When we set out to achieve a goal, we usually want the path that leads us there in the shortest amount of time. We are used to moving through life quickly but when it comes to dieting, we must draw a line. There is a difference between pace and efficiency. Some things are better off done right the first time, even if it takes longer. This is particularly true when the goal is to improve body composition.
- Your body will adapt to a low-calorie diet. Your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of energy your body expends while at rest; basically, even if you laid in bed all day, you still burn calories. Your BMR is the number of calories you’d need. Someone with a higher lean body mass will have a higher BMR- so the more muscle, the more energy we expend.
- To lose body fat, we must eat less calories than we burn in a day. This is called a caloric deficit. Our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) includes our BMR plus all other activity in our day. The total amount of energy (calories) we consume must be less than what we expend.
- Consistent choices to get better rather than attempting “perfection” are more important for long term success. Creating better habits that are maintainable 7 days a week is superior to eating “perfectly” 3 days a week.
Now with this information, we have a few steps we will take in constructing our weight loss diet. Tracking our food in an app such as My Fitness Pal or writing it down has a few benefits and gives us a solid starting point. Before making any dietary changes, try tracking your food (every bite, be honest!). This provides us valuable insight:
- We see how much we are regularly consuming from a caloric standpoint. It’s important to be as accurate as possible with measurements here.
- We become aware of any poor habits: stress or binge eating, distracted during meal time, lack of nutrient dense foods, low protein, low fiber, etc.
- We can see what how we need to alter our portion sizes and what macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein) we need increase or decrease.
From here it’s easier to adjust the amount of food we need to eat to reach our goals and where we should focus on improving first. If most days you’ve been eating 2,000 calories, there is no reason to cut them in half. It would be more sustainable to start at 1,800 calories per day and see how your body answers over 2-3 weeks. We just need consistency with small changes as opposed to huge lifestyle overhauls. It is important we understand low calorie diets as well as restricted, labelled diets such as keto, no sugar, no dairy, etc. do not mean we reach success just because we’ve eliminated certain foods. It is more efficient to adjust our habits which already exist, one at a time.
While I encourage anyone to stick to whole, unprocessed foods it is important we understand the amount we eat is superior to what we eat when losing weight. If you eat an entirely “clean” diet, or any other labelled diet, it does not matter if you are eating too many calories. It is also important that we enjoy the foods we eat on a day to day basis, not just the weekends. If we eat “perfectly” 1-3 days within our week but go all out during the remainder of the week, we aren’t moving towards our goal. Rather than eat a restricted diet for half the week and breaking on the other days, try allowing yourself space in your calories to enjoy your favorite food. This way, we are gradually reducing caloric intake at a rate that we can successfully maintain on a daily basis. This daily basis adds up over months, and eventually we meet our goal with our new consistent, habits.
My final point in closing is this: If you cannot sustain the diet you are on now long term, it may not be your most efficient option. Sure, you can eat a very restricted or low calorie diet for one month and lose a few pounds, but will you pick up your old habits right once you see results? More importantly, if you’re still stuck on just the idea of a “diet” and losing weight, maybe shift your focus to long term health and improving your quality of life. The more we stress about our diet, the less weight we are going to lose. No one wants to spend every day fixated on food and losing body fat. When we strive to make smarter choices every day, becoming better than we were the day before, all we can do is improve. We just need realistic goals and a positive mindset. The path is never linear, but when paved with good habits we are on our way to success.