By Jordan Feigenbaum MS, Starting Strength Coach, CSCS, HFS, USAW CC
Yea, it’s that time again Resolution Time! People will be thinking about, discussing, and ultimately arguing about the diet that they’re going to start for the new year. People have this interesting desire to be “right” when it comes to the diet or protocol they pick, so much so that they’ll argue extensively to prove their diet’s superiority (ultimately showing they are just sooooo smart). Guess what, Virginia? All diets/protocols that are worth the paper or bandwidth they occupy works via the same principle, caloric restriction. Somebody just got mad….
In recent times people have tried to argue that it is ALL about calories, while other camps have argued that calories DON’T matter. Guess who’s right? Everyone! It is true, without a shadow of a doubt, that in order to lose weight you must burn more calories than you take in, a so-called negative calorie balance. On the other hand, the idea that the amount of calories you burn, require, etc. is some sort of static variable is laughable. In this instance, calories aren’t so important because the other variables in the equation are changing at the same time. There’s some sort of middle ground that seems to be a no-man’s land, but this wasn’t the purpose of this article anyway. What I want to talk about is my proposed Nutrition Continuum, which is a fancy (read:proprietary) way of describing the diet protocols that work from the most relaxed all the way to the most restricted. I’d hazard a guess that that “lose weight” will still be the most common New Year’s resolution so invariably people will be seeking out diets that will work. What I want to do is provide a sort of “on-ramp” for anyone to a nutritional regime that is well-suited for their current level of buy-in (commitment/motivation). People with different levels of buy-in, goals, and beliefs (as they relate to diet) will need different protocols, thus we can piece together a nutrition continuum of sorts.
1) Low buy-in/accountability
Folks that fall into this group do not have the motivation (yet) to weigh, measure, and track their intake and THAT’S OKAY! Not everyone is ready to geek out on their food and break out the food scale and weigh and measure every morsel that goes into their gullet. Probably the best option for people falling into this category is utilizing a lower carb approach most of the time. This sort of nutritional protocol does not require a lot of thought other than “Is it a meat or animal product?” or “Is it a vegetable?” This allows the person to simply adjust their meals in any situation without having to be anal about the amounts of food coming in. Some easy tweaks to this template are to add some starchy carbohydrates or a post-workout shake in the meal immediately following training, using dense fat sources like nuts/nut butter/oils to increase the caloric intake, etc. While not optimal for performance and physique, this is a nice “elevator pitch” for dietary change that will help many lose body fat and eat healthier. Note the absence of any weird “rules” or “exceptions” to the diet. This helps for increased compliance.
Going low-carb helps people lose weight by both spontaneously reducing their food intake and increasing their fat-burning ability (via enzymes and cellular trafficking). Instead of people having to weight and measure calories and macros to reduce their calories, and thus lose weight, low-carb diets tend to do this automatically. Things can go awry, however, if dense fat sources are a staple of the diet as it’s quite easy to get a bunch of extra calories from oils/nuts/nut butters. Even those these fats may be healthy, you can certainly overdo it calorie-wise. Additionally, people’s metabolisms tend to slow down at various intervals (from 3 or 4 days to 2 weeks) when carbohydrates are excluded from the diet. This can be prevented with programmed “refeeds”, i.e. eating a substantial amount of calories from carbohydrates every 5-7 days. The other thing that can go wrong is people not actually eliminating carbohydrates even though they’ve eliminated a certain food product like wheat or gluten. A person may still be eating copious amounts of fruit or starchy vegetables and missing out on the many benefits of a low-carb diet.
So while it’s easy to “pitch” the low-carb approach (and it’s easy to do), there are many pitfalls in this approach as well. All in all, this is a good starting point for most when it comes to changing their diet.
2) Moderate buy-in/accontability
This style of eating or dieting requires that the person does a little bit of portion control, but it’s so simple that you’re either on-board or not. Unlike many more complex nutritional schemes (with no negative connotation), the meal components and portions are set from the get go. All the person needs to do is actually eat them. Good examples of this style of diet are the Velocity Diet (Biotest) or Rapid Fat Loss Protocol (Lyle McDonald). Basically, depending on someone’s bodyweight, the person will consume lean protein at a certain amount, essential fatty acids, some green vegetables, and nothing else. Say we have a 180lb male who strength trains 3x per week and he wants to lose as much body fat as possible in 2-4 weeks. He would take in 200-230g of protein from lean sources like chicken breast, turkey breast, egg whites (no yolks), protein powder, etc., a couple grams of fish oil, and green leafy vegetables, that’s it. The beauty in this is that there is really no “thinking” after the initial calculations of protein (1.1-1.5g/lb) and thus, no “gray zones” to get lost in and get off track. The problem with this style of eating should….