In this article, we’ll talk about the best way to lose weight in the healthiest, most sustainable way. And no, it’s a diet, but not quite the diet you were expecting. In fact, we’ll learn how fad diets mock us, really.
There’s plenty of studies done looking at this particular way of eating. So we’ll only use evidence based pointers, no social media transformation stories. Only hard facts to help you understand what is a the best healthy diet for weight loss.
We’ll also talk about:
- why weight gain and weight loss happens,
- why ultra-processed food makes us pig out,
- why we often can’t stop from overeating,
- what is the healthiest “diet” for weight loss,
- should we or should we not count calories,
- popular ketogenic diets,
- at what rate we should be losing weight,
- how exercise helps with weight loss,
- and much, much more tips to take home.
What’s weight loss really and why does it happen?
It’s interesting how many options we’re offered losing weight. There’s so much self-proclaimed science behind weight loss, it makes it really hard to keep up and choose how you want to slim up.
In reality, our bodies work the same way (if there’re no affecting health factors) and the real science behind shedding pounds is not that complicated.. just buried under piles and piles of quick fixes, called “diets”.
True science is straightforward.
We have 3 weight states:
- weight gain,
- weight loss and
- weight maintenance.
All 3 are connected via energy balance.
Energy balance = Energy IN – Energy Out
Energy IN ………….. energy/calories/food we consume.
Energy OUT ……… how much energy we use living our day.
Energy OUT is a mix of 3 daily energy expenditures:
- Resting energy expenditure (REE) – that’s the energy our body uses just being alive. Or in other words, how much energy we use sitting on a couch doing nothing. And you’ll be surprised how much energy it goes in it!
According to the Section Chief of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Kevin D. Hall, 60% of total Energy IN gets used for just keeping us alive and in check.
- Thermic effect of food – that’s the energy required to break down and digest food. Protein has the highest thermic effect, then carbohydrates, then fat. This is the reason why Keto diets are so popular and we’ll talk more about that further along.
- Exercise: incidental and dedicated.
Our wight depends on how much energy we give our body and how much we use it living.
Mathematically that looks something like:
Energy IN – Energy OUT = Energy balance
These are the factors that control our weight loss and weight gain.
So now that we know that that formidable number on scale is the result of our energy balance, let’s see how macros play into all this.
1g protein = 4 cal
1g carbohydrate= 4 cal
1g fat= 9 cal
The numbers above are the reason why we want to avoid fat when trying to lose and maintain weight.
Being dull, if we want to lose weight we need to use more energy than we put it in a.k.a. “Move more, eat less.” ..yep, been hearing it since forever.
Great, we now know the hard basics of weight loss and there’s no way around it. Let’s build it from here.
Since we’re talking about eating less and moving move, let’s see where our main source of energy comes from and how to work on that.
Ultra-processed foods and pigging out
An average American eats 200-800 cal more per day than should.
Knowing what we know from a previous chapter, these extra calories put us on a weight gain spectrum.
What is more, striving to lose weight and paying attention to our calories, we have:
- low-fat products..but with more sugar in it to keep the taste
- zero-sugar drinks..with other types of artificial sweeteners that messes up hormones, enzymes, etc.
- easy digestible refined carbohydrates..with nothing in it but sugar, sodium and fat.
The list can go on but you see the pattern.
These highly processed “foods’ increase calorie intake yet keep your body starved.
I know what you’ll say: what do you mean starved? What about those 200-800 cal extra we just talked about?
Eating ultra processed food is like filling up a car with water instead of petrol.
Processed foods are usually high is sugar, sodium, fats and refined carbs..there’s no, or very little nutritional value. With a bit of exaggeration, eating ultra processed food is like filling up a car with water instead of petrol.
A car wasn’t made to drive on water. And the body wasn’t made to eat processed food.
Processed foods taste good, are enjoyable but they don’t satisfy us, so we tend to overeat in search of that..that something. That something is satiety.
If your goal is weight loss, plant based or not, you should avoid processed foods.
What dietary patterns are best for weight loss?
So why do we consume more than we should? Why this trend?
Hear me out, because we’re all in this.
In our current environment, often described as an obesogenic environment, we’re all faced with the up-hill battle.
When it comes to managing weight, the food environment, or the food industry, has been specifically designed to consume more and more and more. What do I mean by that?
A sandwich might do the trick or a cookie..and when you open a pack of cookies..well, it’s never a cookie, it’s an entire pack.
The cheapest, most accessible and the easiest products to eat, chuck-in-a-microwave foods are the most processed ones.
They taste good, but they don’t hit the spot. They’re not satisfying, so we eat more.
You know the feeling – you ate, you’re not hungry, yet there’s something missing. A sandwich might do the trick or a cookie..and when you open a pack of cookies..well, it’s never a cookie, it’s an entire pack.
That’s processed food designed to eat more, more, more.
