How to Survive a Caloric Deficit

In this diet game, there are rules. Now sure, if you break these rules a referee won’t drop out of the sky and blow a whistle all up in your face, but by following them you’ll increase the likelihood of sticking to your caloric deficit, emerging on the other side looking and feeling a lot better.

1. Secure home base

There is a tasty killer lurking in your house, and he is out to desexify your body. The most disturbing part of all is that you’re the one that let him in. A lot of the damage that occurs during a diet happens right at home – late night binging, mindless tv snacking, etc – and often involves all of the comfort foods that are mighty delicious, but pack a ton of calories and are easy to devour with reckless abandon. If that’s the case, it makes sense to avoid this pitfall entirely by getting those foods out of the place where they’re most likely to be eaten.

The first rule of Rogonian Law is that if a food is in your house, it will eventually end up in your stomach. Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang wrote a great op-ed piece for the New York Times discussing how will power is a finite resource and that while demonstrating zen-like will power on one task, you “deplete” your reserves and are therefore less likely to display that same amount of self-control when performing another seemingly unrelated task.

I don’t say this to give you a reason to obliterate the cookie jar when stressed – quite the contrary, because with practice our will power reserves can be bolstered. The best way to avoid eating something is not to have it around at all. If you’re not ready to make this plunge just yet, you can always slowly get these foods out of your house, first by reducing the portion size. Instead of buying the huge carton of ice cream, keep one or two of the single serving cups in the house – think of it as preemptive damage control. If you eat both of them, you’ve done much less harm than if you crushed an entire pint.

2. Don’t roll solo

Once you leave the comfort and safety of home base, that’s when it gets real. Not just real, but realer than real. You’re away from your usual foods and now you’re venturing out into a world where you’re rarely more than 5 minutes away from something you can eat. This is where will power is critical, but it’s best to come prepared regardless. Bag up something non perishable and keep it in your bag or car – think a piece or two of fruit (beef jerky is also an option, but you may lose friends if you eat it in close quarters) or protein powder. In those moments of dietary weakness, the simple act of getting something in your stomach helps you think more clearly and reduces the likelihood of an emotional eating episode.

By employing this strategy, you don’t have to go through the whole mental rigamarole of deciding between a piece of fruit or two ginormous slices of pizza with a piece of chocolate cake in between – you’ve already made a choice that will keep you on track towards your goals.

3. Prepare for battle

When on a diet, one fact that you’re going to have to accept is that you’re going to be hungry. Maybe not all the time, and not ravishingly so, but you and hunger are going to be homies during this process. You’re going to have to interact with other people while in a state of hunger, and this is where it becomes easy to fall off the wagon. If you create a caloric buffer or eat in line with your goals before you head out the house, you can drastically decrease the chances of overeating food at a get together only to feel like crap about it later. A social gathering with food is just that – a gathering where food just happens to be. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to eat a lot.

This rule applies for grocery shopping as well. I’m sure that we’ve all gone grocery shopping while hungry at least once, and the result was madness on a grand scale. That list probably snowballed from 6 simple items into pretty much anything within arms reach that looked like it might make your stomach smile with delight. Once the beast within takes over, everything starts to look like it could taste good and you make purchases that you never would under a more sane state of mind. And lets be honest here, do you really want to get home only to find out that 5 cans of Spam managed to find their way into your cart?

What are you dietary survival tactics? What has worked (or hasn’t) for you in the past? Leave your answers in the comment section below!

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Comments

  1. Jonathan Fernandes says

    “The first rule of Rogonian Law is that if a food is in your house, it will eventually end up in your stomach.”

    haha that’s funny.

    Dieting can be a pain especially if the deficient is great. IF and wholefoods seems to be the best combo to stay sane during it.

  2. Hugo says

    Roger, thanks a lot for your posts, articles and website in general. This is one of the blogs I follow simply because it combines getting sexy as fukk with living the good, healthy and sane lifestyle. Isn’t that what everybody wants in the end? Keep it up man!

    On topic: yes what you have lying around one way or the other will end up being eaten. For those who are new to dieting it can be hard to eat the things you crave in moderation, and thus the binging begins. Been there, done that. When I feel I have not as much willpower, desire towards my goal or overall motivation I shop very conciously, being only that which makes me better. I know the bad foods will otherwise find its way to me easily. I know deep inside the hardcore motivation I usually have will come back eventually (maybe in a few hours, or a few days) so I have to be rational and keep the diet in check. It’s very easy to manipulate yourself and rationalize overeating, only to discover your true desires afterwards.

