There seems to be a never-ending debate in the diet and fitness industries regarding what matters more for fat loss and physique transformation: Food Quantity (calories and macros) vs. Food Quality (real vs. refined foods, etc.).
This circle jerk makes no sense to me for three reasons:
- They are somewhat interrelated, and one can have an impact on the other. For example, improving food choices almost always automatically improves diet numbers (I feel like that is like the fitness version of how my idol Brian Fantana talks about the fundamental benefit of Sex Panther cologne, “60% of the time, it works all the time.” Flip the food choice script, and most find it impossible to stay in the calorie deficit necessary for higher-level fat loss, at least for any meaningful length of time, without a decent quality-to-crap ratio.
- Food quantity and quality both freakin’ matter if you have higher-level physique goals (at least if you have average-to-crappy genetics, are over 30-years old, and are doing it naturally), and want to sustain some sort of a beach or bedroom-ready physique year-round.
- The way people seem to bitch and banter in the fitness industry, it almost makes it seem like its an either or choice you have to make in a vacuum. That’s fitness ridiculousness baby. You can focus on making improvements in both, and probably should if you want to merge health enhancement with physique enhancement, and want to rock those results on a long-term basis.
In this post, I hope to give you my take on this topic based on my practical experience in The Physique Game.
I should warn you right off the bat that this is a long a$$ post. The reason is I’m giving you that take via some chapters from my upcoming book — The 6-Pack Checklist.
In addition to tackling today’s specific blog post topic, I wanted to give you a little appetizer of the new book so you can get a taste of its style and strategies. That way, you can decide for yourself whether it tastes like shit, or is something you think you might dig…digging deeper into…
The “chapters” in this book are the actual checklist steps, and are ordered in hierarchy of importance. In other words, I think step #1 is the most important step to achieve your fat loss goals. Step two is the second most important, etc., and you should start at the top of the list to give yourself the best shot at succeeding.
I’ve included the first 3 steps in this post because it covers the specific quantity vs. quality topic comprehensively.
I also wanted to help get you started in the right fat-slashing direction, even if you decide the book isn’t for you (what, you don’t want a 6-Pack???). And I feel like the first three accomplishes that good deed.
So without further ado, lets do…this thing…
Step #1 – Get in the Calorie Deficit Necessary for Fat Loss
Step back from the scientific pontification and diet industry debate about whether or not calories matter, and think about carving out a Greek God or Goddess-like 6-Pack from an objective perspective.
How many people do you know who say something like, “calories don’t count, you only need to worry about carbs, kale, caveman foods, detoxing, drinking more water, or whatever the latest hot diet topic is…” are actually as lean as you’d like to be?
That’s why you see most of them wearing sweaters in webinars rather then walking around with their shirts off, pants off, or rolling around naked (hey now!).
Sitting around and sounding like you know what you are talking about is a hell of a lot easier than proving you know what you are doing by getting into elite shape in the real world.
Now flip the script. How many physique athletes and fitness models do you think know their calorie intake down to the last decimal point? And if you are tracking the grams of your macros – protein, carbs, fats — you are indirectly tracking calories.
You must ask yourself an important question right now my friend. Which is more important to you – sounding like you know what you are talking about when it comes to 6-packs, or actually getting one? These days those routes are very different.
If it’s the latter, then lets get something straight right off the bat baby. Calories definitely matter, and are the most important number to get right in the fat loss equation. They are not the only number as many calorie counting diets proclaim, but they are the most important one.
The Calorie Deficit vs. The Composition of the Diet
Each year many people go on a diet to lose weight. An active area of research is examining the efficacy and safety of energy-deficient diets that have different proportions of the macronutrients. At this time size of the caloric deficit appears to be more important to weight loss than the composition of the diet. Weight loss has been reported with both low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets and high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets. – Gropper, et al. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism
Despite some of the metabolic and hormonal advantages of certain foods and macronutrient ratios, total calories are still king. The only way to force your body to burn off stored fat is to take in fewer calories than you expend, on average, over some time frame.
Yes, certain foods–higher protein, not necessarily low carbs–offer a metabolic advantage (a higher percentage of calories are burned off in the digestion process), have greater impacts on satiety, and are less likely to be overeaten and stored as body fat.
