In one camp we have the ‘clean eaters’ who focus on the types of food you eat, prioritising quality over quantity. In the other camp there’s the IIFYM crew who claim you can be healthy and look amazing on a diet of pop tarts and ice cream.
While I think most people would agree an avocado is more nutritious than a cookie, quantity does matter. In fact overeating healthy foods may be the very reason you can’t seem to get in shape.
It was highly respected trainer Eric Helms who first coined The Nutritional Pyramid of Importance for Fat Loss and Muscle Growth.
This pyramid visually demonstrates how some things matter more than others when it comes to losing weight (fat) or building muscle. Right at the bottom of the pyramid in the largest section is calories.
Calories are the most important thing when it comes to changing weight. Want to build muscle? You need a calorie surplus (eat more than you burn). For a weight loss goal the opposite is true – you need to be eating in a calorie deficit, eating fewer calories than you burn off each day.
It doesn’t matter if those calories are coming from wild caught salmon and home grown spinach or chocolate ice cream and marshmallows. If your calories don’t align with your goals, your weight won’t go in the direction you want it to.
Quality food for good health
The next two sections (next most important) are macros – protein, carbohydrate and fat breakdown and micros – vitamins and minerals. Here’s where the ‘what’ you eat comes into question. Deciding where your daily calories will come from (assuming you’ve got your calorie needs figured out) will determine your overall health and energy levels.
Eating junk food can make the numbers add up (calories) but you certainly won’t feel great, be able to perform well in workouts, or avoid getting ill if you live off a nutrient deficient diet of crisps and sweets.
Wholesome, natural foods rich in essential vitamins and minerals, with a good balance or protein, carbohydrates and fat, are necessary to look and feel your best. But these foods still contain calories, and over eating them will lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss.
Adding it all up
Fats are very easy to overeat as at 9 calories per gram they’re the most calorie dense.
Let’s take nutritious protein and fat filled peanut butter, a favourite among fitness and health fanatics! 2 levels tbsp. contains 200 calories, and if you’ve ever actually measured that out (around 30g) you’ll have seen how surprisingly small a portion that is. Most people would serve themselves twice that if they weren’t being mindful.
Avocados – the ultimate social foodie photo trend of the last two years, are highly nutritious, containing, monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and fibre. But just one large avocado can contain as many as 400 calories, so adding that to your smoothie or salad really makes a difference when you consider most women only need around 2000 calories a day. That’s a quarter of your daily calorie needs in one small ‘healthy’ food item!
Carbohydrates are less calorie dense at 4 per gram but, unlike protein (which also has 4 calories per gram), carbs, especially sugary ones, are not nearly as filling as protein and low carb fruit and vegetables. ‘Healthy’ dates, honey and even brown rice are quite easy to chow down without feeling over full, meaning the calories can add up quickly if you’re not paying attention to portion control.
Protein & fibre for fullness
Two food groups which are healthy but much harder to overeat are protein, which is the most satiating of all macronutrients, and fibre in the form of vegetables and low sugar fruit, which provides bulk with few calories. That doesn’t mean you have to live off chicken and broccoli, but if weight loss is your goal then you’ll find it much easier to stay full and not overeat if your meals have a decent amount of protein and fibre in them compared to less filling foods.
Have some sort of protein at every meal and snack, and make each main meal contain at least half a plate of vegetables or salad.
While eating natural, nutritious foods is important, calories still matter. If you’ve been eating really healthy food and not paying attention to calories, this could well be the reason you’ve not lost weight. Try cutting back on less filling foods, filling up on more satiating ones, and you can still benefit from all the nutrients that healthy foods provide while getting the numbers working for you at the same time.
Connect here with WatchFit expert Pollyanna Hale