Looking at statistics, calorie intake coming from ultra processed foods:
- 40% in Australia,
- 50% in UK and
- 55%-60% in the US.
Processed foods are calorie dense because of high sugar and fat contents. Yet they don’t satisfy the body and so lead to over consumption of calories.
On the other hand, whole foods take a bit more effort to prepare but are lighter in calories, dense in nutrients and very satiable.
This is also the reason why whole food plant based diet is the best way to lose weight as a lifestyle change. It’s what the body was made to eat and so it naturally offers everything you need for achieving a healthy weight.
In fact, plant based diet is the only diet that is sustainable on a long run.
If you want to lose weight, ultra processed food should not be a base of your diet.
Whole food plant based, really? Plants?
According to Dr. Michael Greger, up until this day, a low fat whole food plant based (WFPB) diet seems the best way to do it.
A clinical trial performed by Kevin D. Hall, shows clear results.
In this trial, they had 2 groups of people, let’s call it group A and group B.
Group A went on a 2 week ultra processed food diet, then afterwards, on a 2-week unprocessed food diet.
Group B did the other way around – 2 weeks of unprocessed and 2 weeks of processed.
For both groups, they matched intakes of protein, carbs, fiber, sugar, fat and sodium – so they were getting the same amount of energy.
Both groups were told to eat until they were full. That’s satiety.
So what happened?
- The group on an ultra processed foods ate 500 cal more on a daily basis than the group on unprocessed foods.
- Unprocessed food group benefited from 1kg of weight loss eating unprocessed in a 2-week time.
- While an ultra processed food group gained 1kg.
So what does that tell us: Eat real food.
You’re losing weight the healthiest way..and probably the cheapest as well.
That’s eating food in their natural state. Unprocessed and whole food as found in the garden and field.
Plant based, vegan diet sounds scary for many people. I understand.
If you feel hesitant of plant based diet, try flexitarian instead. That is limiting animal products on 1 meal a day.
Unlike many diets, plant based eating isn’t about stressing over carbs and fats and proteins and calories. When you get the hang of it, which doesn’t take long, and start eating versatile meals loaded with veggies and grains, you forget about obsessing over what’s what – You eat healthy, you feel satisfied after meals and you feel good.
Most importantly, you’re losing weight the healthiest way..and probably the cheapest as well.
Should we count calories?
Counting calories bring “I shouldn’t”, “I can’t” feel to it.
Counting calorie is restricting and with that said we feel deprived of everything we don’t put in your mouth. Counting calories feels like we’re on a diet all the time. And nobody likes being on a diet.
Our goal is to not a diet, our goal is to live a lifestyle where our food works with us and not the other way around.. Yes, processed food, I’m looking at you.
If counting calories is your thing, go for it.
But if it only stresses you out (I never count calories) don’t do it. I only want to eat food without counting. Which brings us back to plant based diet.
Plant based diet makes it so easy to understand food again.
Once you get the food groups right, the macros and micros will take care of themselves and it’s just enjoyable.
I know it can sound overwhelming but you’ll be cooking and thinking about food you haven’t tried yet in no time.
Ketogenic diets and weight loss – a few things to consider
I know you’ve seen it, I did it too: success weight loss stories, time-lapse pictures where the results are so drastic you wonder if you’re looking at the same person, testimonials and best-sellers..Keto is all over the internet, people dropping pounds with a flick of the wrist. Eat like a king and lose weight.
Sounds too good to be true..but so tempting.
We know what the users/dieters say, now let’s see what science says, shall we?
Researchers combined 32 case studies where they compared high protein diet with high carb diet. Calorie intakes were matched, in other words, people on Keto/Atkins, etc. diets had the same energy intake as people on high carb diet.
Results showed no significant difference in weight loss, low carb or high carb.
So what’s the deal with high protein, Keto diets?
You will lose weight, that’s true. In fact, Keto leads to less fat loss and more muscle loss.
So why are they so popular?
Short answer would be because they make you lose weight fast, which makes you believe you’re losing fat..which is not really the case.
Here’s a catch:
When we eat, our body can store 500g carbs. With each gram of carbs stored, 3g of water are also stored – that’s just how body works.
In any given time, you carry 3kg of this carb, water mix – no matter body type. This is your short-term energy storage.
When we go on high protein low carb Keto diet, we deplete this storage, and this is why the weight drops fast – we get rid of water and (carbs) glucose.
Another thing to consider is that, many people go on an animal based high protein low carb diet – high in cholesterol, super insulin resistent and in general bad long term effects.
Keto works in it’s own way but according to studies, it’s not the best and safest diet, specially if you’re in a danger zone or already suffer from dietary related disease.
How quickly should we lose weight?
There’s a difference between expectations and what we see on social media, and realistic numbers.
Unless medically required don’t go for extreme weight loss like 5kg in a month.
Let’s look at it the other way around. An average American eats 200 – 800 cal more a day than required. These extra calories get stored in our body through time and, doing the rough math we gain 5kg fat in 10 years.
