Here is the issue with eating a diet designed simply to help you reduce your caloric intake: it’s miserable!
I always say that there is no point in starting any new diet or any new training regime unless you intend to stick with it permanently. If you’re going to diet for a month and then go back to your old shape … then what’s the point?
So whatever diet you’re coming up with right now, the first thing you need to ask yourself is whether you can feasibly see yourself following it forever. It is called Lifestyle hacking!
This is the problem with intermittent fasting diets and it’s the problem with calorie counting. Sure, you can stomach the idea of scanning all your food for a few days, weeks or even months. But are you really going to be doing this when you’re eighty? If not, then it is not sustainable. And what’s the point of going to such effort to count everything you eat, when we’ve already seen that the numbers are really just a guess at best?
For most people, this will be an effective tool until it becomes dull and they give up because they’re too tired and stressed to stick with it. For others, it might never work owing to other biological factors that prevent them from getting the most from it.
Cast your mind back to the notion of your body going through cycles between anabolic and catabolic. Now ask yourself: what have you been doing all day at work? You’ve been stressed, likely getting into arguments, working to deadlines and struggling with difficult clients. At the same time, you’ve been staring into a screen which is a very bright source of artificial light.
What does all this mean? It means you’re very much in fight or flight. You’re very much catabolic. And so when you get home, of course your body is going to revert to anabolic. Not only that, but your blood sugar is likely incredible low and you need something to cheer you up – something that will release some serotonin. You need to swing that pendulum back to the anabolic, rest and digest state.
And now you’re telling me that you’re going to eat fish because it has the right number of calories? The good news is that there is a better way.
The Other Factors Overlooked by Diets
There are many more important factors that often get overlooked by diets too. One of these is the fact that we tend to eat socially. That is to say that will we often eat something because we’re with our partners, our families or our friends. We like inviting people round for meals, we like going out for fancy dinners and we like surprising our partners with chocolates.
If you don’t join in with this, then it’s actually quite unsocial and we miss out. Again, with all those hormones screaming at you to get some sugar and now the social pressure of eating out … are you really ordering that salad? Forever?
And yes, there is the simple matter of time and energy. Tracking all your calories takes time and energy and as we’ve discussed, those are both factors that are already at a premium. Can you really motivate yourself to count all the calories in that home cooked meal … every day?
But Most Important of All: Nutrients
And there’s something else that gets not a lot of attention when it comes to diet and that absolutely deserves it: that’s nutrition. Too many of us view our food as fuel. This is something that the calorie counting approach is very guilty of doing. We look at food as something that we use in order to enable ourselves to keep going and to keep us productive at work.
We think of it in terms of something that our body burns in much the same way that a car uses gasoline. But food is MUCH more than that. Not only should food be enjoyable and social as we have already discussed but it should also be thought of as being the very substance that we are made of.
You’ve heard the expression ‘you are what you eat’ and well … it’s true. When you consume amino acids from proteins, your body actually reconstitutes those in order to build your muscle and skin. You are literally recycling the parts of dead animals and plants in order to rebuild your own tissue. Likewise, the micronutrients found in your food help to build your bones and connective tissues, your brain chemicals and even the hormones that help to drive you.
Micronutrients are the tiny nutrients that come from all our food and they are absolutely essential to helping us to perform and feel our very best. These make us feel more awake, more alert, more happy and they even help to elevate our metabolism so that we burn more fat!
If you are feeling depressed, weak, sluggish and slow, then there’s a good chance that it is actually because you have a deficiency in some kind of essential nutrient. These are nature’s sports supplements and they can be instrumental in helping you to get out of the funk you’re in.
Why Modern Diets Are the Worst
There’s another thing to keep in mind: modern diets are the worst.
The big issue is with modern diets is that they have essentially hacked the very system our body evolved in order to survive with. Some studies have shown that about 25-36 grams of simple sugars can cause a rush of blood sugar, insulin and serotonin to make us feel great but then cause us to gain weight?
