The 80/20 rule is a widely accepted mantra on how to approach many things in life.  I use it all the time.  However, when it comes to nutrition, 80/20 may not be the best strategy.  Here's why.

It's safe to say that most Americans fall into the weekend warrior category- work a 9 to 5, stick to a somewhat healthy lifestyle during the week, and treat the weekends like a free for all.  When progress is slow to come by, it's baffling to most people because they are so good with their diets 5 days out of the week, or shall we say 80% of the time. 

Technically, eating healthy during the week and eating bad on the weekends is close to 80/20 from a time perspective BUT it's not even close from a total calories perspective.

As you've seen me post/write about religiously (probably annoying to many at this point), overall caloric intake is the #1 determinant in whether or not you will lose weight (if that's your goal).  Here's an example of the flawed Weekend Warrior 80/20 approach and how calories fit into it:

We'll call the the weekend warrior in this example Skippy.  Now Skippy works a white collar job where he is able to bring lunch in everyday during the week and has pre made meals for dinner each weeknight.  Not bad so far.  On the weekend, Skippy's willpower is very low because he has been eating "healthy" foods all week that he doesn't even like.  So, he naturally gives in and eats all the food he has been refraining from eating.  Skippy also goes out Friday/Saturday night so a bunch of alcohol is thrown into the mix.  He figures that since he was so regimented during the week, the weekend doesn't really matter.  Ehhhh- wrong answer Skippy!

Skippy's daily calories to trigger fat loss: 2,000

  • Made up mostly of lean meat and vegetables
  • 5 days x 2,000 calories = 10,000  
  • Some lower calorie meals but 10+ beers, pizza, and Chinese food
  • 2 days x 4,000 calories = 8,000   

Skippy should be able to eat 14,000 calories for the week (2,000 x 7) and still lose weight.  In this example, he ended up eating 18,000 calories for the week- completely wiping out his calorie deficit and actually managing to get into a slight calorie surplus (gain weight)!  All of the healthy eating during the week was for nothing.

So as you can see, the 80/20 rule is irrelevant if on those 20% days you are completely blowing past your required caloric intake.  

How can this be addressed?  To start, eat foods you actually like during the week to hit your daily calorie target.  Then, you won't be going into the weekend dying to eat food that has been restricted all week (commonly known as "cheat meals").  Also, alcohol is very calorie dense so drinking in moderation can make a huge difference.

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I don't know about you, but one of the worst feelings in the world is being hungry.  The reality is that hunger is going to be there from time to time, especially if you are in a calorie deficit trying to lose body fat.  Fear not, I have collected a few hacks to blunt hunger when it strikes!  

First, a quick note on psychological hunger (mental) vs. physiological hunger (physical).  Mental hunger is simply the desire to eat food out of habit or craving.  Physical hunger is going to rear it's ugly head in the form of stomach emptiness, hunger pangs, feelings of weakness, etc.  Listen to your body - if the hunger you are experiencing is deep physical hunger, then eat some damn food!  Otherwise, for mental hunger or minor physical hunger, think about using some of the below tips.

#1- Black Coffee
Black coffee is an amazing drink with one of it's main benefits being a big time appetite suppressant.  I have found that no trick can blunt hunger nearly as well as coffee can.  However, for best results, it should be consumed black and on it's own.  Some Splenda or low calorie creamers are fine, but once you start adding excess calories in or pairing with a muffin or donut, it's potency will decrease exponentially. 

Try using coffee strategically for when you get hungry (for most it's that 9-11am window while at work) instead of drinking coffee just to drink coffee.  You'll be amazed at how quickly and for how long it blunts hunger.  For afternoon hunger issues, stick with decaf.

#2- Sparkling Water/Diet Soda
I use coffee as my main tool but when that's not available, sparkling water or diet soda do a great job.  Don't worry, a diet soda here and there is not going to have a negative impact on your health.

#3- Water
Sometimes, the hunger you are feeling is not hunger at all.  You may just be thirsty!  Hunger and thirst can have similar symptoms.  Throw back some high quality H20.

#4- Eat less frequent, larger meals
I know bros will read this and curse me for putting down their 6 meals a day routine.  While that may work for some, the majority will not succeed on this approach.  It may sound counterintuitive but eating can lead to more hunger.  If you are eating several small meals comprised of 200-300 calories, satiety (feeling full) will never set in.  That is just not enough food to fill you up.  I ate this way for several years and sometimes I would eat a small meal and would literally be hungrier afterwards!

