Everyone seems to know the secrets to dieting. The fad dieters: Atkins, Paleo, Mountain Dog, Ketosis, 5/2 Fasting and goodness knows what else, they all swear by what they are doing.
And why shouldn’t they, if they stick to it, they are more than likely going to lose weight. I’ll get to why that is later, but…what should you be eating to lose weight?
Of paramount importance, and something that you must understand, is that losing weight, and losing fat, are not necessarily the same thing.
People can adopt drastic diets or otherwise lose weight, but it might be a loss of muscle, bone density and fat.
Be very careful of any diet that results in you losing muscle mass as well as, or as opposed to, fat exclusively.
I say ‘exclusively’, but a certain amount of muscle loss might be inevitable depending on your body composition, exercise level and other routines at the outset of the ‘diet.’
Signs to watch out for if you think you are losing too much muscle are: fatigue on a regular basis, noticeable weakness (where before you could lift something, for example), the need for more sleep than usual, lack of energy and of course a less-toned physical appearance.
For this article, you can assume weight loss and fat loss are the same thing.
So…to losing fat.
What To Eat to Lose Weight
Weight loss, weight gain and weight maintenance are easy to explain in theory. It is a simple case of Energy In versus Energy Out.
In the context of dieting, nutrition and exercise, the most commonly used unit of energy is the Calorie.
And, it’s actually sort of misused, because when people say calories, they really mean kilocalories (kcal) – at least where food is concerned.
One kilocalorie is actually equal to 1000 calories. And 1000 calories is roughly equivalent to the energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water by a single degree celsius.
Weight loss, gain and maintenance is just maths when you view it in terms of kcals. If you look at a single day in your life, at the end of that day, you can determine whether you have gained weight, lost it, or stayed the same:
- Weight Gain = You have consumed more calories than you have spent
- Weight Maintenance = You have consumed the same amount of calories as you have spent
- Weight Loss = You have consumed less calories than you have spent
Whether you eat the energy in the form of fats, carbohydrates or protein has less of an impact on your weight as how much of it you eat. So, it’s not so much what you eat, as how much.
That should be fairly obvious when you think about it, but more often than not, diets are concerned with the types of food you eat.
Do Fad Diets Work?
The answer is, sometimes. However, the thing to note again is that they generally work if they make the dieter reduce their overall calorie consumption.
Some work more than others because they are more effective at doing this.
- The Paleo Diet: this is the caveman hunter-gatherer paleo-lithic diet. Heavy emphasis is on protein, fibre and foods with high water content which have less calories per weight of the food item, generally speaking. This way, paleo dieters can eat more volume but gain less weight. For example, if they eat a huge floret of broccoli in one sitting, they are not consuming huge calorific value but might be fuller quicker.
- Ketosis (low carb) Diets: people following this path will eat more protein and fat; fat being the more filling of the macronutrients (it induces the feeling of satiety more than the others). Also carb binges can lead to cravings down the road. Remove the source – or a lot of it – and you remove the cravings. Comfort food is called that because it spikes serotonin levels – a large contributor to the problem of obesity. Once the serotinin levels out from the adaptation to ketosis, the dieter simply tends to eat less.
- Fasting On and Off: diets like this and the 5/2 where you fast for 2 days and eat normally for 5 force a reduced calorie diet, mainly because it’s harder to stuff yourself in the limited time you have to eat (especially if the eating window is more like 8 hours a day). This is also known as intermittent fasting.
What About When or How Often You Eat?
Generally speaking, where weight loss is concerned, there appears to be no difference made by eating little and often or what time of day you eat.
In certain cases, it might make a difference to someone’s energy levels if they ‘graze’ throughout the day rather than stick rigidly to the 3 meals-a-day routine. Myself included.
When I organize my life around exercise and other commitments, it seems to help me when I eat little and often, both respect to energy levels and resisting the urge to binge-eat.
This is not the case for everyone though I must say. Some people graze a little too much and end up taking on more calories than if they ate 3 large meals a day.
An Important Note on Healthy Nutrition
The above information is largely related to weight loss alone. Of course a rounded diet is better for optimal health. However, to lose weight, that diet should total less calories than you expend.
The Case for High Protein Diets
Research suggests that if you want to preserve lean muscle mass while cutting or losing weight, a high protein diet is the way forward.
We all know protein is essential for muscle growth, but during times of restricted calorie intake, it might do well to up the protein intake and reduce the carbohydrate load.
Furthermore, in most case studies involving human subjects, the high protein group lost more fat mass than the control groups. But how much protein is in a high-protein diet?
It depends on your goals really, but if you are trying to preserve lean mass while reducing overall weight, then about 30% of your overall calories should come from quality protein sources.