DISCLAIMER: Before you follow any diet or change your sports routine drastically, consult with your healthcare professional. I’m purely speaking based on my own experience, but I am no certified professional. There is no magic bullet, no pill or powder I’m trying to sell to you. I’m just sharing my own knowledge for free.
Whether it’s in my daily work as a developer or throughout my life-long mission to stay fit and healthy, I love to learn on a trial and error basis. I’ve tried to lose weight already four times in my life, lost around 20 kilos on every intent, but only now I found my way that works best for me without bouncing back to my old weight immediately.
Today there are countless suggestions on what diet to follow. Whether it is keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, vegetarian, mediterranean, vegan … you name it. Most of them focus on either increasing or reducing one of the 3 macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates and proteins. There is only one thing, they all have in common, which is the actual key to losing weight. We’ll get to that later.
Low Fat Diet
Back in the 1940s coronary heart disease was the number one reason of death in the United States. After scientists identified high cholesterol levels causing those fatalities, the so-called low fat diet became very popular especially in the 1970s. This diet promotes both the prevention of heart disease and weight loss by cutting out fat from your diet all together. As most of us know, the tasty parts in food are fats. The recommendation of a low fat diet, led the food industry to using more and more sugar to make food tasty again, which led exactly to the opposite effect. Heart disease rates did not decrease and people rather gained weight than losing it.1
Fat is for a reason proclaimed one of the macronutrients your body needs. Cutting it out completely, won’t do your personal health any good. From a very young age, we are nourished with our mother’s milk, which is very heavy in healthy fats and our brains consist of nearly 60 percent of fat. The important emphasis lies on eating healthy, unsaturated fats like the ones present in salmon, avocados, nuts, olive oil and the like.
Low Carb Diet
Initially promoted as the Atkinson diet, today rather known as Keto diet, a low carbohydrate approach tries to achieve weight loss by reducing the intake of carbohydrates to a minimum. Your body uses carbohydrates as the main source of energy. When your body presents a lack of carbohydrates, in other words your body is in ketosis, it will fall back on fat reserves to obtain the energy it needs.
Providing your body with a reduced amount of carbs obtained from rice, pasta, potatoes, fruits or bread, does indeed work to lose wait, but at the same time comes with 3 essential disadvantages:
- Keto breath: If you hardly eat any carbohydrates, you rely on protein and fats to nurture your body. Especially protein takes your stomach longer to digest, which leads to an unfavorable smell in your breath.
- Lightheadedness: As carbs are the number one source of energy for your body, you might feel light-headed when doing extra effort like a heavy workout due to a lack of energy sources available.
- You can’t eat pizza! 😜
Diets limiting protein intake
Let’s complete our review of various diets focusing on the 3 macronutrients: Even though it’s not their declared goal, some diets like vegetarian or vegan, considerably limit our protein intake due to the lack of meat or animal produce in general. Even though whole sources of soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh, and miso)2 do include all 9 essential amino acids, they are mainly present in protein-heavy options like meat and fish. When reducing the intake of animal-based food, we need to carefully consider a minimum intake of protein as it’s the main component for our muscles, skin and hair.
Especially for sports women and men, protein is key to regenerate muscles after workouts. During an intense session you slightly rupture your muscle tissue. Your body uses protein to heal them and makes them grow at the same time.
The one thing all diets have in common
Whether you reduce any of the micronutrients, avoid animal produce or eat only in a certain time window throughout the day, all diets boil down to 3 things:
- You eat less unhealthy junk foods.
- You eat more healthy whole foods.
- (As a result) You consume less calories.
As long as you are in a calorie deficit, meaning that you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. That is the one and only truth we know for sure and it’s the common delimiter across all diets out there. Most of us are in a constant calorie surplus, which would be the exact opposite: you eat more calories than you burn, ergo you gain weight.
To be in a calorie deficit you need to make sure to understand your basal metabolic rate. You can compare that to a car, which has the engine on, but doesn’t move. It still consumes energy, so does your body to help you breath, keep your heart beating and all that essential stuff. Calculators like this one help you define your basal metabolic rate using variables like your weight and height. In addition, you burn more calories accordingly if you add physical exercise to the equation (= active metabolic rate).
If you don’t like reading the labels on food packaging, which typically indicate how many calories you consume per 100 grams, you can make use of a variety of apps like MyFitnessPal that help you track your calorie intake. Standard meals and snacks are pre-configured and come with a standard value, making this task even easier. An extra trip: On average, most of us eat more or less the same quantity over time. If you track your calorie intake for a few weeks, you have a good idea on where you want to be. This doesn’t need to be a life-long mission, but it’s recommended as a starting point to get to know your body better.
- Being in a calorie deficit will help you lose weight. If at the same time you practice sport and focus on adequate protein intake you’ll not just get slimmer, but leaner and more toned.
- Despite cardio workouts like the treadmill or the elliptical being a great way to burn calories, you’ll burn more calories with a weight lifting session. During your workout the amount of calories burnt is more or less the same. However, the big difference happens after your workout. 24-48 hours after a weight lifting session your body is still consuming energy to recover.
- Apart from having a routine and, of course, sticking to it, a workout buddy can really help. Some days you’ll feel like skipping your workout, but if you have that accountability partner waiting for you at the gym, you are less likely to stay at home.
- Use the 80/20 rule. You don’t have to eat healthy every time, nobody can do that. Eating healthy 80% of the time, will already make a huge difference and allows for those occasional cravings in between.
- Just don’t buy unhealthy food or snacks for your home. Whilst watching a movie we often fancy some crisps, but if you only have carrots at home, they will do as well. And after some time they even taste quite nice.
- Many of us underestimate the health-related consequences of stress and a lack of sleep. Keep it easy and rest up!
Whether you made it until here or just skipped all the way to the end, here goes a summary of the most important things I’d love you to take away from this post:
- Food has 3 macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) and all of them are essential for your body to work properly.
- Carbs give you body and your muscles energy.
- Proteins are crucial for retaining or growing your muscles.
- Fats power essential processes in your body and help absorb vitamins.
- To lose weight you have to be in a calorie deficit (burn more than you consume) no matter what diet you choose.
- Changing your body is a journey: don’t stress, sleep and enjoy life.
What really counts is your monthly progress, not some numbers on a scale, which can oscillate every day. If you had more carbs on any given day you will retain more water, which leads to a higher weight the next morning.
Whether you measure your waist every two weeks or just snap a picture of yourself: Dump the scales, use the mirror.
Marco Svoboda passionate about fitness and nutrition works as a freelance developer. His background is in C++ although today he dedicates most of his time to mobile app development following his strong belief that the desktop computer market is dying. Mobile devices are the future.
1 Source: academic.oup.com/jhmas/article/63/2/139/772615
2 Source: https://www.mdlinx.com/article/don-t-miss-out-on-these-9-essential-amino-acids