Ignoring fads and embracing science
In case you couldn’t tell, I have a fascination with donuts. Not just any donuts, either. I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best donut within reach, wherever I happen to be. Grocery store and pre-packaged donuts don’t do anything for me; if I’m going to put those calories in my body, it better be worth it. It’s the one area of my life in which I won’t tolerate mediocrity.
That said, after YEARS of hating my body, I needed to make a change, and as anyone who’s had a lifetime of body issues understands – dieting is the worst. There’s fad diets, crash diets, diets that tell you not to eat carbs, others that say to avoid fats, and guess what donuts have A LOT of? Carbs and fats. Plus, with so much misinformation coming out every year about what foods are suddenly bad for you, it becomes excruciating trying to keep up and be “healthy.”
Last year, I gave up gluten and added sugars for six weeks to slim down for a couple of weddings I was in, but once those came and went, the weight came back like it always does. In March this year, my friends and I booked a trip to Barcelona and I had a real heart-to-heart with myself.
“You’re sick of the way you look and nothing is going to change unless you do.”
But… donuts… And literally every other sweet thing on the planet. We can all give up something we love for a short period of time, which is why fad diets can be effective in the moment, but if your diet involves you giving up something you love in order to keep the weight off, you’re going to fail. Restrictions lead to binge-eating, which leads to hating yourself and more restrictions, followed by more binges. As someone who would constantly fall into this trap, I needed a way to lose weight without losing balance.
Enter science. No fads, no following studies that say something is good for you one minute and bad the next, no giving up food groups. One pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories, so to lose one pound of fat in a week, you have to burn 3,500 extra calories, or since cardio is the worst, eat at a deficit of 500 calories per day. Essentially, your total calories in for the week has to be 3,500 less than your calories out. As someone who hates math and treadmills, let me stress that if I can do this, anyone can.
I’ve read for years that people who keep food journals have the most success with weight loss, but I never heeded that tip because writing down literally everything that goes into my mouth sounds like the most tedious, time-consuming thing. And I’ll be honest, the first few weeks of logging were tedious. Even with an app that allows you to scan barcodes, import recipes, and can get nutritional information from many restaurants, it was annoying to pause after every meal and do it. But now it’s second nature and takes me 30 seconds.
A little disclaimer before I get into my tips – this is a method that has worked wonders for my weight loss and has contributed to many people hitting their body goals. It was developed by doctors and scientists, of which I am neither. I’m not a nutritionist or personal trainer and my only credentials for writing this post are that I’ve lost 30 pounds using this method. Use this guide at your own risk. That said, let’s get into it! Here are my 11 tips on how to shed weight without giving up the things you love:
- Know your TDEE. Otherwise known as “Total Daily Energy Expenditure,” it’s essentially the number of calories you burn in a day. For most of us, the majority of our TDEE is made up of our basal metabolic rate, or BMR, which is the amount of calories we burn by living and breathing. You could be in a coma and still be burning over a thousand calories just through normal bodily functions. If you combine your BMR with the calories you burn from physical exercise, that’s your TDEE. In order to maintain your current weight, you consume that number of calories every day. To lose weight, eat less; to gain weight, eat more.
- Determine your macros. There are different websites that do this for you, such as IIFYM and bodybuilding.com. I use a subscription service called Avatar Nutrition that takes my weight and body fat percentage each week and adjusts my macros for the next week to keep my metabolism working hard and prevent plateaus.
- Tracking app. There are many out there, but I’ve always used My Fitness Pal. As mentioned before, this step is what deters so many people because tracking can be a tedious process. Stick to it for a few weeks and it will become second nature.
- Measure your food. I cannot stress how important this one is. Measure EVERYTHING. When you’re looking at the macros on something, also check out the serving size. If you’re going to eat cereal and the serving size is one cup, measure out one cup. If you’re not used to this, it will probably shock you to see how much you’re over-eating. Most of us fill the bowl with cereal and add milk, which is probably closer to two cups. The most accurate way to measure your food is to use a food scale. I still use mine every day and it has helped me put serving sizes into perspective.