Certain macronutrient amounts and ratios can impact blood sugar, satiety, insulin, glucagon, growth hormone, cAMP, HSL, and other hormones and enzymes that control fat storing and fat burning processes.
This is why you see so many diet books focused on how “protein is powerful” or “cutting carbs is cool.” The nerd in me can’t deny that these scientific processes are dead sexy. There is nothing like a frickin’ Biochemistry lecture to get your girl or dude in the mood right??
But if you want to go all the way and seal the deal (wait what are we talking about here – living lean year-round or getting laid, or both?), the bottom line fact remains — attaining an average negative energy balance is the most important fat loss step.
And to be honest, this whole “Calories vs. Metabolic Advantage Debate” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I envy you for having a balanced life outside of fitness) is all really a useless circle jerk debate anyways. Because if you want to get into elite shape, everything matters – calories, macronutrient amounts and ratios, the metabolic and hormonal impacts of foods, your ratio of gym time to personal mirror reflection time, etc.
And don’t worry. You don’t need to run out and get a PhD to get into elite shape. Although the technical science behind the fat loss process is crazy complex, and could take a lifetime to learn, the actual “what to do” in the real world is straightforward and simple. And you’ll automatically be covering it all as you work your way down our Checklist.
The Misunderstood Macro-Calorie Connection
Even if you are a “macronutrient” guy or gal (i.e. you gotta go low-carb to get lean), when you cut out a certain macronutrient, you are automatically cutting calories. If you are lowering your carb intake, you’re lowering overall calories — 4 calories per every gram of carb you cut.
On the flipside, if you are lowering your fat intake, you are lowering overall calories — 9 calories per every gram of fat you cut.
If you are improving your food quality by going Paleo or Vegan or All-Natural or whatever (the actual philosophical reason for removing refined food is irrelevant), chances are that change led to a reduction in total calories — 1500 calories or so for every supersized Meal #5 you cut out.
In all of the above scenarios, you were cutting calories whether you were conscious of it and counting, or not.
Now, those are all scenarios where ignoring calories can still go right. Lets talk about some scenarios where it can go wrong.
What happens when people just focus on macronutrients, and forget about the most important step in the fat loss hierarchy?
Low Fat Diets in Caloric Excess
Well, we learned some valuable lessons from The Low Fat Era of the 70’s and 80’s. First, feathered and hair-sprayed hair is totally cool and will never go out of style. I don’t care what modern hipsters and fashionistas say.
Second, you can cut your fat intake to zero, but if you are eating above your total calorie limits with low-fat cereals, snack packs, and sugar bombs all day, a bunch of bad things can happen:
- Once liver glycogen is full, and once muscle glycogen is full, the excess carbs will be stored as fat.
- With excess fuel and chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, the body has no need to burn fat as a fuel source. The body will never be forced to tap into its internal body fat stores as a reserve fuel (you won’t lose any body fat). It will just be trying to burn through all of that excess sugar all day – kind of like a kid in a candy store running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
- In addition, any dietary fat you take in will not get used as an immediate fuel source. It will simply be stored as fat (you will gain body fat).
Low Carb Diets in Caloric Excess
What happens when you go low-carb but still overeat total calories?
Many modern Low-Carbers and Paleo Proponents are making the exact same “messing with the macronutrients before tackling total calories” mistake. It’s like Jason & Friday the No-Fat 13th vs. Freddie Kruger & A Nightmare on No-Carb Street.
They are both horror stories, just with different slashing styles (or in our case, the inability to actually slash fat).
You can cut your carbs to zero, but if you are eating above your total calorie limits via unlimited dietary fat intake (downing butter and bacon bombs all day, pouring cream and oil over every meal like a gangster paying tribute to his homies, etc.), here are some things to consider:
- Lowering carbs and insulin increases fat oxidation (fat burning) rates. But increased fat oxidation rates do not necessarily equal lower body fat, no matter how intelligent or cool the word sounds.
- If you are in a state of caloric excess and there are fatty acids constantly circulating in your bloodstream from an unlimited dietary fat intake, your body will use those ingested fats as energy first BEFORE tapping into body fat stores.
