How To Achieve a Better Physique: Diet, Calorie Counting, Food Density and More Part I
There are two uses of the word “diet”. There are 10 definitions of the word both as a noun and a verb on dictionary.com, and only one uses weight loss in it,. “Such a selection or limitation on the amount a person eats for reducing weight”. I will consider this definition number one. Since 77% of adults are trying to limit sugars at any given moment, they are dieting according to this definition of the word. (1)
For me and many people, (and dictionary.com) the real definition of “diet” is, “food and drink considered in terms of its quality, composition, and its effects on health”. I will consider this definition number 2. This definition is used in compound terms like “The Mediterranean Diet”, “The Vegan Diet”, and “The Paleo Diet”.
Since I possess a lean-to-normal body, losing weight has never been a goal. It was usually the opposite. I was so thin as a teen (less than 120 pounds at 5 feet eight inches) that I started weightlifting in college and gained 35 pounds in 30 months and still had abs! Food played no part in my quest; I just ate everything in sight like a typical teen. I was tracking my body composition more than my weight. Although I was not a body builder, I was using body building principles and the concept of body composition is a central theme to the body builder/physique minded community. This is a concept that has meaning for me.
The body is composed of water, fat, muscle and minerals. Fat is the easiest to change and that is why weight is still used as measure of progress while dieting. In my case as a late teen, I had added 30 pounds of mostly muscle. Had I been “skinny fat”, using my weight as a measure of success would have been a bad idea. If I had 30 pounds of excess fat and lost it, my weight would have stayed the same due to the addition of much needed muscle.
I recommend a healthy way of living to my patients that includes sleep, nutrition, stress management, movement etc. But weight is a concern for the majority. Mostly, folks are not trying to add muscle, so weight is a useful measurement. With a paleo template diet, nutrient density is the key, not energy density. What this means is that when eating “healthier” foods, people can eat much larger quantities of food compared to their old diet, resulting in feeling fuller after meals. They will stop eating sooner and spontaneously consume less calories. If one eats less calories than they burn, weight loss should occur.
Studies show that losing weight conditions the body to lower its metabolic rate and regain it quickly. To illustrate why, let me quote from a great paper entitled “Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Weight”. “A review concluded that “diet-induced weight loss results in long-term changes in appetite gut hormones, postulated to favor increased appetite and weight regain”(2). There are other physiological changes. When food intake was restricted, the resulting loss of body fat was associated with a decrease in the production of body heat and a reduction in metabolic rate (3), changes that will facilitate a return to the initial weight. More generally, the perceived reward of food increased following weight loss (4).” I have seen this in action. Those on a diet may or may not lose weight, when they do, it comes back, more quickly each time.
Because of papers like this, the concept of calorie counting was questioned. I have written on this subject before. Recently it was championed by people like Gary Taubes and Dave Asprey. They are very smart people and have done an amazing job of promoting healthy ideas. It is just that the public took away the idea that as long as you are eating highly nutritious food, no matter what the calorie content, you will not store it as fat. This is how I live my life. I have never been bothered to track how many calories I consume. I eat nutritious food when I am hungry and stop eating when I feel satisfied. A typical breakfast was a few ounces of Echo Falls smoked wild Alaskan Salmon, 1/8 of a teaspoon of salmon eggs, a three sugar cube size of Alexian liver pate, a handful of berries and two squares of Lindt 90% dark chocolate. These are mostly very energy dense foods due to the high fat content, but also very nutritionally dense foods. I feel full quickly and can skip lunch if I desire without feeling hangry. I can maintain a stable weight well without knowing the caloric content. Since I am lean, I never bothered to question the merits of this approach. Of course, It could be very easy to overconsume a diet so energy dense, as it is a small amount of food. I have a functioning satiety system, so it is no concern to me, but to someone who has metabolic syndrome, it could be a disaster.
Over the years, I have developed a list of people I highly respect, and often check in with them to learn. Nate Miyaki is one of them. His angle is physique-oriented eating. He never promotes anything like supplements which is unusual for the physique industry, he does promote knowledge that empowers individual behaviors that can get real results. He is a man after my own heart. I have purchased all his books and have enjoyed his fun style of communication. I noticed recently that he has developed a new course called Physique Nutrition Strategies which I decided to purchase as a way of supporting him. I am now trying out his strategies to experience first hand what he is suggesting. He quotes numerous scientific papers to support his approach. There are three main concepts. One: calories matter. Eat less than you burn, and you will reduce your fat levels. Two, high protein matters: eat at least 1 gram per pound of desired lean body mass and you can add muscle with a good resistance training program. Three, food quality matters.
There is good science to this approach and he provides links to the papers. One of the many reasons his methods work is that a satiety index has been developed that found eating foods that contained more protein, fiber, and water resulted in feeling fuller after a meal, whereas the fat content had the opposite impact (5). Satiety was higher and less weight was regained when high-protein meals had been consumed (6). Also, calorie tracking results in more weight loss and it improves the more you track. Weight gain after dieting is very common, but continued tracking is a benefit to keeping the weight off.
Do I need to lose weight? Not really. Can I improve my body composition and look better? Yes. Am I concerned that my fat level will quickly return to normal? Yes. Based on the science, I decided that I would see what the “dieting”to lose weight stuff is all about.
Without knowing my weight because I use the mirror as my guide, I determined my optimal lean mass based on my 35 year old self. It turns out I was 2.5 pounds away, so I lowered it to 4.5 pounds for a challenge. If this proves to be too much, I will adjust upward. This small amount of weight would only be noticeable with my shirt off, as it will result in the proverbial “abs”. I am doing everything suggested by Nate. I set an upper limit to the amount of calories I consume, and track my numbers with My Fitness Pal. I have also set the amount of protein, fat and carbs I eat each day. This has resulted in much lower energy dense food intake. I am eating much more food by volume.
Here are my observations so far:
I am eating a tremendous amount of food by volume. This is because I am eating 50% of my calories as carbohydrates. I am eating fruit and root vegetables. I like this very much.
I realized that I was eating a very low carb/high fat diet and probably in ketosis most of the day. (I don’t care whether I am in ketosis or not).
I realized that I was previously eating less protein than I thought. I thought I was eating a high protein diet due to overestimating the amount I was consuming. I was not happy to find this out as I believe higher protein diets maintain muscle mass and stave of sarcopenia over time. Sarcopenia is the steady decline of muscles with age. I am currently 57. I am happy I am now eating a high protein diet.
I have way more energy and stamina. I like this. Maybe ketosis was draining me of energy.
Weighing and measuring is fun since I am doing it with my wife and we always enjoy mutual endeavors. But I can see how the average person would think it a big bother-it takes lots of valuable time to determine what you can eat. I don’t like this.
I am hungry at meal times. I don’t like this as I can’t ignore meals when I am busy. Right now writing this post I am starving and having a hard time ignoring it. I am not hangry but fear It could morph into hangry.
I am seeing results after one week. I like this.
As you can see from the bullet points above, there are many things I like about Nate’s program. I promise you that I would have ceased to do this if there were too many negatives. I will write another post in the future when I am finished with my experiment. But I am gaining insight into how to diet for weight loss and can empathize more with my many patients who do. I feel this will help me in guiding my patients towards their health goals.