Most people have no idea where to start when it comes to creating a fat loss diet. There is so much information out there, and often times the information is conflicting, making it quite difficult to determine what steps to take.
If you’ve been eating healthy – focusing on protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats for several months – but you still haven’t seen any changes in your weight or physique, you’re in for a life changer.
First, let me emphasize that your age, gender, and lifestyle must be accounted for when designing any dietary plan, so don’t interpret these steps as strict rules to follow. The following are general guidelines to help you ask yourself the right questions, and then go about creating a plan that fits your needs:
1) Know how many calories you’re consuming
What determines weight loss or weight gain is your total caloric balance for the day. There are 3 possible scenarios – the amount of calories you eat daily is equivalent to the amount of calories your body burns per day (a caloric maintenance = weight maintenance); the amount of calories you eat daily is greater than the amount of calories your body burns per day (a caloric surplus = weight gain); or the amount of calories you eat daily is less than the amount of calories your body burns per day (a caloric deficit = weight loss).
If you want to lose weight, you have to know how much you’re eating. I recommend purchasing a digital food scale since is it the most precise and affordable measuring tool you can use. Most foods have nutritional values on the packaging; though, you need to account for how much you’re actually consuming. By using a digital scale, you can learn TWO key things:
- How much an actual serving size is-by weighing the food, and comparing it to the serving size given on the label, you now know how much a true serving is.
- By knowing a serving size, you can then easily determine how many calories you are eating.
Let’s use hummus as an example. According to the nutritional label,1 ounce (28 grams) of hummus is equal to 70 calories.
Some basic math would give us the following numbers:
1 serving=28 grams of hummus=70 calories
2 serving=56 grams of hummus=140 calories
3 servings=84 grams of hummus=210 calories
So if we double a serving, double the calories; triple a serving, triple the calories, so on and so forth.
The time when this is might get confusing is if we take an odd amount of hummus, say 80 grams. How do we calculate that?
We simply divide and multiply using a very simple formula:
(Your serving size) divided by (serving size on label) and then multiply by the listed calories per serving.
80 grams of hummus /28 grams=2.8 servings
2.8 servings x 70 calories=200 calories
If you know serving size, it becomes very easy to estimate calories. If say you wanted to eat 200 calories of Hummus, that would be about 3 servings. 150 calories would be about 2 servings. Whatever number of calories you have allotted towards a food, you can readily estimate how much you can eat by knowing a normal serving, and then doing a little multiplying or dividing to decide on how much you are going to eat.
For the foods that don’t have nutritional labeling, you can use a website like CalorieKing or an app like MyFitnessPal, which was recently purchased by Under Armour. All you need to do is plug in the food and the amount to get the caloric value.
2) The majority of your calories should come from whole unprocessed foods
What you’re eating is very important but not because certain foods have some inherent magical characteristics that will help you pack on muscle, lose fat, or tone up; the reason is because unprocessed whole foods are often lower in calories than junk food, and are high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are needed for energy, health, and your overall well-being. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Good Protein Sources (1 gram = 4 calories)
Egg beaters/egg whites
Dairy products (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or skim, 1%, or 2% milk)
Tuna and fish
Chicken breast and lean ground beef
Deli meat (turkey, roast beef, ham)
Whey protein powder
Good Carbohydrates Sources (1 gram = 4 calories)
Grains (rice, oatmeal, bread, pasta)
Fruit and vegetables
Starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes)
Good Fats Sources (1 gram = 9 calories)
Now, in order to maintain your weight, you need an approximate estimation of your required caloric intake. The easiest equation for this is the following:
Weight (lbs) x 14-15 = daily maintenance calories
If your goal is muscle gain, you can either eat at a maintenance caloric level or a slight surplus (no more than 200-300 over maintenance). However, if your goal is fat loss, multiply your weight by 10-13 instead. Remember, these are estimates, and your caloric requirements may be higher or lower based on your age, gender, lifestyle, and goals.
The best plan of action is to start at the higher end of these ranges, relative to your goal, and then adjust up or down as appropriate. Monitor your weight daily in order to make objective decisions and make weekly or biweekly changes. Since your weight fluctuates throughout the week, do not dramatically increase or cut calories if your weight stays the same for a few days.
3) Set protein requirements
Proteins are the building blocks of all tissues in the body and are essential for bone, ligament, tendon, muscle, hair, teeth, and nail health. My recommendation is to eat 0.8-1g of protein per pound of your weight per day. To convert grams of proteins to calories, simply multiply this number by four (4).
4) Add omega 3 fish oil (EPA & DHA)
Some of the benefits of omega fish oils are reduced inflammation, increased HDL (the “good’ cholesterol), and decreased LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). Since they cannot be produced by the body and are essential, omega 3 oils are best consumed daily through foods or supplements. Some of the foods with the most omega 3 oils are also high in calories (like salmon and other fatty fish), so it is best to supplement with omega 3 oil or omega 3 capsules (I use Vitamin Shoppe and take 2tsp=80 calories per day). My recommendation is to consume a total of 1.8-3.0g of combined EPA and DHA per day (but don’t forget to account for the calories). I also recommend taking a daily multivitamin.
5) Once you have accounted for your daily protein and omega 3 oils, the rest of your daily calories should come from fats and carbohydrates
Let’s say you weigh 150 lbs., and you consume 1,800 calories per day on a fat loss diet. Based on your weight, 600 calories are consumed from protein, and 80 calories from omega 3 oils. You are now left with 1,120 calories per day – which should come from fats and carbohydrates. From here, choose whole, unprocessed foods you enjoy eating – not only will they provide you with the nutrients you need in order to be healthy but you will feel better overall. You should also feel free to indulge in foods that I like to call being “soul-healthy” (aka, junk food). About 10-20% of your total calories can be allotted to “soul-healthy foods” and it will not negate your fat loss efforts.
6) Structure your meal plan
This part is totally dependent upon your own preferences and lifestyle. Whether you choose to eat three big meals or six small meals per day, it makes no difference on the outcome. I would suggest structuring your meals in a way that gives you consistent energy, keeps you from feeling hungry, and works with your daily schedule. I would also encourage you to eat a meal 1-2 hours before a workout to ensure sufficient energy for performance purposes, and then no more than two hours after, making sure to include a protein source.
7) Drink your water
Most of you do not drink enough water in a day (you know who you are). Go drink two cups of water. Right now. How much water should you drink in a day? The amount varies based on the source but, on average, most medical professionals say you should drink eight 8-ounce glasses (about two liters, or half a gallon) of water per day.
8) Incorporate cardio into your weekly routine
Cardiovascular exercise reduces multiple risk factors for degenerative diseases and improves overall health and well-being. Habitual cardio also keeps your fat burning pathways open, which makes it easier for you to lose fat if you choose to do so down the road. How often you do it, the amount of time you spend on it per workout, and the type you do, all depend on the individual. however, three cardiovascular sessions per week, 20-30 minutes each, is generally recommended for most active people.
9) Assess your progress on a biweekly basis
I have found that tracking your body weight on a daily basis, measuring waist and hips circumferences while taking pictures of your front, side and back every 2 weeks, provide you with the most accurate snapshot of your progress. Sometimes the scale won’t budge but visual changes are apparent so it’s important to have several assessment tools that measure your progress and not to rely on only one. Evaluate your progress every two weeks and adjust your diet and/or fitness plan as needed. (As a side note, for most people, losing about 1% of their body weight per week is appropriate).
10) Keep at it
Now that you have the tools and know what to do and how to do it - get started and keep at it. Good luck!