Once a few coworkers discovered the fact that I run a health website they asked me for some guidance in their efforts to lose weight as part of their New Year’s resolutions.
I thought it’d be fun to do some informal coaching to help them with their goals, especially since they were so motivated.
Unlike me, they don’t consider themselves to be biohackers or quantified-selfers, they don’t read health blogs or listen to paleo podcasts religiously, and they definitely don’t do blood tests or finger pricks for the fun of it.
These are folks that have some general knowledge of nutrition, but could definitely use a review, so I figured I’d start things simply.
Here are the initial instructions that I gave them:
1. Track your food intake on MyFitnessPal.
MyFitnessPal is the most convenient way I’ve found to record food intake and track macronutrients. I’ve been surprised countless times by tracking the nutritional content of something I ate.
I remember being shocked when I learned that the Cheesecake Factory Ultimate Red Velvet Cheesecake had 1250 calories!
On some cheat days I’d go to Cheesecake Factory, eat the bread, have an entree, and then punctuate it all with 2 slices of cheesecake. This came out to almost 4000 calories in a single sitting! It’s no wonder that my weight loss stalled.
Tracking will help you learn the macronutrients and caloric content of what you’re putting into your mouth.
2. Find the calories needed to maintain your current weight, then subtract 200 calories from it. This is your new daily calorie target.
Sites like this offer a calculator where you can input your age, height, weight, and activity level, and it will determine the amount of calories needed to maintain your current weight.
MyFitnessPal also has a similar function.
It’s important not to try for TOO MUCH of a caloric deficit, which is a pitfall many dieters run into. While it’s tempting to go for an aggressive deficit in order to lose weight faster, this can actually cause your body to slow down it’s metabolism which will further stymie your weight loss efforts.
Operating at too much of a deficit will also make you hungry all of the time, which can then make it easier to fall off the wagon.
Since I work with you guys, I don’t want to deal with hangry people all day long.
3. Eat no more than 50-75 gm of carbohydrates per day.
Limiting carb intake is what will change the hormones in your body to help you lose fat. This will also be the hardest rule to follow since carbs are in everything that tastes good. Pizza? Carbs. Cupcakes? Carbs. Chicken Parmesan? Carbs. Even ketchup has carbs.
Cutting carbs and increasing your fat and protein will also help suppress your appetite.
4. You can have one cheat meal per week.
Firstly, you have to earn it. If you’ve been eating more than your calories and more than your 50-75 gm of carbs, then you haven’t earned your cheat meal.
Secondly, having a cheat meal can be a super cathartic experience. Over the course of the week you’ll have cravings and be exposed to all sorts of temptations. Make a cheat meal list and add to it whenever one of these comes up.
Coworker eating a chocolate cookie and you want one? Add it to the list. Spouse downing a slice of pizza and you’re starting to drool? Add it to the list.
When your cheat meal comes around, break out your list and go to town.
Thirdly, this will give you something to look forward to every week. I remember literally getting excited, like a kid on christmas, when my cheat meals would come around. I couldn’t wait to go to bed the night before.
Here are a few of the questions they asked once they got started:
Can I subtract the fiber from the carbs?
Yes. You can definitely do subtract fiber from your total carb count.
Should sugar stay at a certain level? Does it fall under carbs?
Sugar is considered a carb and it definitely counts against your total carb count.
Can we have energy drinks please? What if they’re sugar free?
Yes you can have energy drinks, but only if they’re sugar free.
But keep in mind that there’s some science coming out now showing that sugar substitutes can be detrimental to your gut bacteria which can then make you fat.
What about wine?
Avoid during the week. The alcohol can really screw up your weight loss. Go to town on cheat days. If you absolutely MUST have wine, then opt for a drier wine, like Cabernet Savignon.
Can we use butter?
What about brown rice? Or wild rice?
These are carbs and will count against your total carb count. Feel free to eat this on your cheat meal.
Is there no such thing as a healthy carb?
Spinach. Broccoli. Celery. Brussel sprouts. Kale. Cauliflower
What about bacon?
It’s great. Eat as much as you want, as long as it fits into your total calorie target.
This goes the same for other questionable meats like hot dogs, spam, and sausage. While these probably aren’t good for your health in the long run, for the purposes of this challenge, they’re fine.
These are iffy. Better to skip these initially and them add them back in if things are going well. Go to town on cheat meals if you want.
I shouldn’t have eaten that banana.
Yes. Fruits can be dangerous when it comes to carbs.
Things I haven’t talked about yet
I know that the instructions I gave aren’t complete and aren’t the most optimal for health, but I recognize that it’s easy to get bogged down in all sorts of minutia when embarking on a new diet.
I could bring up the merits of conventional vs organic, grass fed vs grass finished, cage free vs pasture raised, vegetable oil vs olive oil etc… but for people that are just starting out, it can be overwhelming.
Even just navigating the world of food tracking and macronutrient counting can be a struggle.
Notice, that I didn’t dive too deeply into the science of any of this. I could have brought up the importance of the hormonal milieu and the fallacy of the calories in calories out model, but at this point I think it would just be more minutia to confuse things.
If they’re interested and ask, I’m more than happy to tell them more, but at this point they’re more focused on doing what they can to just follow these rules.
Also notice that I didn’t prescribe a ketogenic diet. All three of them are young females and I didn’t want to risk screwing up there hormones at this point nor did I want them getting bogged down in the details of ketone testing. This might be something I can explore with them in the future, but I don’t think we’re there yet.
I wanted to give them a set of parameters that would be easy to follow and stick to.
The next thing I’ll probably bring up with them is what sort of exercise I think they should do.
This is my first experience doing any sort of coaching like this, so I’m sure things will come up and we’ll have to tweak things here and there, but I’m pretty satisfied with this as a starting point.
I’ve started tracking my meals in solidarity with them.
My carb intake will be higher than theirs because of my activity level and my ongoing experimentation with my serum cholesterol.
*Image found here.