Weight loss is such a large topic with so many factors and variables. I’m going to try to keep it as simple as possible. For the scope of this article I will stick with the topic of diet alone. However weight loss for many people is more of an emotional and mental challenge. I will discuss that in a future article.
First off, when we talk about weight loss what we really mean is fat loss. A person’s body weight is not an indicator of how much fat they have to lose, so try not to get addicted to checking the scale everyday.
Secondly, there is no such thing as a perfect diet that works for everyone. It is a very subjective matter and what your friend used to lose 20 pounds may not work for you. Our bodies lose fat and store fat at different rates. Much of this is determined by genetics (unfortunately), but also by how fit we are, and of course by what we eat.
Thirdly, dieting or calorie restriction is not an effective, or sustainable, way to induce fat loss. Our bodies actually increase fat storage when we continuously restrict our calories. Calorie counting itself is a futile practice that does nothing but drive us crazy and turn us into obsessive label readers. 1500 calories of potato chips is not the same as 1500 calories of beef. On a cellular level these foods are used for completely different functions. If we focus on nutrient dense foods, the calorie amount will naturally work itself out.
So what is the answer? Balance. We need all three macro-nutrients in our diet: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. They are absolutely essential for our health and livelihood. What we need to consider is the ratio of these foods that is right for us as individuals. There are many books out there selling us the latest diet for weight loss success. Most involve some sort of rules on how many of each macro-nutrient we should be consuming. There’s Atkins, South Beach, Raw Food, Paleo, HCG, Low Carb, Low Fat, High Protein…it’s endless. There is no right or wrong per se, but the thing is, by following a strict “diet” and omitting important macro-nutrients we are left with a sense of confusion as to what to do once the diet is over. We often go back to our old way of eating and gain back all the weight that was lost. If we concentrate on finding a balance and changing our way of life permanently, we have a better chance of losing weight/fat and keeping it off.
Generally speaking, if you divide your plate up like a pie chart, half should come from low glycemic vegetables, a quarter from complex carbohydrates and a quarter from protein. Use fat like a condiment, keep it small but include it. These ratios can change depending on the time of day and your activity level. For example at breakfast you could increase your carbohydrates to half or even ¾ of the plate and reduce your protein to ¼. At dinner you could omit the complex carb entirely and increase your protein to half the plate and low glycemic vegetables the other half. Finding the right balance to encourage fat loss is entirely personal, it takes a bit of trial and error but with patience everyone can get there.
Carbohydrates are often touted as the bad guy, but in fact they are an extremely important source of energy for our brain and muscle tissue. Without carbohydrates we cannot burn fat. Fat can only be released from fat cells and burned off when there are carbohydrates present. However, too many carbohydrates will turn to fat in our bodies and that’s what gives them a bad rap. To prevent this from happening we need to monitor our carb intake, focus on low glycemic sources, and consume the majority of our carbs first thing in the morning and around exercise. The trick is to only take in what you need to fuel your brain for the day and to fuel your muscles for exercise. A sedentary person will need less than someone who trains at a gym regularly or runs marathons.
Protein is important for balancing blood sugar, cellular growth and repair, and building muscle. We need to eat some form of protein with every meal and snack. Whether you rely on protein from plant or animal sources it is essential to your health and should not be excluded or restricted. Protein is very satiating and can help relieve sugar cravings that can sideline fat loss efforts.
Fats are another macro-nutrient that tend to have a bad reputation. But the truth is we need fat to burn fat. Therapeutic fats such as omega 3’s are used by each and every cell in our bodies and are essential to life. Omega 3’s play an important role in fat metabolism so make sure to include them in your diet. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are another type of fat that will increase thermogenesis. They are metabolized in the liver and used as an energy source immediately so are not stored. MCTs and other fats also have a satiating effect on the body, we feel satisfied sooner with less food consumption. Fats help to release a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK) in the intestinal tract. It begins fat digestion but also triggers receptors in the brain that tell our bodies they are full. Therefore by eating fats on a daily basis we can increase thermogenesis and remain satisfied for longer with less food, both of which can help with fat loss.
To make our new balanced diet more sustainable we all need to cheat once in a while. A great rule of thumb is to maintain a 90:10 ratio of good food to bad. Whether you use that rule on a daily basis or weekly is up to you. For example many people will stick to their healthy diets from Monday to Saturday and have a cheat day on Sunday. Others can’t wait all week and must have a little treat everyday. Just make sure your treat is small and doesn’t thwart your fat loss efforts.
And last, but not least, drink water, lots of water. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water a day, preferably more. Water will keep you feeling satisfied and can reduce hunger and fatigue. It helps to transport nutrients into your cells and wastes out. It is especially important if you’re very active. Prevent dehydration and drink water before you feel thirsty.
To simplify, here are four rules to live by:
- Don’t omit a Macro-nutrient entirely, Find Your Balance
- Carb-Cycle by eating them mostly in the morning or before and after exercise, only eat what you burn
- Allow yourself to cheat, stick to the 90:10 Rule
- Water, Water, Water
By Krista Boulding