Our last stage of the transforming your lifestyle series, and for most people who make it this far – this is the most crucial step. Whats next? You have three choices – forwards, maintenance, and backwards. Avoiding the latter is crucial.
The first step here is psychologically deciding do you want to keep chasing improvements and move forwards, or are you content and very much happy to maintain your current results. However if you do not plan or have self awareness of what you are doing, over time it is easy for old habits to slip back in and you could find yourself slipping backwards. Unfortunately I see the idea that “once you achieve it, you know longer have to worry about it as much” mentality become the downfall of too many people.
Whatever you decide here, wether its to move forward or maintain (assuming nobody wants to go backward) you will need to first ensure all health markers are in check. If you have dieted, trained intensively and have made a lot of lifestyle changes to get to where you are now, before moving forward or maintaining we need to make sure we are in an optimal position to do so. We could look data such as:
- blood pressure (gold standard is 117/75)
- Resting heart rate (ideal range of between 45-60bpm)
- HRV (between 70-90)
- Fasting blood glucose (anywhere under 5.0mmol is a good target)
- Ensuring there is no nutrient deficiencies (VITAL)
- Ensure sleep is f good quality and quantity
- Ensuring there is no digestive issues and there is stool movements EVERYDAY
If you have been in a calorie deficit for a long period you will need to move in to a reverse diet and a maintenance phase – BRING CALORIES BACK UP. Regardless of your goal this needs to be done because if you are eating low calories (sub 1400kcal) and everything has slowed down you do not want to dig any further in to an even deeper hole. Your metabolism would have adapted over time, so you have two choices – eat less (not a good idea here) or slowly increase kcal up and accept that you need to maintain for awhile and let your body recover and adapt before bringing things back down again if you further wish to keep losing fat. If your goal is to maintain or to go in to a gaining/strength phase you would need to do the exact same except you would stop increasing calories at your new maintenance level and work from there, or you could slowly keep increasing over time to gain if the goal is muscle tissue and strength. Again this will be very much context dependant and need weekly monitoring, but this is the general template of how it could look.
You cannot live in a calorie deficit. Your body is smarter then you. It will adapt and become efficient. Thyroid conversion will slow down, cortisol will be chronically high, your leptin (satiety) hormone will down regulate, ghrelin (hunger) will rise and fat loss will slow. Your mood will be poor and you’ll be irritable, your sleep will be poor, motivation will be low as serotonin levels will have dropped and fat loss will plateau. You now NEED to work back up, and if you don’t accept that or have the patience you will keep digging yourself in to a hole thats very hard to come back out of and you will not get any benefit of further results. (This is all assuming you are very honest and truthful with food intake 7 days per week and all of this is actually the case).
From a training standpoint, if you have been doing a large amount you may need to taper back to reduce stress or you may just simply need to maintain what you are doing. In the gym, regardless of your goal maintaining and improving strength along with exercise execution of movements must still be a priority (if you don’t use it you will lose it). If you wish to progress forward, then planning and programming will be required. Both nutrition and training need to be planned in phases from months, or even up to a year. The will allow all of the above concepts to be accounted for. Set yourself up to succeed.
Morale of the story, regardless of what you want to achieve you will still need to work. Nothing worth having comes easy and the best thing you could do is always have a plan. Just winging things and hoping for the best is setting yourself up to fail.
And if you wish to avoid the fate of going backwards, failure isn’t an option.