Eat

This is meant to be your one-stop-shop for all things nutrition related. Granted, I’m not planning on diving into excruciating levels of detail. Instead, I want this to be a broad-reaching 101 level resource. I imagine I’ll add to and subtract from this page as my opinions change and as I gain more experience and knowledge. If you’d like to discuss this information or make suggestions, please do so in the comments section found at the end.

Of course I’d like for you to read this page from top to bottom. However, it’s long. Very long. So long that I considered putting it in ebook format and making it downloadable. There’s a deliberate flow/organization to the information presented as well… so you’re likely to get the most out of it if you read it in order.

That said, I’m well aware that we all have hectic schedules and short attention spans nowadays. I’ve included a table of contents for those who wish to jump from section to section as needed. Simply click on the the section title and it’ll take you to that part of the page.

Introduction

Food. Put it in your mouth, chew it up, and swallow. Let your body’s biochemistry do its magic by breaking it down and deriving usable energy from it. Move around expending said energy. Rinse. Repeat.

Rewind a couple of million years ago and this process worked. Our species ate to survive. They moved to hunt and gather. They instinctively balanced calories coming in from eating and calories going out through activity. When they didn’t – when calories in were greater than calories out – it was likely followed by the opposite.

They’d eat lots in anticipation of times of food scarcity. In other words, they’d fatten up so they’d be warm and have stored energy through the winter months when animals darted towards the Equator and plants died off. This way of life existed for expanses of time that are beyond your comprehension.

On a biogenetic level, our species is a product of its surroundings. In other words, our environments influence the very systems that comprise and regulate our bodies.

For longer than not, the human species struggled to survive and food scarcity was very real. In turn, our bodies have evolved to be very good at conservation. What we’re left with is a body that loves to store fat and is hesitant to pack on slabs of muscle. It’s quick to resist weight loss and hesitant to resist weight gain.

Looks pretty crappy through the eyes of modern man (and woman!). This complex system is also one of the key reasons why our species is alive today though.

For an in depth explanation of these systems, I can’t recommend the work of Lyle McDonald enough. He has an enormous collection of free articles on his website and his books are some of the best I’ve read in the field. He has influenced my nutrition philosophies more than anyone.

More recently, the environments around us have changed drastically. Ten thousand years ago, our society began transitioning from the hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence to agriculture and the domestication of animals. In terms of our obesity epidemic, this was a critical shift. Food availability was becoming more stable and abundant. Mobile societies that once moved with the food were becoming stationary.

Between then and now, technological advancement has skyrocketed relative to where we were a mere 100 years ago. Computers, televisions, video games, fast food, the Internet – so many things have changed around us. The evolution of our bodies certainly hasn’t kept pace with the evolution of technology. In a world that’s now dominated by sedentary pursuits, the human body’s still built for survival during times of famine.

Archeological and anthropological studies have traced obesity back as far as 25,000 years ago. You can find an interesting review of the history of obesity written by renowned obesity researcher, George Bray, here. Of course the prevalence of obesity wasn’t nearly what it is today. It wasn’t until the 70’s and 80’s that the rates of obesity and extreme obesity really took off.

Courtesy of www.cdc.gov

In the culture of today, it’s commonplace to see someone sporting 150 pounds of excess body fat. Think about that for a second. There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound of fat. These folks are toting around 525,000 calories worth of excess fat. Considering an obese man might expend in the neighborhood of 4,000 – 5,000 calories per day and he could easily shovel down 1,500 + calories in a single meal* — that 525,000 calories is a lot of energy that’s likely to remain stored away if there’s no dietary and exercise intervention.

*The McDonald’s nutrition fact sheet can be found here. A double quarter pounder with cheese (740 cals), large fry (500 cals), and a large Coca-Cola (330 cals) totals nearly 1,600 calories.

Intervention requires education and that’s what this page is about. The information we’re going to cover isn’t solely for obese folks with 100+ lbs to lose. It’s for anyone who wants to have a better handle of how nutrition influences his/her body and health. Those interested in performance enhancement, obesity prevention, and body composition changes will all find useful information below.

The last thing you’ll catch me doing is prescribing diets to people. “Eat this, not that.” If you’re looking for a specific diet, you’ve come to the wrong place. That’s not me. My intent is to educate you on the basics that drive long term success. These basics are constant across populations… meaning they pretty much apply in varying degrees to everyone.

I know reading isn’t the “in” thing nowadays. Most people are either seeking validation for their current strategy or they’re looking for groundbreaking top secret information that will expedite the process of getting in shape. They want to be spoon fed. And there’s no shortage of con men who are willing to do it.

I could easily cater to these folks too. All I’d need to do is whip up a gimmicky looking website with miles of ad copy that’s loaded with altered before & after pictures, ‘scientific’ sounding information, and promises of life-altering transformations in a matter of a couple of months.

Or…

I could take the high road and hope there are still some people out there who are looking for sound, evidence-based advice who want:

  • To be in command of their progress
  • To be an informed consumer
  • To be guided by reason, objectivity, and evidence rather than emotions and lies

I might not catch as many flies with this trap, but at least the flies I do catch will be smart enough to free themselves and advance.

The information below represents the backbone of all diets. Let’s assume you know absolutely nothing about nutrition… this way we’re on a level playing field. For those who are well versed in this stuff, I suggest checking out our articles page and our links page for more advanced content.

Metabolic Rate

Life requires energy. There’s an energy cost to breathing, digesting, thinking, dancing, cleaning, exercising and everything else that we do. The total amount of energy our bodies burn in a day can be referred to as daily energy expenditure (DEE).

This cost is paid for with energy derived from food. What we eat and drink gets broken down into useable forms of energy that fuels our daily energy expenditure.

The daily energy expenditure can be divided up between basal metabolic rate (BMR), thermic effect of activity (TEA), and thermic effect of feeding (TEF).

DEE = BMR + TEA + TEF.

Basal Metabolic Rate is the energy our bodies expend at complete rest. Unless by rest you mean dead… your body expends a relatively large amount of energy maintaining itself while at complete rest. Organ function, cellular processes, tissue maintenance, and a number of other factors comprise BMR. While it varies, BMR accounts for 50-70% of our daily energy expenditures. Any variance that does exist can typically be attributed to differences in lean body mass, age, gender, body composition, and genetics.

The Thermic Effect of Activity is the energy we expend moving around. This can be structured exercise or it can be what’s referred to as spontaneous physical activity (SPA) or non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). The latter accounts for the energy expended gardening, walking up a flight of stairs, fidgeting, typing, cleaning, having sex and all other forms of movement. Obviously an Olympic athlete who’s training for a living is going to have a much higher TEA than the traditional computer jockey of modern society. TEA accounts for 20-50% of the average person’s metabolic rate.

Lastly, the Thermic Effect of Feeding is the energy expended digesting and utilizing the foods that we eat. Different macronutrients require varying amounts of energy to digest – protein being higher than carbohydrates and carbohydrates being higher than fats. The research isn’t great in this area, but it’s not all that important seeing as how TEF accounts for 5-10% of metabolic rate.

By knowing how many calories your body is expending each day, you can tailor the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis in order to gain, lose, or maintain weight. If there’s more energy going in the door than out, weight will be gained. Vice versa, when there’s more energy going out the door than coming in, weight will be lost. Of course weight maintenance is achieved when energy in and energy out are balanced.

Before the blowhards get their panties all bunched up… rest assured that I know there’s more to reaching one’s physique, health, and/or performance goals than controlling calories in and calories out. Keep reading to find out why.

Determining Your Daily Energy Expenditure

Now that you know what comprises daily energy expenditure, how do you go about calculating it?

There are a number of methods for estimating metabolic rate. Some are more rudimentary than others, but for reasons I’ll explain in a bit… the differences between each aren’t all that important.

Most commonly used are equations that estimate basal metabolic rate (BMR). Once that’s estimated, you use a multiplier to account for the other components of energy expenditure; the thermic effect of activity and the thermic effect of feeding.

The most popular BMR calculations are the Harris-Benedict, Katch-McArdle, and Mifflin-St. Jeor equations.

Note:

2.2 lb = 1 kg
1 inch = 2.54 cm

The Harris-Benedict equation is as follows:

  • For Men: 66.5 + (13.75 x kilograms) + (5.003 x centimeters) – (6.775 x age)
  • For Women: 655.1 + (9.563 x kilograms) + (1.850 x centimeters) – (4.676 x age)

The Katch-McArdle equation is as follows:

  • For both sexes: 370 + (21.6 x lean body mass in kg)

The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation is as follows:

  • For Men: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
  • For Women: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161

Once you’ve estimated your BMR using one of these equations, you can then estimate your total energy expenditure by multiplying your BMR by one of the following multipliers:

There are other means of estimating energy expenditure as well including:

  • Doubly Labeled Water – This stuff’s reserved for laboratory settings and it’s expensive. But it’s neat nonetheless. Without getting into the science of it, essentially you chug down a concoction that’s similar to the water you ordinarily drink and the calories you’re expending can quite accurately be measured using some fancy math and urine sampling.
  • Indirect Calorimetry – Many of the larger gyms are starting to have indirect calorimetry devices on hand for metabolic testing. Essentially this method utilizes the relationship between energy expenditure and oxygen consumption to estimate total energy expenditure. I’m sure many of you have seen those devices where you blow into a tube – that’s indirect calorimetry.
  • Bodybugg/Gowear Fit – As of late the popularity of these devices have really taken off. Essentially you wear them on your arm and it estimates your energy expenditure through a number of measurements including electrical conductivity of your skin, skin temperature, and movement. They can be pretty accurate across groups of people but on an individual level, there can be quite a bit of error. It’s good for tracking trends at the very least.
  • You could always meticulously track your calorie intake and monitor your weight. It might take a month or so but eventually you’ll find where your weight is stable and that’s your theoretical maintenance.

Of course this isn’t an extensive list. The point is, you have choices when it comes to estimating metabolic rate. And yea, it’s definitely an important step. All the nutritional voodoo including low carb dieting, nutrient timing, clean eating and everything else doesn’t make a lick of difference if calories aren’t set properly. In order to know how many calories you should eat, you need to have an idea of how many you’re expending.

However, we find that far too many people get hung up on calculating it. Keep in mind that regardless of how you go about estimating it, it’s still an estimate. More importantly, it’s merely a snapshot in time. Metabolism and therefore energy expenditure is not a static phenomenon. It changes with time in response to our environments, our activity, our age, our diet and energy status, etc.

For this reason, we’re more inclined to use a very simple formula:

Total Energy Expenditure = Weight in Pounds x 14-16 Calories

A couple of things…

  1. The 14-16 range isn’t set in stone. It assumes moderate exercise most days of the week. If you are super active and/or feel that you have a fast metabolism, you might want to bump it up to 16-18 or whatever. If you’re not very active and/or feel that you have a slow metabolism, you might want to bump it down to 12-14 or whatever.
  2. If you’re at the extreme ends of body composition (either really lean or really fat) or age (really old, lol) you might consider testing this formula against one of the aforementioned equations.

Seeing as how these are all estimates, that there are individual variances in metabolic rates, and that metabolism is constantly adjusting (though not massively)… my take is simple – don’t sweat your original estimation. I’ll commonly see people fretting about how 2 separate equations or calculators spit out different estimations. The variance might be 100 or even 50 calories and they don’t know what to do. First, chill the hell out. Second, read our recommendations for calorie intake below.

Calories

As alluded to above, we derive the energy for bodily functions and movement from what we eat and drink. This energy is measured in calories – the energy currency of our bodies. We also now understand that if we know how many calories we’re expending, we can eat less or more than this amount in order to lose or gain weight respectively.

Many people confuse calories and nutrients. They are not interchangeable terms as they’re entirely different things. Calories measure the energy that nutrients provide our bodies. So when people claim, “not all calories are created equal,” what they’re really implying is the varying nutrients have different effects in the body. But a calorie is always a calorie just as an inch is always an inch… it’s a unit of measurement.

While both calories and nutrients are extremely important relative to your goals, we’re going to talk about calories here.

As it turns out, humans fail miserably at estimating calorie intake. There’s a bunch of research that confirms this. As James Krieger, a researcher and authority on nutrition who’s worth listening to, points out in this article, even dietitians aren’t very good at monitoring calorie intake. You can write down everything you eat and chances are you’ll still mess it up.

This is highlighted in a 60-minute documentary titled 10 Things You Need To Know About Losing Weight. In the documentary, an obese woman believes she has a slow metabolism. They follow her into the testing facility where it’s confirmed that her metabolic rate is perfectly normal. In an attempt to figure out why she’s obese if her metabolism is working properly, she records all of the food she eats over a 9 day period. The first four days she recalls what she ate at the end of each day on video. The final 5 days she records her food consumption in a food diary after each and every meal.

Of course the idea is to uncover the fact that she’s eating more calories than her body needs, thus explaining the excess body weight. What’s really cool is they also had her drink doubly labeled water, which I discussed in the above section. This stuff let the researchers accurately compare how many calories the woman actually ate to the amount that she believed she ate.

After the 9 days the video record, the written record, and the urine samples (for the doubly labeled water testing) were sent to the lab in order to figure out what’s going on, calorically speaking.

Drum roll please…

In her diaries, she estimated eating well below 2,000 calories per day. The doubly labeled water, on the other hand, showed that the woman was underestimating her calorie intake by well over 1,000 calories per day. The dietitian in the documentary states to the woman, “You’re actually forgetting 60% of what you’re eating.”

Some people lie to themselves. Others are simply forgetful. Others have such automatic nibbling habits that they don’t even realize when or how much they’ve eaten. I highly recommend the book, Mindless Eating, to see just how tricky calorie consumption can be given the way that our minds work.

Irrespective of what’s fueling the inaccuracies, most people aren’t going to be able to reasonably assess their own calorie intakes.

To improve accuracy, we ask many of our clients to use a digital food scale. If you weigh every morsel of energy that passes your lips, you’re likely to get a much more accurate estimation. Some people stop short of this by using measuring cups and spoons. This can lead to some problems, which my friend Leigh Peele brilliantly highlighted in this video. Buy a scale.


You can then record your intake on a free website, an excel spreadsheet, or on good old paper. Some websites that I like for recording purposes include:

www.myfitnesspal.com

www.fitday.com

www.dailyplate.com

http://nutritiondata.self.com/

The nice thing about these sites is they’re database driven. This means all you have to do is input the type and amount of food eaten and it computes the number of calories and nutrients for you. If you’re recording in excel or on paper, you can rely on the United States Department of Agriculture’s database to find the nutrition information of your weighed foods.

Are you doomed to weighing and recording everything that you eat from here on out? Absolutely not. I view it as a temporary step used to familiarize yourself with portion sizes and the calorie-density of various foods. It’ll increase your awareness and insight of calorie consumption.

Some people stop after 2-4 weeks of consistent logging. Others continue forever. It’s a judgement call you’ll have to make.

Once you’ve calculated your daily energy expenditure, the question then becomes, “How much under my DEE do I want to set my calories to trigger fat loss?” (or over if the goal is weight gain). Remember that if you were to set your calorie intake at the same level of your DEE, in theory your weight would be stable, which is why this intake is referred to as maintenance.

It’s traditionally suggested that you subtract 500 calories from your maintenance level per day. This 500 cal/day would net a 3,500 calorie deficit by the end of 1 week. Since there are 3,500 calories in 1 pound of fat, it’s a simple way to lose 1 pound of fat per week. Or so it seems.

Many people quickly learn that this simple formula doesn’t typically pan out in the real world. There are a number of reasons why it doesn’t – most notably is the fact that as we lose weight, our metabolic rate drops. Most of this is due to the loss of tissue… which means less mass to support and move around. Some of this has to do with what’s referred to as adaptive thermogenesis (or zomg! the starvation mode), which is basically your body shifting into conservation mode in response to the energy shortfall.

The formula also fails quite often due to the fact that even if metabolic rate was static, very few people come close to accurately creating a 500 cal/day deficit. As noted above, it’s common to have people underestimating their calorie consumption and overestimating their calorie expenditure. Not to mention the fact that the 3,500 calorie/week deficit assumes we’re losing fat tissue and nothing else, which is rarely the case.

Put simply… the rate of weight loss is not always linear.

Of course when the formula doesn’t pan out… when people don’t lose their targeted 1 lb of weight per week… they blame it on calories not working rather than the obvious. Manage your expectations according to reality! If you expect to lose weight each and every week and to reach your goal weight looking exactly like the model on the cover of your favorite magazine, you’re likely to wind up disappointed and frustrated.

We have an alternative solution.

What you estimate your energy expenditure to be isn’t all that important compared to what you do after you estimate it. Remember, you’re not signing a binding contract here. You’re simply estimating how many calories your body burns in a day. From there, you can set calorie intake above or below your estimation in order to gain or lose weight respectively.

Our recommendation is to autoregulate this intake on the fly based on what’s happening in real time. You don’t set your car to cruise control and expect to arrive at your destination without touching the breaks or turning the wheel, do you?

The process will look something like this:

1. Estimate total daily energy expenditure by multiplying your body weight by 14-16 calories per pound. If you’re obese, relatively sedentary, feel that you have a slow metabolism, or you’ve lost a significant amount of weight in the past… you might consider using 12-14 cal/lb. If you’re very lean, highly active, or feel that you have a fast metabolism… you might consider using 16-18 cal/lb.

2. Set your calorie intake at a level above or below the above estimation depending on whether you want to gain or lose weight, respectively. For fat loss, we suggest a deficit of 20-35% in most cases. For muscle gain, we suggest a surplus of 10-25%. As it turns out, 500 calories above or below maintenance isn’t a bad starting point sans the illogical expectations noted above.

3. Use as many metrics as you can to track progress. The scale is an obvious tool, but it can play games with you – especially when you’re relatively lean and trying to get leaner. For that reason, you should also rely on the fit and feel of your clothes, pictures taken at regular intervals where you’re wearing the same outfit standing in the same lighting and the same distance from the camera, and measurements with a soft tape measure. If you have access to body fat % testing, you could use this as well, though I don’t use it with my clients. Track your metrics every 2-4 weeks.

4. Based on the trend you’re seeing with your tracking, adjust your intake accordingly. If fat loss is the goal, you can use a target rate of weight loss of 1% of body weight per week on average. If muscle gain is the goal, aim for about an average monthly weight gain of 1 pound. If after 2-4 weeks you’re actual rate of weight change is above or below the targets, adjust calorie intake up or down accordingly by 10% or so.

5. Rinse and repeat steps 3 & 4 until you a) reach your goal or b) your goals change.

The beauty of this concept is the lack or rigidity. You don’t need to have anxiety about whether your calorie intake is “right” or not. If your original estimation is inaccurate, the above process will uncover that fact and you’ll make the necessary adjustments over time to get on track. Remember, this isn’t a sprint… it’s a marathon.

One other note…

Considering the fact that 60-70% of Americans are overweight or obese, it’s reasonable to assume that most people reading this are interested in fat loss.

I’ve encountered many overweight clients who assume that because they’re fat, their metabolic rates are low. Why else would they be fat, right? If you matched them to a population of similar age, body composition, and everything else… sure, there might be some genetic variance in metabolic rate. Nothing massive… maybe 15% or so.

The fact is, the larger you are, the higher your energy costs actually are. You have more weight to move around and you have more tissue to maintain. Yes, even fat tissue has a metabolic cost. There’s no reason to set your calorie intake at 1,200 per day on the basis of having a “slow metabolism.” More often than not, such an extreme deficit* will lead to a lack of compliance. You don’t want to hop on the yo-yo diet train.

*Remember that 1,200 calories would be a large deficit for an obese person. Lighter folks have much lower daily energy costs, all things constant, and for some, 1,200 calories would not be unreasonable.

Nutrients

We’re already bordering on paralysis by analysis I’m sure, so I’ll try my best to be succinct. What I’m going to discuss here are the macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates, and fat. As previously noted, these nutrients are the delivery vehicles for our calories.

  • 1 gram of protein yields 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate yields 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat yields 9 calories

As you can see, fat is twice as energy-dense as protein and carbohydrates. As an aside, alcohol also provides calories to our bodies… 7 calories per gram to be exact.

First let’s set a baseline – a breakdown of how much of each nutrient you should eat. This is by no means set in stone and definitely needs to be tailored to the individual. Many folks like to throw around percentages such as 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. This means 40% of your calories should come from carbs, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat. It’s not a terrible way of looking at things. I go about things slightly different though.

I start with protein. This is the foundation of any diet as far as I’m concerned. Rather than using a percentage of total calories, I prefer using absolute values based on the amount of lean body mass that you have.

  • 1 gram per pound of total body weight if you’re relatively lean
  • 1 gram per pound of lean body mass if you’re overweight
  • 1 gram per pound of goal body weight if you don’t know your lean body mass

Yes, this amount of protein is above the amount recommended by the RDA. Keep in mind though that the research that’s the basis for the RDA’s recommendation is antiquated by a few decades. In fact, if you’re in an energy deficit, protein requirements can actually go a bit higher than this. It’s one of the few things that’s in our control as far as muscle preservation while dieting goes. It also does some nifty things in terms of satiety and energy expenditure. In the case of a calorie deficit, 1 – 1.5 grams would be a suitable range for the above formulas. For anyone else, .8 – 1.2 grams will suffice.

While this rule isn’t set in stone, I suggest eating protein at each meal. Preferably most of your protein comes from lean sources, which include chicken breast, turkey breast, pork tenderloin, lean ground beef, lean cuts of steak (such as top round), venison, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and protein powder.

Next we focus on fat. Let’s get a few things clear before diving into our guidelines for fat consumption. First and foremost, dietary fat does not make you fat. Excess calories get shuttled to fat storage. If the fat that you’re eating is accompanied by calorie maintenance or a deficit, you’re not going to be adding body fat assuming all other things are kept constant.

Secondly, the jury is still out about the role of saturated fat on heart disease. Unless you’re cutting the fat off of meat and using it as bubble gum, there’s really no apparent reason for the current alarmist mentality surrounding its intake. If anything, you should probably work to limit the intake of processed trans fats.

Saturated? Trans? What’s this all about. Don’t fret. There are a few subcategories of dietary fat: saturated, unsaturated, and trans.

  • Saturated fat sources – meat, dairy, tropical oils, butter
  • Unsaturated fat sources – (mono) – nuts, vegetable oils, canola and olive oil, avocados / (poly) – fish oil pills, cold water fish, canola oil, flax
  • Trans fat sources – margarine, baked goods… essentially a lot of the processed junk food

My suggestion is to have .3 – .6 grams per pound of target body weight. These recommendations come from Alan Aragon, a nutrition consultant and author who publishes a monthly research review that I highly recommend. If you prefer a percentage, I’d say 20-30% of total calories.

I like to see this intake somewhat balanced between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.

Carbohydrates are currently the focus of a lot of fear and hate. Many ‘authorities’ like to make money by crying out in their books and blogs about carbohydrates making us fat. Oddly enough, while low-carbohydrate zealots abound, our government recommends the majority of our diets come in the form of carbohydrates. Who’s right?

Well, absolutists lack objectivity. They reason with their emotions instead of their logic and evidence. This doesn’t have to be an either/or variable in your diet. Some folks are going to excel on higher carbohydrate approaches. Others are going to fare better on lower carbohydrate approaches.

One thing’s for certain… don’t go cutting out fruits and vegetables simply because insulin supposedly makes you fat in the absence of a calorie surplus or because fructose is harmful irrespective of dosage.

A sample list of carbohydrate-dominant foods includes vegetables, fruits, breads, pastas, oats, dairy, and rice. Most junk foods are typically heavy in carbohydrates as well.

It’s tough to come up with a blanket suggested range for carbohydrate consumption. Optimal intake of carbs is going to depend on genetics (insulin resistant vs. insulin sensitive), body composition, activity patterns (endurance based training vs. strength training), etc.

The typical approach we take is to eat 3-6 servings of fibrous vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit per day.

If you still have calories to use up after accounting for protein, fats, veggies, and fruits… you can fill the remainder with pretty much anything. If you’re an endurance based athlete or you’re relatively lean, you’re probably going to want to fill it in with carbohydrates – starchy or otherwise. If you’re insulin resistant and/or overweight, you might consider taking a lower carb approach in which case you’d fill the remainder in with fat. This is also where you’d satisfy your sweet tooth as well, assuming you have one.

To sum our recommendations up:

  • .8-1.5 grams of protein per pound of total body weight or target body weight
  • .3-.6 grams of fat per pound of target body weight
  • 3-6 servings of fibrous veggies
  • 2-4 servings of fruit
  • fill in the remaining calories depending on the aforementioned factors

To clear up any confusion, here’s an example:

Female – 150 lbs – 5’7″ – carrying some body fat but far from ‘fat’ – enjoys a mixture of running and resistance training most days of the week – feels she has a ‘slowish’ metabolism – goal is to get leaner – currently 25% body fat.

She’d start by calculating her daily energy expenditure by multiplying her body weight by 14 calories.

150 x 14 = 2,100

Since her goal is fat loss, she’d establish a calorie deficit by subtracting 30% from her daily energy expenditure.

2100 – (2100 x .3) = 1,470

Because I’m not a fan of calculating things to a “T” since calorie measurements aren’t even perfectly accurate, I’d round her daily calorie target to the nearest 50… in this case putting her at 1,450 cals/day. From this point, it’s a matter of ‘filling’ the calories with the right mixture of nutrients.

Starting with protein, she’s going to shoot for 1 gram per pound of goal body weight, which is 135.

135 x 1 = 135 grams/day

Since each gram of protein yields 4 calories, the 135 grams will total 540 calories. This will leave 910 calories of the initial 1,450 left to use.

Next we’ll focus on fat. She’s going to shoot for .4 grams of fat per pound of goal body weight.

135 x .4 = 54 grams/day

Since each gram of fat yields 9 calories, the 54 grams will total 486 calories. This will leave 424 calories to use.

Next, she knows she can fit 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruit into her daily meal plan. The calorie content of veggies and fruits will vary depending on the type and size. I like to use an average calorie content per serving of 35 for veggies and 75 for fruits. Please note that if you typically consume high-calorie veggies and fruits, you should adjust these numbers accordingly. Examples of high-calorie items include corn, beans, potatoes, dates, and avocados.

Veggies: 35 x 3 = 105

Fruits: 75 x 2 = 150

Total calorie content for her veggies and fruits would be 255, leaving her with 269 calories left to use. Since she doesn’t have any symptoms of insulin resistance, she opts to fill the remainder in with starchy carbs.

This all sounds good on paper. And it does work. But as Lyle McDonald points out in his article Calories, Nutrients, and Food, the stuff people eat isn’t typically pure protein, pure carb, or pure fat. They’re generally a mixture. For this reason, simply creating balanced meals and inputting them into one of the previously mentioned websites (www.fitday.com for example) is an easy step. Once they’re inputted, you can start toying around with portions and additions to get your nutrient profile close to your target.

Energy Density

A huge part of weight control revolves around the concept of energy density. It’s a very simple concept – for equal volumes, some foods will have much lower calories than other foods. There are a few mainstream books on the topic that are actually good reads – Volumetrics and Eat This, Not That.

A prime example of energy density is a comparison of broccoli vs. Skittles.

One cup of broccoli will run about 30 calories while one cup of Skittles will run slightly north of 400 calories.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that eating more energy-sparse foods will make it easier to control calories. It doesn’t hurt that energy-sparse foods tend to be your fruits, vegetables, lean meats, etc… ya know, the stuff that’s healthy. Energy-dense foods tend to be the highly processed, nutrient-sparse foods that are easy to overeat. This isn’t always the case, mind you.

Generally the low energy density foods are high in water and fiber while the high energy density foods are low in water and higher in fat.

Basing your diet around foods that have low energy-densities is one ‘trick’ to promote satiety and calorie control. And if you’re one of those people who has always had trouble packing on weight, making sure you’re including energy dense foods in your diet is an important step.

Big vs. Little People

No, I’m not talking about giants fighting midgets. I simply wanted to highlight a fact many people seem to gloss over. Because larger people have higher daily energy expenditures on average, they have more “wiggle room” calorically speaking.

When your daily energy expenditure is 3,500+ you can afford to run a deeper deficit… maybe down to 2,000 or so. This means that even if you’re underestimating calorie intake, you’re likely to still run a deficit. Plus, if you plateau, you have some room to bring calories down a bit further.

On the contrary, a smaller person might have a daily expenditure of 1,500 per day. Supposing she wants to lose a little fat, she can’t create near the deficit the preceding person could… at least without impacting energy levels, health, muscle, adequate nutritional status, etc. What this means is she’ll lose fat at a much slower rate. It also means that small deviations from compliance and/or small inaccuracies in calorie reporting are likely to mean her assumed deficit is really closer to maintenance. This is the primary reason so many folks are in supposed plateaus.

Be sure you’re assessing calories relative to your status.

Clean vs. Dirty Eating

Yesterday Gordy and I had a business meeting. We conversed over mugs of beer, hot wings, cheese steaks (we’re Philly boys… what do you expect?) and finished it off with some cheesecake. Yet, we’re both leaner than most people in this country and do things like mountaineering, mountain biking, lifting heavy things, hiking and everything else that most people seem to have forgotten.

This isn’t bragging.

The point is, the diet culture needs to move away from polarized categorizations. We have this terrible tendency to make blanket categorizations about food being either “good” or “bad” on its own merit without context.

By and large this either-or mentality generates loads of anxiety and guilt. It leads to what appears to be neurotic and obsessive behavior. This mentality sets people up to feel as if they’re walking a tightrope – one misstep can lead to nutritional disaster in their minds. Inevitably, when that misstep happens… and it does happen… these dieters typically give up entirely and binge.

It’s the teenager psychology – tell them over and over again not to do something and chances are they’re going to do it.

First, the intentions behind labeling specific foods as good/bad or clean/unclean are well-meaning. People like simplicity. It’s easier to make decisions when there’s an obvious right or wrong. Very few things in life are black and white, however. Most of life happens in some shade of gray and it’s no different with the foods that we eat.

You need to realize that things can seem one way when viewed in isolation and look quite a bit different when viewed in the grand scheme. For example, people tend to look at junk food as a deal breaker as far as fat loss goes. They see the cookie, and solely the cookie, and believe it’ll ruin their dieting efforts.

What happens when we zoom out a bit though? How devastating does that cookie look once your total diet and lifestyle is factored into the equation? Assuming your calories are in check, assuming you’re consuming adequate amounts of protein, essential fats, fibrous veggies and some fruit, and assuming you’re doing some sensible exercise… do you really believe a few cookies are going to break you?

Hint: They’re not. Unless you let them.

What’s worse is many dieters carry their polarized viewpoints over to the other side of the fence. On one side they are in total control. On the other they’re entirely out of control. It’s a viscous loop where they’re unnecessarily rigid while dieting, then they eventually cave, and when they cave they cave hard. Instead of eating a few cookies, they eat the entire box. Eventually the guilt and self-pity amounts to a point where the only way to feel happy again is to diet. And so the cycle continues.

All of this anxiety, obsessiveness, and stress about eating isn’t healthy. If you need a reason to stop, think of it like this…

Your body deals with psychological and physiological stress pretty much the same. In your body’s ‘mind,’ stress is stress have it be psychological, physical, real, imagined, or whatever. In addition, it has a finite capacity to cope with stress. Anal retentiveness can come back to bite you in the ass (see what I did there).

Read the book written by Robert Sapolsky called “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” He’s a great author and a genius when it comes to the stress response of the body. Humans unfortunately can work themselves up into such a psychological mess about the future by thinking about catastrophic thoughts and building psychological hurdles that are simply impossible to clear and thus, their biology that’s really in place to keep them alive winds up going in overdrive.

People just need to relax, set realistic expectations, avoid perfectionism, and be patient.

I’m not here to tell you to eat junk food. Most of us have vices though and if you learn to eat them in moderation, the process can be a heck of a lot less painful and volatile. Dirty food doesn’t make you fat irrespective of the big picture.

What does clean food even mean? Is it washed really well? Is it grown a certain way? When it comes down to it, food is simply a vehicle we use to deliver nutrients, vitamins, minerals and water to our bodies. Pretty much all foods are capable of doing this – junk food or not. Sure, some foods are denser with nutrition. But that’s looking at things in a vacuum.

Moral of the story – look at the nutritional quality of your overall diet rather than each individual piece of food on its own. Be aware of the categorizations you’re using to help make decisions and make sure they’re logical.

Meal Frequency

Fads tend to develop and grow in the fitness industry more-so and at faster rates than in any other. One such fad states that in order to “stoke your metabolic furnace” and keep it burning hot, you need to eat many small meals each day. Quite often we hear clients say something like, “Man! I’m so frustrated. I simply can’t stick to eating 6 meals per day and I know it’s hindering my fat loss.”
Unfortunately for the individuals who fall victim to this myth, it’s not something that’s supported scientifically.

So where does this myth come from?

To answer that question, we need to recall what we discussed above about metabolic rate. The core components of what makes up your metabolism and thus your calorie needs are Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA), and Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).

Total Energy Expenditure = RMR + TEA + TEF

TEF is what we’re really interested in with regards to this concept of meal frequency. TEF is simply the energy required to breakdown, process, and digest the foods we eat. TEF increases after each meal, obviously, as your body works to handle the foods you recently consumed.

Thus, the myth was born. People took this increase in TEF post-eating to mean, “Eat more frequently to boost your metabolism.”

The problem with this logic is this: if we eat fewer, larger meals… the thermic effect per meal is going to be larger as our bodies “work harder” to breakdown and utilize the larger quantity of food per meal. Compare this with more frequent, smaller meals. Sure, you’re getting more spikes in TEF per day, but compared to the former approach, each spike is smaller since there’s less food for the body to handle each meal.

Thus, we’re left with a neutral impact between the two meal plans in terms of metabolic rate.

  • Same calories/nutrients spread over more, smaller meals = more frequent, yet smaller TEF per day
  • Same calories/nutrients spread over less, larger meals = less frequent, yet larger TEF per day

The primary reason we take issue with the incessant need to perpetuate this myth is that it tends to make people anxious. The more rigidity you add to a nutrition plan, the less likely people are going to stick to it over the long-term. For those who have busy schedules, aren’t satiated by eating more frequently, or simply don’t feel like eating 6 times per day… DON’T!

That’s not to say that I’m against frequent feedings. If it’s your cup of tea… drink up. In fact, in my experience smaller folks who are having trouble packing on muscle are best served by eating many small meals per day in order to get the required calories needed to support growth.

As an interesting aside, for an alternative viewpoint check out Martin Berkhan’s leangains.com. He’s one of the pioneers of the intermittent fasting ‘movement’ I’m sure so many of you have heard about. In fact, Martin has a lot of stuff worth reading on his site.

Do some experimenting and find out what fits your body and schedule best. Factors such as total calories and nutrient breakdown are far more important to your success than meal frequency.

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss (Body Composition)

If I were wealthy enough to hire a production team, I’d film a commercial. Maybe I should come up with a fad diet to sell so I can afford to do this, har har. It’d be a public service announcement highlighting the difference between weight and fat loss.

The setting of the commercial would be on a busy city street and there would be bright digital numbers floating above everyone’s head displaying their weights. Some people would have happy faces (lower numbers) – others sad (higher numbers).

It would then focus in on one woman who’s dressed for success – obviously walking to work for an important meeting. Her number says “125.” She’s smiling ear to ear and she has confidence in her stride.

The commercial would then flash forward to when the woman’s at home after work. She’s standing on the scale in front of the mirror wearing spandex shorts and a sports bra. She’s looking down at the number on the scale with a big smile on her face. She slowly gazes upward confronting the reflection in the mirror. Her smile droops into a frown.

That, ladies and gentleman, is the difference between weight and body composition.

You can weigh perfectly according to BMI, your goals, or whatever metric you want to use but that’s not to say you’re going to be happy with the way that you look. How you look is defined by much more than weight.

Firstly, you have your genetics. Unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do about the genetic cards you’ve been dealt. I know obtaining that long and lean look is ideal, but if you have a short and stocky build, you’re not going to get long and lean regardless of how much fat you lose. Remember, your muscles are attached to your bones. If your bones aren’t growing longer, your muscles aren’t either.

Everyone has room for improvement however. Many of us have a lot of room regardless of our stature.

If you have 50+ lbs of excess fat to lose, focusing solely on the number on the scale isn’t a terrible idea. The more fat you’re carrying, the less likely it’ll be that your body gives up muscle. If you’re of the lighter/leaner sub-population however, worrying about the quality (not just the quantity) of weight loss becomes critical.

Let’s be real… nobody is aiming to be a lighter, still soft version of their former selves. It’s not about the number on the scale. It’s about the reflection in the mirror. Yeah, I know… it’s not all vanity. You’re also in this for improved health, functionality, and performance. But don’t bullshit me… by and large the vast majority of your drive comes from the desire to look better nekkid!

Being ripped, toned, chiseled, jacked, cut, diesel, or whatever other adjective you’d like to use to describe looking good nekkid is a function of minimizing fat stores while maximizing muscle mass.

I come across many people who believe the answer to their physique problems lies solely in losing weight. They chase the elusive “good body” by nudging the number on the scale lower and lower. There’s a reason many anorexics look sickly though. Your body doesn’t want to be lean. It wants to be sure you have stored energy for times of famine. That being the case, after a certain point, more weight loss will likely lead to a higher ratio of muscle loss with each additional pound shed.

For this very reason, putting together a plan of attack that minimizes the chances of losing muscle is very important. This plan of attack entails picking the right parents, eating adequate protein, and progressive resistance training. Some of these are in your control… I’ll leave it to you to figure out which.

Leigh Peele wrote a great blog titled Body Fat Pictures & Percentages that provides examples of what various physiques look like at various body fat percentages.

Don’t be fooled into focusing solely on the scale. Rely on other things such as:

  • pictures at regular intervals (every 4 weeks or so) in the same light, standing the same distance from the camera, wearing the same clothes
  • measurements (neck, chest, navel, waist, hips, thighs, arms, calves)
  • the fit of your clothing
  • the reflection in the mirror
  • body composition assessment

Let’s face it… in our culture it’s easy to let weight define who we are. In reality though, even when it comes to how we look, weight plays a very small role. Confidence doesn’t have to be something you have only when you’re clothed.

Starvation Mode

What is it?

I receive more emails about the dreaded “starvation mode” than any other topic. For those who don’t know, depending on who you ask, the starvation mode is a metabolic crash in response to consuming too few calories. Go figure that this doesn’t apply to anorexics who continue to lose weight even when calories are much lower for extended periods of time. <insert sarcasm>

Fat loss is not a linear process. Plateaus are not only possible… they’re probable. Therefore they should be expected. By the time I’m done with this section, I’m hoping that each time a plateau occurs, you’re not running around frantically trying to fix your ‘broken metabolism.’

If I were to ask a room full of people what their definition of the starvation mode is, I’m sure I’d receive a wide array of answers. The common ones would likely go something like this:

It is when your metabolism shuts down by eating less than 1,200 calories.

Or…

It is when your metabolism slows down so much in response to a calorie deficit that you can’t lose more weight or you actually gain weight.

In actuality, there is some truth to what people are calling the starvation mode. There’s also a whole lot of fiction and ignorance thrown into the mix as well.

Here’s the low down…

In the research, what many call the starvation mode is typically referred to as adaptive thermogenesis. I prefer the latter simply because it implies that it’s a process rather than an immediate response to dieting. It’s a messy term though so I’ll use starvation mode or starvation response throughout this section.

The starvation mode isn’t something that happens in the flick of a switch. It’s a continual adjustment your body undergoes in response to an energy shortfall. It’s your body’s way of conserving itself during times of famine. Thank your local caveman.

This adjustment leads to a reduction in energy expenditure. Remember, total energy expenditure is a combination of basal metabolic rate, energy expended through activity, and energy expended digesting food.

