One of my personal mandates to myself was that this is not a diet, but a sustainable lifestyle change. For me sustainable means some very specific things. It means making changes that I’m willing to live with once I’ve reached my goal weight.
- Normal Food — No special diet foods or drugs like Nutri-system, Alli, etc.
- Affordable food
- Good Tasting Food — No awful tasting foods for the short term goal, e.g. rice cakes.
- No extreme or ridiculous sacrifices, e.g. never eating chocolate or having a beer ever again.
- Learn to live with moderation.
I came into this knowing that the fad diets ( Atkins, South Beach, etc.) work in the short term, but they throw off your body’s nutritional balance causing you to gain back the weight. I also knew from experience, that if I “dieted” I’d go back to my old ways once I lost the weight. Mainly because I had “been there and done that”.
I started reading books by Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels based on their track record of success on NBC’s show, The Biggest Loser. Not only have they successfully helped people in much worse shape than I, but most of the contestants keep the weight off. I also knew that both trainers advocated a healthy lifestyle, not fad diets. In all of their books, they cite the medical research to back up their claims. I even did some of my own research to double check them. They were accurate with every claim I checked.
Macro Nutrient Ratio
The most important thing I learned was that I needed a proper balance of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. I was rather surprised by the ratio recommended. The percentage of fat surprised me. I did not expect it to be so high.
- 40% Carbohydrates
- 30% Proteins
- 30% Fats
How much do I need to eat?
The next most important thing I learned was that to lose weight, I needed to eat more calories than I had expected. By eating too little, your body goes into starvation mode and will not lose weight. Appetite and Satiety (feeling full or satisfied) are controlled by hormones, ghrelin and leptin. If you do not eat a proper balance of food these hormones can become unbalanced. If this happens, your body will tell you that you are hungry when you have had more than enough food. Over a prolonged time, the excess food can also raise your insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes.
The correct calorie count varies by person. You need to find out your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This the number of calories you burn just being alive. There is a complicated math formula if you like doing things the hard way. However there is a free BMR calculator at MyFitnessPal.com. All you have to provide is your goal weight, age, height, and gender. It will return a number. That is the absolute minimum caloric intake you should eat. If you exercise on top of that, you may need to eat more. I have found the most consistent results averaging 750 calorie deficit per day. That loses about 1.5 lb per week or 6 lbs per month. 1000 calories per day looses 2 lbs per week. That is sustainable for a short time, but not over the long haul. If I maintain that for too long, my weight loss will “plateau” or stop even though I have a calorie deficit. The only way to end that sort of plateau, is to increase your calories slightly so your body knows you are not in a famine.
All of this is proportional to your height. I am 5’0″. My BMR is 1,233 currently. A 6′ tall male at 200 lbs would have a BMR of 1830 calories. That is a really big difference. Each person needs to find their own BMR and use that as their starting point.
How do I know which nutrients are in the food I’m eating?
Track your food. In the old days, you would have to get a calorie book and a journal. Now there are multiple web sites where you can setup an account for free and they will provide you with an online calorie tracker. You just plug in what you ate and it will return the calories as well as the macro nutrients break down. Some will provide additional information like Sodium and Cholesterol. Here are a few of the sites that I have personally worked with and recommend. Some are free, other charge. I participate actively in SparkPeople and JillianMichaels.com.
- Sparkpeople – Free (paid for by advertising)
- MyFitnessPal – Free (paid for by advertising)
- JillianMichaels – Fees apply, No ads, customized information for you
- BiggestLoser.com — Fees apply
- BobHarper.com — Fees apply
If you have recommendations on good free tools that you have personally used, please feel to leave them in the comments
Now you are armed with tools to get the nutrition straight which is the larger part of the battle. Feel free to tell us all about your healthy awesome recipes in the comments.
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