Yes, you read the title correctly.
I recently went through a 12-week cutting phase in order to lean down for a photoshoot, and the truth is that eating ice cream on a regular basis (along with other delicious “treat foods” like pizza, chocolate and cookies) actually helped me achieve the following condition faster and more effectively than I would have had I cut these items out of my diet completely…
No, it’s not that these particular foods possess any sort of special inherent fat burning properties when consumed at certain times or in certain amounts, and it has nothing to do with out-dated concepts like “shocking the metabolism” or preventing the body from going into “starvation mode”…
Rather, it all has to do with the simple fact of improving overall dietary adherence in the big picture.
In other words, when you allow yourself to enjoy controlled amounts of your favorite foods as an ongoing part of your eating plan (the key word here being “controlled”), you’ll be far less likely to feel deprived or overly restricted throughout the process and your chances of sticking to your diet long term will be greatly increased as a result.
Force yourself to “eat clean” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with nothing but plain chicken, brown rice, broccoli and oatmeal and it’s a virtual guarantee that you’ll eventually feel bored and frustrated with your diet, which could very easily cause you to fall off track or even quit altogether.
Not only is a bland, boring eating plan a sure-fire way to burn yourself out mentally, but it’s also completely unnecessary from a basic fat burning and muscle building perspective as well.
A much more effective and realistic dieting approach for most people is to use healthy, “clean” whole foods as the underlying foundation of their meal plan, but to also regularly add in a moderate allowance of “cheat foods” as well.
This method is typically referred to as “flexible dieting”, and it’s a far better long term strategy for the vast majority of trainees.
Not only will this type of approach make your day to day life more enjoyable and maximize your chances of long term success, but your actual rate of bottom line fat loss will not be negatively affected either as long as you go about it properly.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that your body does not view your diet within the context of individual food items.
For example, 1 chicken breast, 1 cup of rice and 1 bowl of ice cream are not seen as separate entities. The body doesn’t say “that’s a chicken breast”, “that’s rice” and “that’s ice cream”. In addition, it doesn’t say “those first 2 items are healthy” and “that last item is “unhealthy”.
What would your body actually see if you were to consume these items together?
680 calories, 44 grams of protein, 90 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fat, as well as an assortment of fiber and micronutrients all mixed together as one giant blob of chewed up goo.
Like I talked about in the previous lesson, fat burning and muscle building nutrition is all about the big picture, and this is the only way that your body actually sees things.
If you’re “eating clean” the majority of the time and then have a slice of pizza, it’s not as if a giant red light begins flashing within your body, fat storage goes into overdrive and your health and energy levels plummet.
Rather than labelling individual food items as “good” or “bad”, it’s far more useful and accurate to look at your overall diet as a whole and label that as “good” or “bad”.
And if you’re eating healthy, clean foods most of the time and are simply including a few higher-fat/higher-sugar items into the mix in moderation, that would most definitely still be classified as a “good” diet in the overall scheme.
Exactly how much “treat food” is okay to include as part of your diet?
You’ll see different figures thrown around, but the one I rely on and recommend is the “80-90/10-20” rule.
Simply put, this rule states that if 80-90% of your total food intake is coming from traditional “healthy” fitness foods (such as lean/high quality proteins, high fiber/minimally refined carbs and healthy fats) then the remaining 10-20% can come from whatever foods you’d like as long as it fits into your overall daily calorie and macronutrient totals.
The 80-90% of “clean foods” will ensure that your nutritional needs are being met in terms of optimizing muscle growth, fat loss, recovery and overall health, leaving you with 10-20% of your daily intake to play around with however you’d like. (This strategy applies not only to cutting plans but to bulking programs as well)
For example, if you were consuming 2000 calories daily, you’d want 1600-1800 of those calories to be derived from clean nutrient dense whole foods, and you could then allot the remaining 200-400 calories to whatever foods you felt like.
As long as you’re tracking things properly and are fitting these foods into your daily nutrition totals, you’ll still be able to lose fat and build muscle just as effectively this way while enjoying your diet at the same time.
Just remember that this most definitely is not a free ticket to begin stuffing your face with chocolate and cookies all day long.
The “flexible foods” that you include still need to reasonably fit into your targeted daily calorie/macronutrient numbers, and they should only make up a small chunk of your overall diet.
If you take this advice too far and it pushes your total calorie intake up into an excessive level, or if you find that these treats begin acting as “trigger foods” which then cause you to start binging on other items you didn’t plan on, then yes, it will of course slow down your progress and you’ll need to re-evaluate things.
If you do have your daily nutritional needs mapped out though and you know how your treat foods of choice are fitting into the totals, just follow the 80-90/10-20 rule and you’ll be all set.
Again, proper tracking and basic moderation are the name of the game here.
This type of approach ensures that you’re getting the high quality foods required to meet your overall health, muscle building and fat burning needs, but that you’re also getting the physical and mental satisfaction of eating the foods you most enjoy.
That way you’ll never feel deprived or overly restricted throughout the dieting process, and your chances of staying consistent with your diet for long term fat burning and muscle building success will be greatly improved.
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