The entire month of September, I will be going through the top five factors you must address when working to achieve any weight loss goal: nutrition, mindset, stress, sleep, and movement.
When it comes to health goals, most people are wanting to lose weight in some way, whether it's 10lbs or 100lbs. For many of us, it seems to be a never ending cycle of diet, lose a few pounds, stop dieting, and gain back double the amount of weight we lost! This cycle is not only far from fun, it is also extremely detrimental to our health!
Today, we are going to cover probably the most important factor when it comes to weight loss: nutrition.
We all know that nutrition is important when it comes to weight loss, but what we DON'T understand is that the conventional diet advice we've been given telling us to eat less (aka low-fat, sugar-free, and low-calorie) and exercise more has led us down a path that is the complete opposite of what we need to do to achieve health and weight loss.
Instead, if we want to support our body on our weight loss journey, we need to make sure we are nourishing our body with all three macronutrients - protein, fat, and carbs - as well as all the extremely important MICROnutrients - vitamins and minerals - which we often forget about in our attempt to minimize our fat or carb intake (or just lower our food intake in general). Plus, any "diet" food out there will have a lot of extra additives and chemicals that will interfere with our ability to digest the limited artificial/enriched nutrients that have been added to the food product, so it basically defeats the purpose.
My approach to nutrition, especially when it comes to weight loss and blood sugar regulation, is called PFC balanced, which we have discussed numerous times on the blog, but it always bears repeating.
When it comes to actually eating PFC balanced, I usually recommend the following portions and foods for each category:
Portion Size - the size of your entire hand, 4-8oz per meal, 2-3oz per snack
Choose - any cut of beef, chicken, turkey, pork, bison, lamb, seafood (wild caught), and whole eggs
Avoid - soy protein, beans as protein source (they contain more carbs than protein), meat substitutes, fake/processed meats, breaded or fried meats, glazed meats, etc
It is vital to get our protein from animal sources as they contain the most bioavailable sources of critical nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, zinc, and choline. Plant sources of protein aren't as bioavailable (soy, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds) because they contain anti-nutrients, which are mechanisms which prevent the breakdown, digestion, and absorption of such foods. I also find that many people think they are eating enough protein, when in actuality, they aren't even coming close! Most women, for instance, are only eating about 50-70 grams, when in reality, they need closer to 100-120 grams per day to maintain and add muscle mass and lose fat mass (which tend to be the most common goals across the board).
It is also CRITICAL to get enough protein at breakfast. Coupled with fat, protein at breakfast keeps your fuller longer and allows your to get through your day without blood sugar crashes, energy slumps, and mood disturbances. If you only have carbs for breakfast (oatmeal, OJ, banana, etc), you are setting yourself up for a tough time the rest of the day! Need inspiration? See my Egg Breakfast Bake recipe!
We also need to chat a second about protein powders and bars here, which are pretty common to see in any "diet" program. These food products (they aren't really foods in my book) are not only highly processed and low-quality forms of protein, but they also contain tons of extra colors, artificial sweeteners, or preservatives that are harmful to our health, especially if we are having them every. single. day in place of real, whole food. When in doubt, turn away from bars/shakes and turn to real, whole food!
Portion Size - 2-4 Tbsp for oils and spreads, 1/8-1/4 cup for nuts and seeds, avocado (half or whole), 1/4-1/2 cup for olives, 1/2 cup for dairy products, about the size of your thumb for cheeses
Hot Uses: coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), butter, lard, tallow
Cold Uses: avocado oil and olive oil (okay for light heat cooking) and flaxseed oil (do not heat)
Other: olives, avocado, full fat coconut milk, coconut butter, unsweetened shredded coconut, raw or dry roasted (no added oils) nuts and seeds and their nut butters (no added sugar or oils as well) such as almonds or sunflower seeds
Limit: plain, organic, full fat dairy and peanuts
Avoid (at all costs!) - vegetable oils (soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed, sunflower, etc), margarine, fake butter spreads (even the "heart healthy" ones), shortening, trans fat (labeled as partially hydrogenated ___ oil on labels), skim or low-fat dairy
If you make one change, change the fats your are eating and cooking with! Vegetable oils are toxic by way of their processing method. Better options for cooking oils are avocado and coconut oil, as well as butter and ghee. I do NOT recommend olive oil for high heat cooking, as the fatty acid profile doesn't hold up well to high heat cooking.
Unfortunately, vegetable oils and trans fats hide in about every single product on the shelves. You must read your ingredient lists carefully to avoid them. Nuts and seeds are often roasted in vegetable oils, taking a wholesome food and ruining it. Sauces, dressings, condiments, meat, dips - these are all options that often contain vegetable oils. Make your own, or seek out better options from companies like Primal Kitchen or Tessamae's (the sunflower oil used in Tessamae's is from an acceptable source).
