"Do you believe in Paleo?” (Or Atkins or Pritikin or the Zone or South Beach, etc.)
It's a somewhat loaded question to those of us who work in the fitness business.
Do I believe it exists? Like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy?
But that's not the real question I'm being asked. The question is really, "Do I believe that someone should eat this way?" And while my answer is a definitive "maybe," I think the "Paleo, Atkins, South Beach question misses the point, because it doesn't answer what the real issues are that prevent anyeating plan from working.
Popular diet books promise to cure us of our unsightly Muffin Tops and make us dynamos in the bedroom! Not only that, but if we’ll just follow their particular food restrictions, we won't have to count calories or workout either. Baloney!
If you read my previous blog, the Top 5 Reasons You're Not Seeing Results In The Gym, you will understand one thing about me: I believe in basic, straightforward solutions.
Continuing my quest to provide simple, actionable solutions, here are my Top 5 Reasons Your Fat-Loss Diet Isn't Working:
1. You Don't Count Calories.
The simple truth is the vast majority of us simply eat too much. We tend to eat too many calorie-dense foods, our portions are too big, and we eat too often.
Consuming the proper number of calories is the single best thing we can do to be successful at fat loss! In fact, it's so critical that my other four "reasons" could really be viewed as 1b, 1c, 1d and 1e. Everything refers back to our ability to control calories.
For fat loss, this means a calorie deficit. In other words, we need to burn more calories daily than we take in. We can create this deficit by eating fewer calories or exercising to burn more calories, or (preferably) a combination of both.
I know you were promised that if you just cut out carbs, or fat, or gluten, or meat, or dairy, or legumes or nightshades you wouldn’t have to worry about calories.
Sorry, but it’s simply not true.
It's no wonder that most of us have no idea how many calories we are eating. We were told it wasn't important. Yet without this knowledge, we can’t possibly create the proper calorie deficit to lose body fat. The onlyreason any diet works is that the food choices you are given to eat are typically lower in calories than the foods you were told to eliminate.
But make no mistake, it's not that you stopped eating animal protein or fat or sugar or legumes that got you to lose body fat. It’s simply that you created the needed calorie deficit.
Keep a food journal, or use a smart phone app to find out how much you're eating now. You may not need a whole new lifestyle; you may just need to eat less of what you're already eating.
2. You Demonize Nutrients
For Atkins, it was carbs. For Pritikin, it was fat. And for Paleo, it's legumes and "nightshades." Nightshades ... sounds scary, right?
To be fair, there is a poisonous nightshade called “Belladonna” or “Deadly Nightshade." It is poisonous and it can kill you. But to lump other nightshades like potatoes, peppers and eggplant in with Belladonna is simply ridiculous.
As is the idea that eliminating any single nutrient, food or food group is the key to fat loss (or that consuming it is the cause for obesity). Yes, there could be reasons for an individual to limit or eliminate specific nutrients (e.g. someone with Celiac Disease eliminating gluten). For most of us, this is completely unnecessary and could even lead to malnutrition.
But demonizing nutrients does sell a lot of diet books!
3. You Don’t Sleep Enough
Other than the danger of a middle of the night, Ambien-induced food binge, sleeping is hugely important for good health, and even for fat loss.
Lack of sleep has been positively correlated with an increase in metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity). Studies have also shown that sleep deprivation is inversely related to body fat (less sleep equals more body fat).
And while dieting, a lack of sleep leads to more of the weight being lost from lean body mass instead of fat mass, definitely not what you want. So get your ZZZZ’s!
4. You Follow Someone Else's Diet
If you told me I had to consume a diet that included sushi, radishes, cauliflower and avocado, you’d probably think I’d say that’s pretty healthy, right?
While those foods are good choices for some people, I HATE them all. What good is the best diet plan if you won’t follow it? The key is to find a diet that works for you, a diet that covers all your nutritional bases while creating the desired calorie deficit.
And perhaps most importantly, a diet that you can maintain your weight with once your fat loss goal is achieved.
5. You Don't Lift Weights
"Less Frosting, More Cake!"
I’m not talking about dessert here. But this is one way I describe body composition to my clients. We want a body that is more cake (muscle) and less fat (frosting).
Resistance training is, of course, the best way to add more “cake”. And one of the biggest problems I see is people who try to rely on dieting alone to lose body fat.
You've probably heard that you burn more calories when you add muscle. Technically, this is true, but the results are minuscule. You won’t magically be able to eat whatever you want just because you added a few pounds of muscle.
But what weight training does do is stimulate the retention of lean body mass while on a diet. Also, you are more likely to stick to your diet if you are concurrently exercising.
To be fair, fat loss can be complex at times and confounded by medical issues, socio-economic issues, etc. But most of us could achieve our goals far more quickly if we ignored all the hyped minutiae and focused on the Big Picture items I mentioned above.
As I learned growing up in the Midwest, "Don't step over a dollar to save a dime!"
Focus on counting calories, sleep, resistance training, and by all means, investigate what foods work best for you to stick to your eating plan.