As much as I like to believe that the general public gets the relationship between food intake and fat gain/fat loss, this will probably never actually match reality. It's just that when I am asked so often what has made the most difference in my transformation program, and I reply with a resounding "Diet!", I get the nods of understanding that seem to say "Oh yes, we knew this all along!" yet it is still the number one issue people struggle with. I feel pretty confident with my diet choices but as I am always on the look-out for advice to help others, I like to follow diet studies and here's information on one of the latest. Using references from Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes (Smith, C. F., Williamson, D. A., Bray, G. A., & Ryan, D. H.), 27 male and female participants underwent 20 weeks of a comparison program.
Using a two-phase protocol, the first 10 weeks included structured dieting with the last 10 weeks being a reverse, indeterminate approach (similar to where most people find themselves when dieting). During the first 10 weeks, the group was split between a meal plan approach (like choosing from a menu where everything is measured and defined and you may ONLY choose from that menu) or the IIFYM (If it fits your macros) method where you are allowed to eat anything that fits within your carb, protein and fat requirements-also known as flexible dieting. This first 10-week phase was administered under carefully controlled conditions while the second phase was left to the discretion of each participant. The goal was to determine which of these approaches had the greatest affect on eating habits after a period of food restriction. Makes sense, right? After all, any dieter knows that eventually something will cause the diet to be broken and this is okay. It's the measure of brokenness that makes the difference.
The difference in the results during the first phase were not considerably significant-the meal plan group lost an average of 4 lbs. each and the IIFYM group lost 6 lbs. In the second phase, the meal plan group gained back 1 lb. while the IIFYM folks gained back 3 lbs. What does this mean? They all averaged the same results! Meal Plan: Lost 4 lbs., gained back 1lb. with a net result of 3 lbs. lost. IIFYM: Lost 6 lbs., gained back 3 lbs. with a net result of 3 lbs. lost. Three lbs. lost for 10 weeks worth of effort. Does that sound fair? Hell no, but my take away from this is:
1. Diets don't work. Lots of jokes about the first 3 letters spelling die so maybe a more positive approach would be to start by declaring "I'm going on a life-it", meaning I am going to enhance my quality of life through better nutrition and reasonable portions.
2. While setting goals helps to provide measurable check-points, a specified amount of time given to the attainment of weight loss doesn't make the most sense to me. It says: I must achieve a certain amount of success during this time frame. Okay, fine. What if you don't reach the goal you think you are capable of? Will that make you feel like a failure? Will it set you off on a food binge because you suddenly feel like what's the point-all that deprivation for minimal payback? If you have only a small amount of success will it be enough to keep you motivated to stay with it? Will you be able to see beyond scale numbers or measurements to what is more important-the ability to change poor food choices for healthier ones?
3. When given a map, most anyone can reach the destination but where do you go once you're there? In other words, how do you maintain results once you've reached your goal? If you don't understand nutrition, physiology and human psychology, it is likely that you will fall back into what you know how to do. That's what got you into trouble in the first place.
Did this study provide any Aha moments? Not for me. It does seem that for people who don't really know nutrition, a structured plan may be more helpful although I consider this to be a bandage: just something that addresses the effect but not the cause. The diet that works is the one that you can live with because diet is simply what you practice as eating behavior every day of your life. If you are serious about becoming the healthiest you can be for the best quality of life, a great place to start is by asking yourself what life-giving qualities are in the foods you choose. Food either enhances or subtracts from your vitality every time you eat. Unfortunately, most manufacturers don't care about your vitality; they care about business. And doesn't it sound contrary to health, vitality and longevity to know that your food is manufactured?
I apologize if the title of this blog gave you hope of finding the answer to your diet woes, and I hope it didn't leave you feeling more confused and frustrated.
It's really not that complex to eat healthier and as long as you make small changes on a regular basis (consistency), stop thinking in terms of 'dieting' (it's vitality, longevity, quality of life), and don't put a time limit on it (it's lifestyle change so you don't ever have to diet again), you WILL be successful. All this being said, there will be times when even the healthiest eaters may want to lean up a bit (like for a physique competition) and these are some of the best tidbits of advice for doing so:
1. Drink your water! Too often thirst is mistaken for hunger. I chug 16 oz of water before I eat (when I'm not sure if I'm really hungry-it's a helpful way to check for emotional eating but you must be able to put this into play) and then give it 10 minutes to do a self-check on hunger levels.
