There are so many different diets out there that us mommas can get lost in the sea of information. Low carb high fat, low fat high carb, Paleo, South Beach, Atkins, Standard American Diet, The Zone, Trim Healthy Mama, Ketogenic, Vegan, Vegetarian, Meatatarian (Ex: Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec).
That’s only SOME of the ones out there. It can get confusing, and many people hop from one diet to another their entire adult lives hoping to achieve weight loss, causing their weight to go and down in the process. Or, maybe you have a health condition and are trying to get healthy so you joined Weight Watchers and aren’t seeing the results you’d like to. Or, if you’re like me, you’re just trying to find what the best food is to help your body function optimally and have energy to chase your kids around all day.
In this article I will sum up what has been proven to be the most effective diet for MOST people.* Over the next few months I’ll go more in depth to each macronutrient (protein, fat and carbs) and cover the good, the bad and the ugly (I’m coming for you, trans fat!).
For now, let’s start with the daily totals of each macronutrient and I’ll break it down from there. First, go to http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/fnic/interacticeDRI/ and calculate your daily caloric needs. It’ll ask you your age, height, activity level, whether you’re nursing or pregnant, etc. and give you your daily needs for maintaining your current weight. Be honest and don’t over estimate! For example, if you’re a 26 year old female that is not pregnant or lactating, 5’5” and 130 lbs who is “low active” (30 minutes of exercise a day by their definition), they recommend 2,135 calories per day to maintain your current weight. I would generally say this is a bit high for their definition of “low active.” Instead, I would say that if you exercise 7 days a week for 30 minutes at a high intensity and you also are active most of the day doing housework, going on walks, playing with your kids, doing yard work, watching less than 3 hours a day of tv, etc. then this would be likely be accurate for you. If you work an office job and sit all day, come home, workout for 30 minutes and sit all night watching TV, this is sedentary and you should change your activity level (one huge reason people can’t lose weight = overestimating calorie output levels). For weight loss, subtract 500 calories from your number to expect to lose about .5-1 pound per week, depending on your activity level and macronutrient ratios. You could also try doing a 10-20% deficit depending on your goals.
Got your number? Is it higher or lower than what you typically eat? If your answer is, “I have no idea” then we have some work to do. While not necessary for your whole life, it IS important to track your calories for a time to establish what you’re consuming on a normal day. This means every single bite. Seriously. Including those dark chocolate squares you ate in the bathroom while hiding from the kids, or that half a toddler’s plate you finished at lunchtime because someone had a meltdown when, “THE GREEN BEANS TOUCHED MY POTATOES” and someone went down for an early nap. This also means measuring and NOT eyeballing your portions. For example, MY measurement of 1 Tbsp of that yummy Extra Virgin Olive Oil turned out to be 2 Tbsp. I used that eyeballed measurement TWICE A DAY. That’s an extra 240 calories a day right there! So, don’t be like me and learn from my mistakes. Get out those measuring cups, spoons and a food scale if you have one. Use an app like My Fitness Pal or caloriecounter.com to help you. Do this for two to three days of average eating for you so that you can establish what your normal levels are. Then, come back and finish this article. K thanks.
Ok, so now you have your ideal number, you have your average daily calories and you’re ready for some serious knowledge. Well, it isn’t super complicated. Ready? The USDA macronutrient guidelines that you have are really the best to go by. This may be surprising as there are so many bloggers out there that claim that they have unlocked the key to diet success and if you’ll only buy their program for $$$ they’ll reveal their secrets that no one has ever discovered until they came along. Does that sound like a false claim or what?!
So, why are so many of us obese or overweight if we are just following their recommendations? Well, that’s another post for another time. What I will say about the dietary guidelines by the USDA is that I do not support their specific recommendations of each food group. Why? The panel that decides this is full of special interest groups and people pushing their products to make them more money (for an insight into this system, watch Food, Inc. It’s free on Netflix and will amaze, disgust and inspire you).  According to their recommendations, a 16-year-old girl can have lucky charms with skim milk and orange juice for breakfast, a cheeseburger, fries and a glass of milk for lunch, apple pie for a snack, and a bowl of pasta with red sauce for dinner with cheese and a coke, plus ice cream for dessert.
We need the protein, fat and carb recommendations they state, but where they say those calories need to come from aren’t really accurate. Your protein could come from plant sources or from meat sources or from dairy sources. It doesn’t really make a difference as long as you body can tolerate it well. You can get all the calcium you need from vegetables without having a drop of dairy products, yet they recommend 3 cups per day of dairy products. Did you know that plant foods have a higher concentration of bio-available (able to be absorbed) calcium than dairy products?
If your goal is fat loss, here are my recommendations, based on 5 years of personal trial and error, hours and hours and HOURS of research, an 8-week intensive nutrition certification course and the experience I’ve had helping others lose weight.
Fat: keep your fat to the lower end of the USDA range you received. Try to have 1 Tablespoon or less of oil per day, 2 oz of avocado and 1 oz of nuts/seeds per day.
Protein: stay with the USDA recommendations, but don’t get the majority from meat and dairy, but from vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Stick to 5 oz or less per day of actual meat, and whenever possible make it hormone free, antibiotic free and grass fed.
