Section 1. Your diet

Let’s get down to the section most people fear most, the diet. Let’s just first off say that as the majority of people in many western countries are overweight or obese, there is clearly a non-trivial problem with the food choices people are making. Even people who wouldn’t be considered overweight are mostly making ill-informed food choices. We can talk all day about how food companies stack the shelves with garbage, or how we were never properly educated as children. At this point it is useful to move on from the origins of why there is an eating dysfunction in our society and talk about what we can do about ourselves.

Secondly, it is important to understand that the word ‘diet’ when used in this section does not refer to a 6 week special diet that causes you to loses 50lbs all in one go. These diet are not a long term solution. When we use the word diet, it is talking about your entire approach to eating food. Everybody has a diet, but few people have a good diet.

These are very simple concepts that are often not taught to people trying to improve their health. If you understand these principles, you will have the knowledge needed to reclaim your health.

The following points are the key aspects that you should be thinking about whenever you plan a meal or are going to put something into your mouth. These are:

  • Calories
  • Macronutrients
  • Nutrition
  • Gut Health

Let’s open these up one by one. Once understanding the basics of how these work, you will have four tools with which you can build your diet and in turn your health and body shape.

Calories

At some point everyone has heard the word “calorie” and it is generally associated with a Hollywood actor chomping on some celery talking about “watching their calories”. This concept however is very powerful and worth understanding.

The logic has always been, eat fewer calories and get thinner. While, on fundamental level there is truth to this, it is a gross oversimplification. Your view on calories should be slightly deeper for you to truly harness the benefits you can gain from them.

What are they?

A calorie is a unit of energy that your body uses to function. When you breathe, when your heart beats, and when you sleep, calories are powering you. When you eat food, that food contains calories. These are then absorbed by your body, then your body uses them to function. A simple concept.

If you are taking in more calories than you are expending through your daily life, then you will gain weight. Your body will store these extra calories by creating more cells.

How do they work?

So by the above definition it should be obvious that eating less calories than you expend is the way to lose weight. This is where it gets tricky. It is common sense for instance that if someone told you, “Just eat 500 calories less per day than you do now and you will lose weight. You can just eat French fries, and you will lose weight”.

Instinctively you know that this is nonsense. Why does it strike you as nonsense? It is all to do with nutrition. We naturally know that (while we might lose weight) we will not be nourished on a diet of French fries. Even the awful nutritional training we might have received at school taught us that. So although the old adage of eating less calories than you expend is to lose weight is true, it isn’t the whole picture.

How can you use them?

To make sure that you are eating in a way that will cause you to get into better shape, you have to be aware of your calories. Measuring them is easy, and will yield huge benefits. You should have a daily calorie intake goal. This can be calculated in the following way:

Track how many calories you eat per day for a week. (Use one of the many apps available for this) If you are currently not gaining any weight, this should be your “maintenance level”. This is the number of calories your body currently needs to fuel itself. This maintenance level is the benchmark from which you can reduce or increase calories depending on your goals.

If you have been steadily gaining weight with your current diet, then you can find any calorie calculator online that should give you a rough estimate. A word of warning however, online calorie calculators can give you an approximate idea, but they will never be totally reliable. Every person is different, and thus what we need will be different. You must take charge of tracking your calories and find what your approximate maintenance level is.

After you have found out your maintenance level, you can begin to play with how many calories you are consuming depending on your goals. When reducing or increasing calories, never drop them by a dramatic number, keep increases or decreases around the 10% mark. So for example, if your maintenance calorie level is 2000 calories, decease by a maximum of 200 calories per day. Anything else will be a bit too much of a shock for your body to handle. If you are very overweight and looking to decrease your weight dramatically, follow the same rule of thumb, but be ready to keep decreasing your calorie intake overtime. The same goes for an underweight person looking to develop more muscle or gain some weight, increasing your calorie intake by 100% overnight is most likely going to result in an unhealthy weight gain. Getting into shape isn’t a race, taking it at a steady pace will help you succeed now and in the long run.

So to summarize:

  • Calories power your body
  • You need a certain amount per day
  • Reducing or increasing this amount will make you lose or gain weight

So, all of this to say that restricting or increasing calories will affect your weight, but that isn’t the full picture. As mentioned previously, eating all of your calories in the form of ice cream isn’t going to get you anywhere. Let us look at the next piece of the puzzle to see how you can make it work for you.