Many of us find ourselves with more than ideal amounts of body fat. Listening to a Physique Science Radio podcast the other day, Layne Norton said something that resounded with me; talking about the national obesity problem he stated that, contrary to what one may think, we are actually really good at losing weight. Many obese or overweight people lose a significant amount of weight at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, statistics show that over 90% will gain it back within 3 years. What’s the problem?
Can you see yourself eating this way in 5 years?
The best diet is the one you can stick to [forever].
If you’ve had success (weight loss) on diet xyz but gained the weight back, that diet didn’t work. It wasn’t sustainable.
This is why I’m a fan of the “moderation” approach, also called flexible dieting or if it fits your macros (IIFYM). No food is off limits and neither is the occasional alcoholic beverage. In my experience, restricting or excluding foods from a diet tends to increase cravings for them and the chances of binging on them at some point in the future.
Life is too short to exclude delicious foods. Sometimes, I want to enjoy a homemade spaghetti dinner with my family, a glass of wine with a fancy dinner, or a sundae with more whipped cream than ice cream. More so, I definitely do not want to feel guilty.
In this article I’m going to outline the steps I use with myself and clients to change eating habits for the better.
Steps to a Sustainable Diet
Take your time with these tasks. Spend at least one week focusing on each step, and don’t be afraid to hang out on one level for a month, a couple months, or a few years.
Step 1: Track Food Intake
Record food amounts as accurately as you can, using measuring cups or a food scale when available. Tracking food, while tedious, gets you acquainted with the amount of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat) associated with certain foods as well as the average amount of macronutrients and calories you consume on a day to day basis.
- Use a phone app such as MyFitnessPal or MyMacros+
- Don’t judge yourself for what or how much you eat. You are an amazing, awesome person–that has nothing to do with what or how much food you eat! Approach this like a scientist: observe your food habits with objectivity and without emotion. There are no “right” or “wrong” foods or amounts.
- Consider purchasing a food scale that measures food in grams and ounces
Step 2: Track Food Intake + Meet Protein Goal
Continue tracking food. In addition to this, gradually increase your protein on a daily basis up to your target amount.
Protein is one of three macronutrients in food (carbohydrates and fats are the other two). Protein is what muscles are made of, and consuming protein helps fuel, build, and repair muscle during and after workouts. Protein increases satiety, and it is also very difficult for the body to store protein as fat.
To calculate target protein, multiply current body weight in pounds by 0.8 to 1.0 (0.8 if not very active, 1.0 if you enjoy protein or workout regularly) and the product is the number of grams of protein you should eat in a day. For example, for a person who weighs 150 pounds, the daily protein goal is 120 grams if he or she does not workout regularly and 150grams if he or she does.
Protein sources (not limited to): chicken, tilapia, tuna, salmon, really any fish, eggs, egg whites, jerky, turkey, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, whey.
- Center each meal around a protein source
- Aim to consume 20-40 grams of protein at a time
- Protein shakes or smoothies are a convenient way to get more protein
- Make a list of protein sources you like to eat and keep your pantry stocked!
Step 3: Energy Balance and Macronutrients
Track Food +Meet Protein Goal + Meet Calorie Goal
Continue tracking your food and meeting your protein goal. Additionally, hit a daily Calorie goal. Keep reading to learn how to calculate yours.
The foundation of the “nutrition pyramid” is energy balance. Energy refers to Calories. The goal is balancing the amount of Calories one expends during the day with the amount of Calories consumed or slightly altering them to gain or lose weight.
To find a starting point for your daily Calories, multiply your current body weight by 13, 14, or 15, depending on your level of daily activity (low activity or sedentary job=13, high activity or active job=15). If your goal is to lose some weight, multiply by 13.
Example: 150lb X 13 = 1,950 Calories
Protein has 4 Calories (energy units) per gram, so if a 150 pound individual is eating 150 grams of protein, he or she is consuming 600 Calories of energy. Subtracting this amount from the daily Calorie goal: 1,950-600 = 1350 Calories remaining to be “spent” on the other macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats.
Step 4: Micronutrients
1 Whole Food Meal Each Day + 1 Serving of Veggies
In addition to performing the previous 3 steps’ tasks, incorporate one meal comprised of whole food ingredients each day and one serving of veggies. For bonus points, have your serving of veggies with your whole foods meal.
Whole foods: foods that contain only 1 ingredient and haven’t been processed by mankind in any way.
- Salmon, asparagus, and a baked red potato with a little butter (real butter)
- Eggs/egg whites, walnuts, green chard, and coffee with coconut oil
- Salad with canned tuna, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette
Vegetables: spinach, kale, asparagus, peas, corn, chard, squash, zucchini, broccoli, radishes, and more. Boil, roast, steam, or sauté them and season with salt, pepper, garlic, etc.
Work up to eating a couple servings of veggies each day (most days) and consuming mostly whole foods with a few “fun” foods here and there.
Consistency, not perfection, in each of these steps will help improve your dietary habits. Keep things simple, don’t over think the minutiae, and enjoy foods you like!
For more reading, check out Sohee Lee’s Website or her How to Count Macros e-book.