Diets. There are literally THOUSANDS of diet books out there and they all promise to get people lean and healthy in the fastest or best way possible. There is a massive range of advice between all of them and often times they are at odds with each other. Some diets are low carb and high fat while others are low fat and high carb. Some are high in animal protein while others are plant based or vegan. You can find a diet that has you drinking celery juice and there are others that have you drinking cabbage juice. There are diets based on how people in the Mediterranean eat and there are others based on how people in Okinawa or how Seventh Day Adventist eat. All of them are different and all of them promise the same thing. Fast and effective results. Which one is best? Are they all wrong or are they all right or is there an in between?
From a fitness professional perspective the diet advice category of the fitness industry is incredibly frustrating. Most of these diets are designed to simply sell books or supplements. Some of them are better than others but none of them have all the answers. This is because, although there are some general rules with nutrition, there is also a massive individual variance with how people respond and adhere to different diets. Your physical body’s physiology is unique and so are your experiences with food and how you perceive food, all of which determine how successful you may or may not be with a particular diet.
That all being said there is one thing you simply have to do if your goal is to lose body fat. You MUST consume less calories than you burn. Any diet will not work if you are eating more than you can burn. Period.
So, although it’s important to eat a diet that contains an adequate amount of proteins and fats (both essential), that also covers all of your micronutrient requirements and is a diet that is healthy for YOUR body, it’s equally or MORE important to figure out a long-term strategy to avoid over eating. Eating foods that promote overeating, regardless of how healthy they are greatly increases the odds that you will eat too many calories. In other words, you are more likely to FAIL.
If I could only give one piece of advice to anyone in regards to nutrition, it would be this: AVOID heavily processed foods. Aside from the fact that they are typically not very healthy (although not always), heavily processed foods are radically ENGINEERED to hijack your body’s natural systems of satiety. In other words, these foods are designed to make you WANT to overeat.
Heavily processed foods are typically foods that are found in boxes or wrappers and they usually have long shelf lives. Think chips, cookies, muffins, cereal, bread products etc. They are many steps away from their natural selves. Most of the money that goes into these foods goes into their PALATABILITY. Palatability refers to the hedonistic reward you get from food. It’s the “pleasure” aspect. This includes everything that makes food truly enjoyable including its taste, the mouth feel, its smell, the color and visual appeal, the sound the food makes when you bite into it, the foods packaging and MUCH more. Lots of money has been spent researching and figuring out how to make foods irresistible. This has resulted in foods that literally make you want more EVEN WHEN you are full.
When you eat natural foods, your body will usually tell you when it’s had enough, but this signal is short circuited with heavily processed foods. Consider the following: if you were presented with 2000 calories of plain white baked potato without salt or butter and you were challenged to eat all of them within 30 minutes, do you think you could? It’s highly unlikely. Most people would get through 2-4 potatoes and start to gag as palate fatigue kicked in. Now, if the challenge was to eat 2000 calories of potato chips, how well do you think you would do? It would be EASY to eat them all and it would likely happen in half the time allotted. We’ve all experienced being full from a big dinner but then suddenly finding the gusto to eat dessert.
The most effective and, in my opinion, most simple single step anyone can do to lose body fat is restricting or eliminating heavily processed foods. In my experience, this single step is easier and more effective than others. To be clear eliminating all heavily processed foods is not ALL you will eventually need to do for optimal health nor is it a miracle fat loss cure. But it will result in clear fat loss for most people as their natural systems of appetite and satiety become more accurate and it usually results in a generally healthier diet due to the fact that eating a whole foods diet usually means more vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds and unprocessed meats.
By drastically reducing or eliminating heavily processed foods you will manage the most difficult aspect of any fat loss or health journey, your food cravings and appetite. Imagine if your natural appetite directed you to eating appropriate amounts of food? That’s what tends to happen with a whole natural food-based diet.
It’s also important to note than changing ANY behavior isn’t easy. Reducing or eliminating heavily processed foods is still a challenge. If your current diet is high in these processed foods then your brain has gotten used to their engineered palatability. This means whole natural foods may taste boring and bland at first. This is because your brain has adapted to the pleasure signals that engineered foods send. Once you stay away from the foods for long enough (usually a month or so) you will find your brain and body adapt so that whole natural foods begin to taste better and you will start to slowly lose your processed food cravings.
Give yourself 60 days. Cut out heavily processed foods and don’t worry about anything else. Don’t count calories or macros and just eat naturally. Make sure to simply listen to your body and eat when hungry and stop when satisfied. Most of you will notice some measurable fat loss and overall improvements in well-being.