“Hybrid Dieting” – Cherry Picking the Best Diet Strategies

June 26, 2012

I don’t have a label for the type of diet I like to follow. I eat Paleo meals occasionally, use Intermittent Fasting about once per week, eat Gluten Free at times, etc. If I had to come up for a term for it, I’d call it “Hybrid Dieting”. It is a loose way of eating, where I take principles from several solid diets…when it makes sense. I’ll outline some solid principles in this post for those who want to lose weight without necessarily following a rigid diet year-round.

Sauce Pan
The” Calories In/Calories Out” Strategy

I shouldn’t even call this a strategy. The idea of burning more calories than you take in, should be the #1 goal when it comes to losing body fat. Sounds obvious, right? You would think so…but I can almost guarantee you that there will be several people commenting who will dispute this strategy. There are several groups who believe that it doesn’t matter how many calories you eat…as long as you keep your insulin levels stable. These are typically the low carb groups that go by many different names. Note: There are several low carb groups who do encourage creating a deficit as well as eating low carb.

How I implement this strategy: I like to focus on a weekly calorie deficit. I figure out how many calories I can eat per week and come in at that number. I’ll eat somewhat strictly Sunday-Thursday…which gives me the ability to eat loosely on Friday night and all day Saturday.

The “Low Carb” Strategy

I believe the low carb strategy works extremely well in conjunction with creating a calorie deficit (the strategy above). So when people eat low carb (Paleo, Primal, Atkins, Slow Carb, etc)…in a calorie deficit…they will lose body fat rapidly. The main strength of eating low carb is that it keeps your insulin levels stable. Your body won’t burn fat when insulin levels are high. Low carb dieting keeps your body in fat burning mode by preventing insulin spikes.

How I implement this strategy: I love carbs, so I would be bummed if I had to eat low carb all the time. What I like to do is eat zero to low carbs throughout the day. This keeps my energy levels stable when I’m working. I like to eat most of my carbs at dinner, since this is the time I like to slow down and relax. So I’m burning fat all day…and temporarily halting the fat burning process at night.

A more effective strategy: My strategy isn’t “ideal” from a fat loss perspective, but I make it work because I wanted to structure my day like that. A better approach is to eat the majority of your carbs in the meal that follows your workout…and eat lower carb for all of your other meals. I train in the morning and I like my biggest meal to be dinner, so this won’t work for me. A better approach from a fat loss perspective would be to train after work, right before dinner (something I’m unwilling to do).

The “Intermittent Fasting” Strategy

There are several amazing benefits of intermittent fasting. Brad Pilon made a really compelling video showing how fasting has similar effects on the body as exercise: Intermittent Fasting Has Similar Effects on the Body as Intense Exercise. The nice thing about intermittent fasting is that it accomplishes both of the goals of the two methods above simultaneously. It helps create a calorie deficit and keeps insulin levels stable.

How I implement this strategy: I simply like to use intermittent fasting as a way to get my calories down a bit throughout the week. I don’t do it every week anymore, but I’ll fast until dinner on Mondays and the occasional Wednesday or Thursday. This just gives me the ability to eat loosely on Fri, Sat, and Sun…without gaining a bunch of weight.

Some Different Takes on Intermittent Fasting:

The “Small Meals Every Few Hours” Strategy

This strategy does not work for me, because I like to feast…but I think this is a strategy that can work for well for some people. I put up a poll on my Facebook Page seeing if men and women preferred to eat small meals more frequently or larger meals less frequently. A large portion of men liked large, less frequent meals…and women were about 50/50. Some people are wired to eat every few hours.

How to implement this strategy: As long as the portions are small this works well. You can create a calorie deficit and have stable insulin levels…which leads to weight loss. I’ve seen just as many people get lean eating this way as I have seen using intermittent fasting to get lean.

Some suggest women do better following this strategy: My personal experience has been that a good portion of women do best when they eat a little more frequently than men. I never knew the reason for this, until recently. Mark Sisson does a great job of explaining the concept in this post: Women and Intermittent Fasting.

