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How to Eat to Lose Weight

Mahmoud Ibrahim, Certified Personal Trainer with a Bachelor's Degree in Athletic Training and Sports Science.


No matter what type of diet a person is on, they would have to stop it at one point or another. While a person can stick to healthy eating habits forever, depriving the body of certain nutrients is not a long-lasting solution. It is better to balance meals, eat healthy foods most of the time, and limit intake of unhealthy food.

Be careful not to set yourself up for failure by trying to be perfect all the time. Approaching personal health, exercise, nutrition, eating habits, and food choices with an all-or-none attitude is the perfect setup for personal failure. It is what we can do most of the time that counts. For example, you could follow healthy eating habits 80% of the time and not worry about it so much 20% of the time.

Estimating Daily Caloric Requirements

In order to estimate the number of calories you need to consume per day, use the following steps:

1. Determine resting metabolic rate (RMR*) by multiplying body weight in pounds by 10.

2. Determine the number of calories needed for normal activities of daily life, separate from exercise by using the following estimations:

  1. For a sedentary, add 20 to 40 percent of RMR.
  2. For a moderately active, add 40 to 60 percent of RMR.
  3. For a very active, add 60 to 80 percent of RMR.

3. Estimate the number of calories needed for daily exercise. For an easy or low-intensity activity, assign 3 to 5 calories per minute. Give a moderate level activity 6 to 10 calories per minute and hard or high-intensity activities 11 to 15 calories per minute. Take the calories per minute assigned to each activity and multiply it by the number of minutes spent doing that activity (rest between strength sets doesn’t count).

4- Add the answers from steps 1, 2 and 3 to compute a day’s total caloric

* RMR is a number of calories it takes to maintain all bodily functions such as producing new skin cells, breathing, keeping the heart pumping, etc.

Many factors influence the overall energy requirements of a certain individual. RMR and physical activity represent the majority of total energy expenditure during a given day. However, activity level, age, gender, size, weight and body composition influence the actual number of calories burned per day. The steps above can only give you a rough estimation of caloric needs. It is still beyond the capabilities of most scientific labs to calculate exact daily caloric expenditure.

This method will give you a rough estimation of the amount of calories a given individual needs to maintain their current weight. In order to lose weight, calories ingested should be lower than calories spent. This can be achieved through their exercising to burn more calories or reduce caloric intake or both.

Balancing Food Intake

Most sports nutritionists and qualified dietitians recommend a daily training diet composed of 60 to 65 percent carbohydrate, 20 to 25 percent fat and 12 to 15% protein.

One of the best ways to determine the amount of each of these nutrients that you need to eat is to:

  1. Determine daily caloric requirements using the method described above
  2. Calculate needs for each nutrient by multiplying the caloric requirement by the appropriate percentages.

For example, if on a given day you need 3000 calories, here is where these calories should come from:

  • 65% Carb = 3000*0.65 = 1950 Calorie. Carb has 4 cal/g so the number of grams of Carb is 1950/4= 487.5 grams.
  • 20% Fat = 3000*0.20= 600 Calorie. Fat has 9 cal/g so the number of gram of fat is 600/9= 97 grams.
  • 15%Protien= 3000*0.15= 450 calorie. Protein has 4 cal/g so the number of grams of protein is 450/4= 112,5 gram.

Eating for Muscle-Mass Building

Most people believe that in order to increase muscle mass, they need to “eat lots of protein!" or "drink protein shakes”. That is completely erroneous! Extra calories, regardless of their source (carbs, fats or proteins) do not automatically turn into muscle, Excess protein is not stored as muscle. Any calories in excess of daily caloric requirements will be stored as fat.

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Although we need extra calories when we train (calculated through the method above), those calories should come predominantly from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are necessary to fuel our muscles so they can perform intense strength training and/or hypertrophy exercises and recover from the hard effort. The stimulus for muscles to grow larger comes from overloading them with correct and intense loads of exercise, not from overloading the body (especially the kidneys) with too much protein.

