Does this sound familiar? You want to lose weight so you decide to start eating healthier. You cut out all the junk food, limit your processed foods, and are on a first name basis with the cashier at Whole Foods. You’re doing great drinking your green drinks and eating all the healthy foods but for some reason, the scale just isn’t moving (or it’s moving in the wrong direction).
The simple answer is calories. Calories are king when it comes to weight loss/gain. Yes, the quality of the foods you eat matter for overall health, but when it comes to your weight 2000 calories of “healthy food” and 2000 calories of McDonalds are equal (for more on the best fast food options read this). I know there are “gurus” out there who will tell you eating healthy or “clean” will make you skinny but the truth, in terms of weight balance, is your body doesn’t really care where your calories come from. Yes, some foods will make you feel fuller better than others (more on that in a minute), but there are no foods that make you skinny and there are not foods that make you fat. If you want to lose weight you have to eat fewer calories than you burn.
Does what you eat matter?
Yes. While calories determine energy balance, what you eat still matters for overall health and can play a role in ease of dieting. Foods can be categorized into four categories: low calorie/high volume; low, calorie/low volume; high calorie/high volume; high calorie/low volume. Foods that are low in calories but high in volume, are going to fill you up without adding a lot of calories. Foods like vegetables, berries, beans, and other high fiber foods give you more bang for your buck calorie wise and they’re typically higher in nutrients. On the flip side, high calorie/low volume add a lot of calories without really filling you up or adding any real nutrient value, like potato chips and donuts.
Should you eat “healthy”?
Healthy is a relative term. For me personally, I define eating healthy as eating in a way that is in line with my goals, makes me feel good, and is least stressful. Being overly restrictive isn’t healthy and can lead to disordered eating patterns. I love donuts and denying myself only makes me want them more, and if they’re not allowed I’ll feel guilty when I do eat one. Instead, I aim for 80% high volume foods and 20% everything else. While I love donuts, the truth is I only eat one every couple of months. I do, however, have at least one cookie per day. By allowing myself to not be restrictive I’m able to have one cookie, enjoy it, and move on without bingeing.
How should you structure your diet?
As I said in the beginning, calories are king. To figure out how many calories and how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein you should be eating use this guide to walk you through the process step by step. Once you figure out how much you should be eating, it’s up to you to figure out where those calories come from. Ideally, 80% of your diet is made up of nutrient-dense foods to cover your bases nutritionally, leaving 20% for everything else will help keep you on track and not feeling deprived. As long as you’re hitting your calories and macros and eating less than you burn, you will lose weight. In other words, eat the damn cookie.
What’s your definition of healthy eating?