- If you are eating above your total calorie limits, there is no physiological reason for your body to break down body fat. That’s an unnecessary extra step, and your body prefers the most efficient route to energy production possible, despite you wishing for something different.
- Forget the boring technical terms. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if your body is a “fat burning machine” if you are only burning ingested dietary fats instead of body fat. You won’t lose the love handles and get lean.
- Quite the opposite is true. Excess calories will be stored as body fat regardless.
You don’t have to memorize the boring biochemistry of either situation. Just remember this – total calories determine where your fuel is coming from (ingested food or internal body fat) and the ultimate fate of that fuel (burned off vs. stored).
Or, excess calories equal extra body fat, no matter how you slice up your macronutrient pie.
So even if you go low-fat, you still need to pay attention to the amount of carbohydrates you are taking in (in order to control overall calories) if you want to get lean.
And even if you go low-carb, you still need to pay attention to the amount of dietary fat you are taking in if you want to fulfill your 6-pack dream.
Why We Try to Skip the Calorie Step
Why do we cling to low carb, low fat, or low common sense diets while trying to dismiss total calories?
“Macro-bashing” plays to our desires. It demonizes a certain macronutrient and points to it as the cause of all of our body fat problems. Eliminate that nutrient, and you can eat as much as you want of everything else.
That’s what we really want to hear, isn’t it? You can eat as much of “X and Y” as you want, as long as you don’t eat “Z.”
Sure, eat all of that cheese, ice cream, oil, butter, and bacon as long as you don’t have that carb gram from a carrot stick.
Or eat all of those low fat, processed snack foods, smoothies, and sugary desserts as long as you don’t eat any saturated fat from good ol’ steak and eggs, etc.
In a world of overindulgence, we want to be able to gorge on something. It doesn’t work that way. Controlling total calories is the unfortunate fat loss truth. You can keep wasting time trying to get around that, or you can take the most efficient, straight-line path to slashing fat.
Calorie Cutting Options
I don’t want to be a total Debbie Downer and just the bearer of all bad news, because I’m a generally happy beach dude that likes to bring a little joy into the life of anyone he interacts with. So as my dear friend The Joker once said, “lets put a smile on that face”.
The good news is that once you are in a calorie deficit, a wide variety of diet approaches can work for fat loss and physique enhancement –typical bodybuilding and fitness programs, Paleo and caveman plans, vegetarian and vegan adventures, if-it-fits-your-macronutrient maestros, cultural and common sense diets, etc.
So you can ultimately find what resonates and works for you vs. getting suckered into the battle for diet supremacy. I certainly have my preferred route that I’m going to share with you in this book (Physique-Style Numbers + Island-Style Diets). But I’d be lying to you if I said a variety of other approaches don’t work well either.
And honestly, I don’t care how you get the calorie-cutting job done, as long as you do it. If you don’t want to track your food intake or count your calories, yet focusing on improving food quality is the more feasible way to get you in the deficit necessary for fat loss, I’m all for it.
This is the foundation of several diets–Paleo, Raw, Whole Foods, etc. Specific food templates are used to get you to avoid certain foods (mostly modern, processed, refined foods) and emphasize better ones (mostly real, whole, natural foods – this can range from near-carnivore to near-vegetarian).
For some, this approach works great. The improvement in food quality automatically leads to a reduction in calories. Fat is lost. Abs are found. Beautiful.
For others, this strict food choice approach is too restrictive. Making a wholesale change in their typical meals and food choices is too big of a leap. They struggle with adherence and alternate between “being good” and breaking protocol and bingeing.
Sometimes the slide lasts for weeks, months, or becomes their baseline plan because “fat loss dieting is too strict and unrealistic.” Their plan is to just grow the Buddha belly so big that they can ultimately wish it away.
For this group, the easiest and most seamless place to get started is to try to get in a calorie deficit with the foods they are already eating. If you want to go this route, it will mean tracking your food intake and numbers, and adjusting the portion sizes as necessary to get in a deficit.
This approach can definitely work in the short-term. But I’ll tell you why I don’ t think that is the best solution for a long-term, sustainable plan in the next section.
