To answer your question we need to get down to the basics. Things I’ll talk about in this article:
Energy Balance (calories in, calories out)
Macronutrients (fats, carbs, protein)
The importance of muscle tissue
Good foods/Bad foods
First of, how does weight loss occur?
The most important factor is calories – calorie in vs calorie out
You ingest your calories by eating, but how does the ‘calories out’ occur?
RMR (resting metabolic rate) – the calories required for your body to exist. So if you were to lie on the couch all day, doing nothing, your body will still need to maintain vital processes like breathing, blood circulation, brain function etc. This aspect of your calories out amounts to 60% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)
NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) – is the energy spent on you moving around, like doing chores, fidgeting, moving your arms when talking, walking the dog etc.
EAT (exercise activity thermogenesis) – the energy required for purposeful exercise
TEF (thermic effect of food) – the energy required to break down the food you eat.
Note: All of the above aspects of calories out can be influenced by your lifestyle! Which means you can lose weight by making one or several of the above processes spend more energy without having to eat less.
In order to lose weight you have to be in a deficit.
There are 2 ways you can do that:
Reduce how much you eat (your calories in)
Increase the exercise or NEAT (your calories out)
How large, it depends on:
Expectations – do you have unrealistic expectations? do your expectations reflect the progress you’re currently making?
Tolerance – can you consistently stick to the plan until you reach your goal?
Sustainability –does your plan work with your lifestyle? Do you find yourself frequently passing on social/family events? Are you ok with that? If yes, cool, if not, you’ll need to change your plan. If you can’t stick to it, it doesn’t work for your life and it’ll only cause frustration and exasperation which will very likely make you abandon the plan altogether.
REMEMBER: If it’s not sustainable, you can’t tolerate it, so you’re not consistent and your expectations wouldn’t be met!
Now, how much can you realistically aim to lose without risking muscle loss and diet relapse. There’s evidence suggesting that it’s safe to diet aggressively and lose up to 1% of your bodyweight a week. In my experience and with most of my clients 1-1.5lb a week works best. Having dieted aggressively myself, anything over that, puts you in an insatiable hunger state, where no amount of willpower will help. To make maths easier, let’s say you’re on a 1lb a week plan.
So that 1lb of fat that we aim to lose in a week has 3500 kcal, so if that’s your goal, align your calorie deficit accordingly.
E.g. 3500 is 500kcal deficit a day over a week. You can have it all from food, or a combo of food and exercise.
REMEMBER: we’re aiming at max 1lb, so anything below is good too. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t reached your target. Go back to your plan,find what went wrong, put a strategy in place to avoid it next time.
Finding your maintenance calories and or appropriate deficit calories is an experiment. There’s one rule of thumb you can follow:
Body weight (lbs) *(14-17) maintenance
Body weight (lbs) * (10-11) deficit
But that’s just a formula, it doesn’t mean it’ll fit you perfectly, but it’s a good place to start.
If you already know how many calories you’re eating, then just use that number and adjust from there. Check your weight weekly. If you lost too much, increase your food by 50-100kcal a day, if you haven’t lost any, drop 50-100kcal a day.
REMEMBER: the scales don’t always show your fatloss, so it’s important to stay detached from that number. If it’s causing you to be anxious, then don’t use the scales at all, use progress photos and girth measurements.
Calorie deficit is NO.1 in fatloss
Start with BWx10 calories, take it from there
Aim for 1-1.5lb fat loss a week
If you lose more, increase calories by 100kcal
If you didn’t drop anything decrease by 100kcal
Refrain from using the scales as your progress measure tool if it’s making you anxious
Now let’s see what the calories are made of!
1g Protein – 4kcal
1g Fats – 9kcal
1g Carbs – 4kcal
They are all equally important. We shouldn’t demonise any of them as our body requires a large amount of each, daily! Hence Macronutrients, we need grams of it, as opposed to Micronutrients for instance, so your vitamins and minerals, that we also need, but in mg and micrograms
Protein – should be the core/base nutrient in your diet, unless you are an endurance athlete. I want you to think of lean protein first, when making a meal. The amino acids, the protein gets broken into are the building material of nearly every cell and tissue in your body.
