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When most people think of weight loss or dieting they simultaneously think of; restriction, frustration and hunger.
However, we prefer to take the word diet back to its Latin roots, and consider it a ‘Manner of living’, to us a diet is not restrictive or frustrating, instead it is a way of living in order for you to reach your goals.
As with most facets of life there are many routes that can be taken to reach the same outcome. Nutrition is no different; while there are some underlying fundamentals that need to be in place the rest depends on lifestyle, time constraints and personal preference. Furthermore, the nutritional approach (diet) you chose now does not define you, it is dynamic and will change and circumstances change.
This simple guide will unpick those underlying fundamentals and more importantly how to implement them into YOUR lifestyle.
Much like every other topic in the fitness industry, weight loss has been made out to be this big horrible, complicated, elephant in the room. But once again, if broken down is extremely simple. But what are the benefits of making it simple? If it’s simplified, you understand it more, if you understand it more, you can apply it to your own life more effectively.
Credit: Eric Helms
In terms of importance, this demonstrates the most important factors when it comes to nutrition. Mastering of all these sections will lead to the “perfect” diet, but it is important to understand your priorities. That’s why starting from the bottom and making sure each section is down to a T.
Calories, aka energy balance. This is the only factor that affects weight loss and weight gain. This is also the main source for misinformation, what makes us lose weight? What makes us gain weight? Although people do their best to complicate these questions, the answer is extremely simple.
The above diagram explains it perfectly. In the situation where calories consumed are less than calories burned over a long period of time, weight loss occurs, this is also known as a positive energy balance. Likewise, if calories consumed are more than calories burned over a long period of time, weight gain occurs, this is known as a negative energy balance. Finally, if calories consumed are matched to calories burned, weight is maintained. Note that I said “over a long period of time.” This weight loss/weight gain doesn’t happen day-to-day, more month-to-month.
So we know that calorie intake and calories burned are important. But what comprises calorie intake and calories burned?
Credit: Weight Loss Resources
The above diagram shows all the different aspects of calories. On the left you have your calorie intake, all the food and drinks you consume. On the right your calories burned, bodily processes i.e. blinking, breathing etc, daily activity i.e. walking and exercise.
So the first step going forward, we need to workout your daily calories burned, as it is extremely individual and is calculated using your age, height, weight and activity level. Below is the formula, you just need to input your own measurements:
Now you have to apply your activity level. Take the number you just calculated and multiply it by your decrypted activity level below:
There you have it, your maintenance calories!
Now, this article is for weight loss. So as we mentioned before, we now know we need to be consuming less calories than we are burning. A very simple and easy place to start is to consume 10% less than maintenance calories. This will elicit a very slow rate of weight loss but allows you more daily calories, creating a less restrictive diet while still making progress. This decrease in restriction allows for better adherence, over a long period of time, actually being able to stick to the diet is vital. If you feel like you require a faster rate of weight loss and you can deal with a little more restriction, decreasing your calories by 15-20% can be a viable option.
Note: the equation above is still an estimate; your maintenance calories can be extremely individual. To discover your true maintenance calories, a common strategy is stick to the maintenance calories given for 2-3 weeks while monitoring your body weight. If you’re making progress, stick with it. If you’ve stagnated or even increased body weight, reduce calories by 50-100 and monitor again.
So you have a daily calorie target, but how do you actually know you’re achieving your target. A simple food diary i.e. writing down what you’re eating throughout the day. But we are lucky enough to be able to make use of technology. More specifically, the app ‘MyFitnessPal.’ This app has a database of every food and allows you to easily create your own food diary on your phone.
How to use My Fitness Pal:
This may be a challenge at first if you’ve never done it before, you may have to change the way you think about meals, but you will find it easy once you’re used to it. You will be looking at meals and breaking them down into components, , getting proficient at measuring them out, and eventually learning how to guess the totals without having to weigh everything. This is a habit that you must develop and it will allow you greater freedom in the future, even if at first you feel restricted!
Digital scales are optimal to accurately track the amount of food you’re eating, but you can also use other measures for example - teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups. You don’t need to be perfect. Using this strategy is a very good start point, measuring and weighing your food accurately for now. However, weighing all your food for the rest of your life isn’t really sustainable or necessary. Eventually you should be able to estimate portion sizes and keep a mental count of your macros without weighing anything at all. But for now you need to be as accurate as possible. Although you may think all this calorie counting is annoying and time wasting its actually been shown to only take up 3-6 minutes in total of people’s day. Which is a small price to pay for achieving your weight loss goals.
