You’ve heard all the trends- IIFYM, ketogenic diets, weight watchers, calorie counting, paleo, intermittent fasting, etc… so which one works? In my opinion the two most important questions to test the effectiveness of someone’s diet are:
Is it sustainable?
How much self-monitoring is involved?
Let’s take low-carb diets as an example. Everyone knows at least one person who is currently on a low-carb diet for an upcoming wedding, vacation, competition, or general weight-loss goals. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel source. When you take them away, it creates a massive energy gap, aka the calories you consume are less than the calories you burn throughout the day. This energy gap can be effective for short-term weight loss, especially from the initial changes in your water and glycogen levels. Seems easy enough, right? But what happens over time when you eliminate a major food group from your diet? If you read our interview with Dr. Layne Norton, you know that your metabolic rate goes down, in addition to a multitude of negative health consequences.
“Focus on lifestyle and habit change and stuff that can last for the long-term vs just saying ‘I can stick to this. I know it’s no carb, no fat, all protein, with whatever supplement is being promoted… but if I can just get through these 10 weeks, I’ll lose those 15 pounds.’ Okay but what after that? Once you stop doing that, you’re just gonna regain and be back in the same place or based on the data, probably worse.” – Layne Norton
Dr. Norton also gave us the alarming statistic that within a year of weight loss, 70% of people will regain all the weight they lost. Within two years, it’s 85%. Within three years, it’s 95%. Here’s the real kicker- 1/3-2/3 of those people will add more body fat than they originally started with.
Moving onto my next question, how much self-monitoring is involved with your low-carb diet? Since you eliminated carbs, chances are you’re going to get a little hangry. Maybe you add an extra avocado to your dinner, or grab an extra handful of almonds, because “as long as I’m not eating carbs, I’m losing weight right?!” News flash: you can gain weight on a low-carb diet if you are not monitoring your food intake. I see it happen all the time. Fats are 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates are only 4 calories per gram. It’s actually terrifying how easily you can rack up those calories when you switch to a low-carb, high-fat diet.
Let’s talk about the nutrition approach I have personally taken for the past 4 years, and through which I coach my clients: Flexible Dieting/”If It Fits Your Macros.”
I like to think of IIFYM as the holy grail for foodies. Do you love to eat out at new restaurants? Is ice cream the one thing you have to have every night? Does even the thought of giving up your glass of wine on a Friday night (or every night that ends in “Y”) make you sweat profusely? DO YOU JUST LIKE TO EAT GOOD FOOD?! Why try to rely on willpower alone to stop yourself because you heard “(fill in the blank) will make you fat?” What if I told you that it’s possible to eat that ice cream every single night and lose weight?
All calories break down into macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The only exception is alcohol (empty calories). Each of these macronutrients play an important role in energy, growth, hormone production, and just plain old bodily functions.
Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Break down into amino acids, which are the building blocks for growth and repair of tissues
- Make essential hormones and enzymes
- Support immune function
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
- Provide the major source of energy to fuel our daily activities
- Support intestinal health
- Assist in waste elimination
Fats: 9 calories per gram
- Supply fatty acids that the body needs but cannot make, like Omega-3’s
- Assist with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
- Maintain healthy tissues and cells
- Ensure proper nerve and brain function
There is no perfect ratio of macronutrients that fits everyone’s lifestyle. Age, activity level in and out of the gym, metabolism, fitness goals, gender, height, and weight all play a role in determining your individual macronutrient needs. There are plenty of free macro calculators (such as IIFYM.com) that can act as a decent starting place, but I use my own formula with my clients.
Once those numbers have been determined, here’s where life gets a whole lot easier: you determine how to fill those numbers. When you restrict certain types of food (sugar, bread, cheese, your favorite Starbucks drink…), you are tempted to cheat. In fact, you anticipate cheating. I mean cheating is what keeps you sane, right? But here’s the truth: you can put on pounds of body fat in one single cheat day.
“When you diet, you tend to lose lean body mass and fat, but when you gain it back, you tend to gain all fat, and you tend to gain your fat mass in your trunk as opposed to your extremities- especially if you regain it quickly. There is some data that shows if you diet and regain it very very quickly, you produce new fat cells.” -Layne Norton
Still, one of the first questions that many of my clients ask is “when is my cheat day??” This question completely defeats the purpose of flexible dieting. If you’re craving something, eat it! Then account for those macros into your daily numbers.
Macros Made Simple
Let’s look at one of the greatest inventions known to man: the Chick-fil-A sandwich. The macros on this bad boy are-
19 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, 28 grams of protein
Now let’s compare that to a “clean” meal of a grilled chicken, potatoes, and broccolini, and olive oil-
19 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, 28 grams of protein
The macros are the same. Protein is protein, carbs are carbs, and fats are fats. Your body breaks them down the same way. That being said, I prefer to eat foods that are rich in micronutrients because
- They’re great for you
- I’m pregnant
- That’s my personal choice
None of these reasons have to do with body composition or weight management. You don’t achieve optimal results by “eating clean.” You achieve optimal results by staying consistent and practicing some form of self-monitoring. With practice, it becomes second nature, because it’s a lifestyle change.
So keep calm, and #TreatYoSelf