How do most people diet? Their healthy meal plan usually begins with a drastic decrease in calorie intake, in an eager attempt at quick weight reduction. OR, they approach dieting by cutting out entire macronutrient groups from their diets (i.e. carbs, fats, protein…) which typically only leaves you gnawing on your hands in hunger. Additionally, these approaches almost always result in weight gain, because the diet is not realistic or sustainable. I like to suggest: “If you can’t see yourself eating that way a year from now, then don’t start.” Getting lean and staying lean is not a destination; it is a lifestyle commitment.
Programs such as My Fitness Pal are going to give your meal plan direction by using a generic formula for weight loss, which does not take into account your metabolism baseline, genetic makeup, past dieting history, age/ weight/ height/ gender. What’s more concerning is that such programs do not take into account macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat), meaning where the calories or coming from; it feeds into the mind set: “calories in vs. calories out,” by which all calories are created equal, and so long as you are burning off more calories than you’re taking in, you will lose weight on your meal plan.
Well… yes and no.
There are so many factors to creating your SUSTAINABLE, long term weight loss formula, that one cannot simply generalize such a generic response to weight loss.
Will you lose weight by engaging in a caloric deficit (cutting your calories)? Yes. However, cutting out too many of your calories is not sustainable, nor will it make you happy. In fact, you are likely doing more damage in the long run, making it harder for you to lose body fat. Secondly, where are those calories coming from? Believe it or not, that is of utmost importance. Let me paint you a picture:
Will both subject lose weight? Sure. But will they look the same???
You get the idea. While neither of these meal plans are acceptable, it does demonstrate the issue at hand quite well. Not all calories are created equally, and yes, macronutrients do matter.
Okay, so then what do you do? You usually don’t need a nutritionist. You just need to do a little research. This is general, and does not take metabolism or genetic factors into account, but it’s a good place to start:
Track your total daily calorie intake for 1- 2 weeks and then refer to step 2, or use our basal metabolic rate calculator to find out how many calories you generally need to maintain your current body weight. If you use this calculator, skip step 1 which asks you to track calories. The problem is that this equation doesn’t work well in an obese population, so it’s best for those who have a little more weight to lose to track their calories.
If you decide to track for 1-2 weeks, be honest with yourself; don’t track yourself on your absolute best behavior, but during a span most representative of your most typical eating habits.
As mentioned above, you can use our BMR calculator to get a rough estimate of how many calories you need to eat to maintain (not lose) weight.
To find out how many calories you need to maintain your current weight: average the total calories over 14 day span, if you tracked for two weeks (total calories divided by 14). This represents how many calories you are taking in each day on average, in order to maintain your weight.
Now that you know about how much you need to eat to maintain your weight, we have a better idea of where we can subtract from to produce weight loss on your meal plan.
To start, subtract 15% of that daily calorie average.
For example, if you found that you are consuming an average of 1,800 calories per day: 0.15 x 2,200 =330 calories. Therefore, you should set your calorie goal at (1,800- 270=) 1530 calories per day.
To be more aggressive with your fat loss endeavor, subtract 20- 25% of those calories. Be cautious with self- evaluation; if you find yourself failing on this plan, you may have cut too many calories too quickly.
Next, you should focus on what percentage of those calories should be from carbs/ fats/ proteins. For a general health and/ or weight loss goal for an active individual, I suggest 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat. This is how you do that:
Let’s use our example of the 1530 calorie meal plan:
Then, divide total calories from carbs by 4, because there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate (1530/4= 153 carbs). In this example, you should not be taking in more than 153 carbs per day.
Because you are also taking in 40% from protein as well, and each gram is also 4 calories per gram, you will also need 153 g protein.
Then, because there are 9 calories per gram of fat, divide 306 by 9.
306/9= 34 grams of fat.
The best way to track your intake on your meal plan is to use a nutrition tracking app, which contains nutritional information for thousands of products and restaurant items, to help you stay on track when you are out to eat.
If you are one of those folks who carry around a planner and highlighters with you wherever you go, you might like to organize your diet into several equal meal portions. For instance, 150 g carbs, 150 g protein, and 34 g carbs can be separated into 5 equal portions of 30 g carbs, 30 g protein, and 7 g fat per meal.
Your carbohydrate sources should come from mostly slower digesting, fibrous carbs, and fewer from sugar; for example, oatmeal, sweet potato, rice, quinoa, fruits, etc.
Some protein sources may be eggs/ egg whites, protein shakes, grilled/ baked chicken, extra lean ground turkey, lean lunch meats (for convenience), Greek yogurt, lean beef (92% or greater), fish, and beans, for instance.
Some fat sources include: nuts, seeds, nut/ seed butters, avocados, olives, coconut/ macadamia/ olive oil, whole eggs, etc.
Try this for a month! Do not create your meal plan only based on caloric reduction, but the content of those calories, as outlined, so that you can finally be successful with your goals in the long- term. If your weight starts to stagnate before meeting your goal, gradually decrease calories from carbohydrates, 10- 20 carbs at a time. As your weight drops, your caloric needs will change again, and you can determine that by using the formula provided.
Always consult your physician prior to making drastic changes to your meal plan or activity level. This is a general nutrition template for improving your body composition and overall health, but it is nonspecific to individual needs. Be aware that some individuals may respond better to diets with macronutrients proportions different than those suggested within this article. For optimal health and body composition results, combine this caloric deficit with a cardiovascular and resistance training program. Don’t rely so much on the scale; take pictures every week or two to chart your progress. You may see body composition changes far more often and rapidly than you see movement on the scale.
In fact, just throw the darn scale out the window.
For more information on how to get started with eating your healthy meals, visit Losing Weight with Meal Prep, which outlines specific steps to meal prep, along with a full length video.
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