Written by: Daniel Driggs | Best Company Editorial Team
Last Updated: February 24th, 2020
Men and women are constantly bombarded by social media posts, billboards, and advertisements of images of the perfect body.
Because of this, when we think of the gym or dieting we think of an impossible body image. We think of a girl who weighs less than a first grader, a guy with a hundred pounds of muscle and only 2% body fat, or a woman who can lift well more than most guys.
Although these people exist, they aren’t the norm. But this is the way we are now viewing diet and exercise; it is a serious issue and part of the reason we are trending in the wrong direction in terms of health.
The way we view diet and nutrition is hard on our mental health. It will cause some people to go to extremes to match this “perfect body image” or it will discourage others from caring about their nutrition because it is “impossible.” Rachel Fiske, a nutritionist and personal trainer for Family Living Today says, “Mentally and emotionally, it takes a major toll, disconnecting you from the foods you eat and nourishment that food also provides spiritually and socially, and creates a mindset of deprivation and seeing food as a privilege or punishment, for example.”
Most of us don’t need to lose 100 pounds or be able to lift 400 pounds, but we may need to lose a few pounds or get into a little better shape. So instead of telling you what to do, let’s talk about dieting at its core in simple terms.
How can I lose weight?
Losing weight is difficult for most people. And hundreds of companies make a huge profit on the newest dieting trend or weight loss pill, although they are usually just a short term fix. Calvin Mcduffie, a Health and Wellness Coach and Founder of Guide Your Health, recommends “. . . avoiding appetite suppressants and caffeine supplements for weight loss as they don't address the cause of weight gain, a slower metabolism. Weight loss supplements such as black seed oil, CLA, prebiotics, and probiotics not only have additional benefits to overall wellness but they boost metabolism.”
Unless you understand nutrition deeply, are a doctor, or understand the molecular structure of food, which 99 percent of us don’t, this is the most basic explanation for why your body is gaining or losing weight:
If you want to lose weight, you need to eat below your BMR(Basal Metabolic Rate) calories and if you want to gain weight, you need to eat above your BMR calories. (NoobGains.com)
This may seem redundant, but this principle is so simple, yet so underappreciated.
Your body will either take fats, carbs, or proteins your body has in reserves and turn it into energy, or it will store fats, carbs, or proteins that are left over each day. If you eat less than your body needs it will burn your reserves of fats, carbs, and proteins and you will lose weight. If it has extra fats, carbs, or proteins at the end of the day, you will gain weight.
You hear of diets that require you to eat very little or restrict a particular food or nutrient. Although some of these diets are good and add needed nutrients to help with heart health and metabolism strength, be careful because some of these restrictive diets can be very dangerous.
Our diets consist of eating a certain amount of carbs, proteins, and fats. These all are forms of energy that we call calories. You need a certain amount of energy to survive and keep your body functioning properly.
You’ve probably heard that a basic diet consists of 2,000 calories a day. Although this is true for a specific few, odds are your body is different than the person sitting next to you, and your metabolism is probably different too.
The number of calories your metabolism will burn in a day is found through the Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. Your body will burn the food you supply it with daily, and if it needs more, it will grab from your carbohydrate reserves, fat reserves, or protein reserves. As your body turns these reserves to energy, you will lose weight.
Rachel Fiske, a certified Personal Trainer and certified Nutritionist for Family Living Today, explains “BMR refers to basal metabolic rate, and is essentially how well your metabolism is functioning. It specifically means how much energy your body burns while at rest, just carrying out vital activities like digestion, circulation, etc…. If things are slow or not functioning well, weight gain, weight loss resistance, and even chronic diseases can follow.”
You can find your BMR in a couple different ways. Olyvia DuSold, owner of AlignMii explains how to get an exact measurement:
“For your BMR to actually be tested you would go into a lab like setting, have your body composition measured (so how much of your weight is fat, how much is bones, and how much is muscle), make sure that your body is done digesting (because that takes up a surprising amount of energy, on average 10% of your total daily expenditure), placed in a warm room (so your body doesn’t have to fight so hard to keep warm), all while being in a physically and psychologically rested state(aka no movement and no thought processes that bring on stress or excited emotions). These are the strict criteria that people need to experience to honestly test their BMR.”