The “Aggressive Low Calorie” Strategy

There are a many variations of this. Basically we are talking about a super-low calorie aggressive short-term 2-3 week diet…and possibly up to 8 weeks. Here is an outline of one I put up on my Facebook Page: Rapid Fat Loss Diet Plan – My 2 Shakes and Chicken Salad Diet. These types of diets are “vacation prep” type of diets.

How to implement this strategy: I don’t use this type of dieting anymore, because my goal is to be in “maintenance mode” for life…meaning that I never want to get out of shape again. Also, I’m not concerned with dipping down to 6% body fat anymore. I’m content with sticking around the 8-12% range these days. For those people who do like to get in crazy shape for an event, this type of diet does the trick. Just use it 1-2 times per year 2-8 weeks out from an event. Note: Some people should never attempt this as it can make some them especially irritable.

The “Cheat Day” Strategy

The idea behind the cheat day is to eat higher calories at least once per week to boost leptin levels and keep the metabolism high. Some people recommend eating as much as you want, one day per week, and others recommend a more moderate approach.

How I implement this strategy: I like the more moderate approach and simply like to up the calorie intake by eating somewhat loosely on the weekends. It seems to do the trick of keeping the leptin levels from crashing. More importantly, it allows me to live life, have fun, socialize, etc. Here is a good article which explains the positives and negatives of cheat days: Cheat Days Explained.

My Hybrid Diet Summary:

Here’s a quick bulletpoints summary of my Hybrid Diet.

  • A weekly calorie deficit.
  • Strong deficit Mon-Thursday.
  • Cheating a bit Fri, Sat, and sometimes Sun.
  • Low’ish carbs and calories during the day.
  • Medium to high carbs and biggest meal at night.
  • Intermittent fasting 1-2 times per week (part of the year).

Note: I also do my cardio routine on the days I eat strictly.

Setting Up Your Own Hybrid Diet

Remember, the most important principle is eating in a way that creates a calorie deficit. If you can do that in a way that minimizes insulin spikes, it will make your diet that much more effective. It really is about that simple…the trick is to do it in a way that is easy for you and doesn’t feel like torture.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeffrey| water aerobics equipment September 9, 2012 at 10:58 pm

There’s no shoes which fit everyone. There are exercises which may work for you but won’t work for others. Personally, I think everyone should understand his needs, his enthusiasm for losing weight first and then choose a sport he’s truly interested in. You may look at other people’s working out plan for reference, but do not follow exactly what they do!

Cardologist In Delhi September 19, 2012 at 2:34 am

Great post, thanks for sharing! I believe in the efficacy of low carb diets and I think its a really good and healthy strategy for all the people who wants to get in shape.
make experiment from various diets and find what works best for body. For good helth, heart should be strong and healthy.

[email protected] September 19, 2012 at 8:20 am

I agree with Alan above, yes, eating food not products, that’s the big difference.

Sick Guy September 25, 2012 at 6:27 am

i recently was cured of ulcerative colitis, but in the meantime my colon wall was basically destroyed. to speed up the recovery process, i have had to adopt the diet found on http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/. It is called the “Specific Carbonhydrate Diet” and I am surprised I didnt see it mentioned here because some of its principles could be of use in these forums. also: the principles are based in scientific research.

What is the SCD? In a nutshell, it eliminates all refined sugars from the diet. BUT this also includes grains, starches, as well as lactose, since these are defined as “complex sugars”, with the scienfic term being “disaccharides” for double-chained sugars and “polysaccharides” for starch. For suffers of IBD like myself, the colon struggles to process anything more than “simple sugars”.

