Origionally titled "Your Diet Might Be Bullshit". Im reposting all 3 parts, in order, for the resolutioners that might need help.
Part 1 -
Fuck. I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. Multiple family members and friends have weight to lose and they seem to all fall for whatever bullshit fad is currently popular. It drives me crazy to see people that are close to me in bad health. I get that there’s a ton of information out there and it’s hard to tell what’s what. Thankfully actual scientists exist. Real PHDs and nutritionists conducting studies, systematic reviews, and meta analysis to try and get to the bottom of things. I’ll try to convey what the current science says about weight loss, nutrition, and health. Don’t worry, it’ll be as straightforward as I can make it. I AM NOT a doctor. I am a strength/nutrition nerd that likes to read A LOT. I read books and studies and I pay attention. I do have real life experience with personal training and diet clients and my own journey that put these principles to work. It’s time to sift through the shit.
Now you can do whatever you want. I’m not going to argue with anyone. I’ve said many times that if a trainer/coach/guru/asshat tells you that there’s only one way to do something, one exercise, one diet, one technique, that’s the first sign that they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. There are the facts and then there are the variables that you can choose to manipulate. Those variables are not magic. Your success or failure comes back to the facts.
The first fact, the one that will never ever ever change is, YOU HAVE TO BE IN A CALORIE DEFICIT TO LOSE WEIGHT(I mean actual body weight not water).There is no way around it.That is literally how weight loss works. How you get to that deficit is another story. If you like Keto, you create a deficit by eliminating an entire macronutrient (carbs). Eventually your body weight and calories will equate and the weight loss will stop. That’s not Ketos fault. You’re just no longer in a deficit and need to adjust your calories down to continue to lose weight. If you like intermittent fasting, you’re reducing the calories you consume by only eating in a small window of time. It’s harder to over eat if you only eat between noon and eight every day. If that stalls out you can extend it to longer fasts. Carnivore? You get the idea.
How you lose and sustain weight loss is by reducing calories, increasing activity, or both. Both works better. If you do lose weight and have a new lower body weight, you now have a new BMR (basal metabolic rate). The calories you need to live are lower now than they were. You can cut more calories to continue to lose or you can stay eating the way that got you to the lower body weight and stay where you are. You may gain a couple lbs back through water weight depending on if you add carbs back in etc. example: if I wanted to end up at 200 lbs after a cut, I’d diet down to 196-197 maybe because I know I’d settle out closer to 200 after being less strict and trying to find my new BMR. if you go back to how you used to eat, you will gain that weight back because your old way of eating will now put you in a caloric surplus. It’s not any one macronutrients fault, or that you eat too late or too early, or because you touch yourself at night. It’s because you now require less food to exist than when you were fatter! The science backs this up. When calories are equated, there’s no difference in weightloss between low carb/high fat or low fat/high carb diets. One study even shows a slight edge to low fat.
If a low carb diet is easier for you and you can adhere to it for longer periods of time, great. Adherence is the most important factor in a diets success. if you hate the food you are eating you definitely won’t stick to the diet. One thing to consider is athletic performance. Studies now show that athletic performance, endurance, and recovery suffer on a low carb diet. There was a notion that endurance athletes could do well on a higher fat diet but 2 recent studies on Olympic level race walkers (don’t laugh) proved otherwise. The high carb group improved performance by right around 5% in both studies while the low carb group’s performance actually dropped. Calories were equated for both groups. If you “feel” good and you’re losing weight and not worried about improving your workouts, cool. If you want to get into ketones and brain function, or if it reduces inflammation that’s not something I know enough about to argue either way. Again, if your progress stalls, you need to adjust your calories. Keto is not magic. It is a viable way to reduce calories and therefore, lose weight. You may burn more fat because it’s your main source of energy but you are also storing more fat because you are eating more fat! Another note on performance, most sports science organizations(ACSM, ISSN, IOC, ISSA, NSCA etc.) recommend that 45-65%+ of athletes calories come from carbohydrates(30% is considered low carb). Usually it’s grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight based on activity levels.
