Cutting is a great process, once it’s over and you have a visible reward from it that is. During a cut however, your life can get quite difficult and this is especially true if this is your first time cutting down.
The first few weeks and months are good, you will see weight drop on a regular basis and calories will still be high enough (despite being in a deficit) that you don’t see too much of an impact on your day to day lifestyle.
Once you get deeper into a cut and calories and energy levels get lower and lower then this is when you will start to face some difficulties and the most common one being mood swings.
It’s typical for people cutting to be in a bad mood, especially if they are doing this without the help of an in person or online personal trainer/nutritionist/coach to keep them accountable and see them through the process.
Bad mood while cutting? Besides from low calories and low energy levels on a cut the worst part for a lot of people is the mood swings that come with cutting. You can minimize this on a cut by keeping the calorie deficit low, focusing on hormonal balance and staying hydrated.
Bad Mood While Cutting
Unfortunately a bad mood can’t always be avoided when cutting, a combination of hormonal and survival mechanisms mean that when you go to the extreme in something your body will resist it.
Fortunately there are ways to minimize this, people who crash diet and have a negative association with food are most vulnerable though so too are those that are very deep into a cut and sub 10% body fat.
For most however, a cut should not be something that causes a constant bad mood and there are some simple tips and strategies that you can implement to not only minimize the impact of mood swings on a cut but you can almost eliminate them completely in some cases!
How to Avoid a Bad Mood While Cutting
The following are some common causes of a bad mood when cutting and just understanding them can be enough to help prevent them.
It’s often the case that doing something without an awareness of the possible negative impacts means it’s difficult to avoid them.
If you bench press frequently but have too narrow a grip meaning you engage your triceps more than the pecs then you’ll be frustrated by the lack of progress without understanding the root cause. The same can be true for dieting and that’s why I’ve compiled the following list.
If you can be aware of some of the factors causing a mood swing when cutting then you can put an action plan in place to limit these factors as much as possible. This isn’t a quick or guaranteed fix though, cutting is hard at times, this is just a way to help lessen the impact and it will have a greater effect on some than it will on others.
1. Keep the Calorie Deficit as Low as Possible
The first issue that is likely causing mood swings on a cut (and my personal biggest irritation) is people have too high of a caloric deficit. A calorie deficit is required to lose body fat however the size of the deficit is only relevant to each individual.
When you see diet plans that give a prescribed number of calories for everyone to consume (usually in the region of <1,500kcals) then of course people will lose weight. This however is not a good way to do things in terms of the individuals mental wellbeing and longevity of the diet.
I require just under 3,000kcals per day to maintain my current weight, If I suddenly halved that then of course I’ll see some weight loss but what happens when it plateaus?
The only logical course of action is to then increase energy expenditure and this is where life becomes very difficult to manage. It’s actually possible to burn body fat if I reduce my daily intake to 2,800kcals and this will also preserve muscle mass in the process.
Therefore the number one thing you need to do to reduce mood swings on a cut is to reduce calories slowly over time and keep the deficit as low as you possibly can whilst still maintaining fat loss.
I don’t see why you would want to take such a drastic approach when you can just as easily milk the results at each and every possible stage. If you can burn fat walking an extra 500 steps a day then why would you suddenly jump in with an extra 5,000 steps.
This is not only reducing you progress in the long run but increasing the difficulty of a cut on a daily basis. People think a drastic approach is needed but it’s very much possible to lose body fat on a 100-300kcal deficit daily and you just need to make adjustments over time when the progress stalls.
I’m a big fan of getting the most out of the least, by this I mean doing the minimum viable option that will still see progress and then sticking with this over time. Suddenly dropping to extremely low calories will of course see mood swings as your body needs to adapt but if you take a slower approach then the impact will be less noticeable and equally more manageable.
2. Change Your Mindset and Association With Food
The next issue with mood swings on a cut is your association with food. I’m going to be very extreme here but it’s only for illustrative purposes.
Most household pets (we’ll use a dog as an example) will consume the same meal day after day and may not know any better. We don’t understand the inner workings of a dog’s mind but I’ve never heard of a dog getting depressed because it had beef chunks from a can instead of a prime cut of steak!
I’m not saying you should adopt the mentality of a dog but labelling certain foods as good and bad will bring an emotional aspect into your diet choices which is an additional hurdle when cutting calories that most don’t need to overcome.
Good Food vs Bad Food
The labelling of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods gives a very strong and damaging psychological connection to food. If you like ice cream but now can’t have it because it’s labelled as a bad food then of course this is going to impact your mood and cause a mental strain.