There are 20 amino acids in our body, out of which there are 8 types of essential amino acids that our body has to get form food, it cannot produce them on its own.
If there’s not enough of it coming in from food, your body will start utilising it from your tissues, so essentially it starts eating itself! Muscles will get targeted among first! Especially if you’re consistently exercising, your body needs protein to repair itself, and plus you’re on a caloric deficit, so you need to minimise muscle loss while dieting.
All that is achieved by a higher protein intake. In most cases, people don’t eat enough protein, especially complete protein, that has all the 8 amino acids together – that’s lean animal protein e.g. chicken/turkey breast, fish, shellfish, egg whites, lean beef, low/non fat dairy products.
According to the scientific evidence out there you need at least 1.2g/kg of protein, if you’re sedentary. If you’re working out regularly and have a physical job, you should bump it up to 1.6g/kg body weight (1.6g/kg of lean mass for the obese individuals).
DISCLAIMER: When making adjustments to your protein intake, check with your doctor if you have any kidney disorder.
Not all protein sources out there are the same:
100g of chicken breast has 25g protein, there’s min fat and no carbs, the same with white fish and other lean meats. If you can get 50% of your daily protein from these sources, that’ll be great!
These sources of protein are great because they provide you with your base nutrients – proteins, without costing you many calories while keeping you fuller. If you eat a full chicken breast on its own, it’ll be quite hard to finish it, and it’ll fill you up, no? That’ll only ‘cost’ you say 200kcal, an equivalent of half an avocado or 2 kitkat fingers, how long will that keep you full for?! Now add a plate of steamed veggies to that chicken and you now have a big meal that has 300kcals and it’ll keep you full for a few hours.
Additionally there’s the TEF involved, high fiber, high protein foods consume more energy in the digestive process, up to 30% to be precise.
Fatty foods, require only 5%
So if you eat 1 chicken breast that has 200kcal of protein, 60kcal will be used to digest it and 140kcal will be used or stored, in contrast, if you eat a bit of butter that has 200kcal of fat, only 10cals will be used for digestion and 190 will be stored or used.
Do you see what I mean? This brings me to a very important point that will help answer your main question, that is, the easiest way to stay in a calorie deficit is to choose nutrient dense foods that have a low calorie density. What this means is when you choose to eat something, you should choose the type of foods that fill the plate volume-wise and nutrient wise (vitamins, minerals, fibre etc), but provide least amount of calories. So it’s like getting a bargain: great value for little money. You have to think of your calories as your daily allowance, spend it wisely.
Now let’s talk about the muscle tissue! After all, a lot of that protein will be consumed by the muscle, be it repair, growth or maintenance. If you exercise and eat to build/maintain muscle, it’ll be your best asset when it comes to losing fat. It’s metabolically active, means it requires more calories than any other tissue, especially when you’re constantly stimulating it at the gym, with progressive overload. The more protein you eat the more muscle you maintain, possibly even build while on a deficit. The protein is the building block of US. Its in your DNA, without it most chemical processes in our body will be impossible. So by eating little amounts of it, you’re fuelling the crucial processes, like DNA, hormonal interactions and chemical reactions that occur in our body every second, and there’s not much left for that muscle, so you lose it. With it you lose the ability to lose the unwanted body fat essentially.
So that protein that you consume, uses up calories 30% for it’s own digestion and then builds up the muscle tissue, that burns more calories by existing, than any other tissue. It’s quite a cool nutrient to base your diet off of!
I’ll mention that it’s important to get your protein from varied sources: dairy (use low fat, if your goal is weightloss), lean meats, white and red, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. Just base your protein intake off of lean meats and fish.
Minimise high fat, processed meats like burgers, sausages, bacon, kebabs and deli meat.