For those wanting to truly know their exact metabolic rate, going to a lab is the best way to find your BMR. The majority of us, however, will use the Harris-Benedict equation.
To calculate your BMR using this equation:
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in years )
This final number is about the number of calories your body turns into energy daily without exercise for the average person. If you are more active your body will need more sustenance. You can track the number of calories you burn in exercise through apps, smartwatches, or exercise machines.
If you want to stay the same weight, eat that amount of calories. Eating a lot less than your BMR can be dangerous, but is how some unhealthy diets companies have made their fortune.
Eating significantly more than your BMR can also cause strain on a body, creating heart problems, type 2 diabetes, or other health-related issues.
To lose a pound a week requires someone to cut 500 calories from their diet daily or 3,500 calories a week. This can come from eating less, exercising more, or a combination of the two.
To gain a pound a week, your body will need to eat 500 calories more than your daily diet or 3,500 calories a week. This can come from eating foods high in calories.
BMR is a rough estimate but is pretty accurate. Beverly Friedmann, a manager for a ReviewingThis, who focuses on the health and beauty departments says, “A person with a naturally higher metabolism and thyroid function will naturally burn off more calories per day than a person of the same BMI metrics and activity levels. Younger people who are still growing tend to burn calories at a faster rate... and all of these factors connect with faster levels of weight loss (all other factors equal).”
BMR is the best way we have found to quickly find how fast or slow your metabolism works, but of course, it is not a perfect algorithm. As you test the numbers this equation gives you, and as you continually update your BMR each time you lose or gain a few pounds, you will continue to trend in the desired direction.
Can’t I just eat less?
Just like any diet, even just eating less has some concerns that should be addressed to ensure that people are losing weight in a healthy way. Eating less will help you lose weight, but it may also cause serious issues if you are not being smart and paying attention to your body. To make healthy adjustments to your diet, pay attention to these three factors:
- Metabolic rate
- Food choices
- Fat/muscle ratio
Realize your metabolism changes with weight, height, and age. Remember your BMR is a combination of those three things and so updating your BMR often is really important.
Calvin McDuffie, from Guide Your Health, adds some insight into why it seems we have to eat less to stay the same weight as we age:
“A calorie is a measurement of heat and energy, the same heat we use to "burn fat" or have a "hotter" metabolism. When our metabolism is hotter, we absorb the nutrients from our foods and excrete the waste at a faster pace. Every year we are past our pubescent years, our metabolism begins to "cool off" or "slow down.”
Make sure to continually update your BMR whenever you lose weight, have a birthday, or grow in height.
Eating foods that help our metabolism work faster is a great way to lose weight. If your metabolism is slow, eating less won’t help it start moving faster, it will just slow down more. Having a combination of both eating less and eating healthy is important in weight loss. Ben Tzeel, a weight loss and diabetes management specialist, asked this simple question, “Why [would your metabolism] burn at a rate of 1800 calories per day when you're only taking in 1200 calories? Eventually [your metabolism, will] get down to 1200 calories burned per day, hence weight loss plateaus.”
To ensure that your body is continually losing weight, eat healthy foods that boost your metabolism.
Caleb Backe, Elliott Upton, Rachel Fiske, and Tracee Gluhaich, all health professionals in the field, share vitamins or nutrients that have been shown to help in weight loss:
- Omega 3 fish oil — reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and minimize fat storage, while improving cell health to optimize the utilization of stored fatty acids.
- Vitamin D — helps your body better absorb other key nutrients, reduce inflammation, and increase insulin sensitivity.
- Vitamin B6 — improves how your body uses energy from protein and carbohydrates and optimizes the absorption of amino acids which are key to muscle building and recovery.
- Other Vitamin B supplement — helps your body metabolize all your macronutrients and use stored energy.
- Glucomannan — a type of fiber taken in supplement form that has been shown to support satiety and perhaps weight loss.
- Probiotics — helps reduce fat mass.
- Magnesium — improves sleep quality which leads to less inflammation, lower stress hormones, better insulin sensitivity, and improved recovery, performance, and appetite regulation.
