Food choices when dieting


I've started the process of losing the fat I inevitably gained from eating a slight calorie surplus for the past 10 months during my muscle and strength-building phase. I now need to make sure that the food I'm choosing to eat is as satiating as possible. Losing fat depends on a number of factors, the most important I believe to be time, willpower and calorie intake. Unless you are very overweight, you don't want to lose weight too fast because you will also be losing the good things like muscle and potentially interfering with hormones, which lead to feeling like crap. In your head, you want to be lean now, but your body is going to fight that and if you go too quickly, you'll end up falling off the waggon too soon and never making much progress. Changing your body is about time and patience. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I'm aiming for a loss of 1 lb per week and to do this, I'm going to taper my calories down each week to ensure that I maintain this rate of loss for as long as possible - until I reach a level of leanness that I'm happy with. I suspect it's going to get more difficult as I approach my goal, so I may need to take some breaks along the way.

It may sound obvious, but during a calorie deficit, I'm going to be hungry. If I get too hungry, I'm going to need more willpower to stop myself from reaching for the snacks (almost certainly resembling that guy in the image up there!).

The best food choices I can make are going to be foods that are filling, low in calories and high in protein. These foods will help prevent me from being hungry and, combined with resistance exercise, convince my body that it should be burning fat, not muscle (protein).
An excellent list of these types of food can be found over at ChickenTuna's website. Her motto of "eat boring food and have an exciting body" is pretty good, except that the food choices aren't quite as depressing as being boring! One of the best things I ever did to change my diet was to eliminate as much sugar as possible. Sugar creates a vicious cycle of highs and lows. By reducing your intake of sugar, you remove a lot of cravings and really start to enjoy the flavours and tastes of so-called "boring" foods like vegetables.

Because I love numbers, I created something I called a "Nutrient Quotient" (I'm sure this is not original and I bet there are loads of other similar things out there - I haven't looked for them though as this was purely for my benefit). I can input the foods I eat into a spreadsheet and by dividing the number of calories per 100g in that food by its total protein and fibre content, I get a number that reflects how useful it will be to eat during a calorie deficit - the lower the NQ, the better (it contains more fibre and protein for its calorie content). Let's take a look a few examples:

  • Broccoli - this has become one of my favourite vegetables since taking more interest in my diet: 100g contains the following: 30 calories, 3.3g protein, 3.6g fibre, thus its NQ (nutrient quotient) is 30 / (3.3 + 3.6) = 4 (I'm rounding to the nearest whole number as the accuracy isn't that important).
  • Pizza - along with sushi, pizza is one of my favourite foods. I'm using a typical margarita-style shop-bought frozen pizza for the following values: 780 calories (per-pizza), 36g protein, 11g fibre. Thus its NQ is 17.
  • Coconut Milk - I don't mean the tins of coconut milk here, but a dairy-alternative available in the UK from a company called Kara. This is my favourite alternative to normal milk because it isn't sweet, like rice milk (although I do like rice milk!) but isn't chalky like some soya milk can be. Anyway, because this is a liquid, it contains very little fibre so comes out with a very high NQ of 90. This demonstrates the principle of chewing your calories, not drinking them.
  • Egg whites - I've found buying liquid egg whites a great way of helping me get my protein intake without the hassle of cracking lots of eggs and throwing the yolks away, which also seems a shame. (Whole eggs are great and I eat lots of them when I want to gain weight). These come out with a NQ of 4.

Thus, using NQ, I can help make informed choices about which foods are going to help me maintain the good stuff (muscle) and get rid of the bad (fat), hopefully without getting too hungry in the process (by keeping fibre intake high).

The most important point to remember in all of this is that changing your body takes time and effort. Different methods work for different people, but they all have their foundation in controlling calorie intake. As a scientist, I like to take a measured, informed route. There is no magic secret or supplement until we can buy willpower in pill form.

I will continue to weigh myself weekly, changing my calorie intake to ensure I lose 1 lb per week and go to the gym twice per week to perform heavy, compound exercises like squats, benchpresses, weighted chinups and deadlifts.

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