When my now-husband and I finally set our wedding date, I only had about 12 weeks to get everything ready, including booking the venue, ordering flowers, finding a photographer and, of course, getting wedding-dress ready. As I’ve explained before, I don’t love calorie counting and I don’t do it all the time. For my wedding day, however, I was willing to do a little math to look the way I wanted to look and, far more importantly, feel the way I wanted to feel.
With exactly 12 weeks to go before the Big Day, I decided to begin a 12-week cut. A ‘cut’ simply means a sustained period (usually at least 8 weeks) of living in a caloric deficit, i.e., burning more calories than you consume. Sounds simple, right? Eat a little less, work out a little more…really, at the end of the day, that’s the gist, but a truly effective cut requires a lot of focus and attention to detail. A cut isn’t something you can ‘wing,’ it requires some research and planning in order to be successful.
A cut isn’t something you can ‘wing,’ it requires some research and planning in order to be successful.
How Does a Cut Work?
For a cut to work, you gotta know your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) which you can find by literally googling “TDEE” and choosing from any number of online calculators. I recommend using at least 3 calculators (there’s A TON) and taking an average to determine a solid number. Everyone’s TDEE is different and depends on their activity level, age, gender and a variety of other factors. Once you know your TDEE, you’ve gotta set a realistic goal for your daily caloric intake based on similar factors: your activity level, diet, schedule and any other relevant medical or health-related needs. The number needs to be low enough to create a meaningful difference between your TDEE and daily caloric intake to result in weight loss, but high enough so that you don’t feel starved or unable to do things like work or workout. A common goal is to create a deficit of 3500-7000 calories/week. One pound of fat’ll run ya about 3500 calories, so creating this deficit should result in weight loss of between 1-2 lbs/week.
Personally, I chose an aggressive goal for weight loss: about 1.5 lbs/week. It was my wedding day, I wasn’t messin’ around. For me, this meant my daily caloric intake dropped to 1500 calories. That, my friends, is as low as my daily caloric intake has ever been and will ever be. It was sustainable, but by week 10, I was very ready to get back to ‘maintenance calories,’ i.e., an amount of calories that keeps me at stasis – not losing weight, and not gaining it, either.
In addition to lowering my caloric intake to 1500 calories/day (more on exactly what I would eat in a bit) I adjusted my training to be more focused on burning fat than, say, endurance or flexibility or increasing strength. On average, I burned about 600 – 800 calories/workout, six days a week, for 12 weeks. I spent about 90 minutes in the gym Monday through Saturday, and about half of those minutes were spent on a treadmill or a stair machine. The other half were spent lifting not-light-but-not-heavy weights for high reps. I’ve been an endurance athlete for 20 years, so my heart is pretty efficient, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to be fit, of course, but when your goal is burning calories, you have no choice other than to get your heart rate nice and high, and then keep it there. For me, personally, this requires a pretty significant effort, and so I had to stay in the gym a bit longer to make sure I achieved my goals. If you’re someone just starting out in the gym or someone who isn’t used to higher intensity workouts, it’s going to take you a lot less time to burn more calories than someone who works out a certain way every day. Bodies are adaptable; eventually, we all have to increase our effort to see sustained results. Doing this for 12 weeks was pretty freakin’ hard, but it was also VERY COOL to see just how far I could push myself, and I felt really proud of what I accomplished in terms of improved cardiovascular performance and overall strength.
Doing this for 12 weeks was pretty freakin’ hard, but it was also VERY COOL to see just how far I could push myself, and I felt really proud of what I accomplished in terms of improved cardiovascular performance and overall strength.
