The Diet Before the Diet

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When people hear the term diet they usually think of weight loss. Protocols such as keto, low carb, whole30, paleo, etc. 

However, the definition of diet is “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.”

So what this means is that your diet is what you eat regularly

Some people have good diets, some have ok diets, and then some just have awful diets. 

Dieting is not something you sometimes do or just when you want to lose weight. 

This thinking leads to a black and white mindset when it comes to nutrition. 

Either you are on 100% with your diet or you’re 100% off. 

This is a problem because our diet is the kind of food that we habitually eat. 

So when you go from being 100% off to then wanting a “diet” to lose fat (and lets be honest, you want it fast) you are setting yourself up for frustration and failure. 

You go straight into diet protocols that are a complete 180 from what your current diet looks like. Again, it’s no wonder you fail. 

Not to mention chances are your body is not in the right place physically, neurologically, or hormonally to take on the stress of dieting for fat/weight loss.

Your sleep sucks, you’re stressed out from work and family stuff. 

To top it off, being in a calorie deficit (which is REQUIRED for fat/weight loss) is a stressor to the body and training is also a stressor to the body. 

When you are in a chronically high stressed state it makes maintaining/building muscle nearly impossible, and it also makes fat loss tough. 

When you are dieting for weight/fat loss you want to maintain as much of your muscle as possible.

Why this is a problem.

What happens is you have a poor diet leading into you fat loss diet, therefore, you are not providing the body the proper nutrients it needs to be effective. You are in a high stressed state which makes fat loss and maintaining/building muscle a challenge. 

You then start your fat loss diet and cut your overall calorie intake by large amounts which as we just talked about is a stressor to the body, then to top it off you add in large amounts of cardio and lower your weight training, sometimes to nothing.

Not only is all of this cardio a stressor to the body, but it also sends the signal to the body that the muscle you have isn’t important. 

Which as we just discussed being in a high stressed state is bad for maintaining/building muscle and maintaining as much muscle as possible during a fat loss diet is CRUCIAL. A double whammy. 

All of this adds up, and eventually, you just can’t stick to what you are doing, at least for the long term. 

So then you go back to being 100% off at some point. 

This is why with online clients we first focus on the diet before the diet. 

We want to make sure you are in the best place possible to lose body fat and maintain/build muscle. 

Because if not, then you are setting yourself up to fail. 

Most diet protocols and coaching services skip out on this process. However, its just as crucial as the fat loss diet itself. 

Before a client starts their fat loss diet we make sure they are ready to take on the stressors of what the fat loss diet will entail. 

This means the first 4 weeks or so we are just getting a baseline. They track, and we see what needs the most work. 

Here are 6 ways we make sure you are ready for a fat loss diet:

1. Basic healthy eating habits.

This is the most important thing we work on. This is different for each client, but for most its making sure they are:

  • Getting enough protein in. Protein will not only help maintain your muscle mass, but its also great at keeping you feeling full. 
  • Getting enough vegetables. Not only do these foods provide essential nutrients to help you feel your best, they also do a great job at reducing feelings of hunger. 
  • Eating regularly throughout the day. Protocols like intermittent fasting can be a tool for fat loss, however, its important to get in the habit of eating regularly throughout the day. This also can look like having a client get into a routine of eating meals at the same time each day as this will help reduce the mental energy it requires of always having to decide when they will eat and what they will eat. If you just eat whenever you feel like, then you are risking the chances that you will also just eat whatever. 
  • Eating meals not snacking. The more I coach clients the more I realize “snacking” is just  a bad idea. If a client does enjoy snacking, then we may work on making sure they are getting enough protein each time they snack. Otherwise, we work on eating balanced meals rather than snacking. 
  • Slowing down when eating. Most people eat way to fast without even realizing it. Working on slowing down your eating can really help with portion control. 
  • Reducing alcohol intake. Alcohol itself isn’t great for the body and it can easily add excess calories to your diet. However, the trickle down effects of alcohol are the worst side effects. 

For example, when you drink your inhibitions are lower so you’re more likely to say F it and eat whatever, and lets be honest it isn’t chicken and veggies you are going o be eating. 

Alcohol can also lower anabolic processes in your body, which are key for building/maintaining muscle.

Alcohol can also negatively impact sleep. Poor sleep can lead to increased cravings. Lower energy etc. the following day. 

