How to structure your diet for weight loss
It’s January, at this time of year, if you’re anything like me and many people I know, you’ll be on the lookout for a way to lose weight or make changes to your diet.
In this article we’re going to discuss how you can create an eating plan, make good food choices and still have diet and exercise flexibility to suit your goals.
The key component of any weight loss diet is calorie control.
What many fad diets and meal replacement shakes or may have you believe is that your diet plan should be super low calorie, having a no carb diet or intermittent fasting or even weight watchers where you earn points for “good foods”.
These types of diet create an unhealthy relationship with food and that’s not what we’re about.
What you really want to do however is to create a meal plan, with a slight calorie deficit.
The key here is that your calories are counted and lower than what your body needs to maintain it’s normal weight.
How to work out the volume of calories you need to consume to lose weight
I recommend using the following calorie calculator;
Enter your information and most literature now suports the use of Mifflin St Jeor’s estimation formula if you don’t know your body fat %. As such, select that option.
What it’ll show you is the volume of calories you need to take in to maintain your weight and to either lose weight or gain weight.
For moderate weight loss and to prevent you from feeling hungry, I would suggest starting with a 250 calorie per day reduction on your maintenance level.
I.e. if you get a result of 2500 calories per day at maintenance, opt for 2250 per day to lose 0.5lbs per week. If you find yourself coping well with the change but not seeing the scale results you desire, then you can reduce by a further 250 calories to a 500 calorie per day deficit. I would not personally advise in anything other than extreme cases to drop to a larger deficit than 500 calories per day. Although 1lb per week doesn’t seem like much, in the course of a year that’s 52lbs or almost 4 stone, or 23kg. How different do you think you and your body would look with 23kg less body-weight? Granted a weight loss diet isn’t forever, but this slower weight loss and gradual lifestyle change will mean the weight stays off, so long as you maintain a healthy relationship with food and stay on or close to maintenance calories moving forwards.
But I must stress, the calorie deficit is the most important thing!
How to structure meals for weight loss
This is entirely dependent on the person and their preference/activity levels. A sedentary person looking to lose weight will likely spread their meals and calorie intake evenly throughout the day. If you’re training, you’ll likely want to incorporate more carbs before training so you have a sufficient energy source.
In terms of weight loss, what actually goes into your meals doesn’t really matter. The overall calorie intake will determine whether you gain or lose weight.
However, if you’re training, I’d recommend using a macro-nutrient split and tailoring your meal content to fit that. I would personally suggest starting with a 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fats macro-nutrient split, and then varying as you learn how your body responds to different food choices.
The volume of meals is again your own personal preference. Me personally, I generally eat 4 meals per day, consume 1 shake and snacks on top. When dieting down, this reduces to 3 meals per day, 2 shakes and very little in the way of snacking.
How to track your food intake
Tracking your food intake is an extremely important part of dieting, as if you don’t know what you’re putting in, you can’t make informed choices about how you’d like to change moving forwards.
As such, I wholeheartedly recommend using a food tracker or diary of sorts. My absolute go to is MyFitnessPal which I’ve used for the past 3 years or so. No gimmicks or links to get you to buy anything, download their app on your phone and don’t look back!
I log everything I consume, it’s not daunting, I generally eat basically the same foods on repeat through the week, so after the first week or so of logging, all your food choices are saved, which means you’ll rarely have to scan/add a new item and makes the process pretty quick.
My 5 top tips for dieting
- Pick a diet you can stick to
The best diet is the one you can stick to, if you don’t find that your diet is sustainable, you won’t stick to it. So pick a diet you can stick to and be consistent with, that’s how you’ll achieve the best results!
- If you mess up on one day, don’t over compensate, just go back to your normal routine
Many dieters make mistakes, and cheat meals are common place in the fitness world. However, if on one day you exceed your daily calorie intake on one day by 500 or even 1000, don’t drop your calorie intake the next day by 1000 under your diet calorie intake figure to try and “even things up”, just revert back to your diet daily intake, and you’ll avoid fluctuation or feeling ill.
- Increase your water intake
When you’re on a diet, water also acts as a weight-loss aid because it can help you eat less. Quite simply, it provides hydration without any unwanted calories.
- Only buy what’s on your shopping list
This is such a key thing! If you don’t have foods outside of your plan in your house, you can’t eat that food. So make sure that you only buy the food you need to buy and plan to eat. Not the cake in aisle 6 and Ice Cream that will definitely be for your child instead of you. You’re not kidding anyone!
- Only weigh yourself once a week at most and at the same time of day.
What you’re looking for is linear weight loss. The nature of bodily fluctuation is that some days your weight will be higher, some lower, and it will vary throughout the course of the day. It can be easy to get demotivated or disheartened if you step on the scale and don’t see the result you expected. Your weight can fluctuate day to day, but week to week or on longer timescales, you should see the linear growth (or decline in this instance) of your weight on the scales. Log it, and if there’s a variance from the linear decline, then assess what you’ve done that could have affected that.
An example diet
Using the tools and methods outlined above, I’m going to put together an example diet to lost 0.5lbs/week for myself.
I am 24 years old, weigh 90kg and am 5ft 10 in height, I’m also active with intense training 4 times per week. This gives me a maintenance figure of 2960 Calories per day.
To achieve Mild weight loss of 0.5lbs per week, my daily calorie intake would need to be 2,710 calories.
I train at 6am upon waking, as such, my first meal and carb intake will be weighted towards the morning and my morning training.
I am looking to maintain muscle mass, so I’ll take the 1g per lb bodyweight protein, which gives me 200g protein at 800 calories and split the rest of my calories between carbs and fats. It actually comes in just under the 30% protein. Taking out the protein this gives me 1910 calories to play with. Taking fats at 9 calories per gram, and 813 calories would be 30% of my total calorie intake, this would give me 90g fats per day. This then leaves me with 1097 calories for carbs, which at 4 calories per gram would be 275g carbs per day.
So my diet daily plan is as follows;
- Meal one pre-workout on waking:
- 2 weetabix
- 125ml milk
- 250ml orange juice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 358 calories – 66g carbs – 6g fats – 10g protein
- Intra workout
- 80 calories – 20g carbs – 0g fats – 0g protein
- Post workout shake
- 50g Instant Oats
- Myprotein Impact Whey protein 25g
- 250ml Milk
- 464 calories – 46g carbs – 16g fat – 34g protein
- Meal two
- 3 Large Eggs
- 1 Slice Wholemeal Bread
- 100g baked beans
- 397 calories – 29g carbs – 17g fats – 32g protein
- Meal three
- 300g Chicken breast
- 125g Basmati rice
- 498 calories – 38g carbs – 6g fats – 73g protein
- Meal four
- Ribeye steak – 195g
- Boiled potatos – 100g
- 764 calories – 60g carbs – 40g fats – 41g protein
- Shake 2
- Impact whey protein – 25g
- Milk – 125ml
- 191 calories – 8g carbs – 7g fat – 24g protein
Total – 2752 calories – 267g carbs – 92g fats – 214g protein
So just a little over on calories, and slight variations with the macros weighting a little heavy on proteins dragging the total up. But you can see the volumes and types of foods that go within a diet and the volume of calories per meal.
Conversely, when looking to gain weight, I’d be trying to push the calories per meal in excess of 800 and adding in more carbs across the board and snacks in general to try and get more calories in!
I hope that helps you, if you have any questions about structuring your diet, then please do send me a message here.
I am a Certified Personal Trainer. I am not a certified nutritionist nor am I a registered dietitian. The nutrition recommendations given in my program should serve as an outline for what I believe is appropriate for you based on my knowledge and personal experience.