Whether it is the goal of a ‘bikini’ body or simply wanting to lose some extra kilos for better health and self-esteem, as women we always want to to know “what” and “how much” we should be eating.
Unfortunately, there is no magic number detailing how many calories and which specific foods we should be eating. It will be different for each individual, depending on your goals, size, metabolism and activity level. Therefore the most important piece of advice for women seeking sustainable weight loss is don’t fall into the trap of only following the latest fad diet or program advertised on social media. Certainly, use your favourite fitness or bikini body handbook to build your knowledge and get you started on your fitness journey, but always remember weight loss and health should be about finding out what works for YOU over the long term, not something that happens to have worked for someone else.
This article is designed to provide you with some basic diet guidelines & strategies that you can utilise on your weight loss journey.
Without getting too caught up in the numbers, it is widely accepted that the average woman should consume approximately 30-32 calories per kilogram of bodyweight; so for a 60kg female, this would be approximately 1800 calories per day (60kg x 30 calories = 1800 calories). Approximately 45 -60% of these calories should be derived from carbohydrates for energy, 15-30% should be derived from protein for tissue repair, and 20-30% should be derived from good fats for general health and organ function. If you exercise frequently and therefore burn more calories you will need to consume more calories to fuel your workouts, and possibly higher proportions of carbohydrates and protein depending on the kind of exercise performed. If you have higher than average muscle mass, you will also need to consume more calories as your body will typically have a higher metabolic rate and requirement for calories to maintain the extra muscle tissue.
Restricting calories for weight loss is necessary if you are eating more calories than you are burning within any 24 hour period; it’s simple “calories in v calories out” maths. Emphasis should be placed on restricting calories from simple sugars (processed foods, juice, confectionery and sports drinks for example) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats from butter and animal fats for example). Focusing on the source of where these calories come from as opposed to just the total number will prevent you from getting obsessive, and will help you develop your own knowledge about certain foods.
But don’t starve yourself! If you restrict calories too low, the absence of proper energy will force your muscles to break down in order to fuel your daily activities. Less muscle mass will result in your metabolic rate decreasing, meaning a decrease in the number of calories able to be burned each and every day. It is typical that a woman depriving herself of calories will experience sluggishness & fatigue, and risk many nutritional deficiencies and hormone complications. In this case, your body will cling onto your fat deposits as it recognises you are in “starvation” mode. This is your body’s natural defence mechanism. So if you have attempted a very low-calorie diet and experienced minimal to no results, this is why.
The saying goes “slow & steady wins the race”. The best thing you can do for your metabolism and weight loss goals is to continually fuel your body with high-quality foods. Simply give your body what it needs; let it become familiar with being given consistent, high-quality nutrition and allow your body to run as effectively as possible. Be good to your body, and your body will be good for you.
Furthering on our reluctance to recommend generalised detox and bikini diet plans, the following strategies are the best possible techniques that you can slowly implement into your diet to help you change your body composition and achieve the weight loss results you are working towards.
1. Eat Frequently
You must not allow your body to be deprived of calories or nutrients in a bid to prevent it from clinging on to fat deposits instead of burning through them. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours to keep your metabolism firing and your blood sugar levels stabilized to avoid highs and lows in your moods, as well as your cravings.
2. Eat Protein
You should aim to eat protein every time you consume food. Try to choose your meal by first selecting the source of protein you are going to include. Your body uses more energy breaking down protein than it does any other macronutrient, and protein also provides the highest level of satiety (the feeling of fullness). If you consume 100 calories of protein, 20 – 30 calories will be burned by your body breaking down that protein alone. Compare this to carbohydrates where your body may only use 5 – 10 calories to burn 100 calories worth of carbs. Plus with all the stress you are putting your body and your muscles through during your workouts, you need to ensure that you are properly recovering, repairing and rebuilding damaged muscle tissue. This is achieved by consuming adequate protein each and every day.