I suggest eating 2-3 times per day, depending on your lifestyle.  What sounds better- eating 1,800 calories in six meals (300 calories/meal) and being hungry all day and night vs. 1,800 calories in 2 large meals with a snack (a 200 calorie snack with 2 large 800 calorie meals)?  Those dense meals are going to be way more satisfying.

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90's kids- do you remember the life/health meter on the screen in games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter?  Every time your fighter took a punch or roundhouse kick to the head your health meter would reduce.  Once down to 0% it was game over.  Well this is kind of how our willpower works.  Every decision and thought we have throughout the day gradually reduces our Willpower Meter until it is down to nothing.  How you decide to order your coffee at Dunkin Donuts, the 3 meetings you have during the day, the talk you have with your kid about misbehaving all contribute to reducing your Willpower Meter.  By the time 7pm rolls around, how much mental capacity and willpower do you realistically have left to eat a salad instead of ordering pizza?  Most of us overeat at night more than any other time during the day because that's when our Willpower Meter is lowest.  It’s cruel how our willpower is lowest when our cravings are highest but there are ways around it.

How to hack the Willpower Meter

Hack #1: Automation
Automate or pre-plan as much as possible so you aren't making as many decisions during the day. Examples would be eating the same breakfast, not checking email until a designated time (I usually wait until 9-10a), or going to the gym at the same time every day.  Decisions on auto pilot become habits therefore do not get factored into your Willpower Meter.  Bringing it back around to eating, more willpower left in the bank at night will make good food choices easier.

Hack# 2: Saving calories for later in the day (Calorie Backloading and Intermittent Fasting)
This entails eating most of your calories later in the day while eating smaller meals or no meals earlier in the day. It's easier to make good food choices earlier in the day when your Willpower Meter is highest. Going to use myself as an example to illustrate why saving calories is a good idea.  Towards the end of my most recent fat loss phase I was consuming ~2,000 calories daily, which is not a ton of food for someone my size.  If I ate 6 equal meals throughout the day starting in the early morning, that would equate to 333 calories per meal.  That is absolutely miserable as I would never get that satisfied or full feeling.  I'd also most likely be going to bed hungry which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  This is not sustainable and would eventually lead to giving in and overeating.

How do you make it work then?  

Well first off, don't eat 6 meals and save your largest meals for later in the day (Calorie Backloading).  By lowering your number of meals in the 2-4 range, you are allotted much more calories per feeding.  If you eat 4 meals per day it can look something like this- 200 calories before the gym in AM, 300 calories after the gym in AM, 600 calories at lunch, and 900 calories at dinner/snack time.  Or, you can even skip breakfast entirely and wait to have your first meal at lunch time (aka Intermittent Fasting, I use this approach on my off days).  This opens up the door for epic, gigantic meals!

These bigger meals in the afternoon/night hours are so satisfying that you won't even feel like you're dieting.  By having less meals thus larger calorie meals, you are able to fit in higher calorie foods you crave that wouldn't work if eating a lot of food earlier in the day or eating every few hours.  An example would be a piece of cheesecake or a slice of pizza (both are roughly 400-500 calories) as a snack after dinner. A great approach if you have a stressful job and know you will struggle with willpower in the nighttime hours.  Willpower hacked.

This approach also works very well if you are socially active as most events like happy hour, dinner, or parties occur at night.  Imagine going out for dinner and drinks knowing you only had 200 calories left for the day.  That is going to be a terrible experience, you might as well not even go.  Instead, save your calories so you can enjoy yourself!  Side note- don't worry about eating late at night.  That's a complete BS myth that has been scientifically debunked several times.  All that matters is your total calories for the day.  

I've taken many steps to automate as much as possible in both my professional and personal life. For the Calorie Backloading/Intermittent Fasting piece, it's one part working around willpower later in the day and one part that most people are hungriest at night. Personally, I have no problems eating small meals early in the day knowing there is a large meal I love waiting for me at night.  It's kind of like a reward for a productive and successful day. 

The moral of the story is by saving calories for later in the day you won't have to demonstrate much willpower at night when it is the lowest, while at the same time enjoying your favorite foods.  Don't fight willpower, hack it!

If you need some help figuring out your specific calorie and macronutrient breakdown, shoot me an email.

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