Given that most of us are focused on weight loss during this time of year, I’m going to devote the next couple of posts to this topic.
It continues to amaze me how much misinformation there is on this topic. It’s something I am very passionate about because I spent most of my teens and early twenties on diets or periods of calorie restriction. So when I meet with women that are frustrated, disillusioned and confused by their countless attempts to lose weight, it makes me more determined to get the right information out there.
As you’ve heard me say in a previous post, we really need to eliminate the weight loss mentality from our vocabulary. And I’m happy to say, the shift is happening. There is definitely more awareness about the benefits of eating healthy, and the ineffectiveness of fad diets and quick-fix gimmicks. Having said that, there is still some confusion and conflicting information.
One topic that always sparks debate is the need for calorie counting. I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like “as long as you’re eating healthy food, calories don’t matter” or on the opposite end know of successful programs that are based points and pre-set meals etc that do limit your total daily intake. I’ve also met many people who say to me “I’m eating healthy and still gaining weight, why is that?” In fact, I’ve experienced this last one myself!
So do calories matter? Yes and no.
Not what you wanted to hear right? Unfortunately the answer isn’t that simple. From a weight loss perspective, the science behind losing weight is quite straightforward. In order for your body to lose 1lb of fat, it takes a 3500-calorie deficit. So if you do the math, this means you need to reduce about 500 calories a day to lose 1lb in a week. On a side note ladies – this is the reason for the 2lbs a week average! This means that any diet, cleanse or program promising more than that is going to be mostly water weight. (Don’t get me wrong, I think cleansing is very important in managing overall health, but it should never be done solely as a means of quick weight loss – watch out for any cleanse that promises quick and significant weight loss as one of it’s key selling features)
Even with the math above, weight loss is more complex than simple “calories-in and calories-out”. Our bodies are not simply “caloric bank accounts”. They are more like a science lab of chemical activities that rely on specific nutrients in order to function properly. More and more research is indicating the complex function of hormones within the body that affect our hunger, satiety and ultimately our metabolism.
Therefore the quality of calories consumed is extremely important. This is why a strict calorie counting approach does not work in the long term. It may have worked in your twenties, but over-time if you are not consuming sufficient nutrients, or feeding your body poor quality, processed, nutrient-deficient foods, your metabolism will eventually begin to slow down.
So what’s the best approach? A healthy diet comprised of whole foods combined with portion control. If you eat mainly whole foods, you will automatically be consuming food that is nutrient dense and also lower in calories. This means you are eating more food, more often and not as hungry as you would be on a typical diet. The high quality food is also fueling your body’s physiological function, which means a revved-up metabolism!
Portion control is important because it keeps the amount of food you consume in check. Due to yo-yo dieting, skipping meals, over-sized restaurant portions and so forth, most of us have no idea what a typical serving or portion size should look like or what it feels like to eat a meal until we’re 85% full. Following portion control will help you eat within a healthy caloric range until your natural hunger and satiety responses return and your body gets used to eating at regular intervals in moderate amounts.
From my experience, the easiest foods to over-consume are carbohydrates (whole grains) and fats (nuts and seeds, oils). So here are a few guidelines to get you started, but first a quick note – these numbers are general parameters, the total number of servings will vary based on your goals, size and activity level.
1 serving of grains (rice, quinoa, oats, etc) is ? cup. For reference 1 cup is about the size of a baseball. You can have anywhere from 2-4 servings of grains per day. So for the average female, that means 1 cup of oats in the morning plus ? cup of quinoa at lunch would be your 3 servings of grains for the day. The rest of your carbohydrates should come from fruits and vegetables.
1 serving of fats is approx 10-12 nuts (1/2 a handful) or 1 tbsp of oil or ? of an avocado. Aim for 2-3 servings of quality fats per day. One of the biggest weight loss mistakes I see is people snacking on trail mix all day. While it is a healthier option than chocolate bars and chips, both nuts and dried fruit are extremely nutrient dense so those calories can really add up! Be sure to divide your servings and take a small container to work.
In both my personal and professional experience, I have found this to be the easiest and most effective approach to healthy, effective and most importantly… permanent weight loss. I hope you find these tips helpful!
To your health and happiness,