Weight loss is an ongoing and convoluted issue in the world of food and nutrition. Ironically, it has really only ever been an issue since humans started “playing with food”. By this I mean processing and refining foods, mass producing them, creating artificial replacements, combining with synthetic additives and preservatives, genetically modifying and so on and so forth. A relatively sudden growth in interest around food production to feed the masses in the past century or so has lead us to a rather interesting mix of politics, public health and food. When you really think about it, the fact that our governments are having to teach us something so natural as how to eat is actually quite a concerning theme, at least from an evolutionary perspective! What I’m getting at here is that perhaps one of our most detrimental examples of “playing with food” has been the government guidelines (a.k.a food pyramids) dished out to us in the past few decades.
So how do you go about losing some extra weight you might have put on? Or preventing putting on excess weight? Given the notions I’ve pointed out above, the simple answer would be: stop doing what the majority are doing! Stop basing your diet around this faulty foundation of colourless “foods” like bread, pasta and porridge.
But first, a note on exercise. Since you’re probably a runner reading this article, you’re probably tuned in to the idea that exercise is an effective method to burn off body fat (or keep it off). I don’t blame you for thinking that – it’s another one of those ideas that has been proclaimed for many decades now by mainstream science. The reality of the matter though, is that while exercise and energy expenditure does have a part to play in the weight loss game, it is the things you put into your body (and the things you don’t!) that will have the biggest say in body weight outcomes. While individual variances definitely occur, I’d suggest you place an 80:20 ratio of priority on food:exercise if you’re concerned with losing weight.
So let’s talk about what kind of things to put into your body (and to avoid) if your goal is to trim a few kilos in your pursuit of peak performance.
By now the idea that dietary fat makes us fat and is generally bad for us has been challenged and conquered many times over. If you want to lose weight, much of the scientific evidence will now tell you that eating healthy fats (and that includes some sources of saturated fat), plenty of protein and a few wholefood carbohydrates is generally the way to go. Funnily enough, the only macronutrient the human body doesn’t actually NEED to survive is carbohydrate! Yet, we’ve been governed to think that this nutrient should form the basis of our diet.
Filling your plate with varied portions of fat such as nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut-based foods, eggs and grass-fed meat and butter is a great place to start. Supplement the fats with protein (ironically you’ll find that many good fat sources also contain good protein, i.e. nuts, seeds, meat, eggs) and limited carbohydrates from unprocessed sources like root vegetables. Be sure to include plenty of leafy greens to ensure high micronutrient quantity. Every physiological process in your body relies upon a micronutrient precursor, so if you want your metabolism to work well (and therefore drop weight) you need to focus on micronutrients, too!
Importantly, as you increase your healthy fat and protein intake you need to be mindful about reducing carbohydrate intake. In particular, get rid of those processed forms of carbohydrate. Breads, pastas, pastries, baking, packaged foods are all densely loaded with damaging and fattening processed sugars. Reduce carbohydrate intake and replace processed stuff with real food!
While a little bit of caloric reduction (i.e. eating less calories per day) will help to induce weight loss initially, the best thing about enjoying a diet higher in fat and protein is that generally there is no need for massive energy deficit or restrictions! Those daunting images we think of when the word “diet” is mentioned are simply not necessary in a lower-carb, higher-fat lifestyle. As your body gets used to operating on fats more than packaged carbohydrates, you’ll notice fewer cravings and more sustained energy. Much of the continued weight loss and maintenance actually comes from not having to eat as much on a higher fat and protein diet.
Now, of course not everyone is the same. We all operate better on certain foods more than others. As a general rule, however, our society could do with eating less carbohydrates and more fats. It is up to you to work out exactly how much more fat and protein that is. The first change you make might actually be a shift from packaged foods to real foods, and then you can start experimenting with how much fat, protein and whole carbs are your best fuel. Listen to your body – see what works best for you! The same goes around training and racing; you’ll likely notice changes in your performance as your body learns to love fat.
This article has touched on the concept of losing weight through a dietary shift towards more quality fat and protein and away from processed carbohydrates. For some, the concepts are enough to get started. For others, you might need a little help with the specifics. If that’s the case, get in touch with me and we’ll talk all about the best foods for you.