How to Eat to Lose Weight

When it comes to eating for weight loss, two things matter: WHAT you eat (ie macronutrient balance: protein, fat, and carbs) and HOW MUCH you eat (ie calories). You can’t get around the fact that a calorie deficit is essential for losing weight. You can eat the most healthy/vegetarian/organic/low-carb/unprocessed/raw/paleo diet in the world, but if you’re not eating at a deficit then you won’t lose weight, and you might even gain. At the same time, a calorie deficit alone might make the scale go down, but if you ignore nutrients and balance then you won’t be healthy, it’s unlikely to be sustainable, and you’ll never actually get the body you probably want.

The approach I use isn’t the only one, but it’s a good place to start. It’s a very basic and flexible plan that can be adapted to almost any eating style, and will easily become intuitive as you transition into maintenance. The way I present things might seem a little out of order, but reflects the approach that I take to how I eat and how I believe people should eat.

First, a quick rundown of the three macronutrients:

  1. PROTEINS – have 4 calories per gram
  2. FATS- have 9 calories per gram
  3. CARBOHYDRATES – have 4 calories per gram
Some foods fall pretty clearly into one category (ie butter is a fat, egg whites are protein, fruits are carbs) but many fall into more than one. An internet/phone application like LoseIt, MyFitnessPal, etc is pretty much essential for tracking these–otherwise it’s going to be wayy too much work.

PART 1: DETERMINING HOW MUCH OF EVERYTHING TO EAT

1) Protein: 

Eat one gram of protein per pound of your ideal body weight. Multiply this number by 4 for the number of protein calories you should eat each day.

For example, let’s say my ideal body weight is 130 lbs (that’s the lowest I’d ever want to go). So I should eat 130 grams of protein per day, or 130 x 4 = 520 calories from protein.

2) Fat:

Eat .3 to .5 grams of fat per pound of your ideal body weight. Multiply this number by 9 for the number of fat calories you should eat each day.

I should eat between 130 x .3 = 39 grams of fat and 130 x .5 = 65 grams of fat–I’ll say 50 grams. 50 x 9 = 450 calories per day.


**NOTE: You might have noticed that so far we haven’t taken into account your starting weight, how much weight you want to lose, or how many calories you’re eating. These are your BASELINE amounts of protein and fat regardless of how much you weigh, want to lose, or how much you eat. So how do you lose weight? By manipulating your carbohydrate intake, as follows:

3) Carbohydrates:

Determining your ideal carbohydrate intake requires working backwards.

Step 1: determine your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate, ie the number of calories you’d burn if you laid in bed all day). You can use an online calculator like this one http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/.

I input my age (21), height (5’8), and weight (140) for a BMR of 1485.

Step 2: Multiply this number by your activity level to determine your calorie maintenance needs.

Harris Benedict Formula

To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:

  1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  3. If you are moderatetely active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

Right now I’m going to say I’m moderately active and multiply by 1.5, for a daily maintenance level of about 2225.

**NOTE: Already you can see that this is only going to produce a rough estimation–this BMR calculator doesn’t take into account muscle mass or metabolic differences, and determining an activity level is pretty subjective. But that’s okay because it’s just a starting place.

Step 3: Figure out the caloric deficit you need for your weight loss goals (1 lb ~ 3500 calories) and subtract this number from your calorie maintenance level to determine your daily calorie goal.

Let’s say I want to lose 5 lbs per month, or 1.25 lbs per week. 1.25 x 3500 = 4375 calorie deficit per week, or 625 per day. 2225 – 625 = 1600 calories per day.

**NOTE: You know how you always hear that you’re not supposed to lose more than 2 lbs per week? Well, you can see why. 2 lbs per week is a 1000 calorie deficit per day, and you’d have to be eating a lot already to create this much of a deficit without going below your basic nutrient needs–it’s not realistic unless you’re starting out as overweight or obese. Also, if your weight loss goals put you below 1200 calories per day, you need to change your goals–1200 calories is NOT as much as you think, and your body will thank you in the long run.

Step 4: Subtract your protein and fat calories from your daily calorie goal to determine how many carbohydrate calories you can eat. Divide by 4 to find daily grams of carbs.

1600 – (520 + 450) = 630 calories from carbs per day. 630/4 = 158 grams of carbs per day.

