Whatever diet you are on is based on some sort of caloric restriction, some will even attempt to guess at what your daily caloric burn would be but I do not think that I have ever heard of one system that suggests what I am about to suggest. Firstly let’s assume you have attempted to address inflammation in your body, even if you are not restricting calories at all you can significantly address your weight by addressing the level of fluids your body is holding. Truthfully this is a lifelong process and unless you are extremely lean you are simply starting late, it does not mean you should not start at all. You can significantly affect your health right now, so why not start?
Which brings me to my big suggestion
Why would you want to know how little you can eat? Would it not stand to reason that if you compromise your energy intake you would also compromise your energy output? So let’s assume you have started to make some changes, you are eating healthy fats, more vegetables and some fruits. What I am going to suggest is that you should eat as much of them as possible and this is the one instance where the scale will help you. Here is what I want you to do. To start this process weigh yourself in the morning and whatever that weight is we are going to try and pack in as many healthy nutrients into your body daily with the end goal being to simply weigh that same amount. This differs for men and women, for men I suggest a week, for women I suggest two weeks. The reason for the difference is simple, women retain water differently than men unrelated to food intake. Also if you view this as a way to gorge on pizza and ice cream you are missing the point of the exercise. By the way, speaking of exercise do as much of it as you feel, there is no restriction at all, in fact, intaking more energy (food) should fuel your want to be more active. Also, if you lose five pounds you did it wrong. If you gain five pounds you really did it wrong.
Yes this does mean you will have to track your foods for this time using a site like Fitday.com, Myfitnesspal.com or Fatsecret.com. All work in a similar manner and have mobile options. Also people think they eat more of a variety than they tend to eat, what you will find is that you eat the same foods over and over so the logging should not be that big of a hassle. Besides, other than re-establishing your maintenance calories for a higher activity level you will not have to count calories going forward.
Simply check in with the scale occasionally to see if you are on track. The mirror also can be helpful in this respect. Most of us know the days where we get off track a bit and consume more than a few of the items we should avoid. Let me give you a few examples I have learned doing this (my most recent one was 2895 a day, I was really mad at myself that I did not maintain 3,000 calories a day, oh well, there is always next time).
I suppose I should mention why this is important because it is not to just eat unrestricted, the exercise is to point out that the calories you can take in daily are often a lot higher than you think, especially when you rely less on energy dense foods for nutrition (think snack foods). Also once you determine what your “maintenance calories” are in an unrestricted state it gives you a much clearer path to weight loss because you realize that losing pounds is as simple as just not eating sunflower seeds for a month (300 calories a day multiplied 30 is almost 3 pounds).
Here are some tips to think about
1. Every carbohydrate that you take in requires your body to store fluid, it is one of the reasons ice cream makes you so damn thirsty. What this does not mean is to avoid carbs altogether but if you have an excessively high carb day and the scale moves a couple of pounds simply be more conscious of carbs the following day and prioritize fats (in balance) and proteins. Obviously any day higher in sugars can move the scale causing anyone to panic, that is unnecessary, a reasonable amount of carbs the following day will allow your body to release that fluid. Remember that the majority of your carbs are coming from vegetables and fruit.
2. Let’s assume you do not eat wild caught salmon every single day, if this is the case you need to be conscious of your fats as well. So all meat proteins high in Omega 3’s are gold as well as grass fed beef, if these are not options go lean. Also be careful on nut butters, they tend to be high in Omega 6’s and also very energy dense. You should always try to get your Omega 3’s from real food but most people can not, this is why I strongly recommend daily Omega 3’s from fish oil.
3. Take in the a good amount of your carbs around your workout and the rest in the evening. I realize this is contrary to everything everyone has been told for a long time but this trick works for a bunch of reasons. When you save your carbs for the end of the day you naturally eat more fats starting the day, this provides your body with a more stable energy source. Carbs also make you sleepy so you tend to be less fatigued. Did I mention that carbs make you sleepy? Oh yeah, because when you go to bed you will sleep great and you will be full. This is important in many ways but when you sleep better it is favorable is it relates to fat mobilization so you retain less water.
4. Rely less on energy dense foods like snacks for your nutrition early in the day mostly because they are easy to overeat. My strategy is just to keep them out of the house altogether. That way when it’s time to eat I make a meal rather than graze on foods higher in calories. While yes I do eat them I at least have to be inconvenienced to go get them and often times I just eat the good food that is in my house. If you are not relying on snack foods for energy you may be surprised at the amount of foods you will be able to consume. If you are looking for additional tips we have a Recipes and Nutrition forum in the Science Lab.
Preparation, Performance and Precision
The three p’s. I often argue for preparation over precision but knowing your actual maintenance calories without restricting your activity is very enlightening. Performance is different for everyone, for some people it might just be enough to walk more, others might feel motivated to start lifting weights or jogging. No matter what they all may have a role in your journey but I suspect if you are like me and you can focus on them in the order I am presenting you will enjoy your journey a lot more. Counting every calorie for life is not something most people want to do so as an alternative making sure there are fresh cut vegetables in the house and time allotted for activity probably makes more sense for most people. If you want to count calories do it the opposite way, now that you have calculated the values of the foods that you eat for a week or month simply find some of the foods that you can either reduce or be rid of for a short time, earlier I mentioned sunflower seeds, when I am looking to lose a few pounds the seeds have to go.