By the end of my cut, I would guess I lost about 18 pounds. I can’t say exactly how much I lost, because I don’t get on the scale (I value my sanity too much) but I went from a size S-4/6 to a size XS-0 and lost several inches off my thighs, butt, stomach, chest and arms. To be fair, I had put on a bit of summer weight – i.e., summer is best spent with a margarita in one hand and a bowl of guac in the other and I am not one to turn down margs and guac – so some of the weight I lost was just gettin’ back to what’s normal, for me, which is a size 4. During my cut, a typical day at the gym included 45 minutes of high intensity cardio followed by 45 minutes of high intensity strength training and, like I said, resulted in an average calorie burn of about 600-800. In a given day, my diet looked a little like this:
Breakfast: 1 cup low-calorie, high-fiber cereal, such as toasted oats or cheerios with extra fiber, with non-dairy milk plus a handful of berries and a cup of coffee, black
Lunch: 2 or 3-egg omelette with mushrooms, tomatoes, greens, feta cheese and hot sauce and a diet coke
Snack: low-cal ‘cheeto’ puffs (a personal fave), beef jerky, unsalted, chocolate-free trail mix, or a protein bar
Dinner: Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, rice with greens, veggies and a poached egg, a baked potato (regular or sweet potato) with roasted salmon, or a big ole salad with chicken or tuna…basically dinner always included a protein, a complex carb and some veggies.
Dessert: dark chocolate, low-cal microwavable brownie pots (sub the olive oil for apple sauce), sugar free Jello pudding, or low-cal ice cream. For the record: I ate dessert every.single.night.
I ate one ‘cheat meal’ every week, but since I don’t love the term ‘cheat meal,’ I made sure to eat it the night before a longer run or tougher workout, so that, rather than thinking of it as ‘cheating,’ I could think of it as necessary. I thought of it as a chance to use those additional calories the next day to fuel a really good gym session. Structuring my more indulgent meals this way helped me stay mentally on track with my cut and eliminated any danger of spiraling out of control due to “one bad meal.”
Following the cut, I should have increased my caloric intake slowly (something called “reverse dieting”) but I was livin’ the honeymoon life so I kinda just dove back into my normal eating habits right away, plus a few extra bottles of champagne. Luckily, my ‘normal’ eating habits pretty closely resemble my eating behavior during a ‘cut,’ I just eat quite a bit more and I don’t actually count every calorie I consume, I take a more intuitive approach. Since December 29th, I’ve gained about 7 or so pounds back, according to my pants, which is perfectly fine with me, and is a normal and necessary part of cutting, bulking and maintenance-dieting cycles. I have no intention of changing too much of my behavior to lose that weight again since the improvements I saw in my cardiovascular capacity and overall strength have stuck around. If that changes, I’ll reflect and make some adjustments if I think I need to. Otherwise, my next planned cut (which will be less aggressive than my wedding cut) will begin in Mid-April and end right at the beginning of Summer, just in time for me to convince my husband to take me somewhere sunny and bikini-friendly.
Cuts are hard. They’re a physical challenge, sure, but they can be a major mindf*uck (pardon my French) if you aren’t mentally prepared for one to end. It’s tough to go from 12 weeks of sustained fat loss which, of course, includes more defined muscle tone, looser jeans and compliments from friends, and re-enter the world of normal portion sizes and higher numbers on the scale, if you have one. Cuts are hard, but they’re not meant to be permanent. Your body doesn’t want to be deprived for the rest of time. It can withstand it – our bodies are insanely adaptable – but a caloric deficit isn’t a lifestyle, and if you start one thinking that it is, you are setting yourself up for a major reality check. Cuts involve like, no balance, and so they’re just not workable for real life, all the time. That being said, they’re a fun challenge and, when they’re done right, can be incredibly effective, and I’m not just talking about smaller clothes: I loved the way I felt on my wedding day…I felt strong and confident and I didn’t spend a single second – seriously – worrying about how I looked, because I knew how hard I’d worked to make sure I felt like a goddamn goddess on that particular day.
Cuts are hard, but they are also not meant to be permanent. Your body doesn’t want to be deprived for all time. It can withstand it – our bodies are insanely adaptable – but a caloric deficit isn’t a lifestyle, and if you start one thinking that it is, you are setting yourself up for a major reality check.
My final thought on a cut is this: A cut is a little bit like going to law school: I personally liked it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, it’s nothing like real life, and no one really prepares you for what it’s like when it’s over.