One of the first things that people ask me when I tell them that I’m a strength and conditioning coach is “what diet should I do to lose weight?” Recent social media trends have made people more aware of the different diets out there, ranging from vegan, to paleo, to keto. All of this emerging information on dietary restrictions and regimens is good because the prolific posts tend to help people become much more informed about nutrition in general. However, they also leave a large majority of consumers confused about which diet reigns supreme.
The diet that’ll lead to your weight loss is the one that works for you. A diet shouldn’t be looked at as purely a constraint used to lose weight - diet is defined as the foods that a person or community habitually eats. Simply put, a diet that works for you may differ greatly from the person next to you.
A successful diet or nutrition plan is one that puts you at a slight caloric deficit and maintains enough protein intake so as to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. A slight caloric deficit should be around a 15-20% reduction in calories from the caloric intake needed to maintain your current weight. Your goal calories for maintenance can be found via our InBody body composition analysis or a DEXA scan - both of these tests will show your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories your body burns at total rest. An example: if my BMR was 2000 calories, my body would burn 2000 calories in 24 hours if I laid in bed and didn’t move an inch for said 24 hours. To get your maintenance calories, add in how many calories you burn daily from walking around, working out, and doing other day-to-day tasks. An Apple Watch or FitBit can estimate how many extra calories you burn daily. If you don’t have some type of watch or device to track this, 300-400 calories is a decent enough estimate for the typical San Franciscan for ‘active’ calories. Normally, protein intake is recommended to be at around 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, fats at ~30% of total calories, with carbs filling in the gap in calories. To begin planning your macros, weigh yourself and divide that number by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. Then, multiply that number by 1.5 to determine how many grams of protein you’ll need. To find your calories that come from fat, multiply your goal calories by 0.3. To convert calories of fat to grams of fat, divide that number by nine since there are nine calories per one gram of fat.
Study upon study has shown that when dieting for weight loss, a slight caloric deficit and sufficient protein intake elicit the best results. Multiple studies have altered the number of calories which come from fats and carbs - while maintaining protein intake and a slight caloric deficit - and the comparison between groups determined that the ratios of carbs to fat doesn’t play a significant role in weight loss. This isn’t to say that you can only eat fats and protein or carbs and protein to bring about weight loss, though. Carbs serve as our body’s main fuel source for the various energy systems in the body, and fats work to regulate hormone balances and neuronal activity in the body. So, it’s very important that when planning your macronutrient breakdown, you don’t leave one or the other out of your daily intake.
To put this all more simply, dieting for weight loss is like a cup of water. If you pour too much water in the cup, it overflows and spills. Think of the water spillage as extra calories that get stored as fat. If you fill the cup to the brim, you’ll be at maintenance. If you leave a couple of inches of space of the cup unfilled, you’ll be at a slight deficit.
With an efficient and correctly prescribed exercise program, attention to your macros, and consistency, the odds are very much in your favor that you will lose weight. Make sure to make small sustainable changes to your daily routine so that these changes aren’t lost after a couple of weeks. Throwing yourself into the deep end of dieting will not be sustainable in the long-term, so go with small behavioral changes for the best results!