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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saboteur!

Getting ready for a contest involves a lot of dedication, it's true: There's training, posing practice, choreographing a routine, hours of cooking and meal prep, days of cardio, and of course, dieting.  But sticking to a diet, that’s really just willpower right?  Wrong.  Here are a couple hidden factors that can sabotage even the most determined among us.

1.  Habits
“Off-season” means something different to everyone, but in general, the off-season is a period of relaxed standards of some sort.  For me, the off-season is a period of relaxed diet but serious lifting (this is pretty standard as far as I can tell).  So even though my dedication to the weight-room doesn’t change much, my dedication to a strict diet does, and this easily forms habits that can carry over to a contest diet.  Being aware of the off-season habits that form can help smooth the transition to contest prep and improve the success of your diet.  You can’t ignore these patterns and hope for the best, you have to change the root behaviors that cause and reinforce them.  Many aspects of your diet or training could have a hand in the  failure of the current protocol, so being honest with yourself about your tendencies is as important as ever.  Attacking the issue from multiple angles and replacing the negative behavior with a more constructive pattern will help avert disaster (and improve results).

2.  Hunger
Hunger plays a HUGE role in contest diets, and more often than not, hunger is your best friend.  But hunger can also undermine you in the most insidious ways.  Hunger will always win eventually, and remembering this can help you make educated choices when it comes to reducing your intake, both initially and along the way.  Caloric deficits are cumulative, meaning that your hunger (and depletion) will build throughout the week—or even throughout the day.  If your starting point is too low, you will be suffering significantly more than you should be by the end of the day or week, and eventually this will lead to cheating--it might not cause a candy aisle rampage (initially!), but it will cause your body to "cheat" for you: metabolic slowing, increased catabolism, and fatigue will start to set in almost immediately if you overdo it. One way or the other, hunger always wins!  This is why starting your diet at a relatively comfortable starting point is essential.  Easing into it, rather than making dramatic adjustments right off the bat, will pay off in spades, especially later in the diet.  In my case, I started my diet using the same meal and macronutrient framework I'd been using before, but I had to account for the extras I'd allowed myself during my loosely administered off-season diet or my initial reduction would be too aggressive.  I did this by simply adjusting my intake to reflect some of those calories—this led to an initial reduction that was appropriate for my current metabolic rate yet still significant enough to yield positive results.  Don’t forget, even though your metabolism will slow to accommodate a lower intake, a gentle, gradual reduction is still necessary.

3.  Addictions
I guess this point doesn't apply to everyone--some people don't really crave junk food apparently, although I suspect that a truly intense diet would change the minds of even those individuals...  I, on the other hand, readily admit to a gnarly junk food addiction--chips, doughnuts, candy, pizza, ice cream, cake--you name it, I can probably put away a whole lot of it.  My first prep was a complete disaster--I tried to carb-cycle and ended up cheating non-stop on my "high carb" days, overdieting the rest of the time to compensate, and needless to say, going nowhere.  So when it came time to compete again, I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it.  This time, instead of trying to control something I barely had a handle on, I purposely used a diet method that allowed me to satisfy these cravings periodically in a way that wasn't counterproductive.  I still use this method--and although I've scaled back the cheating more and more each time I prep, I still do it!  I know that trying to eat "yummy" foods sparingly won't work for me, I know that cutting them out entirely won't work for me either (at least not until the end when it's only a few more weeks to go).  Managing an addiction to food is just like managing any other addiction: Some people respond well to cold turkey, some don't, and you have to know your triggers.  Don't overdiet, don't fall back into bad habits, and don't tempt yourself if you know you can't resist.  

In the end, you still have to want to get leaner for any of these tricks to work.  Diets are definitely NO fun, and being successful is only possible if your desire for whatever's at the other end outweighs your desire for whatever's in front of you. 

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