This diet is extremely hard to follow. The book is basically very extreme in its approach, and without a medical reason the diet isnt worth following. I dont follow it exactly 100% myself since I can tolerate small amounts of grain. But everything else I dont eat. But I need the recipes from the book or else I would go insane. 🙂

The amazing side effect? My “normal weight” is 165 pounds and I am 6 foot 1 inch. When I started this diet, I automatically went to 155 pounds without doing any additional exercise except walking, or any fasting or skipping meals. And I “get ripped” as well, without additional intense cardio. Nothing i have ever tried worked before this diet; not fasting, “elimination diets”, etc. so I guess I have found something that works for me. But its weird being at a low weight and “feeling ok” still, with no muscle mass loss. The acne on my back also dissapeared! Give it a try and see how you feel.

Urologist in Delhi September 26, 2012 at 2:24 am

thanks for sharing! I believe in the efficacy of low carb diets and I think its a really good and healthy strategy for all the people who wants to get in shape. I think it is very important to have balance in everything, so if in one day you consume more calorie

[email protected] Wanted September 27, 2012 at 2:21 am

Peruse the internet and you will find someone having success with just about everything, even the twinkie diet! In the end it really matters what works for you not someone else. If you found something that works for your goals, stick with it till it doesn’t despite what others may say. Don’t be afraid to experiment and create a hybrid as Rusty thoroughly discussed. Also, don’t assume something won’t work till you try it on yourself. Look at intermittent fasting, it polarizes people. Many have had success but some won’t even try it because in their mind it can’t work. That said, it is important to “buy-in” to the method you’re using for long term success. Rusty found what works for him both physically and mentally. If your stuck, taking action and experimenting is your best course of action. Create your own hybrid. Analyzing something in your head isn’t going to get you to your goal. Think what we would all look like if it did.

Antonio October 1, 2012 at 12:57 pm

You’re right on track Rusty. Overall you need a calorie deficit but there can be numerous ways to reach that deficit. Myself I hydrate myself constantly and have increased my intake of fruit and vegetables. Over time you develop a taste for bananas, apples and broccoli and nuts. My cheat is a loaded baked potato.

PK October 2, 2012 at 11:32 am

Thanks Rusty.
I had been stuck on 30 kilos in each hand for dumbbell bench press and in the space of about 7 or 8 weeks I’m up to 37 kilos in each hand.
You make it easy to achieve targets, thanks

eric October 3, 2012 at 11:35 am

I lift M/W/F with HIIT cardio after weights on Mon & Wed. Then I typically do low intensity cardio and core on Tu/Th. I want to try the 24 hr fasts (Eat-Stop-Eat) on Tu/Th. Would you recommend this w/ the low intensity cardio on those days still?

FitPinner October 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

Dieting is like religion.. a bunch of people who have invested so much time in developing a system that works for them, they firmly believe nobody else could be right or know nearly as much. Visit any body building forum.. and enjoy the entertainment.
Eat clean and develop a system that works for you!

Lilitte October 13, 2012 at 7:12 am

You are by far my favorite fitness blogger of all time. Thanks for your diet post…love it!

I will be referencing you a lot in my blogs if you don’t mind. My diet is pretty similar. Low carb M-F with a calorie deficit, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday cheats. Tried eat stop eat, although I thought was effective was a wrong fit for me.

Liz October 13, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Yes, carb cycling works very well! I used that to get ready for a bikini comp…I wasn’t losing then drastically dropped my carbs and bam! Awesome results 🙂 Now, working on losing 10 lbs and learning to maintain that leaner look.

Mike Foze October 15, 2012 at 10:21 am

I agree 100% with this article. It’s best to mix the concepts and principles of the best diets and then create effectively your own diet yourself.

You don’t need to follow IF completely and you don’t need to follow Carb Cycling completely. You might even achieve the best results by combining the two.

You’ve got to experiment.

Lilo October 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Ah, funny! We have almost an identical approach when it comes to food! I must say, it’s a quite comfy dieting strategy! 🙂

Apron Appeal October 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm

This is how I eat most days too, but every time I go into a fitness expert I’m told to make sure I don’t go lower than 1200 caloric intake a day. Where does that come from? If I have more than enough fat on me to fill the void why am I told not to go under that number?

