It’s the complaint that dietitians and weight loss coaches hear most often: “I eat a healthy diet, but I still can’t lose weight. I’ve tried Paleo, whole foods, sugar-free, fat-free, low-carb, vegan….etc.” The list goes on.
Most people who struggle with food, struggle with finding balance. They struggle to find a way of eating that helps them to achieve a health body weight while still eating the foods they enjoy. Many people assume that dietary freedom is simply beyond them- that they must adhere to a strict eating pattern to lose weight and keep it off, or that they can somehow “come around to” living without chocolate, without carbs or without their favorite foods.
It is 100% possible to eat the foods you enjoy and still lose or maintain a healthy weight. Actually, it’s the healthiest way to do so and keep the weight off long term. However, striking that fine balance of nutrition and fun is hard- it is a lesson in moderation. It’s one that is so, so worth it for people who struggle with their weight and relationship with food.
What matters, what doesn’t.
The first step to getting off the yo-yo diet cycle is understanding what truly matters in weight loss, and what doesn’t matter at all. Most crucial in this discussion is energy balance. Once a patient has obtained a thorough understanding of energy balance and its role in the regulation of body weight, they are able to take steps to appropriately regulate their caloric intake, and to change their dietary habits and fate on the scale.
Energy balance ultimately determines whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight. Energy balance is impacted most readily by the number of calories we consume through food and beverages. The number of calories you consume relative to the number of calories your body needs to maintain weight is one of the two most important factors when it comes to the number on the bathroom scale. (The second factor: The quality of your food and any intolerances. Things like allergies, health problems, gluten issues, digestive issues, artificial sweeteners, bloating, etc can affect your weight as well.)
Are all calories created equal?
You can consume 1,500 calories worth of high quality fruits, vegetables, dairy, lean protein, and whole grains, or 1,500 calories worth of frappucinos and gummy bears. Traditional wisdom about calories in/calories out would say that your weight-based outcome will ultimately be the same. Math matters in weight loss, and it matters a lot. However, if you are insulin resistant or have diabetes, this scenario could end up in serious health issues and weight gain. There are people for whom simple calories in/calories out regimes work, but most people have to adjust the quality of their food to get lasting results. Let’s not forget that the body does need things like nutrients, healthy fats, vitamins, etc. At the end of the day, balance includes healthy vs. unhealthy.
This can be frustrating for many dieters, who assume that consuming a rigorously healthy diet will award them on the scale. What is the issue? Many dieters fail to lose weight even while consuming very “healthy” diets, because they simply consume too many calories. They are not truly tracking what they are eating and overeating occurs. The other issue is that when they do indulge in unhealthy foods, they binge and those extra calories count. You can work in your favorite foods, but you have to do it using portion control and understand what you are eating before you eat. No assumptions.
Again: math matters. It’s vital that you have an awareness of calories: how many you need, how many are in various foods and beverages, and where you might have more calories coming in than you may have bargained for.
Even healthy foods can be extremely high in calories. Oils (olive, walnut, coconut, etc), nuts and nut butters, avocados, granola and dried fruits are just a few of many healthy-yet incredibly high calorie- foods that dieters may overeat, thereby preventing weight loss.
So, just how many calories do you need? Well, it depends.
Although caloric needs are generalized for nutritional recommendations (for example the average, semi-active adult needs 2000 calories to maintain a healthy weight), the specific number of calories our bodies needs varies depending on a number of factors, including age, sex, current body weight, highest body weight, activity level, and any underlying disease state. There is no magic number. You have to do your research.
Individual Caloric Need.
- There are a lot of formulas out there. I would suggest using BMR. More info on that method.
- Example: If you’re aiming to lose weight, a deficit of 3,500 calories is required to create 1 lbs worth of weight loss. In other words, to lose 1 lb per week (again, a deficit of 3,500 calories), you would need to reduce your current intake by 500 calories each day (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). This is a widely used equation, but it’s not set in stone. You can use it as a guideline.
- Example: However, if you desire a slower rate of weight loss, you may simply begin to consume the number of calories required for your goal weight. For example, a 165 lb woman who requires at least 1980 calories to maintain her current weight may gradually reach a weight of 145 lbs by consuming 1740 calories each day.Because this deficit is smaller (240 calories each day vs 500 calories), the rate of weight loss will be slower, yet it will still likely occur. This method also has the advantage of placing you immediately at your goal number of calories for weight maintenance at your new, lower weight.
Regardless of what method you choose, remember: math matters. While the nutritive quality of foods is vitally important for overall health and disease prevention, fostering an awareness of energy balance ultimately awards you the freedom of consuming your favorite in foods in moderation while achieving a balanced, healthy diet and body weight.
Note: If you can afford it or if you can find a free program in your area, please speak with a nutritionist or dietitian about your goals. It’s worth the investment! I also want to note that exercise is important as well, especially when it comes to fat loss. However, you can’t out exercise a bad diet. If you are working out and consuming too many calories, that’s not a good combination. Exercise can help you to create a calorie deficit, improve your cardiovascular health, gain muscle (which burn fat at rest) and help your overall mood.