When you set a goal, you rarely move directly to that goal.
Most of the time, you make progress, then you falter or fall back
a bit (or a lot), then you make progress again.
And the path or method that you initially pictured or planned, may
turn out NOT to be the best way to your goal.
The point is, you have to be flexible in your approach, and you
have to anticipate, and even plan on, the fact that your progress
will come in fits and starts.
You can even build these fits and starts into your approach.
For example, if you are trying to lose weight and get in better
shape…or if you are trying to gain weight, by putting on more
lean muscle mass… or if you are simply trying to maintain your
current weight, without having to worry too much about your
diet…you can employ the “zig-zag” method.
This term was coined by Dr. Fred Hatfield, one of the founders of
the International Sports Sciences Association, the fitness
education and certifying organization with which I am associated.
Dr. Hatfield is also known as “Dr. Squat”, because he was the
first man to squat over 1,000 pounds. I’ve watched the video of
that lift countless times. Each time I am amazed at what he did.
And he’s not even that big of a guy. But he trained like a maniac,
and he was smart about how he trained.
From training as a powerlifter, as well as coaching other
powerlifters, he learned that you have to incorporate some
deviations in your training, in order to continue making
He then transferred this approach to helping people lose, gain
or maintain weight.
Basically, with the zig-zag approach, you vary the number of
calories you consume each day.
For example, if you are trying to lose or maintain weight, you
consume a higher number of calories on days in which you exercise.
On days when you do not exercise, and your body has lower
metabolic demands, you consume a lower number of calories.
This is a way around the homeostasis your body will fall into,
if you eat the same number of calories, or same amount of food,
each and every day.
A common dieting pitfall is to reduce calories by 300 to 500
below what you normally eat. For example, you may reduce from
2000 to 1500 calories per day in an effort to lose weight
Problem is, your body reacts quickly and dramatically to any
significant decrease in calories.
Within a week to two weeks, your body will adapt to this lower
caloric intake by reducing its energy requirements. Then you
are in a really tough place.
The zig-zag method avoids this problem.
When you vary your calories from day to day, you keep your
body guessing. One day you consume 2200 calories, the next
1500, the next 1800, and so on.
Your body never adapts, and you continue to steadily lose
weight. Or gain weight, if putting on muscle is your goal.
You can extend this method to the proportion of macro-nutrients
in your diet – in other words, to vary the relative amounts of
protein, carbohydrate and fat you are eating.
For example, on your workout days (or heavier workout days),
you can eat more carbs as well as proteins to help fuel the
activity. Your body can better assimilate carbs (as in, not
turn them into fat) if you eat them within two to three
hours after a workout.
On non-workout, or light workout, days you lower the carbs
and up the fats a little, as a form of compensation.
I like this method for a couple of reasons.
First, you automatically adapt your eating to your activity
levels. This is actually a more natural way to eat. However,
many of us have lost this “programming” over the years, and we
may not automatically eat this way without building it into
our overall fitness plan.
The other great aspect of the “zig-zag” method is that you don’t
have to precisely measure the number of calories or carbs or
fats you consume each day. Simply pay attention to what and how
much you are eating (a food log or journal helps here). If you
don’t already, read labels and reference a book on the calorie
counts and macro-nutrients of foods, so you learn the profile
of the foods you typically eat.
Within a few weeks, you will intuitively know your level of
food and calorie intake.
I’m using this method now myself, as I take off some “L-B’s”
to get in shape for summer. I’m “tight” with my diet for
several days, then I am more relaxed on the fourth day. I
give myself a break on at least one of the weekend days so I
can have a little wine or beer and a nice dinner out.
I can tell you from personal experience, this is way easier and
way more enjoyable than the typical diet approach of deprivation
and starvation interspersed with binges and being ashamed.
This is an approach you can feel good about…and which will
make you feel – and look – good in return.
You Can Do It!
“Best Breathing Exercises: Transform Body Mind and Spirit with
Dynamic Energy Exercise!”
Copyright, Karen Van Ness, 2011
2 thoughts on “Zig-Zag Your Way to Success”
The biggest piece of the puzzle is to understand what makes up your Total Energy Expenditure . Just try to get enough servings from each of the food groups everyday and control your portion sizes! Eating frequent small meals throughout the day will result in an overall higher basal metabolic rate which is the amount of energy your body expends at rest.
Thanks for your comment. Yes you are right, two keys are to control portion sizes and eat a good, balanced diet. I find that switching things up from day to day in terms of macro-nutrients can be quite helpful, that way I never feel deprived of anything.