- Zinc — necessary for improving thyroid health and neurotransmitter production and function. It also supports testosterone production which in turn creates the conditions for better muscle building, fat burning, rest and recovery, and performance output in the gym.
- Black seed oil — Also known as Nigella sativa oil, black cumin seed oil, or kalonji oil this oil can be used in cooking and helps in many ways but especially in boosting your metabolism.
- CLA — naturally occurring nutrients found in fatty acids in meat and dairy products can improve metabolism.
For those who only care about the number on the scale, this section will not pertain to you. But another key aspect to consider as you are dieting is this: although you are losing weight, what type of weight are you losing? Fat or muscle? Elliott Upton, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, proposes, “If you eat less than [your BMR], you will start to lose tissue of some kind, preferably fat, but it's most likely muscle if there is no demand put on the body to retain muscle mass.”
A key issue with those trying to lose weight by eating less is that they are losing the wrong type of weight. But if you eat less as you work out, your body will keep the muscle and burn the fat.
The sad truth behind restrictive diets
Doing any diet that is meant to help you lose more than two pounds a week falls under the restrictive category.
Restrictive diets work because they require you to eat less than your BMR, often to an unhealthy amount. Although these diets work fast, they might not be the best for your sustained growth or nutrition goals.
Kim Melton, a registered dietitian and owner of www.nutritionprocensulting.com, explains the major issue with trying to lose more than two pounds a week: “Losing weight at a rate of more than two pounds per week has been shown to cause an increase in weight gain over time.”
Eating too little, which is often the case with restrictive diets, can cause your body to go into starvation mode. Starvation mode is the most significant issue with restrictive diets. Often these diets require you to eat thousands of calories less than your BMR causing you to lose weight fast, but it is also a sure way to gain it all back the second you finish your diet.
Jennifer Smith, owner of Joy Energy Nutrition and a registered dietitian, cautions,
“There are physical and psychological negative effects that can occur from restrictive dieting. Physically, your body thinks that you are starving. If you are being too restrictive on calories or certain food groups your body could start breaking down protein and actually storing more fat when you start eating again making it more difficult to lose weight. People who are involved in yo-yo dieting or weight cycling have a larger risk of premature death and heart disease. Restrictive dieting causes you to ignore your natural body signals of hunger and satiety. It can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder as well as erode your self-confidence.”
Libby Parker, MS, RD who specializes in eating disorders linked restrictive diets to malnutrition, organ failure, social isolation, and sudden cardiac death.
When your body is in starvation mode, it grabs everything that it is given and hurries to store it. Your body does this to survive, but your body can’t break the reserves down fast enough to power the functions of the body in order to run properly. In essence, doing these types of diets will not allow you to think, act, or be yourself. This is why many people starting big diets are grumpy, reactive, or slow.
The second you stop these extreme diets, your body will stay in starvation mode. It will continue to store the fats, proteins, and carbs instead of using them.
Restrictive diets cause you to gain your weight back extremely fast. Because of this, companies who promote these diets will often keep their clientele for years. Their customers will often make statements like, "This diet is the only one that works for me. I lost 30 pounds in a month!” Then they become forever customers, crawling back every six months after they have gained back all of their weight.
Although other safer diets take more time, they also aren't hurting your body the way these restrictive diets do. Other diets are designed to keep weight off indefinitely.
Taking 500 calories out of your daily calorie intake may seem like a lot, but 500 calories is only a large fry at McDonald's. Just take out a side dish at two of your meals, or eat a few bites less at each meal and you will easily hit your goal of eating less.
This is the real truth behind dieting. Eating less is perhaps the easiest way to start losing weight. You don’t have to be a health expert, a gym rat, or a nutritionist to start losing weight and keep it off.
Listening to your body is also important. Dieting should be about your overall wellness. It is not supposed to be about the numbers on the scale. Rather than paying attention to the number on the scale, concentrate on how your body feels day in and day out. These restrictive diets are unhealthy and hurt your body in the long run.
If you're looking to lose weight, make sure that the diet you choose is about eating healthy, eating less, and is not restricting you in a dangerous way.
Disclaimer: Always consult a doctor before making serious changes to your diet or lifestyle.