What I wish everyone knew about nutrition
You know the saying ‘if it was easy, everyone would be doing it’? Well I tend to agree with this statement, 99% of the time.
But when it comes to nutrition and taking control of your food, it really is that easy, and everyone should be doing it.
In early 2013, I discovered the world of flexible dieting, at the time it was widely referred to as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). After years of trial and error, and what I ultimately learned was severely under-eating and borderline an eating disorder, I was finally on the right path, and it felt like there’d been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders (a weight I’m sure many of you reading this have felt before).
Trying to understand the ‘rules’ of nutrition did my fucking head in. I tried every fad diet, read every article on the ‘best way to lose fat’ or how to build muscle, it nearly drove me insane!
I had spent years under-eating, avoiding certain foods because I thought they were ‘bad’, feeling guilty whenever I ate out of over-ate, avoiding food right before bed, living in fear of carbohydrates and the list goes on and on and on and on and on… you get the picture.
When I first came across Flexible Dieting, which I’ll explain to you in this chapter, it literally changed my life. It was like I had finally found the formula I’d been searching for, it seemed too good to be true, but the proof was in the pudding, sometimes literally.
Anyways, enough about me, this chapter is for you. This chapter will quite honestly change your life, it will take the guess work out achieving results, it will allow you to eat the foods and drink the drinks you enjoy most and get in the very best shape of your life, better yet, you’ll be able to stay in that shape, for as long as you like.
This is a way of eating, it’s a lifestyle, there’s no quick fix, no shortcuts, just science, and the best part is that you are now finally in complete control of your body composition.
Here’s what you need to know…
Flexible Dieting is a sustainable way of eating that will produce consistent results for the rest of your life.
It involves becoming the CEO of your own body by tracking your calorie intake and protein minimum each (with the option of strictly tracking carbohydrates and fat intake, along with fibre and other vitamins and minerals) to ultimately reach your body composition goal.
This way of eating will help you change your focus towards HOW MUCH you are eating, instead of WHAT you are eating.
Losing or gaining weight ultimately depends on whether you are in a negative or positive energy balance, regardless of ‘what’ you eat.
Understanding the calories…
Protein and Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram.
Fat = 9 calories per gram.
Example: 200g of protein, 225g of carbohydrates & 60g of fats = 2,240 calories.
Protein: 200 x 4 = 800
Carbohydrates: 225 x 4 = 900
Fats: 60 x 9 = 540
800 + 900 + 540 = 2,240
Understanding what causes you to lose or gain weight…
To lose weight you must consistently be in a negative energy balance which is created by eating in a calorie deficit or burning more calories than you’re consuming. A calorie deficit means you are eating anything below your maintenance calorie intake.
To gain weight you must consistently be in a positive energy balance which is caused by eating in a calorie surplus or consuming more calories than you are burning. A calorie surplus means you are eating anything above your maintenance calorie intake.
Weight loss and weight gain is literally that simple. There is no other reason why you lose weight or gain weight, regardless of what nutritional approach you take or which diet you follow, to lose weight you must be in a deficit, to gain weight you must be in a surplus.
Here’s why Flexible Dieting will work for you…
The beauty of Flexible Dieting is that it allows you to pick and choose (or rotate) your food sources without feeling ‘guilty’ or going off track with your ‘diet’, with the understanding that there are no magic foods that will help you lose fat or build muscle (no such thing as fat loss or muscle building foods), in the end of the day it comes down to calories in vs calories out. Meaning you get to continue eating the foods you enjoy while making progress toward your goals.
Knowing your numbers can lead to long term consistency and sustainability due to eliminating any food group restrictions that you find with most meal plans or fad diets.
It’s also important to note that it’s now about trying to eat as much shit as possible and fit it into your daily calorie intake, the nutrient value of your food choices should still be a priority, aiming to take in certain amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals each day to ensure a well balanced nutritional intake.
