Nutrition Training

Your Body Doesn’t Want to be Lean: Now Fight Back

Your body doesn’t want you to be lean. And the problem, my friends, is the Wibber Gibbers.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “what the hell are Wibber Gibbers?”

The term popped into my head while I was completely out of my mind from strict dieting. It was sort of an “Aha!” moment and I began writing immediately.

I first heard this term while reading what is probably my favorite motivational book of all time, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.

Dale Carnegie had this to say about Wibber Gibbers:

If you and I don’t keep busy – if we sit around and brood – we will hatch out a whole flock of what Charles Darwin used to call the “wibber gibbers.” And the “wibber gibbers” are nothing but old fashioned gremlins that will run us hollow and destroy our power of action and our power of will.”

My usage of the term as it relates to dieting isn’t exactly the same kind of gremlin that Dale talked about in regard to worry.

But the dieting Wibber Gibbers are the same type of invisible creatures that infiltrate your mind when you’re at your weakest.

And while we all feel their effects, most aren’t sure of the source.

I’ve just given these little boogers a name to create a tangible enemy so that staying on track while dieting doesn’t feel like trying to fight smoke.

What do the dieting Wibber Gibbers do?

These “gremlins” get in your head when you’re dieting and threaten to interrupt, stop, or even reverse all the progress you’ve made.

Every time I set off on a fat loss plan, my motivation is through the roof!

I’m completely fed up with having to eat junk food to hit my calories and I’m tired of stuffing myself at the end of the day to fill out my macros.

All I can think is

I’m going to get shredded and there isn’t a damn thing that can stop me!

At this point in the process, I have the discipline of a Shaolin monk – a bulletproof mindset.

I could go to an all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet and sit there chewing a piece of gum without being tempted one bit.

So fat loss is easy, right?

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Yes. When thinking hypothetically about following a fat loss diet, it seems like no big deal at all.

You just set a caloric deficit, stick to it every day, and watch the layers of fat melt away.

But in the real world, when I’m feeling weak in the gym, small, hungry, and grumpy, my mind and body actually do a very good job of convincing me that I’m on the wrong path.

You NEED (not want) this food so you don’t look like a twig!

– my brain

It’s one thing to power through your workouts and deal with hunger, but it’s a completely different ball game when you start to BELIEVE that you’re on the wrong path.

It’s especially difficult when food is the very thing you want most in the world.

After weeks and months of discipline and deprivation, food seems to be ever present in my mind.

I think about food while lifting weights, I dream about food, and even think about what I’m going to eat for the rest of the day while I chow down my breakfast.

The Wibber Gibbers essentially hijack my body and mind, attempting to trick me into undoing all of my progress.

To say that they’re nasty little demons is an understatement.

And to defeat them, I had to find out what makes them tick.

What gives the dieting Wibber Gibbers their incredible power?

Intentionally making ourselves smaller combined with a cocktail of physiological and psychological events means getting lean can quickly begin to feel like a HUGE MISTAKE.

Or in other words, like a Wibber Gibber infestation.

Here are some of the many ways these gremlins gnaw away at your willpower, followed by a plan to beat them once and for all!

Hunger Hormones

Leptin

To regulate hunger, a hormone called Leptin is released from your fat cells to tell your body when you’re full.  When your body fat levels are at or above your set point, enough Leptin is released and you feel satiated.

But when your body fat levels start to decline, as when dieting aggressively, leptin levels decrease and you’ll never feel satisfied no matter how much you eat.

Ghrelin

Ghrelin plays on the same team as Leptin, although in a different position. While Leptin signals fullness, Ghrelin signals hunger.

And as you might guess, Ghrelin levels increase while dieting, sending you on an automated mission to seek out high calorie foods.

Evolutionarily, these hormones are literally life saving.

Primitive man needed to maintain a certain level of body fat for the inevitable “lean times.”

Having an innate desire to consume calories is as important to a species’ survival as the drive to reproduce.

But in the modern world where starvation is not a likely event and the “lean times” never seem to come, we don’t really need these excess fuel stores (body fat).

So in that regard, these same hormones that would’ve saved your life on the savannah 100,000 years ago can derail your efforts to achieve the coveted ripped midsection.

Sodium variations

When you have a nice layer of fat over your muscles, a fluctuating sodium intake doesn’t have a perceptible effect on your appearance.

Maybe you wake up a couple pounds heavier after eating a whole pizza before bed, but really you still look just about the same.

