"I eat really healthy. So why aren't I losing fat?" - Optimize Fitness & Performance

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We're an award-winning personal training gym in Franklin, MA.

Founded in 2014, our mission is to teach people how to become stronger, more fit, and more confident through strength training and healthy eating.

Educating our members is key to our mission. Welcome to our fitness & nutrition blog.

“I eat really healthy. Why aren’t I losing fat?”

I hear the question – “I eat really healthy. Why aren’t I losing fat?” 3-4x every week as a personal trainer.

80% of the time, these clients really are eating “healthy”. They’re working hard, staying disciplined, and are making healthy choices 80-90% of the time.

But, here’s the catch –  “eating healthy” isn’t the same as eating to lose fat.

The last few years have focused on “just eat healthier”. “Just eat clean”.

Do the Whole30/Paleo/Ketogenic Diet, eliminate a bunch of food groups, and BAM! – six pack abs, baby.

Many of my clients start off this way. To lose weight, they clean up their diet and clean out their pantries. Gone are the processed foods, the cakes, the cookies, and the booze.

  • We’re shopping the perimeter of the grocery store!
  • We’re eating kale, granola, avocados, organic meats, couscous, and lentils.
  • We’re making protein shakes with superfoods.
  • We’re buying Organic whenever possible.

We’re eating clean! Hooray! Problem solved. Abs incoming!   (..right?)

Not so fast.

Clean eating isn’t enough to get really lean

Clean eating is a phenomenal way to start – and it makes losing fat and getting lean much simpler. I’m not knocking it. It’s a fundamental habit for all of my clients.

I’m also a big fan of mindful eating methods. They’re the first few skills that I work with my nutrition coaching clients on. (Curious? Start with this article here).

Mindful eating skills are essential habits in the fat loss toolbox.

However, you still must be mindful of what we call Energy Balance.

Simply put – how many calories you take in, versus how many calories you burn each day. To lose fat, you must burn more calories than you consume. Period.

This is an irrefutable law of the human body. It’s thermodynamics. It is essential!

All of the effective diets, from Atkins to Ketogenic diets to Paleo to Intermittent Fasting – work because they reduce the amount of calories that you are eating every day.

If you read my last article (Protein: the Real Fat Loss Superfood), you know that intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets are NOT superior for fat loss.

Remember – if you match the total calories and the amount of protein consumed, most diets work equally well.

This was the conclusion that the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a leading research journal and certification body in health & fitness, came to in their 2017 position stand, which you can read here.

A Brief Overview of Popular Diets and How They Restrict Total Calories

Diet How it Helps Restrict Calories
Intermittent Fasting Tells you to eat only within an 8 hour window of each day. If you eat only until you’re satisfied, not full, this is a simple way to curb overeating.
Ketogenic Diet Cuts carbs and focuses on protein and very high fat intake. Requires strict monitoring of calories from carbs each day, which basically makes it calorie counting. The focus on protein and on eliminating hyper-palatable carbs, like pasta, make it easier to not overeat.
Whole30 Eliminates many high-calorie and hyper-palatable food groups. High veggie intake, which helps promote fullness. Focus is on eating to avoid any possible allergen or food intolerance.
Zone Focus is on macronutrient balance – eating specific amounts of carbs, protein, and fat each day. 5 meals per day of preferably equal calories, protein content, and carb content.
Carb & Calorie Cycling Controls calories over the course of a week. Some days, like those on which you exercise, are higher in carbs and/or calories. Other non-exercise days are lower in calories. The total amount of weekly calories is kept constant, thus keeping you in a caloric deficit and losing fat. This is where “cheat meals” work well.
Flexible Dieting / If It Fits Your Macros Lets you eat whatever you want, including processed food and sweets, so long as your daily calories and macronutrients (amount of protein, fat, and carb) are controlled. Drives the “clean eating only” and “all carbs are bad” crowd NUTS.

It’s the principle that matters, not the method. And that principle is that you must still eat less calories than you’re burning if you want to lose fat.

Doesn’t matter if you eat 2x, 3x, or 5x per day. It is the calories and the amount of protein consumed over the course of each day that matters most.

Great post from @JordanSyatt that blows up a few of the most common nutrition myths:

A post shared by Jordan Syatt (@syattfitness) on

Why eating lots of “healthy” foods. like nuts and chia seeds. can backfire so quickly.

Just 1 ounce of chia seeds, or 2 tbsp, has 137 calories.

If you can only eat 1200 calories per day to lose fat, and you throw 1 tbsp of chia seeds into your morning shake and another 1 tbsp onto your salad, that’s 10% of your total calories already gone.

