Whether you call it a nutrition plan, a lifestyle, a diet, or a philosophy, few things create such heated debate as how to lose weight. Diets such as Atkins, paleo, keto, and carnivore are all diets that use different food restriction rule sets with the promise of losing weight. Although these diets can be good for some people with very specific goals, for the average person these diets are typically too limited to maintain for the time necessary to achieve long term, successful weight loss. So what is the best diet for weight loss? Let’s dive into this.
So bad news first – there’s no specific diet plan that will optimize weight loss. Most of these diets listed above will work in the short term, but are hard to sustain and eventually will lead to you reverting back to old eating habits, which just ends up putting the weight back on. The good news is that along with generally eating high quality, nutritious foods, there are a couple of key strategies that can enhance your weight loss journey and allow you to continue to stay consistent for the long term and continually lose weight.
Calories In < Calories Out
To lose weight, the body needs to be in what’s called a calorie deficit, meaning that the calories taken in are less than the calories being burned in a particular day. In order to determine the amount of calories needed to be in a calorie deficit, we can first calculate our basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories we burn just by living), and then subtract 300-500 calories in order to get to a calorie deficit range that will promote weight loss. The easiest way to find out your basal metabolic rate is to use the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation, an equation popularly used in the field of dietetics to find a person’s BMR based on their age, height, weight, and activity level. Here’s a quick example of how you’d use this equation to find your calorie deficit range:
MIFFLIN-ST. JEOR EQUATION
BMR = (10 x weight in kg ) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) + 5
BMR = (10 x weight in kg ) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) – 161
Note: 1 kg = 2.2 lbs 1 inch = 2.54 cm
Let’s use this person for the example:
Chris Keystone, Male, 5’11”, 195 lbs, 38 years old
Using the equation, we’d calculate that Chris Keystone’s BMR is 1,828 calories/day. This means that if Chris Keystone didn’t do anything for an entire day, his body would be using 1,828 calories just to stay alive.
To make this number more accurate, we then take that BMR and multiple it by what’s called an activity factor. An activity factor is a number between 1.2-1.9 that we use to take into account how active a person might be on a daily basis. If we say that Chris Keystone is moderately active, we might assign an activity factor of 1.5. Once we’ve assigned this number, we then multiply it by the BMR we found using Mifflin-St. Jeor.
1,828 x 1.5 = 2,742 calories/day
Taking into account his activity level, we’ve now determined that Chris Keystone uses roughly 2,742 calories/day. If his goals are for long term, sustainable weight loss, he can then subtract 300-500 calories from this in order to get a calorie range that would put him in a deficit optimal for weight loss. Staying in this range would allow Chris Keystone to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, but without the feelings of hunger or starvation triggers often felt with fad dieting.
Quality is key
While the amount of calories eaten per day is important, the quality of the food you’re eating is just as important when it comes to healthy weight loss. Although eating 200 calories of candy might be more enticing than eating 200 calories worth of chicken, that candy that is predominately sugar is only going to stimulate lipogenesis, the process of excess sugar being converted into fat and deposited into body tissue. This is drastically different from eating 200 calories worth of high quality chicken, which is going to be broken down into healthy proteins, fats, and other nutrients that are going to be used to fuel the body efficiently.
This is just one example of how even though two food items might have the same amount of calories, what they do for your body can be very different. When thinking about your daily eating habits, try to stick to high quality, nutritious foods that will be completely used up by the body, instead of highly processed foods that will only stick around as fat.
The Bottom Line –
When it comes to weight loss, consistency is key. Any diet that promotes fast and easy weight loss is typically not sustainable, and will leave you searching desperately for the next fad diet in order to lose weight. Instead of looking for the next popular diet, the best strategy for long term weight loss is to eat high quality, nutritious foods in a moderate calorie deficit, in order to keep your body running as efficiently as possible while losing weight at a healthy rate.