Looking for that perfect diet that is going to lead the way to easy and sustained fat loss?
But there are so many options out there: keto, vegan, paleo… the list is endless.
Which one should you go for?
The answer is, you shouldn’t go for any of them.
As with most things in life, if you want to lose fat and build muscle successfully, you need to master the basics. The more complicated an approach is, the bigger the chance that it doesn’t work.
Where most people waste their time looking for that ‘new and improved diet,’ or a ‘scientifically-proven fat loss pill,’ all you need to do is focus on the basics.
Don’t believe me? Read on.
FREE BONUS: Before we move on, you can click the button below to download your free Flexible Dieting Quick Start Guide.
The Perfect Diet is a Myth! Every. Single. Diet. Works. (And yet, most still fail.)
Yes, every possible diet you can think of works. Some work better, others are what we call “crash” diets. They make you lose a significant amount of weight fast, usually by starving you.
In 1963, a group of researchers in the Institute for Metabolic Research from Oakland, California set out to study the effects of varying diet compositions on weight loss when calories were controlled.
The caloric intake was consistent, but the composition of the diet was changed at different intervals.
For example, the fat intake varied from 12 to 83 percent, protein changed from 14 to 36 percent and carbs from 3 to 64 percent.
During each revision of the diet, weight loss stayed consistent.
The researchers concluded that caloric intake is the most significant factor for weight loss, regardless of diet composition.
The study’s name? Calories do count.
A similar study from recent times ended up with the same conclusion:
Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.
And finally, this review came to the same conclusion:
We conclude that a calorie is a calorie. From a purely thermodynamic point of view, this is clear because the human body or, indeed, any living organism cannot create or destroy energy but can only convert energy from one form to another.
A calorie is a calorie, regardless of macronutrient composition. That is why there are so many “effective” diets out there.
The low carb diet makes you restrict your caloric intake thanks to the reduction in carbs.
The ketogenic diet makes you restrict calories even further by completely eliminating carbs. You can only eat so much protein before you’re stuffed.
Vegan diets also reduce your caloric intake by making you eat low-calorie foods all day.
The paleo diet makes you cut out all processed foods, which reduces your caloric intake without you even thinking about it.
So, all diets that make you cut out a macronutrient or food group make you eat fewer calories and thus lose weight.
But the problem is not in the weight loss. It’s in the weight loss maintenance. In other words, sustainability.
You see, most, if not all diets are super restrictive. To the point where you start going insane. You follow it, you get the results, and then...
You’re off the diet. What happens then is the turning point for most people:
They start eating the way they used to eat before and gain all the weight back, and then some.
Let me give you an example to illustrate my point:
You’re an average dude, and you need about 2500 calories/day to maintain your current weight.
One day, you decide to start the Ketogenic Diet, cut out all carbs and start eating meats, cottage cheese, milk, eggs, leafy greens, etc.
Without even knowing it, you’re now eating no more than 1600-1700 calories/day because it is hard to eat more with that diet composition.
Of course, you start losing weight. You instantly lose 5-7 pounds thanks to glycogen and water depletion and think to yourself “Whoa, this is the best thing ever!”.
Life is good. You’re losing weight at a fast rate, and you eventually get to your goal.
But then, the diet ends, and you start eating as usual. You reintroduce carbs and your caloric intake returns back to normal.
The new caloric needs are lower than they were before your weight loss. Thanks to the natural metabolic adaptation and the lower body weight, your new maintenance calories aren’t 2500/day, but more like 2100.
And when you couple that fact with the cravings that you’re feeling at the end of a diet, you can see where things take the wrong turn.
Because of your elevated hunger levels, you can be eating upwards of 3000 calories per day and gaining back the weight fast.
So what’s the bottom line?
You starved yourself, lost a bunch of weight, started eating more and gained back everything. The widespread “Yo-yo effect”:
I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem productive to me, and it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and a binge eating disorder.
But It Goes Much Deeper Than Just Calories: Enjoyability and Health
Okay. Every diet works. That’s fair enough. But when picking one for yourself, you need to keep two things in mind:
Without having these 2 factors in a good balance, your diet won’t keep you satisfied for long. You’ll end up binge-eating and gain all the weight back.