Carbs: say it with me, “CARBS DON’T MAKE YOU FAT.” A caloric surplus does, and processed foods that are nutritionally devoid do. Keep your carbs from whole food sources. Eat as many vegetables are your little heart desires, aiming for 1 lb per day (soup and salad for lunch with a small side of veggies at dinner and you’re there!). Fruit can also be eaten to your heart’s content (disclaimer: if you have Diabetes you should be working closely with a licensed Dietician, and this much fruit may not be possible for you at first). Pairing your fruits with a fat or protein containing food may be helpful if you are prone to low blood sugar dips like I am. If I eat a banana I have ½ an oz of nuts or nut butter with it and I’m just fine. In addition to fruits and veggies, aim for 1 cup per day of whole grains, 1 cup per day of starchy veggies (like sweet potatoes, squash, white potatoes, etc.), and 1 cup per day (or more!) of beans.
Speaking of beans, the one micronutrient I want you to focus on is Fiber. Most Americans get 15 grams or less, while the ideal has been shown to be at least twice that. Slowly increase your fiber until you’re getting at least 40 grams a day, preferably 50, and watch the pounds melt off.
Beans and whole grains have the best fiber because they contain the highest amounts of something called insoluble fiber. This fiber isn’t digestible and helps form the bulk of your poop and cleans out your intestines in the process (like those scrubbing bubbles but for your intestines…cute, right?). Fiber also helps control blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol, normalizes bowel movements and aids in achieving a healthy weight by keeping us satisfied longer.
How do you achieve all these recommendations? The majority of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, with your fats and meats treated as flavoring or condiments rather than the base of your meal. Avoid liquid calories, ditch the chemical crap storm that is soda, and drink sparkling water with a splash of juice instead! Leave some room in your caloric allowance for treats like dark chocolate or honey in your tea, and choose 1-2 meals per week as a treat meal (if you’re able to handle this without going off track. Some find that staying strict for a full 4 weeks before attempting a treat meal helps them to ingrain the new, healthier habits better).
For 90% of your meals, aim for a nutrient-dense diet full of vitamins from fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. 1 lb per day of vegetables is an excellent goal. Eat a cup of beans per day, whether on your salad, in a soup or as a side. If you’re full and you’ve eaten 1,300 calories of whole foods in your day but your calculation said to get 1,500 or 1,600 calories…that’s ok! Eating until you’re satisfied with a diet focused on whole plant foods and lean meats WILL leave you eating less than you previously needed because of the nutrient density of your new diet! This means your body is getting fueled adequately, and your body can shed the excess pounds. The first week may come with sugar cravings and withdrawal symptoms including headache, fatigue and a case of the grumpy-gills. Don’t worry, it’ll pass, and when it does you’ll have more energy than you know what to do with!
In addition to providing more energy, micronutrients rich diets (vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables) help our bodies release excess fat because we’re properly fueled and our bodies can function optimally. Plus, plant based foods have higher volume and lower calorie density, which helps us feel full much faster for less calories. See this graphic for an illustration:
Search Pinterest and Google for yummy recipes to help you stay on track. Find me on Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/mrsliztaylor) and look at my “Eat To Live” board for some amazing recipes that fit in with these recommendations. In my other boards you’ll find my treat meal ideas, but the recipes in my Eat To Live board are what I eat 90% of the time.
The last thing I want to touch on is the myth of starvation mode. It’s gained a lot of popularity in recent years from some bloggers and misguided trainers out there. I won’t write anymore, except to say that it’s a myth, and all you need to lose weight is a true caloric deficit. If you’re not losing weight, you don’t have one. Read this well researched and well-written article that goes into detail for more information: http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/starvation-mode/
To sum it all up, let me just quote Michael Pollan’s wise philosophy, “Eat [real] food. Not too much, mostly plants.” Visit this website to see the rest http://globaleuropeans.com/foodandthought/?p=215 or check out his book, Food Rules. Eat like that, and you’ll do well!
I look forward to next time when we’ll dive deeper into the world of nutrition. If you have any questions or need more specific help tailoring your diet to your needs feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
*Ok, you got me. There are exceptions to every rule. These include: pregnancy, breast-feeding, diabetes, cancer patients, etc. For those pregnant or breast-feeding, the USDA calculator has a field where you can say so to adjust your daily needs. If you have a serious medical issue, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc., please work with a licensed dietitian or doctor. If you live in or around Fort Collins I recommend Nicole Eckman at http://www.enlightenmentnutrition.com I worked with her personally and professionally and I highly recommend her! She offers a free 15-minute phone consultation. Tell her I sent you!
** Disclaimer: This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or condition. It is not intended to substitute for the advice, treatment and/or diagnosis of a qualified licensed professional. I will not make any medical diagnoses, claims and/or substitute for your personal physician’s care. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is my role to partner with you to provide ongoing support and accountability as you create an action plan to meet and maintain your health goals. Consult a physician or health care provider before implementing the above information.
 Forks Over Knives. Dir. Lee Fulkerson. Perf. Lee Fulkerson, Matthew Lederman, Alona Pulde. 2011.