Ok. So you decided you need to make some food changes in your life. You want to start a diet, but don' t have a clue where to begin. You're lost. Your friends are trying to persuade you on which diet reigns king. There's also social media, which is saturated with demonizing carbohydrates and glorifying a life full of tupperware packed meals. Sensory overload much. With all these options, how are you supposed to make an informed decision?
Let's first establish a goal. What is it are you trying to accomplish? Is it to be overall healthier? Do you want to lose, gain or maintain your weight?
Whether you choose to eat healthy or not, all foods are looked at as an energy source for your body. Let's call the unit of measure for energy: calories. All foods contain calories. They also contain a code that our body breaks down. We can call those macronutrients or macros for short.
Shouldn't we always be eating healthy? In a perfect world, yes. But that's not always the case. Let's say for example you are trying to lose weight. Your body is going to treat 100 calories worth of banana the same as 100 calories worth of a brownie. Both are primarily carbohydrate sources, which can be used as a prime source of fuel for your body. The thing that differentiates the two are micronutrients -small compounds needed in minimum amounts to enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for healthy growth and development. I will address this more at the end of this blog.
Sure, including fruits and vegetables into your diet will inevitably bring you health benefits. However, eating cleanor healthy does not always correlate with fat or weight loss for that matter. You can choose to incorporate healthy foods into your diet (which is most optimal) but changing your body composition comes down to one bottom line.
You must establish what your caloric intake is based on your goals.
We know that eating healthier will make you feel better and keep your body running at its best. The old saying, “there can be too much of a good thing” can be applied to dieting. You can eat all the healthy food you want, but without limiting the amounts of food you consume, you will never achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
In addition to setting a caloric intake, macronutrients are equally as important when it comes to changing body composition. We must monitor the amount of proteins, carbs, and fats we consume if we are concerned with gaining muscle or losing fat. A gram of protein is equivalent to 4 calories, a gram of carbohydrates is also 4 calories, and a gram of fat is equivalent to 9 . Macronutrients and calories correlate with each other.
Each macro has a set purpose. Proteins are the building blocks of your body. They rebuild the muscles you break down when you workout. Carbohydrates are typically the primary source of energy our bodies will use during intense activity. Fats help our bodies regulate our hormonal processes. By manipulating our calories and macronutrients, we can set our "diets" to help us achieve our goals. So how do we figure out what out caloric intake is?
Your macros or caloric intake are determined by your physical traits and activity level. There are many free tools such as https://www.iifym.com/iifym-calculator/ which can help guide you in the right direction. However, to get the best results, I recommend consulting with a professional (nutritionist/dietician) or using https://www.avatarnutrition.com/ to get a fine tuned, tailored program.
After you establish what your caloric intake is, you then have to log and measure your food. This ensures that you will be eating as accurately as possible and getting optimal results. It is a bit of hard work, however this system is the most approximate tool we have. Using a food diary such as myfitnesspal will help you track and journalize your food entries. If you are eating fresh foods - you will inevitably have to weigh them. That's right, you have to purchase a food scale as well.
This sounds like a lot of hard work. I'm not going to lie, it is. I have seen others and even myself get too obsessed with this process. To be honest with you, it is not sustainable forever.
With some years of experience doing this, I have tried and used this system to educate myself. I know how to do all of these things intuitively. I am not afraid to eat over or under my macros to enjoy myself. I don't restrict myself when I eat at restaurants with my friends. I have simply counted my macros for so long, I know what my body needs when I have certain goals. I treated this process like school. I absorbed as much data as possible, so I could then make educated choices for my future. Without going through the process of counting, logging and measuring my foods - I would not be as knowledgeable or know how to diet intuitively.
Another issue I would like to bring up before I recap this blog is the idea that you don't have to eat healthy. I brought up the point that your body will only see food as an energy source. That is true, however if you are not eating healthy, nutritious foods, you are doing your body a disservice.
I treat myself like I am an athlete. To perform optimally, I must fuel my body with as much micronutrients as possible. To reiterate, micronutrients are small compounds needed in minimum amounts to enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for healthy growth and development. They are essential for your body to work and function at its absolute best. Don't deprive yourself just because you want to change the appearance of your body. You can accomplish both - changing your body composition and doing it in a healthy way. If you deprive your body of too many micro and macronutrients, it will not function properly. This is why it is smart to consult with a professional before trying.
Let's recap everything we went over.
1. Get off social media
2. Figure out what your goal is
3. Figure out your caloric intake (macro calculator, professional, etc.)
4. Pay your dues - track, count, understand, eat HEALTHY foods
5. Do it long enough where you can ditch the process
6. Eat intuitively
I hope this blog helps you better understand the basics of nutrition. I am not a nutritionist in any sorts, but felt that I should help guide people since I have been through it already. Feel free to reach out to me with questions firstname.lastname@example.org.