So! FOOD. Eatins. What about 'em.
I have deeply personal reasons that have motivated me to do some important research on food, nutrition, and the best habits that make up a healthy lifestyle as a whole. And by "important research", I mean that I read about it a lot on the internet. Oh, and I've also acquired a book written by this really fit Venezuelan nutritionist/personal trainer that calls herself Sascha fitness about food and exercise and how to get super hot. Or healthy or something.
Anyway, this deep, long journey of googling stuff on the internet and following fitness accounts on instagram has given me a few key elements to take into consideration when crafting my weekly meal plan and/or standing in front of the fridge and trying to convince myself against eating cold leftover noodles with ketchup.
The first thing I learned when trying to get to a healthy weight was that, yes, you lose weight when you have a caloric deficit. That is, when your daily intake of calories is less than your daily expenditure. Your daily expenditure (the amount of calories you burn per day) is mostly defined by your basal metabolic rate, which is, again, a consequence of genetics, body composition and various other factors (most of them, out of your control). A man is said to have a BMR of around 2000 calories per day, while a woman averages around 1500 calories. So, in order to lose weight, you would need to consume less calories than the amount you're burning. By this logic, you could be eating two standard Big Macs a day (clocking at around 1100 calories) and lose weight, right? Yeah, maybe, but more on this later.
After learning the whole calorie deficit thing I started doing what a lot of people do when trying to control their daily calorie intake: I started counting calories. Back in the day I had a little notebook where I would scramble the detail of what I ate in a day, and then look up the amount of calories and add them up. Nowadays, there are numerous apps that help you do that easily (I use MyFitnessPal), and even have bar code scanners to help you log food faster.
For the longest time I based my diet on conventional wisdom and diets I found online: I tried limiting my fat intake, tried to eat more fruit and vegetables, fat-free dairy, and whole grains. To be honest, I was feeling okay with that until I learned about macronutrients.
The energy (calories) we get from our food can be grouped in three main categories of macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. These macronutrients have very different purposes in our body. Carbohydrates, for instance, work as fuel, giving us quick energy to think and function. Protein also gives us energy, but its main function is building muscle and tissue. Fat has numerous functions as well. Each macronutrient also has a different calorie content: 1 gram of carbohydrates or protein equal 4 calories, while 1 gram of fat equals 9 calories.
Anyway, the way our daily diet is structured in regards to macronutrients is very telling. While I thought I was doing great with my diet, I also struggled a lot to keep weight down, was constantly hungry and craving starchy foods, and felt like I had to keep cutting and cutting calories to lose weight. I logged what I ate in a day, and what I found was that in terms of macronutrient distribution, my diet was extremely high in carbohydrates, low in protein and almost null in fats. I was eating a diet where 85% of the calories would come from carbs, 10% from protein and a mere 5% from fats. It became obvious that my protein and fat intake were lacking. So, I tweaked my diet in order to get a different macronutrient distribution. Increasing my protein intake and adjusting carbohydrates and fats has allowed me to keep a healthy weight, while feeling satiated and with greater energy. It's also helped me eat more without gaining weight.
Do you even macro, bro?
This is where things get more confusing. In my particular case, I've figured out that what works for me is a diet where proteins represent 40% of my daily intake, 35% should come from fats and 25% from carbohydrates. This can be worked out into calories or grams. I've told you that each gram of protein equals around 4 calories. So, if we were to take a person whose daily intake is of 1500 calories, the distribution above would mean that this person would have to eat, each day, around 150 grams worth of protein, 58 grams worth of fat, and 93 grams of carbohydrates. This is what we call the macronutrient distribution, and it depends on each different body and each particular goal.
On the basis of this thinking, some people have adopted an eating plan that is called "flexible dieting", also known as "if it fits your macros" (IIFYM). The idea behind it is that one does not have to restrict any kind of food, as long as what they eat falls into what they have set as their macronutrient goals.
Macronutrients, as we've seen, group every kind of food into the three main groups. In this sense, three Oreo cookies have the same amount of carbohydrates (25 g) as one single apple does. If we were to follow the IIFYM rules, you can easily interchange these two items, as long as you're controlling not to exceed your daily macro goals. People following this eating plan claim that it allows them to keep lean while eating chocolate bars, cookies, bacon, or this kind of thing.
To start with this eating plan, your first step would be to identify your daily calorie needs, and then adjusting them to your macronutrient distribution. Following a "flexible dieting" plan also requires you to be extremely careful about logging every single piece of food you ingest, to avoid exceeding any of your macronutrient goals, which makes it a little less than practical.
IIFYM also does not take into account some very important nutrients, which are micronutrients (ie vitamins and minerals). These are more abundant in fresh, natural foods like vegetables, fruits and grains, and not so much in processed food. So, if you are to adopt this kind of eating habit, it is important to be aware that 25 grams of carbohydrates in the form of Oreos are not the same as 25 grams of carbohydrates in the form of an apple. The quality of the food you eat will impact on how you feel, even if your weight is ideal.
I do not log the beer I drink. It is free of calories and made of magic fairy dust that makes me happy. Don't log your beer.
Just as an example, below are the macros for a standard breakfast before and after I started logging macros:
Macros: 71 g carbohydrates / 16 g fat / 19 g protein
Chocolate oatmeal pancake, made with
- 4 egg whites
- 1/3 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
- 1/4 cup wheat bran
- 1 tbsp ground flax seed
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tbsp natural peanut butter
Macros: 31 g carbohydrates / 14 g fat / 30 g protein
Bonus: If I close my eyes real hard and pretend it almost tastes like I'm having cake for breakfast