Losing weight, gaining weight, changing your body composition, is not EASY. But, it’s also not COMPLICATED. By that, I mean there is a lot of evidence that shows that no matter what type of diet you use, you can still lose weight . What it ultimately boils down to is the number of calories that you eat, and the amount or type of physical activity that you do.
If you have been under-eating for months or even years, you may have created a condition in which you need to increase the number of calories that you eat to change your body composition. However, that can still be a relatively simple process.. you would first track your food and then slowly increase the total amount of calories on either a daily or weekly level. You could maintain the same ratio of carbs/fats/protein as you were using previously, or manipulate those as you increase your calories *this is where it CAN get complicated, and even further complicated if you have food sensitivities or allergies. On the flip side, if you want to gain weight (particularly muscle), you need to increase the amount of food that you eat and utilize load-bearing or resistance training to stimulate muscle growth. FYI your bodyweight can count as resistance — think about pull-ups with your full body weight, they aren’t easy, right? If all of your activity is low impact and low resistance like walking, it will be almost impossible to gain muscle, unless you were completely sedentary beforehand. For either scenario, you can measure your body composition to determine if what you are gaining is fat vs lean mass, or use tape measurements and progress photos if you don’t have access to a way to measure your body fat.
The more complicated that you try to make your nutrition, the less likely it is that you will be able to sustain it for the long haul. If I told you that you couldn’t eat any carbs, you had to eat every 3 hours on the dot but not past 8 pm, and that you can only eat organic food for the rest of your life, chances are that you wouldn’t be able to continue this way for the next 20 to 30 years. I know I couldn’t. I want to go on vacation, enjoy birthday cake a few times per year at family parties, go to restaurants in other countries and taste the local cuisine. The answer isn’t to prohibit everything and then when you want to go on vacation completely let loose and go off the rails… that’s also not healthy. The long-term sustainable answer is to be mindful of your food choices – try to choose foods that aren’t heavily processed above all else, but understand that eating a protein bar or using a pancake mix isn’t the end of the world. If you can afford organic, then go for it. If not, you can try to get organic items that you will eat the skin on such as berries, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, etc. Things like bananas and avocados are less important to buy organic, especially if you wash the outside prior to opening/cutting into them. If you can’t afford any organic foods at all, you can buy flash-frozen or even hit up the local farmer’s market. I also buy canned vegetables with no added sodium or packets of tuna in water for quick and easy backups. As far as carbs are concerned – I’m not a registered dietitian. But, I have taken a few nutrition courses, as well as personal trainer certifications, and read about a dozen books regarding nutrition. Not a single one has recommended cutting carbs out completely for the general public. Some individuals may be more carb sensitive or have underlying health issues that may benefit from reducing them. This is where you should consult a registered dietitian. Even at my lowest point in contest prep, I was still consuming some carbs to provide energy for my brain and muscles. What about eating after dark? Some research shows that not eating immediately before going to bed has benefits for your sleep cycle and long term weight maintenance . However, if you end up having to eat a meal late at night every once in a while, it is not going to immediately show up on your hips/butt/stomach the next morning. You will be OK.
The number one piece of advice I can give someone about nutrition is to track your food at least once in your life. If you have never done it, you truly have no way of comprehending the amount of food you eat or the nutritional value. Because I have tracked my food so often over the years and educated myself on the foods I commonly eat, I’m able to eat intuitively… (also a hot button issue in nutrition and fitness). Most days, I eat very similarly to how I do during prep, so I’m able to recognize roughly how much a serving is or notice when I have eaten more protein than normal or less. I can make adjustments throughout the day to stay on track with the tally I have going in my head. If I decide to eat something different, I know how to make rough substitutes for things like beef and turkey, or potatoes and rice for example. Or, maybe I decide to go out to eat. I can make adjustments to the rest of my day, or order something healthy-ish from the restaurant to stay on track. I don’t have to track my food every.single.day to maintain or even gain weight. I’ve also gone on vacation and lost weight. I made myself aware of what I was eating and was determined to increase my physical activity so that I could make sure I didn’t have any accidental weight gain. I also did not track my food during my pregnancy, and I maintained a lot of muscle while avoiding unnecessary weight gain.
Is it more fun to eat mindlessly and consume treats and junk and bottomless drinks? Of course, it is. Until it isn’t. It’s fun and tasty at the moment, but when your health declines or you feel uncomfortable, bloated, lethargic, and unhappy with your body – that isn’t fun. I’m not writing all of this to brag, my goal is to educate others that there is no secret, there’s no special thing that I did or that I do now to lose weight or gain muscle. You also don’t have to be a robot and only eat keto-organic-kale with gobs of coconut oil. You can enjoy treats sparingly and live your life. Mindfulness and consistency are the keys to sustainable nutrition.
- Koliaki, Chrysi, et al. “Defining the Optimal Dietary Approach for Safe, Effective and Sustainable Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults.” Healthcare, no. 3, MDPI AG, June 2018, p. 73. Crossref, doi:10.3390/healthcare6030073.
- Lugavere, Max. The Genius Life. HarperCollins, 2020.
- Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels