What worked for someone else may not work for you.
There is not a ‘one-diet solution’ that works for all humans.1
Spoiler alert: just in case you do not read to the end.
Food quality is the number one factor for weight loss and health. And by food quality we mean whole, real foods like vegetables, fruits, pasture reared meats, poultry and dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and the like.
In comparison, white commercial bread, commercial breakfast cereals, added sugar foods, soft drinks, and white flour-based foods are not quality foods.
Reduce or eliminate these foods from your diet.
Learn lessons/take advice from others but listen to your body.
What does it mean to listen to your body?
- How does your gut/stomach feel? (Bloated, sore, upset)
- What is your energy like? (Are you mentally and physically tired too often?)
- Is your mood and anxiety adversely affected by food? (The correct foods can help balance hormones)
- Are you getting sick too often? (Your immune system can be a good clue)
Understanding Weight Loss, Nutrition and Food
Calories In Verse Calories Out
The Law of Thermodynamics2 is a scientific law that states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, merely transferred or changed from one form to another.
This is essential to note in performance lifestyles and bodybuilders.
Each of the macronutrients has different calories per gram:
- protein has 4kcal
- carbohydrates have 4kcal
- fats have 9 kcal
- Alcohol, though not a macronutrient, also has a lot of energy, about 7kcal per gram
- Sweeteners have very, very little energy, though in excessive amounts can still have health detriments
Not all calories are equivalent though2 because the human body extracts and uses energy differently from different types of food.
So while calorie counting (which can be quite tedious) is a useful guideline to help that you are not eating too much or too little, calories are not the same.
For example, if you are eating junk refined foods counting your calories would be a waste of time (as we will see further on in this article).
The Thermic Effect of Food
Some of the calories in the food you eat are used to digest, absorb, metabolize, and store the remaining food, and some of the calories are burned off as heat.
This process is called the thermic effect of food (TEF), also known as diet-induced thermogenesis.
TEF makes up about 10% of our total energy needs.4 Age, physical activity, and meal size, composition, frequency, and timing all influence TEF. TEF decreases with age but increases with physical activity. 4
Each macronutrient takes different times to digest: protein causes a greater energy expenditure than carbohydrate, which is greater than that of fat.5
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes have higher fibre content, compared with refined grains or animal-derived products, and may require more energy to digest.4
What this means is that your body digests these foods better.
This is why eating whole foods has a double positive effect: 1- You reduce the calories eaten (it is very hard to overeat vegetables) and 2- your body uses more energy digesting these foods, increasing your energy burn.
Highly refined or processed foods (like those lacking fibre, fruit, and vegetables and high in refined carbs and sugars) may produce a lower TEF. This also causes blood sugar spikes, insulin releases (which cause fat storage), and mental and physical fatigue.
Balance the Hormones
Food quality affects your hormones. Your hormones affect hunger, appetite, mood, and anxiety.
Hormones will signal the body cells to grow/ divide or die, or to let glucose into the cell, to burn or store fat and much more.
Added sugar and refined carbs wreak havoc with insulin and other hormones that affect every cell in your body.
Fat cells release hormones
Fat cells are not just quietly sitting in your body as benign passengers.
We know that fat cells actively release hormones (like leptin)6 part of your neuromodulating system, which affects your brain and neurological system.
This is part of why being overweight is not great for long-term health.
Feed the Gut
You have more bacteria cells in your body than you have human cells.
These good bacteria help with digestion, protecting the gut, the brain, and your health.
The aim is to have a balanced, symbiotic farm living inside of you. For this, we need to feed the healthy gut bacteria with many types of fibre from whole foods, all the while trying to reduce the factors like destroy the bacteria (like stress, smoking, and various medication like antibiotics), which affect your health and lifestyle long term.7
Junk food does not feed the good gut bacteria, so is one of the factors that bring an imbalance to our gut as the bad bacteria are allowed to grow and thrive.
Sure it tastes good, but junk food is toxic to you and all the bacteria in the body.
The bad bacteria feed off diets high in added sugar too.
Protect the Liver
Did you know that you can destroy liver function with bad food choices?8
Junk food rich in bad fats and added sugars, as well as alcohol all get processed by the liver.
Unfortunately, bad eating means that the liver is bombarded with the excessively added ingredients in processed foods.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the generic term used to describe a range of conditions that cause fat to build up within the liver.
It is a common disease that often occurs in people who are overweight or obese, including those with type 2 diabetes.
For most people, having small amounts of fat in the liver cells usually causes no problems. But for others, the build-up of liver fat can lead to serious health problems with increased risk of cardiovascular issues such as heart attack and stroke.
This makes it particularly dangerous for people with type 2 diabetes who already have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
There is an increased risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease if you:
- Have Type 2 diabetes
- Are obese or overweight
- are over 50 years of age
- Have High cholesterol
- Have High blood pressure
- If you have experienced rapid weight loss (such as after surgery)
The good news is if you have a fatty liver changes to your diet and lifestyle can certainly help.
