Posted 5 months ago

The reality behind dieting to extremes

Instagram might make dieting look cool and give you the impression that it is very easy; however, in reality, this is far from the truth.

When I chat to clients after they have completed a photoshoot or a show for the first time, I always get the same response: “I didn’t realise how hard it would be”. This relates both to the physical side of getting lean, as well as to the mental challenges associated to taking your body to the extreme.

With this in mind, there are a few key points you should be aware of (and that I make my clients aware of) before undertaking an extreme dieting phase. These are just elements that form part of the process, which I strongly believe everyone should know about before the process even begins.

Hunger and Cravings
It’s likely that for the majority of your life, you have understood “feeling hungry” to be a sign from the body telling you to eat. Of course, you will have listened and responded accordingly to that sign, eaten, and then felt the hunger dissipate. Most of us also grew up being told that we should eat till we feel full!

However, when it comes to prep, you will have to accept that you will likely be hungry continuously throughout the day. This is because your calories will need to drop lower than you’d like to think – I’m afraid that there is often no “lower limit” (within sensible reasoning, of course), which means that you’ll simply have to suck it up.

This is how it goes: you’ll finish a meal, you’ll not feel satisfied, and then you’ll not be able to eat again for 2-3 hours. If this isn’t difficult enough, you then need to pair it with the conditioned part of your brain that is telling you to “eat until you’re full”. Yes, your brain will send strong signals for you to continue eating, and these tend to get louder the longer you’ve been dieting for. It’s also very common to find yourself craving something you don’t usually eat and cannot stop yourself thinking about that specific food. This can feel quite strange and alien, but it happens to all of us, so take comfort from that!

Unfortunately though, this is where most first-time dieters fail, because they simply “give in” to those signals. The good news is that with each dieting phase, the hunger and cravings will get less intense, and your ability to manage them becomes better too. In fact, even fir first timers, there are plenty of ways you can manage these – I suggest you read Clara’s article on the topic to find out more.

Energy Levels and Mood
As the diet wears on, you’ll gradually see your energy levels drop and hit rock bottom. As you get leaner, the lethargy across the day becomes very real – to the point where the thought of having to go in and do 45 minutes of cardio after your training session at times can become all too much to bear. (Yes, I mean this – you probably will have a meltdown about leg day or cardio at some point during your prep). But in those low moments, you’ll still have to go into the gym and train as hard as you can, trying to beat your logbook and not slack off on the treadmill or stairmaster. This will leave you feeling drained.

If you’re usually fun, energetic, and full of life, I’m sorry but you will feel and probably behave in quite the opposite way. Again, the good news that this is completely normal: it’s just your body’s way of conserving energy. Therefore, the shittier you feel, the more we know the diet is working.

You’ll also find ways of working around low energy points throughout the day, and ultimately push through to just “get it done”, as the end goal is a powerful motivator for you to continue to push. Set your daily boxes, be clear on the non-negotiables and before you know it, it will be done and dusted.

Sleep and Libido
As you get further into a prep, the stress (dietary, mental, physical) on the body will accumulate. This means that circulating levels of adrenaline in your bloodstream will be high throughout the day and will also remain high as you go into the evening. Your sleep will suffer as a result, and you might find you struggle to fall asleep and/or stay asleep at night despite being shattered. It is common to have restless nights and have multiple waking-periods as you get close to the end, but supplements and pre-bed routines can help minimise this.

In the same way, since your body is a master at conserving energy, it will only put energy towards bodily systems that are essential for survival, and guess what? Libido isn’t one of them. You may become completely disinterested in sex, which can be very worrying and strange to those who are experiencing it for the first time. However, as with every point discussed so far, rest assured that this is completely natural and will be reversed a few weeks after your dieting phase is complete. My best advice is simply to let your partner know that this can occur before it’s too late and they’re wondering what’s up.

I could write about the other side-effects you may experience as a result of extreme dieting, but I feel these are the most poignant ones to be aware of if it’s your first-time prepping. Please don’t let these put you off though – relative to the rest of the year, a dieting phase is extremely short, and there’s so much you can get out of it. If you’re ready to completely transform your body, be sure to get in touch today.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons