In my opinion a lack of education and lack of nutritional knowledge of food is what creates problems and creates bad relationships with foods. Losing weight is not just about eating less food, it is about eating the right amounts of certain foods. Focus on getting confident with food. Get used to judging portion sizes, and the weight of food (I would highly recommend buying a food scale or other kitchen tools for measuring portion sizes).
Whilst counting calories and ensuring you take in less than what you burn off will result in weight loss, it will not allow you to change the composition of your body. Technically you could take in 2000 calories in a day that is comprised almost exculsively of carbohydrates, with hardly any fat or protein. The lack of fat could effect your hormonal balance, and the lack of protein would effect your muscle mass. Each of the three “Macronutrients” (Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats) are important to take in to your diet in adequate amount.
Basic on Calories vs Macronutrients
Macronutrient-counting is a more defined way of counting calories. The macros are dervied from your calorie requirments. If you’re hitting your macros, you’re hitting your calories. We are looking for balance, so a mix of healthy foods but this allows you also to eat so called “naughty foods” too. You are controlling what goes in. The key is knowing how many calories your body requires, and then figuring out how much of each macronutrient you require for your diet to be optimal and to help you to achieve your goals.
These are the three major nutrients that you take into your body through foods; Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat. Alcohol is also a macronutrient and counts towards calories.
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Keeping track of your macronutrient intake is about having control over the levels of the foods that you are taking in. It can be from whatever source you choose. For example you could choose to have 50grams of carbohydrates from a Pop Tart, or you could choose to have 50 grams of carbohydrates from a sweet potato. Nutrition labels are very clear these days and you can easily idenitfy how many calories are contained within foods, as well as the amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fats.
You can have foods that would normally not be allowed in a diet, the reason these foods are deamed “not allowed” in many other diets is that they are high impact foods. They contain a high volume of calories in a small portion size, so it is very easy for people to overshoot their caloric requirements without really knowing about it. When trying to lose weight your calories are lower, and so it is preferable to eat “low-impact” foods which gives you greater volume for the same amount of carbohydrates. However, it is entirely up to you what food sources you choose. As long as you are aiming for set numbers of Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein.
How to calculate your daily requirments.
You need to eat a balanced day to day diet that you have control over. It needs to be at the levels required for your lifestyle, activity level, age, weight and body composition.
It is possible to estimate your personal daily calorie needs via your body weight and your daily physical activity. You can either use the formula below, or there are numerous sites on the internet that offer calorie calculators which will do this for you.
Step 1: Determine your Basal Metabolic Rate
For females = Your weight (kg) x 22
For males = Your weight (kg) x 24
Step 2: Determine your Physical Activity Level (includes ALL activites including employment, housework, gym)
1.2 Sedentary (mainly sitting)
1.3 Fairly Active (walking + exercise 1 or 2 times per week)
1.4 Moderately Active (exercise 2-3 times per week)
1.5 Active (intense exercise 3+ times per week)
Step 3: Calculate your Daily Caloric Needs
Basal Metabolic Rate (Step 1) x Physical Activity Level (Step 2) = Daily Caloric Needs.
This formula provides an ESTIMATE of the calories you need daily to MAINTAIN your weight.
Example: A 70kg female who is Moderately Active:
Basal Metabolic Rate (70 x 22 = 1,540) x Physical Activity Level (1.4) = 2,156 calories.
This gives you a starting point, from here you can adjust your food intake in accordance with your goals. If you want to lose weight than you need to eat fewer calories than your daily caloric needs. If you want to gain weight, you need to eat more than your daily caloric needs.
To LOSE WEIGHT, aim to eat 300-500 calories less than your Daily Caloric Needs. So for a person who needs 2,156 calories to maintain their weight, they could drop their calories to 1,656 calories per day. Knowing how much of each macronutrient to consume is trial and error, but a good starting point would be to consume 25% of your calories from fat, roughly 1.2grams of protein per kg of bodyweight and then fill the rest of your calories with carbohydrates.
Key points to take away
So as not to overcomplicate things, as a starting point I would encourage you firstly to calculate your daily calorie needs based on your goal of losing weight. Then to take your bodyweight in kilograms and times it by 1.2 to give you the amount of protein you should be aiming for.
Get to know the nutritional value of foods that you are eating, be consistent with your portion sizes and eat in a way that suits your lifestyle. For example if you are busy, try to get the majority of your calories from just 1 or 2 large meals.
Be aware of hidden calories, for example a medium hot chocolate at Costa contains 327 calories (14 fat, 35 carbs and 13 protein). Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t consume these types of foods, but you should familiarise yourself with their macro-nutrient content so as to be better informed about what you are consuming on a day to day basis. If you still want to consume such things, you will need to account for these calories towards your daily goals. Or consider asking for skimmed milk instead of whole.
Eating correctly isn’t just about altering your body weight, it is about consuming what your body needs to perform at its best. For energy throughout the day, for chemical reactions to take place, for hormone balance, for growth and repair of muscle, along with many other factors which are too many to mention here. Although your main goal may be to lose weight, it is more optimal for your body to drop weight slowly and in a controlled manner in order to maintain as much lean body mass as possible.
Consistency and patience are key. You need to set realistic timelines and goals. People become disheartened because they expect too much will happen in a short space of time. Losing weight too quickly you will be losing a lot of water weight and lean body mass. You want a gradual weight loss , this way you allow yourself to maintain a higher level of food, and adjust it very slightly over time which helps maintain a higher metabolic activity.
Dropping calories and weight too quickly you will plateua and have a negative rebound effect afterwards. This is why many “quick fix” diets promising large amounts of weight loss over a short time, are not sustainable or effective – or even healthy. Yes people drop weight quickly, they see results quickly and this motivates them. But the low amounts of calories isn’t realistic to maintain for long periods, and then people don’t know where to go from there.
A few additional points:
• Meal timing and frequency is irrelevant. You can consume 2 meals per day or 6 meals a day, it doesn’t matter, as long as you hit your goals by the end of the day. Just be aware that if you eat later in the day and then weigh yourself the next morning it may give you a slightly inaccurate weight. Work it around your commitments. Just hit your targets by the end of the day.
• Record your weight every morning and then take an average at the end of the week. Aim for a weight loss of 0.5kg per week.
• You can lose weight with diet alone, however if you want to accelerate your weight loss then increasing your physical activity or doing cardiovascular exercise will cause you to burn even more calories. However you do not want to create a HUGE calorie deficit to the point where you lose weight too quickly. So if your physical activity level increases, you may need to take in more calories to offset the effects.
• MICRONUTRIENTS are extremely important as they provide the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to perform chemical reactions required to unlock the energy from foods. So although macro-nutrient counting does allow you to be flexible with your food choices, it is important to prioritise nutrient-dense wholefoods, and then the rest of your calories can be made up with more “exciting” foods of your choice.
• Fibre is very important in the diet. Aim for 15grams of fibre for every 1000 calories consumed.
If macro-counting isnt for you, you will need to be more careful with food selection and be consistent with your portion sizes. You will need to choose more low-impact foods and stay away from processed foods, high sugar etc. Low impact food will offer much more volume for the same amount of calories/macros. Wholefoods means less chance of going wrong and give a lower margin of error.
**This is a very basic guide to Nutrition, there are a lot more variables and things to consider. Macronutrient intake can be calculated down to very specific margins based on an individual’s goals, lifestyle, weight, age, body composition and activity level.