So let’s review: if I am a moderately active 5’8, 140 lb, 21 year old girl and I want to lose 1.25 lbs per week, I should aim for an average of 1600 calories per day made up of 130 g protein, 50 g fat, and 158 g carbs (a ratio of approximately 32% protein, 28% fat, and 40% carbs). Does this mean if I follow this formula exactly, I will automatically lose 1.25 lbs every single week? NO. Your body is not a calculator, fat loss is not linear, and it’s not always reflected accurately by the scale. Moreover, many of the inputs will vary from person to person, PLUS the lower your weight, the harder it becomes to lose, and most people have a threshold that it’s going to be pretty much impossible to get below (I may never weigh 130 lbs for example–it’s just an easy number to use to illustrate). Also, it’s pretty much impossible to follow this exactly–this is just a starting point.

PART TWO: DIVIDING UP YOUR INTAKE

So once you’ve figured out your desired calorie and macronutrient intake, you could just decide to eat the same amount every day, which is what a lot of people do. However, I prefer to vary my intake from day to day based on my natural hunger levels, what I’m doing that day, whether I’m eating out or in, etc. So I think about my nutrient needs on a weekly basis, not a daily basis–ie I want to be eating 11,200 calories per week, made up of 910 g protein, 350 g fat, and 1100 g carbs.

First of all, I’m going to subtract 1000 calories per week for alcohol (including mixers). Because I drink and party, that’s a part of my lifestyle and I’m not just going to put that on hold. If I tried to fit alcohol calories into the days I drink, it wouldn’t leave me enough space for food on those days, so I’m just going to take it out from the get-go. 1000 calories is just an estimate and varies week to week–some weeks I don’t drink at all, and some weeks *cough spring break last week cough* I probably drink that much daily–but it should average out on a monthly basis. Those calories are basically all carbs, so I’m going to subtract 1000 calories and 1000/4 = 250 g carbs from my weekly goals, leaving me with 10,200 calories per week with 910 g protein, 350 g fat, and 850 g carbs (for a food ratio of about 36% protein, 31% fat, and 33% carbs)

Now, I could just divide 10,200 calories evenly across the week for about 1450 calories per day, but I don’t want to do that, because again my needs/wants vary day to day. I prefer to calorie cycle, eating lower-calorie 4-5 days a week and higher-calorie 2-3 days a week). For example, I might average 1200 calories 5 days per week, and 2100 calories 2 days per week. (*Actually, I honestly eat more than this–more like 1200 calories 4 days per week, 2000 calories 2 days per week, and 3000 once a week–I’m just trying to make the numbers work out for the purpose of the example)

As far as dividing up your macronutrients, you can vary that too. When I eat more, I tend to eat more of EVERYTHING, so my ratios are consistent–if I eat 3000 calories for instance, it’s about 250g protein, 100g fat, 300g carbohydrates. However, you might prefer to save your carbs for the higher calorie days to indulge in baked goods, bread, etc–it’s whatever works!

NOTES:

1. I don’t follow this exactly–it would be impossible! It’s just a good starting place for thinking about your needs. Chances are you will want to tweak your deficit goals, nutrient ratios, and weekly division depending on what’s working for you. And once this style of eating becomes natural, you probably won’t need to track at all–it will just be intuitive (I didn’t track at all while maintaining my weight last year, because I didn’t know about the phone tracking apps).

2. Note that this says nothing about WHAT foods to eat. You can adapt this approach to any lifestyle–vegan, vegetarian, paleo, raw foods, organic foods, etc. Also, note there is nothing that you HAVE to eat or nothing that you CAN’T eat on this plan. Granted you might have trouble eating an ice cream sundae with 200 g carbs if your daily goal is only 150 g, but if you want to make it work on a weekly basis you totally can. There are literally no foods that would be considered “cheat” foods (I hate that term anyway–you’re not “cheating,” you’re eating!). Therefore I believe it’s a psychologically healthy way to think about food for life–not just temporarily.

3. That being said, this is designed for the “average” person. If you’re training to run a marathon, or to compete in a bodybuilding competition, or you have special medical needs, then your needs might be different, and I’m not even going to attempt to comment on them–talk to a coach, trainer, doctor, or at least just look to a blogger that has experience in your personal needs!

4. This also doesn’t address/account for exercise (besides accounting for your activity level). Exercise is SO important for getting and keeping the body you want, it’s just too much to address in one post.

5. Don’t eat back your exercise calories if you’re doing this – because you’re already accounting for them in your activity level. All calorie levels refer just to intake calories, not “net” calories. (I’m going to post later why I fundamentally disagree with eating back  exercise calories.)

I hope this was helpful and please feel free to message me if you have any questions!!

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Booty Shot!

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1) I love yoga pants!!! How did I not own any before? 

