Especially if the question is “How can I put weight on?”!
But, as you’re here viewing this blog, your goals are probably the opposite, so we’ll continue on the assumption you’re looking to lose some weight.
Whilst browsing Google in search of your weight-loss solutions, you’ll have probably come across a derivative of the following statement:
To lose weight, you MUST be in a calorie deficit.
And this, in its simplest form, is true.
However, as with everything health related, there’s a little more to it than meets the eye. In fact, sticking with this, and only this, as your guiding statement for weight loss may be doing your body more harm than good.
How Low Is Too Low?
As with everything, there’s a saturation point with the ‘drop your calories’ advice.
For example if you were to eat four regular cheeseburgers per day, you’d be consuming just north of 1000 calories.
Assuming (for easy maths sake) your daily calorie requirements were exactly 2000, then you’d be sitting at a 1000 calorie per day deficit, a sure-fire way to start dropping weight, right?
But, how much of that weight loss would be from fat (ideal), and how much would be from muscle (not ideal)?
I’ll answer that for you- a fair amount of both.
Maintaining or increasing your muscle tissue has been linked with decreasing the affects of ageing, and greatly improving the quality and duration of life.
So a calorie deficit so low that you begin to lose that helpful muscle? Not ideal.
Further to the muscle wastage downside of restricting calories far below your energy expenditure, you’ll also be subjecting your body to a plethora of other health risks, such as:
- Reduced Immune Function
- Digestive System Dysfunction
- Potential Heart Health Problems
- Reduced Metabolic Rate (so you burn less calories at rest)
- General Lethargy
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Elevated Stress Hormone Levels (Cortisol)
AND, once you begin eating normally again? You’re likely to add all the fat you’d lost back on (but not the muscle!).
“Okay, okay, so super low calorie diets aren’t ideal for my health, but how about sitting just a couple of hundred calories south of my energy requirements?”
This is a far more measured and intelligent approach.
But again, it has it’s limitations.
Let’s look, for example, at the diet of two men, both consuming 2500 calories per day, and both with the exact same energy requirements.
The first man, consumes his 2500 calories spread over 3 meals, and a mid morning snack. Each meal consists of a protein source, fibrous vegetables, some starchy carbohydrates, and a small amount of fats.
The second man? He gets his full energy allotment exclusively from cheese (!), which he splits into two gargantuan 1250 calorie meals.
Whose body composition (the ratio of fat tissue to lean tissue) do you think would be the most aesthetically pleasing? Which of the two would you assume has higher energy levels, and healthier blood work results?
I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t the guy shovelling copious wheels of brie down for supper.
The macro-nutrient split of your calorie intake makes a big difference to your body composition.
Could both of these men weigh the same? Yes, absolutely.
But, as regular readers of the Luke Bremner Fitness blog will be aware, the scales aren’t the greatest barometer of progression.
The man with a balanced macro-nutrient split is going to have lower body fat levels, more muscle mass and a lower risk of diseases and illnesses.
Plus, who the hell could deal with that sheer volume of cheese?!
“Ok, I think I’m getting it now, so eating a couple of hundred calories below my energy requirements AND having a balanced macro-nutrient split is the best way to lose weight?”
Now we’re getting closer.
But (before we get into the lifestyle impact counting calories can have), there is one more factor to consider in the is weight loss conundrum.
So, we’ll now look at the diets of two women, both of which are eating 1750 calories per day (100 below their requirements), and both have a macro-nutrient split of 40% protein, 30% carbohydrates and 30% fat.
The first woman is achieving this by having a organic spelt toast with smashed avocado, 2 (free-range) poached eggs and spinach for breakfast, a handful of almonds mid morning, a (free-range) chicken and olive salad for lunch, and (wild-caught) salmon with sweet potato and quinoa for dinner.
The second woman?
She’s achieved this ratio by having a (caged) fried egg and bacon butty for breakfast, some peanuts mid morning, a subway chicken salad for lunch and a (grain-fed) burger on a white bun with a Caesar salad for dinner.
Now both of these women are eating the same amount of calories, with (virtually) identical macro-nutrient splits.
Will there physiques look similar?
Genetic deviations aside (let’s assume these woman are genetically identical), yes.
But, will their health markers, such as inflammation, immune function and heart health be the same?
Again, assuming the exact same genetic make up, no.
The second woman was consuming a larger ratio of her calories via processed foods (caged eggs, bacon, subway chicken, white bread, grain-fed beef), whereas the first woman was a little more specific with her healthier choices.
As such, the second lady will have a sub-optimal omega 3:6 intake, alongside having a reduced micro-nutrient count.
(Yes, I’m afraid there’s yet another layer beyond calories and macro-nutrients).
“Ok, so eat a couple of hundred calories below my energy requirements, with a balanced macro-nutrient ratio AND focus on eating natural, whole food sources?”
BUT WAIT! Don’t close this blog just yet – THERE’S A SIMPLER WAY!
I know you were looking at the above rule with contempt. Counting calories, macro AND micro-nutrients?! Whilst this would be effective, it would also take up a MASSIVE amount of brainpower.
Not to mention, such rigid eating guidelines don’t exactly lend themselves to a healthy relationship with food, or the most enjoyable social life.
And here at Luke Bremner Fitness, our goal is to get you amazing results that work around your lifestyle – because honestly, losing weight and getting in great shape should be a process you can actually enjoy.
That’s why we encourage, instead of counting out every single calorie you consume, you try and abide by the following rules 90% of the time.
(Why not 100%? Because you’re a human- if you want to have a slice of chocolate cake at a birthday party, or a beer with a friend you haven’t seen in a while? Do it. This is about building healthy habits for life, not rigid habits for a month.)
‘More sustainable than calorie counting’ habit number one:
Eating whilst distracted, or in a rush, lends itself to over-consumption. Your body has a surprisingly astute regulatory system when it comes to both hunger and fullness cues.
Take your time eating, put your smart phone to one side and switch off the TV- and once you begin to feel full? Just stop eating.
‘More sustainable than calorie counting’ habit number two:
If it didn’t run, swim, fly or grow from the ground? Eat sparingly
‘Sparingly’ here means that 10% of the time we touched upon above. By limiting the amount of processed foods you’re consuming you’ll be automatically improving both your macro-nutrient, micro-nutrient and omega 3:6 intake.
Bonus points if you can stick with grass-fed beef products (including butter), free-range/organic chicken and eggs, and wild caught (sustainably if possible) seafood!
‘More sustainable than calorie counting’ habit number three:
Stick with the following portion guidelines for you main meals (instead of having to count every calorie!)
– 1-2 palms of protein
– 1-2 fists of vegetables
– 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbohydrates
– 1-2 thumbs of fat
But remember, whilst that may be what you’ve portioned out onto your plate, habit number one supersedes this- if you’re full, stop eating!
Losing weight doesn’t have to take over your life
Adapting to the above habits takes way the need for calorie counting, and frantically googling the macro-split of every main dish at your local restaurant.
Becoming healthier is supposed to relieve stress, not add to it. So, if you’re serious about a long term change? Put down your calculator and notepad, stop worrying about adding up every single macro-nutrient, and abide by the 3 simple habits listed above.
Your waistline, and your sanity, will thank you for it.
Getting your head around what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat (as discussed in this article) can be very confusing.
Tailored nutritional advice is part of all our programmes here at Luke Bremner Fitness so you can eat with confidence to support your weight loss or health boosting goals.
To find our more about our nutrition coaching, programmes and how we can help you achieve your goals, you can book in for your complimentary consultation. More information about this can be found by clicking here.