I love questions that make you stop and think, so I often have fun with this on Facebook to get other viewpoints and thought processes. This morning I posted an interesting question. Let’s take a hypothetical dieter and we’ll call him Bill. Bill needs to eat 2500 calories a day to lose 1 lb per week. He’s really great at hitting his calories consistently and keeps his protein, fats and carbs close to his goals.
He’s thinking about what to have for his next meal and has three choices:
- Option A – 19g protein/40g carbs/14g fat for 362 calories
- Option B – 18g protein/41g carbs/14g fat for 362 calories
- Option C – 18g protein/42g carbs/15g fat for 375 calories
Which choice do you think is the best to help him lose fat? Assuming that he still meets his calories and macro number goals for the day of course. Before you think it’s a trick question about Bill and men, the same question applies to Barbara who needs to eat 1600 calories per day to lose and is making this choice.
Option A was the popular answer from everyone because of the protein or the protein/carb ratio. On first glance, this answer was headed down the right path of thinking. When dieting there are several key things to keep in mind:
- Keep protein set high enough to prevent muscle loss
- Don’t drastically cut your calories but lower them just enough to get the scale moving and give you room to adjust at a plateau
- Include a mix of carbs and fats for energy, taste, and nutrient absorption
- Incorporate a resistance training program to again encourage muscle retention when dieting
If Bill and Barbara are doing all of that and consistently meeting their overall calorie goals, there is no significant difference in these meals with regards to fat loss. You can look solely at this meal and say that Option C has 13 extra calories, but even if done daily for an entire week that adds up to less than 100 calories. No big deal and it won’t prevent fat loss. You can think about meal timing or carbs around workouts, but for most of us who are just wanting to look good naked that isn’t worth the effort.
You can look at Option A and say it has more protein and fewer carbs than the others, but 1 gram here and there makes no difference. Additionally in the context of the entire day, Bill and Barbara may even come in with exactly the same totals regardless of which option they choose for this meal. They key here is that they meet their overall calorie and protein targets, and then make up the rest in carbs and fats while coming close to their goal numbers.
Being me, you know there’s a trick in there somewhere. What if I gave you these details about the foods in each option:
- Option A – Arby’s chicken tenders and a pumpkin pie Pop Tart
- Option B – grilled chicken breast, baked sweet potato, and olive oil
- Option C – Harkin’s movie theater popcorn – small without butter, Jack Link’s beef jerky, strawberry Twizzlers
Would you change your answer? Again, with regards to fat loss there is no significant difference between these meals as long as it is incorporated into your overall calorie and macro goals for the day. I will say that the sodium levels of each meal are vastly different – 756mg, 260mg, and 1386mg respectively. Sodium impacts water weight however, and won’t make a difference in fat loss.
Now before you point your finger at me in horror at me suggesting this, let me explain. I am not telling you to go eat popcorn, twizzlers, and beef jerky at each meal and you’ll be fine. Not at all. Your overall health goals should focus on mainly whole, unprocessed foods with a wide variety of proteins, grains, fruits, and veggies to ensure that you get a good bit of nutrients from your foods. Fitting small amounts of fun things in if you’re focused on the big picture won’t prevent you from reaching your fat loss goals.
Preservatives, sodium, and other ingredients can factor in to metabolic processes like cholesterol, vitamin deficiencies, insulin and more so these foods shouldn’t be eaten at every meal. You may choose to limit them to a few times a week or even once a week or less as a personal preference. If your diet starting out is mostly processed foods, a gradual substitution process may work best over cold turkey as you learn to incorporate more whole foods into your eating.
Your goal should be to have a healthy mindset about your eating as opposed to black and white thinking of good and bad foods. There are also non-physical factors to consider. Fun foods need to be factored into the overall picture like anything else you eat. Some people have trouble not overeating these types of foods so that could be a problem. Overeating them can hinder fat loss because of the excess calories.
Many times these foods are lower in volume for the same calories as less processed foods. You get a smaller amount of Option A than you do of Option B, so you could find yourself hungry faster and overeating. Again, it’s the overeating that can impact fat loss not the eating of Option A. On the other side of the coin, considering foods like Option A and Option C as off limits and severely restricted can backfire on you. If you are craving them and keep avoiding them, most of us eventually cave and end up going overboard or we feel resentful of the diet process and give up our goals.
Some people reserve these for only on cheat days or cheat meals, and then consume huge amounts of them to make up for rarely eating them in a starve binge pattern. Others truly don’t like these types of foods and don’t want to eat them which is another choice. It’s the coercion to not eat them and perceived taboo-ness that can lead to problems and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Working them in as you see fit and considering them as part of the bigger picture will still keep you headed towards your goals and help you build sustainable habits that will carry you through to long term weight maintenance and a healthy outlook on eating. That’s a pretty powerful thing in my book. 🙂
If you’re looking to change your thoughts about food and finding a more moderate approach to dieting, building muscle or maintaining your weight, let me know where I can help at email@example.com. Life is too short to stress about the little details with food.