There are so many options and differing opinions surrounding what to eat to lose weight and be healthy its enough to drive you crazy!
Paleo, keto, vegetarian, vegan, low carb, and low fat diets all have a group of experts backing how the unique mix of proteins, fats and carbs (or lack of) contained within their recommended diet results in effortless fat loss! On top of all this you also have gurus promoting "miracle" fat burning supplements all over the internet and in health food stores.
Separating the nutritional facts from the fallacies could take you a lifetime!
The truth is there are a number of ways you can lose weight and be healthy. To an extent all of the diet books and nutrition experts are correct - their weight loss method can help you lose weight, BUT if they are suggesting that the diet which they are promoting is the ONLY or BEST way to lose weight and be healthy they are incorrect.
The weight loss topic has become far more confusing than it need be. This is mainly due to people focusing on less important dietary components like insulin release from food, macronutrient ratios, and supplements instead of bigger, more important principles like calories and adherence.
Hopefully this post will provide clarity on what you really need to do to lose weight and the reality of what it takes to be successful.
Rather than focusing upon specific macronutrient ratios or supplements my recommendation is to zero in on the basic dietary principles that will enable you to lose weight.
What follows is my discussion of 2 fundamental weight loss principles and a handful of diet and lifestyle habits that support them.
Weight Loss Principle #1 = Create a Calorie Deficit
There is only 1 way to lose weight - that is to abide by the law of thermodynamics (sometimes referred to as the energy balance equation). In simple terms you must expend more energy than you consume.
- If you expend more energy than you consume you will lose weight.
- IF YOU CONSUME MORE ENERGY THAN YOU EXPEND YOU WILL GAIN WEIGHT.
- IF YOU CONSUME AND EXPEND THE SAME AMOUNT OF CALORIES YOUR WEIGHT STAYs THE SAME.
Eating fewer calories than you need to fuel your daily lifestyle forces your body to adapt by breaking down stored body fat and turning it into energy.
When it comes to pure weight loss it doesn’t actually matter where your calories come from. Despite what fitness and nutrition gurus’s are preaching on the internet you can lose weight eating ANYTHING - so long as your are in a calorie deficit.
So, it doesn’t matter if you eat tons of carbs and "spike your insulin levels" or gobble down loads of fats, or eat higher amounts of proteins - from a weight loss perspective its irrelevant when you are in a calorie deficit. Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks eating a diet filled with junk foods! You can check out the article here.
What may surprise you even more is that this nutty professor even improved his health markers by eating crap!
This is NOT me giving you the green light to go out and eat a junk food diet - the long term effects upon your health from eating nutrient void foods are not good. Its very important to hit certain intake requirements of dietary proteins, fats and carbs to be healthy, but once you cover these basic intake levels it doesn’t really matter where the reminder of your calories come from (although you may bump upon against health issues if your protein intake exceeds 35% of total calories).
The point I am making here is that CALORIES MATTER. They matter the most when it comes to losing weight and they matter a heck of a lot when it comes to your health too.
The first foundational principle of weight loss is that you have to create a calorie deficit.
Weight Loss Principle #2 = Adherence
Creating a calorie deficit is one thing, by sticking to it for a prolonged period of time is much more challenging.
You won’t hit your weight loss goal by cutting your calorie intake for just 1 or 2 days. Rather, you will lose weight by staying in a calorie deficit and forcing your body to break down and convert your fat stores into energy over a certain number of weeks or months depending upon how much weight you wish to lose.
The bigger your weight loss goal, the longer you will need to be in a calorie deficit.
Lets say you want to lose 10 Ib of fat (about 5 kg). Well, working off of the well accepted theory that 1 Ib of body fat contains about 3500 calories, you will need to create a 35,000 calorie deficit to hit your goal. So, if you were to cut your calorie intake by 500 per day you could theoretically burn 3500 calories per week to end up 10 Ib lighter in 10 weeks time.
Sounds simple right? Unfortunately it doesn't always play out like that.
This is where the "human aspects" make the weight loss process more complex.
You are a human being living in the real world - not a study subject locked inside a metabolic ward who only receives scientifically measured portions of food. Your job, social activities, stress level, activity level and basic life values all have a big impact upon your ability to stay in a calorie deficit day after day, week after week, month after month.