Its Impact On BMR

Research definitely points toward a reduction in BMR in response to a calorie deficit and fat loss. Here’s the thing though… when we lose weight, our energy expenditure is going to decrease with or without the starvation mode. A lower weight means less tissue to support, less mass to move around, etc.

The starvation mode comes into play when this drop in energy expenditure is greater than what would be predicted given the decrease in weight. It’s an overcompensation, if you will. This phenomenon is why someone who’s naturally 135 lbs will likely have a higher energy expenditure than someone who dieted down to 135 lbs from 200 lbs.

While the ‘buzz’ suggests there’s a specific calorie intake that triggers this reduction in BMR, there’s not a lot of truth to that. It’s really something that’s going to happen regardless of the size of the calorie intake or deficit. The driving factor seems to be fat mass. The more fat you lose, the greater the starvation response of BMR you’ll realize. Smaller deficits will merely decrease the rate at which you lose fat and thus slow down the metabolic adaptation. Both paths point to the same destination though.

Here’s the thing… the starvation mode does not completely shutdown your metabolism. If it did, you’d be dead! It merely drops your energy expenditure slightly. The largest recorded drop that I’m aware of was observed in Ancel Keys’ Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

This research placed relatively lean men on a 50% calorie deficit for 6 months. While there was a 40% drop in metabolic rate, roughly 2/3 of this was accounted for by the drop in body weight. In other words, the majority of the reduction in metabolic rate was expected given the smaller bodies.

That’s a 15% drop in metabolic rate due to the starvation response in lean men dieting for 6 straight months on 50% of their calorie needs. Their average ending body fat percentage was something around 5%.

Hardly anyone reading this is in this situation. Most of you likely have excess fat to lose and you’re not going to be eating such low calories for extended periods of time. When you have an abundance of fat and you’re not starving yourself, the starvation response is going to play a much smaller role in dropping BMR.

Keep in mind that this isn’t happening meal to meal or even week to week. This is a longer term phenomenon. In fact, some research suggests that metabolism increases with a day or two worth of fasting.

None of this implies that a calorie deficit will no longer work. Rather, this information implies that after you’ve lost a considerable amount of fat, your predicted maintenance might be inflated.

An Example

Let’s apply some numbers to this. Granted, we’re going to be making some massive assumptions here but it should help you understand things better.

We have a 160 lb woman named Jane. She’s moderately active and has a maintenance intake of 2,200 calories. She diets down to 125 lbs. Jane has a good friend, Lisa, who’s also 125 lb. Lisa has weighed 125 lbs her entire adult life. Surprisingly they both have identical body composition measurements.

Lisa recently had her BMR tested and it came in at 1,250 calories, which is normal. Once Lisa factors in activity, she determines that her maintenance intake is 1,750 calories per day.

When Jane hears this, she decides that 1,750 calories should be her maintenance as well since they’re built so similar and they work and exercise together. Frustratingly she finds that she gains weight at this intake.

Why?

Well, for starters and as noted in the metabolic rate section, there is some variances in metabolism across populations that are matched for weight… so she might have been dealt the slow genetic card. But let’s assume that’s not the case here. Remember, Jane lost 35 lbs recently, so there’s likely some starvation response at play. Assuming it’s as bad as the worst noted in research (which is highly unlikely), her BMR is running 15% slower than Lisa’s which puts it at 1,062 and her maintenance at 1,562.

Her previously assumed maintenance of 1,750 calories was actually a ~ 190 cal/ day surplus. In Jane’s case, she’d have to adjust her calories slightly lower or bump her expenditure slightly higher than Lisa if she was going to maintain her weight.

Other Effects of the Starvation Response

The starvation response doesn’t stop at BMR. Changes can occur in the endocrine system and brain that stimulate hunger and increase cravings.

Activity expenditure can also take a large hit.

Activity expenditure is comprised of formal exercise and NEAT, which is something I mentioned above. To remind you, NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It’s simply the energy expended being active outside of formal exercise. Typing, cleaning, gardening, fidgeting, sex, etc… these would all fall under the umbrella of NEAT.

Just as how BMR can fall lower than what would be predicted based on weight lost, the same phenomenon seems to happen with activity expenditure. We know the lighter body is going to cost less energy to maintain and move around. This is normal. However, the part of the starvation response that we’re talking about leads to a drop in activity expenditure that’s larger than would be expected.

It’s a double whammy – your body is expending less energy at complete rest (BMR) and when you’re not resting, you’re unconsciously moving around less.

So much so that this component of the starvation response can actually be greater than the drop in BMR.

Summing It Up

At the top of this page I explained how our bodies are a product of our environments. They’ve evolved through some pretty nasty time periods where food scarcity was a real concern. Because of this, we’re dealing with a system that is sensitive to a calorie shortage.

We need a calorie shortage in order to lose fat. At the same time, this shortage will likely invoke some adjustments that work to make fat loss tricky.

There seems to be a genetic component to this as well, which shouldn’t be surprising. Some people can seemingly lose a meaningful amount of fat and not skip a beat. Others will lose 15 lbs and battle the side effects of the starvation response.

For those who fall into this latter camp, it’s important to keep in mind that the starvation response isn’t negating the effectiveness of a calorie deficit. A deficit will still tap into your stored fat. It’s just that your deficit might have to go slightly lower than most models would predict.

At the end of the day the starvation mode is with any of us who are losing a significant amount of fat. There’s no way around it. This certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t diet. It does mean, though, that you should manage your expectations appropriately and use logic and reason to navigate your way through losing your excess weight. Understand that weight loss is not a linear phenomenon. You can’t set calories at X and expect Y amount of progress each and every week.

Lastly, there’s something to be said for relatively lean folks who are trying to get leaner. The leaner you are, the more sensitive your body becomes to energy shortfalls. This is part of the reason why these folks tend to have so much trouble with the last 5 lbs or whatever. Slashing calories lower and lower isn’t *always* the answer for these people. Sometimes you simply have to give your body a break. Ditch the neurotic mindset where you HAVE TO exercise hard every day and you HAVE TO weigh every single morsel of energy that passes your lips and go eat some junk, get a massage, and take it easy.

This is also where refeeds can come into play, which is beyond the scope of this page.

Plateaus

Believe it or not, but plateaus can and most definitely do occur for reasons besides the starvation mode.

One of the key problems is the method by which people are identifying plateaus. Most people resort to the number on the scale. If it moves in the desired direction – VICTORY! If it doesn’t – FAIL! If the scale isn’t budging, they’re in a plateau. Pair this with the unrealistic expectations in terms of how quickly it should happen, and you have a recipe for a misidentified plateau.

Case in point, all kinds of crazy stuff can happen with glycogen and water weight when dieting and training. The scale’s measuring everything from muscle and fat to poop and water. Some of these variables can be rising while others are falling. It’d be nothing to retain 3 lbs of water while losing 1 lb of fat over the course of a week.

The shortsighted dieter who bases success or failure on the number portrayed on the scale would write this off as a flop. Tangentially, she’d probably get so stressed and frustrated that she’d binge the following week. This would be followed by feelings of guilt and she’d diet hard the following 2 weeks. At the end of the four weeks, she’d only remember the good weeks and think she “earned” a loss for the month. When the actual weight for the month is breakeven, she’d be flabbergasted and totally disregard the one full week of binging and the possibility of fat loss being masked by water storage or whatever.

See how destructive this mindset can be?

Plateaus do happen though. I’m not naive. In my experience, the most likely culprits are as follows…

Most commonly they’re caused by inaccurate calorie estimates. People tend to overestimate the energy they’re expending and/or they underestimate the calories they’re consuming. We discussed how to minimize this error in the calorie section above.

The lighter you are though, theoretically speaking, the less wiggle room you have for error. Suppose you’re 125 lbs. Your maintenance intake is likely 1,750. A reasonable deficit would be 25%, which would lead to a daily calorie goal of 1,300.

As there are 3,500 calories in each pound of fat, assuming you lost nothing but fat while dieting, the above deficit would lead to a 1 lb loss every 8 days or so.

Now what if this person was underestimating their intake by 5% or so (there’s research showing people underestimating by as much as hundreds and even thousands of calories) and overestimating their expenditure by 10% or so. This could add another 200 or so calories to their daily intake, thus reducing the actual daily deficit to 250 calories.

Using the same assumptions from above, the actual deficit would lead to a 1 lb loss every 14 days. I’m being conservative in this example and this person’s expectations would be off by as much as 50%.

In this case it’s not that you’re deficit isn’t working… rather it’s that you’re eating closer to maintenance than you realize.

Second, many people forget that as they get lighter and lighter, their initial calorie deficit becomes smaller and smaller. A very generic calculation for BMR, which is merely one component of energy expenditure, is 10 calories per pound of body weight.

If you were once 185 lbs, it’s likely that your BMR was close to 1,850 calories. If you’re now 135 lbs, it’s reasonable to assume that your BMR is in the neighborhood of 1,350 calories. If you never adjusted your calorie intake from then until now, it’s pretty easy to see how a plateau might arise. Eventually, if enough weight is lost, what was once a deficit can become maintenance.

The simple solution would be to adjust your calories downward at regular intervals as you lose weight – maybe every 10 lbs or so.

Third, I know it’s all the rave to suggest that you can’t gain muscle while being in a calorie deficit. And I get it… building muscle is a costly project and if you’re not eating enough to maintain the tissue you currently have, your body isn’t going to like adding a bunch of metabolically expensive tissue such as muscle. It makes a ton of sense on paper.

However, I’ve seen concurrent body composition changes enough times to know that it does happen. The more untrained and/or the fatter you are, the more likely this possibility seems to be. It’s not necessarily something you should expect. And if you’ve been training for a long time and you’re reasonably strong, it’s likely not going to happen to any significant degree.

But if you’re losing fat and you’re gaining muscle, the fat loss can be masked on the scale by the muscle gain.

Of course there are other possibilities. Maybe you’re on a medication that screws up your water balance or metabolism. Maybe you have a medical condition that causes metabolic rate to be depressed… something such as a thyroid problem. Maybe you are in fact experiencing the starvation response. Maybe you’re at a point where refeeds or some cyclical approach with carbs makes sense. Or maybe you simply need to give your body a break, bring calories up to maintenance, and rest for a couple of weeks.

