Our goal is to reach out and educate as many people about the science of nutrition as we possibly can. In this article we provide some guidance (or rules) to weight loss and weight loss maintenance that come from the REAL science, not the junk that you see on TV, read in the magazines, or have forced upon you by ‘healthy eating’ bodies. So, let us start with basic nutrition 101:
- Protein and fats are essential for life. If you do not eat them in sufficient amounts there will be detriments to your health. If you didn’t eat protein or fat ever again (very hard to do) you would eventually die… simple as. However, if you were to never OEVER eat a starchy carbohydrate again, you would be fine. There is ZERO physiological need, a need to be something necessary to sustain life.
If anyone disagrees with that, ask them to find a single text that has the words ‘essential carbohydrates’ or ‘essential sugars’… they don’t exist but, there are essential fats and essential amino acids (which you get from protein). So, with this in mind, does it make sense to eat a diet that is predominantly made up of the only thing your body DOESN’T need?
Rules to Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance
These are general rules that if adhered to will benefit most people. There will be exceptions and in some cases, where some people will get results despite not adhering to one of the rules but, to give yourself the best chance, it is good to simply follow the rules and get results.
1&2. Never eat low fat or low protein.
The point we are trying to get across here is, Rule 1 – never make your singular focus to ‘just eat low fat’! No matter what! High cholesterol? Don’t just eat ‘low fat’. High body fat? Don’t just eat low fat. High blood pressure? Don’t just eat low fat. Get it? Don’t just focus on cutting ‘fat’ out of your diet. It’s also worth saying, Rule 2; don’t eat low protein but, that isn’t a message we have heard too often. We hear don’t eat (red) meat because it is high in fat and will make you fat, but this is not the case.
Everyone at SB Nutrition has a scientific background in nutrition which means everything we do is based on science and the physiology of the body, namely based on scientific research – Interventions not Observations. Every decent nutritionist should know that the old hat way of thinking about nutrition and ‘healthy eating’ is flawed. It is more what is publicised that is wrong than some of the information that is out there. The guidelines state that to be ‘healthy’ you should consume less than 30% of your energy from fat. So eating a 29% fat diet is deemed ‘healthy’ and in fact… far more healthy than many of the meal options and menu plans that are publicised, which by the way, often have people eating less than 10 – 15% fat longterm, which may not lead to great health outcomes.
So, there is some background, now let us talk briefly about ‘dieting’ or rules to weight loss. We know it sounds rubbish but ‘dieting’ as we know it, doesn’t work. We will also say, very often sticking to the standard ‘healthy eating’ guidelines, does not work either! So, what rules lead to weight loss and work?
- Eat sustainably & don’t deprive yourself
Rule 3a – You need to decide to simply eat the way you need to, to maintain your ideal weight. Doing a ‘diet’ that does not resemble how you will eat once you have attained your goal is not conducive to weight maintenance (however, if you have Rule 8 nailed this may not be the case). So, the plan you follow must contain elements that are sustainable forever. What we mean is, don’t go on a stupid diet that has you on purely shakes because you can’t do that forever! As soon as you go back to food, the weight will go back on, often along with a little extra. This approach means you haven’t learned anything about portions of real food, and all too often when people go back to ‘normal’ eating habits, they pile the pounds back on. Not to mention, that many dieting strategies leave a lot to be desired and will generally leave you with some sort of screwed up bodily function and worst of all, messed up metabolism.
With the above in mind, comes Rule 3b, don’t deprive yourself! Be honest, can you completely give up XYZ? If not, don’t. Remember though, if you feel you must, or deserve to eat some junk every day, maybe you need to try and change the way you think. However, can you limit your consumption of XYZ to 1-2 times per week forever? If you honestly can, great, that is what you need to do in your nutrition plan. We use the term nutrition plan when we mean something sustainable and sensible, when we say diet in this article we mean something idiotic like the Cambridge diet, maple syrup diet, lighter life, weight watchers, Tony Fergusson and any other out there, robbing people of their health and hard earned money. Sounds dramatic but, in our line of work these are the stories we see and hear every week.
- Don’t lose weight quickly
Rule 4 – Don’t lose weight too quickly *for you*; If it didn’t go on quickly – so is it sensible to lose it quickly? Although, If it went on quickly, losing it quickly and going back to maintenance could be an appropriate option. If you want to lose fat on your own without guidance, and for it to stay off, it needs to be slow, sometimes horribly demotivatingly slow in fact. Have you ever been guilty of saying ‘great week this week, lost 4lbs!’ with an unknowingly naive smile? It sounds boring and repetitive but 1-2lbs per week is a great speed to lose weight for most of us. The more naturally active you are the closer to 2lbs you can be. These figures relate to being in an energy deficit of 500-1000kcals per day. However, remember the body is not an engine, it is not a simple case of kcals in and kcals out otherwise we’d have hungry people everywhere with great abs! Sustainability is the key. Similarly, a slowed metabolism is a very real thing but is only one consequence. So, as an example, a person who sits at a desk most of the day for work and can only commit 2-3 hours per week to exercise may only be able to lose 1lb per week to allow them to eat enough to keep the body functioning properly, to avoid plateaus and to probable prevent weight regain.