Out with the old and in with the new…
Ever since I was first educated on what a ‘healthy diet’ looked like, I was fed the same bull shit (pun intended of course).
Eat clean foods (there is literally no explanation for what clean food is), stick to small regular meals, avoid ‘bad’ foods, don’t eat too close to bed, never skip breakfast, blah blah blah.
Not only are these statements just flat out untrue, but they also tend the be the cause of a lot of unhealthy relationships with food and even eating disorders down the track. It’s time to step away from these out-dated and uneducated statements and to move towards what’s proven to be true, and sustainable for absolutely everyone.
All food contains calories…
There is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food when it comes to body composition. All food contains calories (and drink). When you change the way you look at food, you begin to see that literally nothing is off limits.
Pizza doesn’t make you gain weight.
Lollies don’t make you gain weight.
Burgers don’t make you gain weight.
Ice cream doesn’t even make you gain weight.
Eating too many calories, regardless of what you eat will.
Salads won’t make you lose weight.
Chicken breast won’t make you lose weight.
Cutting out carbs won’t make you lose weight.
Eating every 2-3 hours won’t make you lose weight.
Eating ‘clean’ most definitely won’t make you lose weight.
Eating in a calorie deficit, regardless of what you eat will.
Example of Flexible Dieting and choosing foods for their calorie value…
150g of kangaroo, 125g of brown rice and 100g of mixed veggies.
6 inch wheat bread sandwich from Subway with chicken breast, tomato, spinach, carrot, swiss cheese and BBQ sauce.
Calculating your calorie and macronutrient intake to suit YOUR goal
Step 1: Calculating Maintenance Calories
Our maintenance intake will give us an indicator of an estimated amount of calories you need to take in to maintain your current body weight.
It also helps us work out how many calories to add or subtract to either reduce body fat or increase lean muscle mass over time.
*In the example below I’ll be using kilograms (kg). To convert this to pounds (lbs) simply divide the numbers below by 2.2.
28.5 = Sedentary job and do little to no exercise
31 = Moderately active job and train 2-3 times per week
33 = Active job and train 2-3 times per week, or sedentary job and train at a high intensity 4-6 times per week.
35 = Active job and train at a high intensity 5-6 times per week
37.5 = Athlete or active job training at a mod-high intensity every day or twice daily
Example: An 80kg individual who is a Physical Education teacher and trains at a high intensity 5 x per week.
80 x 35 = 2,800
This means if this individual ate 2,800 calories per day (or close to it), they would likely maintain their current body weight presuming their activity level/energy expenditure wasn’t drastically changing.
Although this formula and other online calculators/formulas are great for giving you a starting point for what your maintenance intake should be (or is), the most accurate way to find your maintenance is to track your normal food intake over the span of 1-2 weeks using an app such as MyFitnessPal.
If your body weight average stays the same or very close to it then simply take an average daily calorie number from those 1-2 weeks that you tracked your food and you now have your exact maintenance intake.
Step 2: Choosing your goal
For weight/fat loss, I recommend eating anywhere between 200-500 calories below your maintenance intake as a starting point.
Eating too low below your maintenance may lead to a faster drop in weight initially, but is a lot more likely to call muscle loss and to damage the metabolism in the long term. It also makes things a lot harder when it comes to reaching a fat loss plateau (see fat loss chapter for more details on how to bust through a plateau).
Fat weight/muscle gain, I recommend anywhere between 300-500 calories above your maintenance intake as a starting point.
Eating too high above your maintenance intake will lead to unnecessary and excessive weight gain which is unlikely to be muscle mass, and likely to be body fat. This makes the fat loss process a lot harder and longer, and will not speed up muscle gain.
Step 3: Setting your minimum protein intake
To figure out how much protein you should be eating per day, multiply your body weight by 2.
Example: An 80kg individual would need a minimum of 160g of protein per day for optimal growth and recovery. Eating above this number is completely fine.
