Extremes never end well. Too much "healthy" food or too much "junk" food wreaks havoc on your physical and mental health. The best solution is a balanced approach to nutrition for long-term success. How many times have you seen the person "only eating veggies and chicken" stack the weight right back on months after losing it, and someone eating only junk food be told by doctors they're eating themselves to death? Like any aspect of your life, a "balance" sounds easy. But it's an art. And a tough one to acquire. This article will outline how to successfully reach a balance with your nutrition in order to achieve long-term weight loss success.
Consistency for the best fat loss results
The best thing you can learn about nutrition is that it's near impossible to say one food is "healthier" than another, without understanding the context in which it's said.
Lettuce is "unhealthy" -- Example 1: Jerry is malnourished and only eats salads. Low on iron, protein, and other key vitamins and minerals, another lettuce leaf is rather "unhealthy." Jerry should look to getting sources of healthy fats, and protein, for a balanced diet consisting of key vitamins and minerals.
Lettuce is "healthy" -- example 2: Tony works as a security guard, and doesn't prepare any fresh vitamin and mineral boasting meals. Dinner is more often than not, fast food, or chocolate bars from his office vending machine. Weekends are spent drinking more than 4 standard drinks per sitting, and Tony doesn't get anywhere enough fibre. Therefore, Tony needs more fibre and in the context of eating lettuce for Tony becomes "healthy."
The point is, food really is only healthy or unhealthy depending on context. That's the first thing to understand. Because once you do, you realise that in the right context, NO foods can be off-limits. That then provides mental clarity to help you undertake a "diet" -- knowing you're not starving or restricting yourself too much on the foods you like.
And this isn't my opinion. It's the finding of scientists that have discovered that a “flexible” dieting approach leads to better long term fat loss, less depression and anxiety, with subjects LESS likely to overeat (1-3).
The 80/20 rule: Flexible dieting to lose body fat
You might have heard people talk about how 80% of your dietary requirements should come from foods high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. For example, chicken breast, steak, vegetables, and fruit. This is a great strategy.
The 20% refers to "junk foods" -- foods like chocolate, chips, donuts, etc.
It's far better to have 10-20% of your daily intake from "junk" foods, whilst staying in a calorie deficit (eating less calories than you burn) than thinking you're going to eat nothing but "clean" foods (chicken and broccoli) for 10 weeks. Because as we learnt, this doesn't allow for long-term results (1-3).
The body will fight you tooth and nail to restore the fat you've lost, by increasing your hunger so you fill out your fat cells (gain back the lost fat!) again (4).
So, we fight this by allowing for 20% of our daily foods to come from the "junk" options we like. Because as scientists conclude, obtaining from certain foods leads to "low dietary restraint and binge eating" (5).
The aformentioned research reports that strict dieting strategies, but not flexible dieting strategies, are associated with eating disorder symptoms and higher body mass in dieters (3). In other words, trying to eat "perfectly" all the time means you're likely to develop an eating disorder and likely to be heavier, too.
The simple conclusion is: don't cut out anything from your diet when "dieting", just simply eat less "junk food" and other higher calorie foods if you want the best fat results possible.
Real-world example: A balanced diet to lose belly fat
Let's say your 20% calorie deficit meant your overall macronutrient profile was:
Protein: 150 grams = 600 calories
Fat: 80 grams = 720 calories
Carbohydrates: 140 grams = 560 calories
That gives us a total of 1,880 calories.
20% of this is 376 calories, meaning you can enjoy this amount of "junk" food a day if you feel like it. That's:
- a Krispy Kreme donut (190 calories)
- Mars bar (230 calories)
- Small 35 gram back of potato chips (184 calories).
The rest of your carbohydrates and fat would come from alternatives that have more micronutrients, rice for the carbohydrates for example, and avocado and olive oils for the fats.
That's what it's about if you want success.
The current Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) report by Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine lists the upper limit of added sugars as 25% of total calories (6).
Another review found that 20% of total calories from added sugars is roughly the maximum amount that won’t adversely water down a diet’s concentration of essential micronutrients (7).
Everyday, it's critical that you:
- Eat your protein numbers daily as set by a qualified nutritionist
- Eat 50 grams of fibre
This is critical: recent reviews suggest "the ideal (fibre) intake should be more like 50 g/d to prevent colitis and colon cancer" (8). And protein is superior for keeping us full (9), thus crucial to a successful fat loss diet to prevent overeating.
Once your protein and fibre intakes have been taken care of, then and only then can you look to your "20% junk food" options.
Fat loss success depends on a balanced approach to dieting; creating this balance every day, and not going to any extremes on either end of the scale.
INSERT LINK: If you would like us to set up your own flexible and balanced fat loss diet (it comes free when you order our meals!), then sign up to Workout Meals 360 via this link.
All the best with your fat loss success!
1. Meule A, Westenhofer J, Kubler A. Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success. Appetite. 2011;57(3): 582–584.doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.07.013.
2. Meule A,PapiesEK, Kubler A. Differentiating between successful and unsuccessful dieters. Validity and reliability of the Perceived Self-Regulatory Success in Dieting Scale. Appetite. 2012;58(3):822–826. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.01.028.
3. Stewart TM, Williamson DA, White MA. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. 2002;38(1):39–44.
4. Maclean PS, Bergouignan A, Cornier MA, Jackman MR. Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011;301(3):R581-R600. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010
5. Smith CF, Williamson DA, Bray GA, Ryan DH. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite. 1999 Jun;32(3):295-305.doi: 10.1006/appe.1998.0204. PMID: 10336790.
6. https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/energy_full_report.pdf (Page 1325).
7. Gibson SA. Dietary sugars intake and micronutrient adequacy: a systematic review of the evidence.NutrRes Rev. 2007 Dec;20(2):121-31.
8. O'Keefe SJD. The Need to Reassess Dietary Fiber Requirements in Healthy and Critically Ill Patients. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2018;47(1):219-229. doi:10.1016/j.gtc.2017.10.005
9. Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Proteins and satiety: implications for weight management. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008;11:747–751. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328311a8c4.