2. If true hunger exists after that, then I eat whole foods first. These will be the ones without a label. Sound boring to you? Then most likely you are a comfort food eater and don't particularly care about nutrition. You can have your cake and eat it too, but if getting a beach body is your goal, this probably shouldn't be a daily practice. Use common sense and portion control and nothing needs to be off limits. Dieting truly is an easier concept to embrace when all foods are approved-it's the portion size and timing of meals that you tweak. Just keep in mind that not all foods are created equal and while one slice of pizza won't destroy your results, will you be okay with just one slice?
3. Make sure you eat enough protein with every meal and include a protein in your evening snack with a healthy fat-not a carb-infested dessert before bedtime-and you will up the thermogenic effect throughout the night with a healthy fat helping to create a sort of drip-feed to your body. Here's a link for 27 easy ideas: http://greatist.com/health/high-protein-snacks-portable
4. Speaking of the thermogenic effect: this refers to the amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius. So while eating does create a thermic affect in the body, the reality is that it is only about 10-15% of total caloric intake. Example on a 2,000 calorie per day intake, approximately 200-300 calories are expended through thermics. The inverse is also true: not eating will slow the metabolism as your body prepares for starvation mode though skipping a meal once in a while is not a big deal. Starvation mode is a state in which the body is responding to extended periods of low caloric intake. During short periods of food abstinence, the body will utilize primarily free fatty acids from body fat stores, along with small amounts of muscle tissue to provide required glucose for the brain. After prolonged periods of starvation the body has depleted its body fat and begins to burn primarily lean tissue and muscle as a fuel source.
5. Make sure you are including healthy fats in your meals. I eat a lot of avocado and coconut oil. Eating fat does not make you fat and though fats are higher in calories, weight loss/weight gain is not just a matter of calories in vs. calories out. It truly is about the quality of the calories.
6. If you find that you are about to start snacking, do a quick Q&A with yourself to find out if you're truly hungry or just bored. If you are hungry, inventory what you've eaten for the day and then snack on what might be missing. Extra fruit or veggies? Maybe a banana drizzled with a little melted chocolate or veggie sticks with hummus is the answer-just don't reach for the family-size bag of whatever. Tell that little voice in your head that is pleading for Ben & Jerry's to pound sand. Do you think you'll find your tight, toned, gorgeous physique in that container?
7. Some people swear by small meals frequently throughout the day. This may not be the best choice for you, particularly if this is not convenient based on your work or lifestyle schedule. Also, while I tend to eat this way for the most part, some days I just need more calories at one time to feel satisfied (like after a grueling leg training day) and a small meal might actually tend to make me eat more! For some, small meals may feel more like snacking and it may be hard to stop, causing a tendency to over-eat. Smaller meals won't send your metabolism into overdrive (see #4 above) but if it helps to curb cravings and keep your energy high, allowing you to stick to your food plan, use it!
8. Even when your goal is to lean up, make sure you eat enough throughout the day, including plenty of fiber, water and protein and you will be far less likely to snack or slip up because you will feel satisfied.
9. Eat right to fuel workouts and eat right to nourish after. A pre-workout meal could take some trial and error but typically a fast digesting carb with a small amount of protein and healthy fat will be best. This will give you the energy to get through an intense workout. If I can't have a quality homemade meal soon after I train, I will make a protein shake with a serving of fresh fruit. I still hear women comment to me that they don't want to replace the calories they just burned by eating after a workout. Response to all who feel that way: You don't get it and you will hurt your results by doing this. Repeat with me: It's not just about calories in/calories out. It's about quality nutrition and building your best, healthiest self.
As someone who has struggled for more than half her life with eating issues, the one thing that has helped me the most is to stop thinking in terms of 'all or nothing', the equivalent of black or white. To be so rigid in your thinking and behavior only causes turmoil and frustration and I felt like I was constantly at battle with myself. There was a limited list of foods I would allow myself to choose from when I was being 'good' on my diet and when I wasn't on my diet, I was in a free-for-all-binge-fest mode. It ruled my life! That was a hard battle to win but I have. Do not interpret this as I now have a perfect diet approach. I don't-I'm human too and recently enjoyed some candy and popcorn with a movie. Candy, you say?! One small piece of a beautifully wrapped, imported chocolate and one gummy fish. They were delicious! While I don't like to mention certain foods for fear of causing a reader to go into binge mode, I want to be honest at the same time. The point is, done in moderation, nothing needs to be part of a list anymore. It also feels amazing to know that I now hold the power over what I used to look at as binge foods, that a small amount was very satisfying and even though they were quite delish, they just didn't hold the same attraction for me that they once did.
The one diet that reigns supreme is truly the one you can live with. If you want positive changes in your life, you will have to do the work necessary to figure out what that is for you. It could take far longer than 10 weeks. Got something better to do? Better than taking care of you? If you don't take care of you now, you may find yourself in a position where you need someone to take care of you...