How many diets have you heard of in your lifetime?
From keto, paleo to intermittent fasting and everything in between, it seems that every year a new diet has to take center stage and turn into the new hype.
The highlights always include a number of industry professionals, and sometimes celebrities, who swear by this new diet and the wonders it will do your body. And so, you find a whole lot of folks, who want to jump on the bandwagon and experience this new weight-loss bliss themselves.
Historically-speaking, every time new information emerges in the health and fitness industry, confusion and numerous false claims soon followed. The blame largely falls on the industry itself, which tends to bombard you with a lot of information that holds little to no scientific evidence.
The question is how can you navigate all of this confusion and make the right decision to improve your health and body? To answer this question, we need to have a better understanding of the role food plays in our wellbeing.
What scientific studies have undoubtedly shown us is that good nutrition is key to preventing diseases. Even if you exercise regularly, but do not follow a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet, then you are at risk for heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, to name a few.
So let’s break down the science of food: What is a calorie and how do we use it?
A calorie is a measurement unit of energy found in food and beverages. Every cell in our bodies requires calories to function. Every activity, from breathing to running, requires energy. Most of us are aware that physical activity burns calories, however, our bodies at rest burn more than half of our daily calories to keep us alive. This is referred to as the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). These are the calories we need each day to maintain metabolism, regulating body temperature, organ and cell function - among others.
Our brain, for example, uses almost 20 percent of our daily calories, while our digestive system uses about 10%. In other words, these are calories you need to consume every day to ensure your survival and maintain optimal health.
Each individual has a different BMR and requires different caloric needs. The numbers depend on several factors, like age, weight, gender and physical activity.
In addition to your BMR, you also need calories for your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This is basically the calories you need to power any activity (whenever you’re not resting), like walking, cleaning the house, exercising, etc.
How can this information help you manage your weight?
Let’s explain how the body loses or gains fat. If you consume too many calories (energy) than your body requires, then this extra energy will be stored (in the form of body fat) for later use. If you continue to give your body more energy than it needs, you will gain weight as a result of this calorie surplus. The same holds true for a calorie deficit; if you give your body less energy than it needs, it will have to tap into your stored energy (burn body fat) to sustain its demand.
This is how you lose weight.
Calories in > calories out = weight gain
Calories in < calories out = weight loss
Calories in = calories out = weight maintenance
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how a diet works - regardless of what name it disguises under.
The keto diet only works if you’re eating less than you burn. Intermittent fasting only works if you’re eating less than you burn. Not eating carbohydrates after 6pm only works if you’re eating less than you burn. This is the only scientific formula that ever mattered since the dawn of mankind.
So, does that mean the number of calories are the only thing that matters in the right diet?
No. While calories are undoubtedly a key ingredient to any diet, the right diet must also:
Provide balanced and nutrient-dense food
Obviously, we need to focus on getting wholesome, nutrient rich food - at least 80% of the time.
However, when it comes to sustainability, little or no attention is given, and this explains why most diets fail.
If you can’t sustain your eating habits, you will simply not be able to stick to your routine. Severe limitation, excluding all favourite food or eating food you don’t like are all shortcuts to failure. Your diet should teach how to adopt a healthier, long-term approach to food, and not serve as a temporary solution.
When creating a diet, a lot of emphasis is usually put on weight loss with little regard to health. Yet, nutrition affects so much more than your body composition. Your sleep quality, energy level and hormonal balance are all factors that play a major role in your wellbeing.
So the next time you decide to cut off a food group like carbohydrates or eat less than your BMR, consider whether or not these are sustainable and healthier options for your body. If you need help understanding your calorie needs and creating a healthy meal plan for your body, seek a qualified nutrition coach.