But please never forget the flipside to this fun and flexible calorie story. If you are “eating healthy” or “low-fat” or “going Paleo” or “going Raw” but are still not losing weight, shedding flab, and getting lean, now you know why:
Despite eating according to any dogma’s creed or false promises, if you’re not in a calorie deficit, you won’t slash fat and unveil your 6-pack – plain and simple.
Miyaki’s Preferred Method: Use Some Simple Fat Slashing Starting Points
How many calories should you shoot for as a starting assessment point?
There are more complex formulas (Harris-Benedict, Katch-McArdle, etc), but all numbers must be adjusted and refined anyways based on real-world progress and feedback. And to be honest, I think most of those textbook formulas overestimate how many calories people really need to get lean.
So here are a few simpler, ballpark starting assessment points.
- If you are sedentary, or only perform low-intensity activity (walking, low-intensity versions of yoga, etc.), start at 10 calories per pound of lean body mass. If you don’t know your lean body mass, use your target bodyweight.
But don’t expect to get a 6-pack if you are sedentary. If you are severely overweight and deconditioned, you can use this approach to lose a significant amount of weight in the beginning.
But eventually, you are going to have to earn you’re your higher-level goal of building a beach body with some kind of higher-intensity exercise.
- If you are moderately active – you perform 1-3 moderate to high-intensity training sessions per week (running, biking, strength training, cross-training, performance-based sports, more vigorous forms of yoga, bar-hopping, tantric sex, etc.) – start at 11 calories per pound of lean body mass. If you don’t know your lean body mass, use your target bodyweight.
- If you are very active – 4+ moderate-to-high-intensity training sessions per week – start at 12-13 calories per pound of lean body mass. If you don’t know your lean body mass, use your target bodyweight.
Step #2 – Reduce Refined & Hyper-palatable Foods
I hope the key takeaway from the last section stuck. We can argue over optimum dietary approaches into eternity — Paleo vs. Vegan, avoiding sugar vs. eating spinach, juicing vs. jumbalaya, etc.
But consistently hitting targeted numbers will always be the most important step in achieving ANY higher-level physique goal — fat loss, muscle gain, body re-composition, total body transformation, etc.
You can set, assess, adjust, and refine the diet numbers to achieve virtually any physique goal you desire. That’s why we started our fat loss conversation with the mind numbing details of calorie deficits – it’s the most important number to get right.
There is real truth to pure calorie counting and IIFYM (if it fits your macros) diets. If you don’t know what the second one is, its basically a more detailed version of calorie counting, and factors in the importance of your macronutrient amounts and ratios as well (like adequate protein levels for preserving lean muscle mass, which we’ll talk about in a future section).
The overall theory is that as long as you hit the right amounts of your calories, protein, carb, and dietary fat levels, you can eat whatever foods you want and reach your weight loss goals. In other words, make whatever foods you want to eat fit your targeted diet numbers, and you’re good to go.
Many bodybuilders, bikini divas, fitness models, and twenty-something’s follow this approach with great success. And it may just work for you too.
But, and I mean a big ol’ “it’s all about the bass” butt…
There are a few outliers with great genetics and super fast metabolisms that can eat whatever they want, burn it off, and look great. But for most of us with average genetics and metabolic rates, it is extremely difficult to stay in that calorie deficit necessary for maximal fat loss, for any meaningful length of time, IF you are eating a bunch of processed, refined, or hyper-palatable foods.
The Problems With Refined & Hyper-palatable Foods
Many researchers believe that these industrial foods are contributing to the obesity epidemic…A common view is that industrial foods promote obesity because they are “hyperpalatable”: so palatable that people will continue eating them even after they are full…Food reward, not hunger, is the main driving force behind eating in the modern obesogenic environment. Palatable foods, generally calorie-dense and rich in sugar/fat, are thus readily overconsumed despite the resulting health consequences…These findings collectively suggest that obesity can arise when animals or humans are confronted with foods whose palatability/reward value greatly exceeds that to which they are genetically adapted. – Paul Jaminet, author of The Perfect Health Diet
Here’s the real, fat slashing deal. Any diet plan can work for the short-term when motivation is high–say for an upcoming athletic event, for beach season, or just for updating your E-dating site profile or Facebook page. Most plans focus on this quick-fix mentality.
However, it is virtually impossible to stay in the relative calorie deficit necessary for fat loss, at least for any meaningful length of time, if you are making mostly poor food choices.