As far as dairy, I'm not a huge fan because of it's modern processing method. However, if you do choose to consume dairy, I recommend organic, full fat, plain dairy products. Yes, this means plain, full fat yogurt; whole milk; full fat cheese; and the highest percentage fat of cottage cheese. The fat is natural to the dairy products themselves, and we need that fat to absorb the nutrients in dairy, like Vitamins A, D, and K2. These vitamins are fat soluble, meaning they need the presence of fat to be absorbed. That being said, I still recommend limiting dairy consumption because of it's effects on our immune system, digestive system, and health in general. Close to 75% of American's are lactose intolerant. You might not even realize that some of your most common ailments or complaints (bloating, gas, skin issues) might be traced back to dairy!
Don't limit your fat at meals. I know that fat has been one of the most demonized of the macronutrients when it comes to weight loss, but we need healthy fats at each meal to ensure nutrient absorption, satiety, and proper blood sugar regulation. They also help keep our hormones balanced. If our hormones are not balanced, we will NOT see the weight loss goals we want. Plain and simple.
Portion Size - unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables, 1/2-1 cup starchy vegetables, 1 piece or 1/2 cup of fruit, 1/4-1/2 cup cooked for gluten-free grains and legumes
Non-starchy vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes, spaghetti squash, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, etc. Enjoy them raw or cooked however you like them.
Starchy vegetables - butternut squash, acorn squash, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, turnips, rutabaga, pumpkin, etc.
Fruit - all kinds for fresh fruit; limit and/or avoid dried fruit (often has added sugar or vegetable oils and is a much more concentrated source of sugar)
Limit - gluten free grains and legumes such as beans, quinoa, rice, or lentils
Avoid - gluten containing grains, candy, pastries, chips, muffins, bagels, granola, cereal, bread, processed foods, added sugar, artificial sweeteners
This is the food group that gets a lot of attention, and for good reason too. Excess sugar and refined carbs are at the root of inflammation (right alongside of toxic vegetable oils). Getting them out of your diet in favor of real-food based carbs is not the easiest switch, but your body will thank you!
Vegetables of all kinds contain a plethora of nutrients that your body needs and craves on a regular basis. Getting upwards of 5-8 servings of vegetables per day is critical to overall health. Filling up your plate with as many non-starchy veggies as possible at each meal is the key to keeping nutrients high and your body satisfied.
Fruit is great, but it does still have an impact on your blood sugar, so I recommend keeping fruit to 1-3 servings per day while pairing it with protein and fat to make sure it doesn't cause any extra cravings or blood sugar issues.
Which brings me to my next point: carbs (except non-starchy veggies) really shouldn't be eaten alone. Their impact on our insulin and blood sugar is too great when alone. Instead, pairing them with fat and protein will help slow digestion and the hit on your blood sugar. This is why I'm not a fan as just fruit alone as a snack or breakfast!
Gluten is a hot topic these days, as it is an inflammatory protein found in wheat and wheat derivatives. Gluten is very damaging to our bodies, especially our gut health. Although only about 1% of people are actually allergic to gluten (Celiac disease), I would argue that almost everyone has some level of reaction to gluten. The best way to see how it is affecting your mental health, digestion, energy, mood, inflammation, joint pain, or skin is to take it out and see what happens! Plus, if you are struggling with any extra inflammation in the body, you will NOT lose weight. Your body will hold onto it as a coping/survival mechanism.
The same goes for added sugar. Ever since we demonized fat as the reason we get fat (not true for healthy fats), we've added sugar to EVERYTHING to help make those foods more palatable. This has led us to crave sugar on a regular basis and has increased the level of inflammation in our bodies as well.
Artificial sweeteners are worse yet (and are in literally EVERY DIET FOOD). Even though they don't contain any calories, they are recognized as a foreign, toxic substance in our bodies. This is why they don't have calories; our bodies don't see them as food or nutrition, so our bodies don't break them down. However, artificial sweeteners still wreck havoc on our gut health, mental health, and sugar cravings. Eliminating them for real sources of sugar in limited amounts (honey, dates, pure maple syrup) is the way to go.
So, on the whole, it comes down to having a source of protein, fat, and carbs (preferably from a veggie) on your plate at each meal to ensure you reduce inflammation and keep your body's nutrient stores high. Plus, if your blood sugar is balanced, you are less likely to have cravings. Never forget - real, whole food always wins over a diet product/bar/shake/program EVERY DAY!