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Managing diet with a busy career

The mirage of the perfect body keeps us chasing one diet after the another. There are as many diets in the world as there are people, no wonder its chaotic out there and it is absolutely alright if you've never stick to one, with every diet claiming to be the surest, quickest way to losing weight and getting fat. So what's my point? My point is, the "perfect" diet does not exist. In this post we are going to go over the concept of weight-loss briefly and then we'll set out to find out what does the most suitable diet for you looks like.

Weight loss Vs Fat Loss

Most people when they become aware of their foods, it is usually at the end of meeting with a doctor which he concludes by saying, "... You must lose some weight, and quick!", and so one is thrust into the unforgiving world of fitness, gyms, and diets, sifting through pages after pages on the internet magazine, occasionally drooling over the fit models that grace the pages of such magazines, the search is seldom successful and mostly futile. It's like a boy has been asked to be a man and fight off the enemy without any initiation. The process sucks.

Let us break down the advice first

You must lose some weight, and quick!

Before we get into why this advice is bad, we need to learn some crucial definitions (crucial at least for this discussion)

Mass - Going by the Physics, Mass is matter and Physics never lies. Mass is everything that makes you up. Paraphrasing Tyler Durden from the movie, Fight Club, "You're just a heap of decomposing organic matter, neatly wrapped in a smooth likable skin". Your mass consists of your bones, fat, muscles, water, food that you've eaten on a given day, and the waste in your body. All is mass.

Weight - Weight is the physical quantity that indicates the heaviness of mass and it's dependent on the gravity of a certain place. The quickest way to lose weight is to go to the Moon, you'll be 6x lighter and almost entirely broke.

So when someone asks you to lose weight, a well meaning doctor, spouse, parents, children. They aren't asking you to alter the gravity, thankfully, they are only asking you to lose some of the mass. So with that distinction out of the way.

Let us now understand "weight loss V/s fat loss"

In both cases we are referring to losing mass of the body. But when we say weight loss, it is non specific. You can lose weight by having fewer bones in the body, by having fewer muscles, having lesser fat, not drinking sufficient water, dehydrating yourself, eating less food so we'll have less of the waste in our intestines. Because, mass is all these things and does any of the above things look sensible, or doable?

Having fewer bones will make you useless, so is having fewer muscles, not drinking enough water, and dehydrating yourself voluntarily, and not eating enough too. The only sensible, doable thing is losing fat. By losing the extra fat we can be healthier. That part of your overall mass is what you need to reduce and that is the objective of our discussion.

So when the doc gives the above advice, he means to say - Lose extra fat, but the non-specificity of the terminology misleads the person to google the wrong thing. How to lose weight and then he's presented with a large array of lose weight quick diets, most of which fail horribly. And the second piece of advice is lose that weight quick! He fails to tell you that it's not so straightforward as replacing a roti (Indian flat bread) with a glass of lauki ka juice (Bottle gourd juice) for dinner, lunch, and breakfast.

Now that we have understood the difference between weight loss and fat loss, and why the aforementioned advice is a bad one, though well meaning, we can and should focus on the actual logic and method of losing weight, oops fat.

Thermodynamics to the rescue

Thou shalt be condemned to fatness if thou shalt eat more than you needeth, Thou shalt be lithe, not neccessarily vigorous if thou don't eat enough

What the above dictum from the lord of thermodynamics states is that a neccessary pre-requisite for losing fat mass is eating lesser food than you need, in fancy terms calorie deficit.

Diets, work because the creators understand the concept of calorie deficit. For eg.

  • intermittent fasting - It works by reducing the window in which you're allowed to eat. Thereby restricting the amount of calories that you can consume.

  • low fat or 0 fat diet - It works by excluding an entire essential food group out of our food. Thereby restricting a lot of foods such as nuts, seeds, butter, oils, dairy, and poultry again limiting the calories.

  • low carb or 0 carb diet - Excluding an entire macro-nutrient once again. In addition you're then encouraged to eat more fats, and proteins both are very satiating thus reducing our hunger throughout the day, making us consume lesser calories.

You get the idea. There's nothing magical about any of these diets. They all induce calorie deficit one way or the other. Same God, different paths.

Understanding Macros

Protein - Protein is the primary macronutrient that our body needs to survive, and keep up the repair, maintenance, and building of new tissues (bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons), and hormones, and enzymes. Less protein intake is detrimental to all aspects of ones being. And no there are no proven side-effects of a high protein diet unless there's a pre-existing condition such as bad kidneys that can be aggravated by increased protein intake.

Fat - Fat is the natures way of providing us insurance. It is the energy resrerve of the body any excess calories that is not used by the body is tucked away in fat molecules for future use, when the calories might be lower. Fat has an important protein sparing function during prolonged activities. Fat is essential for insulation against external temperature fluctuations, and for insulating the internal organs (muscles, bones, organs) from injury upon impact. Fat is also essential for the production of steroid hormones in the body without which the functioning of body is severely impaired.

Carbohydrate - Carbohydrates are one macro-nutrient that we need not consume, as the body can make it's own carbohydrate from other two macro-nutrients. That being said, it should also be made known that carbohydrate have the essential protein, and fat sparring function. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy during short, intense activity that require high force output or fast force output from the muscles, thus impacting the performance of the person performing them. By protein sparring what we mean is that the protein that we consume is available for the wear-tear repair, maintenance, re-building of tissues, hormone, enzymes etc. Carbohydrates are also the preferred macro-nutrient by your brain for its functioning. Carbohydrate intake is positively correlated to healthy thyroid, and testosterone levels required for losing fat while preserving muscle mass.

With all this essential background information open let's get down to the business of managing diet with a busy career.

We'll take example of a 100kg male who wants to lose fat. This person let's say has a body fat% 30. That means he has 30kg of fat mass, and 70kg lean mass. Lean mass includes all the bones, fluid, and muscles. Lean mass though primarily is an indicative of muscle mass. By using the equation 550+(22 x LBM) where LBM is lean body mass, we can estimate this person's BMR to be 2090.

By the law of thermodynamics stated above, we need to reduce the calorie intake of the this person below 2090cals. A good starting point is 500 cals below the BMR. Therefore our target calorie intake should be 1500 calories.

Now let us breakdown the calories into the three macro-nutrients.

1g protein has 4 cals, same with carbohydrate. 1g of fat has 9 cals.

Let us make a 30,50,20 (Pr,Cho,F) break down for our target calories, where 30% calories are acquired from protein, 50% from carbohydrates, and the rest 20% from fat. Therefore, 450cals from protein, 750cals from carbohydrate, and 300cals from fat. Using the weight to calories conversion formula for macro-nutrients above, we need 112.5g (450/4)protein, 187.5g (750/4) carbohydrate, and 33.3 gm fats.

With our macro-nutrients fixed, choose a strategy, one that matches your individual personality, to meet the target calorie intake. If you like bigger meals - you'll do great on 2-3 meals per day. and if you like to eat smaller meals then you should spread your intake over 5-6 meals. First one is easier for busy professionals, however by having the information of our target macro-nutrients, we can plan for the meals ahead of time. Preparing 4-5 days of meals on a single day will ensure that you are getting not only the right amount of calories but other nutrients too. Also, do not forget to log your meals. This will ensure consistency and will lead to a more intuitive eating approach later on. Preparing the meals ahead of time will make the food logging easier and thus make it easier for you to track your meals.

This strategy of reducing calories progressively is not very optimal for fat loss, the fat loss plateaus after a while using this approach. I will discuss that and a better strategy for fat loss in the next article.

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