Or, the food choices that are making the average population overweight are the same foods that are difficult to diet on for advanced athletes during calorie deficits geared towards maximum fat loss. You just can’t cut calories while eating mostly crap and expect to stay the course.
This is where point systems or other calorie counting diets fail. This is also where I’ve seen extreme IIFYM approaches fail. You’re not going to be able to stay on a reduced calorie diet plan for long eating pop tarts, low-fat snack packs, and TV dinners.
Fake foods like this are just empty calories with no functional nutrients. They have no effects on satiety or the hormones that regulate appetite and energy intake. You will feel constantly hungry, deprived, and miserable dieting on these foods. In other words, you will constantly feel like you are DIEting.
That’s why people yo-yo on and off these plans. They are not sustainable. And it’s not because YOU went off the diet. It’s because THE DIET was not sustainable in the first place.
Motivation can make any plan work in the short-term, even less than ideal ones. That’s how motivation works. But it eventually wears out, and thus, doesn’t make things automatic.
And that’s where we ultimately want to get to for our goal to seamlessly stick: 6-pack automation. We want a year-round lean physique, not just a single weekend a year one.
Food Reward, Hunger Control, & Mindless Eating
I think most of us know 64oz sodas, super-sized fast food #5’s, a whole pizza pie, boxes of packaged snack foods, and King Kong size desserts aren’t that good for us. Some of this is obvious, but some of this is operates on a more subconscious level that most of us just aren’t even aware of.
That’s why we continue to eat these foods on a regular basis even though we know how bad they are for our overall health and wellness, and of course way more importantly, for our specific physique goals.
In other words, cutting back on these detrimental foods goes beyond just sheer discipline and willpower, because those resources are limited and unpredictable.
It’s about education, awareness, avoiding mindless eating for the most part, and implementing some targeted strategies throughout the very tough transition period. It’s about working hard to break bad habits, starting some better ones, and then riding the wave of momentum once they are established. It’s not always easy in the beginning, but it does get easier if you can power through initially.
The two main problems with refined & hyper-palatable foods are:
- Hyper-palatable foods override the natural hunger and satiety controls in our bodies (and more specifically brain). In the modern world with unlimited access to hyper-processed and hyper-palatable foods, most of us are eating much more for food reward rather than real physiological need. This leads to chronic caloric excess and body fat gain.
- There are scientists hired by processed food companies to create the most palatable foods possible. They experiment with different combinations of refined sugar, fats, salt, and flavorings to make these foods almost impossible to not overeat. You can’t avoid them, and you can’t stop eating them once you start. I won’t go as far as to say they cause addiction, but it operates on similar pathways. Food companies are literally exploiting natural food reward mechanisms in the human body to increase their sales (and unfortunately, our waistlines in the process).
The bottom line is that if you think you are going to be able to moderate your portions of these foods on a regular basis in order to drop body fat, I think you are sadly mistaken.
What Are The Most Hyper-palatable & Easily Overeaten Foods?
What are the most highly-rewarding foods? Generally speaking, modern processed foods are the most “rewarding”—typically in a combination of refined sugars and fats, mixed with artificial flavorings that are professionally engineered to maximize the reward factor in the brain…. If a large portion of your diet consists of these foods, you are likely to get dysfunction in the appetite regulation center of your brain and have serious issues with chronic overeating. – Ari Whitten, author of The Low Carb Myth
The obvious one is refined sugar. We just eat way too much of that sh!znit. It’s not necessarily that sugar is a toxic food (although in ultra high amounts it can be metabolically).
It’s just that it is so damn easy to overeat (especially combined with refined flour and refined fats) that it has sent our average calorie intake through the roof, and thus, our body fat levels bursting through the seams.
If you’re basically drinking coffee ice cream in liquid form every morning (caramel mochas), and combining it with a sugar-loaded pastry, you’re going to have a hard time slashing fat and carving out a 6-pack.
Now that’s not to let refined fats off the hook, and say low-carb, unlimited fat diets are the best way to go for shedding fat. In fact I think it is quite the opposite. I think we’ve come full circle in the nutritional world to where those are even more problematic, and are the #1 reason why the modern health & physique-conscious crowd (living in our Low-Carb Era) is failing to reach their final fat loss destination.
