5 Ways Diets Create Calorie Deficits

All diets work if done correctly, and all diets work for the same reason, they create a deficit in calories. Calories in vs Calories out determines whether you gain weight or lose weight. I agree that macro-composition (proteins, fats and carbs) play a role, consuming more protein means less muscle lost, or more muscle gained. Consuming more carbs mean higher insulin levels and problems with blood sugar stability. More fat means a higher risk of going over daily calories because fat has 9 calories per gram, where protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram.

There is a lot of  debate around the energy balance equation but it’s often a case of not seeing the forest on account of the trees. Mark Haub, professor of Nutrition at Kansas State University did the twinkie diet, where he ate nothing but twinkies and other convenience food supplemented by protein shakes and lost 27 lbs in 10 weeks. This is probably not the healthiest of diets but it works to lose weight by maintaining a deficit in calories.

All diets work from the principle of making people eat less calories than they burn but they do not do it in the same way. (more…)


Healthy and Fattening

I only eat healthy foods but I don’t lose weight!” A friend of mine said this a few weeks ago, after he had wasted another 3 months on a program recommended by his personal trainer. My friend is a lot like me in that he has a long history of trying to lose weight and failing. Like me, he has been on just about every type of fad diet, and tried many if not all of the fat loss supplements available. CLA tablets, fat burners, meal-replacement shakes, meal replacement bars, fat burning stacks, green tea extracts, raspberry ketones and many others.

The most recent diet he tried was one based around eliminating processed food (good), eating slowly until he was full, and then putting the fork down. It did not involve counting calories or tracking macros. His diet was filled with great whole foods, beef, chicken, fish and pork for protein sources. Whole-grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice and steel-cut oats for starchy carbs. Avocado, sweet potato and legumes for his vegetable fix. His snacks were mostly nuts and dried fruit. He used coconut oil and olive oil as his healthy fat sources.

All of these are great foods. I love avocado, sweet potatoes and various beans. Nuts are a great snack compared to normal snacks like chips or chocolate, and dried fruits are much better than most sweets. The issue is that just because something is natural and healthy, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s also slimming.

Healthy and Fattening Foods

A lot of people think that when something is healthy, it means it’s also low calorie. People tend to under-estimate the caloric content of foods they perceive as healthy, and over-estimate the calories in food that they view as unhealthy. This is exactly what my friend did, and a mistake I made early on. I’ve always had a love for salty snacks, so when I went on a diet I kept a bag of salted mixed nuts on my kitchen counter for whenever I was feeling peckish. When I started tracking everything I ate religiously in MyFitnesspal it turned out that my nut habit was totaling 600 calories per 100 grams, and the 300 gram bag I ate every week was 1800 calories. My daily intake at the time was 1780 calories per day, so I was eating a little over a day’s worth of calories every week just from nuts.

I’ve replaced most of my potato intake with sweet potatoes for when I eat a meal higher in carbs after a workout, but sweet potatoes have 83 calories per 100 grams, compared to broccoli that has 34. It’s also very easy to eat 200 – 400 grams of sweet potato in a single sitting. Add some coconut oil or olive oil to cook with, and it can easily climb to 150 calories per 100 grams.

Olive oil and coconut oil are both viewed as healthier fat sources than canola oil, margarine, and they probably are, but they do pack a caloric punch. Olive oil has 884 calories per 100 grams, or 124 for a tablespoon. Add two tablespoons to a salad, and your healthy lunch just became very high in calories. I’ve also known a lot of people on low-carb diets to add spoonfuls of coconut oil to their coffee, at 862 calories for 100 grams, this turns a coffee from 0 calories to 121 calories if you add a tablespoon.

Legumes and avocado are also great vegetables. They are high in fiber, and avocado has a lot of healthy fats. 100 grams of avocado has 160 calories for each 100 grams, and is pretty dense so a little goes a long way in adding calories. Chickpeas has 364 calories in 100 grams and black beans 339, these are both great sources of fiber and protein, but they pack a caloric punch.

Dried fruits was the biggest issue with his snacking. They do contain a lot of the natural good things in fruits, but they are also much easier to eat. 100 grams of dried mango (8 – 9 pieces) is 363 calories. Mixed dried fruits contain 359 calories per 100 grams. Most of us would never eat 5 – 6 mangos or peaches in one go, but eating it when dried is a different story. Eating a whole bag of dried fruits is pretty easy to do, because they are not very filling.

I like his protein choices, pork is great and some pieces such as loin can be very lean. Chicken is generally always good as long as you avoid using a lot of oils or butter to prepare it. Beef is my favorite protein source, and fish is great for the omega 3 fatty acids. 100 grams of Ribeye steak is 291 calories, a bit lower than Atlantic salmon at 208. Pork and beef have a very high varation in calorie content, broiled pork loin is 242 calories at 100 grams, in the middle between the ribeye and salmon. Pork belly is 518 calories, and roasted picnic shoulder is 317.

