The fitness industry and internet have made “dieting” seem entirely too complicated and even too easy at the same time. This information overload makes being “healthy” way too confusing!
Do I need a whey protein shake right after my workout? Do I need 40 grams of complex carbohydrate an hour and a half after? Or is it 80 grams of simple carbs RIGHT when I get done? I heard that I shouldn’t eat past 8pm because it all turns to fat. Or that I need 300 grams of carbs on workout days, and no carbs on rest days. I can’t eat six meals a day! I don’t even know what BCAA stands for!!
“Drink your bodyweight in ounces of water every day."
Some of these things have merit to them, some don’t, but most of it is super-specific differentials that separate the elite athlete in first place from the one in second. And that really doesn’t matter to most of the population struggling to adopt a healthy lifestyle. I can almost guarantee that those things do NOT need any of your focus, especially if the following principles are new to you.
What you FIRST need to understand is the underlying foundation that these concepts are built on. This article will give you an understanding of the BASICS, which are necessary before focusing on such minor details that will get you little to no progress like these fundamentals will...which I’m about to explain.
Some of you are likely past the level of fixing the basics in your diet and are interested in dialing in small details like timing, percentages, and supplementation. Those things can be useful down the line, but require a substantial deal of commitment and sacrifice to practice, and without a firm grasp on these fundamentals, result in wasted energy. Take a step back, be honest with yourself, and evaluate whether you truly are so advanced.
Please read carefully. This information might not be new to you, but if you’re not seeing the results you want, the problem is most likely in the APPLICATION of this info. It’s time to start over at the beginning, because you’ve skipped the two most important steps of nutrition for general health; calorie balance, and food composition.
The first step in developing a healthy eating pattern is determining your caloric balance. I don’t mean counting calories. When starting out, think of this simply as “How much food do you consume?” If you eat more calories than you expend, you gain weight, if you eat less, you lose, and if your weight is unchanging for a few months, you are averaging an intake just sufficient to maintain that weight.
This is how changes to weight status occur. Not through pills, multivitamins, ketone supplements, shakes, or eliminating an entire food group and replacing with another.
When gaining or losing weight, calorie balance must be manipulated through diet and/or exercise to achieve the desired outcome. In this article, I’ll explain nutritional approaches to weight loss and improved health because most of you likely clicked on this article for tips to achieve one of those two goals, having already nailed down the increased physical activity part. (Though, I’d love to talk about #gainz with anyone interested in that! J) If you’re not exercising, you should be. But that’s a whole other article.
You can manipulate (nutritional) calorie balance one of two ways to lose weight; alter food composition (the types of foods you eat) and see where that leaves you as far as weight loss, or simply start by eating less of the foods you eat on a normal basis. For individuals struggling to make “healthy” choices I prefer to suggest making improvements to food composition, because improvements in that area often spill over to fewer calories with about the same amount of food. Developing better food choices is a great way to drop caloric intake if your current diet is mostly composed of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods (think packaged, processed, high-fat, added sugars). Not to mention all the health benefits that come from a nutritious diet.
Yes, it is true you can eat a crap diet and lose weight. Remember Twinkie Guy? But you are going to feel like crap, perform like crap, and look like crap, too. Everyone should consistently consume a diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats for general health purposes, unless there are certain medical factors limiting their intake.
Focus on having some lean protein with each meal, vegetables at most or all meals, some grains and/or fruits at most meals, and a little fat with most meals.
Say you’ve got the “healthy choices” part nailed down. You are generally in good health, have energy, and don’t see the need to change your food choices. But, over time you’ve ended up a few pounds above where you’d like to be and can’t figure out why you are not seeing drops in weight or improved body composition.
It’s time to eat a little less. That’s all you have to do. Don’t focus on timing, hitting percentages, supplementing with powders, juicing, eliminating carbs, or quacky advice you’ve been told by someone who follows David Avocado. Just eat a little bit less in the day-to-day following the strategy above.
Decide what things you can reduce in portion size, take away from your intake, or swap with a lower calorie option to help you simply eat less calories.
Consistently consume a little bit less food over the course of a few weeks, then assess your weight again. If you’ve averaged a 1-2lb loss over that time, continue to do what you’re doing. If your weight stalls over the course of a couple weeks, drop the portions a little bit more. Taking a fat serving or half a carb serving at a time will allow you to drop the most calories with the least amount of food removed. For all you active folks, you want to hang on to all the carbs and protein you can when lowering your calories.
Without getting too technical, your body gets comfortable where you leave it for a while. So if you’ve been 200lbs for the past 10 years, once you drop down to 185lbs it will try to return to that weight once you end a strategic weight-loss phase. It also gets tired of dieting, so you can’t just diet forever.
The best strategy for successful weight loss usually looks something like this: A set period of time (maybe 2-4 months) where you focus a caloric deficit until you have reached a point of losing 10% of your starting bodyweight. Then, slowly add back a little bit of food at a time until your weight stabilizes for 2-3 months…you’re no longer LOSING weight, but you’re also not gaining it back. This is where you focus on eating less than you did before, but more than you were eating during your diet. Once your body recognizes 185lbs as the new normal, it doesn’t fight with you so hard on the next phase of dieting.
When you become comfortable with CONSISTENTLY making better food choices (this process can take a year or more), then explore the possibilities of improving your body composition just a little bit more through manipulation of macronutrients and timing.
Now let’s talk about the big picture problem …Click here to read Part II.