At 17 years old and only 5’5”, I weighed 240lbs.
Since then, over the course of 4 years, I personally lost over 100lbs and stepped on stage at the Arnold Classic.
Today I’m sharing my top five nutrition tips with you - the ones I used on my journey from obese to fit.
1. Diet vs. Lifestyle
It’s far too common when someone wants to lose fat that they either slash calories drastically or follow a fad diet.
I’m not saying that harshly dropping calories will stop you from losing fat, but it will eventually lead you to being catabolic - leaving you with little body fat but also very little muscle tone.
With fad diets, most people can follow them for a short while, but not long term. Why? Because fad diets aren’t constructed for long-term use. They are made to get you quick, short-term results, so you keep coming back and buying their products.
To lose weight and keep it off, you need to find a nutrition plan you can follow and that safely creates a small caloric deficit. We want to make our nutrition guidelines part of our everyday lifestyle, not simply a short-term crash diet.
2. Protein Over Everything
Protein is essential for not only building muscle, but for weight loss as well.
When in a caloric deficit, our bodies are looking for energy, and turn towards our own body as a source of fuel when in need. Our bodies normally burn fat storage first, and secondly muscle tissue, for energy.
Eating enough protein is crucial for muscle building, as proteins are broken down into amino acids, which our muscles use for repair and growth.
Especially during weight loss, protein is extremely important because it will help maintain your muscle mass when your body wants to burn it for fuel.1 Along with that, protein is important during weight loss because it will be the major source of calories for most, while creating a deficit by lowering our other macros - fat and carbs.
3. Don't Curse Carbs
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for our muscles. Our bodies break down carbs into glycogen, which is used for energy. This is why carbs are crucial whether you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight.
The key to consuming carbs while dieting is finding the right balance. See, eating extra or excess carbs over time can lead to fat gain and adding to our excess body fat through consuming too many calories than needed. In contrast, if we eat too few carbs our body turns to our own muscle mass for fuel. We want to eat enough carbs to fuel only our muscles, and not our fat stores.
Carbs often get a bad rap, but it's often because we associate them with less than ideal carb sources. When most think of carbs, they think of foods high in sugar, low in fiber, and rich in fats, such as cookies, pastries, pizza, processed juices, white bread, and soda. These carb sources can spike blood sugar levels and/or put us into a calorie surplus as they are easily overeaten.
However, there are carbohydrate sources that are ideal as they digest slowly, are rich in fiber, and have loads of micronutrients. Some examples are sweet potatoes, whole wheat products, oatmeal, fruits, and veggies. The advantage of these carbs over the aforementioned carb sources are they are full of fiber, slow digesting, satiating, and give you consistent energy throughout the day.
4. Stop Drinking Liquid Calories
Do you enjoy a tall glass of orange juice in the morning? Then maybe a couple cups of coffee with cream and sugar when you get to work? Again, maybe a bottle of soda later at night?
All of these drinks are packed full of calories that add up quickly.2 Sugary drinks such as soda and fruit flavored drinks can add up to as much as 250 calories per 12 oz. Considering that most of these products are bottled into 20 ounce, 48 ounce, 1 liter and 2 liter bottles, it's incredibly easy to drink a meal or two’s worth of calories in a day.
One of my favorite drinks is coffee. I can't hardly function without it!
A simple 8 ounce latte with whole milk is 130 calories. But who orders the smallest size, am I right? If you add whip cream or flavored syrups, your coffee can quickly become a liquid meal! I recommend ordering a black coffee and using stevia instead of sugar or sugar-free syrups.
I recommend my clients try substituting their current calorie-loaded drinks for calorie-free ones such as water, black coffee, black tea, and diet soda. Some people don’t like sugar substitutes, but if you’re drinking a hefty amount of liquid calories, sugar substitutes can be a perfect bridge to cutting out sugary drinks all together.3
Liquid calories can be a huge, hidden, limiting factor for most people wanting to lose weight. Cutting out those liquid calories could be the missing factor to your weight loss success.
5. Have a “Cheat Meal”
Who doesn't love a delicious slice of pizza?
Having a cheat meal is a great tool to have when dieting for multiple reasons.
It gives us a mental break from our current diet. It allows us to incorporate foods we still love and want to eat into our diets. For people that struggle to stick to a nutrition plan or diet, incorporating cheat meals can be the factor that switches them from “eating healthy” to a “healthy lifestyle”.
As well, our bodies are homeostatic, meaning it wants to balance our bodies, depending on outside factors. When dieting, our metabolism slows down due to the decrease in calories and decrease in overall body mass. This can take a mental toll as it becomes harder and harder to achieve fat loss.
When you eat a cheat meal, you allow yourself to take that necessary mental break from the monotony of a fat loss diet. This can be a crucial tool to use when breaking through inevitable weight loss plateaus as properly using them will allow for you to better sustain your diet longer.
Here are my recommendations when incorporating a cheat meal into your nutrition plan.
1. Make sure to plan it out. Planning a specific day for your cheat meal will keep you accountable during the week and will help ensure that you don’t over do it.
2. Try to eat “real foods” and avoid over-processed foods. A good rule of thumb to follow is to stick to around 1000 calories for the meal. This will ensure you’re getting a surplus of calories, but also what you’re consuming and feeding your body with is real food. Any more than 1000 calories, the food is generally over-processed, and doesn't contain much nutritional value.
3. Make your cheat meal exactly that, a meal. For some people it’s really easy for them to turn a cheat meal into a cheat day, or even worse, a binge. Some people panic, because they feel like it’s the last time they are able to eat foods they enjoy for a while, so they overeat. Overeating and binging are going to be counter-productive to your goals. Try to keep in mind that this is a controlled increase in calories, using foods you enjoy.