“If it was easy, everyone would do it.” One of the most overused, but quite accurate statements about virtually anything significant we pursue. Fat loss is right up there with some of the most personally rewarding but often-difficult tasks to achieve.
Especially when first starting out. Even with tools like the IIFYM Macro Calculator on hand, the journey of fat loss can be confusing and be challenging at times.
Fat loss becomes especially challenging if we feel negative pressure from our family members that may not support our fat loss efforts. Or just simply don’t understand what we’re doing. As encouraging as a positive support system can be, equally discouraging is the feeling that those closest to us believe what we’re doing is silly or unnecessary.
As an online physique coach, I’ve had experience with a myriad of athletes focused on fat loss that have shared various encounters with family members.
Experiences that, along with my own, have helped me gain a perspective on the topic that may help those reading this to better balance their fat loss goals with family time. Plus, more easily manage expectations and stress along the way.
Sacrifice vs. Sabotage
There’s no question that to achieve significant fat loss goals (or any significant goal for that matter), a certain level of sacrifice and commitment is absolutely necessary.
That said, one thing I’ve noticed in my years working with clients is when first starting out, it can be easy to let the industry make us believe we need to work a lot harder and “sacrifice to win” a lot more than we really need to.
This may sound blasphemous, but some long-standing myths in the fitness industry have caused physique conscious individuals much more of a burden than a benefit.
Post-workout anabolic window, eating every 2-3 hours, pre-bed cottage cheese concoctions- we’ve all heard exaltations of the fat loss effects pain staking meal timing strategies can have. Ironically many popular meal-timing strategies have been well supported by modern research to be much less important than once acclaimed.
This is good news for those struggling with negative family interactions focused on their fat loss efforts. Post-workout anabolic windows have been shown to last much longer than the previously thought 30-minute window (1).
Without getting into the next subtopic too much, eating smaller, more frequent meals have been shown to be no less effective at fat loss than larger, fewer meals when total energy balance is equated.
Old gurus used to have athletes believe they needed 6-8 small meals throughout the day to “stoke the metabolism.”
This all culminates to highlight that stressing over specific meal times to the point that it hinders you from enjoying time with your family may be causing you more harm than help in terms of your fat loss. Knowing that specific meal timing may not contribute all that much benefit, we can more easily take the day as it comes when not following our typical schedule.
As well as realize that as long as we’re reasonably close to our daily intake goals, if we need to move things around during the day to accommodate for family time, that isn’t anything to get bent out of shape over.
Bottom Line: When family events throw off your normal schedule, don’t fret. Space your daily protein as evenly as you can throughout your meals.(2) Get some carbs in around 1-2 hours before training to support performance. Then as long as you’re close to your daily intake goal, the exact timing of those meals won’t derail or really even slow progress to any noticeable degree.
Meal frequency discussions nearly parallel that of meal timing. We don’t want to only eat once or twice during the day if we’re serious about muscle growth and fat loss. But we also don’t need to obsess over a specific frequency in the name of fat loss either.
Old gurus used to have athletes believe they needed 6-8 small meals throughout the day to “stoke the metabolism.” In reality, recent years of research have done a lot to debunk this stressful and scientifically invalid myth. (3)
As with most aspects of life, there seems to be a solid middle ground in regard to meal frequency for both muscle growth and fat loss. Three meals or less most days could be leaving some progress on the table by not allowing maximal muscle protein synthesis with your protein consumption.
On the other hand, 6+ meals during the day could actually hinder muscle protein synthesis due to a refractory period that can occur by consuming protein meals too closely together (4). Thus potentially hindering not only muscle growth in the offseason but also muscle retention when dieting for fat loss.
That leaves us with a sweet spot quite likely around 4-5 meals spread as evenly as our schedules allow on most days. A range that can be relatively easy to fit in during busy work days in general, but also family outings.
Especially considering 1-2 of those could easily be a simple protein shake when on the go while other macros are made up for in the remaining meals during situations where sitting down for a full meal may not be conducive to the family activities.
Bottom Line: Sometimes we catch flack from family members no matter how well we balance our fat loss goals with family plans. However, more often than I can count, athletes new to the game tend to make it harder than necessary on themselves by falling prey to outdated beliefs on meal timing & frequency.
These not only put unnecessary strain on personal lives but also are often outright less effective than other, more easily managed strategies.
Coaches like myself and the IIFYM coaches support a flexible dieting approach not just because it’s more enjoyable, but because it helps individuals understand that any specific food isn’t necessarily “good or bad” for fat loss.
One of the biggest challenges for those new to fat loss efforts are the misunderstanding that certain foods are “off limits” when fat loss is the goal. It’s an important realization when we understand that portions and total calorie intake make up a vast contribution to energy balance and subsequently, fat loss.
Then we can not only more easily enjoy unplanned foods when around family, but also better explain to them how easy it can be to manage intake without sacrificing all the foods we enjoy.
Rather than causing a ruckus by refusing to eat that all-time favorite family recipe because it’s not a “diet food,” we can instead estimate the macronutrient content of that food and practice moderation during family dinner.
…being able to estimate macros or calculate bulk recipes of family favorites can help us still achieve fat loss without family drama.
As a result, not only can we prevent a strain on a family night by refusing certain foods, but we can set a better example to family members of how relatively easy it can be to enjoy the food we eat while still keeping fat loss a priority.
It’s amazing how much we can reduce stress in a family setting by practicing moderation and explaining portion control/macros compared to outright refusing to eat family favorites for the sake of fat loss.
In more frank terms, sometimes we athletes can be more stubborn than necessary. Causing negative feelings among our families that could honestly be avoided in many circumstances.
Bottom Line: Sticking to nutrient dense, easily tracked foods can make fat loss more effective. However, also being able to estimate macros or calculate bulk recipes of family favorites can help us still achieve fat loss without family drama.
Even if we practice moderation, estimate or track family recipes, and give ourselves wiggle room with meal timing and other nuanced dieting strategies, sometimes family members are going to give us a hard time about our fat loss goals, regardless.
Maybe ingest, or even stemming from insecurities of their body composition and health – sometimes, negativity is unavoidable.
When these situations arise, a few go-to strategies tend to be best for diffusing the situation. The overarching theme being, most people that make a point to be negative about your goals are not going to be open-minded to opposing views.
So, getting into a back and forth about your fat loss goals isn’t likely to get very far. Rather, it’s typically best to just redirect the conversation elsewhere.
When in doubt, change topics at all costs. Some snarky comment about you needing to “just enjoy life” can be the start of one terribly uncomfortable family outing. Instead of striking back, it’s almost always better to just change topics and move on.
A short, sweet reply about how you personally want to take steps to better your health and wellbeing, then quickly turning to another family member to strike up a different conversation can curtail the negativity pretty quickly, all while showing you’re above a petty back and forth. In short, your mom’s life-long advice to “kill them with kindness” can once again be very helpful.
If you really feel as though it’s getting a bit ridiculous between you and a family member, it may be worth considering getting them alone and having a heart to heart with them. Rather than having a blowout argument at your family gathering or out in public.
They may really appreciate you talking to them one-on-one and simply explaining your motivations behind what you’re pursuing in your fat loss goals.
To them, it may seem like a vain, silly call for attention. Once they realize you may very well be doing it for more personal reasons- making sure you’re healthy and around a long time for your family, improving your self-confidence around others, or for some- the competitive fulfillment that things like contest prep offers you.
They may very well have a change of opinion on how they view what you’re doing. Sure, some people are just jerks (every family’s got them). Yet, it’s amazing what giving people the benefit of the doubt and having a mature, personal conversation can do to help loved ones understand your reasoning.
Bottom Line: Sometimes even with our best efforts, some negativity is inevitable. However, taking steps to respond in a calm, mature manner can help us navigate the situation without letting ourselves get sucked into the negativity ourselves.
Family, you might not always like them, but you love ‘em! Taking steps toward fat loss within a family not necessarily privy to what moderate diet and exercise programs entail can create challenges. However, a little can go along way in terms of flexibility with our own programming, and the patience we practice when discussing how those fat loss goals are important to you.