Okay! You’re finally ready to start making some changes, but you’re not quite sure what you’re going to change or how you’re going to change it. Hopefully you passed basic math back in the day; if you didn’t and you made it this far in life…I’m not even mad, I’m impressed. Anyhoo, remember this basic equation:
One pound of fat = 3500 calories
If we do some complex synergistic rocket geometric algebra here, we can determine that 3500/7 = 500.
That means that if you are interested in losing ONE pound per week, you need to be eating 500 less calories per day (or burning 500 calories more per day). Optimally, your 500 calorie deficit per day would come from a combination of increased exercise and decreased calorie intake, but lets just say for today that you’re going to focus on eating 500 less calories per day.
“But Steve, how do I do that?”
Great question, thank you so much for asking!
I HIGHLY recommend you spend the next three to four days tracking your calorie intake. And when I say track them, I mean track EVERY FREAKING THING YOU EAT. Yeah, those handful of M&M’s you stole off of Milton’s desk at work count. So does that half can of coke you found in your back seat cupholder from last June. So does the handful of french fries you stole from Paul while he was in the bathroom at MacDonald’s.
But counting calories is boring, right? And who has time to calculate all of that? Right? Luckily, there’s this thing called the Internet – sign up for a calorie tracking site and start tracking!
Now, once you have a few days under your belt, take a look back and determine an average for what you’ve been eating and how many total calories you’ve been eating daily.
To lose a pound a week, knock 500 calories out of that diet per day. If you want to lose half a pound a week, knock 250 calories out of your diet per day. It might mean one less snack, ordering a smaller lunch, or cutting back on soda (liquid calories are BRUTAL). Note, if you track calories for a few days and you don’t lose weight, you’re probably underestimating or underreporting how you much food you eat.
Your body DOES obey the laws of thermodynamics (energy in, energy out), and your metabolism isn’t slow! You’re simply eating too much. I promise! Take 3 minutes to watch this if you’re convinced your metabolism doesn’t operate like normal:
A quick note: if you are used to eating 4,000 calories a day, switching to 2,000 per day will probably make you want to gnaw your arm off – instead, slowly decrease your calorie intake by a few hundred calories each week.
Think of your stomach like a muscle that needs to be trained – it needs to learn that it can function and operate on way less food than you’ve been giving it.
This is the most easy-to-understand method of weight loss – you still eat all of the same foods, you just have to adjust how much you are eating of those same foods.
Unfortunately, this method also produces the least optimal healthy results in my opinion and is the easiest to abandon (eating only HALF of something deliciously unhealthy is tougher than not eating it at all, in my opinion!) but it’s a great place for a newbie to start taking control of his/her eating.
Once you’ve learned how many calories you’re consuming, you might start to see a few pounds disappear, but it’s just a step in the right direction. Hopefully this won’t come as a shock to you, but 2000 calories worth of gingerbread cookies doesn’t fuel your body the same way 2,000 calories of meat, vegetables, and fruit would.
Not all calories are created equal!
Your body digests certain types of nutrients differently, using them for all sorts of bodily functions: building muscle, transporting nutrients, fueling various organs or muscles, or storing energy as fat for later use. Let’s take a look at how to compose a basic meal:
Protein: When you exercise, your muscles are broken down and then use protein to rebuild themselves stronger while recovering. Protein absolutely NEEDS to be a main component of every meal. Aim for one gram per pound (two grams per KG) of lean body weight, or just do one gram per pound of body weight if you don’t want to do the math – with an upper limit of 200 grams. Sources of protein include chicken, eggs, beef, pork, fish, nuts, legumes, quinoa, and most dairy products.
Carbohydrates: When you eat carbohydrates, they get converted to glucose (sugar) in your system, which is then used to provide energy for all sorts of body functions to take place. Vegetables and/or fresh fruit are quality sources of carbohydrates, with grains being less so in my opinion…but we’ll get to more grains later. There are certainly bad carbohydrates (processed carbs, refined grains, and more), and those are the ones we want to avoid. Unless you’re a marathon runner, you can function with WAY less carbs than you’re probably consuming now.
Fat: Fat is easily the most misunderstood macro-nutrient in your diet; long story short: fat is absolutely critical to your body and should make up a BIG portion of your daily calories. Things like avocados, almonds, olive oil, walnuts, and almond butter are great sources of healthy fat (polyunsaturatured and monounsaturated). If you take this stance on saturated fat (personally, I do), then full fat milk, coconut milk, and fatty cuts of meat will provide you with sources of saturated fat.
The first thing I want to make sure you know is that the fat in your food is not what made you fat. It wasn’t until the past 40-50 years that poor fat was suddenly vilified (after a few scientific leaps of faith with no real evidence to back it up), which is why every “healthy” food these days is “low fat” or “fat free!” Not surprisingly, our country is fatter and more unhealthy than ever, and yet people still avoid fat at all costs and consume more “healthy whole grains!” (ugh).
So what IS making us fat? Simple, refined, and/or processed carbohydrates! Rather than spend thirty minutes typing it out, I’d recommend instead that you spend three minutes to watch this video to show WHY excessive carbohydrate consumption can make you fat:
For more in-depth reading on this subject, I highly recommend checking out Why We Got Fat by Gary Taubes, also the author of “What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,” an must-read article that blew the doors off my thoughts on healthy back when I started my education.
So, if you’re looking to kick start your weight loss journey with healthy eating, start by swapping out processed refined carbohydrates for more natural foods.
Depending on your level of commitment and your ability to handle change, you might be better off making one small change every other week rather than a whole bunch of changes simultaneously.
You’re making permanent, lasting changes in your diet and your life…better to take it slowly and be successful than to try way too much at once and fail miserably.