The 9 Most Common Cutting Mistakes

Cutting Mistakes
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Are you dieting for a show, shoot, or summer holiday? Avoid these easy mistakes – and get shredded!

Once you make the decision to diet down to a shredded physique, it can feel like the pressure is on – especially if you’ve set yourself the deadline of a social event, photoshoot, or even a bodybuilding show. But there’s only so much the body can do with the tools of time, energy expenditure, and diet. Make sure you’re working with your body – not against it – by avoiding these common dieting mistakes.

1. Not giving yourself enough time

You need to be realistic about what you can achieve in a given timeframe. Some people will be able to lose 1-2kgs per week with minimal impact on lean mass, but smaller and/or more sedentary people might struggle to lose 0.8kg. And don’t forget that fat loss will inevitably slow down as the diet progresses. Build in time for plateaus, slip ups, and planned diet breaks too. What we’re saying is, don’t try to get stage lean in 12 weeks unless you’re already pretty lean and carrying a decent amount of muscle. Be honest with yourself.

2. Starting too far out

If you’ve been dieting down in previous years, you will have a good idea of how quickly you get lean and how long it takes you to get to your goal. Be honest about your starting point. If you’re 10kgs over your previous “start of a diet” weight, then you will need more time than usual. So either start earlier, do a “pre diet-diet”, or choose a later show date. You can’t cheat time (and if you try, it will backfire on you either during the diet or in a rebound).

3. Cutting calories too much, too soon

Inexperienced dieters can fall into the trap of slashing caloric intake right from the starting gate. Whilst this can lead to a pleasing amount of weight loss in the first few weeks, it doesn’t leave you anywhere to go. What will your next plan of attack be if weight loss slows down or if you find the harsh deficit too much to cope with? A better plan is to eat in as small a deficit as you can whilst still maintaining fat loss, and continually manipulate it downwards as you progress.

4. Ramping up the cardio

This is similar to #3. People will often go at it all guns blazing: low calories AND high amounts of cardio. This leaves you with no tricks up your sleeve, and it will highly likely to lead to burn out or mental fatigue. Employ cardio as a tool to assist with the calorie deficit, and consider using different forms of cardio to create the activity (like walking).

5. Drastically cutting a macronutrient

There’s no need to suddenly change your dietary beliefs when you start a cutting diet (unless your core beliefs are in the twin gods of doughnuts and stuffed crust pizza). If you usually eat a balance macro split, don’t suddenly go low carb. If you usually sleep better with a serving of carbs before bed, don’t ban all carbs and try to run on fats instead. The key to losing fat is a calorie deficit, with protein intake close behind. Once you’ve got those two sorted, there’s no need to drastically alter your approach to carbs and fats (other than to chip away at them to create the necessary deficit).

6. Trying to eat in an unsustainable way

Don’t like broccoli? Can’t stand oats? Really don’t like avocados that much? That’s OK. You don’t have to eat any particular foods just because other bodybuilders, prep coaches, or the leanest guy in the gym does it. Obviously some foods are more nutrient-dense than others, and some will leave you feeling more satisfied for the calories. As your intake gets lower, you will need to prioritise satiety, micronutrients, and fibre. But there’s no rule which says Thou Must Eat Sweet Potato & Plain Chicken (unless you want to). Design a diet plan which meets your caloric needs – but which you can see yourself eating for the duration of the diet.

7. Letting cheat meals become cheat days

If you decide to utilise cheat meals (or refeeds) into your cutting diet, it’s not an excuse to go YOLO. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you could easily wipe out a week’s hard-earned deficit with one runaway cheat. Don’t let cheat meals overstep their mark: be careful that your cheat meal doesn’t become a cheat day (or a cheat weekend).

8. Not taking your new lower body weight into account

As you get lighter, you will need fewer calories to fuel your everyday movement and activity levels. Ignoring this fact is a big mistake. Let’s say you started your diet at 97kgs. By the time you get to 89kgs, your body will need fewer calories (and will expend less energy, too). You will probably need to continually adjust your baseline calories downwards as your body weight drops.

9. Doing it for the wrong reason

We saved the existential one for last. Why are you doing this? If you can answer that – sweet. But if you want to get really lean for a show (just because your friend is doing it), or for a shoot (which you no longer really want to do), then remember that you’re allowed to rethink your goal. Let’s be honest: dieting down to very low levels of body fat is tough. Rewarding, but tough. You will need a lot of mental fortitude and resilience to see it through. And if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, you might struggle to stay motivated.


Nicola Joyce has been writing for (and about) sport, fitness, nutrition and healthy living since 2004. She’s also a keen sportswoman: her background is in endurance sport but she now competes as a natural bodybuilder, most recently winning a world title with the INBF. When she’s not writing content, she can be found blogging. Follow her here and on Facebook & Twitter (@thefitwriter) too.

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