Dietary Fatigue

What is dietary fatigue?

I've often discussed the difficulty we all have in making healthy choices consistently, and the need to build a personal system that helps you make "the healthy choice" on a regular basis. Without this, most programs rely on willpower, and therefore eventually fail.

On the Sigma Nutrition Podcast, I heard a fascinating discussion with Gregg Slater. He is head of education at Lift the Bar, a company which educates fitness professionals, and a former PE teacher and Physical Training Instructor for the Royal Air Force.

This interview resonated with me as he focused on providing solutions for the decline in adherence, the ability to stick with a program, that invariable occurs over time. For weight loss, he called this dietary fatigue, and introduced the concept that:

  • Dietary Performance = Energy Deficit - Dietary Fatigue

That is, the result that you would see with your weight loss program is equal to the calorie deficit you intend to create minus the loss experienced by not being able to stay on the program. Looking for ways to reduce dietary fatigue would help to improve the results obtained.

Athletic training applied to weight loss

When high-level athletes train, think about someone training for the Tour de France or the Olympics, they often use a system called periodization. They don't do the same training day in and day out. Rather, they vary their training intensity day to day, week to week, and month to month. Periods of intense effort are balanced with times focused on recovery. This helps to keep the athlete's mind and body fresh and motivation high, and allows them to build to higher and higher levels of success.

Mr. Slater believes we can use this concept of periodization to help with weight loss. Rather than doing the same thing, every day, over a long period of time one would instead vary what is done each day and each week. Doing so could help to increase motivation when it was falling off, and hopefully allow for times to refresh the mind interspersed between more intense efforts of focused on weight loss.

Two Tips

Let's look at two ideas I thought would be relevant for those of you trying to lose weight:

  1. High vs. Low Days. Just like athletes have some days where their bodies just aren't responding, you might have days where your motivation to stick with your program is suffering, say because of stress or boredom. On those days an athlete might take an extra rest day or do an easy workout. For weight loss, a High Day (higher calorie day) would be a day where you focus on eating healthy but don't restrict calories as vigorously, for example allowing up to 1500 calories instead of 1000. (You may know I am not a fan of long-term calorie counting, so this might reflect an extra serving of the main dish at dinner and an extra snack during the day.)
    Low Days (low calorie days) would be days where you try to maintain your preferred calorie deficit, keeping intake below 1000 calories. You might find that having 2 High Days and 5 Low Days to use during the week, as you see fit, allows for more consistent weight loss than stubbornly trying to stick to the diet every day.

  2. Diet Breaks. I've been interested in how to help people when they get stuck, or plateau, in their weight loss efforts. Plateaus are very common and can be quite frustrating. A diet break is a time, say 2-3 weeks, where you stop trying to lose weight. Instead you would focus on maintaining the weight loss you've had, building healthy habits, and practicing "living in a body your current size." Simply focusing on being healthy and maintaining weight allows you to rebuild your mental freshness and energy until you are sufficiently recovered and ready for another push to lose weight.

This week

Could you use the concepts of High vs. Low Days to keep your motivation up during the week? What do you think of incorporating 2-3 week diet breaks interspersed with 8-10 week weight loss phases?

Perhaps you'll find something here useful, even simply knowing that everyone has trouble at some point in any program. I wish you a great week.


Dr. Topher Fox


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