[YOUVE BEEN LIED TO] What REALLY matters when you’re trying to lose weight…
Did you hear about Diane? She lost 15lbs in the last month!
What’d she do?!
She went on Dr. Z’s 1100-calorie detox diet!
That’s crazy! I’m going to order mine right now!
I’m sure you’ve heard, or have even been a participant in, conversations like the one above. It’s great to hear that people are taking a more active interest in their own health, and that so many different solutions are readily available for people to have a “positive” impact on their health.
Whether you’re only thinking of making a change at this point or you’re somewhere further along the road, you’ve probably settled into some of your own concepts or ideas about what it’s going to take to get to where you want to be; diet, nutrition, lifestyle, and so on. Some of these ideas are the product of self-experimentation or using “implicit knowledge” of our own bodies, some are concepts passed along to us from friends, fellow gym-goers, and the media. Pertinent examples would be
- Late night snacking is going to cause me to gain weight
- I need to eat 1200 calories a day to lose weight
- I need to eat breakfast because that’s the most important meal of the day
- I’m going to lift less weight with more repetitions to create “tone”
And what if I told you, flat out, all of the above are incorrect? Your paradigm would be shattered! But…but… but… my friend Gina told me I need to eat 1200 calories a day, I’ll look great like she does! Or, “Yeah, my buddy Dom told me 4 sets of 15 is the way to go to get totally shredded like he is!” Or, a personal teeth-gritting, fist curling favorite of mine “My doctor told me I need to eat 1200 calories a day to lose weight” (HINT: Virtually anyone can lose weight on 1200 calories a day, and be totally unhealthy, have crappy recovery, and feel tired all the time).
I want to take some time today, to help you get your priorities in order. No matter where you may lie in the spectrum of change, if you’re still contemplating making that change or if you’ve been doing this for quite some time, you need to have a few things straight. Here’s the order of operations (listed from LEAST- to MOST- important) when it comes to changing your body composition!
Supplements are hailed for “bridging the gap” between where your nutrition is, and where it needs to be. You can find a supplement in a powder, pill, or liquid for LITERALLY ANYTHING. Truth be told, supplements only account for maybe 5% of success when it comes to dieting. They should only be considered once your nutrition is otherwise completely on-par with your goals. Too often, after signing up for a new gym membership, the first stop people make is their local nutrition/supplement store. Or, worse yet, people will hear that a friend or family member is selling health/wellness products through a multi-level marketing company. Let me be clear, I have no problem with MLM – however, too often the individual that you are buying from has done little-to-nothing to further their education regarding nutrition or supplements and more-often-than-not, these supplements are overpriced compared to their quality (somebody’s gotta pay for the 40% discount distributors get)
All of this being said, there are some supplements which are worth considering once nutrition is “good enough” – amino acids and creatine are a good place to start. Many people find difficulty in consuming their recommended amount of protein without a whey protein supplement; I take 1-2 whey protein shakes per day as either meal replacement or post-workout supplementation. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to do this, this is simply what works for me.
4) Food Quality
“Quality, then quantity” is something that I stress to people only at the start of their fitness. The idea here is that for most prospective clientele, their first time meeting with me is also the first time evaluating their nutrition in-depth. By increasing food quality initially from eating lower-quality foods (refined sugars, processed snacks foods, and sugary beverages) to high-quality foods (lean animal proteins, lots of veggies, some fruit) we almost inevitably create the energy balance necessary for weight loss. Once we get beyond the initial phase, food quality takes a back seat in terms of importance in your diet. I’m not going to encourage anyone to ditch their chicken and rice for a Big Mac and fries, but hey, if it fits your macros, right?! (more on this later…) However, the whole truth is that food quality doesn’t make as large of an impact on body composition as…
3) Nutrient Timing
Depending on exactly how much of a caloric deficit you are achieving, nutrient timing has some degree of importance. If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey and trying to lose weight, don’t worry as much about WHEN you’re eating, as simply eating less overall. People often overemphasize the importance of nutrient timing, encouraging you to “Not eat carbs past six” or “Eat carbs and fats separately” If you’re dieting aggressively in anticipation of a weight-class event or figure competition, proper timing is going to be crucial to energy levels and recovery from workouts. One tip that I offer to newer trainees as far as nutrient timing, is to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal within 2-4 hours of working out, as well as something “light and fast” within 30-90 minutes of their training session – depending on what best suits their day. Starchy carbs like rice, oats, potatoes, and so on do well for the aforementioned 2-4 hour window, while more sugary or “fast” carbs like fruit, honey, and sports drinks would work best in the 30-90 minute timeframe.
Flexible dieting or “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) has been all the rage lately. And why the heck not? It’s great! You don’t need to concern yourself with limiting your intake to a set “diet” There are several aspects that need to be considered when it comes to taking the macro-dieting route – sustainability and practicality are foremost, and even then, it’s about finding what actually works for you. Nutrition is a highly individualized science, and what works for most, might not work for you. Some people respond well to high amounts of carbohydrate, and others do better with higher fat and protein content. Ultimately it’s true, by consistently conforming to a set of macronutrients (carbs/proteins/fats) you can “eat whatever you want” and attain a result. However, whether your goal is to lose weight or make lean gains, any diet requires proper…
1) Calorie Balance
Calorie balance, or energy balance, is the biggest determinant in the result you receive with your diet. Eat too much and burn too little energy, you will gain weight – there is no way around this. Eat too little and burn too much, you will hate it! There is a bit of a “Goldilocks Zone” when it comes to your own individual intake, and this is why I encourage people to find a meal plan that is personally catered to them. Some people require more caloric intake than others, and there exists the possibility that you could take two individuals on a calorie-controlled diet and receive two entirely different results! This is why finding what works for you is hugely important – don’t just take any old bodybuilding magazine diet and try to apply it to your life! These one-size-fits-all approaches to dieting do almost nothing to account for individual differences in food preferences, practicality, or sustainability for the person actually doing the diet!
But it’s all for naught without…
Okay, maybe I lied a little bit. Proper calorie balance is actually imperative when it comes to the result you get from your diet, but consistency trumps all. Whatever you do, do it consistently. I strongly encourage people to track caloric intake and stay consistent for at least four weeks before making any changes (sure, if the result is overwhelmingly negative or the plan is unsustainable, you can make tweaks sooner). Doesn’t matter what you’re doing, if you don’t do it consistently. Thinking of trying out Paleo? Great approach – do it for a MONTH, without stopping! Going back to Weight Watchers because that’s what worked for you the last time? Good luck, have fun – STICK WITH IT. If you’re all over the place with what you’re eating and how much, it’s impossible to determine what’s working for you and what’s working against you. Only once consistency is established, can we begin to make assumptions as to what’s working for us. This doesn’t have to mean eating the same foods in the same amounts every day, but can mean having to take a step back and narrowing your choices so that you’re eating from roughly the same food groups in similar amounts most of the time.
Hopefully this article has helped shed some light on what you need to be focusing on when it comes to changing your body composition. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or just maintain, you can’t beat the basics. What works for someone else, won’t always work for you, and that’s why I’m a huge advocate of self-experimentation when it comes to nutrition – try something new, stick with it for a little while, and measure your result! The best diet is the one that works for you! If you’re feeling stuck, confused, and just need to switch things up, check out the FitBunch shop – everything from 3-month total transformations, to meal planning and conditioning routines. Enter code FBFAM at checkout for an instant 15% off!