Generally speaking, there are 4 categories of diets out there and some are better predisposed to deliver success than others.
Category 1: Enjoyable But Not Healthy
Most people follow this type of eating. Processed-food-based, high fat, high carb, low protein diets.
Sure they are enjoyable but don’t expect to make any notable progress in the gym and don’t expect to be a healthy person.
Category 2: Not Enjoyable But Healthy
This is where most people fall when they decide they want to lose some weight. This is the popular “clean eating” approach.
The idea is to cut out all “unhealthy” foods and eat only lean meats, fish, dairy, veggies, fruits, and such (while waiting for the sweet release of death).
Sure, this is healthy, but it’s not sustainable for most people because it is not enjoyable.
Category 3: Not Enjoyable and Not Healthy
This is the worst possible situation you can get yourself in, yet is very easy to do so. Most diets out there are dumb and are made by people who have no business writing about nutrition.
I won’t point fingers here, but a diet like this is both unhealthy and not enjoyable to follow.
Category 4: Enjoyable and Healthy
This is the ideal scenario and where you want to be. This type of eating allows you to get the adequate protein, fats, carbs, and micronutrients from foods you enjoy. This way, you can lose the weight more efficiently and maintain the results.
Let’s now see what a diet from this category would look like.
Requirement #1: Controlled Calorie Intake
This is an obvious rule. Whether your goals are to build muscle or lose fat, you need to control your calories. When trying to build muscle, eating too much or too little will either make you gain too much fat or not gain any muscle at all.
When trying to lose fat, eating too little or too much will make you lose too much muscle or not lose any weight at all, respectively.
Requirement #2: Adequate Macronutrient and Micronutrient Intake
Total calorie number is the main dictator for weight loss and gain. But, the composition of the diet is just as important. Here are some rules to follow when calculating your macronutrients:
Requirement #3: Caters to Your Personal Preferences
The diet you follow needs to account for your personal preferences. If you love red meat, but follow a diet that restricts it and instead forces fish down your throat 4 days a week, you can see where problems arise.
If you enjoy some ice cream after dinner, but your diet forbids “junk foods,” it’s the same deal.
Requirement #4: Food Preparation is Simple
Let’s face it: no diet is going to be effective for you if preparing the food is a big chore.
You have a life, a job/school, and don’t have a personal chef. Your diet needs to offer easier to prepare foods.
Requirement #5: Feeling Full and Satisfied
When eating in a caloric deficit, you’ll feel hungry sometimes. There’s not much you can do about it. But, you can reduce the hunger you feel.
For example, eating 2000 calories of mostly processed foods will likely make you feel hungry.
But, getting 85-90% of those calories from whole foods, rich in protein, fiber, and slow-digesting carb, will fill you up better.
For that reason, you should adhere to the 90/10 rule and aim to get around 90% of your calories from whole foods and leave 10% for treats (ice cream, chocolate, cookies, chips, etc.).
The Most Important Aspects of a Successful Diet
For a diet to be successful, it needs to cover a few criteria. Let’s take a look:
Calories Come First
To lose weight, you need to be taking in fewer calories than you are burning every day. The diet composition does not matter. You can be eating twinkies all day and still lose weight.
Don’t believe me?
Professor Mark Haub underwent a 10-week diet that consisted of twinkies, oreos, and other junk. Despite what many believe about ‘clean foods,’ Haub lost 27 pounds.
But what was his trick? He restricted his calorie intake to 1800 per day.
What’s more, Haub's bad cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his good cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent.
To calculate your calorie needs, use this formula:
Once you know your BMR, calculate it by one of the numbers from below based on your activity level:
Once you have your TDEE, or caloric needs to maintain your current weight, a good rule of thumb is to put a 500 calorie deficit to that number.
A pound of fat contains roughly 3500 calories. When you set a deficit of 500/day, that adds up to approximately 3500/week, which in theory should make you shed 1 pound of fat per week.