Cut out refined carbohydrates (e.g. white rice, white pasta, white bread, white wraps, etc).
Refined carbohydrates spike glucose and subsequently insulin levels, which affect the liver.
It is essential that you learn to not only eat for sweetness (added sweetness) but consciously eat whole foods for health (including veggies, meat, fruit, beans, and legumes etc) to protect and optimise your liver’s functioning and health.
Your DNA makes you unique and is the ultimate evidence that there is not a single diet for everyone.
Stop believing in fad diets. Scientists are starting to understand how genes not only influence our outward appearances such as eye colour and height, but also how we function from the inside, and if this affects our ability to maintain a healthy weight.9
Genetic testing offers an extensive array of new opportunities in evaluating health outcomes.
Genetic tests mean that you can find out more about your DNA profile and how sensitive you are to various food components, such as:
- Saturated fats
- Unsaturated fats
- Overall fats
- Your protein response
- Your metabolic rate
And many more unique aspects. Your DNA will also determine how your body processes certain nutrients, how it makes hormones, as well as how several metabolic processes are happening in your body and physical activity optimisation.
Exercise can make a huge difference to health, weight loss and wellbeing.
But you cannot out-train a bad diet.
Some people will lose more fat with a little exercise, some need more, but proper consistent exercise does have a major positive effect on all things. Consistency is key!
Consistent, regular movement is very important (i.e. not sitting still at your desk all day).
Walking helps with blood flow (your legs help pump blood back to the heart), so move, walk, and shift often.
Many people who exercise daily are still considered sedentary because they exercise hard for an hour or so and then sit at a desk for 8-10 hours. There are 1440 minutes per day.
If you move vigorously for 1 hour that means you are only active for 4% of the time.
A lack of sleep can cause changes in your body’s hormones. A lack of sleep increases levels of the hungry hormone, ghrelin.
Cortisol levels also increase, which stimulates the storage of fat. Also, the hormone responsible for you feeling full (leptin) is lowered when you do not sleep well, resulting in you eating too much.
The combination of these hormonal fluctuations makes you eat more high energy meals and exercise less, which is why poor sleep is ultimately linked to weight gain.10
When stressed, the body increases the stress hormone cortisol levels (which also goes up when you do not sleep well), and this causes the storing of body fat. Meditation, resting, deep diaphragm breathing or slow nasal breathing can help bring stress levels down (if you have a stress monitor on your watch you can track your stress response or see it reduce).
Long-term eating consistency – Slowing it down
Health and good weight management are not successfully achieved quickly.
Fad, crash, and hardcore diets almost always result in yo-yo dieting where you just rebound and end up putting more fat back on.
The excessive restriction should only be done by professionals or people who research and test outcomes, like bodybuilders.
Choose a diet that you can live with for a decade
This means you choose a diet that is 80% high-quality food, with some treats/cheats 20% of the time.
Depending on your goals, you may even change this to 70/30, 90/10 or 95/5.
And remember that it has probably taken 10 years to get this out of shape or sick.
It is worth investing 6 – 12 months to get back on track, creating lifestyle habits you can live with for a decade.
Slowly lose fat, slowly gain muscle. Eat for the long term
- Quality whole food is an essential part of a healthy long-term eating plan.
- Aim for an 80/20 balance at least (or 90/10)
- Prioritise real foods, with some rewards/treats to satisfy your cravings (Hint: See FitChef Cravings Range) so you can get back on track to eating food that is a healthy investment in your long-term health.
- Health is true wealth!
- Katz D, Meller S. Can we say what diet is best for health? Annual Review of Public Health. 2014;35:83-103.
- Fine EJ, Feinman RD. Thermodynamics of weight loss. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2004;1:15.
- Lucan S, DiNicolantonio JJ. How calorie-focused thinking about obesity and related diseases 4 may mislead and harm public health. An alternative. Public Health Nutrition. 2014.
- Calcagno M et al. The thermic effect of food: a review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2019;38(6).
- Hall KD, Guo J. Obesity Energetics: Body Weight Regulation and the Effects of Diet Composition. Gastroenterology, 2017;152:1718–1727.
- Park H, Ahima RS. The physiology of leptin: energy homeostasis, neuroendocrine function, and metabolism. Metabolism Clinical and Experimental. 2015;24-34.
- Oriach CS. Robertson RC, Stanton C, Cryan JF, Dinan TG. Food for thought: The role of nutrition in the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Clinical Nutrition Experimental. 2016;6:25-38.
- Romero-Gómez M, Zelber-Sagi S, Trenell M. Treatment of NAFLD with diet, physical activity, and exercise. Journal of Hepatology. 2017; 67(4):829-846.
- Tam V, Turcotte M, Meyre D. Established and emerging strategies to crack the genetic code of obesity. Obesity Genetics. 2019;20:212-240.
- Lin J et al. Associations of short sleep duration with appetite-regulating hormones and adipokines: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Etiology and Pathophysiology. 2020. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13051.
- Stefanaki C et al. Chronic stress and body composition disorders: implications for health and disease. Hormones. 2018; 17:33–43.