The Ins & Outs of Nutrition for Weight Loss (Pt. 1)

This week on the podcast we began our next 2 part series, this time surrounding the Ins & Outs of Nutrition From the Context of Weight Loss. In Part 1 we cover the very basics such as; what actually is weight loss, how to plan your diet for weight loss, and a few tips and tricks to make the ride easier.

With that being said, there are no quick fixes but instead advice on healthy nutrition that, if implemented, will lead to not only to sustainable weight loss but permanent lifestyle changes. This is key as what we must avoid is falling back into old habits and undoing (often times worsening) any progress made.

3 Things You’ll Learn

1) How Do We Achieve Weight Loss?

The time old phrase, calories in vs calories out.

For your body to function, it requires certain maintenance energy. This is your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is the rate at which your body uses energy to stay alive, or the number of calories your body burns at rest. Maintenance energy also incorporates energy you burn from activities and exercises such as walking and weight lifting. These two factors together make up your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

Your body, therefore, requires energy to survive. This is taken from the energy you put into your body (food and drinks) or it can be taken from the energy stores in your body. The two stores the body has are adipose tissue (body fat) and glycogen (chains of glucose stored in muscles and liver). Your body will only take energy from these stores unless it is forced to. This happens when, for example, you are in a calorie deficit (you feed your body less than it needs to function (<TDEE)).

Our body derives it energy from two places, body fat and our glycogen stores, which we derive from our caloric intake. Knowing that our bodies needs to dip into our energy sources to lose weight, the goal is to be in a caloric deficit during your weight loss journey. We can achieve this by reducing our dietary calorie intake and/or by increasing our energy expenditure through increased activity levels and exercise. This is best achieved through a combination of both, as it will allow you to be the least hungry and enjoy the health benefits that come from exercise.

2) What’s Your Ideal Calorie Intake?

As previously mentioned, if we want to lose weight we must put our bodies in a state of caloric deficit. So how do we go bout this?

First we must calculate our TDEE. We can either estimate it using a calculator or app such as Cronometeror MyFitnessPal. These tools tend to calculate your BMR and then use a multiplier for your activity levels for an estimate of your TDEE. However, you can sync up your Apple Health/Google Fit/Strava/Garmin/Polar etc fitness data to have Cronometer then calculate your TDEE with greater accuracy (our recommended method).

Next is the pace of weight loss. Technically, the greater your caloric deficit, the faster your weight loss. However, it comes down to your individual tolerance for hunger, amount of daily exercise, and current levels of body fat. If you are overweight, your body can likely handle a greater caloric deficit.

Modest Weight Loss Pace

For a slow-modest pace you should go consume 250-500 calories less your TDEE per day. This should lead to a weight loss of approximately 0.25-1lbs per week. You can expect to lose faster in the beginning of your weight loss journey, however as your body adapts over time, it’ll attempt to conserve energy which will require a greater caloric deficit to achieve the same level of weight loss.

Faster Weight Loss Pace

For a faster pace you should decrease your calories by about 500-1,000, which will cause an approximate loss of 0.5-2lbs per week. Be warned that drastically cutting your calories (above 1,000) can put you at risk of slowing your metabolism, crazy hunger headaches, muscle loss, gallstones, and other nutritional deficiencies that can lead to health risks.

Therefore – unless you know your body well enough – we recommend starting out slow and steady before increasing your pace.

3) Keeping Track Of Your Nutrition

Now that you have calculated your TDEE, you need to focus on your nutrition and exercise in order to hit your desired caloric deficit. To keep track of your deficit and ensure you are hitting your calorie goal you can take one of 2 approaches;

Option A**) Food Journaling & Mindful Eating (Med. Accuracy – Med. Effort)**

Food journaling (ate app) and mindful eating (hand portion guide)

Mindful eating and food journaling is a brilliant combination to reduce your calories in by becoming more mindful about WHAT you eat and HOW MUCH you eat.

You can simply try to eat healthier by going for protein and fiber-rich foods, decreasing your portion size more and cutting out calorie-dense foods, while increasing your exercise.

A slightly more accurate way to accomplish this is by using the Precision Nutrition hand portion guide to make estimates for the ideal meal size of your 3-4 meals a day. As shown on the right you can use your hand to estimate the perfect portion size of your protein, veggies, carbs and fats.

You can find a detailed portioning guide depending on your activity levels on the Precision Nutrition website.

Food journaling through an app like Ate will help you remember what you consumed and stay honest. Food journaling will provide for an easy check of whether you have actually stuck to your diet goals and portioned every meal in accordance with the hand portion guide above.

If you’ve still gained weight over the course of a week, you are most likely still doing something wrong. Simply revisit your food log, and you will know whether you’ve actually eaten healthier.

For greater accountability you can add your friends on the Ate app and keep each other in check.

This method is relatively easy to maintain once you’ve gotten the hang of it, however it won’t work very well if you willingly lie to yourself, don’t understand what is truly healthy or if you are already at a low body fat percentage and you need greater precision.

Option B) Nutrition & Exercise Tracking (High Accuracy – High Effort)

This option requires you to use a nutrition tracking app (like Cronometer, MFP, Noom, or Carb Manager) and a kitchen scale to track all your meals and snacks, and use of a wearable device to track your exercise.

This method will provide you with the greatest sense of how close you are to your target deficit. It can also give you a better idea about potential macro- and micro-nutritional deficiencies.

We strongly recommend at least tracking your meals this way for two weeks, so you have a better idea of how good your diet actually is. Most people severely underestimate what they actually eat and actual nutrition tracking can serve as both a wake-up call but also a knowledge bomb to spot bad foods you previously assumed to be healthy.

Allow for some room for error, as nutrition tracking can be still be inaccurate. For example, food labels can be erroneous, and it’s easy to under-or overestimate whatever you have eaten when you’re dining out.

Finally, it’s a habit that can be quite tedious to pursue. It requires a lot of effort and diligence, but provides for the greatest control over your weight loss outcome.

Whilst you probably can still achieve decent results if you simply “watch what you eat” and increase your protein and non-starchy foods in your diet, my advice would be to introduce either of the two methods for greater accountability and understanding how well you’re doing.

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Lilla Laczo

Lilla is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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