3 Things That Matter Most For A Successful Weight Loss Diet
With so much weight loss information pouring out from Google searches, news, or even the person sitting next to you, it can leave you scratching your head not knowing who or what to believe. Unfortunately, this has caused an actual pretty simple concept to sound far more complex than it needs to. Weight loss does not need to be confusing. In fact, I am here to tell you with confidence that you can kick anything you have learned in the past to the curb, and just follow these 3 simple things.
Calories Matter Most For Weight Loss
I will start with the one at the bottom of the hierarchy. That is, the foundation, and the most important aspect of weight loss. The king of weight loss is controlling your caloric intake. At the end of the day, literally, nothing else you do will matter if your net energy balance (calories in - calories out) is not in the negative. In other words, you must be in a caloric deficit for weight loss to occur, period.
Let me break down calories for you
· Calories are a unit of energy .
· Every person requires a certain amount of this energy to maintain their weight.
· Excess of this energy above what it take to maintain your weight (caloric surplus) will be stored in the body mainly as fat. This will cause weight gain.
· A shortage of this energy below what it takes to maintain your weight (caloric deficit) will cause the stored energy to be broken down and used. This will cause weight loss.
As you can see, weight loss and weight gain are about controlling how much energy, in the form of calories, are entering your particular body.
Where do calories come from?
· Fat- 9 calories per gram
· Alcohol- 7 calories per gram
· Protein- 4 calories per gram
· Carbohydrates- 4 calories per gram
What this means is that fat will supply you with a little over double the amount of energy as protein and carbohydrates would for the same amount of volume. Am I saying to avoid fat? Absolutely not, I'm demonstrating that not all macronutrients (fat, carbs, and protein) are equal in terms of calories.
So, then, we know already that in order to lose weight we must be in a caloric deficit. But, how much deficit?
Any caloric deficit between 500-750 is ideal. However, everybody is different, and there are many variables to consider before prescribing a certain amount of calories to someone. Nonetheless, a deficit of 500-750 will be a good starting point for most people.
A 500 calorie deficit is based on the theory that it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat. Therefore, if we have a deficit of 500 calories daily, it will equal 3,500 for the 7-day week (500 x 7= 3,500). Thus, we can expect to lose 1 pound of fat per week.
How many calories should I consume for weight loss, and are all calories equal?
A very simplistic method to identify how many calories you need to consume in order to be in a 500-750 deficit and lose weight is:
· Men- multiply your weight by 11-13
· Women- multiply your weight by 9-11
There is a range because, there are many variables to consider such as, age, gender, height, muscle mass, activity level at occupation, and activity level during exercise.
With that being said, let's use a woman who weighs 160 pounds as an example, and we will multiply her weight by 10. This means that she will need to consume 1600 calories a day for her to be in a caloric deficit of 500 calories and lose weight.
On the list of priorities for weight loss, this 1600 calories must come first. As long as you consume around that number, it doesn't matter what you eat. You will lose weight. I can hear someone now, "It doesn't matter what I eat, really? So I could eat junk food all day and lose weight? Pfff! You don't know what you're talking about."
Yes, that is exactly what I am saying actually. You could eat chips, a cookie, a doughnut, and a piece of pizza. As long as all those things were equal or less than a total of 1600 calories, you would indeed lose weight over time. In fact, this was demonstrated by Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition, at Kansas State University, where two-thirds of his calories came from twinkies, nutty bars, oreos, doritos and powdered donuts. He did this diet for 10 weeks. The result? He lost 27 pounds! Why? because he was in a caloric deficit for those 10 weeks.
Do I recommend that? Heck no I don't. I am just trying to show you that calories are king.
On the flip side of this junk food story, you could eat chicken breast, brown rice, salmon, nuts, seeds, and any "superfood" on the planet. Although, clearly, these foods are far more nutritious than the junk food; it does not matter in terms of weight loss. If these foods put you in a caloric surplus, you will gain weight.
To make it simple, no foods no matter what they are will make you gain weight if you are in a caloric deficit, and all foods no matter what they are will make you gain weight if you are in a caloric surplus, no exceptions.
Although correct, this is a very black and white way to look at it. There are many aspects of foods that you should consider when filling up your calorie allotment for weight loss that will make it easier for you to remain and sustain on that amount of calories. Certain foods will:
· Be more filling
· Provide you with more nutrients
· Provide you with more calories
· Be more mentally satisfying
· Be more realistic to your lifestyle
This is where some thoughtful planning comes into play. Within that 1600 calories, you should aim to feel full, satisfied, get the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) you need, and get the protein you need (more on the importance of protein later).
