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Even in the dead of winter you can never start too soon to prepare for that day when the clothes come off and the body is bared for the whole world to see. So many people write
in requesting diet tips that I figured I'd put together a list of the ones I've found have helped me personally, and have helped those I counsel when they're beginning a contest
diet. Keep in mind that any and all of these suggestions can apply to recreational dieters or those looking to get in shape for any occasion. They are also lifestyle-based tips
that can take you from yo-yo dieting and fluctuating weight to permanently fit and lean.
Many of these tips come from people who are highly successful at the diet phase of contest prep. They can help you achieve the results you want, provided you follow them without question. I'd venture a guess that if anyone followed these tips, along with a sensible diet he knew would work, he would be guaranteed 100 percent success at dieting or maintaining weight all year long.
Keep a food diary and record everything you put into your mouth. On the next day record how you felt after the previous day's food. Were you lighter? Bloated? Tighter? Heavier feeling? Write honestly about your temptations in a separate column, and note your emotional state, or what was happening at the time you almost cheated (or did cheat) on your diet. By monitoring everything you eat, you'll know where problems lie and how to solve them.
Stock your cupboards with foods that are airy and light and don't cost a lot in terms of your body condition if you end up bingeing on them. That could include freeze-dried apple pieces, sliced veggies, plain popcorn, sugar-free snacks, sugar-free gum and various small fruits, such as plums or apricots.
If you know yourself well enough to realize you are going to have to cheat, plan ahead. Make a deal with yourself that you will allow yourself this food that you want, but dictate ahead of time the portion and the time when you'll be able to eat it. The point is to set parameters that you are willing to follow in exchange for that reward. Don't eat more than the amount you agreed upon or break the time frame.
If the prospect of cheating is still unacceptable to you, either indulge in a treat that is almost calorie-free (e.g. sugar-free hot cocoa) or eat a few bites of the food you crave, chew them, and then spit them out. You'll have all the taste and almost none of the calories. Don't use this trick with real diet food, just with items that are forbidden.
Experts say if you resist the craving for two or three minutes, it will likely be gone, at least for the time being. When the desire for a forbidden food comes to mind and you begin salivating over it and wanting it more and more, let the feeling pass by taking a 10-minute walk or by doing a necessary chore around the house.
Talk to people when you feel your constitution for dieting is weak. We all have those one or two friends we can call and talk with during weak-willed moments. Make a pact that you will talk with them as long as necessary to let the craving for a food pass. The very weak-willed person may try joining a support group of folks who help one another stay honest during a diet.
Set attainable goals. If you know you have to lose 40 pounds of bodyfat and water, don't start 12 weeks out from your contest just be-cause everyone else starts then. Start at 18 weeks. Take the first week or two to start cleaning up your diet before just diving in with both feet.
Clear your cupboards of temptation. You're better off in a house with nothing gooey or tasty when you're trying to drop fat, than in one that is chock-full of cookies, candies and other no-no's. You are less likely to want to get into your car at 12 midnight when the craving hits if you know you have to drive for 10 or 15 minutes to reach the all-night convenience store.
Be realistic about how you're going to look once the weight is off. Naturally when you're low in bodyfat you'll look ten times better than the average person, no matter what. However, if you've never before pared down that much, don't expect to be as hard as a pro bodybuilder when the fat is gone. Your body will take time to get used to its new composition and will become harder and more defined with consistency. Just remember, though, if you had a lot to lose, you may have loose skin that needs to tighten up. Don't get mad at the diet or think you failed. Keep plugging away and become what your mind sees over time.
Avoid sugar at all cost unless you have a metabolism that keeps you within 10 to 12 pounds of your ideal contest weight. Even then, eat it sparingly and only before exercise. Sugar is much more detrimental than fat and can cause your body to store fat like it's going out of style. It can also ruin the metabolism if you eat it constantly. Moderation is key. When you're dieting, eat sugar only on planned cheat days.
Drink a lot of water every day and all day. I find mixing a beverage like Crystal Light or Sugar-Free Kool-Aid is a great way to choke down a gallon of water, particularly if you don't like drinking water or are not in the habit of drinking it regularly. Water is probably the second most important element in weight loss. First is a good diet, then enough water. If you're eating a lot of protein, water will help the kidneys flush out the byproducts of protein much more rapidly. Drink before meals to lessen rabid appetites and drink between sets during workouts.
Part of what helps your body regenerate and build new tissue (or avoid burning precious muscle tissue) is getting adequate rest. Eating higher protein will often make sleep more difficult because it causes the metabolism to fire up whenever you ingest it. Use herbal sleep or relaxation remedies such as valerian root, kava kava and passion flower to get the rest you need.
Diet along with a training partner. Two heads are always better than one, and you'll keep each other honest. Besides, if you're both competitive athletes, you may make the diet a friendly competition to see who can get results faster.
Have a coach or someone you trust look at your physique and study your progress every week. When you know you have to strip down to your underwear or posing trunks once a week for someone to scrutinize your body, you're not very likely to cheat. In fact, because the evaluation means the difference between praise and criticism, you'll probably go above and beyond the call of duty to make the grade.
If you've previously used food as a reward for doing well in your life or achieving success, start a new reward system. Buy yourself non-edible treats when you have dieted successfully for a solid week. Many people will tell you a hard, defined physique is reward enough, but not for every-one. This is a psychological game and you should treat it in that way.
Weigh yourself every other day at exactly the same time. Many do this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach to get the lowest possible reading. Regardless of what time you weigh in, make sure you're consistent with that time. Why not every day? Weighing every day may result in unhealthy obsessions with numbers and can cause you psychological anguish if you fluctuate from one day to the next. Give yourself a minimum of 48 hours between weighings, but don't fail to weigh yourself. Not weighing can get you into an equal amount of trouble because absolutely all of us delude ourselves about how far we've come at any given time.
Make dining an event when you're at home. Ease your mind with a nice, colorful plate of protein and vegetables that looks as though it took time to prepare. Learn to make sugar-free, low-cal sauces that you can add to the plate to make it taste even better. Invest in spices that enhance the flavor of your food too.
Prepare all your protein for a few days at a time. This advance preparation makes reaching for protein convenient and easy. You're more likely to stick to a diet when the food is there for you and doesn't need time-consuming preparations. When you're hungry, you're hungry. You'll be more likely to stop at a fast-food restaurant on the way home if you know you have to cook when you get there.
Whatever you do, don't shop for food when you are between meals. Eat a filling meal just before going to the store to avoid being tempted by impulse items or foods that aren't on your diet. You'd be amazed at how thick denial can get when your stomach is contracting from hunger. You'll be more likely to confuse hunger and appetite (see last month's column) and eat something you shouldn't eat. Go with a shopping list, and don't deviate from it.
Following these simple rules can make the difference between being mildly successful on a diet and being super successful. Not every tip may apply to you specifically, but the point is to identify the ones that do and apply them religiously.
Cravings and cheating on diets are your biggest enemies when you're preparing for a competition because denying yourself a full array of foods for weeks on end isn't easy. You have to remember what you're doing and why. You're dieting to get results that will place you among the elite of all men or women up on stage. Your diligence in applying yourself during a diet will be evident in how ripped and prepared you are.