One of the most common questions I get is "what should I eat if I want to lose weight?"
Most people want the answer of specific foods. You should eat steak, vegetables, or some sort of superfood combination for optimal health.
The trouble is – we are all VERY different.
A diet that works for one person may not work very well for another person. The trouble is that one mans diet may be keeping him healthy and lean but making you fat.
The energy needs of people can be vastly different. I have had clients needing 4000 calories a day to maintain their weight and others needing 1500!
(Calories are simply a way to express how much food energy is in a certain food)
As you can see, the guy eating 4000 calories has a lot more room for junk food in their diet.
Instead of telling you exactly which foods to have, I will set out some principles to keep in mind when dealing with food. Following these principles it is possible to have many different foods in your diet and still be reaching your goals.
By teaching you HOW to know what to eat instead of WHAT specifically to eat you will be in a much greater position to lose weight but more importantly to keep it off in the long term!
1. Energy Balance
The most vital thing to understand when it comes to losing weight is ENERGY BALANCE.
You may have seen the equation calories in=calories out.
All this means is that if you take in 2000 calories worth of energy into your body through food, then to maintain your body weight you will need to use 2000 calories.
The 'average' male will use around 2000 calories as an estimate just by sitting around all day. Add in some exercise or a physical job and it may bump that up to 2500.
Therefore, to lose weight you will want to be eating LESS than the 2000 calories each day.
By eating less, your body has to dip into its stores of energy (your BODYFAT) to run itself and over time you will use up that bodyfat and lose weight.
It is a little more complicated than this, but this is the most basic way to explain it.
Almost every diet you will see is simply a way to control the calories in side of this equation. They are all about reducing how much energy you take into your body.
Exercise of course then raises the energy out side of the equation.
All the rest of the principles will be guided around this concept. We have to ensure energy balance is in the negative if you want to lose weight!
2. There are no special superfoods
There are foods that are better and worse at allowing your energy balance to be in check. Most junk foods are high in calories and healthier foods tend to be lower in calories.
This means it is FAR easier to reach your daily calorie needs by eating a small amount of junk food than it is eating healthy foods!
Having said that, there is nothing inherent in a food that makes it help you lose weight faster. The only way these foods will help you is because they may fill you up more and provide less energy for the body, meaning you could eat less energy overall by consuming them. But this is true of MOST healthy foods.
Ignore commercials telling you about 'superfoods' helping you lose weight or gain some immense health benefit.
Almost all vegetables are healthy. Almost all wholefoods are healthy. The superfoods that are commonly described are generally no healthier than the wholefoods you are already eating.
3. The human body is efficient
It is unfortunate for us in the modern day where calorie laden foods are everywhere that the human body is so efficient at using energy.
If you take a look at what 2000 calories worth of junk food looks like and then consider that your whole body is able to function for a day by only eating that then you will see just how well your body processes what you eat.
Even when we exercise, the human body uses surprisingly little energy to make it happen.
What this means is that it is difficult to out-exercise a high calorie diet when you are trying to lose weight.
An hour of high intensity exercise may only really use up about 500 calories of energy. You can easily eat this in a matter of minutes!
4. We need nutrients as well as calories
Now we have only talked about energy balance so far. The human body does require more than just calories to function.
We need certain fats for our brains, fibre for digestion and vitamins and minerals for many functions that go on in our bodies.
As a general rule, most junk foods will not have much in the way of these nutrients.
Whole, unprocessed foods will generally have a good range and large amount of the various nutrients that you need.
In order to make sure you are eating enough of them you want to be getting adequate intakes of whole-foods in your diet!
The good part is, most vegetables when cooked PROPERLY will taste great and you can eat a huge volume of them because they are low in energy!
5. Not just what you eat, but how you eat it
How you eat can have a big impact on your health and also on your satisfaction.
For the most part, we tend to eat very quickly. We rush around all day trying to get things done and rarely sit down for a proper meal with our family. (kudos to those who still do)
When you eat fast you do two things - you don't chew your food enough causing digestion issues and you don't give your brain enough time to process how much food you just ate!
The first one - digestion issues. This is caused because the food is meant to be already half broken down by the time it gets to the stomach. If you don't chew enough you are relying on your stomach acid to break the food down.
