Did you know the dieting failure rate is a ridiculous 95-99.4%? ??♀️
Sadly on average, no more than 5% of the population will sustain their weight loss for over five years.
No wonder the consensus is that dieting doesn’t work. ?
What is it about diets and weight loss that prevent us from maintaining our results? ??♀️
In theory, if a leaner body is a healthier body with potential for greater vitality and health biomarkers, shouldn’t being lean reinforce the ability to stay fit?
Yet, what we often observe is the complete opposite. Weight regain is especially prevalent in multiple sport disciplines where we see drastic changes in body composition between a competitive in-season and off-season athlete.
As an ex-competitive rhythmic gymnast and competitor in four physique competitions, I feel like I have spent much of my life seeking strategies to optimize body composition.
Over the last four years running a busy private holistic nutrition practice, attending numerous courses taught by top coaches, and completing two nutrition certifications, I’m ready to shed some perspective on managing weight loss outcomes.
Here are three primary considerations I consider paramount to sustainable weight loss:
The bottom line is that virtually everything works for weight loss.
Paleo? Yes, it works.
Keto? Yes, it works.
Low-fat eating? Yes, it works.
Plant-based eating? Yes, it works.
Intermittent fasting? Yes, it works.
Counting macros and calories? Yes it works
Get my drift?
What truly works best, however, is what you will stick to in the long term.
In the same breath, here are three reasons you should avoid a strategy or paradigm:
What is the point of losing weight via [insert eating strategy here] if you feel like crap the whole time and can’t wait to stop eating that way??? When someone begins fantasizing about the day they no longer have to live according to [insert eating strategy here], the concept of sustainability becomes futile.
I believe weight loss in and of itself is a stress to our physiology and psychology. We can see that this evaluated in some animal models.(1)
At the current time, studies reinforcing this theory in humans is still very much in its infancy. Most who have tried to diet long term would agree that dieting can induce the physical sensation of bodily stress. One pathway stress may compete with our ability to lose weight effectively is by modulating our HPA axis function.(2) Stress also can negatively alter our appetite.(3) Therefore, if we don’t address what is contributing to our internal stress load, we may struggle to progress in our weight loss attempts.
Here are some everyday stressors to our physiology:
Gut dysfunction or gut dysbiosis
Aggressive weight-loss strategies (chronically low calories, excessive training, etc.)
Low nutrient status
Sluggish endocrine function
Mental health concerns (poor self-image, negative self-talk, etc.)
Addictions (alcohol, illicit drugs, gambling)
Obsessive behavioral patterns
Excessive work hours
One can attempt to follow the “perfect” nutritional and training strategy, but if every other aspect of their life is falling apart, results might be lackluster at best.
Thus, if the goal is to be lean all year, one must seek to address their stress load consistently.
Just because you follow a nutritional discipline such as paleo, keto, plant-based eating, low carb, macro-counting, carb-cycling, fasting, or eating without discretion or titles, the question is, are you doing it optimally?
More specifically, how can we organize our food selection to ensure we are making the most health-supportive choices?
To explore the strategy behind creating a foundational outlook on our eating choices, we first have to answer the question, what exactly is food?
In a more specific context, how would you define ‘food’ to an extraterrestrial life form without a digestive tract?
Food, by my definition, is a conduit for the intake of beneficial macronutrients and micronutrients for the human body.
With thousands of available options for foodstuffs, how do we know we are making the best options for our health?
From a logical perspective, if food is a vessel for the intake of beneficial compounds, then theoretically, the most diversified approach, which offers us the highest nutritional density, might also confer the most potential benefit. Every food has a unique nutrient profile. If we choose to eat only a limited selection of foods, we then also limit the total nutrient influx.
Think of it this way:
Think of our body as a bank account for nutrients. Our chequing account is what we use frequently and therefore, would be represented by macronutrients in our diet: proteins, fats, carbs. We spend from this account often. Our savings account would be micronutrients. The more vitamins and minerals we consume, the bigger this account gets, and the sooner we can begin using this account for our needs. The standard North American Diet tends to fund the chequing account frequently while neglecting the savings account. It’s simply not enough for a truly vital life. For those looking to have robust mileage from their bodies, the expectation would be to have a continual investment in both bank accounts. The primary aim is to become nutritionally rich.
Interested in learning how to create a sound nutritional foundation? Check out Part II of this article below.