Get this — Consumption of refined salad dressings and cooking oils have increased a whopping 1450% over the last century! This is how you get supposedly “healthy” gourmet meals and salads that actually contain 1500 calories or more.
Remember, you gotta get in a calorie deficit if you want to get ripped. And it is very hard to do that if you are eating a high refined sugar OR high refined fat diet. Combine the two and you can, as Donnie Brasco said, “forget about it”.
How many Health & Wellness Hippies and No-Carb Hipsters do you know who are actually in elite shape?
Green et al. 1994. Effect of fat- and sucrose-containing foods on the size of eating episodes and energy intake in lean males; potential for causing overconsumption. Eur J Clin Nutr Aug;48(8):547-55.
These results have indicated that the size of an eating episode is influenced by the level of hunger and the nutrient composition of the foods consumed. High fat foods (probably due to higher energy density) lead to a passive overconsumption which generates a relatively weak satiety.
The Cafeteria Diet Example
As I said above, it’s not just a carb or fat thing. It’s a crappy refined food thing. We just eat way too much of it these days. Honestly, I don’t think people even realize how much more refined foods make us eat than we are meant to eat, or physiologically need.
Here is an analysis by obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet on a study regarding what was referred to as “The Cafeteria Diet”. This may put this topic into the proper perspective for you. Numbers never lie…
The first study was published in 1992, and seems initially to have simply been an attempt to design a novel way of accurately measuring food intake in free-living humans, which is notoriously difficult. Investigators created an “automated food-selection system” consisting of two large vending machines filled with a variety of prepared foods of known calorie and nutrient compositions. They recruited ten lean, healthy men. At the beginning of the experiment, the investigators took four days to determine each volunteer’s energy requirement for weight maintenance.
Then, in the setting of a metabolic ward where no other food was available, the volunteers were allowed to select and eat as much food as they pleased from the vending machines over seven days. The foods available included English muffins, French toast, pancakes with syrup, scrambled eggs, chicken pie, cheeseburgers, margarine, white sugar, various cakes and puddings, apples, jelly beans, Doritos, M and M’s, apple juice, 2% milk, sodas and several other foods.
I doubt the investigators were prepared for what they observed when they turned the ten men loose on those vending machines. They immediately began consuming excessive calories, an average of 1,544 kcal per day in excess of their previously determined energy needs (with a fairly typical macronutrient composition by percentage). That amounts to a roughly 60% increase in calorie intake over baseline, a striking change, particularly since it was completely voluntary. Over the course of seven days, the volunteers gained an average of 5.1 lb (2.3 kg).
The Study: Larson, et al. Spontaneous overfeeding with a ‘cafeteria diet’ in men: effects on 24-hour energy expenditure and substrate oxidation. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1995 May;19(5):331-7.
Again, the italicized analysis was by Stephan Guyenet. I highly recommend you read his work on food reward, hyper-palatability, non-industrialized cultural diets, and obesity research in general on his blog: Whole Health Source.
Here are a couple of specific articles to start with:
- The full Cafeteria Diet Study Analysis: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/09/humans-on-cafeteria-diet.html
- The Case for the Food Reward Hypothesis of Obesity Series: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/10/case-for-food-reward-hypothesis-of_07.html
Miyaki’s Preferred Method: Cut Back on The Crap to Start Slashing Fat
Lets summarize what we’ve covered so far.
- If you want to slash fat and unveil a 6-pack, you have to get in a calorie deficit.
- If you want to make getting into, and staying in that calorie deficit as easy and sustainable as possible (so you can stay lean year-round, not just suffer for a short-term goal), your best bet is to cut back on highly refined, processed, and hyper-palatable foods.
- This includes refined carbs (sugar, flour, etc.) AND refined fats (oils, butter, creams, sauces, etc.), AND especially fast and packaged foods that combine them both (processed snack foods, pastries, desserts, etc.). Notice I said cut back, not completely eliminate. We’ll talk about sustainability strategies in future sections.
- Instead, make real, whole, natural foods the foundation of your fat-slashing approach.
- Or in other words, before you start worrying about carbs vs. fats, or any of that other crap, think about improving your ratio of real-to-refined foods.
