Healthy eating may not lead to healthy weight loss
In an effort to shape up and lose weight many people begin to eat more healthily. Plans like the Joe Wicks body coach encourage us to include lean protein, lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds salads and wholefood grains in our diet.
Although swapping the big mac for a big portion of vegetables is undoubtedly healthy, it may not be right if you are looking to lose weight. In fact if you are eating too many of the wrong healthy foods, you may actually start to gain weight.
Overall calorie deficit paramount for weight loss
Regardless of how you are eating, overall calories remain the most important factor for weight loss. Keeping in mind that the maximum sustainable weekly weight loss is 0.9kg a week (or 2lbs), the mathematics becomes clearer. As we are only looking to lose fat – losing muscle mass really slows the metabolic rate, making weight loss harder – that is the best place to start. Remembering that human body fat isn’t just pure fat as it contains water and proteins, we typically calculate 900g of human fat to be the equivalent to between 3,400 and 3,700 calories. So if we divide this by seven for seven days a week, we come to the magic number of about 500. This then is the amount by which we need to undercut our energy requirement by daily to lose that 2lbs/900g every week.
Healthy eating not the same as weight loss eating
Although eating a healthy diet usually means that the foods you consume will contain fewer calories, if you have enough of these foods – any food – you will gain weight. If you are eating more energy – even healthy energy – than you need, you will gain weight. Great examples of healthy but calorific foods are nuts, seeds and plant oils. Although very healthy, they contain large amounts of fat. Thus they are very high in overall calories. So yes they are good for you, but pack so much energy that they will hamper any weight loss efforts if eating in large amounts. Another good example is the avocado. Healthy – yes! But again their high fat content means that they are not the best choice for those looking to lose weight.
Aren’t there other factors?
Yes – hormones play a large part. Even if you consume less energy than you need, hormonal imbalance will hinder weight loss. This could be caused by the presence of too much insulin – sugar and starch consumption being the usual culprits. Sleep and stress also feature. A lack of sleep and too much stress will lead to cortisol (the stress hormone) being present in the blood which again makes you more efficient at storing fat as a survival mechanism. BUT – overall calories are still the most important factor.
So what steps should I take?
In the short term calorie-counting apps will give you a really great lesson in the calorie content of different foods. Other well known plans like Weight Watchers and Slimming World will also make sure that your energy intake is right for weight loss. If those sound too off putting then eating healthy foods most of the time (80 per cent say) with occasional treats can work, but waking up hungry and ready for breakfast is a good sign that you are close to the 500 calorie deficit needed. Strength training will ensure that you only lose fat and not muscle, keeping the metabolic rate high. Moderating stress and getting proper sleep will be the icing on the cake that leads to success!