Seven Guidelines for a Sound Nutritional Foundation
Hydration is one thing we can all agree upon no matter which ideology we follow.
Our bodies are composed of up to 75% water. Having a large functional capacity to store water means if we don’t optimally hydrate, we may fail to feel our best in any diet or strategy we follow. In addition, we need to consider the excretion of toxicity through our sweat and urine. Again, if we fail to hydrate, we may also fail to detoxify our bodies optimally. Water also hydrates the colon, which is necessary for optimal bowel regulation. The importance of healthy bowel health is far reaching in the quest for optimal body composition. I suggest hacking your water intake before progressing with any strategy.
Tap water isn’t optimal for numerous reasons.
I believe a water filtration unit is a must. Whether or not you want to subscribe to the belief that fluoride is potentially dangerous, there are other reasons we may want to filter our water. Trace hormones being one of them.
“There is no body of scientific evidence which leads to the conclusion that trace levels of hormones in drinking water are a contributor to human health problems, be they from pharmaceuticals or other sources.”
This statement is a problem.
The authorities know full well about the hormones in our drinking supply, but we don’t have studies on what this means for long-term outcomes. Having an unclear stance on this topic is reason enough, in my opinion, to invest in a quality filtration unit to spare you those trace compounds. Waiting around for a study to prove compounds in our water supply is detrimental makes no logical sense to me. Why wait to act when we can proactively seek to avoid unnecessary harm? Seek out a water filter that also removes lead, VOCs, chlorine, cysts, pesticides, etc. If you are willing to do some light plumbing work, you can attempt to install an under-counter model giving a clean appearance to your kitchen countertop. Fridge filtration units might be ok, but I would suggest looking into what compounds they filter out so that you aren’t wasting your time or money.
Optimal Hydration Calculator:
0.66 x Bodyweight in Lbs = Daily Ounces
Daily Ounces/32 = Liters per day
Add 0.5-1L (with electrolytes) on training days, depending on total sweat output
Anything that gives you abnormal reactions: bloating, brain fog, headaches, arthritis, worsening of allergies, body pain, gut pain, aberrations in healthy gut function, aches, mood shifts, etc. need to be removed immediately.
Foods that irritate our bodies begin by first irritating our digestive tract. Your digestive tract is the most critical factor when it comes to your ability to absorb your nutrition. A digestive tract that is chronically irritated will possess a flatter villus, which means a smaller total surface area for absorptive capacity. Also, inflammation in the gut can force open the gap junctions allowing for the permeability of our digestive tract. A ‘leaky gut’ can lead to a host of systemic symptoms which are counteractive for those looking to address their health.
It doesn’t matter how healthy you eat if you also consistently eat foods that damage your digestive capacity. You aren’t going to get anywhere fast. Eating irritating foods is like the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot before attempting to run a marathon.
This is what a daily food log might look like for someone who is dairy intolerant:
For those who are especially sensitive, work on eliminating food chemicals: sulfites, MSG, specific preservatives, food colorants, thickeners, and gum, etc.When first reviewing a food symptom log, it might be unclear what is causing these symptoms—being vague about what is causing what is why I suggest a modified elimination strategy for those who are symptomatic. Remove food groups as needed until wellness returns. Wait 4-6 weeks before going through a reintroduction phase. One new food or food group item every four days is best during the reintroduction—document when symptoms return. Aim to eliminate that food or food group to restore healthy gut function completely.
If you are having difficulty cutting foods out because you miss them, try seeking out direct substitutes:
Wheat Bread or Crackers → Gluten-free Bread or Crackers
Wheat Flour → Almond flour, coconut flour, gluten-free flour
Cream → Dairy-Free Creamer
Milk → Coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk
Aged Cheese → Nutritional Yeast
Coffee → Green Tea, Black Tea
Mayo w/eggs → Vegan Mayo (only use temporarily)
Peanuts → Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, etc.
Recall that savings account mentioned above? Here is one measure we can use to make sure the minerals in your micronutrient savings account is topped to the brim.
There are six primary categories of plant matter which we should seek to consume regularly. This categorization system isn’t my concept. I took this from Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Although I don’t subscribe to his plant-based eating strategies, I think his categorization of vegetative matter a gold standard.
Greens – Dark leafy greens. In addition to this half, our intake of dark leafy greens should be cruciferous vegetables.
Beans – Beans and lentils
Onions – Green onions, red onions, yellow onions, sweet onions, shallots, etc.
Mushrooms – Shitake, maitake, oyster, chanterelle, morel, medicinal mushroom extracts, etc.
Berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and locally raised wild berries.
Seeds and Nuts (all raw) – Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax, chia, pecans, walnuts, cashews, almonds, macadamias, etc.
This categorization of food is easiest to remember when using its acronym: GBOMBS ☺
Ideally, we should be consuming foods from each category at least once a day and, if possible, at every meal.
Dietary protein is essential for the formation of enzymes/chemical messengers/antibodies, phase II liver detoxification, muscle building, neurotransmitter development, serving as a storage form of energy, and micronutrient replenishment alongside numerous other important functions.
To get the most out of your dietary protein intake, first, determine your protein needs. If you are active, strive for ~1-1.3g/lb of body weight. Protein intake should become constant in the diet. No matter how you organize your food intake for the week, protein intake should remain unchanged. Emphasize grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and keep the rendered animal proteins to a minimum. If following a plant-based diet use a well-tolerated vegan protein powder blend at each meal or EAA formula to make up for low protein status.
For those who do not want to track or measure food intake, it is a good idea to spend at least one-week tracking protein exclusively. This will quickly build your skill at eyeballing portions in the future. Consistency is key and this is especially so with protein intake.
Distribute protein feedings into four evenly spaced feedings throughout the day for the greatest muscle building benefit. If muscle building is not a main priority, large protein servings consumed more infrequently will suffice.
A healthy body will effectively eliminate contaminants. A body with suboptimal digestive function and low nutrient supply will struggle to remove residues from the diet and environment. Anything that could potentially burden us serves as endogenous stress. Recall the stress management suggestions above? While we invest our time and efforts towards having a healthier body, we also need to reduce the strain from foods that may be contributing to our body’s burden.
Here are three of my top recommendations:
While bowel habits differ from individual to individual, it isn’t uncommon to see a drastic change in consistency or frequency when supportive foods are added to the diet. An increase in fiber will support healthy peristalsis and movements.
Having less than three bowel movements per week is considered constipation. A lack of sufficient elimination is undesirable for optimal body composition. The rationale here is that bowel movements allow for the release of toxicity from the body, which include the expulsion of excess hormones and environmental compounds. These burdens serve as stress that may affect optimal body composition.
Fiber needs are highly variable. Someone with a compromised or highly reactive gut may not be able to tolerate much fiber without severe bloating or gastric upset. Someone with chronic constipation and weak peristalsis, may need closer to 50g per day to jump-start motility. Again, titrate up slowly.
Fiber requires sufficient water to swell properly. The optimal expansion of fiber is why it’s vital to hack water intake before getting to this step.
Think of supplementation as the cherry on top. I consider supplementation the last component of a health program that can make a significant difference if stacked on top of a sound dietary structure. Using supplementation without making supportive nutritional changes is like trying to build a house using your kid’s piggy bank. It just won’t be enough to contribute to the outcome you desire.
Use supplementation as the last line of support to finely tune your physiological processes.
With supplementation, it is best to pick a single priority over 4-12 weeks. The goal should be to use as few supplements as possible to obtain the desired effect.
A sustainable weight management program requires a great deal of consideration and personal investment. By prioritizing our health and wellbeing as a significant part of the experience, we support the ability to maintain our results for the long term.
As humans we flourish in the presence of ample water, quality protein, vitamins and minerals, fiber, plant compounds, supportive supplementation and the avoidance of unnecessary chemicals or foods which distress our physiology.
1. Pankevich, Diana E. et al. “Caloric Restriction Experience Reprograms Stress and Orexigenic Pathways and Promotes Binge Eating.” The Journal of Neuroscience, 30:48, 1 Dec 2010, 16399-16407.
2. RR, Klatzkin et al. “The impact of chronic stress on the predictors of acute-stress induced eating in women.” Appetite, 1:123, 2018 Apr 1, 343-351.
3. G, Thom. “The role of appetite-related hormones, adaptive thermogenesis, perceived hunger, and stress in long-term weight-loss maintenance: a mixed-methods study.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74:4, 2020 Apr, 622-632.
Contributed by Naomi Sachs, B.Sc., A.C.H.N., PFT
Fully-certified since 2015, Naomi has been successfully coaching clients throughout North America and facilitating their self-growth in the nutrition and fitness realm. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of health strategies available, her services aim to introduce clarity and self-motivation.