Step #3 – Emphasize High Satiety Whole Foods
Eat a diet comprised completely (or almost completely) of whole, unprocessed foods. This simple step will to a large degree eliminate highly rewarding processed food from your diet, and will allow you to get back into harmony with eating because of biological need, not because you’re trying to give yourself pleasure. This is the essential principle of a good fat loss diet…Whole, unprocessed food allows the amount of fullness you feel while eating to be in tune with how many calories you actually ate. In other words, by eating whole foods you will feel “full” and stop eating sooner than you will with processed foods. This means you will eat enough to be content while eating less. – Ari Whitten, author of The Low Carb Myth
More so than the over-the-top marketing material of “miracle foods”, I believe the real magic of high quality food choices when it comes to fat loss is that they improve the calorie-to-nutrient density ratio of the diet and also improve satiety, which makes staying in the calorie deficit necessary for fat loss a whole hell of a lot easier.
Ease of plan equals long-term adherence. And long-term adherence is the only thing that equals the real-world success that seems to be so elusive these days.
It’s easier to stay faithful to your fat loss plan when it emphasizes real, whole, natural, juicy melons (or long bananas, whatever you prefer)…I mean food.
As an experiment, I’ve had female clients struggle to net 1200 calories a day and male clients 1800 calories a day when they cut out all refined foods (including oils) and ate only real foods.
You don’t have to go to that extreme, but the lesson is that it is much easier to stay in the calorie deficit necessary for fat loss, while still giving your body all of the essential nutrients and micronutrients it needs, indefinitely, if you are at least emphasizing real, whole, natural foods.
Or, with certain food choices, you will be much more prepared to make your 6-pack stand, even in the modern food environment with more enemies trying to invade your belly fat stores than The Ancient Persian Armies.
Different Diet Templates That Automatically Reduce Caloric Intake
Now this may all sound like theoretical mumbo jumbo so far. But there is actually real research out there that validates these claims.
Jonsson, et al. A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 Nov 30;7:85.
METHODS: Twenty-nine male IHD patients with impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes type 2, and waist circumference > 94 cm, were randomized to ad libitum consumption of a Paleolithic diet (n = 14) based on lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs, and nuts, or a Mediterranean-like diet (n = 15) based on whole grains, low-fat dairy products, vegetables, fruit, fish, and oils and margarines during 12 weeks….
RESULTS: The Paleolithic group were as satiated as the Mediterranean group but consumed less energy per day (5.8 MJ/day vs. 7.6 MJ/day, Paleolithic vs. Mediterranean, p = 0.04). Consequently, the quotients of mean change in satiety during meal and mean consumed energy from food and drink were higher in the Paleolithic group (p = 0.03). Also, there was a strong trend for greater Satiety Quotient for energy in the Paleolithic group (p = 0.057).
CONCLUSIONS: A Paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a Mediterranean-like diet.
In his analysis and interpretation of the above study, obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet made some additional points:
Despite receiving no instruction to reduce calorie intake, the Paleolithic group only ate 1,388 calories per day, compared to 1,823 calories per day for the Mediterranean group*. That’s a remarkably low ad libitum calorie intake in the former (and a fairly low intake in the latter as well).
With such a low calorie intake over 12 weeks, you might think the Paleolithic group was starving. Fortunately, the authors had the foresight to measure satiety, or fullness, in both groups during the intervention. They found that satiety was almost identical in the two groups, despite the 24% lower calorie intake of the Paleolithic group.
In other words, the Paleolithic group was just as full as the Mediterranean group, despite a considerably lower intake of calories. This implies to me that the body fat “set point” decreased, allowing a reduced calorie intake while body fat stores were burned to make up the calorie deficit.
Now, here is the real crazy thing about this study. It is comparing two relatively healthy diet approaches, and there is still a significant difference when it comes to satiety and auto-regulating a reduced calorie intake.
What do you think that means when we compare either approach to a typical Y2K highly refined, processed, and fast food diet? Well, remember the Cafeteria Diet from the last section?
The average ad-libitum calorie intake (eat as much food as you want based on hunger) on the Cafeteria Diet was 4550 calories per day. The average ad-libitum calorie intake on the Mediterranean Diet was 1823 calories. The average ad-libitum calorie intake on the Paleolithic-style diet was 1388 calories.