Now, all of a sudden we want to drop 5kg in a month!
Imagine how our body reacts to demolishing all of its consistent work of storing!
Now, pay attention because this is how diets work: Diets literally puts us against our body. And it’s not how it should go. We’re in it together, quite literally as well.
So our body has been ever so diligently storing whatever extra we gave it and now we’ve decided that those jeans really got too tight. It’ s time to get rid of it. All of it.
We go on a diet, restrict this and that food, drastically lower calorie intake and we’re losing weight. Hallelujah!
Our body, on the other hand, is panicking.
Fad diets make a major relationship crisis between us and our body.
It’s storage is lowering which means only one thing – my human is starving, there’s not enough food for her/him. Danger.
Then the diet’s over either because we fell off the wagon or got to the desired weight. In any case, we go back to old eating habits.
For the body, that means only one thing – store, store, store, store more for the next starvation, danger times.
And you gain everything back, plus a few extra pounds, just to be sure you’ll survive the next starvation period.
You see how diets really mock us?
To be successful and consistent in losing weight, make small changes, lose 1-2kg a month max! Make it a lifestyle change rather than a quick fix, because this way, you’ll always be able to stay in control on your weight and food choices.
How does exercise affect weight loss?
Remember the first chapter of this post?
Energy IN – Energy OUT = Energy balance
Where Energy IN is food and Energy OUT is exercise? Good memory!
We’ve covered Energy IN, saw it’s entirely in our hands and how to take back control over what we put in our body.
Energy OUT is movement, sport, exercise, action, living.
For weight loss, exercise is important. We can do a lot through the right food choices and healthy eating habits. But exercise gives it a huge boost. Huge.
Exercise can be:
- intentional, dedicated exercise: when we go to the gym, go for a run, cycle, do Pilates, etc.
- non-intentional, also known as Non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT: when we walk a dog, hoover an apartment, work on the garden, etc.
With the progress of technology we are moving less and are eating more, it’s how it is.
Instead of taking the stairs, we step on a conveyor or take an elevator. How much time do we spend looking for the closest parking space to the store entrance? Or the entire workforce shift towards desk professions.
According to Dr. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, siting is the new smoking.
We move less and eat more.
The more you eat the bigger the energy intake, the less you move the lower the energy out.
What does that do to our Energy balance swing?
Correct! We gain weight.
How to increase level of exercise in our everyday life?
Think about your regular day and see where you can increase NEAT.
Take the stairs instead of an elevator, get off a bus a block earlier, if you have an office job, ask for a stand desk…
According to Dr. Levine, you burn on average of 50 calories more per hour by standing. If you stand for 3 hours per day, 5 days per week, it adds up to 750 calories burned. In a year that adds up to 30,000 calories, which is almost 9 pounds. This is the equivalent of around 10 marathons per year.
For dedicated exercise, resistance exercise is a good option to build muscles. Muscle tissue requires more energy in a resting state than fat. Which means, muscular folks burn more energy sitting on a couch than not-so-muscular folks.
What when we slip up?
We slip up, it happens. Just go back to why you want to lose weight and you know what to do with the food now, know how to exercise so repeat the steps. It’s not the end of the world.
Live Long and Planteous
To bring it all together, energy balance is the Mother of weight loss.
We have to have a calorie deficit to lose weight.
Currently, in this food environment, we get too many calories from wrong sources, that makes us fat. Processed food was designed to taste good and have a long shelf life but has no nutrition value, gives no satiety and so we tend to overeat.
Vegan or not, if weight loss is your goal you should avoid processed foods as much as possible. However, it is possible to achieve a healthy body weight.
Whole food plant based diet naturally promotes healthy body weight because this is the food we were made to eat.
- It’s less dense in calories than processed food and animal products, which means you will naturally lose weight.
- There are plenty of studies on this. One we mentioned clearly showed people eating processed food gained 1kg/ 2 week, while people on unprocessed food lost 1kg/ 2week.
- It has everything we need to support our health and lose weight.
- Whole food plant based diet is known to reduce cardiovascular disease.
We learn how fad diets make a major relationship crisis between us and our body.
We don’t need to lose weight fast. In fact, we shouldn’t lose weight fast but lose it at a steady pace of 1kg/ month.
Which is good news!
Don’t overwhelm yourself and try to get everything down at once, take small steps implementing new steps:
- cut out processed food,
- drink water instead of sugary drinks
- gradually build a plant based pantry,
- get most of your calories from veggies, fruits, grains and legumes,
- increase NEAT
- learn what plant based foods are rich in protein and how much protein you need,
- increase dedicated exercise
- remember that you are doing fantastic, treat yo’ self a little – and I’m here for any question you have.
“Weight is manipulated and controlled by us. It’s yours. So take that control.” – Simon Hill
Will you give it a go?
Do you have experience with healthy, plant based diet? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!!
Happy healthy slimming,