You’re just getting started on your weight loss journey. How do you plan what to eat so that you can lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way? In this post I give 5 steps to get you going.
Step 1: Calculate your BMR
Your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, is the number of calories your body expends just to get through a normal day. It can also be referred to as your RMR, or Resting Metabolic Rate. Here's a place to get a rough calculation and further explanation. For me, I was at 290 pounds and 35% BF, male and 73", so the average is 2650 calories per day. Good to know! You get those calories through the food you eat.
Step 2: Factor in your weight loss goal
For me, my goal was to lose 2 pounds of fat a week. It takes 3500 calories to burn a pound of fat, so each week I would need to burn an additional 7000 calories beyond my BMR in order to lose. So for a week my calories from BMR would be 2650 times 7, or 18550 calories. Factoring in my weight loss goal, I would need to burn 7000 calories less than that, so 18550 - 7000 = 11550 per week. So my daily caloric intake would need to be 11550 divided by 7, or 1650 calories.
Step 3: Factor in your exercise
I haven't discussed exercise yet, but if you plan to exercise, you're burning extra calories. So if my daily caloric goal is 1650, if I'm exercising I would be burning additional calories. So whatever number of calories I'm burning from exercise would need to be added to that total. To get an idea of how many calories you're burning from exercise, check this out. I'll take a simple example. My exercise goal was to work out 5 times a week, 1/2 hour of cardio (like the elliptical) and 1/2 hour lifting weights. So checking out the calculations, I would be burning about 600 calories per day from exercise. But it's not every day, just 5 days a week. I could either average the exercise calories over the week, or just figure I get more calories on the days I exercise. I guess I'll take the extra calories on the exercise days, so Monday through Friday I get 1650 + 600 = 2250 calories, and on Saturday and Sunday I just get 1650 calories.
Step 4: Plan how to balance your calories
So all calories really aren't equal. I could figure I have 2250 calories to spend each day and choose to fill it with my favorite junk food - doughnuts, ice cream, chips, etc. But that doesn't work except for perhaps extreme athletes. For the rest of us, the quality of our calories really matter. You could call the concept "clean eating".
Basically, the idea is to avoid foods that contain sugar or refined carbohydrates. All the good stuff - soda, cookies, ice cream, pizza, chips, candy, white bread, etc. fits into this category. Avoid anything that has a label with more than about 4 or 5 ingredients (twinkies have 37). See this site for a more complete list. Don't feel like you can never have these foods. The idea is to eat them in moderation. If you tell yourself you can't have them ever, then that will just make you crave them more. So give yourself a cheat meal or two a week where you can splurge a little (don't eat the whole pizza!). My go-to cheat meal is pad thai. I love pad thai, and have it about once every other week.
In terms of what you should eat, you probably know already. We're talking whole foods mostly. Veggies, especially green veggies. High protein meats like chicken or lean steak, and whole grain products. Healthy fats like avacados, nuts and olive oil. Fruit a bit more in moderation.
There are varying opinions on grains in general, some people successfully swearing them off with great health results. For me, that change would have been too drastic, so I still have some whole grain bread, pasta, tortillas, etc. in my diet. See this site for a good basic list of healthy kinds of foods.
Again, there are many schools of thought surrounding healthy eating, but if you just avoid the unhealthy foods and eat mostly whole foods you'll be headed in the right direction. Do your own research, experiment and do what feels right for your body and health.
So now that you know what to eat, what to avoid and how many calories you should eat, you need to know how much of each type of food to eat. Again, I'm not a nutritionist so I can't really give you specific advice for your situation, but I can tell you what worked for me. In the beginning, I ate about 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fats. Now it's more in the 30% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 30% fats range. Here's a good basic post regarding the subject, and you can do your own research on the Internet. In future posts I will give ideas for daily meal planning that worked for me.
Step 5: Track your calorie consumption
The remaining mystery is how much protein, carbs and fat each food contains. You sort of need to know in order to plan your meals properly, and to track how you're doing. I use My Fitness Pal - it has a ton of foods in its database and it can help you plan and track your calorie and macronutrient consumption. You can use it on the Web, on your smart phone or on your tablet. There are many other apps and sites that do the same thing, so you can search. You don't need to feel like you have to track your calories forever, but you should do it for a few weeks until you start to just know how to eat healthily naturally.
These are the basics, see my other weight loss blog posts for more tips on how to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable manner. If you like what you read on my blog, please click on an ad or two which helps me keep it going. Thanks!