signing up for a marathon, Crossfit competition, or otherwise demanding physical feat or training regimen. Take all these components into consideration when deciding if it’s the right time for a calorie deficit.
Check all the boxes above? Then it might be the right time for a fat loss phase. Remember, if you’re ready and doing it right, a calorie deficit is short, predictable and fairly painless.