Friends are going to invite you out for pizza and drinks, work is going to get stressful, sleep may be disrupted, time for exercise may feel short or non-existent sometimes, and your belly hunger will try and drive you to eat the calories you are missing out on.
Hunger is the biggest challenge you will face when attempting to stay in a calorie deficit.
The very nature of a diet is restrictive - eat LESS calories - thats restriction. If you start a weight loss program expecting to breeze towards your weight loss goal without making any sacrifices or ever feeling hungry or deprived you are in for a sad surprise.
So many fitness and nutrition gurus are pushing EFFORTLESS, EASY weight loss plans these days. Easy and effortless weight loss ideologies sell like hot cakes but are they truthful?
As humans we are wired to take the path of least resistance in all walks of life - diet included. But anyone who has dieted before will tell you that eating fewer calories than your body needs is challenging.
Im NOT saying you need to starve yourself half to death to reach your goal, nor am I telling you that there aren’t ways to make your diet more sustainable or feel easier - because there are and you should use these tactics to make your journey towards your goal as easy as possible. What I am saying is that at times you are going to feel hungry and that its ok. Mild hunger is totally normal.
Expect occasional cravings to eat a big fat slice of cake with ice cream and to feel like skipping a workout to spend time with friends or family instead. These feelings are not easy but they are normal when you are in a calorie deficit.
Which brings me to the whole point of this section - adherence. Dietary adherence is critical to your weight loss success. If you cant stay on a diet and remain in a calorie deficit you wont hit your goal. Thats why a flexible approach that creates room for the tasty foods you enjoy and time for some well deserved relaxation can be a smart choice to keep you on track and moving forwards towards your goal.
Enjoying delicious, high calorie foods now and then feels good, is psychologically refreshing and injects some enjoyment into your dieting phase (remember a diet is not fo life). So long as you are not the kind of person who reacts to 1 indulgent meal or treat by going off the rails for the entire day or week - you can get away with a flexible approach such as this.
Providing you stay in a calorie deficit over the course of a week you may be able to include a few treats on certain days of the week. By staying on track most of the time, gaps can appear for some indulgent treats and time to kick up your heels and enjoy life. You just cant do it all the time and lose weight!
Of course you will reach you goal faster if you simply knuckle down and eat like a saint for 10 straight weeks but is that really realistic? Only you can decide. If
its not, you need to build some flexibility into your nutrition plan by incorporating occasional treats and building your diet upon the types of foods you enjoy.
You can eat a high carb or a high fat diets - the question is which path suits your food preferences and lifestyle best?
The second foundational principle of weight loss = you have to adhere to a calorie deficit.
A number of diet and lifestyle habits can help you to stay in a calorie deficit more easily or for longer. Lets talk about these supporting habits.
make adherence to a calorie deficit easier with sensible lifestyle habits.
When cutting calories you are going to bump up against feelings of hunger that will test your ability to stay in a negative calorie balance, therefore its very important to focus upon certain diet and lifestyle habits that will help silence your hunger pangs.
The quality of your for choices, amount of sleep you do (or don't) get, stress level, digestion, food environment and choice of exercise can all have a significant impact upon your hunger and ability to maintain a calorie deficit.
Let's briefly discuss how each of these lifestyle habits supporting the weight loss principles.
MAKE Satiating Food choices
Some foods are more satiating than others.
Feeling full and satisfied after eating allows you to go longer without food by stretching out the amount of time it takes for you to feel hungry which serves as a way to naturally reduce your calorie intake and make your diet feel a whole lot easier.
Here is a ranking of the most satiating food groups from the most satiating to the least:
- Fiber rich carbs
Eating protein rich foods will fill you up more than eating the same number of calories from carbs or fats., so its a wise idea to include sufficient protein in your diet. My recommendation is about 2 grams per kg of body weight of protein.
Fiber rich sources of carbs such as potatoes, vegetables, lentils and oats are also highly satiating. The high water and fiber content of these foods provide bulk in your digestive track and are low in calories.
Fats are where the controversy comes in - especially from the keto and primal crowds. Keto zealots preach that fats kill your appetite which isn’t really true. Firstly, unlike protein and carbs, fats do not create a rise in blood glucose and therefore don’t suppress your appetite (low blood glucose = hunger). Next, fat rich foods lack bulk. This makes them less satisfying and easy to overeat which is dangerous because fats contain twice as many calories as proteins or carbs do.