Step 4: Calculate macronutrient breakdown *OPTIONAL
Once you know how many calories you need to be consistently eating per day to either lose or gain weight, you also have the option of setting your carbohydrate and fat ratios to suit your personal preference.
It’s important to note, this is completely optional. If you are eating a calorie intake that is aligned with your goal and reaching your protein minimum per day, the ratio or carbohydrates and fats in my opinion is largely irrelevant.
Your results will be very similar, if not the same, as when you strictly track both carbohydrates and fats targets.
For those that want to track these macronutrients (carbs and fats) here’s my recommended starting point.
Fats = 1g per kg of body weight
Carbohydrates = Fills the remaining calories once fats and protein are set
The long term goal (intuitive eating)…
For anyone who has tracked their food intake for an extended period of time, there will come a point where you are extremely accurate at eyeballing your food measurements and guesstimating. If you happen to reach this point then you may choose to eat intuitively, however I would only recommend this for someone who is extremely confident that they know WHAT they are eating (meaning you know what’s in your food) and also preferably eating in a calorie surplus or at maintenance at that point in time.
Now I know what my intake should be, how do I track it?
In the initial stages of tracking your food, you’re going to need some food scales (insert eye roll here).
Weighing your food is an extremely important aspect of accurately tracking your food and knowing your numbers, so before you get started, pick up a set of digital food scales (usually only $5-20) as these will become your best friend!
Tip: Always weigh your food raw. This is the most consistent and accurate way of checking the weight of your foods.
There are a number of great phone apps you can use to track your calories and macronutrients (and micronutrients) although MyFitnessPal is the one I’ve always used and have the best experience with.
Checkout this MyFitnessPal tutorial to get started!
*If tracking calories on your phone just isn’t your thing, then you can always resort back to keeping a running total of everything you eat on a notepad, although this can be a lot more time consuming and very difficult to get the nutritional information on certain foods (just make sure you remember where you parked your horse and cart).
Here’s what you should and shouldn’t expect from Flexible Dieting…
No specific meal timing.
Fit your meals in around your own daily schedule as long as you reach your target calorie intake by the end of the day.
No food group restrictions.
Remember, hit your calorie and fibre intake and get as close as you can to your macronutrient numbers and you will continue to progress, regardless of WHAT you’re eating.
No negative effects on your social life or ability to eat out.
Eating out doesn’t have to be your downfall anymore. Simply allow enough of a calorie buffer that you can pick a meal you like and fit it into your calorie requirements.
Increased knowledge on what you’re eating and the effects that each macronutrient has on YOUR body.
Flexible Dieting increases your awareness as to what’s in certain foods that you’ve been eating your whole life. It also gives you the ability to figure out how your body responds to certain macronutrients and foods.
No more cheat meals.
If you feel like eating something then eat it, as long as it fits within your daily intake then you will not go off track, it’s that simple.
Long term adherence.
This is a sustainable way of eating that doesn’t feel like a diet, there’s no start and finish. Flexible Dieting is NOT a diet, it’s a way of eating.
The 90/10 rule…
As a rule of thumb, I recommend that you should be aiming to get 90% of your calories from nutrient dense whole foods while allowing the remaining 10% for things that aren’t seen as ‘healthy’ of that you may be craving.
Is alcohol out of the question?
Example of a day of eating using Flexible Dieting…
Meal 1: 1/2 cup of oats with 1 scoop of whey protein mixed in cook in water. Sugar free maple syrup and 20g of peanut butter used as toppings.
Protein: 34g Carbs: 28g Fat: 15g
Meal 2: 1 regular sized apple and 30g of oven roasted almonds.
Protein: 7g Carbs: 23g Fat: 17g
Meal 3: 200g of chicken breast (raw weight) with 250g of long grain white rice and 100g of mixed veggies.
Protein: 51g Carbs: 50g Fat: 8g
Meal 4: 1 scoop of whey protein with water, 4 thick rice cakes with 40g of peanut butter and 30g of strawberry jam and 1 banana.
