Adjusting your nutrition to provide the body you desire can be a daunting and frustrating process, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.
Since many of the same principles make up the backbone of just about any successful diet, I’ve set out some of the most important factors you’ll need to consider when building a plan that is effective and sustainable.
In this article, I’ll discuss some important aspects of dieting so that you can build a nutrition plan yourself and ensure it is one that works for you with your own preferences.
Remember Energy Balance Is Key
Regardless of your gender or goal, it’s important to remember that, above all else, energy balance is the most important variable in the weight change equation (1).
If you’re interested in losing weight, you’ll need to create a negative energy balance. On the other hand, if you’re interested in gaining weight, you’ll either need to eat around maintenance (energy intake and output is balanced) or you’ll need to eat in a small surplus (positive energy balance).
It’s important to remember that regardless of what style of dieting you choose, all of them work through either an intentional or inadvertent reduction of calories. Even though some may do well on a low carb diet, while others do well with more carbs, each scenario is still bound by the energy balance equation.
Thus, I suggest avoiding the temptation to jump on the bandwagon of the next popular diet. Understand that the style or approach of dieting you decide on should be chosen because it reduces calories with ease.
Finally, bear in mind that this will create a sustainable habit change that you can manipulate once you decide you want to return to normal eating habits, but don’t want to gain all of the weight back.
Eat Protein, But Just Enough
Most people recognize that protein is essential if you’re hoping to increase lean mass, improve muscle definition or carry out a successful dieting approach. This is because protein provides amino acids for muscle growth, while limiting the amount of muscle you lose when dieting (2).
Additionally, multiple studies indicate that protein is quite satiating, meaning that eating it regularly allows you to feel fuller for longer, while having better control over the types and amounts of food you consume afterwards (3, 4).
The argument regarding optimal protein intake has gone on for years. Some say that you should consume a large amount of protein, while others say it’s not all that necessary.
However the most current research indicates that a minimal protein intake of around 1.8g per kg per day is adequate for most individuals who are exercising or resistance training. Additionally, other research indicates that upwards of 4.4g per kg of body weight won’t have a negative effect (5, 6).
For reference, at the low end, that would be the equivalent of 114g (1.8g/kg) all the way to 280g (4.4g/kg.) for a 140-pound individual!
Now, I’m not saying that you need to consume that much protein, because that is truly ridiculous. But what I am saying is that there’s a minimum you should consume, with really no upper limit.
Additionally, I understand that even consuming 1.8g/kg can be tough, especially for most females. I suggest simply doing your best to consume as much protein in your diet as possible. While you might not be able to consume higher amounts, at least trying to do so will put you in a good position to consume more protein.
I suggest attempting to simply have some form of high quality protein with each meal until you have the ability to consume more.
Don’t Always Avoid Consuming Carbohydrates (Try Cycling)
Carbohydrates are often the first macronutrient to be banished when attempting to lose weight. While doing so may be an effective measure for weight loss, it’s not the only way.
About a decade ago, the war on carbohydrates began. Since then, almost everyone has either tried their hand at a low carb diet or at least has considered that they should if they want to lose weight.
The truth about carbohydrates is that most of the time, our bodies require carbs. Unless you’re on a ketogenic diet, you need glucose to survive. In fact, even if you just ate protein, that protein would be converted to glucose in the body.
On the other side of the coin, carbohydrate can certainly lead to weight gain and even fat gain, through a process known as De Novo Lipogenesis, where glucose is stored in fat cells and converted to triglyceride (7).
However, that really only occurs if you’re consuming carbohydrates in a much larger amount than the body actually needs. Essentially, if you’re very active, you can consume more carbs with no recourse. If, however, you’re sedentary, then consuming carbs in excess of your requirements may become an issue, since you don’t need them for your energy expenditure.
