I’d like you to take a few moments and forget everything you’ve ever heard about nutrition.
Forget every diet book.
Forget every diet you’ve ever succeeded or failed at.
I would like to start back at the basics of nutrition and give you some indisputable facts, add a slight bit of nuance and help restore some dietary sanity back into your world.
Let me get the uncomfortable part out now: the calorie chat.
Based on a handful of factors: age, gender, height, your current level of daily activity, and your current ratio of fat mass and muscle mass, you have a rough estimate of a caloric goal to work within every day. If you’d like to check your numbers, this is a good starting place
Next, decide what your goals are. If you’d like to lose weight (fat mass), you would make a reduction from that caloric goal.
I typically have clients drop 15-20% from maintenance. You can see faster results if you drop more than that but you may also find the diet harder to adhere to.
If you’d like to gain weight (muscle mass), you would make a small increase over your maintenance goal (approximately 10% more until you plateau.) If you increase your calories too quickly or too aggressively, you may find that you’ve added disproportionately more fat mass than muscle mass to your frame.
Now, let’s briefly discuss the macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates.)
Protein helps you build and maintain muscle mass.
Fats assist with hormones and give you healthy skin, hair and nails.
Carbohydrates give you energy.
I’d like you to consider which of these macronutrients you would prefer to go without.
If they all sound like they’re important, that’s good. It’s because they all have a valid function in your body.
The nuance comes from what you’re currently doing with your body and your lifestyle to determine how you want the macronutrients to play a role.
Let’s assume you’re sedentary, not exercising and would like to lose weight.
Find your caloric goal using the calculator above, make a reduction from that amount and be as consistent as you can in hitting that number.
Tracking calories (short term) can help using a food app (like MyFitnessPal, Lose It or MyPlate.) Remember these are tools and you don’t have to use them indefinitely.
One method I like to use with my clients is to set the caloric deficit and aim for protein in grams in line with your current lean muscle. If you’re not sure what your lean muscle mass is, you can get a rough estimate using this.
Beyond that, set your fat grams at no less than 20% of your total daily intake and carbs would be the remainder.
Here is where some of the nuance comes into play.
If you have a more active lifestyle, you may want to consider a higher carb diet. If you are more sedentary, you may want to consider a lower carb diet.
Be cautious not to veer to extremes. Most diet books these days will have you lean heavily in one direction or another. That is not the purpose of this article. This article is meant to bring you back to the middle.
What you’ll find if you set your macronutrients similar to the guidelines above is a diet that looks roughly balanced unless you are either VERY sedentary or VERY active.
You can add exercise into the conversation with an emphasis on strength training first and cardiovascular training next.
The reason for the preference is that for many people, adding in cardio activity can raise hunger signals. If you’re dieting, you’re already hungry. When you compound that hunger with your high intensity cardio training, you’re setting yourself up for the inevitable cycle of “rewarding” your training with more food.
While there are exceptions to this, some people actually do find their hunger is blunted with increased activity, this is not the norm.
You’ll place an emphasis on strength training not for the end goal of being a bodybuilder (unless of course, that is your goal) but to maintain and preserve your lean muscle mass. When you diet to your ideal weight, you will want to have as much lean muscle mass in place as possible so that you can burn more calories at rest (thereby giving you more calories to eat when you hit maintenance.)
Be advised that whatever calories you started at with maintenance when you began your weight loss journey will likely be less when you reach your ideal weight. This is because you will be a smaller person overall and a smaller person requires less energy in general.
In other words, you will likely never be able to eat as much as you did before you lost weight again (unless you significantly raise and maintain your activity levels.)
Note that there is no shame attached to what’s happening here. All foods are allowed assuming that you feel in complete control of those foods. If there is a food that you are unable to moderate, that food may temporarily or permanently be taken off the “menu” until you are in a better place with your weight progress.
Treat yourself as if you are both the lab and the lab rat. You know what foods make you feel good and what foods make you feel less so. Moderate what you can, abstain from what you cannot.
What if you don’t want to track calories? You don’t have to.
You can take pictures of your food, you can log what you eat into the notes section of your phone, or you can simply remove “junk” from the equation.
It’s not uncommon for people to lose weight by simply changing from regular Coke to Diet Coke. These changes add up, these changes matter.
When you can divorce yourself from the sensationalized information that plagues us at every corner regarding our nutrition, you can make more effective and less emotional decisions regarding what you want your food to do for you.
Below is my online client and friend, Gillian. She’s down 30 pounds and has been following guidelines for weight loss that include hitting her caloric goal, eating the foods that feel right to her system and just staying consistent. In her case, she hasn’t been overly concerned with her macronutrient ratio (not everyone needs to be.) But she has learned to eat within her means, remove surprise from the menu, meal prep more often, and most importantly: to stay the course and not let dietary detours turn into weeks of sabotage.
Gillian, we celebrate you.
“We Make Great People Greater.”