Of course, the human body is much more complicated, but calculating your caloric needs doesn’t and shouldn’t feel like rocket science.
Depending on your current level of leanness, you can adjust the deficit higher or lower to decrease the risk of muscle loss.
Follow these guidelines:
Macronutrient Composition is Second
You know your caloric needs, you’ve calculated the deficit, now it’s time to split your calories between carbs, fats, and protein.
If you who don’t know what “macros” are, they are the components that make up food. Also, read this.
Each macronutrient has a certain number of calories per gram. Protein and carbs have 4 calories, and fats have 9 calories per gram.
Protein is of great importance for us lifters, especially when trying to lose fat.
Protein is very satiating. When calories are lower, and hunger levels rise, having a higher protein intake will keep you full for longer.
As far as intake goes, 1 gram per pound of body weight is enough to maximize its effects. If you weigh 180 pounds, aim for 180 grams of protein. Simple.
Same for you ladies. If you weigh 125 pounds, eat 125 grams of protein daily.
The only exception to this rule applies to very overweight or obese individuals. The rule above isn’t set as a gram of protein per pound of weight. It is set as a gram of protein per pound of lean mass.
The problem here, for the average person, is that figuring out your lean mass can be difficult and time-consuming. For that reason, adhering to the 1g/lb of weight will be just as good for you.
But, getting back to my point on overweight and obese people:
This rule doesn’t work well for people with lots of fat to lose because it’s an overkill. Say an untrained guy weighs 270 pounds and is 30+% body fat.
This person wouldn’t need 270 grams of protein per day. That would be too much. They would benefit much more from an intake of 0.6-0.7 grams of protein per pound of weight.
270 * 0.6 = 162 grams of protein. Much more achievable and just as effective.
Fats and Carbohydrates... and Fiber
Splitting up your remaining calories between carbs and fats should be based on your personal taste, but there are two rules to keep in mind:
Get between 0.3 and 0.6 grams of fats per pound of body weight. If you weigh 180 pounds, aim for 54 to 108 grams of fat/day (180*0.3=54, 180*0.6=108). At the very least, 15% of your calories.
If you’re eating around 2700 calories per day, 15% is 405 calories (2700 * 0.15 = 405), which is 45 grams of fat (405 / 9 = 45).
A lot of people (read: zealots) like to pick on dietary fat and demonize it, because...
Reasons, I guess?
But the fact is, dietary fat is an integral part of any balanced diet. Fats support metabolic function, cell signaling, immune system function, hormone production, and the absorption of essential nutrients (such as vitamin D and A).
Fats also add texture and taste to meals and take longer for the body to break down and absorb, which makes you feel full for longer.
There is much to be said about dietary fat, but it’s beyond the scope of this guide. If you’re interested, read: All About Healthy Fats
Finally, on to carbohydrates. Once you have your protein and fats numbers, calculating carb needs is pretty straight-forward:
Leave the rest of your calories for carbs.
Let me give you an example (warning: boring math ahead):
You’re eating 2700 calories per day and weigh 180 pounds.
You’ll need 180 grams of protein (180 * 4 = 720 calories) and 54 to 108 grams of fats (54 * 9 = 486 calories, 108 * 9 = 972 calories).
The remaining calories go to carbs. In our case:
2700 - 720 (protein calories) = 1980;
1980 - 486 (fat calories) = 1494 calories;
Now, split 1494 by 4 (number of calories per gram of carbs).
1494 / 4 = 373 grams of carbs;
Or, if you go with the high end of fats intake (0.6g/lb), the example would look like this:
2700 - 720 = 1980;
1980 - 972 = 1008;
1008 / 4 = 252 grams of carbs per day;
The higher your fat intake, the lower your carbs need to be and vice-versa. Don’t stress too much about it. Get enough protein, eat within your range of fats and get the rest from carbs.
Also, aim for 10-15 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories you eat.
Fiber provides many health benefits and keeps you regular. Fiber also fills you up, which is especially important during fat loss periods.
Foods that are high in fiber are generally high in volume and low in calories.