So now you know your target and you now know how to achieve it. But what if life gets in the way? Every day is not the same, sometimes social situations crop up and you want to enjoy yourself. You needn’t worry, this is a good thing! Going off your ‘diet’ for one day isn’t a negative. You didn’t get in shape with one good day and you won’t get out of shape with one bad day. Just get back on track as soon as you can and long-term you will make progress. With that been said there are some strategies you can use for these social situations.
Eating out. Eating out with family and friends is a great social occasion and being more careful over your food choices should stop you from enjoying that time. Use the simplified calorie counting rules if you are familiar with all the ingredients. As a general rule also aim to order leaner meat and green vegetables. Look at the online menu beforehand; if the meal option isn’t available, not too your taste or you just want to eat that pizza, that’s fine! There’s nothing wrong that, if you go over your calorie target for one day, it’s no biggie.
Alcohol. The occasional alcoholic drink is fine and will not derail your progress. Although we don’t encourage excessive drinking, and there is a strategy for limiting the damage. Ignore your usual macro targets or nutritional strategy for the day.
So that’s the whole of calories covered. The most important factor when it comes to weight loss.
If you’ve not heard of these before, these are the 3 macronutrients that make up most of our food, protein, carbohydrates and fats. I’m going to start with protein as it the most important of the 3 in terms of weight loss. There are multiple reasons a high protein diet is recommended. The first is that it stabilises your energy levels and appetite. Protein blunts hunger; evidence shows that satiety, or feeling full after a meal is improved after consuming a high-protein meal. With many women on a low to moderate calorie intake, blunting hunger can be essential to sticking to your calorie intake.
Another advantage of consuming sufficient protein is that it helps you burn calories more effectively. Evidence shows that protein has the highest thermic effects of food (TEF), this is the amount of calories your body uses to process and utilise a nutrient. Your body actually uses 20-35 percent of the energy from protein consumed just to digest and absorb it, this means for every 100 calories from protein, 25-30 are burned in the digestion process, this could be the difference between fat loss and fat gain.
Another advantage of sufficient protein intake is the safeguard against the loss of muscle. In a diet with a calorie deficit comes the danger to lose muscle mass. As your calorie intake drops carbs and fats can become scarce for energy, this means that your body can turn to protein for energy. If there are insufficient amino acids available, your body will start breaking down muscle tissue in order to get individual aminos. For the women this could mean a loss in muscle mass and those curves you squatted so hard for could deteriorate.
In terms of amount, there is no upper limit. But a minimum amount of 1.5grams per kg of bodyweight is a good starting point to make sure the 3 advantages above are achieved.
Next are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the sugars found in foods ranging from table sugar (a simple sugar) to pasta, potatoes and rice (a complex sugar, or starch). All ingested carbohydrates (simple or complex) are broken down into glucose during digestion and absorbed into the blood. Here the glucose travels around the body and is used as main fuel source for your body. While they aren’t strictly essential for basic life, we believe they are certainly essential for a happy life.
Lastly are fats. Fats are an essential macronutrient for life. They play a vital role in providing structural integrity in all the cells in your body and hormone regulation. Fat can also be used as a fuel source and is the main store of energy in our body.
Contrary to belief, the split between carbohydrates and fat doesn’t really matter. Whether it is high fat – low carb or low fat - high carb, it won’t make a difference to your muscle building results. As long as calories are correct and sufficient protein is taken, muscle building will be optimized, the rest is down to you.
Micronutrients a.k.a vitamins and minerals. These are nutrients that we only need in tiny amounts but they can make a big difference in general health, gym performance, hunger levels and mental state.
The best and most simple way to avoid this is to ensure that you are consuming 1 serving of fruits AND vegetables per 1000 calories that you ingest per day. For example, if you are a consuming 3000 calories per day, you should aim to eat 3 servings of fruit AND 3 servings of vegetables per day. If you do this, in addition to having well set-up calories and macros, you definitely make progress towards your weight loss goals while getting sufficient micronutrients.
Meal timing refers to specific timing of certain intakes. The main topic of meal timing is usually protein and when to ingest it to maximize results. Many coaches and trainers have recommended ingesting protein immediately after training to increase your gains, but this tactic has been shown to not be any more beneficial. Meal timing is completely individualized and comes down to what you want. Again, if calories are correct, total daily protein is correct and you’re having a variety of fruits and vegetables…….MEAL TIMING DOESN’T REALLY MATTER!
