Magic Foods That Make You Thin
Paleo folk tell us don't eat carbs and we lose weight, MAGIC! Vegetarians tell us don't eat meat and we lose weight, MAGIC! Our health conscious next door neighbor tells us to stop drinking soda and eating candy and we lose weight, MAGIC! Its all so amazing that it all works for the first 6 weeks but then, because our bodies are apparently an evolutionary defect, we gain it all back.
People always proclaim how easy it is to lose weight because they did or didn't eat some type of food. This denotes that there is some "magic" in certain foods that is the key to maintaining an ideal weight. People get stuck on this. Dieters get stuck on this. Hell, even I sometimes can't take all the hype and will catch myself reaching for something because I've been beaten to death with the thought that its going to help me burn that last body fat percentage.
In reality certain foods have a higher thermic effect and this will allow slightly more calories to be burned but the numbers don't add up to anything significant. I'm talking single digit percentages at best. Most times people are consuming additional calories over their BMR (basal metabolic rate: what we are burning throughout the day on average at rest) in hopes of burning more calories! Ha, its all so silly, no food will burn its caloric number plus some.
Now manipulating the hormones is an ideal way to get lean but this is when we are working on the "pooch", the last remnants of fat after a dieter has gotten pretty darn close to their leanest. There is no need to worry about magic food combinations or blood types or anything crazy like that until we have already learned how to eat properly in the first place and "unfatten" ourselves. There is definitely something to manipulating the hormones to kick the evolutionary stick point of holding on to some body fat, but that is for an entirely different article.
Where To Start
Hows it done? How do people lose weight, stay thin, and not want to kill somebody because they are literally starving. Hormones for satiety, hunger, and the like all play a role but how do we do it without knowing all the underlying science.
Three things give us all we need to concentrate on in the beginning to get down to where we need to be to play with the science.
1. Caloric deficit
2. Eating the right foods
3. Moving more
Caloric deficit: It should be obvious by now, after years of fad diets, that the one true way to lose weight is to be in a caloric deficit. I'm not talking about a crash diet of 800 calories a day, but a sensible diet where we run anywhere from 10-20% below our BMR. There are various calculators for determining BMR but I tend to prefer the Katch-Mcardle BMR formula as I find it pretty accurate. We will have to know our body fat percentage or guesstimate it for this calculation. Since most people likely don't know their body fat percentage and scales with this function and the hand held type are notoriously inaccurate, eyeballing body fat is one way to go just for the heck of it. Remember, we are averaging here, with everything. If we are trying to control these variable down to 1 calorie then we are already involved in body building or extremely OCD. Find the BMR/TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure - basic calorie expenditure throughout the day) calculator here and one example of how to eyeball body fat percentage here.
Now you have an average BMR and TDEE. For example lets take a look at my averages. At 5'10'', 150lbs and 10% body fat my BMR is approximately 1695. This is what I need to eat daily to live in a coma for the most part. This isn't counting any basic movement during the day which would be my TDEE. I prefer to use the selection of no exercise, because I don't trust those averages. Maybe if I was a big cardio person doing at least an hour 3 times a week it would justify the numbers the calculator spits out but I haven't seen it work out that way. Therefore I go with the selection of sedentary/no exercise. It tells me my TDEE is 2035. This isn't a bad estimate. Remember this is to concentrate on losing fat, which your body won't do in a calorie surplus. 2035 calories when eating the right foods, which is the stuff to worry about after the weight is off, is likely fine to maintain but not to lose what we don't want.
OK, but we have all done this before, we were starving and ready to end the world. Which leads us to number 2.
Eating The Right Foods:
Whats right? Whats wrong? People have no clue what to eat in general they have been hit with so much misinformation. The fact is lots of different "diets" have pieces of it right. The rule is keep it simple. Points systems, strict counting, removal of complete food groups, it all leads to failure because its all unrealistic and impossible to do for the long term. The good news is they don't fail for just that reason, they also fail because they just aren't optimal for weight loss or health.
Where to start then? A diet can be completely built around dietary protein and essential fatty acids. The rest literally fills in itself. Its impossible to eat simply straight protein or carbs or whatever because every food, even foods high in one, will always have a small amount of one or the other. Atkins did have the protein part right, at least for the beginning of weight loss. Protein satiates. We eat it, it fills us. Its also poorly converted to fat, which makes it great for a dieter. Plus it also happens to be essential for transport of other nutrients in the blood, stability and support for the entire body as well as rebuilding skeletal muscle to hair and that pesky immunity to disease thing. Protein we clearly can not do without.
So how much? I believe, as many others do, that the RDA for protein is inaccurate. Ideally its necessary for a sedentary individual to eat .6 grams to .8 grams per pound of body weight. This isn't hard to hit. A fist full of any meat (fish, beef, chicken, etc) approximately an inch thick with every meal is going to get you pretty darn close to that .6 grams per pound of body weight assuming your aren't a behemoth. Most people have no problem getting this daily but its no unusual to see folk that eat so many carbs around a meal the protein simply falls off. Anyone involved in any kind of physical activity, whether running or strength training, has to be looking at .8-1 gram or greater per pound of body weight. This is simply because the body has to rebuild, it has to have the necessary components to keep it functioning. You wouldn't run your car completely into the ground, let the tires wear to explosion or hoses rot off the engine. You can't do the same to your body.