So the goal is to reduce a clients intake. This is different for each client. 

  • Planning ahead through meal prep or planning food out the night before. Another habit we will work on is preparing foods whether it be in the form of just planning your day, or actually meal prepping. 

Here is an article discussing simplified meal prep

Planning ahead looks like this: 

This is basically the act of having a general plan of what you are going to eat for the day.  This allows you to see if you’ll be over or under in any areas and make adjustments as needed. Planning ensures success!  I recommend doing this the night before. Don’t be afraid to go off of the plan though. Just use it as a guideline.   Once you get the hang of everything you can plan out your whole day in less than 5 minutes.

The best part about having clients improve their basic eating habits is that many will lose weight/fat as a byproduct of that. 

2. Maintenance level calories.

We just want to have a general idea here. This doesnt need to be perfect. But once a client starts to improve their basic eating habits we can get a better idea of where this is at. 

But you need to be at your maintenance calories for a bit so you have something to pull from when you start the fat loss diet. You cant take water from an empty bucket. 

If you are already eating low amounts of foods, where can you pull from?

A simply way to figure out your maintenance level calories are by:

> Multiplying bodyweight by 14-16 or 16-18 if you are active. 

You can also use this calculator here:

3. Fully recovered from current training.

In order to put your body in the best position to lose body fat and maintain muscle, you need to lower your overall stress and fatigue. So one way we do this is by making sure that you are recovering from whatever training you are currently doing. We need to manage/lower your current stress before we add new stress. 

Improving your eating habits and focusing on recovery and more protein are some of the main ways we do this. 

This may also mean reducing how much and how often you are working out, whether it be cardio or weight training. 

4. Currently doing less than the most you can do.

If you are already lifting 5-6 days per week and doing 3-4 cardio sessions on top of it how can we add, adjust, or tweak anything?

With online clients we start them with 3-4 weight training days and then a step goal. Once they get that down then we look at adding based on what they can handle and what their current progress is. 

But the biggest mistake people make is going all in right away. Its just too much for the body. 

5. You haven’t aggressively dieted in the past 3 months. 

If you have recently dieted within the past 3 months then chances are you are not fully recovered from this and your body simply wont respond to trying another fat/weight loss diet. 

With online clients who have recently dieted, we work on recovery and really lowering their overall stress, before we add on more stress.

This may look like focusing on improving their eating habits, maintaining new weight, or potentially focus on building more lean muscle.  

6. Lower outside stressors/improve sleep.

If you have a lot of events coming up or are going through a stressful time then a fat loss diet is not going to be a good idea for you. 

Again, your body will just not be in the best state to lose body fat and maintain muscle. So you need to focus on staying in the habit of lifting and good eating habits during this time, and then once your schedule frees up or your lower your stress levels then you can look at a fat/weight loss diet.

Recently, a client was going through a fat loss phase, however, they are currently going through  stressful time in their life (divorce), below average sleep habits, and they also enjoy mountain bike riding/hiking. And naturally, their fat loss started to plateau, so we had to have an honest conversation about either cutting out things like bike riding/hiking or forgoing the fat loss phase for the time being until things settled down. Ultimately they chose the first option. 

Another big one is sleep. If you are chronically under sleeping or have poor sleep habits, then you need to first look at improving these before taking on a fat/weight loss diet. 

Poor sleep will make fat/weight loss nearly impossible. 

Here are some sleep tips from Precision Nutrition to improve your sleep quality. We used these with clients as well:

  • Consistency:  Keep a relatively consistent bedtime and wake time. Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends can disrupt your routine during the week.
  • Light: Keep the bedroom extremely dark, to tell the body’s light-sensitive clock that it’s time to sleep.
  • Noise: Keep the bedroom extremely quiet or use a white noise generator (such as a fan).
  • Relaxation/routine: Develop a pre-bed routine that is relaxing and familiar.  Television, work, computer use, movies and deep/stressful discussions late at night can disrupt sleep.
  • Temperature: Keep a slightly cool temperature in the room, between 66-72 F or 18-22 C.
  • Stimulants: Eliminate stimulants like caffeine/nicotine, especially later in the day.


Before starting your next fat loss diet or even muscle building diet, first make sure these are in check, otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

If you need help making sure you are in the right position to lose body fat or build muscle then apply here for online coaching and lets get to work!

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