While bulking, your diet is likely looser in terms of quality so you’re used to a higher sodium intake. This means there won’t be much of a fluctuation to start.

But when you’re cutting, you’ve likely cleaned up your diet substantially to help control your appetite and sodium consumption goes down as a result.

After you’ve been dieting a while, your skin is more like a coat of paint on the muscles underneath. Your veins are visible and you always appear to have just a little bit of a gym pump.

But just one day of messing up your sodium intake and perhaps drinking more or less water than usual causes your skin to get puffy, smoothing out your physique.

In the mirror, this looks exactly like reversing weeks and weeks of fat loss progress, all from a single junk food meal!

This can lead to radical and emotionally driven changes in diet and training routine.

But don’t freak out and change course, this is just the Wibber Gibbers doing what they do best (messing with your mind while you’re down).

The best choice is to keep your diet and training constant and give your body a day or two to get back to normal.

Carb intake

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Just like sodium, carb intake is much higher and consistent when you’re bulking.

Over the winter, I was eating nearly 500g of carbs per day whether I was hitting it hard in the gym or sitting at my desk for 10 hours.

So there was no such thing as being “carbed up” or glycogen depleted. I basically looked the same from day to day.

But after cutting carbs substantially to reduce overall calories, my muscles are more responsive to the number of carbs I’ve had on any given day.

If I cut carbs to ketogenic levels on days where I just do cardio, I wake up sever pounds lighter the next day and my muscles can feel flat, weak, and smoothed over.

But on a high carb day things can get really interesting!

Eating a massive amount of carbs makes my muscles blow up like balloons, and this really shows when body fat levels are in the single digits.

It can be difficult to deal with these highs and lows when you’re constantly hungry and looking for excuses to binge on ice-cream, but just know that it’s the dieting Wibber Gibbers playing tricks on you once again.

Decreased strength

We go to the gym to get stronger.

It’s how we measure our own progress, it’s how we measure ourselves against the pack, and it’s the main variable we manipulate to ensure consistent progress.

So what happens when these numbers plunge like the stock market on Black Tuesday?

Internal panic alarms can go haywire!

No matter how much I “know” my strength is going to decrease at least a little and how much I anticipate that, it’s a kick in the pants every time.

Sure it’s inevitable and can be easily, and quite satisfyingly, reversed as soon as you start gaining mass again, but it’s still demoralizing.

Gambling hard-earned muscle

This is probably the most powerful tool in the dieting wibber gibber’s arsenal.

I’ve had to dedicate basically every resource at my disposal for over a decade just to develop a pair of arms that look like they belong on a “gifted athlete” not a bodybuilder.

So as soon as I feel like I’m losing muscle mass (and it’s much easier to feel it than for this to actually happen), I’m ready to abandon my fat loss campaign.

When you think about it, what kind of sense does it make to spend years in pursuit of a goal only to have it undone in a matter of weeks or months?

At least, that’s the thought process when the Wibber Gibbers are at the helm.

At that point, it isn’t about willpower or being able to stick with a diet, it’s literally about convincing yourself that fat loss is a good idea in the first place!

How do we stop these little bastards?

Armed with a little insight into how the Wibber Gibbers attempt to take over your mind, here are the ways to counter their attacks.

Keep busy

This is where my interpretation and that of Dale Carnegie overlap.

Just like with the worry Wibber Gibbers, the dieting variety of the devilish gremlin seems to grow in strength when your mind and body are idle.

When I’m on a roll writing or editing, I can go hours without thinking very much about food.

But if I don’t have anything brilliant taking over my mind or any physical task at hand, my mind runs wild.

And it runs right into the warm embrace of thoughts of foot-long sandwiches, mountains of orange chicken, and boxes and boxes of kid’s cereal.

While I’m getting better and better at being intellectually productive on demand, I’m not perfect yet.

And being a physical worker by nature and nurture, I’ve found it best to have a list of tangible things that need to be done that I can turn to if my brain is just in a funk.

After a couple hours of working online but making minimal progress, I just get up and start on the tasks that don’t require brain power.

For me, sharpening the kitchen knives, replacing hinges, and hanging shelves requires almost zero willpower – but the physical work does a great job of distracting my mind.

Build a case against them

If you ask me at any point during a fat loss diet if I’m retaining muscle, my answer will be, “absolutely not!”

While dieting, I seem to know several things for a “fact.”

  • One – I’m losing muscle at an alarming rate.
  • Two – I haven’t actually lost any fat.
  • And three – I’m looking much, much worse than when I started.