If you have specific questions, please ask them on our Question Page or on our Forum.

Towards A Looser Approach

If you’re like the majority, you’re great at losing weight. You’ve done it so many times in the past. Sure, you might have weight to lose right now… but that doesn’t imply that you’re not good at losing it. It simply means you’re terrible at keeping it off. And you’re not alone.

Call it the yo-yo effect or whatever… but it’s definitely a serious issue.

People reach an intolerable point of fatness where enough is enough. In an instant, motivation revs up and action ensues – lots of it. While the iron’s hot, they strike with a vengeance by slashing calories and crushing their bodies with exercise. In their eyes, the more strict, difficult, and rigid the plan of attack, the faster the results will be. They view their bodies as the enemy and they run it through a gamut of abuse.

And weight is lost. At first.

Unfortunately there are some problems. For one, motivation is a short-term phenomenon. It’s not something that can be relied upon in the long run. The utility and novelty of conquering your weight problem wears off relatively quickly. Excitement dies with enough exposure to even the most awesome of things.

At around that same time, your body begins realizing that something’s up. It gets grouchy when you go from Fatty-McFaterson to Annie Anorexia when referring to calorie intake or when you go from riding the couch to warp speed on the treadmill overnight. And to show how much it hates it… it slows down your progress.

When you’re slapped with these realities, one of two things happens. You either slash calories even lower and jack up exercise even more. Or you give up. If you don’t give up this time, you will eventually. In the game of deprivation and torture, your body is going to win in the long run.

I’m sure some of you think that I’m exaggerating but you don’t see what I see on a daily basis. Women who are cutting calories by as much as 60%, lifting weights 3 times per week, and performing high intensity sprints or circuits 5 days per week are a dime a dozen where I come from. Hell, some of these women might even throw a few lower intensity conditioning sessions into the mix as well. Their exercise load is that of an advanced athlete yet their calorie intake is that of a sedentary, 100 lb female. Not only are they depriving their bodies, but their neurotic tendencies are bordering on addiction.

Sure, a calorie deficit is necessary in order to tap into fat. But it seems that energy availability is a foreign concept to most people. They disregard the fact that after ‘calories in’ and ‘calories out’ are accounted for, there has to be something left to support health, muscle, energy, basal functions, and metabolism. The deeper you cut calories, the bigger the hit to recovery ability. Logic would tell us that if recovery ability is drastically reduced, it’d be wise to govern how much recovery is needed. But that’s not what’s happening when I see these people slaving away at soul crushing workloads and intensities day in and day out while being energy deprived.

With dwindling motivation and a body that’s reluctant to give you what you want, it’s only a matter of weeks, if not days, until you’re back to your old, fattening ways.

Not this time?

Are you sure about that?

Add up every pound that you’ve lost in your adult life. I don’t care if it was the same 10 lbs over and over again. Add them up. Now subtract your highest adult weight from your lowest adult weight. If the first number is substantially greater than the second number… you’re likely a yo-yo dieter. No matter how much you think things will be different this time, they’re likely not going to be. At least not without a serious shift in your perspectives and beliefs about dieting.

We’ve all heard it before – diets are a temporary way of eating that leads to temporary results. This led to everyone labeling it a lifestyle. Now that everyone’s practicing new ‘lifestyle habits’, the overweight and obesity trends have really declined. Or not!

You can call it whatever you want but if the outcome doesn’t change, it really doesn’t matter… does it?

Yes, they’re right… in order to effect lasting change, certain behaviors and habits need to be adopted – permanently. But that’s not what’s happening. In the heat of excitement surrounding the prospects of a sexier body, people are losing rational judgement and objectivity. They’re falling victim to extreme dieting strategies and inflexible thinking.

The conception most people have about what must be done in order to reach their goals is absurd. A peek inside the mind of your average dieter is frighteningly confusing and frustrating.

All of this rigidity and confusion is of no surprise. While people understand the concept and importance of lifestyle modification… they do not know how to implement it. And marketers slice right through this confusion and desperation by telling you something that you’re dying to hear – a fancy sounding answer.

As a culture, we’re drowning in an unregulated diet industry that feeds on a massive, desperate consumer base. Marketers are well aware of the fact that there’s an endless supply of people wanting to lose weight. They know that they can pretty much claim anything. The fancier, more secretive, and more special the claim… the more likely it’s going to sell.

The media is saturated with these ridiculous claims and hype. After hearing and seeing information for so long and so frequently, people start believing it. We’re left with a marketplace that’s based on emotion and sales gimmicks rather than academia and science.

Considering the fact that nearly every single ‘professional’, product, and marketer has a hook they use to rope people in, we’re left with what seems to be an endless list of rules.

  • Don’t eat after 7 p.m.
  • Low carb or die. Well maybe not die, but stay fat.
  • You must eat at least 5 meals per day.
  • If it’s not organic, it’s not healthy.
  • Eat this way to avoid the starvation mode.
  • You gotta match your diet to your blood type.
  • Did you get the test done to determine your metabolic type?
  • Fructose is bad for you so you have to stay away from the fruit.
  • Calories don’t matter… you have to control the insulin! Stick with low GI foods.
  • No processed food.
  • Did a caveman eat it? If not, it’ll make you fat.
  • Just combine some grapefruit with each of your meals and you’ll see. 10 lbs lost guaranteed!

I could go on and on. And when marketers pair their rules with “expert opinions,” celebrity testimonials, photoshopped before and afters, and dubious research… then wrap it in a fancy looking package… they become quite believable to the average consumer.

What’s even more frustrating is the moment any of these rules lead to a hint of success, a consumer is converted into a zealot. Objectivity typically falls by the wayside once belief enters the picture. They believe they’ve discovered The One True Way and they refuse to believe that other methods can and do work. With the support of enough zealots, a fad is born, which only stands to muddy the waters even more.

An endless list of rules. Belief without objectivity and logic. The desire for instant gratification. These things have led to inflexible dieters, absolutism, confusion, and extreme tactics. And none of these things bode well for long term compliance and success. These are not the components of a lifestyle.

Everyone’s missing the big picture.

When you view this mess through the lens of science and objectivity, it’s interesting to note how nothing earth shatteringly new has come to light over the last couple of decades. At least not new in the sense that there’s a drastic difference between how people could lose fat back then compared to how they can lose fat now.

I don’t care what marketers and con men want you to believe… any diet produces results as long as it’s based on a few core tenets. In the fat loss, health, and physique enhancement realm, these core tenets are:

  • controlling calories
  • eating adequate protein
  • eating adequate essential fats
  • eating a hefty dose of fibrous veggies and fruits each day

That’s it. Don’t make these points out to be more complex than they need to be. And frankly, as long as the first tenet is taken care of… weight will be lost. Granted, there’s more to reaching your goals than calorie control, which should be obvious if you’ve read this entire page.

The point is these basics are hard for marketers to sell. They’re not flashy and you can only package them so many ways. Rather than being honest and maintaining integrity, they opt to bury these basics under minutia. They trick their customers into adhering to the basics by piling on their fancy sounding mixture of rules that promise astonishing results.

Don’t lose sight of these foundational tenets. When you’re anxiously trying to remember all the rules you think you have to follow… at least make sure you have these fundamental bases covered first.

From the consumer’s standpoint, I get it. I really do. You have to start someplace. Without some level of rigidity in the beginning, most neophytes aren’t going to get any traction. They need some clearly defined rules to follow. Without structure, it’s going to be hard to change behavioral patterns that have been engrained for so long. But I think some selective rigidity is called for.

You can’t rely on the marketplace to provide these rules to you. Practice skepticism or be prepared to get ripped off.

And this is where the Body-Improvements lifestyle modification enters the picture.

By and large, I find most people feel trapped, anxious, burdened, and even enslaved by all of the rigidity they’ve imposed on themselves. Eating food is our most basic, primal urge. Our minds and bodies are heavily interrelated and they’re wired to drive us to eat. Our biology and psychology is centered around deriving pleasure from food. That whole “eat to live, don’t live to eat” mantra is great and all, but you’re never going to completely remove emotional reasoning from your decisions about food.

Focusing on the minutia at the expense of the foundational basics tends to go against the grain of our primal instincts. When you overlay your biological drive to eat with the level of rigidity and restrictiveness that many people tend to subscribe to, things wind up backfiring.

Therefore, step one is separating the wheat from the chaff as far as effective and bullshit rules go. It’s time to bring things back to a sensible baseline and strip away all of the clutter that has amassed. What I’m about to outline is by no means revolutionary. Don’t let the lack of sexiness detract from its importance though.

Here’s the BI list of rules:

  1. Instead of eating when you’re hungry, eat to prevent hunger. This has to do with how often and what you eat. The “what” will be discussed in the remaining rules as they’re all meant to promote satiety and cover your body’s basic needs. The “how often” really depends on you, how much you’re eating, and your individual hunger patterns. I’ve personally found that most of my clients feel more satisfied eating frequent meals each day. This isn’t a necessity though as some people feel better eating lower meal frequencies. Check out intermittent fasting if you haven’t heard about it. Nobody’s going to spoon feed you, so experiment to find what’s best for you. Once you know your hunger patterns, build a meal plan that suits them.
  2. Related to #1, go into each week with a plan of attack. Shop with grocery lists, don’t go to the grocery store hungry, and prep your foods in advance for the entire week. The goal is to reduce how much thought needs to go into meal preparation throughout the week. Failing to plan is planning to fail given how many high calorie foods and events bombard us in our culture. A plan will keep your tires on the road more often than going about things arbitrarily.
  3. Stick to whole natural foods for the majority of your diet – majority being the operative word. Don’t be so rigid that one bite of cake causes so much guilt it turns into the entire cake. No food on its own merit is “good” or “bad.”
  4. Focus on calorie-density above all else. It’s well understood by now that some foods, by volume, contain much higher calories than others. A coffee roll from Dunkin Donuts has 400 calories and an equivalent volume of chicken and broccoli will most likely have less than 150 calories. It just so happens that whole natural foods tend to be the most calorie-sparse while the processed (high sugar and high fat) foods tend to be the most calorie-dense, which is why rule #3 exists, among other reasons.
  5. Eat protein (preferably from lean sources) at every meal. Good sources of protein include (but aren’t limited to) chicken breast, turkey breast, pork tenderloin, lean ground beef, lean cuts of steak such as top round, venison, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, and protein powder. Of course if you miss a meal, your muscles aren’t going to fall off. It’s the net amount of protein consumed at the end of the day that matters most. It’s still a good idea to fit some protein in at each meal if you can though.
  6. Consume 2-4 servings of fruit per day. If you tend to get a sweet tooth between meals, try fruit first. Often times this will calm the craving, as well as satiate you.
  7. Consume 3-6 servings of fibrous vegetables per day. They’ll provide loads of nutrition and satiety without a massive caloric punch. Eat them cold. Or steam them with olive oil, garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper. Or eat salads and be mindful of using too much calorically dense salad items like high calorie dressings, mounds of croutons, and mountains of cheese. Or mix veggies in with your other foods – meat and vegetable kabobs come to mind as well as chicken stir fry made with vegetables of your choosing. Regardless, find ways of fitting them in!
  8. Approximately ¼ of your nutrition should come from fats. Optimally it’s balanced between saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Most people will obtain adequate saturated fat from the meat they consume. Examples of good sources of monounsaturated fats include olive oil, almond butter, avocados, olives, natural peanut butter, and nuts. Examples of good sources of polyunsaturated fats include flax and more notably high-fat fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout. I highly recommend fish oil supplementation, as well.
  9. Carbohydrates aren’t evil. Yes, they’re the redheaded stepchild of the decade, but they aren’t going to make you gain weight in the absence of a calorie surplus. So don’t be irrationally scared of them if you have your calorie intake under wraps. I would prioritize protein and essential fats over them and I’d also suggest letting fruits and veggies comprise the majority of your carb intake. But don’t be afraid of whole wheat breads and pastas, rice, yams and potatoes, etc.
  10. Stay hydrated. How much you need to hydrate depends on numerous factors including sweat rates, environments, and food types consumed. Short of certain foods, diseases, and medications causing various effects, your pee shouldn’t be neon yellow/amber. The better hydrated you are, the clearer your pee will be. Use this as a metric for determining whether you need to drink more. Drinking gallons of water per day isn’t going to miraculously kick your metabolism into high gear though, which is something I often hear on the message boards. So don’t go overboard (yes, you can drink too much water).

This is the same list of rules that we give to every single one of our clients who come through the doors of our gyms. What I’m suggesting is to focus on the stuff that provides the most mileage… the most bang for your buck. These are the basics that I’m continually harping about – keep your calories in check, eat sufficient protein, pop some fish oil pills (or get your essential fats somehow), load up on fibrous veggies, and have a couple of pieces of fruit each day. If you focused on this stuff 80-90% of the time… nothing else would really matter.

“But Steve… didn’t you say that people need to be counting calories and weighing everything that they consume?”

Yes, but…

I argue that while some level of rigidity is necessary for most people during the initial stages, most are going to fare better by loosening the reigns after a while.

It’s akin to any new task that you’re attempting to learn. Think about saving money. There’s a large faction of people in our culture who are spending more money than they’re making. They lack financial responsibility and control. The remedy to their problems typically requires pretty serious intervention. They might need to consolidate debt, set up payment plans, analyze cash flow in order to identify and nix unnecessary costs, and set up a weekly spending allowance.

Eventually these rigid rules will change behavioral patterns. Before long, the spender starts showing the tendencies of a saver.

I’ve witnessed the same when it comes to weight control. Let’s assume that the usual, successful approach to losing weight starts with weighing every calorie you consume with a food scale, logging your food intake, tracking your energy expenditure with a heart rate monitor or bodybugg, following a rigid exercise program, hitting specific calorie and nutrient targets each day, and planning cheat meals/foods.

Given enough time, hitting these targets will become second nature. They’ll have a better understanding of energy density and portion sizes. They will have found a mixture of meals that satisfy their calorie and nutrient targets without having to weigh and count. They won’t battle hunger as much anymore. Their taste buds will change. At best, they’ll be able to balance energy intake and expenditure without any conscious intervention. They learn that they can be loose here and there in terms of calories, nutritiousness, or whatever… without blowing their progress… without feeling like a failure.

Forcing a lifestyle will transform into living a lifestyle.

Reaching this stage is the difficult part. It requires a lot of patience and faith. It’s very difficult to look past the hype and promises this industry spews. It’s very hard to set and manage realistic expectations. At the end of the day though, if you focus on the big picture as outlined above, your chances of reaching your goals are about as high as they’re going to get. Not to mention you’ll maintain some level of sanity and enjoyment in the process.

I believe it was Maslow who modeled the Four Stages of Learning and it explains what I’m talking about perfectly. He suggested that the four stages of learning are:

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

In other words, most people don’t work at getting fat. It happens automatically. They’re not good at leading a non-obesogenic lifestyle and they’re not aware of this fact (1). Eventually they realize that they’ve slowly gained 5 lbs per year over the last 5 years. You’ll commonly hear about how “the weight just snuck up on me.” Awareness is the first component of progress (2). If this awareness leads to sufficient desire to learn or change, eventually they’ll act on it. The solution takes consistent effort and conscious awareness, though, via calorie/nutrient tracking, food logging, resisting temptations etc (3). Repetition is the mother of all learning, right? Finally, after sufficient time and progress the individual is able to maintain a healthy weight without thinking about it. It becomes second nature (4).

It seems that when people start out with strict control of their food intake (calories, nutrients, timing, food selection), they head in one of three directions:

  1. They learn to loosen the reigns over time… as described above.
  2. They never seem to mind the rigid control and they stick with it indefinitely.
  3. They go off the deep end into neurosis and counterproductive anal retentiveness.

I’m fully aware that some people can balance the structured rigidity and their sanity (#2). It never seems to bother them and they’re successful with it – they actually enjoy the attention to detail. And that’s okay… I’m not suggesting that you MUST loosen the reigns. Each of us has unique psychologies – meaning what ‘fits’ one individual won’t necessarily fit another. Different strokes for different folks and all of that good stuff.

If you’re keeping the reigns tight simply because you’re afraid that it’s the only way though, please keep this page in mind.

There’s a definite spectrum at play here:

RIGID <<————————————————————————————–>> FLEXIBLE

I’ve encountered a lot of people who struggle. They feel trapped by the numbers. Breaking these shackles can be pretty enlightening.

I’m not here to tell you one way is better than the other. I simply want to drop a friendly reminder that you have options. There’s more than one way to approach weight control and nutrition. It’s on you to control the dial, so to speak. You may need to turn up the rigidity when necessary while keeping in mind that it’s adjustable. It sounds so simplistic, but many people seem to find themselves in one particular track and lose site of the other avenues that lead to the same destination.

Lyle McDonald does an amazing job at explaining the difference between flexible and rigid dieting psychologies and approaches in his book A Guide To Flexible Dieting. It’s his best book in my opinion.

As for the last camp (#3), I think you have to take a long hard look at what you’re doing. Ask yourself how the strict approach has treated you so far? If you’ve always been anal retentive about the nitty gritty details yet you’ve never been able to maintain any appreciable weight loss… you’re likely a member of this group.

You’re typically the yo-yo king or queen. Everything is seen in polarized views – good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, dieting/binging, etc. You’ll typically do very good in terms of effort, progress, and consistency for a short while. But then you hit a brick wall and revert to old habits. This cycle continues and each dieting phase is accompanied by stricter and stricter rules. This approach doesn’t pan out so well in the research either. I think it’s time for a different approach. I think it’s time for some honest assessment of your relationship with food, exercise, and dieting. It’s time to open your mind to other possibilities.

You category 3’s need to learn to enjoy the process. It’s the journey that means the difference between happiness and frustration… success and failure – not the destination.

I’ll shut up now…

When I first started my pursuit of a good body, I was as anal retentive as they came. I was reading the muscle magazines and bought into everything. My attention was focused on supplements and clean eating.

I had spreadsheets loaded with meal plans that met my calorie and nutrient targets. I never deviated from these meal plans. I’d get anxious in restaurants and social gatherings as I tried my best to avoid (what was in my mind) nutritional disaster. I’d obsess over clean eating. I’d avoid saturated fat and processed sugar like it was my job. I’d weigh myself daily… sometimes multiple times each day. I’d weigh every single morsel of energy that passed my lips. I’d track the number of calories I expended exercising. I ate 6 meals per day, each and every day, at the same exact times each day.

On and on it went.

Though I felt good about how involved I was with my body and health, I simultaneously felt enslaved. My happiness revolved around how “on” I was. And being “on” took ungodly amounts of effort. Invariably I’d slip up relative to my unreasonable expectations and when I did, I’d feel horrible. So horrible in fact that I’d usually skip a week’s worth of exercise and I’d eat whatever I wanted. Either that or I’d try to compensate by doing ridiculous levels of exercise as punishment and to make up for any lost ground.

Needless to say… it wasn’t a healthy approach.

I was just a kid back then. After a lot of years and experience, and after having the opportunity to help so many people reach their goals, I thought it was time to jot some of my ideas down in an attempt to help others make sense of what has become a very confusing landscape as far as fitness/nutrition information goes. I use the phrase ‘my ideas‘ lightly because in reality other professionals have helped shape my viewpoints just as much as my experiences with clients.

Here’s a secret for you – there’s a fine line between dedication and obsession.

Much has changed since my obsessive days, thank goodness. The old way of doing things wasn’t congruent with the things that really make me happy in life. I enjoy cookouts with my friends and family. There are many days I like to wake up early and go for a bike ride or hike which might mean skipping the planned breakfast in favor of a protein bar. I don’t have time to eat 6 meals per day anymore. I have a family now and want to set healthy examples for my baby girl.

I’ve learned to find enjoyment in the process. I’ve figured out what matters most. I’ve prioritized consistency of sensible basics over minutia. I’ve become a master of the tried and true (boring to some) basics.