Open any fitness magazine, or scroll through any fitness models instagram/facebook page and you’ll be inundated with adverts on the latest and greatest supplement to hit the market.
The wonder pill / powder that we have all been waiting for that will give you the body you want for 0 effort.
Rest assured that outside of illegal and potentially fatal medications no product for fat loss will ever replace training hard and creating a calorie deficit.
Marketing within the fitness industry is so good; we often forget supplements (the few that actually do work) are just supplemental to a good training/ exercise routine and a balanced nutritious diet.
In the same way you can’t out-train a bad diet, you can’t out supplement a bad lifestyle.
Eating a balanced diet, exercising 3x or more a week and sleeping 6-9 hours a day will get you ~95% of the way to your health goals.
Once you have checked those boxes you can then think about the other 5%, but this really is just icing on the cake. The supplements below are an exhaustive list of things we would recommend you look into;
General Multivitamin. If you are eating a balanced nutritious diet you should be getting plenty of vitamins / minerals. However, taking a cheap general multivitamin will ensure you are covered against potential minor deficiencies and it certainly won’t hurt you.
Fish Oil/ Essential Fatty Acids. We mentioned earlier that fat is an essential nutrient for basic bodily functions, including hormone synthesis. Yet, there are some fats that most people will probably not consume enough of - omega-3 fish oils. If you eat oily fish (salmon, herring, mackerel) 2-3x week then you may be covered, but most people don’t. Outside of being beneficial for general health fish oils could improve cognitive function, insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. We recommend 1-3g of EPA/DHA per day (this usually equates to 3-5 fish oil capsules per day, taken with food to prevent fishy burps!)
Vitamin D3. Most people nowadays don’t get enough sunlight exposure; we live in cramped cities occupying an office for 8 hours a day and then go home in the evening. As such most people could do with vitamin D supplementation in order to prevent minor deficiencies, improve bone health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. We recommend 1,000-5,000 IU’s of vitamin D3 (the active form of vitamin D) taken daily.
Whey/ Protein Powders. We stated earlier the importance of protein. It is an essential macronutrient for muscle building, hormone production and general structural health.
Caffeine. Caffeine has many benefits including improving mental alertness and focus. It can also be a good fat loss aid as it helps to blunt hunger and may also directly improve rate of fat loss (the effect here is very small and certainly no replacement for a calories deficit - this is always king!). A word of warning here on balance and perspective; while ordering a cappuccino with extra whipped cream is certainly delicious, don’t expect that to help with fat loss unless it forms part of a balanced diet where you are in an energy deficit. To gain the benefits of caffeine without the extra calories try replacing your regular starbucks order with a black coffee and sweetener - this will save you 200-300 kcals along with having the above benefits!
And finally Creatine!!! - The world's most proven supplement to help with strength, endurance and power!!
Weighing yourself. For tracking your progress bodyweight will be one of the most important variables. So there are a few rules you need to abide by when weighing yourself:
Apart from those 3 simple rules that is it. We really want you to realize that scale weight is not everything. There are a lot of variables that give you your weight in the morning e.g. stress, sleep, carb intake, sodium intake, training intensity etc. This is why look at your weight over a long period of time, rather than day to day. So do not be disheartened by a bad weigh in, there are many reasons for this and day-to-day fat gain is almost never one of them.
Photos. Taking photos on a monthly basis is another good way of tracking progress. Like weighing yourself there are a few rules you have to abide by when taking photos:
That’s a wrap
We have finally arrived at the end of the article; you should now be equipped with the tools to being progress towards your weight loss goals. One last thing, if you hadn’t noticed we didn’t mention any type of specific diet i.e. low-carb, atkins diet, vegan diet and we didn’t mention any specific foods i.e. avoid sugar, eat clean etc.
Your food should contain all of your daily requirements of protein, vitamins and minerals that you require. You shouldn’t look at individual foods in isolation, but rather the whole of your food intake for the day. Your diet should be mostly nutrient dense, whole foods, but you can include a bit of junk or processed food without ruining your progress. These specific foods are not what cause people to gain weight, a calorie surplus is. In fact, you might be able to handle dieting better if you do include some treats.
Here’s a good pie chart to demonstrate how your diet should look:
Credit: Alan Aragon
Your own beliefs about food are important; health is not just about the food you eat but your attitude towards it - your mental and emotional health. If you’re trapped in a destructive relationship with food you will be miserable and you may never get the results you desire. An obsession with food choices and meal timing is not healthy, neither is binge and purge cycles where you stick to a diet for most of the week and then cave in, losing control completely.