– the processed stuff has less protein to fat ratio, higher in calories – filling your calorie budget fast with no quality nutrients
– not as hard to digest, lean proteins require 30% of their calories to be used for digestion
Both fats and carbs are essential for energy and hormonal function, let’s look at which are best to fit the low calorie density, high nutrient density, high volume foods:
PROCESSED CARBS – fast food, sweets, cakes, white flour, bread, white pasta and rice. All of these are very high in calories, so calorie dense and, quite low in nutrients.
If you follow the rule of high nutrient density and low calorie density, these don’t fit the bill.
WHOLE GRAINS – potato, whole wheat, rye, quinoa, brown rice and pasta
Both high in calories and high in nutrients
FIBROUS and non starchy veg – green veg,leafy greens, cruciferous veg, root veg
Very high in nutrients, very low in calories
FRUIT and natural sugars – High in nutrients, moderate calories
FATS – there are essential fatty acids, omega 3,6,9 that you should be getting from food
The SATURATED fat – fatty meat cuts, fatty dairy, butter, lard. Very high in calories, fairly high in nutrients, but could be replaced with less fattier options at no health expense and with a better calorie outcome
UNSATURATED fat -olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel). Great nutrient value, high calorie density. THAT’S YOUR OMEGAS.
So to list all of them in terms of low calorie density, high nutrient density, high volume foods:
- Lean protein, veg, unsaturated fat
- Whole grains and starches
- Fruit and nat sugar
- Saturated fat
- Processed carbs
If every time you eat, you make your choice based on the list above,you’re winning!
REMEMBER: Don’t panic on the days you didn’t manage to make the best choices; as long as you’re doing it most of the time,you’re on your way to reach your goal!
REMEMBER:Don’t overwhelm yourself with numbers. There are only 2 numbers you need to know when pursuing any body goal. Your calories and your proteins.
GOOD FOODS/BAD FOODS
Lastly, I want to talk about good/bad foods. The most demonised are saturated fats and sugars
Saturated fat is safe, it’s good for us, it doesn’t clog our arteries. It only becomes an issue if we consume just that, but that’s the same for every other food. Eating only carrots won’t do you any good either.
Full fat dairy, butter, steak, haggis, is all good for us as long as it’s a part of a balanced diet
Sugars. All carbs be it brown rice, carrots or chocolate get broken down into simple sugars or glucose at some point in the digestive system. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with cake. It doesn’t cause diabetes! It doesn’t cause cancer.
The only problem is that the sugar we like eating, most likely comes combined with fat, like cake or chocolate. Because it’s really tasty, it’s extremely easy to overeat, and before you know it, you ate 500kcal worth of cake.
The combo of fats and carbs makes it an extremely palatable food, this combination is at the core of the obesity epidemic. Not many people would crunch plain sugar cubes or eat plain butter, but those 2 combined make a nice brownie!
If you are mindful of your calories and protein, which you should be, if you have any body composition change goal, you won’t have much left for the whole, nutritious foods. And now in a while its perfectly fine, but if done everyday, you risk to run off of sugar, have regular energy crashes, not enough protein in your diet and all the problems that come with it.
One thing I would completely avoid is margarine, a manufactured butter replacement, that does us more harm than good
Another personal choice of mine and I’d invite you to do the same is to completely avoid deep fried foods and Fast Foodrestaurants, I call them a dominated strategy food, meaning there’s never an upside for YOU, in eating it.
We require all 3 macronutrients in our diet
Plan your every meal around a protein source
Protein is the building block of our body
You need at least 1.2g/kg of body weight to maintain the muscle while dieting
You shouldn’t diet aggressively, 1lb a week is a reasonable pace
Incorporate diet breaks at maintenance calories, to avoid metabolic damage and/or binging
When building your diet, it’s enough to know how many calories you need and how much protein, the other 2 nutrients can come in any quantity.
Saturated fat and sugars are not bad for us, it all depends on your goal and how much is your calorie budget.