Protein: 39g Carbs:83g Fat: 27g
Meal 5: 225g of Kangaroo (raw weight) cooked in 1 tsp of olive oil with 200g of sweet potato (raw weight) and 100g of green veggies.
Protein: 46g Carbs: 49g Fat: 10g
Meal 6: 1 Nestle Skinny Cow ice cream cookie
Protein: 3g Carbs:27g Fat: 2g
DAILY TOTALS: Calories: 2,480 Protein: 180g Carbs: 260g Fat: 80g
•There is 2 servings of fruit and 3-4 servings of veggies along with a sufficient amount of fibre.
•There is plenty of variety.
•The majority of the foods are nutrient dense whole foods although there is also foods that you wouldn’t typically see on a ‘diet’ (remember all food contains calories).
•There is no specific timing of meals.
Does fibre count towards my carbohydrates? Yes, fibre does count towards your carbohydrates and should be added to your daily totals, although you should not be separating carbs and fibre and then adding them separately. For example, if you eat something with 15g of carbs and 6g of fibre, then you just ate 15g of carbs and not 15 + 6.
If I eat under or above my calorie goal should I make up for it the next day? No, the best thing you can do is forget about it and move on. Jump straight back onto your usual macros and training program the very next day. This is where most people go wrong and end up starving themselves and doing stupid amounts of cardio to make up for their ‘big nights’ or ‘binges’. This can lead to poor training sessions and, in some cases, severe eating disorders.
Does doing cardio on an empty stomach burn more fat? In my opinion your body does not burn fat according to how much food has been taken in before exercise. Weight gain or loss is dependent on whether or not you are in a negative energy balance. If you’d rather train on an empty stomach then so be it, but if you know you train better with some food in your system then don’t be afraid to fuel up ahead of your training session.
Should I cut out coffee and tea? No way! Just know that your caramel latte you have each morning still has calories in it and should be accounted for (Same goes with the 2-3 sugars you might be adding in).
Should I cut out sugar? No, it is not necessary to eliminate all sugar from your diet. It’s never a good idea to completely eliminate something from your diet that you know you can’t go your whole life without.
Does it matter if I eat carbohydrates at night? No. Again, your body does not know what time of the day it is. Just aim to reach your carbohydrate intake goal by the day’s end, whether you spread it out over six meals or as little as two meals. You will still see the same results in the long term.
Should I be eating smaller meals every two to three hours? This is once again personal preference. A number of studies have shown that there is no benefit to eating smaller meals every few hours compared to three or four bigger meals spread out further throughout the day. Just focus on hitting those macros and you will make progress.
Will Sodium make me gain fat? A change in sodium intake can retain water in the body, leading to an increase on the scales and a ‘softer’ look. This is not fat gain but simply your body holding a bit of extra water. This can be eliminated by drinking MORE water, which will cause your body to flush the excess salt out.
What if the ‘MyFitnessPal’ app tells me I’ve already hit my daily calorie intake but still haven’t met my macros? Always aim to hit your macronutrient goal and don’t worry about what the calorie count says. Sometimes the calorie number will not add up with the macros due to some inaccuracy on the app.
Can I still drink alcohol? If so, how do I count that into my macros? Yes of course you can. When drinking alcohol you should know that it is filled with empty calories. This means that although your beer may say it has 6g of carbohydrates, 4g of protein and 0g of fats it may still contain 150 calories. (6g of carbs + 4g of protein should = 40 calories.) The best way to track your Friday night drinks is to subtract the total calories from either your daily carbohydrate or fat macros. For example, if I subtract it from carbohydrates it would look like this… 150/4=37.5g of carbohydrates. So I would just subtract that 37.5g of carbohydrates from my daily totals and that way my drink is accounted for.
I would love for you to share this with someone you think could benefit from reading it 🙂