- Cycle your Starchy Carbohydrates
Rule 5 – Cycle your carbs. What this means is, on days you exercise or are more active you are ‘entitled’ to more carbohydrate. If you do a very hard training session you could add in enough carbs to account for energy that you burnt during that session. Doesn’t this go against the point of doing the exercise? No, of course not, otherwise we wouldn’t have said it. If you’re already eating at a level to lose weight, you’ll still lose weight despite ‘cancelling out’ the energy used during exercise. However, you might choose to only add in half the energy and increase your weight loss slightly that day. Make sure you have a lot of these carbs straight after the exercise session too as there is an increased tendency for the carbohydrates to be stored in your muscles at this time.
A little more ‘science’ – your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is essentially the number of kcals (energy) you would burn in a 24hour period if you simply lay down and did nothing. Most of our clients fall somewhere between 1400-2000kcals for their BMR. So, to just ‘BE’, your body burns say 1500kcals… how on earth do you think you’re not able to lose weight eating 1500kcals considering its doubtful you just lay in bed 24hours a day, 7 days a week. If you do, your potential for ‘healthy’ fat loss is zero. So, why have we mentioned BMR? Because it is part of Rule 6.
- Never eat less than your BMR
Rule 6 – Never eat less than your BMR for prolonged periods. Eating less than your BMR leads to metabolic disruption. For instance, your hair, skin and nails are all ‘alive’ and need energy to be sustained. If you eat less than your BMR, less important bodily functions like this become down regulated… hence the dry skin and hair and brittle nails of many low kcal, low fat dieters. You also lower production of important hormones which are key to a healthy metabolism including testosterone (in both males and females) and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which as you can imagine is involved directly with your metabolism. So, in general, if you stick to rule 6… you should be safe for Rule 4 even if it creeps over 2lbs per week…
Edit: Since this article was first written over 6 years ago we’ve changed our stance slightly on this point. For some people it is necessary to eat below a calculated BMR; these individuals tend to be relatively inactive people who can’t commit a lot of time to exercise. The ideal is that they would be more active and exercise more but that isn’t always possible. At least understanding that this is a ‘sub optimal’ decision allows for a more informed course of action. The research in this area is still lacking and we do not know appropriate timescales to allow dieting on ‘less than BMR’.
Rule 7 – Your nutrition plan must progress. As you get lighter, BMR goes down. Yes, that’s right… stick thin people don’t have ‘fast metabolisms’ they have much slower basal metabolisms than heavier people! So, as the weight comes off, you will need to create a further deficit. How can you do this? Not by going below BMR that’s for sure! So, if you’re not there yet, you can lower energy intake, if you are, you will need to look at your exercise or non-exercise energy expenditure (NEEE) any activity that is not structured exercise. So, taking the stairs instead of the lift type ‘stuff’.
- Exit Plan
Rule 8 – Have an exit plan. Who has EVER had an exit plan to their weight loss? I’ll tell you who… bodybuilders! Many bodybuilders plan their off season diets (nutrition plans) like they do their competition diets. I’d say they were quite a good bunch to try and emulate… in that respect anyway. Once your weight goal has been reached, what are you going to do? Well, you have a few options. Eat more and keep exercise the same, eat the same and exercise less or… a bit of both. It may be that you keep to the same plan you have had but include a few more ‘treats’ here and there and allow yourself to miss a training session when you are busy. It is up to you.
- Be Tenacious
Rule 9 – Be tenacious about your nutrition plan. Do count calories (at least once), how else are you going to know if you are abiding by the rules above!? Do create an eating structure that fits your lifestyle and don’t be embarrassed about eating in meetings or at work. Especially during the weight loss phase of your new way of eating, you need to keep structure as hunger is your worst enemy if it is not planned hunger. Take a leaf out of many bodybuilders book, eat the same meals every day for a period as long as they are covering all of your needs. Get used to portion sizes, food types and cooking methods and then expand your menu with more variety in food choices etc.
Finally, this is not a rule to weight loss, it is just to give you something really specific to work off but let’s call it
You are an individual with your individual needs, but we want to give you this otherwise the above rules may just be pointless. If your goal is fat loss and you have no other performance targets you can use the following breakdown of macronutrients – it is something that has be born out of years of helping people with the goal of fat loss and is not based on any other ‘diet plans’ out there, it is just what the ratios have ‘tended’ towards over the years with increasing levels of success. So, there are hundreds of BMR calculators out there on the internet, remember, these are estimations but generally they are pretty good. Once you have this figure and have chosen the number of kcals you are going to eat in a day, you can split your kcals so that fat is approximately 30-40% of your energy. Protein is 2.0 – 2.5g per kilogram of your bodyweight (it can go lower if you have a particularly high percentage body fat) and carbohydrate will make up the rest…. and there you have it… the 10 Rules to a ‘healthy nutrition plan’.
A closing thought, so why don’t we create a ‘nutrition plan’ and put it in a book and sell it? Well, a) We’ve thought about it but currently it is not at the top of the agenda and b) more importantly, our thinking is that it may not be possible because, as mentioned previously, everyone is different! The plan needs to suit You, Your tastes, Your goals and Your life. Therefore, we will continue to post (free) information all around the internet, that is designed to both motivate and educate. This allows people to make better decisions with their diet and exercise habits and hopefully means that they don’t need to come to us because they have high cholesterol despite a ‘low fat diet’ or because they are stuck in a cycle of perpetual yo-yo dieting.