Avocados have 50 calories per 2 tbsp. Go for the avocado. (The Tex-Mex aficionado in me approves this statement). That’s still only ⅕ of a medium sized avocado, though, so take it easy.

Here’s a great list from @JordanSyatt on Instagram that shows several high-calorie, yet quite healthy, foods

A post shared by Jordan Syatt (@syattfitness) on

In contrast, a list of healthy foods that are easier to “fill up” on while still keeping calories in-check.

This is key if you like to feel full and eat a lot – what we call “volume eaters”.

If you struggle with overeating or emotional eating, these foods can become satisfying. Veggies are key!

A post shared by Jordan Syatt (@syattfitness) on

Three Scenarios Where “Just Eat Healthy Foods” Backfired

1 – My client who tried to get high amounts of calcium from food, while also losing fat. She filled up on dairy, nuts, and other high-fat, high-calorie foods. Often, she ran out of daily calories well before getting enough protein or carbs.

2 – My client who filled a blender each morning with protein powder and superfoods like chia seeds, flax seeds, blueberries, cacao nibs, and kale. The shakes came out to 600-700 calories each of “healthy” foods, even though she needed to eat a limit of 1500 calories per day for fat loss.

3 – My client who loves to bake with almond flour, oat flour, and organic chocolate. Post-workout snacks made with oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate chips go here! Clif bars go here, too. Great for gaining weight. Great for hiking. Lousy for fat loss!

6 Ways to Take Control of Your Total Calories and Lose Fat

 

1. Count your calories for 2 weeks. Use a food scale and dig out your measuring cups.

This is a learning experience – not a lifestyle! It’s also widely acknowledged that we all underreport or overreport how much we eat – sometimes our estimations are off by 50%. Websites like MyFitnessPal or CronoMeter are lifesavers here.

2. Practice mindful eating

  • Eat slowly.
  • Stop before you’re full.
  • Eat without distractions (no eating dinner in front of the TV!).
  • Use smaller plates.
  • Chew your food.
  • Drink a glass of water before each meal.

These are foundational skills that help you to reduce total calories per meal and per day.

3. Plan your portions

Precision Nutrition’s “Calorie Control Guide” works well here. You can also use specialized tupperware and visual aids.

It’s simple – for women, it’s 1 palm of lean protein, 1 fistful of veggies, 1 cupped handful of carbs (starch, grains, beans, and/or fruit), and 1 thumb of fat (nuts, seeds, oils, avocados).

For men, it’s double that amount.

Great tips on how to get 100 calories of lean protein in. High-protein foods make you feel full and satisfied, which helps reduce your total amount of daily calories.

4. Try a new diet method and see if it fits for you

I did well with Intermittent Fasting, for example. Other people swear by ketogenic diets. My girlfriend uses a Zone Diet approach with her bodybuilding prep and her nutrition coaching clients.

Experiment with meal prep and eating methods that help you to reduce your total amount of calories each day. The best one is the one that you feel comfortable with long-term.

5.  Experiment with eating less calories

The updated Weight Loss Calculator, based on the latest mathematical models from NIH, works well here. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/weight-loss-calculator

It can help you determine how many calories to eat each day.

6.  Learn about macronutrients

Besides controlling your calories, learning to control your macronutrients can be the most important step you take in improving your diet.

As a baseline, I recommend eating 30% of your calories from protein, 40% from carbs, and 30% from fat.

Try this for 2 weeks, and track how your body responds. Feel free to adjust the carbs and fat percentages up or down, based on your personal eating preferences.

If you’re struggling to eat based on your macro’s, start with protein first and fill in the rest.

As a rule of thumb, you want your protein to be between 0.75 grams and 1.0 grams per lb of your bodyweight.

Feeling overwhelmed? Let me help you out

Hey, Coach Devin here. I get it. Nutrition is complex and often confusing because it’s so contradictory.

Let me help you out, for free. I offer free 15-minute coaching calls.

You can schedule a time with me from my scheduling app below. Let me know what your goals are and what’s holding you back.

Together, you and I can brainstorm some action steps to get you on track. We’ll also discuss how you can work with me as my client.

Sign up here – www.optimizefp.com/freeconsultation or use the app below

Meet the Author: Devin Gray

Meet the Author: Devin Gray

Founder, Head Coach

NSCA-CSCS, FMSC, Pn1 Certified B.S. in Exercise Science – Texas A&M University Devin is the owner & head coach of Optimize Fitness & Performance. He helps people become stronger and perform their best. Devin is especially focused on helping people with injuries learn to workout safely after they finish physical therapy. You can book a free 15 minute coaching call with Devin by clicking here.
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