Im not saying you cant eat lots of fats and lose weight - you can, ketogenic diets can work and you should consider this dietary pathway if you really, really love eating fatty foods like steaks, salmon and avocados, and lead a lifestyle that doesn't require you to have lots of fast burning carbs on standby - but its not the only way you can lose weight and its certainly not the healthiest.
Including sufficient portions of protein and plenty of fiber rich, low energy dense foods like veggies, legumes, oats and rice can be a great way to reduce hunger.
Eating highly satiating foods can mitigate your hunger and prevent you from snacking in-between meals and exceeding your total daily calorie limit.
GET ADEQUATE sleep
Sleeping for 7-9 hours per night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, can reduce your hunger, help you make better food choices and prevent you overeating.
Lack of sleep can alter your food purchasing choices. In fact, studies demonstrate that we purchase 18% more food and 9% more calories when sleep deprived. Other research show that sleep deprived individuals eat around 550 calories more than those getting sufficient sleep.
Sleep deprivation can also triggers food cravings for carbohydrate rich, sugary foods to boost your sagging energy levels and feelings of fatigue.
Sleeping more can help you to eat less.
It takes around 20 minutes for your brain to receive the messages from your stomach to signal that you are full. Eating too quickly or when distracted can bypass this communication system and lead you to over-consume calories and kick you out of your calorie deficit for the day.
If you eat meals whilst driving your car, watching TV, checking your Facebook feed or answering emails you are also very likely to over consume calories due to being distracted and eating mindlessly.
An easy way to prevent overeating is to stretch out the length of time it takes you to eat your meals to at least 20 minutes and to eat in a relaxed and non-distracted state.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to slow down your eating speed is to eat using a smaller fork/spoon and practice putting your utensil down in-between bites of food. The simple trick of placing your cutlery down on the table after you take a chomp of food natural reduces your eating speed by encouraging you to chew more.
Eating slower = eating less.
CREATE A HEALTHY food environment
The vast majority of your food decisions occur on a subconscious level. In fact, many experts suggest we make over 200 food related decisions per day!
The foods that surround you at home, in your work space and nearby restaurants heavily shape the quantity and quality of the calories you consume.
Calorie dense foods which are easy to over consume due to their potent mix of sugars and fats can quickly and easily delete your calorie deficit.
Its way too easy to dip your hand into the cookie jar placed on-top of your kitchen counter following a long and stressful day at the office or to call for a calorific take away when you don’t have any healthy foods in your fridge or cupboards.
By removing tempting, easy to over-eat foods from your home and restocking your cupboards with healthy alternatives you can configure a food environment that supports your health and keeps you in a calorie deficit. Try switching out the cookie jar for a fruit bowl and keeping fruit and nuts at work instead of doughnuts and biscuits.
Performing the wrong type of exercise and/or exercising too intensely can backfire by spiking your hunger levels.
When you exercise like a nut, cravings are often created for carb rich foods to refuel the depleted carbohydrate stores which you burned up during your high volume, high intensity workouts. Exercising long and/or hard sporadically is not an issue, but busting out a HIIT or CrossFit style workout too often could lead you to over consume carbs and calories in general. Of course, eating too much of any macronutrient can knock you out of your calorie deficit.
Engaging in high intensity exercise too frequently can also lead to burnout which will force you to take an extended period of rest time on the couch to recover and cause your daily calorie expenditure to plummet.
By balancing your exercise schedule with sensible amounts of high intensity exercise - such as strength training, a few sprints, and plenty of lower intensity movement like walking and leisurely bike rides, you can burn a decent amount of calories, look great and boost your fitness without massively spiking your appetite.
Exercising in this manner feels a lot easier and is therefore more sustainable.
Sensible exercise stimulates hunger less.
To learn more healthy diet and lifestyle habits to help you lose weight - download a copy of my FREE Ebook - Healthy Weight Loss - from the home page of my webpage www.realfoodandfitness.com.
To take things a step further you can sign up for a tailor made nutrition plan that will help you build a range of personalised healthy lifestyle habits in addition to laying out a clear cut nutrition plan. Knowing your total daily calorie needs, required intakes of proteins, carbs and fats, and receiving support, accountability and guidance can help you lose weight and keep it off for good.
Thanks for reading!