*You can find the links mentioned in the video at the end of the post.
Getting to a low body fat is difficult. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, only a few of the guys that start a cut actually succeed getting below 10% bf. The majority quit half way through.
But maintaining 8-10% body fat once you get there seems to be a whole new level of difficult! How many shredded guys do you know personally? Probably one or two. Maybe none.
Why is that?
After all things are very simple. Losing body fat all comes down to being in a calorie deficit. Then, to keep the fat off, all you have to do is eat at your new maintenance. The theory is so simple but why is it so damn hard to do?
Why do we feel hungry all the time? Why do we have cravings? Why do we feel tired? Ultimately, what makes us WANT to eat more and gain fat?
There are 3 answers to this question:
In the first part of this article we’ll discuss how these 3 factors interact to keep your body programmed at a certain body fat percentage. You’ll understand why it’s difficult to stay lean. Then in the second part, you’ll learn how to change them to maintain a low body fat year round.
How Biology controls your Body Fat Percentage
Have you ever heard of body fat set points?
In recent years researchers discovered that many animals control their bodyweight in a very tight range. For example they noticed that if you underfeed rats and decrease their bodyweight, when you give them free access to food again, they’ll eat more than usual until they go back to their initial weight. At that point they’ll stop eating more and maintain their initial weight.
The opposite was true as well. If they overfed rats they started to move more in order to burn the extra calories and defend against weight gain.
Researchers called this a body fat set point. Biologically, the body is programmed to regulate appetite and energy expenditure in an effort to maintain a given body fat percentage.
It turns out, we humans have a set point as well. For men it’s anywhere between 7 and 18% body fat and for women between 11 and 26% body fat.
If you try to get a man very lean, biologically the body is programmed to fight back by increasing appetite, by decreasing metabolic rate and by reducing spontaneous movements. The leaner you get, the more pronounced these adaptations become. On the other hand if you overfeed a man, the body will fight that by reducing appetite, increasing metabolic rate, and increasing spontaneous movements.
But unfortunately, unlike rats, our body fat regulation system seems to be asymmetrical – it defends against fat loss much more than it defends against fat gain.
Look around. We as a species, have gotten much fatter over the last one hundred years. So what’s going on? Is our biology broken? No, this is where the other two factors come in – environment and habits.
How your Environment and Habits determine the Body Fat Percentage you find Easy to Maintain
While biology may determine a range of body fat that is maintain fairly constant, your habits and environment control where on that range you end up. This is what researchers called a “settling point”.
Think of a man living in a tribe in Africa. He is on his feet all day hunting and gathering food. He is 7% body fat not because his body wants to, it’s because he doesn’t have food to eat more. Even if biologically his set point might be 12% body fat his settling point is well below that because of his environment and habits.
Now let’s say we take this man from his tribe and put him in America. Here he sits on his ass all day, and has easy access to all sorts of delicious foods. We’d quickly discover that he starts gaining fat. After a year his settling point may be 20% which is well above his set point.
This is true in rats as well. When researchers fed rats delicious foods (far better tasting than normal rat food) they noticed their body fat settled above their set point. The desire for tasty foods was stronger than the body’s impulse to stay lean.
Our environment and habits are stronger than our genetic programming when it comes to body fat.
Nobody is genetically programmed to be obese. That’s unhealthy and our body doesn’t want that. But some people’s environment and habits make it very easy for them to eat a lot. Because of that, their body fat may settle at 40%.
Why it’s important to understand Set Points and Settling Points
Now you’ll say: Alright Radu, this is pretty interesting but what does it have to do with me staying shredded?
I covered this topic to make you aware that the level of leanness you want to maintain is almost certainly under what your body is programmed to maintain.
This means you can’t trust your hunger to tell you how much you should eat. Remember that if you’re under your set point, your hunger and cravings are increased. If you follow the natural impulse you’ll eat too many calories, gain fat and end up at your set point.
To stay lean you have to restrict your calories. You have to fight those natural impulses.
But nobody is master of willpower. You can’t starve yourself day after day for months and expect to stay sane.
The key to staying lean is to reinvent your environment and habits so that calorie restriction is very easy.
Here’s how you do that:
Get lean in an enjoyable way
What a lot of people don’t realize is that a diet doesn’t end when you reach your goal.
How many times have you heard people say: “Yes! Just a few more weeks of dieting and then I can go back to normal.”
News flash – Your normal diet is what got you fat in the first place. You can’t go back to that and hope to stay lean. In order to keep the fat off you have to maintain the diet that you lost the fat with.
If that was a restrictive diet you won’t maintain it. Let’s say you endured eating low carbs for two months to get lean. That’s great. But now that you want to maintain, are you seriously not going to eat carbs for the rest of your life? Let’s be real…
To stay lean you have to get there in an enjoyable way, because you have to maintain it for life basically. The diet I use for that is the Aggressive Fat Loss Program.
I believe Intermittent Fasting is the most useful tool you can use to stay lean.
By skipping breakfast and drinking coffee in the morning you suppress your appetite for 4-5 hours after waking up. That’s 4-5 hours you don’t need or think about food.
This way you get to save all your calories for the second part of the day, which means you can have big meals that leave you completely satisfied. Also, in those meals you easily include high calorie foods or deserts which eliminate your cravings.
In addition to that, getting all your food in a 6-10 hour window means you’re so full you can’t cheat much even if you want to. Read more about the benefits of IF in this post.
Have a fixed meal pattern
The main reason people get burned out by tracking macros is because they eat different foods, in different quantities at different times every day. This is fun at first because you get to eat all the foods you love without any guilt. But this soon turns into anxiety as you think about food too much.
The key to staying lean and sane is to forget about your diet. You do this by having a fixed diet structure. Every lean person I know has the same meal pattern every day, only the foods they choose change.
If you always eat what you enjoy most, you never feel the need to cheat.
Eat satiating foods in your main meals
A big mistake people make when they transition for cutting to maintenance is that they change the foods they eat.
They give up on whole food protein, veggies, fruits, and potatoes for more convenient choices like protein shakes, snacks, and fast food. Satiety immediately declines. They find they no longer feel full on the same number of calories.
As a result they end up eating more.
Always keep filling foods as the staple of your diet. Managing hunger is of utmost importance.
See yourself lean in your mind
Have you noticed that your life, is exactly how you expect it to be?
Each of us have an image of ourselves in our mind – how we behave, how productive we are, how much we earn, how we treat others, and of course, how we look.
Psychologists discovered that we never deviate from that image for long. If we see ourselves fat in our mind, even if we lose weight, we’ll go back to that image sooner or later. Let me share a quote by the great Napoleon Hill:
Any image held in the mind through repetition of thought, is taken over by the subconscious portion of the mind and then automatically influences our behavior towards the realization of that image.
That image controls your impulses. If your image is fat, your behavior is that of a fat person. If your image is that you’re single, your behavior is that of a single person. If your image is that you don’t have any money, your productivity will be that of a broke person.
The only way to achieve lasting results is to see yourself in your mind the way you want to be.
I have to videos that expand on this subject. I highly recommend you check them out:
Links mentioned in the video:
*How to Maintain A Low Body Fat Year Round
*Set Points Settling Points and Bodyweight Regulation
*Homeostatic and Non-Homeostatic Pathways Involved in the Control of Food Intake and Energy Balance
*Maintaining Low Body Fat
*Body Fat Set/Settling Point and Finding your Functional Range
*How to Change your Body Weight Set Point