Well, all food manufacturers care about is that first bit: making you feel good. They want to sell more of their crisps, their chocolate bars and their cakes and so they have made foods that are practically just sugar. These are constantly and immediately spiking the blood sugar and can singlehandedly raise your chances of developing diabetes and other health conditions.
What’s worse is that these overly processed foods have removed all of the nutrients that made them so healthy. If you eat a piece of fruit, you’ll probably find that it’s packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, resveratrol and a host of antioxidants which will help you to look and feel more awesome. But if you eat a shop-bought sausage role then you’re barely eating meat. You just get sugar, trans fat and salt! Likewise, if you eat a chocolate bar, you spike your sugar but without getting any useful nutrients.
Remember: this is the stuff that your feel-good hormones are made out of. This is the stuff that helps to drive your metabolism forward. This is the stuff that rebuilds your wounds.
So is it any wonder that so many of us are burned out, dried up and exhausted?
It’s Not Just About the Food
Losing belly fat and love handles is not just about the food. And it’s not just about exercise either. What I’m talking about is your entire lifestyle and everything that you are doing around your diet. Remember, your lifestyle is likely what got you into this state in the first place. And it’s probably what’s making it so hard to get out.
We’ve already seen how coming home stressed from work makes you more likely to binge eat and then store fat more rapidly. This is a combination of factors but even comes down to the direct and precise action of cortisol on the body.
So it stands to reason then that if you want to reduce belly fat, you should look at combating any workplace stress (or other stress for that matter!). This is easier said than done perhaps but it’s important to recognize just what a profound impact stress has on us. If you can remove stress from your life, then you’ll have far more energy for working out and eating right.
There are a few things you can do to this end. One is to take up meditation or another form of practice that will help you to combat stress generally. Meditation can significantly improve your mood, help you to cope with stress better and even make you smarter! This is a great tool to help fortify you and defend you against things going wrong that can prevent you from continuing your new healthy lifestyle.
Another tip is to look for ways to make your life a little easier. One obvious culprit may be the commute. Could you make this easier in any way? Perhaps with a car share? You might even decide that the job you’re doing is not for you.
If it’s not leaving you with the energy or the willpower you need to look after your own health then guess what: this job is not good for you and you should probably quit!
Prioritize your health!
More Ways to Get Your Body on Your Side
Of course it should go without saying that you should also avoid any toxins that might damage your metabolism. This particularly applies to smoking and to alcohol – both of which can really stand in your way of successful and healthy weight loss (not to mention ruining your energy levels).
Another tip though is to make sure that you are getting enough sleep. We actually burn a lot of calories during the night but what’s even more important is the fact that sleep is what sets your rhythms and begins the cycle between catabolic and anabolic. Sleep is the ‘ultimate anabolic state’.
If you are skimping out then, you’re not going to be performing at your best and you won’t have the energy or the willpower to stick to the new regime. Try to get 7-9 hours every night and keep it systematic so that you have the same bedtime schedule at the same time. The body likes routine! Having trouble falling asleep? Give Bedtime Yoga a try; it has helped us tremendously!
These are alarms that wake you up with a wavelength similar to that of the sun and which get brighter slowly like a sunrise. This is great for combating ‘SAD’ (seasonal affective disorder) and helping us to feel more awake and alert first thing in the morning.
Want one more trick for getting yourself firmly into a catabolic/focussed state in the morning? Take a cold shower or cold bath! This also happens to be great for stimulating the production of testosterone.
How to Measure and Maintain a Calorie Deficit
If you want to measure and maintain a calorie deficit, then you need to first calculate how many calories your body burns in a given day. This means looking at the number of calories that you burn while inactive (called your ‘basal metabolic rate’) and then looking at how much exercise you do on top of this – making your AMR or ‘active metabolic rate’. There are plenty of different calculations out there for getting a rough estimate of these numbers.
