8 February 2019


by Martin Refalo 0

They say the mind is the most powerful tool that we possess. It can help you become successful or it can lead you to misery. My name is Martin Refalo; Exercise Science student, competitive junior bodybuilder and head coach at JPS Health and Fitness in Airport West. I have had my sights set on the…

They say the mind is the most powerful tool that we possess. It can help you become successful or it can lead you to misery.

My name is Martin Refalo; Exercise Science student, competitive junior bodybuilder and head coach at JPS Health and Fitness in Airport West.

I have had my sights set on the fitness industry since my teenage years, lifting weights from the age of 16 and becoming a personal trainer at 18. I now devote most of my time to learning the scientific principles behind training and nutrition and applying this knowledge on a daily basis to my clientele at JPS.

When it comes to nutrition, I personally have experienced a lot; from a 4000-calorie diet and a very high body fat percentage, to a very punishing 1000 calorie contest preparation diet in 2016.

I have been on both ends of the spectrum and know exactly how it feels to have a rigid mindset towards dieting, an unhealthy relationship with food, to binge eat, to be unsatisfied with my body composition, and to feel like quitting (*these complications are ordered to display the cascade of events that occurs when a ‘rigid mindset towards dieting’ is present).

Fortunately, through guidance, research, study and a lot of self-awareness, I have been able to conquer these difficulties and am proud to say that I have also helped many others conquer theirs.

Through my own experience, and client experiences, I firmly believe that stepping away from a rigid mindset will dramatically increase your chances of reaching your fat loss goal. Unfortunately, this is not an easy process and the role that your mind plays in pursuing your goal physique is often overlooked.

In this article, I explore ways that you can use your mind to defeat dieting demons and conquer your fat loss goals. I like to call this process, “developing an adaptive mindset”.

Before starting any diet, you need to ask yourself the following question:

“In 12 months’ time, do I see myself being on this diet?”

If you answer ‘no’, I recommend rethinking the diet.

Of course, there will be some exceptions to this question, like a bodybuilder deep into their contest preparation diet. However, for a majority of individuals this question needs to be asked for the sole purpose of maintaining weight loss.

Maintaining weight loss is a major issue that people do not think about before embarking on their chosen diet.

What do you do after the initial dieting period is over?

Do you stay on the diet or go back to old eating habits?

I highly recommend not going with the second option as you will see fat cells accumulate faster than ever and all the weight you fought so hard to get off will come right back. Unfortunately, this is the option a majority of dieters choose, and is a consequence of rigid dieting approaches, often known as FAD diets.

The fact of the matter is that most dieters regain all of the weight they lose in the subsequent months/years after a diet. This is due to sustainability. Sustainability is almost totally forgotten and not taken into account when individuals embark on a certain diet. They do not focus on the big picture (In 12 months’ time, do I see myself being on this diet?) and see their short dieting period as the be all end all.

As previously mentioned, before starting a fat loss diet, sustainability should be the first thing you take into consideration. If your diet is sustainable, to an extent, the chances of you keeping fat off will largely increase. Adopting an adaptive mindset will result in diet sustainability due to one simple continuum.

Flexibility is the product of an adaptive mindset and unlike rigidity doesn’t thrive on perfection and strictness in your dieting behaviour. Flexibility allows for; maintenance of good eating habits, a healthier relationship with food and subsequently less psychological strain.

All of these factors have a high influence on diet sustainability and come from the idea of being ‘flexible’.

What is a flexible mindset towards nutrition?

  • Viewing food as it is (nutrients).
  • Inclusive eating without dichotomous thinking.
  • Adjusting expectations and protocols based on life circumstances;
  • Striving for improvement.

At the forefront of a flexible mindset is having good eating habits and a healthy relationship with food. This does not mean you have to be eating the same, regimented foods every day. Being rigid in this manner leads to excess psychological strain and is unnecessary in most diet situations. Being rigid also increases the chances of reverting back to old eating habits after the dieting period; this is something you want to avoid at any cost and implementing flexible eating is the perfect counterbalance.

Sadly, individuals who don’t understand flexible eating do not have many other options after a diet. Let me present a hypothetical situation; You undergo an 8 week extremely low carb diet in aim of losing as much weight as possible. Keeping in mind that an extremely low carb diet is highly punishing (physically and mentally) and the chances of actually finishing it without ‘slipping’ are quite low. However, you somehow manage to get through the full dieting period and lose 10kg. What do you do now, do you stay on low carbs forever? This option is unfeasible and is the exact reason why flexibility needs to incorporated from the get go if you are after optimal long term results. Short term diets will always result in failure, either during the diet, or later down the track.

Short terms diets tend to turn the individual who is pursuing the diet into a rigid thinker with the use of restrictive plans and rules that aren’t necessary for success. A rigid mindset is not the optimal mindset to adopt when dieting and is correlated with:

  • Less weight lost/maintained;
  • Higher food focus;
  • High occurrence of overeating;
  • High levels of depression
  • Frequent binge eating and poorer body image.

