Every day I receive queries from readers, clients, friends, and family concerning fat loss. I hear explanation after explanation of their “crazy new diet” which is chock-full of unbearably strict nutritional guidelines. This may work well for a week, a month, or maybe even 6 months but in the end most of these ridiculously strict diets leave people depressed and unsatisfied, inevitably leading to a failed diet.
…I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a shitty nutrition program to me.
In this article I am going to discuss one of the most common fat loss misconceptions, why it’s false, and how you can use this information to make fat loss a more simple and enjoyable process.
“You Must Eat “Clean””
The necessity to eat “clean” is one of the most common misconceptions in the nutrition industry. In fact, I was once a firm believer that adhering to a “clean” diet was the only way to achieve a lean physique. For a long time I was the guy who wouldn’t have a slice of cake at his own birthday party, enjoy some pizza with his buddies, or take a girl out to ice cream simply because I thought indulging in such foods would instantly cause unwanted fat gain. Fortunately, through much research, trial and error, and the simple desire to enjoy life, I realized that achieving an incredible physique can be accomplished while incorporating my favorite “unclean” foods.
It’s impossible to single out the origin of the “clean eating” myth, but I would assume it’s been significantly influenced by these 2 things:
1) The inability to define the term “clean”
2) The confusing “logic” behind fat loss
First and foremost, there are hundreds of different diets, each of which claim their way is the only way to eat “clean.” Some groups characterize clean as only eating organic foods, while others view clean as a diet with little to no carbohydrates, and still others claim that clean only implies following a strict vegetarian diet….
Do you see the dilemma? With hundreds of different groups claiming their definition of “clean” is the correct definition, it makes it pretty damn hard to figure out who is right and who is wrong.
Furthermore, the logic behind the effect of eating foods conventionally labeled as “clean” or “dirty” is legitimately bewildering. I completely understand the thought process involved in believing a Big Mac is more likely to contribute to fat gain than an organic turkey burger on a whole grain bun. However, as all things tend to be, everything is context dependant and foods simply can’t be given a black and white label such as “clean” or “dirty.”
Before I move on, it’s important for you to understand how fat loss works:
In an attempt to explain this as briefly as possible, it will suffice to say that in order to lose fat you must be in some form of a calorie deficit. In other words, if you burn more energy (calories) than you consume, you will lose weight and if you consume more energy (calories) than you burn, you will gain weight. Obviously there are other details which, for the sake of brevity, I am not covering in this article but in the main if you’re running a calorie deficit you will lose fat.
What This Means For Dieting
Strictly in terms of body composition, this means if your maintenance caloric intake (the number of calories you need to eat on a daily basis in order to stay the same weight) is 2000 calories, it simply doesn’t matter if you eat 2000 calories worth of skittles, 2000 calories worth of peas, or 2000 calories worth of dog food; at the end of the day you are consuming the same number of calories that you are burning and therefore your weight will remain the same.
Likewise, if the same person consistently eats 2500 calories worth of skittles, 2500 calories worth of peas, or 2500 calories worth of dog food, they will gain weight. It doesn’t matter where the calories come from; food is food and energy is energy. If you are taking in more energy than your body expends you will gain weight. Period
Now I want to elaborate on the example I gave above regarding a Big Mac vs. an organic turkey burger: According to McDonalds a Big Mac has 540 calories, so for the sake of this article we’re going to pretend the turkey burger and the Big Mac are of equal caloric value. Assuming a person’s maintenance caloric intake is 2000 calories and they have only eaten 1000 calories on the day, it makes no difference which burger he decides to eat. See, since eating the turkey burger or the Big Mac would have added the exact same number of calories and he still would have been under his 2000 calorie/day limit, fat loss would be unaffected.
Before anyone uncontrollably freaks out and finds an unpleasant surprise in their pants, or rudely messages me about my ill advised nutritional advice, I recommend you re-read the bold and italicized writing above. To reiterate: I am speaking STRICLY IN TERMS OF BODY COMPOSITION! I am not talking about athletic performance, I am not talking about general health, and I am not talking about anything other than body composition.
Additionally, in no way, shape, or form do I advocate a diet exclusively consisting of skittles, dog food, or peas. I am a huge advocate of mainly following a diet that largely consisists of green leafy veggies, lean meats, and moderate amounts of whole grains and fats. However, the point I am attempting to make clear is, as long as you are within your calorie limit at the end of the day, there’s no reason you can’t incorporate your favorite foods or treats every once in a while.
Just to recap, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not advising readers to only eat popcorn and sweet tarts. As awesome as that may sound, it is a recipe for disaster. When working with clients I always stress the importance of a whole foods diet with an emphasis on green leafy vegetables, lean meats and a moderate amount of carbohydrates such as potatoes and oatmeal, and healthy fats from fish, eggs, avocado’s, and meat.
On the other hand, I have always found that in terms of diet adherence, integrating your favorite “unclean” foods with moderation will lead to significantly better diet adherence, and quite frankly, any diet allowing for long-term adherence, stellar results, and the ability to enjoy the little things in life is a damn good diet.
As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, life is entirely too short to spend it worrying over whether or not that Danish you ate lunch is going to ruin all of your progress…it won’t. If the majority of your diet places an emphasis on whole food sources, a sufficient amount of protein, and you’re consistently within your calorie guidelines, there is absolutely no reason why your diet can’t include your favorite foods.
OK…time for some ice cream!
Until next time,