Pre-Exercise Nutrition Guidelines

  1. Maintain a low-fat, high-carb diet on daily basis, This will keep your glycogen (stored carbohydrate and sugar) stores in the muscles and liver at adequate levels.
  2. Avoid foods high in fat and protein prior to working out,
  3. If exercising for less than an hour, common carbohydrate choices include bagels, plain or toasted bread, crackers, plain pasta, and bananas. Try different foods and find one or several that do not upset their stomach.
  4. If exercising for longer than an hour. bananas, oatmeal, and apples would be the best choices. These foods have a lower glycemic index and will help fuel performance for longer periods of exercise.
  5. Simple carbohydrate snacks prior to a workout might cause increased insulin secretion and hypoglycemia, Although some research, suggests that sodas, candies, and some sports drinks prior to a workout might boost performance, this does not always work for everybody.

Pre-exercise nutrition can help you to maintain even levels of blood sugar and prevent early fatigue.

Post-Exercise Nutrition Guidelines

Most of the recreational exercisers who train three to five times per week for one hour at moderate to high intensities. For these exercisers, glycogen stores can be replenished with a regular diet that is high in carbohydrate.

For the occasional athletes who practice their sport twice daily, participate in highly competitive events and workout in the gym, recovery diets are of utmost importance. Athletes who are working on very heavy loads and volumes should:

  1. Pay attention to fluid replacement immediately after exercising. Juices, water, and foods high in water should be consumed right after cessation of exercise.
  2. Adequate hydration during an exercise session is also crucial.
  3. The first round of carbohydrate feeding should begin within 15 minutes of ending an exercise session. This should consist of about 300 calories worth of carbohydrates. A can of soda and a banana would do the trick.
  4. Snacks of 300 calories of carbohydrates should be ingested every two hours after that for 6 to 8 hours.
  5. Post-exercise snacks can also contain some protein (not more than 15%). Lean meats and low-fat milk are good options.

Weight Loss

Before we discuss how to design a weight-loss program, we should address two general points:

  1. The maximum recommended rate for weight-loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week (≈750 grams). Diets resulting in a weight loss of more than 2 pounds per week are associated with a significant loss of lean body mass (muscle and body organs).
  2. The rate of loss during the first several days of dieting will be greater than later in the dieting period. This is mainly due to the fact that, at the onset of a diet, in addition to fat-loss, there is an initial reduction in body carbohydrate and water stores, which also results in some weight loss.

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss

The general concept that weight-loss occurs due to a negative caloric balance (caloric deficit) is easy to understand. Nonetheless, recent evidence suggests that creating a fat deficit is another essential factor in weight-loss that is often overlooked. It is now accepted that dietary fat is more easily stored as body fat than are either carbohydrates or proteins. For example, if a positive caloric balance is created by eating large amounts of carbohydrates or proteins, many of the excess calories are used to repair body tissues, replace body carbohydrate stores or provide body energy. In contrast, if excess calories are consumed as fat, they are more likely to be stored as body fat.

Therefore, losing body fat is not as simple as creating a caloric deficit. The diet must provide a caloric deficit that also results in far deficit.

Losing Fat

The negative energy balance (caloric deficit) needed to lose one pound of fat is approximately 3500 calories.

From the above simple fact, it is easy to deduce that a weight-loss - from fat - of more than 1 to 2 pounds per week through dieting alone is almost impossible. Losing 2 pounds per week would require a daily caloric deficit of almost 1000 calories. A greater caloric cutback would be virtual suicide.

It is important to remember at this point that a caloric deficit can be created through a reduction of caloric intake, an increase in caloric expenditure, or both.

N.B. The caloric value of stored fat is inferior to that which contains other components that do not yield any calories. One gram of stored fat yields approximately 7 calories of ingested fat in adipose tissue.

The healthiest and safest way to lose weight and in order to ensure that most of the lost weight comes from stored fat, is to use a combination of healthy eating habits with a reasonable amount of reduction in caloric intake, with a good exercise plan that helps bum an additional amount of calories. Also, the increased muscle mass resulting from regular exercise is a sure and safe way to increase RMR, ensuring that we bum more calories even at rest.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2016 Mahmoud Ibrahim


Jana bk on September 11, 2018:

Great artical

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