Planned Variance - A nice article on "Cheat Meals"

Muay Thai Guy

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I thought you guys might enjoy this read:


I'm a big believer in the psychology of dieting and training. If your mind accepts your program as "simple", or even "workable", you're much more likely to succeed over the long-haul. Draconian programs may work for short periods of time, but if you're looking for lifelong fat loss and muscle gains, consider adopting what I call planned variance, or "PV" for short. You can work PV into your training, but we'll be discussing the nutrition tricks I use in this article to keep diets on-track over the course of a lifetime as well as during more stringent "peaking" phases.

The Concept

For as long as I can remember my natural inclinations leaned toward yo-yo dieting: going on and off a diet only to lose what results I gained. This all changed many years ago after reading several articles and books on lifestyle dieting. Each of these writers emphasized the importance of planned 'off-days' or 'cheat meals' within a given week. This gives both the body and brain a much-need break—but it does much more than that. It also allowed those natural inclinations of mine to be put to good use for a change.

The Science

After adapting the PV approach, my natural intuition led me to diet in this fashion: I'd eat very well for three days and then take a meal or two "off" on the fourth day. Once I made the lifestyle commitment mentally-speaking, this actually prevented the yo-yo syndrome from reappearing. You see, my mind knew I only had to stay strict X number of days before a break was coming.

What I didn't realize until studying nutrition and biochemistry further is that this break did much more for me than just ease mental tension—it actually enhanced my fat loss and boosted anabolism. In fact, I would usually wake up leaner the day after an off-day. Here's what I found out.

When you deprive your body of its maintenance level of calories you lose body fat (assuming you're active and your protein intake is sufficient to maintain muscle mass)—however this lasts only for a short while. The body quickly readjusts its 'thermostat' and downregulates the metabolism under the genetic assumption that a famine is coming. For hundreds of thousands of years calories were only restricted during times of famine. The body consequently learned to store bodyfat in order to survive. This poses a big problem for dieters....and the solution can be found in PV.

By increasing calories ever three days or so you can trick the metabolism into not downregulating while reaping the benefits of the low-calorie days. If you do this correctly you can accelerate fat loss by a vicious one-two punch: low calories on several days which burns bodyfat and a high-calorie day that resets the metabolism, increases leptin levels (a hormone that liberates stored bodyfat), increase thermogenesis (the rate at which your body burns calories) and much more. You may even pack on some muscle in the process if insulin is doing the job it was meant to do.

A little more about leptin is in order. Leptin is a two-edged sword: it is both a liberator of fat (as proved by studies in mice) and a diet-crasher. Diets fail for two main reasons, other than doughnuts, of course: 1) T3 levels decrease (your active thyroid) which slows the metabolism down; and 2) Leptin levels decrease, slowing the metabolism even further. However, leptin can actually help burn stored bodyfat when levels are temporarily increased due to the increase in metabolism. This is accomplished quite nicely using PV strategies such as re-feed meals and off-days. Once leptin reaches a certain level, however, you get exactly the opposite result: massive fat storage. Not what the doctor ordered.

If you want to read more about this interesting hormone, click here.

Some Dietary Examples

Many dieting gurus have espoused this type of eating, albeit I was unaware of them when I first began the process. The most simplistic protocols are found in Dr. Heller's book, The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet. While this diet isn't the best for bodybuilders, it is an excellent fat-loss diet for the majority of people who have trouble utilizing and digesting carbohydrates. The Heller's plan is simple: eat low carb, high protein, moderate fat meals all day with the exception of one free meal per day. There are guidelines to this free meal: you can eat anything you want (dessert, starch, etc.) as long as you have equal portions of lean protein and vegetables with a salad. You also have to finish this meal in under 60 minutes to prevent excessive insulin secretion. While this is a good 'starter' diet, I found the daily consumption of starch too hard on my system.

Next we have Jay Robb's Fat Burning Diet Book ( Jay's diet is excellent for bodybuilders and non-bodybuilders alike. On Jay's plan you consume a high protein, moderate fat, low carb diet. You consume these meals (up to 5) for two to three days and then consume a high-carb (unrefined carbs like yams, brown rice, fruit, etc.) meal on the third or forth day with little protein and almost zero fat. Another option is to day an entire day to carb up if you tolerate carbs well. I use this principle in my own dietary practice with some pretty serious modifications. The PV in this approach is the carb-up day. The mental break comes from consuming carbohydrate-oriented meals and giving your body a break from the protein intake.