2) I rolled up my shirt because otherwise it blends into the bed

3) I have a giant rib cage that sometimes looks weird (not sure if you can tell here). It goes with my large bone structure and size 11 feet

4) My butt look really small here to me. It always goes into hibernation for the winter when I stop running! I plan to start again soon; it’s just hard to get motivated when there’s nowhere good to run on my campus. I don’t run for appearance/weight loss purposes (that’s why I lift!) but I like to have enough endurance to run a substantial distance when I feel like it. When I’m in good running shape I can usually do about 5 miles pretty easily, right now I could maybeee run 1.5

5) That’s not my room, it’s a seriously awesome hotel room that I stayed in Wednesday night for an interview. I’ve never had a hotel room to myself before and it was SO cool!

 

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^^ Me being a baller on my king size hotel bed…I definitely didn’t start jumping on it within 60 seconds of entering the room. Nope, wouldn’t do that 🙂

Spring Break 2012! (Abs!)

Arms!

In literally just the past two weeks, I’ve noticed my arms getting much more defined and it makes me so happy! My arms have always been my trouble spot and I often try to disguise them with a cardigan or long-sleeve shirt. This is the opposite of most women—it’s actually typical for women to lose weight top down, and most point to their stomach, hips, or thighs as a trouble spot. I get so jealous when I see girls who are 20 or 30 pounds heavier than me, yet their arms look amazing in photos, or girls whose arms look more defined after three weeks of lifting than mine do after six months.

The changes in my arms represent about 15 MONTHS of heavy lifting, coupled with getting to a low enough weight/body fat level for the muscles to show. It takes time to work against genetics, but it is possible!

Vanity Sizing

When I walked into the Ann Taylor dressing room a couple days ago, I overheard a woman fretting to her husband that the size 2 dress she was trying on made her look dumpy. The woman was probably in her mid-40s and pretty petite—about 5’2 or 5’3 and thin. The dress was a flowered sheath that I thought was adorable, it was just clearly too big.

Me: “I love that dress on you! It’s just too big. Try a size 0.”

Her: “HAHAHAHA I love this girl!”

…I guess she thought I was kidding, because she didn’t try a smaller size but continued to try on different dresses, and lamenting that none of them looked good. A few minutes later, we both walked out wearing the exact same dress.

Her: (teasingly) “See, that’s what it’s supposed to look like! Why does it look like that on her and not me?” 

Me: “What size are you wearing?”

Her: “Size 2”

Me: “So am I. You can see that I’m a lot bigger than you and this size fits me, so you’d take a smaller size. You need a 0 or 00.”

Her: *in shock, says nothing*

Me: “Vanity sizing is really common nowadays. If you’re used to buying clothes 10 or 20 years ago (my diplomatic way of referring to her age), you probably need a size or two or three smaller now.”

With the combination of my stellar logic and obvious visual illustration, the woman was persuaded to try a smaller size and everyone was happy…just kidding! She left the store empty-handed. I guess she still didn’t believe me, despite the fact that she could look in the mirror and see me beside her standing six inches taller and a good 20 pounds heavier.  But she was having none of it.

Anyway, my point is that it’s important not to be stuck on the idea of wearing one particular size. It’s funny because it’s much more common for people to insist they wear a smaller size than they actually do, not larger, but I can see where adults who aren’t really aware of vanity sizing find it impossible that they’d be two sizes smaller when they haven’t lost weight-especially since size zero didn’t even EXIST until pretty recently. I’m definitely guilty of this myself (although for me like most people it’s harder to go ABOVE the size I’m used to!) but this incident is a good reminder that this is a silly attitude. After all, no one’s going to look at you and be impressed because you’re wearing an 8 instead of a 10, nor will they judge you for having the audacity to wear a small when everything else in your closet is large; they’re just going to think “wow, her clothes do/don’t fit.” 

This especially pertinent if you’ve recently lost weight, because you may think you know your size but be totally wrong. Now it’s pretty obvious that you’re wearing the wrong size if you can’t get a pair of pants past your thighs, or if you have enough space in them to practically smuggle a small child. What’s tricky is when a piece of clothing fits, but doesn’t look quite right. In that case, you should try one (or two) size(s) bigger AND one (or two) size(s) smaller. That way you can tell if the skirt is wrinkling because it’s too small and pulling across your thighs, or because it’s too big and there’s excess material. And if neither way looks good, it’s a good tip-off that the item just doesn’t work for you. But don’t assume that until you’ve at least tried on more than one size!

(*Note: I always tell people when I like their outfit in fitting rooms. Or chime in if someone’s openly debating between two things. I figure that a random shopper’s opinion is probably more useful than that of a salesperson who’s trying to make a commission, and I love when I get compliments/feedback so I figure other people like that too. Plus it’s fun to talk to people and hear about how they’re buying a dress for homecoming, looking for the perfect outfit for their son’s wedding, etc. And I used to work in retail so it’s hard to break the habit!)

