You’re shaky, hungry, irritable, and even a stranger brushing against you on a crowded street is enough to get your blood boiling. 

It’s day three of your diet, and you’re in withdrawal. 

You’ve been subsisting on pale, limp boiled chicken breast alongside piles of listless steamed broccoli seasoned sparingly with salt.

It’s been 72 hours since your food has been tasty enough to trigger the release of endorphins. At this point, even the sight of a stale piece of bread is getting your mouth watering.

Many of us have powered through a similar diet, banking on the hope that the suffering will be worth the physical gains. Unfortunately, many of us don’t get to cash in on those gains. 

It’s one of the greatest struggles of dieting — the balance between keeping sane and pushing yourself hard enough to get the results you want.  

Imagine a seesaw. As the weight of saying “no” to the foods we love weighs heavier on our shoulders, the likelihood that we’ll break gets higher and higher. 

It takes some back and forth to find the perfect balance, the point where we’re solid and stable, not teetering on the brink of a binge.

21-week transformation

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The Meat and Nut-Style Approach

They say abs are made in the kitchen, but they’re really made outside of it. A strict diet coupled with a hefty caloric deficit is the ticket to getting lean. It’s pretty simple. 

If you’re eating under your maintenance calories, and you’re eating foods that will keep your insulin levels and blood sugar stable, you will lose fat. The more on-point you are with your diet, the more fat you will lose.

If you want to lose fat you need to cut out and cut down on certain foods. It’s inevitable. Having the self-control to wake up to a breakfast spread of medium-rare steak with a handful of almonds day in and day out, will do your body composition good, there’s no doubt about that. 

If you can get into robot mode and eat for fuel alone you’ll be on the fast track to the results you’re looking for. The more robot-like you can be, the better.

The problem is many of us aren’t able to stay in that mode for too long. Eventually, the cravings get more intense, the excuses start flooding in, and you would rather ram a fork in your eye than sit down to another meal of broiled fish and spinach. 

One day you wake up with the good intentions of getting down your meat and nut breakfast. Instead, you find yourself elbow deep in maple syrup and melted butter, unsure how you got there, the remnants of a pile of French toast staring back at you in disgust.

Steak

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A Little Less Hardcore

Now imagine that you sat down to scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with a side of blueberries and coffee with a dash of milk every morning. How much longer could you last on your diet without succumbing to your cravings? 

Granted, it’s not the diehard bodybuilder breakfast. If you’re able to stick to a completely restrictive diet for long periods of time, by all means do it. You’ll be a few steps closer to a lean, strapping body. 

But it’s better to take one step at a time than two steps forward and three steps backwards. Nothing says you have to be on a brutal, hardcore diet to make any progress. If incorporating healthy foods that won’t impede your progress too much makes your diet more manageable for you, incorporate them.

***Disclaimer

Let’s be clear, I’m certainly not proposing that you take up flexible dieting, and eat your daily fill of the crap you’re addicted to because it can 'fit your macros'. 

If you want to make significant changes to your body, you’re going to need to buck up and endure a little suffering. 

If dieting were easy, we’d all be walking around shirtless with the sun shining on our glistening abs. But it’s not and last time I checked we weren’t.

13-week transformation

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Find Your Sweet Spot

How strict you need to be is completely goal driven. It’s all about finding your own personal sweet spot. If you’re dieting because you want to lean out and fit into your smallest pair of jeans, you can afford to be more moderate with yourself. You have the time to set goals that allow some flexibility in your diet. 

If having a frozen yoghurt once a month is going to keep you from cracking and throwing away all your hard-earned progress, it’s probably worth the 200 calories.

If, on the other hand, you’re planning on stepping on stage in two months, or you’re weeks away from walking down the aisle with all of your loved ones watching, flexibility is not on your side. 

You could decide to eat your cherished dark chocolate every night as per your usual routine. But when you’re looking at your wedding photos 10 years down the line and your eyes are immediately drawn to your plump cheeks, you might just regret it.

The Lifestyle Approach

How far can you push yourself before you reach your breaking point? The goal of dieting is to enhance your life by improving the way you look and feel. But if you become overly harsh on yourself and turn into a raging, miserable asshole that no one wants to be around, the point will have been missed. You won’t get the results you’re after (and you may end up with no friends…).  

Find the point where if you dial it in any further, your diet will be short-lived. Stop right before that point, and turn your diet into your lifestyle.

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