Now that you have decided what your goals and non-negotiables are, let’s put this into practice. Bear with me… this is a long one but FULL of nuggets (pun intended).
There is this thing called the nutrition pyramid, created by Eric Helms (who’s pretty smart when it comes to nutrition).
This pyramid is THE crux to dieting and setting up your nutrition plan. It demonstrates the building blocks you need to establish a sustainable and successful diet.
Now, how many of you have just gone straight to GNC or to the Vitamin Shop and purchased allllll the supplements thinking that was going to help you achieve weight loss? We’ve all done it. Don’t be ashamed! In the CrossFit world, I see this all the time. People are taking all kinds of supplements they’ve heard to keep them healthy, and trust me, they are GREAT supplements. They’re taking fish oil, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Magnesium, and maybe even a multi vitamin or a decent probiotic. These are all supplements I encourage and often suggest to my clients. I personally take all of these, but here’s the key: that’s not where I started. I started with the basics: calories.
Calories in (food) = calories out (energy expended)
This is the mantra when it comes to nutrition and making desired changes. If you don’t have your calories (meaning how much you’re putting in your body) in check, it does not matter what your macros or micros are, when and how often you’re eating, and definitely not what supplements you’re taking. How do we apply this mantra?
To lose weight, you must eat in a deficit, calories in < calories out
To maintain, you must eat what you’re burning, calories in = calories out
To gain weight (i.e. muscle), you must eat in a surplus, calories in > calories out
This is where we will start. We must get this in check FIRST before worrying about the “sexy” nutrition stuff. Let’s say we’re building a house. Where do we start? With the fancy windows, doors, and brick? The garden outside? What about the chandelier or fancy-dancy light fixtures? Pictures? Decorations? Nope, all of that is the very last step to building a house. You start with the foundation. Then you build the perimeter and overall structure first. Then you separate the house into rooms. Then comes the flooring, insulation, electric and plumbing, then the dry wall. Once the house is indeed a house meaning the structure is there and the foundation is set is when you can start adding the individual flair you desire. But if you start with the decorations first and neglect the foundation, you’re not going to have a livable house.
Same with your nutrition. We have to first get you eating the right amount of calories by first determining what your maintenance intake should be. I can’t tell you how important this is (well, I will in a little).
Seems simple, right? It should be!! Unfortunately, though, this is THE most missed and underappreciated part of people’s diets.
So how many calories SHOULD you be eating? There are two methods. I’ll explain both.
Theoretical calorie intake (before activity) = Bodyweight x 10
Example: My BW is 150lbs = 150 x 10 = 1500 meaning that my theoretical caloric intake would be 1500 calories.
However, I eat close to 2600-2700 calories/day. This is 1100-1200 more than that calculation. Why am I not gaining 3-4 lbs/week? Let’s go back to the mantra (calories in = calories out). Answer: because of my activity level. Everyone, regardless of what you do to exercise, has some sort of activity level. This 1500 calorie calculation states that I burn 1500 calories/day just by existing. This calculates how much fuel your body goes through just to function each day. We all do more than this bare minimum. Even if you don’t exercise, you walk (even if it’s just to the bathroom then back to the couch), talk, write, or just move throughout the day. So next we have to take all of this activity into consideration.
Next: Multiply your theoretical caloric intake by your activity level:
In my case, my activity level ranges between 1.7-1.8. I train 5-6 days/week, which should put me in the Very Active category, but then I have to take into consideration what I do for a living. I average 14,000 steps/day. I coach and personal train in a gym without A/C between 5-8 hrs/day (sometimes as much as 14 hrs/day). I run my own business. Even though I am not a competitive, high-level athlete, my daily life changes my activity level.
This calculation puts me between 2550-2700 calories. This means I’m burning roughly 2600 calories, which is about how much I eat on any given day. I’m not losing nor gaining any weight.
Alright, now go ahead and calculate this for yourself. I know already what you’re thinking, so bear with me as we work through the second way.
