***DISCLAIMER: Make sure you consult a physician before embarking on any major dietary changes so you’re not putting yourself at risk of any adverse health risks from unknown or unexpected conditions***
This’ll be a short post, these are the same thing, no?
In fact, COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT of one another.
Look at these statements: you can lose weight by eating healthily. You can gain weight by eating healthily. You can lose weight by eating unhealthily, and you can gain weight by eating unhealthily.
You could be overweight, but undernourished. Equally, you could be underweight and nourished (and vice versa, as above).
More than a mix and match of words, these are actual states we can be in and that occur more often than you might think.
There are people who have experimented eating a diet consisting solely of KFC’s, Subways and other fast foods and lost weight, and I can tell you from my days working in the Royal Infirmary, there are people who are grossly overweight and simultaneously undernourished.
How does this happen? Is it luck? Genetics? Magic?
Turns out it’s none of the above. It’s actually much simpler than all of them combined.
The differences, and how we can take control of them, lies in WHAT and HOW MUCH you’re eating.
Let’s take a closer look.
HEALTHY EATING - THE WHAT
The problem is that eating healthily is synonymous with losing weight, mixing the two without actually understanding the differences between them.
To eat healthily, we need to be getting a variety and balance of nutrients to keep our cells functioning and our bodies supplied with energy and building materials to repair and grow. This consists of macronutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
If we don’t get enough or a decent balance of nutrients (most commonly it’s the micronutrients that trip us up, I know that’s what usually gets me), we are undernourished or technically eating unhealthily.
Not catastrophically so, we can still function and go about our daily lives - just not as well as we could be with our body firing on all cylinders with the nutrients it needs.
In order to get a good variety and balance of nutrients, we need to eat a greater variety of foods, ideally whole natural foods for maximum micronutrient content. This can mean eating more food, and I’m sure you can see which of the above states that can result in if you’re not careful.
No matter how healthy or nutritious the food is we eat, that alone isn’t going to impact our weight. We can have the most nutritious diet in the world, eating veggies by the barrel and still gain weight.
This leads us on to the second part of the problem: HOW MUCH to eat, or the weight manipulation side of things.
Side note: if you are eating barrels of veggies a day, you have greater problems than this blog addresses. Seek help.
LOSING WEIGHT - THE HOW MUCH
As a macros dude, I hate to say it - but any weight manipulation comes down to calories. Lose weight, gain weight, maintain weight, it’s all dependant on HOW MUCH you eat.
Calories are a general unit of energy, the more potential energy a food contains the more calories it has. We consume calories to burn for activities and various internal processes, with any extra calories that don’t get used being stored for later as fat - adding weight. If we consume less calories than we burn through the day, we use some of the energy we have stored away to make it through - using up the stores and losing weight.
MID BLOG RANT: This is the principle behind DAMN NEAR EVERY FAD DIET and “weight loss” trick, albeit without the cloak of science mumbojumbo and splashing of sparkly buzzwords. Plant only diet? Nutritious, but it’s just less calories. Paleo? Again, encourages various nutritious foods, but just programs in less calories. Aloe Vera capsules? You’re eating plant sweat and not much else. Low calories and iccy flavour.
Looking purely at body weight and nothing else (things such as body composition, aka lean muscle vs fat), the nutritional value of our food doesn’t have an effect here. Eat as healthily or unhealthily as you like, as long as the body can break it down for energy it will either burn or store the calories for later.
If you want to lose weight, eat slightly less calories. If you want to put on weight, eat slightly more calories.
Well, in theory.
The tricky part is trying to figure out how many calories will help you lose or gain weight. No matter the method you use, it’ll never be exactly right down to the calorie. This is because we don’t carry out the exact same movements and processes each and every single day, so each days energy needs will vary slightly.
We can certainly make a good guess for a starting point using equations or various bits of equipment, but ultimately we’ll just need to monitor/”see how it goes”, and adjust accordingly. This is most easily done using an app or hiring a qualified nutritionist to make sure you don’t accidentally go too extreme and cause yourself some health issues.
Some starting points will be bang on, and others will need major adjusting - if you find yourself in the latter, the key is to make small manageable adjustments at a time to make the process easier to stick to.
COMBINING THE TWO - GETTING THE BEST FOR YOUR MIND AND BODY
In theory, all we need to do is eat either more or less with a diet containing purely nutritious whole foods, and we’ll have a healthy body at our ideal weight.
In practice, this can suck. Going cold turkey (literally, or cold cauliflower for my veggie readers) from unhealthy processed foods can be hard to stick to, especially if we discover we don’t like the taste of the new food.
This is the number one reason people quit new diets or eating habits - because we miss our tasty treats and start to crave food we know we enjoy over this strange new stuff. Mentally, this can put us in a bad place - characterising food as being “good” or “bad” and then feeling guilty or punishing ourselves for eating the “bad” food.
This isn’t going to help us lead healthy and happy lives, but knowing what we know now we can adapt and get the best of both worlds.
Remember, being healthy/nutritious is just adding key nutrients in - that doesn’t mean sacrificing foods - and losing weight is just a question of volume - again, doesn’t mean sacrificing foods, just adjusting how much we eat of them.
So if your goal is to lose weight/be healthier, then just add in some nutritious foods, such as leafy greens, and cut down a little on the less nutritious and processed stuff. This way you can still enjoy meals and stay on track to hitting your goals.
For me, this usually means a lot of chicken and leafy veggies, but equally some crisps, pizzas and occasionally alcohol *gasp* dashed in there to keep me sane. I know I could be healthier and make better choices, but I also know I’m pretty happy with the current variety and freedom I get in my diet while still making progress with my goals - it’s all about balance. Each of us will vary in terms of our needs, likes and what we want to achieve and will need to find our own balance to satisfy these aspects.
Depending on how you look at it, that freedom of choice and prospect of experimenting can be terrifying or exciting.
In truth, it is both - but that’s all part of life, innit.
All the best,
PS armed with my Precision Nutrition Certification and multiple physique show fat cutting experiences, I’m happy to help with any food questions you might have, and crafting nutrition programs is one of the services I offer. For further info or if you’ve got any questions, give me a shout by email or on social media.
Instagram: stu.currie or nextleveltraininguk