Firstly, people don’t like to be told what they can and can’t do and as soon as you impose these restrictions on yourself then you are fighting an uphill battle for the get go.
I personally like to think of foods as ‘nutrient dense’ or ‘less nutrient dense’, and try to swing the balance in favour of nutrient dense foods by an 80/20 split. This means 80% of your diet comes from nutrient dense foods which is what you’d usually consider good foods and 20% from what are typically classed as bad.
This involves building up some skill in tracking your macros but Myfitnesspal is so easy to use these days that most of the work is done for you.
Therefore If I wanted Ice cream one day I wouldn’t look at it as a bad food giving negative connotations but rather look at my daily calorie intake and see what I’d need to adjust in order to consume it. Maybe I have 100g of rice instead of 150g or replace the rice completely with a leafy green salad.
This is typically known as flexible dieting but I still like to keep a solid structure to my diet and have some foods that I can rotate to keep the diet from getting bland and boring.
A zero calorie jelly can be a good alternative to a dessert whilst still satisfying and cravings for sweet foods. Try to get away from labelling your food and focus on an 80/20 approach whilst still consuming a calorie deficit and remove the guilt aspect that will no doubt cause you issues.
3. Keep Your Body and Mind Active/Preoccupied
An Idle mind will often look for ways to fill it and pass the time and more often than not, eating is a typical pass time.
You might not even realise this but hunger and boredom often go hand in hand. You hear of famous people (notably Beyonce) who will get so involved in their craft that they actually forget to eat. That’s definitely not the desired outcome but you should be looking to keep your mind occupied when cutting to prevent thinking about food, and how much you are craving it!
Now you are likely not trying to release a best selling album but if you’ve ever been involved in a sporting event or taking part in a hobby then you will know that eating doesn’t even come into contemplation.
A key hack when cutting is to pick up a hobby or two and get fully involved in the process. If you are sitting about watching Netflix for hours on end then your mind will start to wander, your stomach will rumble and before long you are thinking about food and getting irritable.
Eating usually goes hand in hand with binge watching tv, I don’t know the mental reasoning why but people watch a film at the cinema with a bag of popcorn for some reason!
Therefore you need to find a hobby or endeavour that will not only keep you mind active but your body as well. Distraction is a great tool to have at your disposal when cutting and often the best method is to remove yourself from situations that have food easily available.
Long walks are good for increasing energy expenditure and releasing serotonin (the feel good chemical) though plenty of other things have the same effect. Gaming whilst being sedentary by nature is still a good way to keep your mind focused on something.
Therefore if you are cutting and generally have no hobbies or interests then now is the time to pick one up. Just make sure it’s not something that will cause more mood swings like an impossible jigsaw puzzle.
4. Keep Fat Intake High (Unsaturated Fats)
The most common recommendation you will see given to people experiencing mood swings on a cut is to up their fat intake, particularly in terms of unsaturated fats that come from nuts, oily fish and coconut/olive oils.
When I say high this is of course in keeping with a calorie deficit and it’s important to note that 1g of fat is equal to 9 calories whereas 1g of protein and carbs are equal to only 4 calories. Therefore you need to be very careful when tracking your fat intake as it can quickly see your calories rise.
Fats are important for hormonal balance and this is something many don’t consider when dieting and it stems for the low fat dieting methods of previous years. People used to think that fat intake actually equated to an increased body fat without understanding it’s about overall calorie intake and energy balance.
A lower fat intake will see an increase in cortisol and decrease in testosterone which eventually leads to mood swings. A higher testosterone level is of course something that directly affects mood, particularly in males and is why testosterone replacement is such a common and popular thing among ageing males who struggle to produce it naturally.
So while you might be craving a burger or pizza whilst cutting a better option will be to increase your consumption of fatty acids through unsaturated fats. Adding a tablespoon or two of olive oil to your meal might not prevent that craving immediately but it will help in the long run of a diet.
A good rule of thumb to follow when dieting is to consume 0.25g of fat per 1lb body weight. If you weigh 200lbs then you would look to consume 50g fat per day as a general guide.
5. Cheat Days
This is a debatable topic that links in with my earlier point about labelling food, factoring in a cheat day will either work wonders, or be disastrous for your mood when cutting depending on how you respond.
Therefore I’m quite reluctant to say cheat days are a good thing when cutting and they can sometimes create more issues purely depending on each individual. Some will get too carried away with a cheat day, overconsume and then quite literally fall off the rails and lose all their progress in a matter of days.
