Basic Training…and Diet (Part 2)

This time around, we’re going to lay down some general rules for dieting. I won’t be pretentious and call them the Ten Commandments or anything ridiculous like that. These are a collection of what I think are the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last 4 years about dieting. Some were given to me, some were learned the hard way.

Rule 1: Fat doesn’t make you fat. People have this weird tendency to believe that eating dietary fat is what makes people gain weight. This just isn’t true. Gaining weight is (for our purposes) a function of calories in vs calories out. Eat more than you burn, you gain weight. Doesn’t matter if it’s protein, carbohydrates, fat, or alcohol…the 4 macronutrient groups. Dietary fats are actually healthy if you consume the right kinds in the right amounts. Mmmmm Fat! is an article that can explain it all much better than I ever could.

Rule 2: Flexibility is good. Being really strict on a diet will always backfire. Being too relaxed on a diet will always backfire. Success is about finding the sweet spot between the two. Obviously, you can’t do whatever the hell you want, that’s what put you wherever you are now. If you were getting what you wanted, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. I will go into this more when I discuss actually setting up a diet. Sometimes, what you’re doing stops working and you’ll need to tweak things. Have the flexibility to recognize this and adjust as you need to.

Rule 3: Pay for food with food, not with exercise. We already said that weight gain is a matter of calories in vs calories out. Guess what…it works the other way too! Eat less than you use and you’ll lose weight. There are two ways to create this deficit. Either you can exercise constantly or eat less. Eating less will always be a superior way to create a caloric deficit. You can create a larger deficit and be more efficient in your fat loss than through exercise alone.

Rule 4: Weight loss is not necessarily fat loss. Lots of things can happen when dieting to make the scale move. Losing water weight is usually a major first step. A pound of body fat contains right around 3500kCal worth of energy. A pound of muscle contains about 600kCal. If you create a deficit of 500kCal per day, you’d expect to lose a pound of fat at the end of the week, right? The possibility is good that, if you’ve dropped more than a pound, you’ve burned off a shitload of muscle as well as some fat. This is why the scale is a horrible way to judge progress. We’ll talk about this too when it’s time to set up the diet.

Rule 5: Eating many small meals is unnecessary. This is a myth that really needs to die. There is no metabolic advantage or any other reason to do this beyond it being a comfort and convenience issue. In fact, some people (myself included) use what’s called an Intermittent Fasting diet protocol where most of the day is spent not eating and the entire day’s intake is consumed in a relatively short period of time. We’ll talk about doing that later too. Personally, I use a 21 hour fasting period with a 3 hour feed. After almost 8 months as of this writing, it feels like a natural way to go.

Rule 6: Fresh, whole foods are king. Fresh produce and meats will always be superior to processed garbage in every way. Different colors of fruits and vegetables indicate different amounts of lots of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Cleaning up your diet will also teach you to enjoy food more. Once your system is rid of all the nasty junk you’ve been stuffing down your face, your taste buds will open up and let you appreciate the subtleties of actual food.

Rule 7: Learn to love water. For God’s sake, stop drinking your calories. Water is the BEST thing you can do for yourself. Minimum of a half gallon of water per day. That’s 64oz…but drink more if you can. I bet a lot of people drink more soda, Gatorade, or anything else that contains calories. Water not only keeps you hydrated but larger amounts of water will rid you of bloat. Your body retains water when it thinks it’s not getting enough. By staying overhydrated, your body will not retain as much. It’s a pretty simple concept. You’ll also keep your stomach fuller which will keep your satiety mechanism triggered. As an added bonus, by drinking it ice cold, your body will expend a few extra calories per day warming it up. At the end of a diet, every little bit helps. Don’t be afraid of “water poisoning”. The chances of that happening are ridiculously small. Most people would vomit before that electrolyte imbalance caused death.

Rule 8: Keep a clear goal in mind and plan ahead. Maybe you ultimately want to lose 25lbs. Remember it, keep a clear image in your mind about it, and weigh in/measure up/take pictures every 2 weeks or so. You may not notice a difference being made but, if you’re doing everything right, you’re progressing. Break your long term goal into multiple short term goals. Smaller pieces make things much easier to deal with. In addition, by planning things out, you’ll be a lot more likely to stick to them. Take an hour one day a week and plan out your meals. Trust me, it’s easier on you to figure it out ahead of time than to stand in front of the fridge when you’re hungry and clueless.

Rule 9: Mind over matter. Losing weight sucks. The process is hard. The up side is that, once you get to the end of the road, you don’t even think about it. Rather than thinking about how much it sucks while you’re doing it, keep the mental image of what you’re going to look and feel like when you’ve reached your goal. Whenever you start to feel bad, call up that image. Let yourself feel how you’ll feel when people compliment you on how great you look.

Rule 10: Keep it going. Once you get to the end and have hit your goal, you can either go back to doing what you were doing (and get fat again), or you can take the new lifestyle you’ve created and let yourself enjoy some of the things you used to. If your clothes start getting tight again, time to rein it in and get things back under control.

These rules are what make the most sense to me and are the best pieces of advice I can give someone who doesn’t have the slightest clue where to start with weight loss. I’ve given this list to many people. The ones that listen usually succeed and the ones that don’t…well…