Transitioning from Deficit to Surplus

Some time around early May I decided to change up my eating habits. Since January 2016 I have been working on cutting body fat, conquering my appetite and improving my poor eating habits. By May I felt I had reached a point where the returns I was getting from eating at a deficit were diminishing; my stomach was flat, my abs were visible, and my relationship with food had substantially changed for the better.

For the last month and a half I’ve been trying to eat at a daily caloric surplus of around 500 kcal while increasing the volume of my workouts. The end goal is to gain lean mass which will in turn help me to graduate to more difficult progressions of the exercises that I do as well as helping me to build strength by doing some of those exercises with increasingly heavier weights.

I had not fully anticipated just how tricky the transition from eating at a deficit to eating at a surplus would be. There was initially and to some extent remains a sense of unease at deliberately eating above my TDEE after having spent over a year religiously trying to eat below it. Before I lost weight I was unhappy with how I looked, I suffered from chronic back pain and was fundamentally unable to distinguish hunger from boredom, and strong associations between those things and a high level of food intake still exist in my mind.

Eating at a surplus has led me to gradually modify the ways in which I track my progress. Previously I kept a daily and weekly log of my caloric intake and assigned myself a binary pass/fail mark based on whether or not my total intake for the week was under a set amount of calories, however I quickly found that this does not translate over so well to a bulk where the goal intake is more of a range to be within rather than a static number to be below.

For this reason I have stopped updating the table that I previously wrote about and now use the same calorie intake and weight data to keep an updated graph of my daily and average weekly and monthly weight vs. my daily and average weekly and monthly food intake. Given that there is a limit to the proportion of lean body mass a person can add in a certain time frame, checking this graph regularly helps me regulate my caloric intake on a weekly or sometimes bi-weekly basis, making sure that I minimise fat gain as much as reasonably possible, while still making sure that I’m eating enough to get the most from my added workout volume.

Despite the difficulties in making the mental shift from eating at a deficit to eating at a surplus, on the whole the experience has been very liberating, much in the same way as was the experience when beginning to track and restrict my caloric intake. Learning to reduce my intake and eat at a deficit played a huge role in re-framing my relationship with food and shifting the balance of power and control. I am now learning that it is equally as important to have that same confidence in my eating habits when also eating at maintenance and at a surplus.