Don’t diet until you read this

Whether dieting for a bodybuilding show, to make weight for a sport like powerlifting or just to loose a few kilos for an event, there is a common mistake I see people make over and over again and I think it’s about time we all had a think about it.

I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian therefor I generally choose to represent my nutrition ideas through my recipe writing and by generally leading a healthy example.  However, I feel that what I’ve got to say falls more into the common sense realm rather than one that requires a qualification.


So, you decide that for whatever reason, you want to lose a few kilos (hopefully of body fat) and that it’s time for a ‘diet’. and exercise regime You might have read about another athlete’s way of eating in a magazine, got chatting to someone in the gym or downloaded something from the internet. They got great results, so you jump straight in. If you are lucky, and the person who wrote the plan took a little more time, there may be an option for your current weight and gender. If you are following another athlete’s meal plan then obviously you won’t even have this level of customisation.

Customisation being the key word. What none of the above options take into account is your current situation. Everyone has a history with their nutrition. For example, take two 70kg women. They may even be the same height, and feed them the same amount of food and get them to do the same amount of exercise and in a perfect world you would expect the same results. Right? Except one of those women has tried several diet plans before and then gotten ‘stuck’ when her diet ‘stopped working’, the other one has not ever really dieted before and has been eating a wide variety of foods without skipping many meals or having many splurges. If we were placing bets on results for this new diet, I’d be choosing contestant number 2, despite their BMRs being theoretically the same.

Downhill DIeting

You wouldn’t get in a car and start driving at 100km hour with only a few litres of petrol in the tank and no idea of how to get to where you were going. Have a plan, make sure you have enough fuel in the tank to make the distance and drive safely. What the smart would-be dieter does is take stock of where they currently are. The easiest way to do this would be through a food diary. There are many web and phone apps out there which make it easy to track food intake. Yes, it is tedious, but it’s not necessary to do this for more than a few days. However, most of us eat differently on weekends than on weekdays, so tracking a few of each would make sense. The simple act of weighing and measuring our food intake brings so much awareness in itself that depending on how they were eating before they might even notice areas that can be improved straight away. Once there is a clear picture of the current situation, it would also make sense to check the proposed calories and macro nutrients of the plan, if it didn’t already come with them included. What is left is the difference between the two plans. So far, obvious. By now, what is hopefully obvious is that the greater the difference the greater the result. At least initially. What might not be so obvious is another reason to look at the proposed diet. Is there enough wiggle room? That is, is there enough distance between the current food intake and that which the body will hit survival mode? If we think back, we’ll remember that the body becomes efficient at almost any level of calorie intake, if there’s not enough energy for essential functions it’ll even adapt by shutting some of them off. Therefore once we adapt to the ‘new diet’ we’ll need to make further adjustments until we reach our goal. The less fuel the body is given the more stubborn and likely it is to adapt to preserve itself. So, although that big initial difference between the ‘old diet’ and the ‘new diet’ might have seemed fantastic in the beginning, you are now left with less room to move and can eventually stall.

So what are the alternatives? The first is a bit more common; make small adjustments to the existing diet, just enough to elicit the desired change. This can work well until adaption kicks in, then you will have to make more changes. Of course, the more changes, the adaption and the less metabolic potential is remaining. Fantastic if you reach your goal before your metabolic adaption becomes the body hitting survival mode. Not so great otherwise. Congratulation, you have now taught your body how to run without essential functions. Of course, if you start at a high enough starting point, you’ll get to your goal without too many battle scars. This leads us to our second option. Start at a higher starting point. If we go back to our two 70kg women, we can see that it is possible for the dieted one to eat more while weighing the same. This is where adaption is on our side. By slowly increasing food intake and allowing the body to adapt the starting point for dieting can be optimised. Therefor , allowing for that highly technical term ‘wiggle room’. If you diet for your sport then this can be perfectly timed as your ‘off-season’. This is also the technique you would use after you are ‘finished’ dieting so that you can ‘get away with’ eating more.

Hopefully this will get you thinking smarter about your diet. Have a plan, make sure you have enough fuel in the tank to make the distance and drive safely. And don’t forget we’re not just talking calories, make sure there’s enough carbs, fats and protein there too.



Big shout out to Dr. Layne Norton for his recent day camp and the girls I hung out with over the weekend. All of this slapped me over the face with the obvious stick thanks to you guys.

About Michelle

Michelle is passionate about showing people how easy it is to prepare food that is healthy and packed full of flavour. She has just completed her first recipe book, Healthy Helpings: fast food for fit physiques. She began sharing her love of food in 2007, when she produced two series of the online cooking show ‘Healthy Helpings TV’, making fast food healthy and healthy food fast. In 2008 she competed in bodybuilding as a novice figure shaping competitor and she remains passionate about physique sports. She was a 2009 Australian Masterchef semi-finalist, and contributes articles to Oxygen Magazine Australia. Michelle lives with her husband on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, where she loves to search out new ingredients and food ideas from local farmers markets, health food shops and ethnic grocers, and take her two dogs on long rambles through the vineyards. Find out more about Michelle's book