Understanding Diets, and why it’s important to watch what you eat

It’s the D word, the word that can invoke both fear and anxiety. It can crush souls and bring people to tears. It can make grown people cry and cause some of the biggest controversies of our lifetime. And yet we live in an age where people may find it difficult to fathom diets, how to diet correctly, what works, what doesn’t and how to get started. This is a small guide into dieting. I, however, am not scientist nor nutritionist, so for the best advice, consult a professional.

I read about the paleo/CICO/Vegan/Vegetarian/WeightWatchers/Atkins/Ketogenic/<insert hollywood diet here>, does it work?

Dieting is a massive industry, in fact, it’s roughly a $64b industry. That puts Hollywood ($38b) and the Music Industry ($7.6b) to shame. Think about it, we all need to eat food for sustenance. Unfortunately, as time has gone on, we have eaten more and more processed food leading to incredibly high rates of obesity and other diseases, purely for our ability to harvest food and sell it with ease, compared to our Palaeolithic ancestors. Big companies have seen how beneficial diets are to most people and have since capitalised on that, leading to a plethora of diet fads, most of which, don’t work.

Headlines such as:

This diet will shred the pounds and lets you eat whatever you want!” “<insert famous instagram model> uses this diet and she has proven results!

<insert actor/musician> swears by this diet, read more to find out” “Scientifically proven diet so good it’s being banned, but find out more here

And various other incarnations. It’s a load of junk. These diets exist only to make money. These companies hire people to promote their products, but the models they pay, don’t even consume the product, I mean, look at Kim Kardashian recently admitting to never having a product she was promoting on her instagram, she was even a spokesperson for the company!

That’s not to say famous people who spruik a diet aren’t on board. But more on that later.

Weightloss isn’t as simple as it seems:

Everyone is genetically different. What I’m trying to say is, something that works for your friend may not work for you, in the same sense that what works for you, isn’t guaranteed to work for everyone else. Our composition and reaction to exercise and consuming of calories is different, that’s why different diets work for different people. But there are things about eating clean and healthy that are the same for everyone as a whole and following simple rules will ensure your best chance of losing stubborn fat.

The rules are easy: BURN more calories then you EAT. Calories In verses Calories Out. If you are eating less calories than what you are burning each day and you continue that trend, you will lose weight. If you consume more calories than what you are burning, you will gain weight. For some people, like bodybuilders, gaining weight is ideal but generally is followed by a period of caloric deficit, where one will reduce calories safely to shred bodyfat and look more lean, usually for competing.

But a calorie isn’t always a calorie. Great now I’m confusing you right? Follow along, it’ll make sense. Not all calories are equal. When you eat food, your body produces insulin to help adjust the balance of glucose in your blood and turn it into energy. As you eat more poorly, you begin to build up unwanted “coatings” on the muscle and fat cells which inhibit the ability to absorb the glucose and therefore you produce more and more insulin which can lead to hyperinsulinemia. The liver and the kidney, unlike the muscle and fat cells, don’t get inhibited and become hyper-stimulated and eventually the pancreas, getting overworked, begins to produce less insulin, which can lead to…Diabetes.

Dieting is about consuming a healthy balanced diet without going overboard. Like anything in life, it’s about moderation. This doesn’t mean as long as you only consume a low amount of calories and exercise regularly that you can plow through big macs like no tomorrow. It means knowing what you are consuming and eating the right type of foods. But dieting doesn’t need to be difficult and this is where a lot of people lose motivation. Calorie counting? Weighing food? Macros? What does it all mean and how is it relevant to dieting?

Calorie Counting

Calorie Counting is the act of adding up the total amount of calories in all food and beverages consumed through a 24 hour period. The calories on foods are usually found on the nutritional tables on the side or back of all products, mandatory under federal laws in Australia. The labels must show the average amount of energy (in kilojoules or both in kilojoules and kilocalories), protein, fat, fats, carbohydrates, sugars and sodium levels (a component of salt) and any claims must be displayed in the nutritional table * (if for example a food states it’s high in calcium, it must show the calcium in the panel with the % daily intake and for the claim to be advertised it must meet certain criteria outlined by the Food Standards A/NZ and the National Health and Medical Research council).

The counting of calories is quite simple, for each meal consumed add all the totals together at the end of the day and you’ll have a number (depending on your format that could be in Kj or Calories) and that number should correspond to a predetermined number that suits your required calories per day. For example, if I intended to consume 2000 Calories per day (8368 Kj), I would aim to consume that number through the day. If I were to consume less than that, I would be in a calorie deficit, if I ate more, I would be in a caloric surplus. With regular exercise that would mean being in a deficit I would lose weight and in a surplus, I would gain weight. So it’s important to work out how many calories your body requires to function everyday with exercise and than work out whether you want to gain or lose weight and subtract or add calories. You should never go into severe deficit or surplus as it’s not only not healthy but not sustainable. Your surplus or deficit should be increased or reduced around 200 calories at a time.

To work out your calories as they stand, you need to determine the maintenance amount, this is the amount of calories required to sustain your current weight. Take for example myself, today as I stand, I weigh in at 74.3 Kg and require almost 4000 calories (16,900 Kj) to sustain my weight (active exercise included). As I intend to lose weight, I will be reducing my calories, to do so safely, I would reduce them to around 3700 – 3800 calories per day, re-assess in a couple of weeks and then re-calculate my maintenance and again, work out my caloric deficit and so on. There are many calculators on the web which allow you do determine these figures, those familiar with Australia will have heard of Bupa, their calculator can be located here.

So once we have that number, we begin to focus more on how much we are consuming. But what about foods that don’t come with a nutritional table, for example, fruit, or baked goods? Well, this is where we need to weigh our food. Get yourself a food scale and the rest is self explanatory. Using an app like MyFitnessPal by UnderArmor is fantastic for logging your calories, as you can weigh your food then use the search food feature to essentially have a pre-set option to choose from to log it.

Applications

These are another fantastic tool for logging your calories. There are heaps for Android and plenty for Apple. I myself use MyFitnessPal by UnderArmor, it’s easy, allows you to scan barcode’s so you don’t have to manually enter anything and so far only a couple of really niche things haven’t come up in the search. Download it and give it a go.

Macros

I keep hearing about macros, what are they? Macros, or Macronutrients, are what we need for growth and other functions for our body to work. We naturally consume macros everyday without realising but what we can do is see what macros we are eating and adjust our diets accordingly. There are many ways you can do this and not every way works for everyone, so make sure you seek put a professional or practitioner before messing around with this.

Macros are usually broken down into three categories: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. The idea is to adjust those macronutrients for best results. As an example you might aim for 40% Carbs, 40% Protein and 20% Fats. This translate to consuming those percentages after your entire day of eating combined. By the end of the day you want to have your Macros as close as possible to your goal.

In conclusion, fad diets are usually something that will work for a small percentage of people that fit the right criteria, both within their physiology and composition and genetics, yet won’t work for most. Fad diets often show some result but the issue is keeping that weight off and that’s often where most people fall down. There are diets that do work but it’s about finding what works for you. Look at diets that you know you can follow. If a diet is going to require you to eat foods you simply hate, then you aren’t going to stick to it. Research, seek out professional advice, whether that be a nutritionist, dietician or maybe a competitive lifter or even a physician. Be wary of what you read on the Internet and don’t trust easily. Most importantly, focus on keeping your macros in the right area and you will see a change. You must exercise regularly for a diet to work. Dieting is hard work, if it was easy, everyone would do it and be fit, remember what your goals are and strive for success.

*In Australia – article intended to reflect local policies. International readers may experience different results.

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