The complicated subject of nutrition is always the most problematic. This could not have been truer for my client James. His goal was simple… lose weight. The answer was simple… be in a calorie deficit long enough to lose weight.
Does this sound familiar?
So why is losing weight so hard?
There are many factors, but like many of us James wanted to enjoy a cheat meal once a week with his kids. He would want to eat whatever he wanted i.e. fish and chips, nuggets and chips. This was not a big ask and I fully understand him wanting to do this.
The other factor we had to get over was limited food choices at work. Having no microwave or cooking facilities available meant pre-planning lunch and eating only cold food became bland and uninteresting for him. On top of that, trying to avoid 11 o’clock office goodies, meeting snacks and social events alcohol offerings and high calorie foods meant James was in a constant battle to eat right.
Now here’s the first and very important part. You need to understand your own personality. Are you the type of person that when you decide to make a change, you go all in? Never deviate from the low-calorie food, train every day and avoid social nights out until you hit your goal? or are you the other end of the spectrum, wanting to start slow and steady building lasting habits, playing the long game?
As you should be able to tell from the James brief, he wanted lasting results, which accommodates a lifestyle balance. Historically James severely cut calories which had the negative consequence of putting more weight on afterwards.
Previously to meeting me James had lost weight, very dramatically in fact. He was a very fit guy when he was younger, so the first time he tried to lose weight he trained 5 times per week. Ate salads religiously and never went out. Unfortunately, this was not sustainable with kids, work and balancing life as we know. James was also not aware of the consequences either, his weight massively rebounded, not just back up to what it was before but actually heavier.
As personal trainers we know the negative rebounding effects of aggressive weight loss. Weight loss and the dieting world are very aware of this affect which they actually rely on. People lose weight quickly on their products, but as soon as they return to their normal diet, they put the weight back on, ultimately feeling worse about themselves and the cycle begins again. The industry is worth billions and society keeps on getting heavier.
The real solutions are to start off slow and build new lasting habits, it’s a lifestyle change, not a diet. Three habits for James we could implement right away were better sleep, stress reduction and hitting a steps goal.
The next part of reaching James goal was deciding whether he wanted to create his calorie deficit by the discipline of tracking all his food, or to limit him from highly palatable foods which could easily take him over his calories without leaving him full up. If you are disciplined you can have the flexibility you want to eat with your children, family and friends.
If you track your food, all you need to do is make sure you come in under your calorie deficit. This can be worked out easily through apps or on the internet or in my case by working out the maths of someones weight, height, activity level, muscle mass and a few other factors.
If you don’t write it down, you will need to stick to less palatable foods like wholefoods, fruits and vegetables… If you don’t want to track the highly palatable foods, then you need to eat really healthy low-calorie food that you’re not going to over consume. The reason for this is the healthy food is very low calorie but has a high amount of fibre making you feel full. Highly palatable food is very calorie dense however, you will feel hungry quicker. Also, these low-calorie dense foods are also thermodynamic, which means they take a lot of energy (calories) to break down the food as it slowly moves through your digestion system. Unlike high calorie dense food like refined sugars which break down very quickly into the digestion system, therefore you burn more calories eating healthy food.
So, to put it quite simply the discipline of writing it down creates the freedom to be more flexible.
By consistently monitoring James diet we were able to have much more “fun” with meals and create the flexibility he wanted at the weekend. I had to make it really clear that if James wanted to free up his time and not write it down, he would have to make big sacrifices on the types of food he could eat and would need to lean towards low calorie dense foods. This is an extra insurance policy making sure that you don’t exceed your calories. Food you enjoy can harm your progress which you are working hard to gain.
The analogy that really helped him understand how to look at his calories was to imagine his daily calories as a savings account. Obviously, we all love to spend as much as we want, however in reality we have to save and be responsible.
If you want a nice holiday you have to tighten your belt in other areas as you can’t have both. Unless you’re willing to go and get another job or in this analogy, train even harder at the gym.
This led to a great lifestyle balance as he was able to add in an extra training session before meals out or weekends with the kids. This extra calorie burn gave him a little more flexibility and the idea of running your daily intake as a bank account really helped before each decision on what he could eat.
James decided on flexible diet whereby writing it down. This went well but we wanted a bit more weight loss over our 12 weeks and writing it down or scanning everything he ate became too difficult for every meal with kids running around at the same time. We swapped straight over to eating low calorie dense foods which filled him up and meant he didn’t have to record his food diary.
This flexibility allowed James to lose 2 stone in 12 weeks and keep it off for good. He is much happier with his life balance and has more energy for work and his kids.