The remaining 2 things that matter most will help you understand which foods will be the most efficient at optimizing your daily caloric intake for weight loss.
Protein For Weight Loss
The second thing that matters the most on a weight loss journey is consuming enough protein. Life does not exist without protein. Sounds like the motto of every gym-rat, but it is in fact true. Not only is protein the most important nutrient to consider when dieting for weight loss, but it is also the main building blocks of your body used to make muscles, tendons, organs and skin, as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and various other things that serve important functions. But, let's keep our focus on weight loss. The following is a list of merely 4 reasons why protein is so vital to weight loss success:
- Satiating: Ample research has shown protein to have a greater appetite suppressing effect than both carbohydrates and fat (e.g. 1,2). Other research in the international journal of obesity has shown that ingestion of protein leads to reduced calorie consumption, post meal; need we say more?
- Direct calorie burning effect: Carbohydrate, fat, and protein all require different amounts of energy to digest and process in the body. Once again, studies have confirmed that protein requires a significantly greater amount of energy to digest and process (~20-30% of its caloric content) than carbohydrates (~5-10%) or fat (~0-3%)(3). In other words, because protein is more difficult to digest and process, only 70-80% of its caloric content is actually added to your net caloric intake. Pretty awesome!
- Indirect calorie burning effect: Muscle tissue requires a greater amount of energy than fat tissue, just to exist. In other words, anything we can do to increase muscle mass will increase the calories your body burns. High protein intake helps attenuate the breakdown of muscle, which is critical on a weight loss journey. We want to lose fat, not muscle!
- High protein foods are also a good source of vitamins and minerals.
You don't need go to the extreme end of the spectrum and consume excessive amounts of protein. However, it is important to recognize the necessity and utility of this essential nutrient while on a weight loss journey.
How Much Protein Is Ideal For Weight Loss?
According to the position statement on protein and exercise by the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017:
· For building muscle mass and for maintaining muscle mass through a positive muscle protein balance, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4–2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) is sufficient for most exercising individuals.
· Resistance-trained subjects on low calorie diets may need higher protein intakes, ranging from 2.3 to 3.1 g/kg/day
· Novel evidence suggest that protein intakes over 3.0 g/kg/day may beneficially affect body composition in resistance trained subjects
Let's bring this back to the example of the 160 pound women. Let's assume she resistance trains, which by the way, is the most important type of exercise on a weight loss journey, but that is a topic for another blog. In addition, we already know she will be in a caloric deficit, therefore, this would make her goal somewhere between 2.3 to 3.1 g/kg/day, or if you prefer to see it in pounds its 0.95 to 1.4 g/lb/day. In other words, her protein intake would be between 152-224g per day.
Similar to caloric intake, there is a range instead of an absolute number, because it is dependent on muscle mass, intensity of exercise, age, etc. Nevertheless, being somewhere in between that range works for most people.
What are good sources of protein?
As mentioned earlier, for the example of the 160 pound woman, she would have to aim for 152-224g per day per day, but remember caloric intake comes first on the priority list. Therefore, keep in mind, we need to hit that 152-224g per day per day while still remaining under 1600 calories. This means we have to get the "best bang for your buck" out of your protein. In other words, choose foods that supply you with a high protein/ calorie ratio (high protein for low amount of calories).
For example, if you decide to get your protein from whole eggs, and you aim for 25g of protein that meal; it will take 5 eggs to do so (5g of protein per egg). Furthermore, there are 70 calories per egg. This means that you spent 350 calories of your 1600 allowed to get 25g of protein. Not very good.
Now, on the other hand, if you chose to only do egg whites, which is where all the protein in the egg is, to achieve your 25g of protein you would only spend 125 calories. This is because egg whites only have 25 calories for 5g of protein. Thus, egg whites have a better protein/calorie ratio, and saves you 225 calories for the same amount of protein.
Now that we understand the concept of "best bang for your buck" when it comes to protein, let's look a list of other protein that have a high protein/calorie ratio (list is not comprehensive):
· Chicken breast
· Turkey Breast
· 99% ground turkey (or any 99% ground meat/poultry)
· Cod, halibut, tilapia
· Whey protein powder
· Lean cuts of beef ( sirloin tip, top round, top sirloin,)
Other sources of protein that are medium bang for your buck
· Greek yogurt
· Cottage cheese
· Fattier meats (chicken thigh, turkey leg, skirt steak, etc.)