Ultimately though, it is actually more effective in most cases to try and work this out using a fitness tracker. While calculations can be useful, they don’t allow for variations from one day to the next. Most of us will find that our active metabolic rate varies tremendously throughout the week and this of course has a big impact on how much you should be eating.
A good fitness tracker will allow you to enter some personal metrics, such as your height, weight and gender, and will then count your steps and measure other activities throughout the day. A device such as the Fibit Alta HR for instance will not only track steps but also monitor your heartrate throughout the day and automatically detect exercises and activities like walks, runs and sports. Using this data, you can then get a much more accurate picture of how many calories you burn daily.
From there, you can then start calculating how many calories are going in. Again, there is technology out there to help you do this. MyFitnessPal for example is a tool that will let you log the foods you eat by entering the calories and ‘macronutrients’ manually, or by simply scanning a barcode in order to add them from a huge database.
If you scan everything you eat through MyFitnessPal – not forgetting the drinks you consume (including alcoholic!) and any smaller snacks throughout the day – then you now have a total number for all the calories you’ve eaten to measure against the ones you’ve burned.
Now all you need to do is to plan your day so that the number of calories coming in stays lower than those going out. Let’s say that you’ve burned 2,300 calories and you’ve eaten 2,200.
You can either stop there, or you can try and do some more exercise in order to burn more calories. Either way, you need to keep the first number higher than the second one. If you can do that, then you will burn fat. It’s that simple and it has to work – because there’s no other source of energy for your body to get fuel from.
Maintain a constant caloric deficit of around 200-300 and you’ll slowly lose more and more fat. Remember: slow and steady wins the race!
Except it’s not really that simple. Is it? For starters, there are the kinds of foods you’re eating – the nutrients. Then there is the matter of your metabolism and, you know, life. Maintaining a caloric deficit seems simple and flawless on paper but in practice, it is too simplistic. Over the next few chapters you’ll discover why and you’ll find out how to strike that happy balance that will result in guaranteed fat loss.
Buying Diet Plans and Workouts – What to Look Out For and What to Expect
There are many ways to approach weight loss but one of the most popular options these days is to invest in an e-book, an online course or a set of DVDs.
These programs are widely available online and through TV ads and they promise to make weight loss easy by giving us all the information we need laid out in front of us and removing any and all guess work.
But do these diet plans really work? Are they good value? And what can you do to get the most from them?
The Cynical View
One thing to consider is that diet plans can often be over-priced and poorly thought out.
This is not to say that they are ineffective or that the authors don’t know what they are talking about. Often though, the plans are designed in such a way that they will be very difficult to stick to and that most people won’t be able to keep them up for long.
These can often include elaborate eating plans that involve lots of preparation and cost a lot of money, or they might involve lengthy workouts.
Either way, this is not a concern for the author – as from their point of view they will still have sold a product that worked and the only problem was with your inability to stick with it.
Then there is the price.
A training program that costs several hundred dollars might be worth it in terms of the results, but there is no getting around the fact that most of the information is probably available online for much less.
This makes the product poor value at best and certainly not a good way to spend your cash.
The Promising Aspect
That said, this is of course not true for every training program. Some programs will be written with longevity in mind by people who really care.
And some will be available for much less, or will include lots of extras – perhaps personalization.
Personalization is important in fact, because everyone is different and different training programs work better for different people.
With all that in mind, you should have a better idea of what to look for and hopefully you can decide for yourself what would be good value for such a program.
Perhaps the most important tip of all though, is that you mustn’t wait for your training program or treat it as gospel. Too often, people will read training programs and buy training programs almost as a form of procrastination.
This is like an unspoken agreement between the seller and the buyer.
While advice can make a big difference and help you to train faster, the reality is that losing weight should not be complicated and essentially amounts to eating less and exercising more.
You can start doing this immediately – there is no need to wait for a training program or diet plan. Don’t use it as an excuse!