Healthy Eating for Weight Loss

Over the years I have spent a lot of time learning about what is takes to manage one's weight.

As an adult, I have ranged between 200lbs and 265lbs back and forth.  Since I am a 6'3" man I can carry some extra weight and still feel pretty good about myself.  I find that I'm pretty happy around 220lbs.  Any smaller and I feel like I get tossed around a bit playing basketball and any heavier and I find myself a bit sluggish.

I've often looked at the BMI chart used by health professionals with a big grain of salt because it doesn't seem to make sense to me.  The BMI range to be considered "Normal Weight" is from 18.5 to 24.9.  That means that the normal weight range for a guy my height should be from 148lbs to 199lbs.  Can you imagine a guy that is 6'3" weighing only 148lbs?  I can't even picture it.

First of all, I should be clear that I never make changes to my activity level when gaining or losing weight so that variable doesn't come into play as I outline my thoughts below.

I'm not saying that there isn't a component to a healthy lifestyle that involves being active, I'm simply stating that in my experience managing my weight, I haven't used any methods that involve increased activity.  I don't believe in exercise as part of weight control because it doesn't work as a temporary fix. If you work out to lose weight, then stop working out, you put weight back on ... No real surprise to me, but a lot of people don't seem to get it.

I have a semi regular routine that includes a mix of basketball, running, yoga, cycling, spinning, walking, and various occasional seasonal sports like snowboarding and golf.  I've never been a gym rat and don't enjoy "working out" in a traditional way.

I control weight by managing food intake compared to the required output to run my body.

Using the new and awesome wolframalpha I was able to calculate my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Choosing a conservative activity level to match your BMR, you can tell approximately how many calories your body needs every day.

Since we know that you need to short your body 3,500 calories to lose a pound of true fat weight, it's easy to calculate the shortage that you need to create every day to achieve a goal.

For example, based on my activity level, I need about 3,000 calories each day (i.e. 21,000 calories per week) to maintain my weight where it is today.  If I want to lose 2lbs of fat weight per week I need to short my week by 7,000 calories (i.e. 1,000 calories per day), which means that I need to consume no more than 2,000 calories per day

The important part is to be realistic in setting that goal.  I can definitely live on 2,000 calories per day and still get the recommended daily intake for all of the usual nutrients.

This is where it becomes easier for a man to lose weight than a woman. The above is relatively easy for me because my body needs a pretty high base line number of calories. Comparing that to an average woman of around the same age and same activity level you will find that to achieve the same results you need to short a starting point of 2,000 calories per day to down around 1,000 calories per day.  That is not a lot of energy to play with.

From my observations, women tend to eat fairly well (i.e. Always "on a diet" in the first place) and usually have a pretty solid gym/activity schedule.  The trick for women is to maintain the gym/activity schedule that their body is already used to and create a calorie deficit beyond what their diet routine normally looks like.  This is hard to do because a calorie deficit will alway leave you feeling tired, run-down, unmotivated, and down-right cranky.

Every diet is some kind of gimmick that helps you to manage this process. It doesn't really matter which diet you choose, just be aware of what you are eating and keep track.

When I reached my peak weight of 265 I asked my doctor which diet would be the best for me, based on my medical history. Her answer "Nathan, don't eat so f@&ing much".  I never forgot that advice and I know when I'm eating too much without even having to keep track.

There are a few guidelines that will hold true across a lot of diet plans. If you've ever struggled with weight or read anything about dieting, none of these will surprise you, but it might be useful to have it framed a bit differently.

Nathan's Rules for Weight Management:

  1. Know the daily calorie shortage you need to create to lose weight at an appropriate rate and be realistic with your plan.
  2. Write it down.  Keep track of what you eat in a manner that makes sense for you. Some people need the discipline of a regimented program such as Weight Watchers which takes all foods and breaks them down to a "points" value to keep track. I set up an anonymous Twitter account and tweet every meal and review each day to ensure that I am on track to plan.
  3. Eat protein at least two meals per day. If you are a gym rat consider protein essential three times a day. Protein doesn't have to be a big steak either ... Any complete proteins will do. Just keep portions to a reasonable size of 3-5 oz per serving. This is often described as the size of your hand, excluding the fingers. And, of course, choose the lean alternative whenever possible.
  4. Eat fruit.  Have a serving of frest fruit every day. I try to stick to the common fruits that have the added benefit of some fibre, such as apples, pears, oranges, grapefruits and strawberries.
  5. Eat your vegetables, and lots of them. The great thing about vegetables is that most diets either allow you great big portions or don't limit them at all. When I'm in weight loss mode I try to eat 2/3 of every plate as vegetables. Also, stick to the more dark green and leafy vegetables as often as you can.  (i.e. Spinach, broccoli, kale, etc).  The best test for me when I feel hungry is to ask myself if I want some vegetables. If the answer is yes, go ahead, if the answer is no, then it's more of a craving than real hunger.
  6. Dont avoid carbohydrates, but choose whole grains and whole wheats over white carbs.  You want to manage your blood sugar at a nice steady level instead of creating peaks and valleys throughout the day so try to make your carbohrdrate choices a little more difficult for your body to digest.
  7. No Booze.  This isn't realistic for many of us, but at least pay extra close attention to any liquid calories. It's easy to knock back a days worth of calories sitting on a patio in the warm spring air without even noticing it. Drink water as often as possible.  A lot of diets tell you to also avoid caffeine because it tends to increase appetite, but I've never cut it or noticed an issue.
  8. Take a multivitamin every day. While you are likely getting everything you need by focusing on the proteins, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates as listed above, it never hurts to have a little insurance to make sure there are no deficits.
  9. Consistency. if you know you need routine to be successful, then plan your days and weeks around a specific rotation (i.e. Same meals on every Monday, Tuesday, etc).
  10. Avoid circumstances that you cannot control. Going out on a business lunch is always difficult because you have no idea how the food is prepared.  This might mean that you have to take a little break from your social calendar if you have a very active group like my friends.
  11. Avoid fat. Minimize the fats that you use as toppings or in the cooking process. You can get great results with steaming and grilling. There's usually no reason to add fat to a meal, but we do it anyway out of a matter of habit.
  12. Spice it up.  Keep a full stock of your favourite spices and be creative. I like to take weight loss periods as times to experiment with other cultures and preparation styles. Of course, I love to cook in the first place.
  13. Weigh yourself every day, but be aware that your body will change weight with big fluctuations on a day to day basis. Water retention or shedding accounts for wide swings, as do hormones and your body's reaction to food that tends to be more difficult to digest than the usual crappy North American diet. I like to chart progress over time and create a line of best fit to see how many more days it should take to achieve my goal.

Maintenance after achieving your goal is another post, but the gist is that I try to follow the above rules for most of my meals, but then do whatever I want for one meal each day.   That way I never feel like I'm sacrificing anything, but still eat healthy most of the time.