2. Adjusted metabolism calculation***
Likely, you did that calculation and maybe panicked because that’s a lot of food and you can’t believe that. If you track your food, maybe you’re eating 1400 calories and not losing weight so why/how could you go up to an even higher number??? I understand.
Here’s an adjusted method: Log and track your caloric intake and weight for 7 days. I recommend MyFitnessPal. Then at the end of the 7 days, look at 1. Your average intake and body weight and 2. The patterns for both. If over the span of 7 days, your weight stays the same and your intake was within 100-200 calories each day, then this is your adjusted metabolic intake. However, if your intake is relatively constant BUT your weight is 1. Dropping or 2. Rising or 3. All over the place (more than +/- 5 lbs. any given day), you are not eating the right amount. Either you are undereating (if your weight is dropping or if it’s all over the place) or overeating (weight is gaining).
Now this is where things get very tricky. You may be consuming WAY less than what you calculated in Step 1 and not losing weight. How is that possible? Well, our bodies don’t want to die… it’s just that simple. If you are eating less than the number calculated in option 1, and not gaining or losing any weight, then your body—specifically your metabolism—adapted to survive. I have clients come to me eating as little as 900 calories/day. They are not losing or gaining any weight. Their calculated intake is actually close to 2200 calories (that’s a 1300 cal difference). What’s going on here? Their bodies don’t want to die, so what their bodies did is slowed down their metabolism and adjusted to that decreased intake so they wouldn’t shrivel away.
Why is this important? Let’s go back to the mantra and the three situations where we can apply the mantra. If you want to lose weight, you have to be in a deficit to get any results. Well imagine that your adjusted intake is 900 calories/day. According to the mantra, to get any desired results, I have to put this client in a deficit to where he/she is eating 400-500 calories/day. Sounds terrible, right? I risk putting this client at risk of organ failure, developing an eating disorder, or simply just doing this person a disservice because I believe in Operation Health first before Operation Goals. In no situation ever is 400 calories/day in line “Operation Health” and goes against everything I morally believe.
Let’s take this a little less extreme. That’s an obvious example. We will use myself as an example. Three years ago, I was eating 1200 calories. After I had enough of the misery that entailed, I went up to 1800 calories for another year and actually lost 15 pounds and saw dramatic body composition changes. But I still didn’t feel well. I ended up doing a TON of research and learned about reverse dieting, where you slowly bring your intake up to the calculated number we determined in Step 1. This is where I’m at now: 2700 cals/day. Now, let’s say I wanted to lose more weight. I get to go in a deficit from 2700 calories. At most, I’m going down to 2200 cals/day…to lose weight (insert gasps and ahs). My intake was 1800 calories. To get the same results but with my prior self (1800 cals), I have to go down to 1300 cals/day. What seems healthier, better, and more sustainable: losing weight at 2200 calories/day OR at 1300 cals/day. Obviously the first option!!!
Ever done a fad diet? Most people have. Did it work for 30-90 days? Probably. Then what happened? Your weight loss stopped. The next time you tried that diet, did it work? Probably not. Why?? It worked before, it should work again. Nope. Your metabolism adapted to survive.
We don’t want to “survive.” We want to thrive and feel good doing it. If your caloric intake from options 1 and 2 are within 500 calories of each other, then you are fine. You can either bump your calories up a bit or stay where you’re at. However, if you’re intake from #2 is >700 calories, then reach out to me for a free consultation call. What you need to do is a reverse diet and this requires a TON of mental strength and willpower. We have been taught since birth, whether you are a male or a female, to under-eat and to always eat less than 2,000 cals/day. It is SO hard (I say from experience) to put yourself through a reverse diet because you’re doing everything society tells you not to do. This is where a nutrition coach, such as myself, comes in. Remember that client who came to me eating 900 cals/day. Well we are at 1800 cals/day and guess what, this client has lost 7 lbs while feeling better than ever.