But in the same way a lawyer wins a case, I’ve learned to collect evidence and to show proof to the judge (my mind) that I’m actually on the right track.

This means taking progress photos, scale weight, tape measurements, and skin fold records with body fat calipers.

This way when I “know” I’m regressing, I can refer to Exhibits A, B, and C and be reminded that I’m actually progressing just as planned and am looking better from one week to the next.

Take the right supplements

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In mass building phases, supplements are a little less important because you’re in a caloric surplus and are more than likely going to get all of your nutrients in one way or another.

It isn’t difficult to hit protein goals when you have 3,500 calories to play with, for example.

Amino acids aren’t as important because you’re having a big meal every three hours, including as soon as you wake up.

And muscle preservation isn’t even an issue.

But when you’re in a caloric deficit and only have maybe 2,000 calories to budget accordingly, you can’t exactly rely on steak and whole eggs as your main protein source because the fat content will put you over your calories before you even get close.

So in this case, you can use BCAAs or whey protein to meet these goals and preserve muscle mass for a low caloric investment.

Things like fish oil and multi-vitamins are great to make sure you’re getting all of your micronutrients while eating monotonous diet foods everyday.

And for supplements on the next level, I haven’t found anything as effective as Ostarine to ensure that muscle mass is kept safe and sound.

I recently “crash dieted” while cycling Osta-Red to test it’s effectiveness and managed not only to preserve all of my muscle mass but even gained a little.

Check out my review of Osta-Red (before and after photos)

With Osta-Red, you’ll have the peace of mind of KNOWING that you’re maintaining muscle even when the Wibber Gibbers make you FEEL like you’re losing it.

But even on Osta-Red, the Wibber Gibbers were telling me that I was imagining things or my records were lying – little bastards!

Make a list of the inevitable

Certain things are going to go in the opposite of the desired direction when you’re dieting, just as you’re going to gain some fat while bulking.

That’s just how it is.

But the more accepting you can be, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Know and accept that:

  • You’re going to lose some strength
  • You’re going to look smaller during and after low carb days
  • You’re going to obsess about food
  • You won’t have the macros for your favorite foods
  • Your clothes are going to fit a little looser in all the wrong places

But once you accept these as the worst-case scenarios (another trick from Dale Carnegie), you can get on with the process and defeat the dieting Wibber Gibbers.

Really, if you lay out your diet and training correctly, you won’t lose that much muscle or strength (especially if you use Osta-Red like I did), the hunger won’t be too bad, and you can always have your favorite foods in a couple months.

Have a refeed day

While there is some debate over how effective short-term spikes in calories (specifically carbs) are at resetting hunger hormones, they can do wonderful things for your mental wellbeing.

Being in the trenches of a low-calorie diet and seeing food around every corner is maddening. I even start to envy the fat bastards shoving cheeseburgers in their faces.

It’s embarrassing to admit these thoughts, but the Wibber Gibbers actually come close to convincing me that fatter is better.

But, with a refeed day on the horizon, I don’t listen to them because I know I have a fatty day coming in the near future. So it’s easy to hang in there.

To do a refeed day properly (and not ruin a week’s worth of progress), take a little away from your fat and protein numbers and add some carbs. For example:

  • Let’s say that you typically eat around 70g of fat. Drop that to 50g for the day – 180 calories saved.
  • If you normally eat 200g protein, drop it to 170 – another 120 calories saved.
  • Now you can add an additional 200g of carbs (or 800 calories) for the day and only have a 500-calorie surplus.

If this is done only once per week, it takes your average intake up a measly 71 calories per day. But you have the mental break of allowing yourself an additional 200g of carbs!

TOP TIP: Frozen yogurt works perfectly for all of the above.

Fight Back!

So there you have it – an explanation for why you feel like a ravenous lunatic while in pursuit of beach ready abs.

I definitely don’t mean to give you an excuse and tell you that “it’s not your fault, so it’s okay to give up.”

To diet to single-digit body fat, you have to practice discipline, you have to do the work, and it’s going to suck a lot of the time.

But this is totally doable and will be much easier now that you can recognize the Wibber Gibbers when they rear their ugly little heads.