The moral of the story being that just because something is healthy, doesn’t mean that it’s low in calories. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up some of your favorites like avocado, pork belly or healthy oils, it just means that you have to be extra careful with serving sizes. I don’t pay much attention to if I eat 250 or 350 grams of broccoli because it’s not calorie dense, I pay attention to whether I’m eating 100 grams or 200 grams of avocado because it’s calorie dense. If you make a salad from 300 grams of iceberg lettuce (36 calories), 15 cherry tomatoes (30 calories), 50 grams of onion (40 calories), 100 grams of sprouts (169 calories), and 150 grams of chicken breast (247 calories)  this is a very healthy lunch at 522 calories. Based on a 2000 calorie diet, it’s about 1/4 of daily maintenance intake. If you use 3 tablespoons of healthy olive oil as a dressing that adds 372 calories, bringing lunch to 894 calories or almost 1/2 of the days calories.



A History of Weight-loss and 2017 Results


Since I’m writing a summary of 2017, I thought I’d begin with chronicling the history of my battle with my weight. The last 9 – 10 years of my life has been a bit of a yo-yo with a downwards trend. I’ve taken two steps forward and one step back over and over during these years. You can see this for yourself in the graph. At the start of 2008, I weighed in at 152 kg (335 lbs.). During 2008, I went on an “accidental diet” and lost 17 kg (37 lbs), getting down to 135kg (298 lbs). I was a broke student and could barely afford to eat, and suddenly my clothes were too big. I always dressed in clothes a size or two too big when I was overweight, because it made me think that I would look less massive, but suddenly my clothes were 4 – 5 sizes too big.

During 2009, I went on an intentional diet for the first time in my life, my choice of diet was an ultra-low carb diet with planned cheat meals every week. This gave me the benefit of low-carb weight loss, without having to give up all my favorite foods. This was successful and I lost 23 kg (51 lbs) that year. I also started weight lifting for the first time.

In 2010, I kept losing weight, but the loss was 9 kg (20 lbs), something that seems minimal since I’d lost 39 kg (86 lbs) during 2008 and 2009. I started a new job that year, and it was pretty stressful so I ended up stress eating a lot more than I should have. In 2011, thanks to stress eating and regulating emotions with food, I regained 5 kg (11 lbs) in 2011, and stayed at the same weight through 2012.

2013 was going to be the year I finally got in control of my eating habits, and I lost 13 kg (29 lbs.) over the year just using the low-carb diet, reaching a new decade low by the end of the year of 95 kg (209 lbs.) During 2014, I regained 3 kg (7 lbs.), I didn’t think much of this, and I was going to keep losing weight in 2015. 2015 started off well, but my personal life took a turn for the much worse that year, and I stress-ate for the entire year. I resolved most of the personal issues towards the end of the year, and when I stepped the scale during Christmas 2015, I was shocked to see 117 kg (258 lbs.). I had undone almost 10 years of a downward trend, with 1 year of stress eating. My total gain that year was 19 kg (42 lbs.)

I slowly got back on the low-carb wagon, even though it was very difficult to go from a diet filled with sugar and fat, to one based on protein, good fats and vegetables. During 2016, I slowly lost 11 kg (24 lbs), at my weigh-in before Christmas I was happy to see myself weighing in at 106 kg. 2016 was also the year when I started tracking my weight so it’s also the year where I have good statistics.


The Right Diet for You

There is only one “What” to weight loss, creating a caloric deficit. Without the deficit, you will not lose weight, simple as that. Your body is an energy system, energy comes in from food, and goes out in terms of activity. There are 3 basic ways that you can create the required deficit that 99% of all diets fall within, time, food and portion focused.

All three have advantages and disadvantages that I will cover in later posts, but the purpose of this post is to give an introduction to the three major categories. Our body functions in that it can gain energy from both dietary energy intake (eating) and stored energy utilization (body fat). If a person burns 2500 calories per day, and eats 2500 calories per day, their bodily needs are covered and thus they remain at the same weight.

If the person eats 2000 calories per day, their body will make up the difference with stored energy, deducting 500 from its energy reserves. If the person eats 2700 calories per day, the body will add 200 calories to the store energy reserves per day. This is simplified and it is a lot more complex, but this is how the body functions from an abstract perspective.

All the 3 diet paradigms, function based on the idea of consuming less calories than are required every day and thus over time reducing the amount of stored energy in the form of body fat.

Time-Based Deficits

A time based deficit is centered around food timing. Common examples of this would be intermittent fasting in all the forms, from Leangains 18-6, to The Warrior Diet, 5-2, and various others. The idea here is that by limiting consumption for periods of time, such as only eating for a total of 6 hours every day, you combine staying in fat burning mode longer, while you will have trouble consuming a full day’s calories in only 8 – 6 hours.

Most of the time, the proponents of these diets recommend skipping breakfast and in some cases lunch, then having 1 – 2 larger meals. The effect being that you are fasting for a longer period of time, where your body needs to get energy from your fat stores rather than food.