As you can see, rigidity is not sustainable, healthy or conducive to long term fat loss, period.

Qualities of a Rigid Mindset

To help you identify a rigid mindset, here are three qualities that rigid thinkers tend to possess.

  1. Absolute thinking – Diets are viewed in an extreme, right or wrong, approach. If the diet plan says chicken and broccoli, they must have chicken and broccoli, no ifs or buts. These individuals also tend to demonise certain foods or food groups to weight gain. In most cases weight gain is not a result of eating a certain food, rather your daily caloric intake. Viewing foods as being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a flawed way of thinking that comes from a lack of dietary awareness. For a majority of people, if calories and macronutrients are accounted for, there is no such thing as good or bad foods.
  2. Expecting perfection – Life is seen as being either ‘on the diet’ or ‘off the diet’. If the individual slips up while ‘on’ the diet, no matter how small, the cookie continues to crumble and the diet is seen as a failure. In the grand scheme of things, a little slip is not going to have much effect on your progress at all. For e.g. if you accidently use a little too much oil in your cooking, you over do the sauce a little, or even have a small piece of cake, do you really think you will turn into a blubbering whale overnight? Slipping up on a diet is bound to happen, you must accept it, devise ways to prevent it, and move on. When these individuals are ‘off’ the diet, all healthy eating habits are thrown out the window and fat cells start to accumulate…
  3. Finite Perspective

These individuals don’t have a long-term scope towards their nutrition or physique goals. They expect to achieve rapid results, for e.g. setting a goal of losing 2+kg per week. When it comes to weight loss about the best you can expect to lose is 0.5kg – 1kg per week depending on the severity of the diet.

You may lose a little more in the earlier stages of your diet however it is important to understand that weight loss is not linear and the rate at which you lose weight will eventually slow down. Don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting to achieve unrealistic results on a weekly basis. If you are not happy with losing a little bit of fat each week you need to revaluate your thought process. What is 0.5kg x 20? 10kg. That’s a very sustainable rate of weight loss that will see you losing 10kg in 5 months.

Qualities of A Flexible Mindset

Through experience, I have identified three qualities to be the most common within a flexible, adaptive thinker. Hopefully, you now understand that the rigid mentality will only end up leading you to misery and that an adaptive approach is something you should consider. I will now explore three qualities of an adaptive mindset and explain how you can adopt these traits to conquer your fat loss goals.

  1. Inherent adaptability

Being able to adapt to situations, circumstances and obstacles in a habitual manner is going to ultimately define how long you can sustain a diet and continue on to maintain the weight loss. Being inherently adaptive is something that takes a lot of time to develop;

  • You need to understand that ‘life happens’ and the chance of an obstacle popping up in the middle of your diet is quite high.
  • You need to be comfortable with the fact that perfection doesn’t exist and that you will need to adapt to certain scenarios for reasons such as health, relationships, social life, time restraints, work etc.
  • Basic knowledge of calorie intake and how it defines body composition is vital; manipulating calories, having free meals or implementing refeeds/diet breaks can help you get through situations that may not be optimal during a fat loss diet. For e.g. manipulating calories to account for a free meal with your partner on the night of your anniversary.
  • Accepting the circumstances you are in is a must. Fat loss diets are hard. You will be left feeling lethargic and hungry…this is the brutal truth; accept it, think about your end goal, and adapt to daily fluctuations in mood/energy.

2. Perpetual habits

For optimal results, a fat loss diet needs to be accompanied with a lifestyle change. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will reach your goal. If you aren’t willing to make lifestyle changes, you aren’t ready for a fat loss diet, especially not an extreme one. Lifestyle changes need to be slowly engrained;

There should be no “ON” and “OFF” switches. You can’t just expect to yo-yo diet your way through life. This will only result in psychological stain and will leave you spinning your wheels. A good diet may turn “ON” healthy eating habits, but these habits can’t be switched off for reasons I have already covered.

Healthy eating habits need to be engrained. This does not mean that you have to follow an eating plan every single day and never indulge in food you enjoy. Utilizing flexibility and the 80:20 rule is the best approach; 80% of your daily calorie intake should come from unprocessed, healthy and nutritious whole foods while the other 20% can consist of anything that you like.

