You can't go forever without ice cream
There are two things that cause weight gain: calorie surplus and hormones. So naturally, when it comes to diet information, there are two separate camps of “experts.” One side believes that body weight is a solvable math equation, and the other believes that the human body runs effectively only on more “natural” foods. The reason the debate is so lively is because they are both right. You can lose weight on the all-ice cream diet if you stay in a calorie deficit, and you can lose weight through meal timing and removing sugars from your diet in order to regulate your insulin production.
The first option is hard, because it deprives your body of the calories needed to maintain your current weight—in effect, it means you’re starving yourself (if only slightly). That doesn’t mean all the calories you were eating before were necessary, but your body grows accustomed to that intake, and cravings don’t disappear overnight.
That isn’t to say removing all sugar from your diet is any easier. Most humans are addicted to sugar like it’s crack. (And, in fact, both substances stimulate the same part of the brain.) The point is that weight loss isn’t easy. Whichever of these camps you join, dropping fat is going to be hard work.
One thing to keep in mind is that while both strategies do work, both strategies also might not work. You can live in a calorie deficit and see your weight loss plateau. The only benefit you’d get from lowering your calorie intake even more is feeling light-headed when you stand up.
Similarly, you can go paleo and gain weight. Nuts and beef are calorically dense and definitely part of a healthy diet, but you can gain weight on a healthy diet.
Neither of these strategies are perfect, so the question is, how do we combine these different approaches into one diet that is supremely effective for weight loss? If I had the perfect answer that worked for everyone, I’d be writing a book instead of a blog. But of course, there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Some people can process carbohydrates better than others, some people can’t eat dairy, some people won’t eat meats, and some people can’t live without treats.
A diet is something you practice from this day until your dying day. If you’re thinking, “I could never extend my current diet indefinitely,” then it’s probably not the diet for you.
Instead of a supremely effective, end-all, be-all gospel diet, I’m going to make some suggestions that you can implement easily without changing your lifestyle too much. We’ll start with your hormones and then deal with calories.
Let’s talk about intermittent fasting. Most people find the phrase intimidating—I imagine that has to do more with the second word than the first—but there’s no reason to fear it. In fact, you likely do it already, just not consciously. Every time you sleep in on the weekend and then wait a few hours before heading to brunch, you are practicing intermittent fasting. Seriously! If you had dessert at 9:30 p.m. and didn’t eat brunch until 11:30 a.m., that is a 14-hour fast, which is nothing to scoff at.
Intermittent fasting helps regulate your insulin production. When you don’t eat for an extended period of time, your blood insulin levels decrease significantly. And, because one of the main indicators of obesity is high blood insulin levels over time, this is a very good thing. Intermittent fasting not only increases your insulin sensitivity, but does the same for your stress resistance and life span while reducing morbidity.[i]
Now, I’m not suggesting going days without food to reduce your stress levels. That would be crazy. Just remember, you don’t need to be eating constantly. It’s actually beneficial not to.
The reason I suggest intermittent fasting as a means of regulating insulin production is because the only other truly effective way to go about it is abstaining from sugar completely. I wouldn’t recommend something I wouldn’t do, and I have no intention of cutting out all sugars. Here are a few things I would recommend that you implement. Keep in mind, these are just suggestions. If you find any of them outrageous or too challenging, simply disregard them. I’m not your mother.
Suggestion #1: Don’t eat anything until noon.
For most people, this will result in a 14- to 16-hour fast every day. However, during your fast, you’re welcome to drink as much water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea as you like. If you are really jonesing for some food, eat nothing but leafy greens until lunch! Again, this isn’t gospel—if you feel overwhelmingly hungry in the morning, can’t function without breakfast, or are a diabetic, EAT! But, in my experience, most people don’t wake up starving, and they find this strategy easy to adopt after a week.
Suggestion #2: No carbs until dinner.
This one of those suggestions with a ton of caveats. The full version is more like “no carbs until dinner (except for fruits and veggies).” Try to avoid high-sugar fruits (e.g., grapes, bananas) and starchy veggies (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) until later in the day.
One note, though: If your goal is to build muscle, disregard that previous statement and eat starchy veggies after your workout. You need a blend of carbs and protein to build muscle efficiently.
Suggestion #3: Eat a reasonable number of calories.
I always recommend that people count calories when they begin a weight-loss program, just as a means of understanding how much they actually eat in a day. Nowadays you see far too many people suffering on severe calorie-restricting diets for no reason. A healthy diet will alter your body composition, but it takes time. You can’t rush the process. (OK, you can rush the process, but it will suck and won’t result in lasting change.)
What is a reasonable amount of calories? That is different for every person. If you are muscular, be sure to use a calorie calculator that takes lean muscle mass into account. Otherwise, just Google “calorie calculator” and never take a calorie recommendation that puts you on track to lose more than one pound per week.
Suggestion #4: Protein and fat > carbs and sugar.
For most people who want to lose weight, lowering processed sugar and processed carbohydrate consumption is all it takes. However, if you don’t replace pasta and bread with something else, you’ll go hungry. Try to increase your consumption of protein and healthy fats; it will result in you feeling fuller for longer.
There is a lot more that goes into fat loss, like adequate sleep and proper hydration, but when it comes to your diet, just try these four easy suggestions and watch your body change.
Enjoy your improved body composition! :)
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