Protein is taken care of. Its essential and what we build the diet around, especially in the beginning. Even if we don't want to maintain these protein requirements once we hit our ideal weight its crucial in the beginning. I'm always asked about protein powders. Although food is always better I don't mind allowing individuals to run half of their dietary protein intake from these powders. I know, its crazy! These are not meal replacements they say. I am aware. However, if an individual is shooting for 1 gram per pound of body weight but isn't a big eater it can be tough to squeeze that much in. Some people simply have a hard time reaching these protein requirements, they just aren't hungry enough. These powders make great dessert replacements and someone eating as we have stated here would be getting plenty of veggies to supply what they need and still half their protein from real food. The sedentary individuals should have no problem reaching .6 grams per pound of body weight. Therefore, shakes from these powders can get us there. Mixed with some kind of milk or anything to whip it into something slightly thick (even ice cubes), the body tends to "feel" full and we reap the benefits.
Fats. These get a bad rap and the understanding of fat is finally shifting in the right direction 30 years after the low fat craze. That obviously didn't work given our levels of obesity and sky rocketing heart disease. No reason to shoot for percentages or times a day to eat it. People who enjoy real fats, animal, nut or otherwise are not only reaping the benefits of the vitamins and necessary healthy fat, like the omega-3s we hear so much about, but they also are assisting their weight loss. In an ideal world we are shooting for anywhere from 40-90 grams of fat per day depending on where our BMR falls. A gram of fat is approximately 9 calories so just shy of 400-800 calories a day. Be aware of how much fat is going in because these calories add up fast. Fat is converted to fat more readily than protein but if you are in a calorie deficit compared to your daily calorie expenditure than you aren't going to have to be worried about that.
The good news about fat, beyond its nutrient profile, is its ability to satiate. When people attempt to remove the fat completely not only do they start to have health problems but over time generally become more anxious, irritable and depressed. Fat is literally necessary for mood function among other things. Its also crucial for energy needs. In a perfect world a person is switching back and forth between fat and glucose for their energy needs all day long. However, in today's world of unlimited foods and particularly carbs, the body has a constant supply of never ending glucose to be burned as primary fuel. The body is stuck and "forgets" how to use fat for its basic energy needs. Glucose is best for "fight-or-flight" high intensity energy needs, which is why runners always utilize it. Whereas fat is for your "putting" around, daily activities.
Why do we care? Because most people can't switch back and forth any longer. After running on glucose in a fed state for so long the body doesn't readily go to fat for energy needs, it doesn't have to, more glucose will be coming very soon. The way to make it work again is to deprive the body of glucose (carbs) in order to force it to utilize fat. Then adding the carbs back in slowly later on allows the body what it needs for the brain and necessary functions.
Last but not least, the dreaded carbs. While it is true that processed flours and other "fast" carbs really have no place in eating in general, carbs aren't the devil they have been made out to be. They can serve a purpose when used in correct fashion but for fat loss, they are not going to assist us very much. I won't get into much detail on the carbs because what we are aiming for initially is 20-50 grams a day at most. Diabetics will always have to remain below 20 grams or lower simply because their pancreas can't do the job its supposed to any longer and insulin is not lowering the blood sugar. Everyone else will only remain here as long as is necessary to reach goals and then some tweaks in between when weight loss stagnates. This is another thing to be discussed later on along with manipulating the hormones as many people who eat this way see the fat melt off only to hit a stick point a few months down the road. Not everyone hits it, but those that do are at a loss. I mean after all, I'm eating correctly just like we've discussed so why does anything need to change? This is true, but the body has a silly way of adapting to this new normal and finding ways to keep its necessary fat reserve for that day when food is scarce.
Ideally the only place we are going to be obtaining these carbs are from our daily veggies. On average a mixed cup of veggies is going to be approximately 100 calories and 15-25 grams carbs. Don't be worried about the carb number of the veggies, the fiber content is basically making it irrelevant. The gist is to eat a couple cups like this a day, depending on hunger, to slow absorption of food. We stay full longer, get all the necessary veggie goodness and don't blow up our carb/calorie count or skyrocket blood sugar like processed carbs would help do. We are averaging these numbers up here, as we always do, so we don't have to worry about really counting.
Putting It All Together
What does it look like so far? Say we are a 150lb individual running on an estimated BMR of 1695 calories a day. If we are bedridden and eat 120 grams of protein (4 calories per gram at the lowest end of .6 grams per pound of body weight), 50 grams of fat (9 calories per gram), and 30 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) here is what we end up looking at. 480 calories from protein, 450 calories from fat, 120 calories of carbs. A total of 1,050 calories. This is really low, super-strict and well below the BMR, which is doing us no good even if we assume the BMR is 10% over our actual BMR. This is why the low-carb folk claim such great success. When we up the protein and keep the fat moderate the calories tend to drop. This would create a very hefty calorie deficit for someone attempting to lose weight, albeit at the very low end of what would be considered acceptable for dieting and heading toward likely metabolic disaster for someone training.
Truth be told managing those numbers would take some getting used to and would not be advisable for some one doing any kind of physical exertion. Still, the days meals wouldn't be that small. To reach those numbers you are close to 2.5 chicken breasts, a couple tablespoons of any fat source and 1-1.5 cups of veggies. That's a very rough average and doesn't count the fact that most of these foods aren't straight protein/fat/carbs so I usually suggest throwing 100 calories onto any days average to be safe. I also put those numbers at the bare minimum. This wouldn't be impossible for some one who fasted for a meal a day on an off training day but is in no way where we need to be at.
On average it appears from the literature Paleo folk caloric intake tends to fall to 1700 calories a day when they remove the carbs. Think about all the nonsense most people eat all day as "snack" food, in between meals. There is no problem getting 600-1000 calories from simple snacks all day. Chips, candy, soda, calorie counts explode.
But wait, we are still hungry? No worries, the numbers aren't set in stone and really these are too low for any length of time. We aren't going to hit the same numbers every day, either for social reasons or just because we don't feel like it. Some days the protein is lower, some days its higher. Same for the other two macro's. If we placed that protein closer to the 1 gram per pound of body weight, kept the carbs under that 50 gram marker for weight loss and upped the fat to 80 grams in the form of dressings, sauces, fatty fish/beef and the like, then the numbers jump. Calories from protein climbs to 600 calories, fat jumps to 720 calories and carbs hover around 200 calories. Now you are at 1520. Still in a calorie deficit of about 10% with another chicken breast and cup or so of veggies smothered in butter or oil to boot. This is where huge salads with a double serving of protein can be very beneficial. They are simply filling plus you reach your protein goals. Win, win.
Understandably the calories for these foods are all running in the low range. These foods aren't straight protein/fat/carbs. An average chicken breast tends to clock in at around 200 calories, so 3 is already 600. A lot more than our average had us at. That's why in general I have always told people to round up. People vastly underestimate the number of calories they eat and overestimate the amount they burn. If you assume the average chicken breast is approaching 200 calories and 30-40 grams of protein you can base your diet around that. Then you can see that even hitting that 1 gram of protein for a 150 pound male puts our protein calories at basically 1000 from a practical standpoint. Then it is in no way difficult to reach the BMR and then some. Make sure you eat the veggies to remain full. Make sure you don't go bananas on the fats. Drink your water. A lot of times people I talk to don't drink water at all! Dehydration can mimic the same feelings of hunger.
The point is the additional protein minus the garbage will fill us up and reduce our overall calorie count, which is absolutely necessary for weight loss. Play with it, start slow, set reasonable expectations and don't switch out an entire way of eating in one day. Following Paleo-like eating will be a great start. I said some have parts of it right and although Paleo folk can get down right cult like its not far off from what I'm writing here. Just don't get caught up in all these flour substitutes that simply dump extra calories into the diet and don't satiate. That's where I feel the Paleo movement has shifted as people have taken it to mean nut flours are safe to eat in abundance and calorie counts EXPLODE!
The last piece of the puzzle. What we laid out above will induce weight loss even in a sedentary individual. Many people think this turns them into an Adonis. While it will cause weight loss it won't build lean muscle mass, which creates that "tone" that people are always trying to work toward. Its not going to make any one a muscle bound body builder if they move weight so don't worry about that. What it will do is complete the look most people are shooting for. Plyometrics, bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, whatever, will induce some muscle gain.
Initially, brisk walks will get fat storage moving if going to a gym, resistance training at home, or any of the other million options that are available are no available or practical. In doing so we are activating pathways to work on burning fat. Most people have had a constant supply of glucose rich foods (carbs) for years on end and likely aren't able to switch to fat burning but by maintaining the low dietary carbs and staying under our estimated BMR we will be in a caloric deficit and the body will be looking for fuel to burn. Eventually it will go to fat, as it should. Make it work for you.
I won't harp on this aspect in this article because really it entails the "whys" and "hows" that have no relevance to the info I was writing about above. The idea is even if you are having a hard time staying below the estimated BMR, simply moving for an additional amount of time a day in even a mildly brisk manner will increase that number so you will still fall below it and lose the weight. The calculator above also gives an estimated TDEE but I would say thats just a very broad estimate. If weight is not being lost over the first couple weeks with the averages it gives, clearly the number needs to be reduced. Its not as hard as we have been made to believe and there are no tricks, except the manipulation of the hormones I will discuss at another time.
This will work initially for 99% of individuals. Most people never even think about it, assume they are doing it right, and wonder why they make no progress. Its not a full time job like weight watchers point system or something like that. Its simply getting it right for a brief period of time so we can eyeball our portions and selections in the future and know exactly how its going to help or hinder us. Sites like Fitday are a great place to start. It will allow any one to select almost any food or customize their own so they can track their intake for a few weeks and see exactly how much they are eating. Again, its an average and we don't need to be a math wiz with our calorie intake in order to reap the benefits. Better to stay sane and average up on our intake and down on our estimated calorie burn so we definitely reach your goals.