- Good carbs vs bad carbs. If you’ve been dieting for a while, you have had this shoved down your throat. You were excited when Chipotle finally got brown rice to make your lunch “healthier.” But here’s the thing – while there are added benefits of eating “good” carbs over “bad” carbs, like more fiber to help you feel full longer, your body breaks down food into three separate categories. Carbs, fat, and protein are all your body knows. It doesn’t process bad carbs as one thing and good carbs as another, it processes pizza and quinoa equally, but we all know it’s easier to put down three slices of pizza vs. an equivalent measurement of quinoa. Carbs are converted into energy and like with any macro, if your body doesn’t burn that energy, it will go right to you hips. This is why it’s important to hit your daily target.
- Treats, not cheats. This is where I allow myself to have donuts and is probably the most important part of flexible dieting! My macros tailored to my body’s current needs are 136g P/142g C/53g F. A glazed donut from Krispy Kreme is 3g P/31g C/14g F. If I want to have a donut one day, I can fit it into my macros by eating fewer carbs and fat in other meals, such as choosing a salad over a burger at lunch.
- Food is fuel. But it’s a better saying than “you are what you eat.” A chicken salad with dressing and a slice of pizza might have the same macros, but eating a big salad over one slice of pizza is going to keep you feeling full longer.
- Meal plan. I don’t mean this in the way of cooking all of your food for the week on Sunday and portioning it out. Although that is super helpful if you’re a busy individual, it’s not for everyone. Instead, figure out what you’re going to eat before you start cooking it. Put it into an app and make sure it fits your macros. This is a good way to avoid the disappointment of cooking an amazing meal, only to realize you went over on carbs by 10g.
- Protein. This is one of the most important macros because it builds and repairs cells. Muscles need protein – a lot of it! About one gram per pound of lean body mass. This can be tough for people to hit, but there’s a lot of protein options available making it easy to include in every meal and snack. My favorite lean proteins include egg whites, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, chicken, fish, lean ground beef, jerky, bison, venison, and elk.
- Shut out fake news. Pay attention to who is paying for the studies being put out in the world these days. A study about the horrible effects of artificial sweeteners might have been conducted by the sugar industry. Chemicals might not be the best thing to put in your body, but just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is good for you. Studies can be manipulated to have results that aren’t necessarily factual. (John Oliver has a great segment on this.) If having a cup of sugar free Jello at the end of the night satiates your sweet craving and keeps you within your macros, you’re not going to die.
- Fitness. This is my last point on here because it isn’t the most important one for losing weight, especially if the food aspect is already pretty daunting. Get used to tracking your food before diving in headfirst to working out. You’ll lose weight just by eating less food, and once you add in exercise, you can reward yourself by taking in more calories. Fitness adds drastically to your overall health, but it’s not the starting point of weight loss. I’ll have more blog posts on fitness, so I’ll keep this one to food. Long story short, don’t torture yourself unnecessarily.
Along the lines of not torturing yourself, know that tracking your macros isn’t going to be perfect every day, especially in the beginning. My advice to all people, whether you’re just starting this or have been doing this for months, is to first and foremost focus on the calories. A caloric deficit is the ONLY way to lose weight, so no matter what you’re eating, you’re doing okay if it’s 10-15% below your TDEE.
This is a SLOWWW process; you’re not going to wake up 20 pounds lighter in one month. Slow keeps your body happy and there’s less of a chance you’ll gain all of the weight back when you make adjustments like this. Tracking your macros, reading labels, and weighing everything out can be a tedious process, but I promise it becomes manageable. When I’d get frustrated with the process, I’d remind myself that it’s easier to put up with it and learn how to eat better than to be miserable about my weight. Things don’t change unless you do.
I still have a long journey ahead in achieving my fitness goals, but this is the only process I’ve found that let’s me live my life while dieting. I can have a drink or a donut and not feel bad about it and still lose weight. I’ve been on this journey for seven months now and I’ll never look back. If you’re reading this and you’ve been flexible dieting for a while and have any tips, please let me know! Or let me know if you’re about to start on this journey – we can all use a little bit of accountability.