In this article, we will address the main considerations to plan your diet. It will addresses the major goals of gaining, maintaining and losing weight; with a perspective of attaining better health and body composition.
Before we set out to achieve something we need to understand what we want to achieve. It is also important to have realistic short term goals.
If you wish changes in body weight, you must understand what our body weight comprises of. We have muscles, bones and other organs in our body which comprises of our lean body mass(LBM). Fat is excluded from our body weight to calculate LBM. From
If you are unsure about what constitutes a realistic fitness goal, please read this article first.
There is a plethora of weight loss diets; but if you know what to watch out for; you can experiment with various healthy diet options; without having to experience the unhealthy fad diets that can really harm your body. The main thing to watch out for are diets which claim to “detox” and claim “fast” results. Your body has a perfectly running detox system comprising of your liver and kidneys.
The only thing you need to do for detox in reality
Evolution has made your body pretty good at managing with stored resources(fat) when food is not available. But evolution has made your body smart enough to use its hormones(which will reflect in mood and cravings); to replenish its stores as soon as food is available again. This can be seen in the way you regain weight lost during illness.
If you want to lose fat for good; you must do it in a respectful manner which is not threatening for your body. You did not gain all your weight in a day and should not lose it all in a day either. There is statistical data that 95% of the people who lose substantial weight; gain it back and more within 5 years. If you intend to beat those odds, and be a part of the 5% who are successful; in losing weight and keeping it off: You need to understand the basics, be patient and respect your body.
From the diagram above; it should be pretty clear that the grey area of non-essential fat is what one needs to lose; to be healthy. Excess body fat is correlated with all sorts of diseases. A doctor who cannot control your diet will only prescribe you medicines. These medicines will help you but the only long term solution is to follow a healthy diet. Nobody can force you to do that, except you.
There are many healthy diets you can choose from that give great results; but there is one thing in common in all of them. Water, Fiber and Protein. Everything else can be tweaked to suit your needs. Water and Fiber are always important; but when you are trying to lose weight, they have the added role of improving satiety. You will be eating less than your energy expenditure to lose weight. Your body is used to more energy intake and you are in charge of satisfying it; without going out of control and giving in to a binge. Water and Fiber will help you immensely in this.
Protein supplies the body with amino acids which are important not just for your muscles but also your bones. There is no way for the body to manufacture essential amino acids which are deficient in your diet. Any excess protein will just get used as fuel for energy. It is not true that excess protein will harm your kidneys unless you already suffer from an existing kidney malfunction. When you are protein deficient, your body will turn to protein stores from muscle or bone. This is highly undesirable for health because muscle and bone health is essential for all our activities. So erring on the side of a slight excess of protein is better than being deficient.
Our body needs energy even when we are using our body fat stores to partially fuel our needs. After fixing your protein intake, you need to split the remaining energy requirement between carbohydrate intake and fat intake. There is a minimum requirement of fat intake but there is no minimum requirement of carbohydrate intake. Minimum fat intake is required because fat has other essential uses in our body beyond energy. This limit is however quite low and easily fulfilled.
Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred fuel source. People often feel tired or lethargic if they cut out carbohydrate intake drastically. There are other considerations you might have for fixing the ratio of carbohydrate and fat in your intake, but the top-most consideration is sustainability. For a diet to be sustainable, it must be as per your food preference as well as convenience. We will cover the other considerations in another article.
The last point to be included here is this:
It is important to understand that losing fat and gaining muscle(in other words, body recomposition); is very much possible if you add strength training to your diet. This will probably slow down and may even reverse the progress you notice; on the weight scale(because muscle is denser than fat). However, from the aesthetic and health perspective, your progress is actually much better with this approach. So if you want to shed inches and look great and be healthy; combine your healthy calorie deficit diet with a good strength training plan. Also, stop worrying about your weight loss chart and start tracking your tape measurements instead.
If you are looking to gain weight; you should be focused on gaining lean mass(muscle and bone weight) rather than fat. Increasing fat in your body is definitely easier; but it will not promote good health since excess fat is correlated with various lifestyle diseases. Gaining muscle will give you an aesthetically pleasing appearance as well as improve your health. However, gaining muscle requires discipline with both diet and exercise.
No matter what your body type(ecto, endo etc) is; if you eat in surplus of your energy expenditure, you will end up gaining weight. Low appetite is the main hurdle for a person who wants to gain weight; but is not able to do so.
The main method to counter this is to increase intake of calorie and nutrient dense foods. Since the goal is to gain muscle, you must be careful not to go into extreme surplus also. A 200-300 kcal surplus is what you need. Anything more than that is found to get stored as fat rather than muscle. The most effective method to encourage your body to make more muscle; is to use your existing muscles to its maximum capacity by lifting weights. A good workout plan targeting all major muscle groups is important along with a diet with a small surplus. The protein requirements are also important because the diet should provide the amino acids needed to trigger muscle synthesis.
Maintaining weight is about approximating your intake with your energy expenditure on a regular basis. Your activities and stress levels can vary over time and affect your metabolism. So it is important to periodically check the trend of your weight and make slight adjustments to your diet.
If you have been on a calorie deficit for many months; and want to maintain your weight; you need to monitor yourself frequently. After losing a considerable amount of weight, your hunger/satiety levels may not be in sync with your energy expenditure. You don’t want to rebound and gain back the weight you lost as 95% of people tend to do statistically. So care must be taken to gradually match the maintenance intake with your hunger levels. This is possible using the slow process of reverse dieting.
In reverse dieting, you would be adding around 100 kcal to your current maintenance diet every 1 or 2 weeks. This way, your body gets time to metabolically adapt to that intake without gaining a large amount of fat. You stop adding calories when you are at the desired intake which you can comfortably maintain your weight at. To know more about reverse dieting, you can refer to this link:
An important aspect of weight maintenance is also to maintain/improve your body composition over time. This is a function of two important parameters: Protein intake and strength training. A protein deficient diet can cause muscle loss as well as weaken bones. Unused muscle is also typically broken down over time, hence strength training periodically is useful for maintaining muscle. The amount of workout volume required to maintain muscle is much lower than that needed to gain muscle. So you will be able to reduce the frequency of workout if you don’t reduce the intensity of your workout. You will also be able to use strength changes to understand whether you are losing muscle or gaining muscle.
Now that you know what your goal is; and what to do to align with that goal; it is time we get into HOW you can do it in reality. Click here to find out how to arrive at your own personalized macros.