Recently I went to a party and and at parties you have a lot of people that ask “so what are doing for a living now”? For me this question could literally go a bunch of ways but I default to “Nutrition Coach”. This sometimes leads to the person pretending to ignore what I said while simultaneously avoiding me like I have pink eye but most times it ends up starting dialogue with 4 to 5 people huddled around my every word. Maybe most importantly though is when people go get their significant other or friend with something like “you absolutely have to hear this”. There are some reasons for that but I am going to start at the beginning. All of these conversations start the same with them saying they want to lose weight and I clarify by saying they want to lose fat. Most agree, some do the pink eye thing at this point. This is usually when they ask me about “XYZ” diet plan. If you do not know I am not a huge fan of any plan per se I default to an overall understanding of food and nutrients and typically at that point the path becomes more clear. If it does not I can steer clients in the direction they need to go and then typically the path becomes clear from there.
“Do you have a fat loss plan”
“Yes, I am doing Weight Watchers” or “Yes, I eat Paleo” is in incorrect answer. You may in fact lose fat using those plans but that is not the primary focus of the plan. That is not a criticism, it’s simply fact. Here is what I mean, with Weight Watchers you are basically restricting calories in order to lose weight, thus the name. You are watching your weight without respect for what those calories typically represent from a fat burning perspective, so if you lose say 20 pounds some percentage of that will be fat but it’s only a percentage focusing on the whole and does not specifically target fat. Paleo dieters better target fat but that also is not the primary focus of the diet. The primary focus of the diet is to change what you eat from a health perspective. It does this primarily through recommending whole foods while restricting carbohydrate and foods like grains or dairy. Once again, not a criticism, I am simply attempting to explain the purpose of the diet to highlight my next points and how they differ.
There are diets that do a better job of targeting fat but they typically come with a nasty side product, they require you to be very precise with food intake and/or activity levels. Two that come to mind are “If It Fits Your Macros” which is very popular in the body building community and “Zone Diet” which is popular in the Crossfit community. Both require a level of precision that the good majority of people just would not prefer.
Lastly let me mention Intermittent Fasting because I have more than a few articles on this site about it. Intermittent Fasting is not a fat loss plan per se. For instance, you can not eat in an unrestricted way and without some level of counter balance that corresponds with fasting. Many IF’ers count their calories, many do not but have an approach similar to the one I will mention later.
There are critics and zealots for all of these approaches and my point is not to have an opinion on any of them as much as I think mentioning them highlights the task at hand. Namely, if you want to lose fat you need a plan.
Establishing a baseline
Every diet I mentioned has a baseline, said simply a baseline is a starting point for a diet (this is typically the first few chapters). From there the diet typically gets tweaked related to the goals of the individual (that is usually the middle chapters, the rest of the chapters tend to be recipes). My approach focuses mostly on whole foods but I do not ask people to count calories (or blocks in the case of the “Zone Diet”) because I think for most people it is not necessary. I like to say that whatever you do needs to be a lifetime plan. So if you are a beer drinker trying Paleo as a weight loss plan that is not a real good lifetime plan because beer is a grain and a high carb source. Therefore it’s not going to be a good plan unless you have decided to give up beer for life by my definition. That is not to say that you could not figure out a way to do Paleo and then eventually incorporate beer later on but that inherently becomes a different plan. The goal, as I typically lay it out, is to come up with a plan that you keeps you on the same course.
There are times where counting is valuable but it does not need to be to the level of all your foods. I am a big proponent of getting in a base level of protein so my clients track that for the first few days. Most people are deficient in the amount of protein they eat on a daily basis and these few days tend to highlight that to them which as an easy fix to the overall problem. Another way to keep track without keeping track is to look at the parts of your diet that are not vegetables or unprocessed meats. These are typically your higher calorie items and so if you are eating a pound of almonds a day as an example that could be stalling your fat loss.
Simply eating less
I work on a referral basis so I do not typically throw out offers related to what I charge or “fat loss deals” but I find it astounding that people think they can just eat less. Trust me, most people have tried the “eat less mashed potatoes” approach and it’s gotten them nowhere. One criticism I do have for calorie restricted programs is that it naturally limits your energy output, this fact can not be argued by the most ardent zealot for whatever approach that restricts your energy intake. Inherently if you take away energy arbitrarily it compromises your system.
Similarly if you add activity without addressing for a potential need of additional nutrients you might not get the result you are looking for. Sure the personal trainer you are working out with might be fit but is that a result of their understanding of how to get you lean? Or is it possibly a result of a life related to staying fit? The majority of my clients are referred to me by personal trainers that have customers that need a customized approach.
“Why” is actually important
What most diet systems tend to do is give you a plan and ultimately you become reliant on that plan for success. That way when people ask you what you did to look so great you get to say “I am on the Zone Diet” or whatever system it is. Diets get powerful word of mouth mostly from people that simply want to look like their friends that are having success. Why the diet is working is either completely obvious (you are eating less food than your body is asking you for) or you simply do not care at this point. A lot of people just want “A” approach, the problem with just any old approach is that old question again “can you do it for life?”. I attempt to explain why foods work the way they do and the impact that activity/exercise has on those foods. From there we work out a strategy based on their life. It’s not as simple as reading a blog or cost less than the latest diet book that is all the rage but it is typically cheaper than hiring a personal trainer or joining a gym. Both of which you may still do but it seems to me you will get a better result from both of those things by talking to me first.