The Simple First Step to Start Losing Fat
By Justin Kaseman CPT
The most common goal us personal trainers hear is “I want to lose some extra body fat” whether it be for health reasons or to get that summer beach body. The problem is that there are so many different things that go into fitness: working out, cardiovascular activity, what when and how much you eat, and even sleep. All of these matter, but the most important part of burning your belly is to tackle the energy is coming in: Nutrition. The largest mistake most Americans make is to overeat. It’s not even eating too large of portions (which is common), but also chowing down on the extremely calorie dense foods that are all around us. These things are engrained in our American culture from the bigger is better mentality to the tasty foods we enjoy. So how do you manage Nutrition on your own easily and effectively? Be accountable for your diet: record what you eat in a free food tracking application such as MyFitnessPal www.myfitnesspal.com
Don’t get me wrong, eating healthy food is very important for general health, but in terms of fat loss watching the calorie content is what matters more. Let’s break it down further. Food is used to power your body. Your body stores broken down food as fat so it has reserves of energy in case of later food shortage (let’s call it Zombie Apocalypse weight). Now there are a variety of factors (the hormones leptin and insulin, the type of food, metabolism) that go into how much energy is stored but let’s keep it short and simple. Here are the 3 key steps to taking control of your Nutrition:
1. TO LOSE WEIGHT YOU MUST BE IN A CALORIE DEFICIT
The first step is to understand the concept “Calories in vs. Calories out”. Let’s do some numbers:
- 1 lb of fat is equal to 3500 calories
- There are 7 days in a week
- If you eat 500 calories a day under what you use as energy you will lose a pound per week.
The total equation is easier to visualize as a balancing scale:
The Calories Out side should be more than the Calories In side
Now notice I did not say one pound of fat. That is because Calories in vs. Calories out is a gross oversimplification. Hormonal factors and the exercise that stimulates them dictate what your body uses as energy in a calorie deficit. Also remember all those other factors I mentioned above? Those go into the equation too. We use this over simple concept to build the idea that it is important to monitor calorie intake.
2. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR ENERGY BALANCE
The next step is to actually apply the previous concept day to day. Luckily these days we have technology to do this for us. Instead of writing out the arithmetic of food labels out by hand there are dozens of free applications on your phone or browser to assist in recording your day-to-day progress. It is simple and quick; I promise:
· Plug in your weight, height, and activity level and the program will estimate your calorie expenditure in a day. No it isn’t going to be perfect, but the idea is to get a ballpark.
· Set the program to your weight loss (or gain) goal and it will do the math of how many calories to eat in one day
· After or during your meal take the 1-2 minutes to plug in what you ate and how much of it.
· Once you are getting close to your daily limit or for your final meal of the day record before you eat so that you stay at your goal
If your food doesn’t have a label just type in the general food and pick something that sounds right. As you use the program more it will be easier to find the closest entry. It is important to record even if you are going out to eat! Just plug in an estimate. Also to note is food labels are not always 100% accurate, but we are just going for an estimate to get us close.
3. TRACK MACRONUTRIENTS INSTEAD OF CALORIES
Once you have mastered counting the calorie the next step is to look one level deeper. The phrase “A calorie is a calorie” does not hold much weight anymore. Food is more than just its energy composition. Different foods have specialized purposes in the body and their own effects on your hormones. Fortunately, food tracking applications also track macronutrients and will give recommended targets for each one (though having custom set goals is recommended).
Here is a simplified run-down of each macronutrient:
Carbohydrates: The body’s preferred fuel source [4 calories/gram]
Protein: Used to build and repair body tissue[4 calories/gram]
Lipids: Store of energy, physiological processes, and hormone function [9 calories/gram]
Each of these macronutrients is important in their own way. As you can see above both Carbohydrates and Protein are 4 calories to a gram and fat is 9 calories to a gram. This is one reason fatty foods get a bad reputation; they are very calorie dense. Once you understand these numbers your diet can be monitored by macronutrients alone. This concept has been named “If It Fits In Your Macros” or abbreviated IIFYM. The general concept is to forget everything about nutrition and just try to hit those macronutrient goals. It is another one of those oversimplified ways of handling nutrition that doesn’t show the deeper picture (such as different types of macronutrients/food, micronutrients, fiber, water, nutrient timing), BUT by just applying the basics you can get a majority of the intended results.
By spending 5 minutes a day to use a free food log application to follow your calories or macronutrients you can keep yourself accountable for what you eat and get the results you want (like being your own Nutrition personal trainer!)