There are a lot of diets and nutrition plans in the world, and as a trainer of over 21 years, I can tell you that I have seen a LOT of them come and go! As I write this from the airport in Austin, Texas, I am fresh off a conference of ‘micro’ gym owners.
Speaking at the conference was Dr. Trevor Kashey – a Phd in microbiology and pretty much the smartest man I have ever met in the world of nutrition. On stage he spoke about a great many myths and controversies and one overall concept struck me the most. It is something I speak on a lot and is worth mentioning once again.
The number one thing that people ask me is how to lose body fat. That occurs way more than those seeking a healthy lifestyle or those lean folks who wish to gain muscle. The most common thing I hear lately is people stating, “This is the most overweight I have ever been in my life.” While everyone argues over which diet plan is best, there is truly only ONE way to lost body fat. One.
From there it does not matter which diet you choose; this one thing is the only key to success.
The question becomes: is the new diet worth it? I know you are probably thinking, ‘No Scott, the questions is: What is the One Thing?’ OK, here it is:
The ONE thing that causes a human body to drop fat is a caloric deficit. That’s it. End of discussion. I have written on this topic many, many times and there are so many variables, that it continues to be a topic of great interest.
There are two ways to create a caloric deficit: Eat less than you need through caloric restriction or burn more calories than you eat through exercise. That’s it. From there it gets complicated.
Let me assure you that The Cabbage Soup diet, the Keto diet, the Vegan diet, the Vegetarian diet, the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Fast Food diet, The HCG diet, the No Carb Diet, the No Fat diet, the High Carb diet, the Low Carb diet, the [famous celebrity] diet, the [location on earth] diet will all work. ALL of them … If you follow one rule: if you eat less than you need, or burn more than you eat, you drop weight.
Now … Here comes the big question: Is it worth it?
Let’s look at two main elements:
Element One: Eating less than you need. This refers to plans that are below BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate (the amount of calories your body needs as a minimum to support the physiology that you have). BMR can be determined accurately with a high quality body composition analysis device, or guessed as your healthy weight x10. When you eat a diet that is below your BMR there are costs. One such cost is muscle. Lean, healthy, active tissue. The body is on a budget, and when you eat less than your basic requirements, your body will adapt by burning fat and muscle as it needs to work with the limited fuel you have. Another cost is that you will have less energy as your body struggles to make you more efficient, and burn less calories. If you compare your body to a car, your body basically works to improve fuel economy by making your motor smaller and making you drive slowly, while tossing luggage out of the trunk. Is it worth it? You will be lacking in many nutrients, daily energy (which is why people force energy to come with stimulants like caffeine), plus your muscles will get smaller and less effective. Not a great plan in my opinion.
Element Two: Eating to BMR or above, and creating a deficit through exercise in order to drop fat while preserving of gaining lean muscle. This is my favourite and a clear winner! By eating to your BMR, your body has enough to supply precious fuel and nutrients to your working muscles and organs, and it gets the extra calories it needs from fat stores to make up the deficit. This method can take a little longer than ‘starving’ but you are infinitely healthier. That does mean it requires patience and consistency over time. That can be a problem, as there are massive amounts of distractions and opportunities to eat ‘off plan’. This plan is to eat to your BMR, then exercise to add around 500 to 700 calories fuel needed. So if your BMR was 1,700, and you did Boot Camp for 45 minutes, that is around 500 calories burned. Add in a little cardio from a walk or swim or something, and you have an intelligent caloric deficit! Is it worth it? You bet! All the basics are met, and you will drop fat.
Now … Having said that, I do have to add that it’s complicated if you let it be.
Focusing on calories is one thing, but calories of WHAT is just as important. For example, what if you just ate 1.5 small containers of fancy ice cream in one sitting (that IS 1,700 calories)? Yeah … that will not work. A fueling of all carbohydrates and fat like ice cream will not last you all day, and has basically none of the essential nutrients you need. So you do have to stay focused. If you eat well and on plan, with a good balance of 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fat, but then someone offers you a fancy muffin … that is a 600 calorie problem that will erase any benefit of a good workout and stall fat loss. Is it worth it? No, like I said, you do have to be vigilante!
In the past few years, people have been all excited about the Keto diet – which is 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates. Can you lose weight on this plan? Dr. Kashey says: Yes, as long as you eat a caloric deficit. It seems to be easier on this plan (if you can shut off all drive for carbohydrates in the first place), because 75% fat is pretty self-limiting. You wouldn’t WANT to over eat pure fat, you will feel sick first. Therein lies the reason Keto is so successful, it is a reduced calorie diet. Is it worth it? It does place a large load on your kidneys and liver and is also extremely deficient in vitamins. It may work short term, but long term there are many risks, and of course with any fad diet, people are pretty loaded with opinions and even defensive. Keto does work. And so do all of the other caloric restriction diets. The question simply becomes: Do you WANT to live that way? No cake, or cookies, or bread, or pasta, or muffins, or ice cream or candy … Ever? Hmmmmm. I would rather eat a balanced plan and work out. But that’s me.
Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and the owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake.