“I eat healthy but I still don’t lose weight.”
Does this sound familiar? It does to me. I hear it (or rather, read it) daily. Part of my intake process involves having a potential client log their meals in an app for several days so I can review what exactly we’re working with before I decide where we need to go next. There are people who eat out every day, drink alcohol several times a week, and have a diet comprised mostly of packaged “food like products”, however, there are an astounding number of people who come to me with pristine logs full of whole, nutrient dense foods. Yet, these people remain overweight no matter whether they exercise or not.
I’m going to give you the magic secret that health professionals guard so tightly. Many will promote their own style of “dieting” as the next best thing, the greatest, and the easiest – but that’s just the information I’m about to give you in fancy packaging. So, what’s the big secret?
FAT LOSS IS MATH.
You see, everything you eat has a calorie load and if your weight is steady, that’s how many calories it takes to keep your current body composition. If you like your body composition, congratulations – you can stop reading now (but you shouldn’t because this is good stuff). If you do not like your current body composition, you’ll want to continue reading.
Let’s say you want to lose 1lb per week. This might not seem like a lot but I assure you it is when you look at it over a year. There are 52 weeks in a year and if you lose just one pound per week for a year, you’ve lost over 50lbs. That’s pretty damn good if you ask me. It might not sound aggressive enough for you but read on anyway. Unlike the article you read in the Reader’s Digest on display in the express checkout line at Walmart (to keep you from buying all the candy bars), I know what I’m talking about.
One pound of fat is made up of approximately 3500 calories. Yes, there are variables here but we’re keeping it simple. If you want to lose 1lb of fat in one week, that means you’ll need to cut 500 calories per day for 7 days (7×500 = 3500). Sounds easy enough, right? To do this, you need to know how much you’re currently eating. “Eating healthy” is not a mathematical value. You’ll want to start using an app like My Fitness Pal so you can see exactly what you eat in a day EVEN IF (especially if, actually) you eat “healthy”.
HUH? What do you mean “especially if”?
Do you remember when the Paleo craze hit the airwaves? EAT ALL THE BACON – IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. I remember. Now, let me just take an aside to say, there’s nothing wrong with eating paleo – that’s exactly how I feed my family most of the time – however, I still log my meals so I know I’m not blowing my calorie targets. You see, if you eat 4000 calories in a day, it doesn’t matter if it’s avocado and chicken, or Five Guys. It’s still 4000 calories and outside of competitive athletes, not many people need 4000 calories in a day.
Do you remember the Iowa science teacher John Cisna who lost 37 pounds and saw his cholesterol level drop significantly? He consumed a diet consisting of nothing but McDonald’s for three months, consuming a 2000 calorie per day diet.
The math in this tells us that he lost 12lbs per month. Now, he also reported to have walked 45 minutes per day, so some of his deficit was produced by exercise expenditure but, roughly, that’s 3lbs per week from calorie cutting. This means Mr. Cisna was reducing his caloric intake by approximately 1500 per day.
If a 1500 calorie deficit per day sounds like a lot, I would encourage you to track your food for a few days. Be honest about the weight and volume of the foods you eat and the preparation details. If you fry your battered chicken, you can’t call it “chicken breast” with only 5g of fat for a 4oz portion (this would be the gravest form of denial known to mankind). Weigh your fruit, log your soda, use an actual measuring spoon to portion out your almond butter, and weigh your nuts. If you eat pasta, I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you weigh your usual portion of pasta (I’m literally belly laughing at you as I type this).
In a game of math, there is no perception – there are only numbers. Even if you’re not actively trying to lose fat, logging your meals is a great way to get insight into how your body functions. If you’re often tired and sluggish your logs might show you that your fat intake is too low. If you’re crashing at 2pm every day, you might learn your lunch meal is too dense in carbs.
Knowledge is power – so, go get some.