Health and fitness has become a bit of an obsession of mine.
The picture shows me at my heaviest in May 2004 and most recently at a 5k race in March 2007. I’ve always struggled with my weight which basically means that I struggled to take weight off. Putting it on was very easy. Over the three years I’ve read a lot, researched a lot and — most importantly — gained a lot of information from my own experiences. There is a lot of confusing and conflicting information which makes it hard to formulate a successful plan. There are also many misconceptions regarding weight loss. Many people assume you have to eat like a sparrow and workout like a horse which really isn’t true. All you need to do is give your body the nutrition it was designed to have.
The food and drink you consume has three basic macronutrients. These are protein, carbohydrate and fat. Each one has a vital role to play in maintaining your well-being. We’ll quickly examine each one to get a better understanding what foods we should eat and why. I’ll try my best to avoid a science lecture and I’ll distill it down to the basics.
Your metabolism is your body’s best weapon for fat loss. Your resting metabolic rate is the term given to the number of calories your body uses just keeping you alive. The higher the number, the more fat you’ll burn.
Protein is the building block for your lean tissue (your muscles and connective tissues). Your body is in a constant state of protein synthesis. Old protein blocks are constantly being broken down and new protein blocks are being built. If you’re breaking down more muscle tissue than you’re creating then you’ll lose muscle which happens a lot with crash dieters and explains why those individuals have folds and folds of lose skin once they’ve lost their weight. They have lost a lot of the skin’s supporting muscle leaving it with engorged fat cells under the surface which is why it can’t contract properly.
Protein is good because it helps build and maintain your lean tissue. Lean tissue is expensive for your body to maintain which basically means you burn more calories in a day for no extra effort. Protein has a good thermic effect too. Protein is expensive to digest which means your body has to work a little harder burning more of those calories doing so.
Protein is rarely stored as fat in your body unless you eat a huge amount of it.
Carbohydrate is your body’s prime source of energy. Controlling carbohydrates are key to losing weight. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and white pasta will raise your blood sugar levels (glucose) which causes an insulin spike to control it. This hormonal response stops your body from using its fat supplies until your glucose levels have fallen. Complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta don’t raise your blood sugar levels and are excellent sources of slow release energy. Like any carbohydrate, excessive quantities will be stored as fat. Fruits and honey contain fructose which don’t raise your insulin levels are is stored as glycogen in the liver ready for use. Excessive quantities of fructose are stored as fat in your liver.
Fat is probably the most misunderstood macronutrient. Fat has a bad name because it has 9 calories per gram whereas protein and carbohydrate have only 4 calories per gram but eating fat won’t make you fat. Consuming a sensible amount of good fats (oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, etc) will allow your body to continue using its fat supplies. Always avoid man made ‘trans-fats’ (partially hydrogenated oil) and keep an eye on saturated fat levels, although those won’t be much of a problem if you eat good natural foods.
Low Fat and Low Calorie Diets Won’t Work
Most diets will get you to go low fat and low calorie. This won’t work because you’re limiting the very things it needs to continue burning away your fat supplies. Too few calories and your body will slow down your metabolism to conserve energy and it’ll start burning your lean tissue instead! The less lean tissue you have the slower your metabolism gets and the harder you find it to lose weight. It’s a cycle that leads you straight back to junk food in despair.
It’s very easy to think you’re eating well on a low fat diet of rice, pasta and baked potatoes without realising you’re flooding your body with carbohydrates which will end up around your waist as fat.
- There are a few golden rules to keep in mind when deciding on which foods to eat.
- Eat 5 or 6 smaller meals a day to keep your body’s metabolic fire burning well
- Eat protein with each meal to keep your in a positive protein balance to build more muscle
- Never eat refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, etc) with fat. The refined carbohydrates spike your insulin. Your body stops burning and processing fat so the fat you eat gets stored straight away.
- Avoid eating carbohydrates three hours before you sleep to prevent a hormonal response which will slow down the burning of your fat supplies.
- Eat at least three servings of low fat dairy a day. Calcium promotes fat loss in a big way.
- Drink at least 2-3 litres of water each day. Your metabolism will slow if you’re as little as 2% dehydrated. The water also helps mobilise the fat cells for use as energy.
What to Eat
The first thing you need to do is to figure out your daily metabolic rate. This is the number of calories you burn in a day going about your daily business. An average 200lb office worker will burn around 3200 calories a day. You can find out yours with this simple calculator.
A pound of fat costs around 3500 calories. If you want to lose a pound a week then reduce your calorie intake by 500 a day (making 2700), double that to lose two pound a week (making 2200). It’s suggested that you go no lower than around 1800 calories a day (for our 200lb office worker).
You’ll need to aim for around 1g per 1lb of body weight of protein a day. Around 1 to 1.5g per 1lb of body weight of carbohydrate a day although you can go as low as 100grams a day if you want a weight loss boost although continued low carbohydrate dieting will make you very tired and it promotes mood swings. Aim for around 70g of healthy fats a day.
Here’s what I eat in an average day on a non exercise day. When you exercise you have other nutrient requirements which I’ll cover in a later blog entry.
BREAKFAST: Protein shake (whey with water). Instant oats (unflavoured and unsweetened) made with skimmed milk with 20g raisins and a dab of honey.
The oats are a low GI food which gives a nice slow supply of energy. The raisins and honey contain fructose which are stored as glycogen in your liver ready to be used.
SNACK: Natural yogurt or Banana with small cup of mixed nuts.
Nuts contain many useful vitamins and some protein. The banana is a good source of slow release energy and low in sugars.
LUNCH: Wholemeal sandwich (no mayo) with chicken and tomato. 1 large apple
The chicken is a good source of protein. The wholemeal bread is a good source of slow release energy. The apple contains many useful vitamins.
SNACK: Tuna (canned, in spring water or brine) with a small piece of cheese
Tuna is another excellent low carbohydrate source of protein. The cheese is an essential fat which helps transport the protein to your lean tissues.
DINNER: Salmon or Tuna or Chicken or Steak (grilled or fried in a touch of olive oil) with either mixed vegetables (I like the stir fry vegetables) or salad.
The fish or meat provides the protein while the vegetables supply fibre, vitamins and are low carbohydrate
SNACK: 250g 0% Fat Greek Yogurt mixed with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter with two chopped dried apricots
The yogurt is low in carbohydrate and lactose but high in calcium and protein. The peanut butter provides some essential good fat and the apricots are a good low carbohydrate way of sweetening the yogurt
BEDTIME : Protein shake (whey with milk)
Mixing whey powder with skimmed milk provides another serving of dairy and the lactose in the milk slows down the protein breakdown which will sustain you through the night.
This totals around 2300 calories, 220g carbohydrates, 210g protein and about 70g fat.
The past three years have taught me that you don’t really need to change too much to start losing weight and to keep that weight off. You should be realistic and not look for an overnight change. A steady weight loss of 1-2lb a week is ideal. A little exercise will keep things moving too which I plan to cover in a later blog entry.