So you see, while a calorie deficit is definitely the most important fat loss step, food choices factor in in terms of auto-regulating that reduction in calories. Or, good food choices make getting into the calorie deficit necessary for higher-level fat loss a hell of a lot easier, all while ensuring higher nutrient density and lower hunger. This, in turn, makes that approach a hell of a lot more sustainable. Hell yeah!
What Are the Highest Satiety Foods?
What are the highest satiety foods you can emphasize if you want to keep hunger under control during your fat slashing diet? Well, the above research study pretty much summed it up.
Additional research confirms the highest satiety foods are root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams), whole fruit, and animal proteins.
And it should come as no surprise that the lowest satiety foods you should cut back on are processed foods full of refined sugar, vegetable oil, and/or flour.
Holt, et al. A satiety index of common foods. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.
Satiety Index Chart
*High Satiety Foods
Boiled Potatoes 323%
*Low Satiety Foods
Candy Bar 70%
Translating Research Into Real World Templates
Sometimes it is good to get outside of the fitness world full of ads for protein shakes, sports drinks, meal replacements, and magic fat burning pills; and look at healthy cultural diets for real, unbiased clues about what to eat for optimal health and efficient fat loss.
Common food staples amongst some of the healthiest and fittest cultures in the world, ones that don’t even really focus on “dieting” per se (Okinawan, Kitavan, Traditional Japanese, Traditional Hawaiian, etc.), seem to include: fish, meats, wild game, eggs, vegetables, starchy root vegetables (sweet potatoes, potatoes, taro), rice, and whole fruit (including higher fat fruits like coconut and avocado).
Those sound exactly like the ones at the top of the satiety index chart huh?
A Little Leeway For a Lifestyle Plan
If you are eating high quality food 85-90% of the time, you can include some crap while still losing significant amounts of body fat.
So what I recommend doing is making healthy Island-style meals your foundation (eggs and fruit, steak and potato, fish and rice, chicken and sweet potato, all with some optional non-starchy vegetables in unlimited amounts), and then including a few cheat meals a week (usually on the weekend when you are out socializing and don’t want to be limited or stressed about your diet).
That’s a lot more doable as a long-term lifestyle plan than trying to cut out the foods you love indefinitely. Or, a little bit of flexibility right from the beginning yields a lot more long-term sustainability.
But the key is the ratio of quality-to-crap. It doesn’t have to be 100-0 as some militant diet cults and dogmatic creeds proclaim. But the truth is it can’t be 30-70 like it is for most of us these days living in Y2K. We need to toughen up and improve upon that ratio in order to slash fat and look awesome.
Miyaki’s Preferred Method: Eat an Island Style Diet
When you combine all of the above info from this chapter and the last, and translate that into a practical template you can keep in the back of your mind for simplicity’s sake, you get what I have come to call an Island-Style Diet Approach.
Its like a Paleo/Caveman-style diet with a little more starchy carbs from root vegetables and rice in order to better fuel and recover from the high-intensity training that is going to be necessary to build muscle, slash fat, and carve up your 6-pack.
- Animal proteins – fish, shellfish, poultry, meat, game meat, eggs.
- Whole fruit — juicy melons, long bananas, perfect peach bottoms, strawberries in the sack…whatever you prefer. Also berries, pineapple, apples, oranges, etc.
- Root vegetables (also called starchy tubers = the geekiest word on the planet) – yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, taro root, burdock, pumpkin, squash, etc.
- Vegetables – you know, greens ‘n’ things.
- White rice – this is a special case with a long, boring, and geeky story behind it. The short summary is that white rice is a pure starch without all of the compounds in most cereal grains that can be problematic for human digestion, and can be included as an additional carb source in the diet once your baseline essential nutrient and micronutrient needs have been met by animal and plant foods. For more on this topic, you can read this post on my website: http://natemiyaki.com/2013/01/07/in-defense-of-white-rice/
I think an Island-style Diet is one of the healthiest and most delicious ways to live lean year-round. But I’m just a beach dude married to an Island-girl, so maybe I’m biased as hell as well…
End of Chapter 3
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