Glad we got that clear. Because I'm sick of people saying that certain programs aren't diets. If it restricts what you eat, it's a diet. It can also be whittled down to this: eating less? You're on a diet. Eating more? You're on a nutritional plan. I don't mean to be flippant, but identifying nutritional deficits and correcting them is proper nutrition. There's a big difference between saying "I need more potassium because I keep getting leg cramps, so I'm going to eat more potassium-rich foods" vs. "I need to lean out so I'm going to eat less of X." That's taking away stuff vs. adding better stuff.
Also: why? Why do you need to "lean out"? I touched on this a couple of weeks ago. If you are at a decently healthy weight, and yes, being "overweight" can be healthy according to multiple studies, you're good. Most people have a set point - a weight and body shape genetically determined that their body is comfortable at. I'll share that mine is somewhere between 162-178 lbs. I've been in that range my entire adult life. It hasn't changed from that range after multiple diets (South Beach, Paleo, Whole30), a few binge periods, 2.5 years of Roller Derby, and nearly 2 years of CrossFit. I think I've dipped as low as 160, but for whatever reason, I can't seem to get into the 150s. And I rarely go above 180, and the times I did, I was in extreme emotional distress. So if all this is the case, why diet?
Studies show that if you're already a certain weight, it's going to be nigh impossible to get lower. People can lose a small percentage of weight (around 10-15 lbs) or 2-6% and keep it off, but it's pretty tough. Plus, when you've done so, your body fundamentally changes. If you've been at a higher weight and you reduce your intake enough to be thin and stay thin, you are going to be hungry a lot more than a person who never put on the weight in the first place.
"That's what life is like for a formerly fat person all the time. Their starvation switch is permanently on. And they're not going 72 hours, they're trying to go the rest of their lives. Don't take my word for it. Here's a breakdown of the science, in plain English. It's like being an addict where the withdrawal symptoms last for decades.
As that article explains, the person who is at 175 pounds after a huge weight loss now has a completely different physical makeup from the person who is naturally 175 -- exercise benefits them less, calories are more readily stored as fat, the impulse to eat occurs far, far more often. The formerly fat person can exercise ten times the willpower of the never-fat guy, and still wind up fat again. The impulses are simply more frequent, and stronger, and the physical consequences of giving in are more severe. The people who successfully do it are the ones who become psychologically obsessive about it, like that weird guy who built an Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks. (Source)
A very small number of people actually succeed. You can succeed at keeping small amounts of weight off, but drastic amounts? Not so much. It's very rare that a really big person becomes a small person and stays that way without invasive surgery. In fact, the odds are so small, that studies have a really difficult time finding those people. It's rare.
How rare? Well, this person did the math, and as far as they could tell, two out of 1,000 Weight Watchers customers actually maintain large weight losses permanently. Two out of a thousand. That means if you are fat, you are 25 times more likely to survive getting shot in the head than to stop being fat. (Source)
So dude, hear me: diets suck. While we all want to fit into our pants, we need to ask ourselves about the goals we craft outside our set points. Is it really worth it to you to work this hard at something? You have to know now that it isn't going to be easy; it's going to take a lot of work and be difficult for the rest of your life. Given that, wouldn't you rather try to funnel that energy into loving yourself, accepting yourself just as you are, and find a way to increase and maintain your current health?
I would. I do. So that's my "goal" for the Precision Nutrition plan I'm currently on: to finish at the weight I started, having learned all this valuable stuff about diet and data and set points and the rest.
If I've spent a bunch of money to find out that really, I was fine all along? Great. And if what I've gotten out of it is increased mindfulness about my behavior and thought patterns, more self-acceptance, sustainable food and exercise patterns, and better sleep. I've won. And I've won on my terms.