Now on to the extreme examples the ones I prefer for ultimate fat loss...and because the make people grimace.) Dan Duchaine and Lyle McDonald are two nutrition gurus who specialize in what's known as "ketogenic dieting"—diets that put the body into or near a state of ketosis (where ketones, byproducts of fat metabolism, are burned for fuel rather than carbohydrates) in order to force the body to burn its fat stores quickly. Ketogenic diets are tricky and not for everyone. However, they are very effective fat-burning diets and, if done correctly, quite safe.

Dan's approach is similar to Lyle's: eat virtually no carbs whatsoever for five and a half days, then eat like crazy for a day and half. Extreme, yes...but effective—at least to a point. I tried this diet for a while and found it too hard to maintain. Plus the shock of a day and a half of "free-for-all eating" was too hard on my body. But there was a tremendous fat loss with virtually no muscle lost in the process.

So is there a better way? You bet...but you'll have to check back next month to read about it. I plan to post my
6-Week Peaking Program as an online e-book. Actually, this will be a for-sale product, but half the proceeds go to Habitat For Humanity, a charity that builds homes for people with low or no-income lifestyles. Assuming I can work out the technical details, which may prove to be more time-consuming than I anticipate, you'll be able to download the e-book which is a 75-page journal of my day-to-day training along with extensive details of the diet, supplements and training used. There is also a considerable amount of info on ketogenic dieting do's and don'ts, plus my Every Other Day Diet Plan—a perfectly simple way to begin a low-carb lifestyle. $20 gets you the e-book, with $10 donated directly from this site to Habitat. In other words, you don't have to rely on me to give your portion and you can write off your $10 donation. For more information about Habitat For Humanity, click here.

Editor's Note: My reason for selling this information is twofold: first, it's fair to my clientele who pay considerably more for my consultation time. While the e-book doesn't deliver what a consultation does (the one-on-one aspect of a consultation appeals to more than one's need for information) it does contain much of the data imparted during my sessions. Second, I believe this is a great way to be compensated for the years of research and hours of writing that went into the e-book while helping a worthwhile organization in the process.

For now, I'm going to give you some pointers on how to make PV work from within any dietary program.

PV In The Real World

Plan for one treat per day
This doesn't have to be a fattening fact, I find that something as simple as a Diet Sprite for dinner is all I need to satisfy my sweet tooth. Yes, it has aspartame in it which I don't like, but one a day isn't going to kill you. Another trick I use is to purchase one Jolly Ranchers. Sounds silly, but sucking on hard candy is a great way to satisfy the sweet tooth with minimal affect on even a low-carb diet. Other treats might include a small portion of your favorite food. For example, Clarence Bass, a high-carb eater, eats Almond Butter sandwiches almost every day. This 'treat' helps break up the day's eating and gives him something he really enjoys. Of course, in the perfect world, you would enjoy every meal of your diet, but let's face it—some meals are better than others!

Plan for several free meals in the week
Spread them out—I prefer Wednesdays and Sundays. On Wednesdays I eat only one small treat, such as an ice cream bar or a small hamburger. On Sundays I get a bit more carried away...I eat whatever I want for several hours. Knowing these two days are in my calendar makes almost any diet maintainable.

Change the structure of your meals twice a week
I like Jay's trick: dump the protein for a day or two. This helps realkalinze the body's tissues and gives your digestive system a much-need rest. If you're eating low-carb, take in several carb-only meals twice a week (assuming you can tolerate them.) If you eat high-carb, consume a nice steak dinner without carbs (or with a salad) a few times per week. Whatever it is, pick something you personally enjoy and plan for it. Leave nothing to chance. Make sure it's noted and planned in your schedule so your mind can accept the fact that you're about to eat something yummy.

Every few months, take a week off from dieting
CAUTION: Use this only if you're not on a diet for medical reasons and if your willpower is strong. My lifestyle is built around nutrition, so I don't sweat a week off. I haven't had one in quite some time, and I'm looking forward to my break from both dieting and training in late November after my photoshoot. Your mind and body will thank you for this. Actually, according to Lyle McDonald, a week off of dieting can actually break a plateau! Same goes with training—most people report feeling stronger after a week off of training.

Remember: plan for the variance That's the key. Don't let parties, occasions, holidays, etc. rule your life. Make sure you're in control of your schedule and then enjoy the PV meal or meals to the fullest. This will do more to help you stay on a lifestyle program than anything I know.