This is awesome for dieting because you can satisfy your hunger with fewer than 200 calories. Think cucumbers, celery, cabbage, etc.If you’re interested in learning more about fiber, read this.
Let’s Recap This Section
We went over a ton of information, so let’s recap how to set up your diet:
Here’s an average guy who’s looking to shed some fat. Let’s call him Bob.
Step #1: Calculate Bob’s maintenance calories, or TDEE
Calories come first. Using the formula from above and using Bob’s stats, we can get to his TDEE:
For Bob, we’ll use his height and weight in cm and kg respectively.
BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 * weight in kilos ) + ( 5 * height in cm ) - ( 6.8 * age in years )
66 + ( 13.7 * 90 ) + ( 5 * 188 ) - ( 6.8 * 27 ) = 2055 calories
Now that we know Bob’s BMR, we’ll multiply it by 1.55 (Moderately active - moderate sports/exercise 3 to 5 times per week). The number that best describes his activity.
2055 * 1.55 = 3186 calories for maintenance.
We’ll add a 500 calorie deficit to this number, and our starting calories for fat loss will be 2686.
Step #2: Calculate Bob’s protein needs
This one is pretty simple. We are using the 1g per lb of body weight rule. So 200 lb = 200 grams of protein per day.
Step #3: Calculate fats, carbs, and fiber
We’ll first set the fats number and leave the rest for carbs. So adhering to the 0.3 to 0.6 grams of fat per lb of body weight rule, we end up with:
200 * 0.3 = 60
200 * 0.6 = 120
Bob is going to be eating somewhere between 60 and 120 grams of fats per day and get the remaining calories from carbs.
He is also going to eat 10-15 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories. In other words:
10 * 2.7 = 27 grams of fiber
15 * 2.7 = 40 grams of fiber
How and When to Make Adjustments to Your Diet for Ongoing Progress
All these numbers are great, but they are only the starting point. The calorie and macronutrient numbers you need for optimal fat loss are going to change as you lose weight.
Part of the reason is the natural metabolic adaptation you will experience. Also, weighing less will make your body burn fewer calories on a day to day basis.
A person will burn more calories from everyday activities and training at a bodyweight of 220 pounds than at 200 pounds. And at 180 pounds, he would burn even fewer calories.
What does this mean?
As you diet down and your body weight decreases, your diet needs to be adjusted to account for that.
Allow me to illustrate. For example, say you’re eating 2900 calories per day and are doing 20 minutes of low-intensity steady state cardio per week.
You also track your body weight daily, in the morning and take the weekly average:
As you can see, from week 1 to week 2, there was about a pound of difference, but in week 3, body weight stalled.
At this point, you can either keep everything the same for another week and see if there is a decrease in body weight, or you can adjust your diet or cardio.
You can go from 2900 calories per day to 2800 or increase the weekly cardio by 20-25 minutes. But don't adjust both.
There is no much difference, it should be based on personal preference. If you want to eat as many calories as you can, then increase activity. If you don’t mind eating a bit less, and hate cardio with a burning passion, decrease calories.
Make sure to do things gradually and don’t adjust both calories and cardio on the same week.
The goal is to keep the caloric deficit in a specific range throughout the fat loss and see moderate progress. Once the progress stalls, you can adjust again.
As for the macronutrients, I don’t want to confuse you so we’ll keep it simple.
Keep protein intake the same, eat within 0.3-0.6g per lb. of weight of fats and get the rest from carbs. Same rules apply, only protein intake stays consistent.For every 10 or so pounds of weight you lose, you can adjust protein intake down (to 1g/lb.), or you can keep it the same. Remember, protein is very satiating and eating a bit more of it can help you with hunger problems.
Hopefully, now you know that looking for the ‘perfect diet’ is a fool’s errand. Sure, you’ll get some results, but you’ll likely go back to square one once you get off the diet.
If you’re interested in making fat loss simpler and more enjoyable, you need to become more calorie-aware and adopt a flexible dieter’s mindset.
FREE BONUS: You can download my flexible dieting quick-starter guide by clicking the button below: