Nutrition seems very complicated. It doesn't have to be.
Every week there is a new trend, celebrity diet, or some random superduperfood making the rounds on social media and the morning talk shows.
There is too much information, but no clear path to creating a diet that will make your body look the way you want it to.
It seems like it’s impossible to figure out what to eat.
Each of our metabolisms is different. We all have thousands of years of location based evolution affecting our gut biome which causes each person to process foods differently.
What works for your favorite instagram model will probably not work for you.
That shouldn’t stop you from creating an effective personal diet. It should actually make the process more fun.
It’s all about the calories, not what trend you follow.
Nutrition is further complicated by our social and emotional lives.
Eating a meal is inherently social, as many of us have good memories of big meals with our families. Food also has an emotional component, as it is an easy escape or coping mechanism for many people.
For this reason many people feel pressured to eat a certain way. You may feel guilty if you eat certain foods.
You need to squash that line of thinking. Food does not have moral value, it has nutritional value.
There are no good foods or bad foods, only foods that fit the context of your diet.
We’ve been conditioned to feel like we need to banish certain foods in order to live a healthy and fit lifestyle. We’re told we can never eat our favorite foods aside, and then suffer from intense cravings.
Diets that require you to not eat a certain macronutrient (i.e no carb diets) are designed to fail. They are not sustainable for longer than 6 weeks, and the weight lost returns instantly. These diets also hinder your performance at the gym. Your body needs EACH macronutrient to function optimally.
Diets like this are sold from an emotional point of view, and emotions need to be controlled just like calories. Unfortunately most successful, sustainable diets are not quick fixes. They need to be implemented, adhered to and given the patience to be effective.
Dedicating 12 weeks to permanently change your body is much better than dedicating 3 weeks to change your body for a weekend. The latter option also causes people to get sucked into the "diet vortex" where they follow some ridiculous (stupid) diet plan for a month and lose some weight. After the month is over they resume their normal eating habits and put the weight right back on. So they wait a few months then do the month long diet again. This cycle repeats forever.
Their time would be much better spent personalizing their diet and nutrition. That is how you turn a diet into your regular way of eating.
There is a way to enjoy your favorite foods, no matter how “bad” they are, while losing weight.
It is not a magic trick and it’s not rocket science. It’s a simple process that requires selective sacrifice, proper implementation of nutrition principles and an eye for detail. Oh yeah, and self control and discipline.
I'm going to emphasize again. A method of eating like this requires discipline. Although we will talk about fitting things like pizza and desert into your diet that does not mean that they will be the foundation of your diet. Your diet will need to be based around whole foods, animal protein and vegetables in order to maintain the proper caloric intake.
This article is not an excuse to eat like an asshole. It is only meant to lift the unnecessary rigidity from dieting.
We need to first start with the basics.
To lose weight you need be in a caloric deficit.
That means that you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns in a day. You can lose a lot of weight by just cutting calories and disregarding exercise, as the famous twinkie study shows us.
“Losing weight” means you are losing both fat AND muscle.
You do not want you to lose muscle.
You want to lose mostly fat, while building or maintaining muscle. Losing muscle and fat will give you the dreaded “skinny fat” look.
Losing mostly fat will make you appear more toned and muscular, or in layman’s terms- sexy.
We can largely mitigate losing muscle by choosing our foods based on their macronutrient content.
You must keep in mind that muscle is much more dense than fat, so it takes up less space in your body. A pound of muscle and a pound of fat are not the same.
The pound of fat takes up nearly twice as much space as the pound of muscle.
That means the number on the scale may not change much.
Your weight may not change at all, but the distribution of weight will.
That is fine! You are going to LOOK better, not necessarily weigh less.
If you are gaining a pound of muscle per week, while also burning a pound of fat per week your weight will not go down, but your waist size will. That’s obviously an unsustainable metric, but it’s easy math.
To gain weight you need to eat more calories than you burn in a day.
You need to eat a caloric surplus.
It is very difficult to gain significant muscle mass without adding a little bit of fat. Only real beginners can add significant muscle without adding fat. If you've been training for more than 18 months you most likely have to accept a slight bit of pudge in exchange for the muscle.
Slow and steady is the name of the game when it comes to adding muscle mass. Eating slightly over your caloric surplus, with appropriate macros, will enable you to slowly build muscle while adding as little fat as possible.
These calculations are geared towards people who are trying to lose weight, but you can change them to bulking numbers by adding 250-400 calories and dividing the macros between fat and carbs.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the components that make up your food. Specifically they are the grams of protein, carbohydrates and fats that are contained within food.
You need to measure your intake of these macros in order to instigate, track and continue your progress.
In order to maintain muscle mass while losing fat you need to make sure you have adequate protein intake, moderate carbohydrate and moderate fat intake.
The distribution of these calories is very important to your fat loss and aesthetic goals.
1G is 4 Calories
Protein is the building block of muscle, it creates the anabolic environment needed for your body to repair and ultimately grow muscle. Without the proper intake of protein you will not gain muscle, you won’t even hold on to the muscle you have.
Protein contains Essential Amino Acids. These are 9 (of 22) Amino Acids that can only be obtained through food, the rest are produced by your body. These Amino Acids create hormones that regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar levels. They directly contribute to muscle growth.
You need to remember that every goal requires gaining muscle. “Getting toned” or “working on definition” is not possible without gaining the adequate amount of muscle- even it's just a pound. I cannot stress the importance of eating enough protein.
1G is 4 Calories
Carbohydrates are the devil. Everyone knows that.
They have no good use in the body other than to make you fat.
Those sentences were a bold faced lie, but I bet you’ve heard them before. If anyone tries to tell you that, hit them with your shoe. Carbohydrates have a vital role to play in body recomposition.
Your body processes carbs into sugar to use as fuel for your internal organs and muscles. Without proper carb intake your body will look to your muscles for fuel. It will begin to break down your muscle tissue in search of the nutrients it needs to thrive, thus sabotaging your efforts to change your body.
The world of carbohydrates is not a world of equality. Some are superior in nutrition than others, some cause certain allergies (think gluten intolerance). It’s a simple rule to follow- the more processed a carbohydrate the more likely it is to not be optimal. Pick a potato over a potato chip.
Eating a lower carb diet will help in terms of fat loss, but banishing carbs entirely will do more harm than good, despite what Dr. Atkins says. You will lose a portion of your muscle mass and achieve the ever sexy “skinny fat” look.
Think of carbs as your body’s immediate source of energy. The sugar from carbs breaks down in your body relatively quickly and can be drawn upon for energy used in training. It’s the reason why endurance athletes “carb up” the night before a race.
They also play a huge role in recovery. As you exercise you deplete your body's stores of glycogen. Carbohydrates replenish these stores so you can recover quicker, and perform better once fully recovered.
People process carbs differently. Some people have an adverse reaction and have gut problems. Other people can eat a ton of carbs and have no ill effects. This is where self experimentation comes in, you never want to follow a diet that makes you uncomfortable. If you feel fine eating carbs, eat them. If they make you feel bloated and fatigued, lower your carb intake. Nothing is perfect for everyone and the more you know your body the better your results will be.
1G is 9 Calories
Growing up it seemed like fat was to blame for all our dietary woes and weight problems. They even made low fat ice cream and donuts so we could feel better about ourselves. Remember those “oleo” potato chips that made people sh*t their pants? I sure do. The 90’s were a magical time.
Fat is an essential part of life. Fatty acid is found in the membrane of every cell in your body, and a layer of fatty tissue protects all of your internal organs.
Fat has a place in our diet, and a gigantic role in our biology.
Fats can be found in sources as varied as almonds, salmon and ribeye. Some fats contain more Omega-6 and Omega-3s (Essential Fatty Acids) and are therefore preferable to the other sources. This is found mostly in fish and grass fed beef, but can be supplemented by taking a Fish Oil or Krill Oil capsule.
Trans fats are the only type of fat you should consume as rarely as possible. Trans fats are found in chips, French fries and other over-processed foods that no one could mistake as healthy.
There have been a few fat related revelations lately.
The first is that many studies pinpointing dietary fats as the biggest reason for obesity and heart disease were corrupted. They were paid for by the sugar industry, in order to increase sugar consumption and sales.
The Hierarchy of Importance
Calories will always be king. Your daily caloric intake is the most significant factor while dieting. Therefore calories are the most important number you need to track.
The second most important number is your daily protein intake. All recent studies and meta-analyses have shown that body recomposition happens while eating a controlled number of calories and protein no matter what the ratio of carbs and fats.
You can manipulate your carb and fat intake to your preference as long as you maintain the appropriate caloric total and hit your protein goal.
If you like carbs, you can cut your fat intake and use those calories towards pasta or potatoes.
If you're a keto person you can cut your carb macros and use them towards MCT oil or another fat source.
Either way will work and help you succesfuly change your body as long as you continually eat the correct number of calories while hitting your protein goal.
The Importance of Your Body Fat Percentage
Body fat percentage is the best indicator of dietary effectiveness. Tracking the change in your body fat will yield a much more accurate picture of your results than simply tracking your weight.
Your goal is to get rid of fat and keep or build muscle. Therefore your weight might not change during the course of your diet regime, but your body fat should. The scale is pretty much bullshit anyway. Muscle is much more dense than fat, so 1 pound will take up less space. You could not change weight at all, but completely reshape your body.
Your body fat percentage is also needed to calculate your starting caloric and macronutrient totals. These numbers are calculated based on your Lean Body Mass or the amount of non-fat mass in your body.
There are many scales that will do this, such as the Withings Body Analyzer and a few models of Weight Watchers scales that are available at CVS. You can also purchase a handheld analyzer from Amazon. None of these options are 100% accurate but you should be more concerned with measuring the downward trend of your body fat, as opposed to the specific number.
Body fat percentage is the single most important factor to measure when undertaking a diet. I cannot stress that enough. As it falls you will become leaner, revealing more of your musculature, looking defined and ripped.