This will result in MORE ACID being produced and more problems like heartburn and indigestion, pain in the stomach and a general feeling of nausea. Ensure you chew each bit of food thoroughly!
The second issue - not processing the food. When you eat FAST you do not get to enjoy the food for as long a time period.
Your brain processed how much you have eaten from a variety of sources. Your stomach indicates it has food in it but it also gets feedback from how much you have been chewing and the flavours, tastes etc.
When you are eating in front of the TV or driving you are not FOCUSING on the food and your brain will only partially process the meal!
You want to try as much as possible to eat meals at a dinner table or similar and remove all distractions like the TV, your smartphone or using your computer.
Enjoy the food and savour it! This will go a long way to feeling more satisfied.
6. We need to feel satisfied with what we eat
Food is meant to taste food and be enjoyable. Many diets suck the fun out of food!
You have to strike the balance between enjoying nice foods and keeping your energy balance down.
Contrary to popular belief, you can make very delicious foods using wholefoods. You do NOT need to eat junk food to have a tasty meal. Learning to cook a variety of healthy foods is crucial.
You do not want to be starving and depriving yourself of foods you love entirely. Instead you want to be more mindful about the quantities you have them in and reduce consumption of calorie laden foods.
This might mean having 2 beers instead of 6 every night.
Or halving the amount of dessert and eating it more slowly.
There are many ways to do this but remember it is all about the balance between satisfaction and what you need to eat to lose weight.
7. Our environment makes demands on us
The environment around you is influencing you whether you realise or not.
A house that is filled with junk food on display - chocolates and snacks on the counter or in front of t he TV is making your weight loss efforts FAR harder than they need to be.
You know it is not helping so try and remove most of these foods from easy access.
This doesn't mean you can never have them. But you know very well that eating a whole packet of chips and some chocolates every night in front of the TV is not going to do much good in your weight loss efforts.
If the chips and chocolate were not in the house to begin with it would make your decisions at home far easier!
Remember that we have evolved over many tens of thousands of years in an environment which has always been scarce in food. We had to work hard to get it and when we did have food there was no guarantee we would have it for long.
The modern environment that you live in has changed in a massive way in the last 100 years. Never before has it been so easy to get access to high amounts of food energy at a low price.
Our brains see food and want to eat it. High calorie foods made by fast food companies have been designed specifically to target this aspect of your brain!
It is extremely difficult to resist these temptations so you have to try and reduce and remove these temptations wherever possible to make your life easier.
8. Movement still helps
So I did say that the body is efficient and movement doesn't use much energy but that is only half the story.
Regular movement COMBINED with a good eating plan will help you lose weight much more effectively than just the eating plan alone.
Weight training will add muscle to your frame. More muscle means more energy EVERY DAY on the energy out side of the equation. It takes calories to maintain that muscle so you will find it easier to lose weight.
The other aspect of movement is that it makes you fitter and more capable even faster than the weight loss.
What I mean by this is that weight loss can take a while to achieve for many people especially if it is more than 10kg you want to lose.
Becoming fitter though can start in just a matter of WEEKS.
The psychological benefits of this is huge. It encourages you to continue eating the foods you know you need to and you start to feel great from the beginning.
Trying to just eat better without exercise often leaves you feeling like you are doing less whereas exercising adds capability, fitness and improves your health well in advance of any weight loss that will occur.
So what should I eat then
So what should you eat if you are trying to lose weight.
By taking these principles into account you can see that there is not ONE perfect diet to follow.
Instead, you want to follow guidelines that will help you to make the right choices and gradually reduce your energy intake whilst still maintaining your health, sanity and satisfaction with life.
When you are dieting to lose weight it is generally to improve your health, have more energy, look better or simply enjoy life more.
Diets have a tendency to suck a lot of fun out of eating and take away the enjoyment of food.
You CAN enjoy food and your life whilst still maintaining a healthy weight. It will be hard at times especially initially if you are adjusting to eating less food but like anything once you adapt it will all feel normal.
So throw away the diets and start eating healthy whole foods because you WANT to.
Do you understand calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fats and so on?
Would you like more information?
If so, leave a comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org