1: Know how many calories you should be having. At the end of the day no matter what you eat you will not lose fat if you are eating too many calories. Beyond the complications of macronutrients, toxicity and “clean foods”, calories are by far the biggest determinant of your body composition. Use the Harris-Benedict equation here (insert link) to calculate your daily caloric allowance. Use a calories tracker like MyFitnessPal to track your calories and go from there.
The Harris–Benedict equations revised by Mifflin and St Jeor in 1990:
Men BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6,25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
Women BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6,25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
STEP 2 – Determine Recommended Intake
The following table enables calculation of an individual’s recommended daily kilocalorie intake to maintain current weight.
Little to no exercise Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.2
Light exercise (1–3 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.375
Moderate exercise (3–5 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.55
Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.725
Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts) Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.9
2: Be accountable. Its an old saying but its true; “you are 100 per cent responsible for everything that goes in to your mouth”. Nutrition, like exercise, is all about accountability and integrity. Nobody made you eat it or drink it. You made that choice so stop pretending. Don’t lie to yourself, pretending doesn’t help anyone. At the same time don’t let guilt destroy everything. One bad meal doesn’t end your world, it just needs to be acknowledged and accounted for. If you over eat one day, take those calories off the next day and be smart. You can’t expect to live a perfect life and never make mistakes…. you just have to balance them out.
3: Just eat real food. It sounds obvious doesn’t it. If it wasn’t food one hundred years ago then it isn’t food today. Stay away from chemically created foods and junk. Eat lean meats, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some fruit. Don’t waste calories on drink, especially sugar loaded sweet drinks. Drink water, tea and coffee. If you just do this you will make improvements before stepping foot in the gym.
4. Understand Macronutrients. Beyond calories this is your next steps to improving body composition, energy levels and wellness. There are 3 macronutrient groups that you need to concern yourself with: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. All 3 are necessary to live a healthy, balanced life but too much of any of them can be problematic.
The most important of a the macronutrients and the one we always look at first is protein. Think of protein as the building blocks of your body. It is essential for growth and maintenance and can be found in all cells in the human body.. In fact, next to water, protein dominates the molecules of your body. Protein is also an energy source and contains 4 cals per gram. Good sources of protein are fish, eggs, lean meats, some dairy, nuts and legumes.
Next we have carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are sugars. They are the preferred fuel source for high intensity activity and essential for proper brain function. It is important to note that all carbohydrates sugar in the blood stream. They are probably the most abused and most demonised of all the macronutrients, particularly in recent years, as the obesity crisis has been linked to the massive over consumption of carbohydrate. Sugar is a drug and it is addictive. Food companies have abused this knowledge by lacing both food and drink with hidden sugars to get you addicted to the product. Thus overconsumption ensues. This has led to certain factions avoiding carbs altogether and casting them out as the ugly duckling. The answer is not in total abandonment but in management. You simply need to regulate your intake and be mindful of the kinds of sugars you consume. Be smart and be mature. Make green vegetables, oats, rice, sweet potato and quinoa the predominant sources of your carbohydrate. Avoid sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits, sweets, crisps, chocolate bars for the most part. It is quite simply the ability to exercise self control and the intelligence to make good choices that will dictate your success. Know what you are eating. Know when to stop. Be honest. Carbohydrate is 4 cals per gram. Good sources are listed above.
Lastly we have fats. Before the “carbohydrate crisis” fat was the enemy. “Experts” in the 70’s and 80’s decided that fat was the enemy and the main reason people weren’t thin enough. And so the “low fat” revolution was born where fat was extracted from products and replaced with sugar, the then darling of the time. Of course we now know that since this happened the world is fatter than ever and this was possible the biggest bad decision in health since we marketed smoking as “good for you” in the 1950’s. Fats are a fuel source, they are also essential for hormonal health, can reduce inflammation, improve metabolism, improve insulin sensitivity and actually help the body burn excess fat. So you need to include them in your diet. Look to good sources of fat from avocado’s, nuts, coconut oil, fish, real butter, olive oil. Be mindful as fat is 9 cals per gram and that needs to be accounted for. It is necessary but it is not free reign.
5. Get a starting point. Once you know your caloric allowance you have a base number. You know not to exceed this number and if you want to lose body fat you can subtract 500 cals from this total (any more than 500 then you risk slowing down your metabolism which will lead to long term problems). Next work out your protein requirement. In general we recommend 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So if you are 160 pounds you need 160g of protein, protein is 4 cals per gram so you caloric requirement for protein is 640 cals. The rest of your caloric allowance needs to come from carbohydrates and fats. You will need , depending on your activity levels and nature of exercise anywhere between 1.2 an 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight. In this case lets take this middle ground of 1.6 grams per pound of bodyweight. Carbohydrate is also 4 cals per gram so that equals 1024 cals. So combined we have a total of 1628cals from protein and carbohydrates. We know have to fit in fats. So lets say our daily caloric allowance came out at 2300 Cals per day. if we subtract 1628 from 2300 we get 672. Fat is 9 cals per gram, so we divide 672 by 9 and get 75. So 75g is our daily fat allowance. So we now have:
Daily Allowance: 2300
Protein: 640 cals
Carbs: 1024 cals
Fats: 672 cals
We have a starting point. If we focus on good food sources and hit these numbers on a daily basis then we are sure to be in good shape. From here we can modify as we move forward. Get a body composition test done (DEXA) at the start of your journey and check in every 6 weeks. This will allow you to see accurate body fat percentage and lean mass totals which is more important than just weight. However, I would also recommend weighing yourself regularly (every morning) so that you are aware. Also take profile shots of yourself so you can see visible changes in shape. Yes it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing but visually it is valuable and trackable feedback. The more information you have, the more knowledgable about your body you are, the more likely you are to achieve long term success.