Good sources of protein for vegans
· Tofu and tempeh
· Nuts and nut butters
Now that we know calories come first, and that protein intake is second on the importance list, what is third?
Fiber Intake For Weight Loss
This brings us to the 3rd thing that matters most; consuming enough fiber. Fiber is a source of an indigestible, to the human gut, carbohydrate that comes from plant material. Let us look at the primary reasons to include fiber as a valuable component of a healthy weight loss diet:
1. Calorically insignificant: Perhaps the most obvious and direct advantage of fiber is its negligible calorie content; with only ~1.5-2.5 kcal/g. Contrasted with fat, which yields ~9 kcal/g, you can see that the difference is impressive.
2. Substantial: The sheer amount of “stuff” in your stomach at a given time helps you feel full. Fiber is “stuff,” stuff that is low in calories, and thus fiber is helpful in promoting satiety, which provides a definite advantage to any weight loss attempts! Similar to that of protein, it is a great "bang for your buck".
3. Slows digestion: This is significant for many reasons, of which I’ll mention two: 1) slowed gastric emptying leaves you feeling full longer and; 2) it reduces the blood sugar-spiking potential of carbs, making for a more stable blood sugar and sustained energy levels.
4. Feed your friends: With increasing research on the powerful effect of the microbiome (i.e. the makeup of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract) on our health, including weight and body fat, it is important to mention how fiber may be implicated. Fiber is fiber because of its ability to avoid our digestive efforts – we can’t break it down ourselves. However, our gut-buddies can! And when properly nourished, our gut-buddies will reproduce and build us an army of internal allies – and also give us a little gas – but let’s not dwell on that.
Fiber is rich in whole foods. Thus, by hitting your fiber intake goals, it implies that you have few amount of overly processed foods, and plenty of whole foods. In addition, because you must have plenty of whole foods to hit your fiber intake, then similar to protein, you can be confident that you are also getting a good amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet.
How much fiber should I consume?
According to the Institute of Medicine, dietary reference intake , an adequate intake for total fiber, is set at 38 and 25 gram (g) per day for young men (age 14-50 years) and women (age 19-50 years), respectively. Here are some examples of particularly good sources (list is not comprehensive):
· Brown rice
· Fruits (berries, apples, pears)
· Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus
· Whole grain bread
Putting it all together
We now know that calories comes first, protein second, and fiber intake third. Now let's take a look at that junk food example again.
To reiterate, you can lose weight eating junk food. But, there is clearly no way you are going to be hitting your protein or fiber intake eating those foods. Here is a short list of why not many people actually do lose weight eating junk food:
· They will not make you feel full, due to low protein and low fiber content. Subsequently, you will search for more food, and therefore, more calories.
· They will not give your body the nutrients it needs. Subsequently, you will search for more food, and therefore, more calories.
· They will provide short-lived bursts of energy, followed by feeling tired. Subsequently, you will search for more food, and therefore, more calories.
I think we can agree that junk food, although possible, is not going to work for most people nor do I recommend it.
Now let's go back to the example of the woman to sum this all up. She needs 1600 calories, 152-224g protein, and 25g of fiber. Let's see how hitting her protein and fiber intake while being within her 1600 calories is a fail-safe model to ensure she receiving the best of all worlds for weight loss.
· Protein and fiber will make her feel full longer for relatively low calories. Ideal for weight loss.
· Protein will burn more calories to digest than any other macronutrient (fat or carbohydrates). Ideal for weight loss.
· Protein will support muscle growth and/or maintenance. Ideal for weight loss.
· Protein, and fiber (indirectly via consumption of whole foods) will provide her with vitamins and minerals so that her body is getting the micronutrients it needs. Ideal for weight loss.
· Protein and fiber will provide her with slowed gastric emptying, leading to slow-sustained energy without the crash. Ideal for weight loss.
Bottom line: Calories will be the main determinant of your weight loss attempts. Nothing else you do will matter in terms of weight loss if you are not in a caloric deficit. Protein and fiber intake both make staying within your calorie allotment a lot easier by providing you the feeling of fullness, the nutrients your body needs, retention of muscle mass, and sustained energy. There is no need to feel overly-restricted on some extreme diet (cough cough keto) in order to lose weight, unless you truly do enjoy it. A well planned diet that doesn't restrict any foods or food groups, but keeps you in a caloric deficit is all that is needed for weight loss.
If you are unsure how to set up a meal plan that will ensure that you are achieving your protein and fiber intake goals, while remaining in your target calories, send me a message. I would love to work with you!