Food-Based Deficits

This approach focuses on eliminating certain foods from the diet, usually either fat or carbohydrates. The most well-known variant of this diet is the recommended food pyramid from most governments in the U.S.A and Europe, that limits saturated fat. The most well-known example of a low-carbohydrate diet is Atkins that limits dietary carbohydrate to varying degrees.

The idea behind these type of diets varies. The principle behind the food pyramid is based on the research of Ansel Keyes, into the dangers of saturated fats and cholesterol. Also, since dietary carbohydrate has 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram, you could eat about twice the volume of food if your diet is based in carbohydrate.

Some variants on low-carbohydrate diets include those that focus on carbohydrates with a low-glycemic index (GI) that cause less of a spike in insulin than other carbohydrates due to taking longer for the body to digest.

The principles behind various low-carbohydrate diets is that as fats do not raise insulin, in addition to being more satiating than dietary carbohydrate, a natural calorie restriction occurs when a person eliminates carbohydrates from their diet.

Another example of food based deficits are substitution diets, where one food is substituted for another. For instance, eliminating calorie-rich foods for foods with less nutritional value.

Portion-Based Deficits

Portion-based deficits are exemplified by Weight Watchers, where the points system is used to determine your portion sizes. The promise made by these diets is that you can continue eating as you always have, just in smaller servings. From my experience these diets are the most dangerous ones, as the people on them are prone to experience portion-creep, I.E their portions slightly increase over time.

Proponents of these diets cite convenience, simplicity and making compliance easy as the major reasons why to select such a diet. It is especially attractive to parents, who frequently do not have time to make two separate meals for the family, or who do not want their children to be affected with their parent’s obsession with losing weight. It is also very attractive to people who do not want to give up their problem foods.

What is the Right Diet for Me?

In my experience, people tend to lean towards one approach. I know people who have successfully lost weight through limiting their portion sizes, through limiting their eating window and through restricting certain types of food. When you sit down to select your diet, you need to take a holistic perspective on your lifestyle to see what would fit the best.

There is no one-size fits all, despite what many would tell you about losing weight. There is also no “having your cake and eating it too“. To lose the weight you want, you will have to sacrifice some of the foods you love, or some of the meals you enjoy, or just eat less and be more hungry.


Why Weight-loss Plateaus Happen

This situation is quite common if you believe a few random web-searches. A person goes on a diet, and starts off amazingly, the lbs just seem to be melting off. Of course, the good times do not last, and well away from their goal, they find themselves experiencing a weight loss plateau. As most do, they rush to Google, put in “weight loss stopped“, “weight-loss stalled“, “stopped losing weight” or another myriad of search terms. They will find a range of sites and forums, where they will be told about setting the deficit too high, exercising too much, having too much cortisol, not eating enough fiber, not hydrating enough, hydrating too much, and a lot of other things.

While the above mentioned are all things that may cause a weight-loss to stall, the number one reason for why people experience stalls is that their caloric deficit is non-existent. A body re-composition is not accomplished in the gym, it is accomplished in the kitchen and the bedroom. Precise nutrition, combined with adequate rest is what builds muscle and what drops fat from your body.

As I wrote in my post on my journey so far, I’ve tried and experimented with most dieting protocols out there and I have eventually experienced both full stops and intermittent stalls as I’ve worked my way ever closer to my goal. There is no single iron-clad doctrine of weight loss, nutrition and exercise, there are multiple approaches that work, and that all have their negative sides. However, they also work off the same principle; a calorie deficit.


As of today

As of today, I’m closer to my goal of being a former fat fuck, than I have been before. This journey that has been a series of attempts, failures and improvements is nearing the presumptive end, as I look down on the scale. 218 lbs, 99kg, the first time under 220 lbs, 100kg, in 2 years.

When I started this journey, my goal was to be 220 lbs, as I’ve slowly crept closer to my goal, a new frontier emerged, 185 lbs, at 10% body fat. There was a time years ago where I had no idea how much I weighed, I had no idea about my health in general. I just enjoyed life, as I saw it, a lot of tv, a lot of food and a lot of soda. My weight started creeping up at the start of my teenage years, and as I grew older, my weight grew larger and larger until I found myself wearing 3XL shirts, and size 44 pants, at 26 years old.

My size seemed to stagnate at this level, a little north of 330 lbs, at 6 ft 2 inches. I spent most of my time sitting around, eating and watching various movies and tv-shows leading to an nearly encyclopedic knowledge of English speaking pop culture. I didn’t really want to lose weight, or rather I did not want to give up delicious food. Then as I was about a year away from finishing my bachelor degree, I was running out of money, and as a result I ended up eating a lot less. Thus, I lost the first 30 lbs that started this journey.

I didn’t do this knowing what I was doing, I just ate whatever I could afford, and let my body mass make up the difference. (more…)