3. Time Carbohydrate Ingestion
Your body has 1 primary use for carbohydrates – to provide energy. The secondary use for carbohydrates is to replace glycogen – this is a form of energy stored in muscle tissue and the liver, kind of like how a battery stores energy for future use. If your body doesn’t require carbs for energy and your glycogen stores are full your body will convert excess carbohydrates into triglycerides (fatty acids) and store them as body fat, which we want to steer well away from.
With this in mind there are 3 times during the day when you want to consume carbs; first thing in the morning with your first meal of the day to help replace the glycogen your body has depleted during sleep, around 1 – 2 hours before you plan to workout to provide energy for your workouts, and finally post-workout, once again to replace the glycogen your body has depleted during your workout.
Try to think about carbohydrates fuelling your body the way petrol fuels your car – you are only going to fill it up with fuel when you plan on driving.
4. Stay Hydrated
We’ve all heard it a million times, but you cannot underestimate the importance of ensuring you are providing your body with enough water to stay well hydrated. The benefits of drinking enough water stream into every aspect of life; as well as it being an integral component in our digestive process, it is necessary for cell functioning, waste excretion and nutrient transportation.
5. Don’t Dwell
Unless you are a competitive fitness or figure athlete there is no need to dwell over every minute detail in your diet. There is no need to count calories to the .0001 gram, restrict food groups or be continually searching for the latest diet “breakthrough”. Select fresh, healthy and wholesome sources of food. The higher quality the source of food, the better your body will function. Your body works hard every second to keep you alive and strong. Reward yourself by giving back to your body, and spoiling it with the vitamins and minerals it needs to be the best looking and most efficient body it can be.
So we’ve had a peek into the habits and attitudes that you should start to implement into your own diet and lifestyle. Now it’s a matter of what you actually fill your shopping basket with.
To help you make the right decisions while you’re strolling along the supermarket aisles, we’ve devised a list of high-quality whole foods categorised by primary macronutrient. Your diet doesn’t have to be limited to this list, but it gives you a general idea of what types of foods you should be consuming.
• Wholegrain oats
• Brown rice
• Wholemeal bread
• Spelt pasta
• Sweet potato
• Beans and other legumes
• Bananas, apples, pears and other whole fruits
• Chicken breast
• Turkey breast
• Lean beef
• Beans and legumes
• Protein powder
• Greek yoghurt
• Cottage cheese
• Coconut oil
• Unsalted nuts
• Peanut, almond and other natural nut butters
• Olive oil
• Chia seeds
(Many fat sources can also be derived from protein sources including salmon and red meats. Be careful with consuming too much fat from red meats, as you want to limit your saturated fat intake. Instead, consume polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats found in foods from the above list. Choose lean cuts of meats where possible)
Eat fresh vegetables in abundance, and try to buy them locally. They are fantastic sources of vitamins and minerals, a great source of fibre, and can really transform a traditional meal from boring to exciting!
Go crazy with various herbs and spices. From traditional basil, rosemary and thyme to paprika, garam masala and chilli flakes, there is no excuse for plain and boring meals. Have fun with your cooking, be adventurous and see how glorious fresh, lean and unprocessed foods can be.
With regards to protein powder, if you can get all your protein from whole foods, that is fantastic. Protein powder is just a convenient way to get additional protein, which is usually lacking particularly if you workout a lot and do a lot of resistance based training (for example lifting weights). If you choose to incorporate protein powder into your diet, choose one that is low in fat and carbohydrates, and one that you can get very creative with by adding it to breakfast smoothies or cooking with it. For those more seriously involved in their training, protein shakes post-workout help with immediate recovery, but if you can aim to eat a protein-filled meal within an hour or so of working out, this will do just fine.
And that’s it! When starting out with any weight-loss goal in mind, keep it simple and stick to the basic fundamentals of nutrition. Take the time to learn about nutrition, try new approaches and track your progress to see what works for YOU. Make healthy choices, analyse how different foods influence your mood and energy levels, and how long it takes for you to feel hungry again. Information on nutrition is easily accessible, and often free, so make the most of it. Stay consistent and celebrate every little success. Soon you will be well on your way to becoming a lean, mean, fit female MACHINE!