For others the mental break from dieting is great and a refeed day (a much better term than a cheat day) is perfect for kickstarting another phase of fat loss.
This method greatly depends on the individual’s tolerance level and how they are coping with a diet so far. If you don’t mind eating the same meals everyday and have a low level of attachment to foods then they are great.
If however you crave cheat days and can’t factor them in without it slowing, halting or even worse reversing your progress then it’s best to stay well clear.
It’s just good to know that these are an option. When low on calories and in particular carbs, a refeed day will replenish muscle glycogen stores and give a new found energy even when on a cut. These usually require a skilled dieter to pull off though and/or a coach to recommend the calories.
Going out and hammering a load of burgers and sugary snacks isn’t really the same as a planned refeed day. Therefore you can look into cheat days to help with mood swings but just be careful and be aware of your own attachments to food.
If one bowl of ice cream turns into two tubs then this is more emotional eating and I’d steer clear of including these in your diet. A scheduled refeed day is much more effective but only when done right and not used as an excuse to binge eat.
6. Keep Hydrated
By far the simplest thing you can implement to help control your mood when cutting is to make sure you are always fully hydrated. Did you know it’s very difficult to tell the difference between when your body signals that it’s hungry or thirsty?
Besides a rumbling stomach, it’s very difficult to differentiate between the two and more often than not when someone thinks they are hungry, they are actually dehydrated.
Whilst it may be the hardest one to pin point it’s by far the easiest to remedy and prevent. There are general guidelines of drinking 8 glasses of water per day but the simplest method is to just ensure that when you go to the toilet that your urine runs clear.
This is such a simple tactic but often overlooked when it comes to dieting but not because people don’t recommend it, far from it! In most weight loss articles and videos you will see the recommendation to drink more water to both feel better and support your diet.
The real reason is that it’s just not a fancy method and easy to ignore. If you phrased it as managing your electrolyte balance by timing your intake then more people would give it credibility but the truth is it’s easy to ignore the basics and instead focus on fancy methods with inflated promise.
Simply staying hydrated is a game changer when it comes to cutting and it’s really as simple as checking whether or not your urine is clear and then drinking enough water to maintain it.
7. Hormonal Balance
Finally, I touched on this earlier when covering fat intake but hormonal balance really is key for controlling your mood when cutting, especially when it comes to testosterone production.
A key factor for this is your mineral balance and in particular Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6, all of which are active ingredients in the supplement ZMA. Often low testosterone is due a deficiency in one, or all of these supplements and when cutting with low calories you are even more susceptible to a deficiency.
This is the reason that this supplement exists and is so popular, based on anecdotal evidence and opinion many sleep better within days of consuming this supplement which is of course a big bonus and mood booster when cutting.
More importantly though is the support it provides for testosterone production. Low testosterone will lead to elevated mood swings and these minerals and vitamins can help not only to boost testosterone levels by eliminating any deficiencies but also help increase mood according to certain studies (source).
Supplementation should always be a last resort when it comes to training and dieting as it is such a small piece of the overall picture when it comes to building a physique but there is no denying that when used correctly you will see noticeable benefits.
Nothing above is a quick or magic fix when it comes to mood swings on a diet but if you read through each point and notice that you can relate strongly to certain issues then they are very much fixable.
They are also not groundbreaking points by any stretch but just being armed with the knowledge means that you can make better informed decisions moving forwards. Maybe dehydration is an issue you didn’t even know you had or cheat days are doing you more harm than good?
The important take away is to eliminate some of these issues one by one (particularly if you don’t take a steady caloric deficit approach) and hopefully your mood swings will be less frequent and your cut overall will be more bearable rather than feeling overwhelming.
Also check out:
When should you start a cut
If you are looking to make changes to your physique by either losing body fat, building muscle or looking to maintain a lean physique then sign up to my weekly newsletter below. Each week I send out actionable tips to help you lose that extra 1lb of fat or build that extra 0.5lb of muscle mass on a weekly basis.
If you sign up now you’ll also receive my 28 day body recomp program completely Free. This ebook will be sent straight to your inbox and will provide an intense 28 day program aimed at helping you lose up to 8lbs of body fat whilst also building 2lb-4lb of lean muscle mass in just 4 weeks.
Don’t worry if you’re not ready for an intense program just yet, my weekly newsletter will give smaller tips that when implemented daily, will stack up over time and see you transform your body with seemingly minimal effort!