Congratulations on taking the first step towards a happier, healthier, fitter version of yourself! You showed up, you are reading this article, and you are ready to get started - believe it or not, this is the hardest step!
In order for us to lose weight, we need to create a negative energy balance or calorie deficit. In other words, our energy output needs to be greater than the input. Our output includes everything that consumes energy, such as BMR (basal metabolic rate) that keeps the lights on, exercise activity, and even the thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the amount of energy our body needs to metabolise food. Now, to create the deficiency, we either increase our output, decrease our input, or in most cases, do both. When it comes to our intake though, a calorie is not just a calorie, and the food we eat makes a big difference.
What is the best way to measure success?
Well for once, we can look at BMI or Body Mass Index, which is the most standardized measurement unit that predicts the risk of developing certain health issues (insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure etc). BMI simply divides weight in kg by height in m2, and the basic rules are:
18.5-24.0 = Normal
25-29.9 = Slightly overweight
30-40 Moderately obese,
40< Severely obese (highest risk)
BMI though cannot tell the amount of body fat and its location on the body. People within the normal range can carry above ideal fat around their organs. Apart from that, muscle weighs more than fat, therefore sports performers can have a higher BMI, yet with little fat, in which case BMI is even less efficient. Waist-to-hip ratio can be a far more reliable risk indicator for cardiovascular diseases. Less than 0.9 for males and 0.8 for females indicates low risk, between 0.9-0.99 for males and 0.8-0.89 for women indicates moderate risk, while above 1 and 0.9 respectively, carries a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases.
Measuring body fat can be a more helpful way to track progress and overall health. It allows us to discover the total percentage of body fat and its location on the body (body fat distribution), which is far more accurate than BMI alone. Here what we are looking at is the excess body fat, particularly around the waist area and surrounding the internal organs, as these are key indicators of the health risks mentioned above. The safe ranges of body fat are 18-25% for women, and 12-28% for men.
The role of nutrients
Exercise can be life-changing when it comes to our generic health, but as the saying goes – you can’t outrun a bad diet! Our diet should focus on quality above all, including wholefood based and nutrient-dense meals, and cutting out processed food, sugar and other junk. Nourishing our body with the right foods will ensure that we reach a solid level of optimal health, and therefore any additional efforts – like exercise – will come with greater results.
Our body primarily uses carbs as fuel, specifically for short-term, moderate to high-intensity exercises. The sugar and starch we eat gett converted into glucose in the gut and after absorption, the liver and muscles store it in form of glycogen. It is these glycogen stores that get converted back into glucose and used as fuel. Carb intake should be optimised for the activity level of course, as any additional glucose from the food we eat gets stored in the fat cells. It is the most efficient to increase carbs on the days we work out and take it easy on rest days.
Some beneficial carbs to include in our diet are starchy foods like potatoes, squash, wholegrains like rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and wholegrain flour-based products.
Carbs are not the single source of fuel for the body – fats can be utilized as well, and it works even better for endurance-based exercises, such as long-distance running, where carbs run out quicker and therefore fat stores are needed to provide additional energy.
Recommended healthy fats to include in the diet are: seeds and nuts, avocado, cheese, eggs, full-fat yoghurt and milk, coconut oil, oily fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines).
The third important macronutrient is protein. We need protein to build and repair muscle and increase our strength, while it has roles in other bodily functions as well, such as producing enzymes, supporting the liver, bone health etc. It is a good idea to include some form of protein in every meal during the day, ideally from whole food sources that can be either animal or plant-based. Protein also increases satiety and helps to preserve lean muscle mass. The minimum amount of protein is defined by 0.8g/kg body weight, however for fat loss, we can increase this up to 2g/kg.
Some of the best high protein food sources are lean meat and poultry, dairy (milk, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese), eggs, beans, edamame and lentils, almonds, peanuts (or peanut butter) and pumpkin seeds, seafood, soy products (tofu, tempeh), some grains (quinoa, oats, buckwheat, fish (tuna, salmon).
Last but not least, we need to touch upon the crucial role of proper hydration. We (hopefully) know the importance of drinking enough water, but during and after exercise it is especially vital that we replace fluids and electrolytes that we lost due to the intense sweating. In general, how much you need to drink will depend on your exercise intensity, but it’s a good idea to sip some during the workout as well as afterwards, to avoid drinking a large amount at once. It is especially important not to start the workout dehydrated.
On any weight loss journey, it is important that you get the right support from your environment and equally - from yourself. There is no one-size-fits-all diet as we are all so unique and different! A Nutritionist can help you create the right strategy for YOU only, to achieve your goals.