In light of this information, I suggest using carb cycling instead. Simply manipulate the amount of carbohydrates you consume, based on activity level. If you have a large workout day or need to be active, consume more of your calories from carbohydrate. On days where activity is lower, have a higher percentage of your calories come from protein and fat, while reducing carbs.
In either situation, you can maintain the same amount of calories, but just adjust macronutrient ratios, based on activity level and carbohydrate requirement.
Reduce Calories Sequentially
A big mistake I often see people make is reducing their calories far too drastically.
Unfortunately, despite enthusiasm and motivation, most people jump straight into a new diet head first by halving their calorie intake. A week later, they’re starving and aggravated, without having lost a pound.
This issue is all too prevalent and it’s important you avoid falling into the same trap.
When you reduce calories drastically all at once, the body responds by losing weight but only initially. However, within a week or two, the body adapts as a survival mechanism, meaning you burn fewer calories than expected and weight loss stops.
At this point, you need to decrease calories further, which, if you’re already at a low amount, may be inadvisable or even impossible.
I suggest avoiding the temptation to radically reduce calories in favor of reducing in 10-20% increments. I suggest starting with a 20% deficit from your normal calorie intake.
Doing so provides a meaningful reduction of calories, but not so much that you’re reducing too drastically. Not to mention, a 20% reduction is entirely manageable from a hunger standpoint. For example, a 20% reduction from 2500 calories would only be a 500-calorie reduction, or the equivalent of about 1 meal.
From here, you can adjust calorie intake further, based on how you respond. If you aren’t losing weight as quickly as expected, simply reduce calories by another 10% until you find the sweet spot.
Regularly Take A Break From Dieting
Plateau is the number one reason why diets fail. More often than not, this is caused by either too much restriction at once, chronic restriction or a combination of both.
When you diet and restrict calories, the body adapts by reducing energy expenditure, which means weight loss comes to a stall. But regularly taking a break can help avoid that.
By regularly eating normal calories, you give the body a break, which helps it avoid adapting. After the short break, you can return to normal dieting habits and continue to lose body fat.
I suggest one of two methods. First, wait until weight loss stalls. At this point, it’s likely that your metabolism has adapted and a refeed is necessary. Second, pre-plan when you’ll take a break.
If you choose route 2, I suggest planning on a diet break lasting 2-5 days, every 4-6 weeks. Doing so will allow you to be ahead of the plateau and hopefully avoid it all together.
When taking a break, I suggest simply returning to normal calorie intakes. Not above or below but right about where you started. After a period of a couple days, return back to normal dieting. Additionally, consider weighing yourself daily during this process to ensure that you’re not accidentally gaining weight.
I suggest periodically increasing calories and taking a break from dieting for a period of a few days to give your body and mind a break from the rigors of calorie restriction.
The Easy Guide To Building A Nutrition Plan That Works
At face value, weight loss concepts are actually quite simple: eat fewer calories and exercise more. However, it rarely pans out that way.
I suggest taking a more cerebral approach by recognizing common mistakes while preparing for what’s to come when dieting. By focusing on these essentials, you should be able to build a nutrition plan yourself that actually works for you.
- Spiegelman, B. M., & Flier, J. S. (2001). Obesity and the regulation of energy balance. Cell, 104(4), 531-543.
- Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 20.
- Veldhorst, M., Smeets, A. J. P. G., Soenen, S., Hochstenbach-Waelen, A., Hursel, R., Diepvens, K., … & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiology & behavior, 94(2), 300-307.
- Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(5), 373-385.
- Roberts, J., Zinchenko, A., Suckling, C., Smith, L., Johnstone, J., & Henselmans, M. (2017). The short-term effect of high versus moderate protein intake on recovery after strength training in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 44.
- Antonio, J., Peacock, C. A., Ellerbroek, A., Fromhoff, B., & Silver, T. (2014). The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 19.
- Acheson, K. J., Schutz, Y., Bessard, T., Anantharaman, K. R. I. S. H. N. A., Flatt, J. P., & Jequier, E. (1988). Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 48(2), 240-247.