Do you like to fast? Cool. If you care about building or maintaining muscle mass, it’s not the best idea. Your body needs amino acids all the time. Not just during your magic eating window. If you don’t get them from your diet because you are fasting your body will break down muscle tissue to supply the rest of your bodily functions with the amino acids it needs. So if you’re trying to build or maintain muscle while dieting, fasting isn’t the best way to go. If you have a large amount of weight to lose, the health benefits of that weight loss probably(definitely) outweigh the benefit of keeping every pound of muscle. If fasting helps you to lose that weight initially, go for it. Then you can figure out a more sustainable way to go for the long haul. Again, if you want to talk about autophagy or longevity, I’m not the guy. I’ve read up on it a little but not enough to argue with you about it.
If you have any health issues, diabetes, heart disease, PCOS, hypothyroid, etc. go see a doctor. Those issues obviously make things more complicated. Different medications make things more complicated as well. What doesn’t change even with your specific issues is that you have to create a caloric deficit. Even with a medical condition that makes it harder to achieve, that is still how all of this works. Periods of reduced calories, with breaks to adjust physically and mentally, consistently over time, and you will get there. It’s all really just a math problem(with lots of mental and emotional pitfalls).
One thing I’ve read over and over is that most of the benefits of all of these different styles of dieting come from the reduced energy consumption and weight loss. Just being in a deficit and losing 10% of your body weight leads to most of the benefits all of these diets make claim to. It literally doesn’t matter what one you’re into. One last time for the people in the back, you can do whatever you want but don’t pretend your way is magic.
In part 2 I’ll go over how to calculate your caloric needs and build your own basic diet plan.
Part 2 -
In part one we covered some of the ways you can get yourself into a caloric deficit. Now we can get into some actual numbers and how to calculate your own specific macronutrients.
I’ll start by saying that you DO NOT have to count calories to lose weight. You DO have to be in a caloric deficit. You’ll probably be more successful if you accurately track your food. I recommend you track for at least a few weeks. That’ll give you a solid idea of what your plate and meals should look like. Then if you get sick of weighing and measuring all the time, you’ll have a much better chance of being successful.
First, we need to figure out what your maintenance calories are. The amount of calories you can eat at your current body weight and not lose or gain any weight. That starts with calculating your BMR (basal metabolic rate). There are different calculators online. The Mifflin-St Jeor equation is supposed to be the most accurate but it really doesn’t matter. No equation can predict your Total Daily Energy Expenditure with 100% accuracy. It’s all a guesstimation because we are all individuals with individual metabolisms, activity levels, body fat percentages, age, sex, etc. Use one of the online calculators if you want. Depending on your activity level the calorie count usually falls between 13-15 calories per pound of body weight. If you are less active use closer to 13 if you exercise regularly, use closer to 15. Example: a 200lb individual who exercises regularly would be roughly 3000 calories a day(200x15=3000). Endurance athletes would be even higher, in the 18-19 range.
Now divide that number by how many times you eat in a day. I personally eat 5 meals. That means if each of my meals are 600 calories, I shouldn’t lose or gain any weight. There will be daily fluctuations to your weight but over the course of a couple of weeks, I would still end up right around 200 lbs. that’s if everything is 100% accurate. Now, the only way to know if your maintenance number is accurate is to make every meal as close to your goal calorie number as possible and eat that way for at least 2 weeks. If you eat your hypothetical 600 calorie meal, 5 times a day for 2 weeks and you stay roughly 200 lbs you know your base number was correct. If you gain weight, it was too high, or you weren’t being accurate with your counting. Everything “counts”. Every drop of cream in your coffee, every extra french fry off of your kids plate. If you lost weight, you were in a deficit. You burn more calories than you thought, on average, throughout the day.
If your goal is to lose weight, and your maintenance calories were accurate after that 2 week trial period, you can now reduce your calories. If you already lost weight during the first two weeks, don’t change a thing until weight loss stalls. If you gained weight, cut around 10% of your calories and see if the weight gain stops. That would be 300 calories a day for our hypothetical 200lb person.
When you are ready to start your actual diet, a reasonable goal is to lose .5-1% of your body weight a week over a 10-12 week period. That’s about 1-2 lbs a week for most people.