Subway Veggie Patties

When I say I want Subway, which is often, what I mean is I want their veggie patties. Not the sandwich, just the patty. One has 160 calories, 5g fat, 12g carbs, and 15g protein so two make a pretty good snack or small meal! Usually they’ll only charge $1 per patty (I got two for $1 Monday and almost died of happiness) so it’s a really good deal. Sometimes the Subway employees are confused and I have to pay the normal sub price or make it into a salad which isn’t as good of a deal, but I figuring I’m still only paying for what I would be eating. And sometimes the Subway employees are really, REALLY confused and this happens:

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That would be a bread-less sub shoved into a soup cup, lol.

But anyway, whether you’re a vegetarian or not, this is a really good option for when you’re out and want to grab something on the go. It’s also a good alternative to pizza when you’re looking for a post-drinking food, just saying 😉

Shopping

Yesterday I had a major shopping trip for the first time in forever. Back when I had a car on campus, I would go to the mall all the time—there’s one right between my house and campus, so it was easy to stop by every time I went home. Over the summer, there was a mall less than 5 minutes from my internship, and I was in heaven. However, not having a car makes shopping a lot harder, plus I’m trying to be more careful with money. But I had to get a suit, cocktail dress, and heels for my interview, so I took the metro to the mall yesterday for a long but successful shopping trip. I bought:

1) Black pumps from Nine West

2) Skirt suit from The Limited

3) Two silk tops from The Limited to go under the suit (my mom calls them shells!)

 

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I was SO happy about this suit! I had one on hold at Ann Taylor but I was just so-so about it. Then I stopped in The Limited on a whim 40 minutes before the mall closed and found this one—exactly what I was looking for and $100 less than the one from Ann Taylor. The silk tops were on sale for $10 each.

4) Cocktail dress from Ann Taylor

 

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This dress was WAY more expensive than I’d normally buy, but I was on short notice and it’s perfect for my pre-interview reception tonight. It’s a size 4 and a little big—they didn’t have a 2 and the 0 was a little too tight for the professional occasion.

5) Sleeveless top and cardigan from The Limited

 

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I love the spring-y colors of this shirt, and I needed a white cardigan and this one was on sale! I thought I could wear this while walking around Richmond on Friday as well as for Easter at my grandparents next weekend.

6) Three stretchy striped tank tops from The Limited

 

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I have this tank top in blue-green and white and love it—the stretchy material makes for a great fit and has held up for years. So when I saw these on sale for $10 each, I snatched them up!

7) Black and white button-downs plus bracelet and earrings from Express

 

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These button-downs are great staples and they were on sale for $20 each (normally $50). I also got the silver bracelet to wear with my suit, which matches the fishhook bracelet from St. John that I wear daily as well as the above silver necklace that I often wear.

8) Three white t-shirts, three white tank-tops, and four colored tank-tops from Forever 21

 

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Forever 21’s $4.80 t-shirts and $2.80 tank tops are a staple of my wardrobe—they look great and you can’t beat the price! They get worn out because I wear them all the time to the gym and under everything, so every once in awhile I’ll replace them.

9) Stretchy yoga pants for Forever 21

 

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I don’t own yoga pants and really wanted a pair! I was looking at Victoria’s Secret but I’m really glad I found them here instead for only $20.

10) Black and white lace shirts from Forever 21

 

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11) Black and white bras from Victoria’s Secret

 

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These are THE most comfortable bras ever! I have a pretty good collection of matching lingerie sets, but on an everyday basis I just wear white or black, and all my “regular” underwear are white or black so I still always match 🙂 Unfortunately the washer destroyed these bras in France so they needed replaced.

I’m very happy with my shopping trip! Yes I spent a LOT of money (ughhh) but everything was either items that I had planned to buy (bras, tops and workout pants, pumps), basic staples on good sale (button-downs, cardigan, bracelet, earrings), or just really cheap items that are multifunctional and will add some variety to my wardrobe for spring (silk tops, stretchy tank tops, lace shirts). I also made sure to pick clothes that I know will fit if I lose 5 pounds or so (plus the 2-3 pounds of water weight I probably gained from spring break) and steered clear of shorts/skirts or fitted tops. The one exception was the skirt suit and dress—they were both pretty expensive and I can already tell that the dress is WAY too big and the suit will likely be too big soon. Most likely I will return the dress and return or exchange the suit, depending on the state of my bank account!

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