How to deal with symptoms of dieting to lose body fat
When in a calorie deficit to reduce body fat, it's common to encounter various negative symptoms. This free video explains how you can deal with them

Strategies to deal with the negative symptoms of dieting to lose body fat

When in a calorie deficit to reduce body fat, it’s common to encounter various negative symptoms. These symptoms can include feelings of hunger, low energy levels, reduced motivation to exercise, and other unpleasant sensations that can challenge your commitment to your diet. 

Watch the video below or read the article to explore some psychological strategies to help you cope with these symptoms. This is an example of the evidence based coaching and training that I provide either face to face in our gym in Taren Point or online.

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The Psychology of Dieting

As you progress on your diet and your calorie intake decreases, you may begin to experience these negative dieting symptoms. How you handle these symptoms can significantly impact your ability to stick to your diet and ultimately achieve your fat loss goals. Some of these strategies are evidence-based, while others are derived from personal experience and working with clients. Feel free to pick and choose the ones that resonate with you and adapt them to your own mental strategy for success.

The phase where you look like crap

When you reduce your calories and carbohydrates, your muscles can sometimes feel flat and not full. This is due to less glycogen and water stored within the muscles. At the beginning of a diet, your body fat may still be high, and you can’t see much muscle definition. Coupled with your muscles feeling flat, you may have a phase of the diet where you feel ‘skinny’ fat = Muscles feel flat but not lean enough to see much definition yet.

It’s in this skinny fat phase where you may think twice about continuing the diet as you feel you’re looking worse than before dieting. Ride this phase out because as you start to get leaner and see more muscle definition, you’ll begin to look better and may actually look more muscular than you did when you were heavier.

Manage Hunger Waves

As the diet length goes longer, the deficit becomes larger and body fat gets lower, feelings of hunger generally increase. However, feelings of hunger tend to come in waves. You may feel extra hungry for some parts of the day or specific days; other periods may feel more tolerable.

The feeling of hunger is unpleasant, and we generally want to stop any uncomfortable feelings. But focusing on trying to get rid of hunger can lead to it being in our conscious mind and making the sensation feel worse. For example, getting told to stop thinking of something leads us to continue thinking of that thing because we’re actively trying to stop. The act of trying to stop a thought makes it come on stronger as it’s now sitting in our conscious mind.

So, let’s say you’re in a position where you’re unable to eat for a given period, and you have no choice but to feel hungry. Rather than wanting it to stop, accept that you’re feeling hungry, allow the sensations to happen, and focus on something else that you’re doing to distract your mind. Acknowledging the hunger but not giving it excessive attention may make the feeling less intense. Likewise, accept that hunger comes in waves and understand that you’re feeling very hungry, but later on, that sensation won’t be as intense later. Ride out the hunger raves.

Ride the Energy Fluctuations

Similar to hunger waves, you may experience energy waves. On some parts of the days or particular days, you may feel sluggish and other days, energy feels normal. This is so long as your diet is set appropriately and calories have not been drastically reduced from your maintenance. If you’re eating way below maintenance calories, energy will likely always feel low, and it might be better to eat more.

However, if you’re in a deficit and losing an appropriate rate of weight loss (approx 0.5-1% total body weight loss per week), valleys and peaks of energy fluctuations are pretty normal. Avoid catastrophizing these fluctuations and thinking, “If I’m this tired now, how will I feel in a couple of weeks?” If you’re managing life stress, getting enough sleep and not in too harsh of a calorie deficit, you’ll survive the deficit. Allow the ups and downs of energy to happen, and understand that just because you’re feeling low in energy at one point doesn’t mean you won’t feel higher in energy later on.

Train Despite Low Motivation

There will be days when you lack the motivation to exercise, especially as the diet progresses, calories decrease, and you get leaner. There will be many days when you do not feel like training, particularly when energy is low and hunger is high. It’s normal during these times to think that your gym performance will be poor when you are not in the mood or have the energy to train. However, in many cases, you may find that your strength is better than predicted as you start training. Both I and many clients have come into the gym feeling like crap thinking we’re going to have a poor session but find that we’re feeling stronger than we predicted.

So, rather than trying to predict your performance before a session, get into the gym and perform. In many cases, you may find that your session ends up being better than you thought it was going to be. Don’t let your future type worries dictate your training decisions; go and train, and you might surprise yourself how well your session goes.

Embrace Negative Dieting Symptoms

Although negative dieting symptoms may feel unpleasant, try to embrace these feelings. Symptoms of feeling hungry, tired, etc., are signs that you are in a calorie deficit and likely reducing body fat.

It’s common to make a calorie drop and see no changes in your physique or the number on the scale for a short while. If you make a calorie drop, do not see any visual or scale weight changes, but do feel an increase in the negative symptoms associated with dieting, these feelings are a sign that there is likely going to be a weight drop coming. As such, dieting symptom feelings can be used as a tool to confirm you’re in a calorie deficit.

Dieting for fat loss can be challenging, both physically and mentally. Hopefully, employing some of these psychological strategies can help you better manage the negative symptoms associated with dieting and increase your chances of achieving your desired body composition goals. 

Remember that these symptoms are temporary, and with perseverance and a well-structured diet, you can ultimately attain the desired results.

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

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SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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