Many athletes, bodybuilders and wellness influencers often follow a cutting diet to lose weight in a short amount of time. But is a cutting diet good for your health?
A cutting diet aims to cut body fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. A cutting diet encourages dieters to eat at a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume), while maintaining a strict training schedule combining cardio and resistance training.
The cutting diet is heavily debated. Advocates state it's a quick way to achieve a chiseled physique, while critics say the restrictive nature of the diet makes it impossible to maintain. Below, we explain what a cutting diet is, why it may or may not be safe to follow and how to safely implement this diet into your lifestyle.
What Is a Cutting Diet, Exactly?
A cutting diet is a short-term diet meant to cut fat and preserve muscle mass. Followers of the cutting diet are typically body builders, fitness models or competitive athletes, but anyone interested in short-term weight loss may be interested in 'cutting'.
The cutting diet starts with eating at a calorie deficit. Therefore, it's not uncommon for dieters to cut 500 calories per day from their meal plan. In other words, if you typically consume 2,000 calories per day, you would limit your calorie intake to 1,500 a day on a cutting diet.
The cutting diet is a low-fat diet, where the majority of your calories will come from protein and carbohydrates. While macro recommendations vary, your daily protein intake will account for 30-35% of your daily calories, your carb intake will account for 55-60% of your daily calories and your fat intake accounting for the final 15-20%.
Dieters are encouraged to follow a strict meal plan including the following foods:
- Lean protein: Including fish, chicken breasts, egg whites and turkey
- Whole grains: Including brown rice, white rice, basmati rice, quinoa and whole wheat bread
- Vegetables (including starch): Including sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus and kale
- Fats: Should remain extremely limited, including olive oil (for salad dressings and cooking), flaxseeds, almonds, peanut butter, almond butter and Brazil nuts
- Low-fat dairy: Including low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat yoghurt
- Low-sugar fruits: Including strawberries, blueberries and raspberries
- Supplements: Including a pre-workout shake and post-workout whey protein powder
Is a Cutting Diet Safe? 3 Risks of Following a Cutting Diet
If you're considering following a cutting diet, there are a few things to consider. Here are the drawbacks of following this diet plan:
1. It's Not Sustainable
The cutting design is meant for short-term use, only. Typically, someone will follow a cutting phase after a 'bulking' period, where they intentionally eat at a calorie surplus to build muscle mass. Then, they'll drastically cut their caloric and fat intake to shred their physique.
Unfortunately, severe calorie restriction is not sustainable for the long-term. In fact, new research shows that severe calorie restriction may not help you lose body weight . When you deprive your body through extreme dieting, you alter your hormones — which causes an increase in appetite and slows down your metabolism. This causes many people to gain back any short-term weight loss (and sometimes more).
2. Cutting Fat Will Not Help You Lose Fat
For decades, conventional nutritionists advised a low-fat diet for weight loss. However, obesity levels rose with the low-fat trend, showing that a low-fat diet may not be the best route toward fat loss.
In addition, research shows that a low-fat diet can result in higher insulin and glucose levels than low-carb diets . In addition, studies show that low-carb, high-fat diets (like the keto diet) help people lose more weight than with low-fat diets .
3. Counting Calories Can Cause a Negative Relationship With Food
We've never been big fans of counting calories or eating inflammatory foods like grains and legumes. Instead, we encourage you to focus on eating real, whole foods, eating nose-to-tail (eating all parts of the animal), and following an ancestral eating plan.
By focusing too much on calorie counts, you can easily set yourself up to develop a poor relationship with food. Rather than listening to your body and addressing hunger cues directly, you could be eating because you have 'calories left' or stop eating because you used up your 'calorie allotment' for the day.
Calorie and macronutrient counts put little to no emphasis on the quality of the foods you eat. This opens the gateway for processed, packaged low-fat foods advertised as diet-friendly shakes, bars and supplements. In addition, it allows you to consume unhealthy, empty calorie foods (like diet drinks) that are best avoided.
Cutting Diet Alternatives: 2 Methods To Achieve Fat Loss
If you are looking to lose weight or cut fat, there are healthier approaches than the standard cutting diet. Not only are these methods more sustainable than a cutting diet, but they've been scientifically shown to boost weight loss.
1. Intermittent Fasting
If you think that intermittent fasting is a diet fad, you are sorely mistaken. Since ancient times, humans would often go extended periods without food, making intermittent fasting part of daily life.
Today, research shows that intermittent fasting can decrease your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer . In addition, studies show that doing short, intermittent fasts several days a week is just as effective at cutting calories .
2. The Keto Diet
The keto diet couldn’t be more different than the cutting diet in terms of fat loss. Rather than follow a low-fat, high-carb diet, you will eat higher fat and less than 20g of carbohydrates per day. This means removing grains, legumes and starchy vegetables — which are included in the cutting diet — and replacing them with high-quality fats, protein and leafy green vegetables.
Studies show that following a high-fat keto diet can help people lose 2 kilos more per year than low-fat diets . In addition, on the keto diet you do not have to count the number of calories you eat (although it is recommended to count macros, especially initially). In addition, while low-calorie diets (like the cutting diet) are known to cause muscle loss, the keto diet has been shown to be effective at preserving muscle mass .
There Are Better Solutions Than the Cutting Diet
The cutting diet is popular amongst bodybuilding communities to achieve rapid weight loss. On a cutting diet, you will eat roughly 500 fewer calories per day while consuming high amounts of carbs and protein, and very little fat.
Unfortunately, the cutting diet may not be the safest or most efficient route toward fat loss over an extended period of time. The diet places heavy emphasis on calorie restriction, which has been shown to be ineffective for sustained weight loss. In addition, in focusing on calorie restriction, the diet teaches you to ignore basic hunger and fullness cues.
As an alternative, we encourage you to focus on a real food diet, eating the same types of foods our ancestors ate for thousands of years. If fat loss is a goal, you could implement an intermittent fast (or bone broth fast) or a low-carb, high-fat diet like the keto diet.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.