Glenn October 22, 2012 at 4:26 am

I think everyone needs to learn “hybrid dieting”. No one way can work for everyone all the time. I like that you stand up for carbs later in the day. Nice strategy. Thanks.

Dennis Blair @ Fort Collins Personal Trainer October 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm

You know, this makes sense. I am tired of the “one size fits all” mentality that all of these weight loss programs have. Every single person is different on how their body responds to weight loss. My philosophy is if you are as strict as most of these programs are about your nutrition and food choices, then ultimately you will fail. Be sensible and practice what works for you. There are many options out there.

Lena October 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Rusty, I absolutely love calorie in & calorie out strategy. Among all of the other diets this works so well.

Fitness Wayne | Paleo Diet, Strength Training and Weight Loss October 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Personally I go with the paleo diet and intermittent fasting approach. I am going to start experimenting with ketosis for accelerated fat burn.

Seth November 3, 2012 at 11:46 am

Totally agree on hybridizing the various approaches, totally agree that there should be close to a deficit while avoiding careless insulin spikes. Totally also think that it will vary even more based on desired outcomes:

I’m bulking, but on occasion want to ‘observe’ my progress in the mirror- BAM- insert a carb back load [not religiously, but on occasion]. That turns the sacred cows of both calorie deficit, and not spiking insulin late in the day completely on their heads.

Nate Anglin November 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Hey Rusty. The “hybrid diet” is really the only way to stay sane. It gives you the flexibility to try new things, but also to keep your physique. As a business professional, a low carb diet isn’t always the best for me since be brain functions when I’m eating a good portion of fruit, veggies, and grains depending on what the intensity of my workout will be (i.e. 60 minutes of boxing and plyometrics)

GD November 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Hey there Rusty!
I just wanted to know that does building abs harm the growth of height? I’m currently 5’8” and 17 yrs old. Also if you could tell me some tips on how to grow taller.

Thanks a ton!

CrossFit Aeon November 22, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Great post Rusty. Diet is such a critical element. We are all about eating Paleo / Primal and our CrossFit clients have gotten extremely great results from eating this way, not the least of which is fat loss. However, you’ve gotta live a little too so unless you’ve got severe intolerances, we tend to recommend eating 100% Paleo 80% of the time. That feels like a nice balance. It’s sustainable too.

Mark December 10, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Cherry picking is a brilliant idea. If no two bodies are the same then why should the optimal diet…

If you find an aspect of one diet that works, go for it, if you find another that complements the other diet, then go for that too.

Deryk DeGuzman January 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm

What I love about this post is that it promotes a “choose your own adventure” approach to dieting that I’ve long thought would be beneficial to people, given that every single person is different.

For too long there’s been an “old school martial arts” approach to fitness concepts, including nutrition: pick one method and stick to it. I believe that understanding a multitude of concepts and running with them yields the most benefit. Thank you for reinforcing that with this post!

Michael March 7, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Hey Rusty, just wondering that if I were to do the “EAT-STOP-EAT” diet, should I do cardio and work out during the fasting days? Or is it better to do nothing on those days?


Michael March 7, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Also I was wondering which of the two you would recommend as a fat burning supplement, as you have mentioned both of these, Leptiburn or Shred 360. I am about 12% bodyfat and am trying to get down to 7% in 4 months.

Joseph K April 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I have tried these various methods of dieting. I was a feaster, so i just had to substitute the junk food i ate on a regular basis with healthy food. For me the miracle food that helped me lose weight was watermelon. I would literally stuff myself with watermelon and still had changes in my weight. Now i regularly eat small meals throughout the day. I don’t restrict myself to 2 hour time frames like some people, but in between 1 and a half to 3 hours i find works just as effectively. In the process of doing that, those meals are small and low calorie. I do this 5 days a week (mon-fri) which gives me about 2500 spare calories left to my total net calories for the week. This allows me to have a couple cheat days where i can add other foods i love like pizza, ice cream, etc. Not in huge portions, but just enough. One way or another, if you take in more calories than your body needs, it turns to fat. There’s no way around this.

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