It is imperative that a healthy relationship with food is part of your lifestyle. A fat loss diet will not strengthen your relationship with food but will strain it. Here are some further qualities that need to be a part of your lifestyle change:

  • You don’t view food as ‘GOOD vs BAD’
  • The thought of eating certain foods, bland foods, or less food than ideal is okay and not a big deal for you
  • Your happiness or lack of happiness is not determined by your food intake
  • Most of your food intake comes from lean protein sources, healthy fats, veggies, fruits and whole grains
  • Having to eat food for logical reasons (e.g. nutrition content) does not leave you overwhelmed
  • You understand that long term eating habits determine health and body composition, not single meals
  • You eat ‘junk food’ occasionally with enjoyment and do not feel guilty afterwards
  • The world isn’t over if you are 1kg heavier than you were yesterday
  1. Broad perspective – Individuals who adopt a broad perspective understand that results take time. These individuals are okay with the fact that they will have to put the work in over a long period of time if they are to get the results they want, and maintain those results. A broad perspective keeps long term results in mind and revolves around the following aspects;
    – Realistic goal setting is the first step to setting yourself up for a successful fat loss phase. You need to ensure that the goal is specific, measurable and achievable. If you do not take these factors into account when setting a goal, you may be setting yourself up for failure rather than success. Final word, don’t set finite values on your goals like mentioned in the above section on ‘finite perspectives’…keep in mind that weight loss is not linear and that there is a high chance of obstacles getting in your way.

Once a realistic goal has been set, a sustainable approach needs to be identified and pursued. Some people may succeed at setting a realistic goal, however fail when choosing a route to get there.

For example, if your goal is to lose 10kg in 5 months but you choose to cut out carbs from the get go, the chances of you even lasting the 5 months are greatly diminished. A broad perspective allows you to think ahead and accept that you may need to progressively increase the severity of your diet rather than go from one extreme to another.

Along with a sustainable approach, a good life balance also needs to be present. The approach you choose needs to allow for maintenance of social life, relationships, family/friends, work, and many other aspects of life. Individuals with a broad perspective understand that diet and life are interrelated. Your diet affects your life and your life affects your diet. Here are some points to focus on:

  • Control your environment to the best of your abilities (for e.g. eat out at a restaurant not a buffet)
  • Adapt to the environment you put yourself in
  • Limit the effects your diet can have on other aspects of life

As previously mentioned, an individual with a broad perspective will keep long term results at the forefront of their mind. Long term results are encompassed by the aspects talked about above. As a coach, I want all my clients to get results and maintain those results in the long term. Is there really any point in my clients losing 10kg in 30 days if all they are going to do is revert back to old habits afterwards? I don’t think so.

Now that you have a grasp of what it takes to develop an adaptive mindset, I will give you a visual representation of how I have used this mindset to gradually lose fat over the course of 30 weeks. With the long-term goal of competing in bodybuilding in September, I started my fat loss journey at the start of the year. This gave me plenty of time to work with and allowed for a smoother, hassle free process…for the most part.

It is important to understand that before starting this journey I already had an adaptive mindset in place. This mindset is not something that I developed overnight… it’s something that took plenty of time. I recommend trying to develop an adaptive mindset before actually starting a proper fat loss phase… you will thank me later!

The above graph shows my body weight steadily declining over the course of 30 weeks. As you can see, weight loss is not linear and there are many little weight spikes and plateaus.

Here is an explanation of the graph in point form:

  1. Week 1 – I embarked on a 4-week mini cut and lost 2.3kg
  2. Week 5 – Went on a holiday. Knowing that holidays ruin diets and diets ruin holidays, I decided to undergo a maintenance phase that saw me maintaining my weight perfectly. I started the phase at 75.1 and ended it at 74.6 with many ups and downs in-between.
  3. Week 12 – I started my competition preparation phase. Things became a little more regimented and calories gradually decreased. Weight declined at a fast pace.
  4. Week 16 – After several weeks of consistent calorie restriction I had a ‘refeed’ which consisted of two high carbohydrate days throughout the week. This saw my weight spike in Week 17 due to water retention not fat gain.
  5. Week 19 – Implemented a refeed in two consecutive weeks. Weight slightly spiked.
  6. Week 21 – A social event came up and I had a free meal. Once again, due to a high amount of sodium in the meal water retention increased and resulted in weight gain.
  7. Week 22 – Calories drastically decreased resulting in linear weight loss.
  8. Week 24 – Unfortunately, caught a stomach bug. Due to bloating, water retention and fatigue, my scale weight drastically spiked.
  9. Week 25 – Had a refeed to combat fatigue that accumulated from being sick. Returned to my normal weight and continued to drop in subsequent weeks.
  10. Week 29 – Had another refeed which did not have an impact on my body weight.


I now present to you a comparison photo that shows me at 1-day out 2016 compared to 3 weeks out 2017. In the first photo I followed a rigid 12-week diet that saw me crawl my way to the stage. The second photo speaks for itself…a longer but more sustainable fat loss phase with an adaptive mindset that has allowed for:

– Less food cravings
– No binge eating
– No cheating on my diet
– Less psychological strain (haven’t lost my mind)
– Increased social activity
– Keeping up with my work and Uni schedule
– Retainment of muscle tissue
– And many, many more


…and here I am with 3-weeks left to push my body to its limits.

So now let me ask you, which mindset do you think will help you get closer to your goals?


Comments are closed.

Send this to a friend