When starting it is fine, but not optimal, to guess your body fat based on the mirror. There are a few charts online that can help you make an educated guess. Even this rudimentary tool is useful.
All of this information is pretty useless without a personal calorie and macro count.
That's why we've made a macro calculator.
click here to personalize your diet.
How to Fit your Favorite Foods
You can fit your favorite foods into this diet plan. I am not talking about a weekly “cheat day” where you binge until you feel like you’re going to throw up.
With this style of eating you can eat your favorite foods without the guilt associated with breaking a diet.
Once you begin to view food as neither good nor bad, but in terms of macronutrients and calories you will understand that you can make any dish fit.
When you start a “diet” you are purposely entering a restrictive pattern of eating. You are putting yourself in an exhausting physical and psychological state.
Eating like this will alleviate the mental anguish associated with most diets. You will never hit the breaking point of starvation, nor will you find yourself fantasizing about robbing a bakery.
This all sounds a bit ridiculous, and I am not implying that you should be eating pop tarts with every meal.
Your diet should be based around whole foods.
You should be eating as little packaged and processed food as possible. The majority of your diet should be vegetables and animal protein with carbs from good sources like potatoes or rice.
If you have that in place you can then manipulate your remaining daily calories to fit whatever else you like.
Think of your caloric budget like you think about your financial budget.
If you REALLY want a new car you’re going to need to save money. You save that money by sacrificing in other areas. Maybe you stop spending money at fancy restaurants or don’t buy any new clothes. By saving money on small things in the present you are allowing yourself to splurge on a luxury item in the future. Your calories are the same way.
If you REALLY want a certain item of food you’re going to need to save those calories at other meals. If you want pizza for dinner, you won’t be able to have cereal for breakfast because you will need to save those carbohydrates.
Let's make up an example. We'll call her Oprah.
Let's say Oprah's daily intake is 180 grams of Protein, 120 grams of Carbs and 53 grams of fat.
It’s a Monday, and Oprah had a great morning workout.
For Breakfast she had 3 eggs. That’s 18 grams of protein and 6 grams of fat.
For Lunch she had 8 ounces of chicken breast in a mixed greens salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing. That’s 64 grams of protein, about 25 grams of carbs from the salad and 9 grams of fat from the dressing.
She made good choices, each meal is in accordance to her macros and she feels full and satisfied all day.
For dinner she has options.
She has 88 grams of protein remaining, 95 grams of carbs remaining, and 47 grams of fat.
That is A LOT of wiggle room for dinner and/or dessert.
For dinner she could have another chicken breast, with 3 slices of pepperoni pizza.
The chicken breast will have 64 grams of protein
The 3 slices of pizza will have 33 grams of protein, 72 grams of carbs, and 27 grams of fat.
That indulgent meal would have her totals for the day looking like: 146 grams of protein, 97 carbs and 42 grams of fat.
She had pizza for dinner and is still UNDER her macro count for the day. She has some work to do to hit her protein total, but a simple Protein Shake before bed will fix that.
She was able to fit pizza into her dinner because she avoided carbs at breakfast and lunch. She budgeted her macros.
This is just one of many examples of the flexibility inherent in this style of eating.
You need to stop viewing food as an emotional subject, and labeling it as “good” or “bad”. Food is simply fuel that is made up of protein, carbs and fats. I’m going to keep repeating that until it sinks in.
It is our vehicle to change our body, not a way for us to punish ourselves.
How to Track your Macros
The idea of logging each and every item of food you eat seems tedious. I’m not going to lie- it is for the first week. Just like anything it becomes easier over time. After a month or so it will take you barely 30 seconds to log each meal.
It cannot be overstated how important tracking your macros is. This is not something you can guesstimate. Precision is necessary.
There are only two things you need to get started: A food scale and the MyFitnessPal app.
The food scale is for your protein. The more exact you can be when measuring, the better.
You simply weight your protein before it is cooked to get an accurate measurement.
MyFitnessPal is a calorie and macro tracking app that has a GIGANTIC database of foods, everything you could possibly eat has an entry. All you have to do is scan the barcode on the packaging, or type the name of the food.
To view your macros you go to the “Diary” page.
Then scroll down until you see a “Nutrition” tab on the bottom left hand corner.
Once you are there scroll on the top to the “Nutrients” tab. You will have a complete breakdown of your macros for the day.
The flexibility within this way of eating will help you reach your goals without sacrificing your favorite food.
It also allows you to get to know your food on a different level.
You will cast off any nutrition lies you’ve been sold over the years by learning EXACTLY what is in each food you are eating.
That being said, this diet is not for everyone.
If you do not have the self- control needed to stop eating once you have reached your macro limit you will not be successful.
If you are the type of person who cannot have one slice of pizza, but instead finds yourself licking the box after you’ve eaten the whole thing, this diet might be too much for you to handle.
Self-control and discipline are necessary for any attempt to change your body, especially in a flexible plan like this.
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