In part 1 of this 3 part series, I suggested the 3 key nutrients to include in your meals to help you stay satisfied, and take in a good balance for your daily requirements:
- Protein (meat, fish, eggs, some dairy or plant based sources like beans and lentils)
- Fat (nuts, seeds, oils, avocado)
- Carbohydrates (starchy vegetables, fruit or whole grains)
And allll the vegetables your heart desires of course! (which include a negligible amount of carbohydrates, and protein). Some of you may have never thought about food split into those categories before. Whereas, the readers who are seasoned dieters would likely know that drill.
Going deeper into this weight loss series, I’m going to shed some light on “how much” of each to eat to lose weight. In this “how much to eat” section, I’m going to run through 3 different options that I’ve personally done myself, and have seen clients work with. I’ll share pros and cons of each, and give my key suggestions at the very end of the article.
Let’s dive in.
Option 1: Counting calories + Macronutrients
Many dieters think there are foods you MUST avoid, and foods you MUST eat to lose weight. That is technically false. Different foods don’t create weight loss or weight gain, it’s the quantity of food creates a loss or a gain. To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit consistently. Meaning, you’re taking in less calories than you’re putting out.
Taking in = eating and drinking.
Putting out = exercise, daily moving around, and the energy your body needs to function.
Option 1 includes figuring out the number of calories to consume to put your body in a calorie deficit. Essentially, this option would involve finding your # of calories to lose weight (be in a deficit), and tracking your food using a tool like My Fitness Pal. There are a few free calculators online. Here’s one: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/weight-loss-calculator
There are also calculators to help you figure out how much Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates to eat. For weight loss and sedentary-moderately active clients, I might suggest a moderate amount of carbohydrates, with moderate-high protein and moderate fat. For more active clients, I recommend moderate-high carbohydrates, moderate-high protein and moderate fat. Here’s one option for a free macronutrient calculator: http://macronutrientcalculator.com/
* Although these calculators are a starting point, if you’re interes recommend having your unique calories and macronutrients calculated by a Registered Dietitian. Many factors outside of these equations play an important part in determining your needs.
- Allows more flexible dieting – as long as you reach your total numbers, you should technically be good to go!
- Some clients report less guilt or “all or nothing” thinking. If they have cookies, it’s not the end of the world. They simply track them, still reach their daily totals, and still lose weight.
- With precise tracking, results seem to happen more linearly.
- A detailed food journal allows for a coach to see exactly where modifications need to be made over time.
- It’s very hard for the average person to track their intake precisely. Precise tracking would involve: weighing and measuring ALL food, finding the correct food items to input (many of them are incorrectly entered into trackers), remembering to enter ALL food and drinks. And doing this consistently.
- Behaviour change is not easy. Often times, there are a series of things to focus on, triggers to become more aware of, challenges to face, and a number of steps to take before even attempting to be in a calorie deficit.
- For the average person, this method is simply not realistic, and if attempted, includes massive discrepancies.
- Can lead to thinking of food in terms of a number, instead of trying to make healthy nourishing choices.
- Can lead to disordered eating patterns, including obsessive thoughts around food.
- Can lead to “all or nothing” thinking where if you don’t know the # of calories in something, it’s a reason to overeat or binge.
- When numbers are the sole focus, it pulls away from listening to your body and learning what works best for you.
Option 2: Meal Balancing
Let’s explore another option that involves way less math.
Meal balancing is a weight loss strategy that involves balancing meals with a source of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and using a more intuitive measuring guide: your body’s own hunger and satiety signals. With this strategy, I do suggest some portion guidelines to help ensure you remain in a calorie deficit.
After years & years of sleepless nights creating countless meal plans for clients calculated to absolute precision, I noticed that as long as clients distributed their protein, fat, and carbohydrates in all 3 meals, and had 1 more substantial snack, they usually were pretty darn close to reaching the numbers I had previously meticulously calculated.
Saved me an immense amount of time. Saved them a whole lot of hassle.
Here’s the system:
- Palm sized amount of protein (that’s meat, fish, beans, lentils). The size of your palm is proportionate to the size of your body, and therefore, your protein requirements.
- About a cupped hand (about 1/2 cup) amount of carbohydrates (that’s whole grains, fruit or potatoes).
- About a thumb sized amount of oils or nut butters, or 1/4 cup’ish of nuts, and avocado.
This system is not rocket science; doesn’t involve calculators, scales, or require a degree in nutrition.
- Simple, flexible, and effective for weight loss.
- Keeps you food focused, rather than number focused.
- More sustainable for the average person who realistically won’t weigh, measure and count every bite of food.
- More realistic long-term to help avoid yo-yo dieting.
- Less precise; may be difficult for “numbers people” to get behind.
- To lose weight or bust through a plateau, this method would simply involve “eating a little less” – which can sometimes be difficult to accurately assess.
- Some meals don’t easily fit in this system: like soups or stews, or many breakfast options, for example. That can drive some people to confusion and frustration if they want to be sure they are doing it “right”.
- Unless familiar with protein, fat, and carbohydrate sources; can be a big learning curve.
Option 3: Intuitive Eating
Before you were told what to eat, what foods are bad, what foods are good, how much you should eat, how much you shouldn’t eat….. your body was giving you some pretty clear signals.
We just stopped listening.
Intuitive eating completely rejects the notion of “good” or “bad” foods, and food rules. It calls you to listen to yourself, rather than to seek advice from an external source or Program. Intuitive eating involves listening to your hunger signals, and your true satisfaction signals.
- Helps you develop a more positive relationship with food and with your body.
- Increases autonomy (you choose the foods you eat, and in what amounts).
- Can support people in eating based on physical cues, rather than emotional.
- Intuitive eating has been associated with lower BMI when comparing to other diet methods.
Research on intuitive eating: http://www.intuitiveeating.org/wp-content/uploads/Tribole.Summary-Intuitive-Eating-Studies-Oct-2015.pdf
- Requires effort to be more mindful of choices, which isn’t an easy task to take on for many.
- Letting go of “tight control” over body, and food choices can be challenging for those in a diet mindset.
- This approach can potentially dig up some deep emotional stuff, which not everyone is comfortable with.
- For weight loss, some people need a more precise approach.
- If the types of food you’re eating don’t signal your “full” cues (like white bread for example– who else could eat a full loaf?), this method may not produce the desired weight loss results.
Let’s Break This All Down
I want to start by saying that there isn’t ONE BEST approach. We’re all unique! One person could be incredibly successful with one approach, while another will totally fail on it. It’s important to find an approach to eating that works for you, and your life. An approach your unique self can be consistent with.
I will share what has worked best for me, and most of my client after a decade of personal exploration, and working with thousands of men and women.
I recommend the 5 following habits:
- Learning to stop eating once you feel satisfied: eating slowly, and stopping when you’re still comfortable.
- Including palm sized amount of protein with every meal.
- Including 2-3 cups of vegetables with meals.
- Having 1/2 cup – 1 cup of whole grains or starchy vegetables with 2 or 3 meals.
- Being more mindful during meals and between meals so you’re eating when you’re truly physically hungry.
I believe practicing these 5 habits keeps things simple, effective, and helps heal broken relationship with food rather than make them more obsessive.
Questions? Comment below.
Stay tuned for Part 3: WHEN do I eat to lose weight?