By Stephanie Margolis, R.D.
Everyone’s journey is different, we know this. But so many times we look at people online or in real life and think “If I can just do that thing they’re doing, then I’d be where I want to be.” The truth of the matter is that whether you are trying to lose weight, maintain your weight, have a healthy pregnancy, lose the baby weight, or just trying to have enough energy to get through the day with your littles, it all looks so different. However, one thing that is the same when it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, is you must focus on the foods you are putting in your body.
Nutrition can be a gigantic thing to try to tackle. There are so. many. options! What works for one may not work for another and what worked for you two years ago, may not work for you now. There is also the matter of finding what works for you – maybe you used to be able to spend the time to create healthy meals form scratch but now you need more assemble-and-serve options. Whatever the case may be it can be a lot to take in. Today we are putting the specifics aside and looking at the broad strokes of weight loss and weight maintenance, and help you meet your needs to matter what path you’re on.
Truth be told, the number on the scale is not the most accurate way to measure health. There are variables that can cause weight fluctuations, but it is often how we measure weight loss and it is an accessible tool to most. While some of this article will focus on weight loss, I want you to broaden your scope of weight loss and improved health to include other measures:
Ok, you’re in the weight loss mode. Clinically this is measured as losing 10% or more of your current body weight (this may not be your goal, but this is how it’s defined in the literature). In an analysis of 29 weight loss programs, researchers found that focusing on less processed foods, limiting the amount of added sugar in the diet, focusing in healthy snacks, and not skipping meals, led participants to the most success. This also included increasing their awareness of the foods they ate and their activity level – aka: self-monitoring. Additionally, weight loss that ranged from 0.5-2 pounds per week was the healthiest, most sustainable weight loss. While participants were prescribed a diet, the specifics of the nutrients varied so much that the take home message was to find what works for your body AND your lifestyle.
When we talk weight loss it should also be noted we aren’t talking dieting or diet culture. We are talking about feeding your body wholesome, nutritious foods with the end goal of feeling better and healthier. It’s not a short-term fix to hit a goal and then go back to the same unhealthy habits. Instead it’s a complete shift in the way you think about food.
Of course, there are times where a calculated and prescribed diet is needed, but other times just finding that space to trust your body and eat these healthier foods is exactly what you need. When you do focus on the numbers there is not a one-size-fits-all but instead are based on your basal metabolic rate – BMR – which is basically how much energy your body uses at rest. This amount varies depending on your gender, age, and weight (current or goal). Once you get that base number how active you are is calculated into account and creates a baseline for your calorie needs.
Beyond knowing how many calories you need, looking at where those calories come from is important. Macronutrients refer to carbs, fats, and protein – the three basic components of every diet. While exact percentages can vary, daily macronutrient percentages are found in the following ranges:
Figuring your calorie and macro levels can help get you started to a healthier lifestyle. As with much nutritional advice, I have often found that when I calculate a client’s initial numbers, we may have to go back and tweak things after 1-2 weeks if there’s been no progress. This can seem confusing and frustrating, but while these calculations are very well-researched, they are still averages and your body may just need a few more grams of fat and less carbs than the “average”. Therefore, it’s good to know where your information is coming from and to also work with a healthcare professional to make sure you are getting the foods that are right for you.
A note from the R.D.: When I am creating a meal plan for the general population I break it down to around 40-50% carbohydrates, including all the “good carbs”. Plus 20-25% fat, and 25% protein. This may not be the perfect composition for you and your body, but I have found that most of my clients find success with this mix. My advice is finding what works for you, your family and what helps you become the healthiest you can be.
To paraphrase another dietitian, weight loss and weight maintenance are like marriage. What got you to the altar may look different than what keeps you together for a lifetime. This is backed up by science (not the marriage part, the weight loss part 😊), the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that individuals who experience successful weight loss had to switch gears to be successful weight maintainers. In the same analysis of 29 weight loss programs, participants who maintained their weight for at least one year consumed high quality protein foods, had a consistent exercise program, rewarded themselves for sticking with it, and had regular reminders for why they wanted to maintain a healthy weight. This was the gear shift. What helped them lose weight in the beginning isn’t exactly what helped them keep that weight off.
There are several reasons why this shift is necessary after losing weight. First, your nutritional needs change. It is estimated that for every kilogram of weight (2.2 pounds) decreases your calorie needs by about 20-30 calories a day. This also explains why many will find they lose weight for a while, then hit a plateau, your body has hit a point where it’s needs have changed. It’s also about changing your relations hip with food. If you lose weight and want to keep it off it means you must completely change your relationship with food forever. This is the same for those who have found themselves slaves to strict diets, counting every macro, or exercising to excess.
Consider how active you are because that can impact your caloric intake. You don’t need to measure exactly how much you are burning … look past your activity watches! Instead go on how hungry you feel during the day. If you notice that you are hungrier on days you work out then enjoy a balanced protein and carbohydrate snack 30-60 minutes post-workout (check out our post-workout peanut butter balls or anti-inflammatory smoothie).
When you listen to your body, feed it wholesome foods, and move in ways that feel good you are most likely to maintain a weight that is right for you.