All the best,

Nate

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Lyle
    July 19, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Great article again. I can usually just power though but I’m always a miserable bastard while dieting haha. These are some good tips and explosions about what’s going on. I especially like your idea of how to implement a re-feed day
    Do you have any tips on the transition from cutting to bulking or maintaining? That’s usually where I lose it. I do good cutting but when I up the calories I find that the hardest time mentally as my body wants to go crazy after the cut and easy everything in sight. And I find the fat wants to come right back on.

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 20, 2016 at 5:27 am

      I know what you mean. What you have to realize is that you can’t just go back to eating at “maintenance” as your maintenance level has decreased by up to 20-25%. So if you used to maintain at 3,000 calories, you could now be gaining weight on anything over 2,250 calories. The key is to “reverse diet” by adding calories slowly. I like to increase my intake by about 5g fat and maybe 10g carbs per day and then in a week, if my weight hasn’t increased, I’ll add the same amount again. You’re essentially inching yourself back to your old maintenance and minimizing fat gain along the way.

  • Reply
    Walt
    July 19, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    I think the reason why so many poor people are obese is that they aren’t busy. So they get bored and eat cheap crap to cheer themselves up or just to have something to do while they watch TV or play xBox. So many retirees in my area are huge. They don’t seem to be very active now they aren’t working and their shopping carts are full of energy dense junk. Keep busy!

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 20, 2016 at 5:36 am

      There’s a lot of truth in there, Wait. It’s definitely easy to overeat when you’re sitting on your ass and distracted by the TV. And I used to reward myself for a hard day on the construction site with extra large Double Whopper w/cheese meals constantly. Also, junk food is extremely cheap calorie for calorie.

  • Reply
    Cody Martin
    July 19, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    This is an excellent article and it really speaks to me man. I have long stuggled with my discipline, especially when it comes to eating.

    I grew up in a small southern town where everything was deep fried, covered in syrup, and soaked in butter. Its amazing I don’t have diabetes!

    It was joining the Marines that really intoduced me to the funny things that your mind does in a state of extreme hunger. I was fat so they made me a “diet recruit” which meant that I had half the rations everyone else had. God, I used to fantasize about food constantly!

    Boot camp was the first time I saw my abs and my whole life since then has been a struggle to stay -10% bf but I usually hover around 20. Every now and then I’ll get that ripped 6 pack but the challenge for me is to hold onto it!

    Nathan, you’re writing is excellent. Very professional, articulate, and well researched. Definitely gives off the vibe that you know your shit.

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 20, 2016 at 5:38 am

      Environment plays a huge role in our habits. How does your family react when you make healthier choices in front of them? Going through 13 weeks of boot camp on half rations must’ve been hell!

  • Reply
    Chris
    July 20, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Nice post. Keeping busy is so key for any diet. Constantly thinking about food ultimately leads to…eating! This is a challenge for me day in and day out. Staying busing is one tactic that I use. I also have a mantra that I repeat through out the day: “The less I have the more I gain.” I practice mindfulness as much as possible. Lastly, I created a vision board of quotes and images and review it constantly to keep me disciplined.

    Again, solid post and deals with issues that I don’t see a lot of sites addressing directly. Great job.

    • Reply
      Nate
      July 20, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      I know what you mean, even on generous bulking calories I think about food most of the day. I really like the idea of a vision board. It’s very easy to lose sight of your goals when it’s what the primal part of your brain/body are programed to do but a quick reminder of your goals can help sort that out. Solid advice, Chris!

  • Reply
    Mark
    July 30, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Awesome Article! Here are some things that help me. I went from 225, 17% BF to 201 12%
    A few things i found that helped me:
    1.) pick a method and see it through. As long as you’re losing fat who cares what internet bros say
    2.)Stay busy. I find my diet falls apart if i have idle time. Especially if im infront of a TV.
    3.) Proper rest. If i don’t have enough rest when i train with a defecit i find my willpower falls apart

  • Reply
    Gman
    August 25, 2016 at 2:08 am

    Ok I alway thought I was pretty fit and strong, but now I want to get sub 10% bf I’m currently around 15% what would you recommend , do I really need to count calories?

    • Reply
      Nate
      August 25, 2016 at 5:59 am

      You don’t have to count calories, but you do have to make systematic and consistent changes. Without counting calories, at least a rough estimate, it’s extremely difficult to make continues progress. There are plenty of ways to lose body fat and they all have drawbacks.

  • Reply
    Yusuf Ahmed
    September 21, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Cool article Nate! Just stumbled on the blog and I really like the way you bring style and fitness together. I’m feeling the struggle on my cut but this article helped ease my tension. Gotta keep busy.

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