3500 calories is roughly 1lb of body weight. Cutting 500-1000 calories a day (1750-3500 a week) will theoretically lead to 1-2lbs of weight loss a week. Take our 200lb human, 3000 minus 1000 equals 2000. Divide 2000 by 5 meals. All of their meals during the diet would be 400 calories. Or at least try to be. Not every meal is going to be exact. Adherence is the most important aspect of any diet. The closer you get all meals to your target calorie number, the more success you’ll have.
That’s the stripped down, calories only version of weight loss. If you figure out your daily goal and meal goal, stay close to those numbers, you will lose weight. We’re talking about straight numbers on the scale. If you’re not worried about body composition, maintaining or building muscle mass (you should be. At least eventually) or anything but the numbers on the scale going down.
Body weight x 13-15
Round to a nice even number
Divide by how many meals you eat
Be as consistent as possible without losing your mind
Eventually, your body weight and calories will match up and metabolic adaptations(a topic for another day) will happen. If you’re at 5-6 weeks of dieting, you’ll have to drop your calories some. Even 200 a day can get the ball rolling again. If you are close to that 10-12 week range, it’s probably time to end this diet phase. That doesn’t mean start eating like an asshole. That’s how you gain it back. It means you can have a little more good food. It means instead of 1 slice of pizza with your mostly healthy meal, have 2. Have the 2nd beer. Relax but be careful. Your metabolism will have slowed due to your reduced calories so adding a bunch back in can cause easier weight gain until your metabolism has recovered. If you haven’t lost as much as you wanted to, I recommend you wait at least as long as your diet phase was before starting another diet. 10 week diet, 10 weeks eating at maintenance. “Eating at maintenance” means you eat an amount of food that keeps your body weight stable. Chronic dieting can really drop your metabolism down so that you’d have to cut your calories to bare bones levels to keep losing. Not fun physically or mentally. It’s all patience and math. Think about how long it took you to gain all the weight. Years in most cases. You can’t expect to lose it all on one cut or even two. It’s a process and hopefully a permanent lifestyle change. It's a process that thousands(millions?) of people have successfully done. Trust the process.
In part 3 I’ll get into macronutrients and food choices.
Part 3 -
In part three we get into food choices and macronutrients. This is where your personal preferences come into play. We will also go over what the general consensus is with regards to “healthy” eating for most people.
If you read parts one and two, figured out your calorie numbers, and focus on eating mostly whole unprocessed foods, you’re most of the way there. If you have any physique or performance goals, you need to dial things in more.
Macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram and fat contains 9 calories per gram. While not considered a “macronutrient” because not having alcohol would not lead to a deficiency of any kind, it still has to be considered in your diet if you drink. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram plus whatever carbohydrates depending on your beverage of choice.
Protein should be a top priority. Building and maintaining muscle should be a priority of everyone. Muscle improves appearance and is more metabolically active than fat. That means you burn more calories throughout the day just by having more muscle on your body. You’ll also be stronger, harder to kill, and more useful in general(a quote for the nerds) Doing this while dieting is more difficult than in a caloric surplus. The recommendation for most people is 1.2-2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight(.8 is the RDA for more sedentary individuals but let’s face it, none of us should be sedentary). That works out to about .55-1.1 gram per pound. Unless you are extremely overweight, 1 gram per pound is the simplest way to do it and you’ll know your protein requirements are covered. For a very heavy person you’re going to use a number closer to your lean body mass. You can even use a number based on your goal weight. Take a 300lb person that eats 3 times a day. That’s 100 grams of protein per meal. That’s going to be really difficult to do. Drop that closer to a goal weight of 200 maybe(65 ish per meal), and it makes those meals less daunting. You could also add a meal or two in and spread it out. Much easier to get it all in that way. A note on protein timing, a recent study showed that evenly spaced out protein feeding was superior to eating most at one meal and not enough at your other meals, for gaining/maintaining muscle. Basically you can’t make up for crappy eating all day by getting it all in at dinner. Three meals was the minimum and 4-5 yielding better results. Most lean protein sources(chicken breast, pork loin, lean cuts of beef etc.) are between 6-6.5 grams of protein per ounce raw(depending on fat content). If you need 50 grams per meal, that’s roughly 8oz of meat. Do the math, weigh it, cook it, eat it. Meat builds meat.
After protein needs are met, your personal preferences can be explored. If you like carbs and want to keep your fat low, go for it. If you have an easier time with a low carb approach, you can do that too. If calories are equated, these choices should have no effect on your overall weight loss. You’ll drop more weight at first with lower carbs but that will be from fluid, not actual body weight. If you’re an athlete or someone who cares about their performance in the gym, you should be eating more carbs.
Next would be fruits and vegetables. There should be plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet to cover your micronutrients(vitamins, minerals, fiber)and phytonutrients. A cup of veggies per meal and a couple of pieces of fruit per day should keep you covered. Variety is key. Different foods have different micronutrient contents. If you eat the same three foods every day, you might develop some deficiencies.
Then there’s carbs, carbs should match your activity level. So much dumb shit gets said about carbs. While it is true that you don’t NEED carbohydrates to be alive(your body will convert fats and proteins to glucose when none is available) ALL of the literature shows that performance and recovery suffer without sufficient carbs in the diet. Think about that. Your body needs glucose so badly that it figured out a way to make it out of fats and proteins. If you don’t do anything too intense and cutting carbs out makes staying in a caloric deficit easier, cool. If you’re in the gym a lot training hard, I’d have about 50% of your calories coming from carbs. If you’re a marathoner, cyclist, etc. you should probably be up over 60%, pushing 70%. (You might even have to drop that protein number down to get enough glycogen in to fuel high endurance activities) Again, if you feel better on low carbs, it keeps you satiated, you have a gluten issue, whatever, you can do that. It will not hinder your weight loss goals. The same goes for high carb diets. Go back and read part one of this series if you’re not sure why.
After figuring out your protein and carbs, fat makes up the rest of your allotted calories. That’ll be somewhere in the 20-30% of calories range (or a minimum of .3 grams per lb of body weight) for most people eating a balanced diet. Try to get most of that from unsaturated sources (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, fish etc.) and shoot for around 2 grams of omega 3s a day. The low carb/carnivore crowd loves to say that saturated fat (animal sources mostly) isn’t directly tied to heart disease but cardiologists and lipidologists seem to strongly disagree. That’s not saying you can’t have any saturated fat, but too much might be a bad idea (think sirloin instead of t-bone).Time will tell but having more unsaturated fats, higher HDL and lower LDL cholesterol definitely isn’t going to hurt.
There is the abbreviated, non zealot, evidence based, macronutrient breakdown. To rehash it all…
Figure out your calorie intake based on your goals.
Eat enough protein to support/build muscle mass.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Eat enough carbs to support your activity level.
Fill in the rest of your calories with mostly healthy fats.
This doesn’t mean you can’t eat pizza or wings or whatever delicious thing you love. I personally eat 5 times a day. I rarely miss a meal. That means I eat 35 meals a week. If one or two of those is a “fuck it” meal. Where I’m tired, don’t have any food cooked, or am just sick of eating the way I normally do, and I order a pizza. That’s fine! 1 or 2 out of 35 won’t completely ruin your progress. But maybe don’t eat the whole thing. Have a couple of pieces with whatever other protein you have available. Get some veggies on the pizza and you’re good. Statistically, if you abstain from everything you crave for a long period of time, you’re more apt to binge and have giant blow out meals or whole days of shit food. Then you feel guilty and go back to eating super strict again only to repeat the process and the net balance in no progress. Instead, if you are craving chocolate, eat a fucking piece of chocolate. Then get back on track, if 90% of the time your meals are on point, you’ll be good in the long run. This should not be a temporary thing where you hit a goal weight and completely abandon what got you there. You have to find a balance where you can eat well but still enjoy all kinds of food and not hate yourself for it.
Yes, I know this isn't as easy and as simple for everyone. Yes I can go deeper on the science but that might muddy things up for people. Yes it's ok to think I'm full of shit, these are things you can google for yourself.
“The truth is like a lion, you don't have to defend it. Let it loose, it will defend itself” - Augustine of Hippo