The words contained herein will focus on the universal rules behind every effective weight loss plan that has ever existed. Note that this applies to weight gain and maintenance as much as it does to loss. I’m focusing on the latter simply because this is what most people struggle with. If you’re looking to gain weight (in the form of muscle) or plan on doing so once your body fats have come down to a certain level, read on brodigy.
Energy Balance – Calories In & Out
Manipulating the amount of energy (measured in Calories) you consume and expend is the only way to change your body weight. Everything else, all the diets, exercises and fads are just a means of (sometimes unknowingly) reaching this simple goal and I find it odd that this is an often overlooked fact in the fitness industry.
But first, what’s a food Calorie anyway? Definitions aside: it’s the measure of energy used by your body. If you eat more calories than you spend, this extra energy is stored in your body as extra weight (in the form of fat and muscle). If you consume less calories, the body will feed off itself to provide the energy that you need.
Basically if your goal is to lose weight, it comes down to 2 simple techniques:
- Increase the amount of energy your body needs by being more physically active
- Reduce the amount of energy you consume
Out of the two options, it is much easier to restrict Calories than it is to burn them. To put this into perspective, the average person would need to run for about an hour in order to burn the calories that were bestowed by consuming a BigMac (and that’s not even counting the fries or Coke)!
Don’t get me wrong, I cannot stress enough how important physical training is to physical and mental health. Exercising can improve your life in a number of ways, but without proper nutrition you’ll be spinning your wheels in place.
Before we get to the real deal, let’s first consider these two weight scale tricksters:
- Meal Timing – not everything we eat stays inside us. Judging your body after a massive meal can be harsh… always step on the scale at a specific time – like first thing after your morning pee.
- Water – the amount of water your body retains can fluctuate on a daily basis, particularly when making changes to your diet/exercise routine. That’s why it’s important to track your weight regularly, under similar circumstances and over a longer period of time.
These are the main culprits involved in short term weight fluctuation that can be very misleading. If you think you lost weight after getting drunk last night… I’m sorry to say you’re just dehydrated, but those alcohol calories… that’s gonna sting.
Calorie Storage Facilities
Now that we’ve got those out of the way, let’s focus on the stars of the show that have a true and long term impact on weight change. Calories are stored in:
- Body Fat – the main antagonist in any good weight loss drama. 13% (women) or 5% (men) is all the body fat you need to survive. How low you go depends on your goals, but you’re unlikely to get anywhere near those numbers (and I would strongly advise against trying) unless you’re a professional athlete.
- Muscle Mass – a rightly stubborn bastard as evidenced by any regular gym goer looking to bulk up. From a health-based perspective, you can never have too much muscle and the higher you go the harder it gets to keep building.
This is why any healthy weight loss plan will focus on fat loss. Ideally, you would want to lose fat and gain muscle. Unfortunately, doing so at the same time is difficult or impossible, depending on individual factors. Your best bet is to focus on one of the two and stick to it until you’ve reached your goal.
If you’re on a calorie deficit, your body will primarily be burning fat in order to compensate for the energy deficit. You will also experience some muscle loss as well, unless you are eating the right amount of protein (more is better) and lifting heavy. But more on that later.
Balancing your Macronutrients
So now you’re thinking “alright, cut out the calories and win”, but in order to achieve your goals in a sustainable way you will need to consider where these calories come from and the answer is – macronutrients. The difference between balancing your macros or not is the difference between losing weight and losing weight in a healthy way. Let’s take a look at how many calories there are in each macro, with some healthy example foods.
- Protein: 4 calories per gram – Egg Whites, Lean Meat (Turkey/Chicken Breasts, Beef/Pork Tenderloin)
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram – Oats, Fruits & Vegetables, Whole Wheat Bread and Pasta
- Fat: 9 calories per gram – Olive Oil, Peanuts, Fish Oil
While comparing the macros, you might think that a fat-free diet may sound like a good idea since fat has the highest amount of calories. Unfortunately a diet low in fat is one of the most effective ways of turning yourself into a cranky bitch (among other less important side-effects).
Carbs are possibly the only macro that will withstand harsh limits, hence the many low-carb diets that are springing up around. However, if you do any sort of physical activity in your life (really, anything short of being 100% sedentary) you will need the energy and glycogen that carbs provide. Quantity is flexible.
So long story short, you need to mind your macros whether you like it or not. The key is fine tuning the quantities, sources and balance between the big 3, and this is precisely what Food Juggling is all about.