    • says

      Thanks Hugo – that’s what I’m all about!

      That’s a great point about motivation – at times we’re weak and are right on the edge of breaking, but if we focus on the fact that this moment will pass and things will be back to normal soon enough, it’s a lot easier to take these moments in stride and keep some perspective.

  3. says

    I’ll make a mental note of this stuff. It’s golden, and one day soon, I’ll be shedding some poundage and need the edge…

  4. says

    Loved it! Funny, straight to the point and keeping it real. I’ve been wondering about any advice for someone that can’t really count calories. Most of our foods are either home cooked (so I have no idea of the ingredients) or bought from a farmers’ market, so there’s no packaging involved. I’m not OCD enough to weigh and look everything up so I was wondering if you can offer some advice. IF and just cutting my portions seems to work but any extra tips would be more than welcome. Cheers, Rog!

    • says

      Yo, Bill!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      A fun tip I can add on top of what you’re already doing is to have some days (maybe once or two days a week) where you just say “to hell” with your ideal macros and have one big meal (or one big meal and one smaller meal) for the day. Unless you go out of your way to make that huge meal obscenely high in calories, you’ll still come in under your calories for the day while being stuffed to boot.

      The leaner the protein in meals like that, the better from a calorie standpoint.

  5. Gayla says

    Yes, shopping hungry can mean very bad news. Shopping hungry at Sam’s Club can mean even WORSE news…if I happen to make a less-than-optimal choice there, I have A LOT of that “less-than-optimal choice”. Not that that’s ever happened, of course. ;-) Thanks for the tips, Roger–always enjoy reading your posts.

    • says

      Hahaha – you’re talking to the Sam’s Club f*ck up king right here!

      Last year I went to the store hungry and wanting a cinnamon roll, so I ended up buying an entire carton of them (you know, because I can’t just buy one)….

      And I ate whole thing that day. Food coma to the max!

      Thanks, Gayla. I enjoy reading that you enjoy reading my posts =)

  6. Claire says

    I can’t tell you how much fun it is trying to run a deficit when you have kids to feed, especially one who does 4 hrs of Karate a week and 2 days of cross country running…much as I’d love to ban every box of cereal in the place she needs her carbs and I just have to pretend the boxes are filled with mummy arsenic .

  7. Jordan D. says

    I’m a big fan of the individual servings that you mentioned. I love pie, so I’ll get two slices of Hershey’s chocolate cream pie, 280 calories each. Very manageable. Believe you me, I could eat an entire chocolate cream pie in two days, no problem! haha. Don’t wanna mess with that. The bakery section in a grocery store is great because I can buy the pie slices, or one or two donuts, one or two pieces of cake, etc.

    • says

      Definitely man, good strategy. Once the entire pie/cake/deliciousness comes into the house, it is no match for a human being that’s ready to crush large quantities of food.

  8. says

    Great article

    What I’ve noticed after starting my diet and working out again, is that if i prepare my meals in advance, i decrease my chances of diet failing.

    Same for workouts, i prepare my gym bag, my workout in the evening. In the morning, when your brain is coming up with excuses, i just need to get up from bad (the alarm is out of my HAND reaching area), take my gym clothes and leave.

    Like this, i’m preparing to succced. Fail is a small probability.

    I will write a full article about this on my blog, i think it’s just a problem of probability. All you need to do is to increase your probability to succeed.

    • says

      Heh, I see the that financial mind coming to play in this comment – I agree with you 100% (and you just gave me an idea for a new post). Success is more habit than anything else. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Nancy C. says

    Not only get the bad food out of the house but get the good food in. Have go-to meals already prepared or at least the ingredients handy. Makes for a boring but survivable kitchen.

  10. says

    I like the advice about not going shopping hungry. What I also find helps is to pre-plan your shop and make a list. I sit down and work out my meals for the week, then generate a shopping list. When shopping with a list Im like a man on a mission, oblivious to the slick marketing, I just get in, get everything on my list and leave. Not only do I not impulse buy crap food, I also save myself a huge amount of time. No aimless wandering up and down the aisles.

    • says

      Yeah Niko, putting together a list is a huge savior. You can go in there with a laser beam focus instead of wandering around like “oooo, this looks like it would be interesting” Once that starts to happen, it’s usually a slippery slope into “how the hell did this end up in my cart?!”

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