I can remember being on diets prior to being in middle school. The frustration of restricting foods has been my reality for my whole life. I felt like I was in a constant war with my body for years.
Diet after diet failed leaving me with a feeling of defeat and always leaving me wondering, why couldn’t I do it and what was wrong with me?
I followed many main stream diets, packaged food and supplement options, went to all women gyms geared for older women when I was in middle school. I ‘counted calories’ and spent hours in the gym to burn off my food.
I was in the line of “I did it all,” just like many of us can feel. I tried everything, and then it worked for a little bit and then it didn’t or never worked at all.
It wasn’t until I got a coach and some education behind the science of fat loss that I finally saw long term results. I had gone on a ten year journey, but once I got my coach who educated me and I got a plan that I could fit into my life, I was able to succeed and hit my goals in about 2.5 years.
Some might consider 2.5 years to be a long time, but trust me when I say it was worth every minute of it. Now I feel like I can maintain my results, I understand these results, and I can always adjust and achieve these results again if need be.
In this blog I wanted to give a foundational bit of knowledge and understanding of weight loss, specifically fat loss so someone else can improve on their journey. Maybe you don’t have to waste 10 years stumbling in the dark like I did.
***Calories and Why They Matter***
First let’s address the idea of a calorie. A lot of mainstream diets and programs don’t even specifically address calories and instead allot you points or label foods as good or bad. I think that really gives you a lack of understanding and education if you don’t understand calories, what they are and how they work.
A ‘calorie’ is a unit of measurement; a measurement of energy. In science, it’s actually called a ‘kilocalorie,’ but what we see on our food labels and what most public knows, it’s a ‘calorie’.
All food is comprised of calories, or in other words, all food has energy. As you may know from science class, “energy can not be created or destroyed.”
Our bodies are complex and amazing machines, and we might not be aware of it but it is processing hundreds and thousands of chemical reactions throughout the day. To survive, to move, to function, to think, to breathe, our bodies require energy.
When we eat our food, we extract energy from our food choices. If we take in too much energy, our bodies have this cool ability to save it in form of adipose tissue (fat cells), and essentially save that energy for later. We gain weight or gain fat mass.
In the times of cavemen days, this was an incredibly helpful when our ancestors didn’t know when their next meals would be. This feature isn’t especially helpful today when food is plentiful, fast food restaurants are lined up on our drives home and grocery stores are stocked at our convenience. Regardless, this plentiful amount of food has only been a reality for us recently in history and our genetics just haven’t caught up.
On the other hand, over time, when we eat less calories than we burn, our body is able to go into its reserves of energy, go into the fat stores, and use that energy for the functions it needs. Spiffy!
This is called a caloric deficit. It’s not magic. It’s science. It works.
I think a lot of people understand this at the basic level. It’s the bare minimum of what doctors tell us. It’s a simple idea, “Eat Less. Move more.”
While it’s simple, it’s not easy. There’s also more education that is required here that so many people miss out on.
WHAT ARE MACROS AND WHY THEY MATTER
While food has energy, not all food is created equal as far as what it’s made of.
Food is comprised of three main macronutrients, otherwise shortened as “MACROS”
These macronutrients include: Proteins, Carbs, and Fats.
Proteins have 4 calories / 1 gram
Carbs have 4 calories / 1 gram
Fats have 9 calories / 1 gram
Different composition of foods are going to digest differently, keep us full differently, fuel our workouts and life differently, and provide different energy levels.
Without a doubt, most people undereat protein. Protein, improves our satiety, promotes recovery and helps us MAINTAIN our lean body mass especially when we are trying to be a in calorie deficit.
THAT’S NICE WHAT DO I DO WITH IT?
I struggled the longest time whether that was just eating pre planned meals or diets with prepackaged foods or supplements because I didn’t know what my meals were made from macro nutrients wise. These large diet companies, make you rely on them, and don’t provide education and instead toss you packaged goods or allot points. When you stop using those products, you don’t have the education to see results and then go backwards.
I didn’t realize the benefits of protein and that it was important to prioritize it. I didn’t understand that carbohydrates weren’t evil and instead fuel our activity and our brain. I also didn’t understand that fats are essential to the human body for hormone health and metabolic processes. This education has moved me forward in understanding why quality food is important.
I jumped on the bandwagon at times of “healthy foods,” such as the hummus, the granola, the packaged protein bars. And while these items are not “bad” (no food is bad) I didn’t look at overall calories. Some foods, like packaged goods, don’t have a lot of fiber or nutrient value and so we can take in a lot of calories and not feel full after. Just because something is CALORICALLY DENSE doesn’t mean that we will feel full from it. So while a bag of granola might not only be labeled as “healthy” or “high protein,” I’m sure in some cases, if we don’t measure it it could be 100s of calories in. That’s a similar story to chips, crackers, cookies, etc. A lot of these items instead are a combination of fat and carbs which our brain goes crazy for, leaving us constantly wanting more and our stomach never getting a satiated signal until we eat bags full.
