Calorie restriction and fat-loss, apart from making you look presentable with your clothes off, are the most powerful health remedies known to man. Nothing else comes close.
Calorie restriction is not a viable long-term strategy, however. Yes, you might live longer eating like a hamster, but you will have the metabolism of a rodent to boot.
Chronic undereating is stressful on the body. Intense physical exercise further amplifies that stress response. In other words, killing yourself in the gym on 2 salads and a piece of chicken breast a day is your ticket to an eating disorder and physique frustration, not six-pack abs.
But how do you lose the pesky love handles without sacrificing metabolic function and quality of life? How do you get lean without weighing out every ounce of steamed broccoli and spending your days on the treadmill?
Over the years, I’ve experimented with a lot of tactics and methods to shed body-fat while maintaining peak physical performance. My verdict? Most strategies promoted by the fitness industry are worthless (detrimental even).
It’s not intermittent fasting. It’s not the vegan diet. And it certainly isn’t some low-carb approach to eating. These are merely short-term fixes for a long-term problem.
In order to lose fat, you must consume fewer calories than your body expends. Nothing new here. But doing so every day comes at a cost. Namely, metabolic adaptation.
Your body starts to compensate for the energy shortage by throttling the metabolism. Your performance nosedives. You feel weak and sluggish as your body digs into its fat and muscle tissues for energy.
You lose some fat, yes. But you also sacrifice muscle and end up looking the same (or worse) at a lower bodyweight. Furthermore, you’ve now programmed your metabolism for efficiency. And when you start eating more again, your body will preferentially store any excess as body fat.
This is the opposite of a successful diet. It is also the most common dieting scenario. I’d go so far as to say that 9 out of 10 people going on a fat-loss diet will end up here at some point.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Not at all.
Two days to six-pack abs
Instead of starving yourself for months on end, you will diet for 2 days a week while eating “normally” for the rest of the week.
I came across this concept a couple years ago in an article by TC Luoma (my favorite fitness writer by a landslide) and have used it on and off (with slight modifications) for myself and a handful of my clients.
The results, while not as immediate as more traditional forms of dieting, are undeniable. It works. And it works surprisingly well.
In contrast to a chronic calorie deficit, cycling between higher and lower calorie days allows for steady fat-loss without the unpleasant sides of dieting.
Eating the same number of calories and macronutrients every day, apart from being impractical, has no connection to reality. Your body is a very clever machine and will adapt to the same food stimulus faster than you can say “chimichanga”.
And as it starts to downregulate the amount of energy you burn on a daily basis, you will be forced to keep lowering calories to keep losing body-fat. Not a road you want to go down on. Stick to 2 low calorie days a week.
Ideally, your dieting days should be spread out (i.e. Monday and Thursday), not on consecutive days.
How much to eat on diet days
So what and how much should you eat on those particular days?
You can cut down on carbs. You can experiment with intermittent fasting (i.e. breakfast skipping). You can simply eat half of what you normally eat.
Bottom line: it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you create a solid calorie deficit on your 2 dieting days. 500-1000 calories below maintenance intake is what I recommend for most people.
What you eat, when and how on those 2 days is secondary. Yes, food quality matters (always). But if you’re not creating a net negative energy balance at the end of the week, you’re wasting your time.
Eat less. How you do it is up to you.
A word of warning: Don’t go too low in calories on your diet days. Extreme deficits (> 1000 calories below maintenance) will only lead to compensatory overeating on other days.
The 2-Day diet was specifically designed for people who are physically active and want to lose body fat, without compromising performance (it will actually improve physical fitness) and well-being. This cyclical approach to fat-loss will be slower, but more sustainable and less damaging to your metabolism (and your mental health).
If you have a lot of weight to lose, sticking to a daily calorie deficit (see my Lean Machine Diet) is preferred. At least until you’re closer to your personal ideal weight.
Fat loss doesn’t have to be an arduous process. It shouldn’t make you miserable. It should make you better. In every way.
Get after it.
Thank you for reading
Pons, Victoria, et al. “Calorie restriction regime enhances physical performance of trained athletes,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9 March, 2018.
Byrne, NM, et al. “Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study.” International Journal of Obesity, 17, August, 2017.
Tomiyama AJ, Mann T, Vinas D, Hunger JM, Dejager J, Taylor SE. Low calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosom Med. 2010;72:357–364.
Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Norton LE. Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014;11:7.