“I don’t know about you, but I’m not in to eating dried chicken breast and veggies six times a day, day after day, week after week, month after mind-numbing month.” –Joel Marion
Calorie restriction will take you a long way.
But it will only take you so far. Once you get to a certain point, your body starts taking measures to prevent fat loss and promote fat storage because this is what it thinks will help you survive. Your body can’t really tell the difference between a calorie restricted diet and starvation except that the former is simply a milder form of the latter. This is why the leaner you get, the more difficult it becomes to lose fat. You can create a massive calorie deficit by eating very low-calorie and low-carb for a few days, but take it any further than that and you will hit a fat loss brick wall. Your body will trump all your efforts by reducing levels of fat burning hormones and increasing levels of fat storing hormones. However, a zig zag diet will keep your fat burning hormones running solid.
The main hormone that controls all the others is leptin.
High leptin levels are associated with higher body fat levels and a higher calorie intake, which allow you to burn fat more easily. Low leptin levels are associated with lower body fat levels and calorie restriction which makes it more difficult for your body to burn fat. That’s pretty much all you need to know without getting too scientific. If you want to get super lean and drop fat more rapidly than just a normal person on a diet, you need to outsmart your body and maximize its fat burning potential, even when it doesn’t want to do so.
This is where a zig zag diet (also known as calorie cycling) comes into play.
So we know that in order to lose fat, we must create a calorie deficit, which means eating less. But at the same time, as we do this, it makes it more difficult to burn fat because the body is taking measures against it. So what’s the solution? Restrict calories for a few days to burn as much fat as you can while your leptin levels are sufficient. Then, as soon as they start to drop, have a cheat day and reset your leptin levels. This works like a charm because it takes several days of calorie restriction for your leptin levels to drop significantly, but only a single day of overeating to reset them.
So let’s get this straight… overeating once every few days is actually good for fat loss?
Absolutely. In fact, the best foods to cheat with are the worst foods for you: high carb and high fat foods boost leptin levels more than any other types of food. But you have to do it right. Don’t play the leptin card and use it as an excuse to have several cheat days per week. This will blow up in your face and in your gut. A cheat day every few days is fine and will actually work in your favor if you’re putting in the work on the non-cheat days and doing what you’re supposed to. I’ve known about the magic of cheating for a while and I’ve been implementing cheat days regularly, but I was making two big mistakes.
The first mistake was having back-to-back cheat days.
I used to do this quite frequently on either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. I figured I was good all week, so I could indulge all weekend. The problem with this was that after my first cheat day, my glycogen stores were maxed out from my carb binge. So when I had my second cheat day immediately after, the next carb binge would go straight to fat storage. I was still losing enough fat on my non cheat days to create a net fat loss for the week, but I could have dropped even more fat by strategically spreading out my cheat days. Now, I have a moderate cheat day mid-week and a full out cheat day on the weekend. The added benefit of following a cheat day with a fasting day or extremely low-calorie day is that your body burns even more fat on the low-calorie day because leptin levels are restored.
The second mistake was inactive cheat days.
Obviously, when you are taking in more food energy than you’re burning off, you’re bound to store some of it as fat. You might gain a little bit of fat during these cheat days. But on your non-cheat days, there’s a good chance you’ll lose even more fat for a weekly net fat loss. This is what you are shooting for. But what if there was a way to avoid fat gain altogether during cheat days improving your results even more? Well there is and it’s called intense exercise. When you undergo rigorous strength training or intense cardio such as HIIT, it depletes the glycogen stores in your muscles. Then when you eat a bunch of pizza or pasta, the first thing your body wants to do is replenish those stores… which means the cheat food is going to your muscles and not your fat stores. Boom!
Intense exercise on cheat days is money for preventing fat gain. Intense is the key word here. Walking around the block is fine, but it won’t work well for this. You want something that’s going to knock you out and give your muscles a severe beating. Once I started incorporating intense exercise on my cheat days, I felt a pump like never before during my workouts. Further, and I know this sounds stupid but it’s true, I felt less of a bloated, heavy feeling in my stomach after eating junk food because it wasn’t going to my gut. Just trust me on this one.
I learned all of this from the cheat day master, Joel Marion.
His new program called Xtreme Fat Loss Diet goes through all of this in depth plus much more. There are other topics such as supplementation that I haven’t even mentioned in this post. Joel has tweaked this program after years of experimentation to create a five-day cycle which is the perfect zig zag diet for fat loss. In fact, it’s so Xtreme, that Joel himself stresses it’s not meant to be a long-term plan. But the principles you learn from the program make it completely worthwhile because you can tailor them to your routine. The most impressive thing about XFLD is that it’s the first program I’ve seen that creates a synergistic effect from fasting, cheating, and exercise so that when you combine all three in the correct fashion, the results you achieve completely blow away anything you could accomplish from doing each one separately. I’ll just leave it at that. Go check it out for yourself!