Knowledge and experience shine new light on our perceptions. It takes time, trial, and error. And you have to be flexible and objective about things. Don’t become married to certain concepts or rules. Try things out. Keep what’s beneficial. Ditch what’s not – even if the diet industry tells you it’s super important. Your personal journey is a work of art that requires constant refinement along the way.

I’m well aware of the fact that there’s a tremendous amount of information out there. As soon as you hear something that sounds sensible, you hear another authority preaching about how that ‘something’ is stupid. If you’re really in this for a lifetime and you’re willing to be patient, sensible, and methodical… you have your entire life to figure everything out.

The End

Hopefully you’ve found my writing entertaining, or at the very least educational. If you did, I simply ask that you share a link to this article on your Facebook page, Twitter page, or whatever you use to communicate with friends and family.

If you’d like to ask questions or discuss certain parts of the page, please use the comments section below.

If you have a question that you’d like to speak privately about, you can email me here. Lastly, if you’re interested in any of our services, including in-person training or online consulting, please visit our Services page for more information.

Stay consistent and strong!

Best to you,

Steve Troutman

P.S.  Join the discussion about this resource on Facebook:

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph August 20, 2014 at 3:47 am

Hi Steve,

This article is so fantastic, everytime I need clarity I come back here and read it over again. I was wondering what your opinion is on protein shakes/bars and how they come into proper diet. My lean body mass is about 110lbs, and I’m just starting to work on how to hit protein recommendations as often as possible in my diet. Shakes and protein bars seem like a really good way to fill in the gaps without going over on calories and macros but I was wondering if consuming these products 2-3 times a day is a mistake health/diet wise? The brand I’m looking at offer shakes at 96 cals per serve 21.3g protein, 0.7g fat, 1.1g carbs and the bars are 124 cals, 14.7g protein, 3.5g fat and 3.5g carbs. I would still try to achieve my protein goals through whole food diet but 110g is a lot ..

Thanks!

Reply

Wen June 10, 2014 at 9:54 am

Steve,

This seems very down to earth and makes sense. I have two questions.

1) So, when people have bariatric surgery, and are consuming VLC’s, maybe 400-800 calories a day for the first 6-12 months, you would say when they “stall” and can no longer lose weight, it’s not because of “starvation response,” its because they have less body mass and so need less calories? And why, when they have lost all the weight, they often gain it back – because they think they can eat what they used to eat? I haven’t understood how they can eat so low calories for so long a time, and NOT go into “starvation mode.” This is one reason I have not done the surgery. I have tried and tried and tried all kinds of things, from eating 800 calories a day, to 1200, to 1500. No wheat, sugar, and limited fruit and cheese. “Slow carb” / high fiber. The Rotation Diet (600/900/1200 calories for 3 weeks, followed by a week of maintenance. This worked great for me in the past.) The Up Day/Down Day diet (eat 600 calories one day, normal the next.) Carb Addicts Diet. (I DO find that by eliminating wheat and almost 100% of sugar, I have NO or very FEW cravings and a seeming iron-willpower resistance to temptation!!!!!! I also feel sated after a meal, which I never did before.) Fasting from 6 pm until noon, etc. Nothing seems to work. I do some weight training; need to increase this. I also swim but I have bad knees so cannot walk long distances.

2) I went through menopause around 10 years ago when I was 45. I’ve read some people saying that a program called BodyLogic helped them rebalance their hormones and get their bodies receptive to leptin and insulin again etc. Do you know anything about that? Weight loss for women post-menopause seems the toughest of all. Can you help me.

THANKS SO MUCH for this great info. Bless you.

Reply

Steve Troutman June 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Hi there,

Thanks for reading and thanks for the questions!

1. When someone stalls after bariatric surgery, sure, a lot of it has to do with their total daily energy expenditure falling as their weight and tissue mass declines. But there’s definitely an adaptive component to it as well… meaning starvation mode is real in the sense that the body seems to defend itself against prolonged deficits and excessive fat loss by reducing energy expenditure by more than what would be predicted by solely the reduction in weight/tissue.

Make sense?

It’s not one or the other. It’s likely both… and likely other things too.

2. Why do they gain the weight back? Because the surgery is fixing the symptom and not the cause. The cause of their obesity is their behavior. The surgery makes it so that their behavior is very difficult to practice. Over time though, especially once their total daily energy expenditures fall per #1, they slowly ease their way back into a surplus.

3. You’ve tried a lot… that’s for sure. I wonder if you’ve ever tried long enough though. Or do you have false expectations of how quickly things should happen and because of them, frustration gets the better of you before the “program” has time to do it’s thing. So you’re constantly flip flopping around from program to program and in between them you’re eating more food than you realize.

People lose weight when they eat a deficit. Always.

So that you’re not losing weight over time tells us that you’re not in a deficit. Why?

You could be underestimating the amount of calories you consume, which is beyond common. Either people don’t weigh their food, they weigh some stuff but not others, or they have good periods of time with high compliance followed by bad periods of time with free for all eating. And when they look back over time they tend to only remember the compliant times.

I’d bet this plays a meaningful role in your issues without knowing more.

You could be overestimating how many calories you expend in a day.

You could have a medical condition.

On and on it goes.

4. I’m sorry… I don’t know anything about BodyLogic. On the surface though it sounds like a bunch of bullshit.

-Steve

Reply

Wen June 11, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Hi Steve,

Thanks for that reply!

I know I’ve been eating 1200 calories a day, or less, because I use My Fitness Pal, and weigh and measure everything.

All of my “numbers” are great – cholesterol, blood pressure, AIC is 5.4, HDL is 65 I think (it used to be 72).

What I’m wondering is if I should eat MORE calories.. if eating a bit more would “reassure” my body that it isn’t starving to death? I ate 2,000 calories last Friday, and I seemed to lose a half a pound the next day; then ate 622 on Sunday and 1216 n Monday, and by Tuesday morning, I had definately lost 2 pounds total. But this is the first weight loss in literally weeks of mostly being at 1200 calories. I gave every plan I tried at least a 2-week shot. I currently weigh 240 and am 55. By your calculations, I “should” eat 1,800 calories a day – I know I would maintain on that, for sure, not lose. I think it is more between 1200 and 1400 probably. I could try adding 100 or 200 calories but I don’t know if that small amount would make a difference and I want to waste time, either… I just want to know what is going to work!

It’s great that my cravings are gone, and I like eating real, whole foods. I just wish I knew what was going to work for me.

Reply

Steve Troutman June 11, 2014 at 9:39 pm

What is your height, weight, and what’s the highest your weight has been?

Reply

Wen June 12, 2014 at 9:49 am

I am 5′ 2″, 55 years old, currently at 238. The highest was 279 in 2010. I know I lost weight but I don’t remember exactly when. I may have lost some weight in 2011, just can’t recall. I do know that in the fall of 2012, I was able to lose 20 pounds rather quickly. After that I just stalled for about a year. Then I gave up for a while. When I started again, I lost a bit more, maybe 10 pounds and again stalled for about 6 months; repeat.

I actually do not agree that calories in = calories out. My body seems to have a different physiology. I know I am extremely sensitive to carbohydrates and gain weight on them like nobody’s business. I can eat less than 1500 calories, but if too much of them are carbs, I will gain weight and it is NOT water weight because it hangs on for several weeks, requiring me to go back to 1,000 calories or less to lose it again. I believe that once a person is fat to the extent I have been, at least, their physiology changes and what might work for a more normal weight person, won’t work for me. I believe I am hyperinsulinemic (produce too much insulin in response to carbs), which explains why I gain weight so easily when eating them. I am likely also insulin resistant and have low leptin levels.

This is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever had to deal with, and it is wearing me out.

My next change is to reduce the amount of beef I eat, and then only grass-fed beef, and increase the amount of fish. I will also try to cut back on cheese… currently have 1-2 ounces a day and I’ll make that only every other day.

Reply

Angela March 14, 2014 at 9:50 am

Steve,
Thanks for taking the time to write this article.
I was getting caught up in eating clean and making my diet way more complicated then it needed to be..
I also was thinking “my metabolism was slow”. I am in good shape but gained a few pounds and applied your simple truths of calorie counting and being honest about my calories and I started to lose weight immediately!
Please continue to make your knowledge public..
Angela

Reply

Steve Troutman March 17, 2014 at 10:30 am

Thanks very much for the feedback, Angela! More importantly I’m very glad to hear that you were able to take some useful information away from this, apply it, and actually realize some forward progress!

-Steve

Reply

Shire March 6, 2014 at 4:20 am

Hi Steve,

I came across this article and this is very informative and well-explained! I am working hard on reducing my body fat. I was a so called puffy girl where I look thin but not lean. I have high body fat and less muscle mass.I start going for weight lifting instead of only cardio. I go for weight lifting session for an hour and after that 30 mins of running. I do this 3-6days per week. I did my own pastries with eggs white, almond flour/ Oat flour with olive oil for my breakfast and dinner. Meaning other than lunch, I take clean food. I try to avoid oily food and bad carb. 3 weeks after I found I gain 1.6kg of muscle mass but body fat never go down. What went wrong? Do you have any idea on what’s going on?

Thanks,
Shire

Reply

Steve Troutman March 7, 2014 at 10:57 pm

I’m sorry but I don’t really understand what you’re asking me.

Reply

Shire March 12, 2014 at 11:55 am

Hi Steve,

I am trying to loss body fat with clean food and regular exercise. I want to be lean. I am able to gain muscle mass but body fat % didnt decrease. Any idea on whats going wrong with my diet?

Many thanks!

Reply

saraaaaa November 20, 2013 at 6:43 pm

but what about exercise for weight loss ? if i went up to 1500 calories a day how much exercise should i be doing a day to lose weight ? and would over exercising would prevent me from losing weight somehow ?

Reply

Steve Troutman November 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Firstly, I wouldn’t worry about over exercising causing you to not lose weight. Most people aren’t working hard enough. Granted, I have no clue what you’re doing, and I suppose if you were doing ridiculous levels of exercise, there’s a chance you could be retaining water more than usual.

But again, be sane about things… some well balanced exercise 5-6 days per week for 30-60 minutes isn’t going to kill you.

And I have no idea how much exercise or calories you should be consuming since I know nothing about you or your goals. Everything is context dependent.

Reply

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