In order for fat loss to happen we need to be in a caloric deficit. I’m a big believer in having flexibility with your diet and incorporating your favorite foods. However, I also believe that most of your foods should be nutritious and high quality food choices, about 80%. Then the other 20% can be the fun foods that you enjoy and want to keep in your diet.
The first step is to track everything you eat, yes everything, calories can add up quickly when drinking packaged drinks or just taking small bites and snacks throughout the day you might not even be aware you’re taking in.
There are numerous calorie trackers you can use for free, my favorite to use is My Fitness Pal.
To be the most accurate, you can get a food scale on amazon. It’s so important to weigh your food so you have a better awareness and accuracy in your intake. Sometimes we can put a tablespoon of peanut butter and when we weigh it we realize that we had been thinking one serving was actually 7!
Once you track everything you eat consistently, you can find your baseline or maintenance calories as you also track your body weight. If you eat a consistent amount of calories and your body weight stays relatively steady you have found your maintenance calories. Weight fluctuations are normal, so if your weekly averages stay between a few pounds, it’s safe to say you’ve found a good maintenance. Our bodies maintenance calories are typically more of a range. We do not burn the same amount of calories each day, based not only on our movement but what foods we eat, and endless various factors. Weekly trends are most important rather than day to day fluctuations.
From there you can slowly adjust to a lower caloric intake. You want to keep calories as high as you can for as long as you can.
This is where I made previous mistakes. I dropped calories severely low and then when I hit a plateau I had no more adjustment room. I couldn’t drop my calories even lower because I was so hungry and lacked energy. I tried to then up my activity but that only worked to an extent before my body rebelled against me. So, when you find those maintenance calories, you don’t need to go crazy to create a huge deficit in the beginning. This can change from person to person depending on the weight loss goal and how much weight you have to lose.
You can stay in a consistent fat loss phase for 8-24 weeks. This CAN be extended with diet breaks along the way where we up calories for a bit of time for a psychological and physiological benefit. But you aren’t meant to FOREVER to in a fat loss phase. This was super eye opening for me as my whole life I felt like I was in a diet and trying to lose weight. Before working with a coach I had never intentionally ate a level of food with an intent to stay at my current weight. A maintenance phase is super important in a weight loss cycle, as IS potentially a bulk where we are intentionally eating more than maintenance to gain muscle mass. These are all phases we can be in for health and longevity!
When the goal is fat loss and you do decide on a caloric deficit number the two key elements are protein and calories to monitor as a beginner. Ideally you want to hit 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This can of course vary from person to person based on their current weight and goal weight. So, if someone weighed 150lbs, a good goal for protein would be 150 grams of protein. However if someone weighed 250lbs, getting 250 grams of protein, although possible, might be difficult for digestion so a lower protein number could be a better option.
After you decide on a protein goal you can then play around where you want your carbohydrate and fat numbers to be. If your goal for example is 1,700 calories for a deficit, and your protein goal is 150 grams, you first have to find out how many calories that takes up. Protein is 4 calories per gram, so 150 grams of protein is 600 calories (150*4). So, 1,700-600 is 1,100 calories remaining for fats and carbs. You can play around with this to see how you feel of how you want to allot those calories but it’s all done with a bit of math. Fats are 9 calories per gram and carbs are 4 calories per gram.
When tracking in the beginning, it’s much easier to eat meals that are simple and minimal in ingredients. If you are making a complicated recipe it might be frustrating and unrealistic to track 20-30 ingredients accurately. So picking simple whole food choices will be your best bet.
Here’s a simple chart for whole foods that can be a great place to start incorporating into your diet.
Making meals doesn’t have to be complicated. When beginning you can pick a protein, fat and carb choice and be set. If you eat 5 times a day, divide your protein and calorie goal by 5 and that can give you a guideline of what to shoot for; same tactic if you want to eat more or less during the day.
For example if your protein goal is 150 grams of protein and you want to eat 5 small meals a day you can aim to hit 30 grams of protein with each meal.
I have worked with quite a few clients already, that just by becoming more aware with what they are eating have made amazing progress in feeling better and moving in the direction of their goals. Just by tracking their intake, they have made better choices. You can too!
By focusing on eating foods that aren’t packaged and instead are whole foods, we tend to have more energy, feel more satiated and overall just FEEL better. There comes a time too when you want to eat this way because you can tell the difference. I recently had a small vacation for my birthday and throughout the week ate things I wouldn’t normally. I felt sluggish, lacked energy, and wasn’t my best self. I looked forward to eating better and getting back into my routine. That is what this is all about, being your best self.
Your changes that you are making don’t have to be drastic, small habits and decisions add up to get us where we want. It just begins with education and awareness.
All of this can be confusing and seem complex but at the end of the day, a calorie deficit is the key to fat loss.
I want to press also that I am not a doctor and there are of course situations and individual that might have hormone dysregulations include thyroid hormone that make weight loss much more difficult. I highly press that everyone speak to their doctors if you feel there is a health issue there.
However, I feel most people can benefit from working with a coach or working on this themselves through education, trial and error. The little nuances of how to make that fit into your life long term, being held accountable, and troubleshooting along the way is where a coach comes in!
I’d love to hear from you any way I can in how to help you on your journey!
Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on this blog!