3 Key Principles of Successful Dieting
Dieting has often been regarded as the most difficult aspect of improving fitness and body composition.
Anyone who has been training for a significant amount of time understands that when they modify their diet, they can alter their levels of energy, performance, and body size.
With so many different diets to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you?
This post will teach you the key principles that most diets utilize and later, we will give you several dieting tips that you could implement right away into your busy schedule.
So without further ado, here are the 3 Key principles...
1. ENERGY CANNOT BE CREATED NOR DESTROYED
We all have a general idea of which foods we should avoid, and which foods we should eat more of. However, many diets have popularized the idea that the amount of food that you eat is more important than the actual food that you put into your mouth.
This is certainly true to a degree. The total amount of calories you eat must be balanced by the amount of calories your body utilizes.
It follows the first law of thermodynamics. Energy is transferred from the food that you consume, to your body, which will either be used immediately or stored for use at a later time.
Calories in = Calories out.
It does not matter how many "healthy" or "unhealthy" foods you eat- if you eat more calories than you can burn, your body will gain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight, at least in the short term.
The perfect example of this is Michael Phelps- the individual with the most gold medals in the history of the Olympics. While training for competition, he would consumes 8,000+ calories a day, of what most people would consider to be ‘unhealthy’ foods. Yet he was able to maintain elite athletic performance and low levels of body fat due to his intense exercise regimen and fast metabolism.
But what if I told you that focusing your attention only on calories is a set up for failure. Here's why...
Prolonged caloric restriction is unsustainable and will ultimately lead to a malnutrition, muscle breakdown and a decrease in your metabolism.
You don't need to look further than the contestants from "The Biggest Losers." These individuals lost upwards of 80-100 lbs, only to gain it all back, and more, several years later due to a slower metabolism.
Total calories is important, but theres more to the equation.
2. FOODS CAN BE CLASSIFIED INTO ONE OF THREE CATEGORIES
The next contributor to successful dieting is paying attention to your macronutrient intake.
The three major macronutrients are Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats. Almost all foods can be classified into one of these three groups, and it's important to be able to identify which food falls under which category.
The ratio of these three nutrients in your total daily intake is where most diets vary significantly. Almost all diets advocate for some combination of low fat, low carb, or high fat, high carb variations to achieve the desired result.
Let's go over the three macronutrients one by one.
Protein is by far the most important macronutrient, and the one people usually eat the least of. This is a big mistake, as high protein foods keep you satiated, and serve as the primary building blocks for muscle toning and muscle strengthening.
According to general nutrition labels, an average woman consuming 2000 calories a day should aim to have 50g of protein per day, and an average man consuming 2500 calories a day should have 65g of protein.
These values are actually quite low, and anyone who performs athletic activities understands the importance of consuming enough protein to fuel their bodies.
Ideally, protein should account for 20-40% of your total caloric intake which may be anywhere from 90-200+g of protein per day depending on your body-weight and goals. High quality sources of protein include lean meats, fish, eggs, whole milk, greek yogurt and whey protein powders.
Fats are the next most important macronutrient. Your body utilizes fats for padding and insulation, as substrates for many hormones, and to solubilize Vitamins A,D,E and K.
Fats come in different varieties; saturated, mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and trans. Unsaturated fats are considered to be the healthiest, while trans fats are to be avoided at all cost.
Unsaturated fats can be obtained from healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil, fish oil, and avocado oil. Other sources include 85% dark chocolate (cacao), and different nut varieties.
A very common misconception is that high fat consumption is what makes you fat. This is absolutely false. Excessive calorie consumption, of the wrong types of food, coupled with little physical activity (and of course, your genetics) is what contributes to elevated body fat levels.
Again, fat intake can account for 20-40% of your total caloric intake depending on your body-weight and goals. This means that you can consume anywhere from 50-120g per day with majority of this intake coming from unsaturated sources.
Carbohydrates are the least important macronutrient of the three. They serve as the primary source of energy for your brain, and they are used to maintain glucose levels in your bloodstream. If you happen to stop eating carbohydrates (from non fruit/veggie sources) you would actually be perfectly fine.
In absolute carbohydrate depletion, your body would begin to use up other sources (such as fat) for energy, in a process known as ketosis. While I do not recommend this approach, many elite level athletes have successfully used ketosis to achieve high levels of performance.
If eaten in excess, your body will store carbohydrates first as glycogen, and then ultimately as fat.
An enormous amount of low quality food choices fall under the category of carbohydrates; most of which have a very high glycemic index. In other words, they are simple sugars that raise your blood glucose rapidly, leading to large fluctuations in insulin levels. Excessive consumption of high glycemic foods have been linked to development of Type II Diabetes Mellitus.
Examples of high glycemic carbs include white bread, regular pasta, white rice, and baked goods such as cakes and cookies.
Similar to Proteins and Fats, Carbohydrates can make up 20-40% of your total caloric intake depending on your body weight and your goals.
It is a good rule of thumb to obtain a large part of your carbohydrates from low glycemic fruits and non-starch vegetable sources.
In a nutshell...
Proteins and Fats are essential to your body. These foods should be eaten as often as possible. Carbohydrates are routinely eaten in excess, and should be kept low, especially if you are not very active.
3. ALL FOODS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
The third principle of dieting that you must pay attention to is food composition. This refers to the quality of the macronutrients you are consuming.
It is very important to consume whole foods that are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible. High quality protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables need to be staples in your diet to provide optimal results.
It is not necessary to buy organic, as there is no definitive evidence detecting significant differences in individuals consuming organic versus conventional foods.
A good rule of thumb to follow is - try your best to avoid foods that didn't exist a thousand years ago.
Cookies, ice cream, french fries and other low quality foods have to be kept to a minimum. You don't have to cut these foods out completely, but you must keep them in check.
In a nutshell,
- Altering your total caloric balance will lead to weight loss or weight gain in the short term, but focusing only on calories is a horrible idea for long term sustainability
- Proteins and Fats are essential macronutrients, eat them often and frequently
- Starchy carbs need to be minimized, and the majority of your carbs should come from green vegetables and low GI fruits
- Eat foods that can be found in nature as often as possible
You now have a better understanding of what a successful diet should consist of. Now we can get to nitty gritty of diets. In Part 2, How to Diet without Counting Calories we discuss how to analyze your meals and determine how much food you should be eating.
What does your diet typically consist of? Have you counted calories before with any success?
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