Figuring out a diet plan that will actually work can be frustrating. There are seemingly infinite solutions, and it can often feel as if none of them are working the way you want. However, there are a few basic truths to maintaining a healthy diet and achieving your fitness goals. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or just live a healthier lifestyle, keeping these principles in mind will help you succeed.
It’s pretty common knowledge that counting calories is an important part of weight loss. However, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting the right calories you need in your diet. A calorie is just a unit of energy, and our bodies need energy to function. The main source of calories in our diet comes from macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each macronutrient affects your hormones differently, and hormones play a major role in how easily your body loses weight, gains muscle, and vice versa. In short, where our calories come from makes a big difference. A diet of 90% carbs, 5% protein, and 5% fat is going to have very different results than a balanced diet of 35% carbs, 35% protein, and 30% fat.
While it’s important to keep your macronutrient intake in mind, it’s also important to remember the basic role calories play in our diet. If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat more calories than you burn. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. If you want to do both, you’ll need to consume a lot of calories, and then make sure you burn them off through exercise.
Eating a balanced diet is a major component of staying healthy, whether you want to shed fat, gain muscle, or both. However, exercise is also vitally important for keeping your body in good shape, regardless of your specific goals. Even if you’re dieting just to lose weight, losing muscle slows down your metabolism, which makes it harder to lose fat. Studies show that regular exercise actually changes your body’s composition. It increases your metabolism, which helps you burn more calories. Exercise also changes your food preferences. It can be a struggle to abruptly switch your diet from pizza and soda to salad and water; however, people who exercise regularly have an easier time switching to a healthier diet, cutting down on hunger pangs and sugar cravings.
Most people who try to lose weight through dieting alone usually struggle to maintain it for any significant period and end up quitting, and often end up regaining the lost weight (and sometimes more). Exercising regularly not only makes it easier to eat healthy by altering your dietary habits, but also builds muscle, speeds up your metabolism, and improves your overall health in the long term.
We briefly mentioned the significance of hormones when discussing calories earlier. But how exactly do hormones play a role in dieting? Many of your body’s hormones have major effects on weight loss, muscle gain, and overall dietary habits. Getting the right balance of macronutrients helps keep all those hormones at optimal levels and allows them to work in your favor instead of against you.
For example, insulin is a hormone in charge of allowing cells to either convert glucose into energy or store it away as glycogen. Eating too much, especially in the form of carbohydrates, leads to insulin resistance, which can result in health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes. Reducing carbohydrates, exercising regularly, and minimizing sugar in your diet all help keep your insulin at healthy levels. Post-workout is the best time to get your carb fix because your body needs to replenish the glycogen stores it burned to give you energy. Learning how your macronutrient intake affects your various hormone levels can go a long way in helping you understand what your body needs to function properly and stay healthy.
Slow and Steady
Many people will approach a diet aggressively right from the start, cutting way down on calories and exercising hard multiple times a day. It may seem like going hard will get faster results, but this is rarely the case, and in fact, you’re hurting your chances of succeeding. First of all, making extreme changes to your eating and exercising habits is harmful to your body, even if they’re positive changes. It will throw your hormones and your metabolism out of whack, and at best will probably lead to muscle catabolism, which is when your body starts breaking down muscle tissue to get the energy it needs. At worst, it can result in nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, and even heart attacks.
In addition, it’s very difficult to keep up a strict diet and a vigorous exercise routine if your body isn’t used to it. Even the best diet plans will plateau, when you may stop losing weight or even start to regain weight despite sticking to your diet. If you start off at your maximum effort, it leaves you with nowhere to go when this inevitably happens. Taking baby steps allows your body time to adjust to these lifestyle changes, and makes it much easier to step things up once your weight starts to level out.
There’s no doubt about it: dieting is hard. It’s difficult to make drastic lifestyle changes, and even harder to stick to them for prolonged periods, not to mention the mental toll it takes. That’s why it’s important to schedule periodic breaks for yourself. What exactly this looks like will vary from person to person, and will depend on factors like how you’re dieting, your levels of physical activity, and what your fitness goals are. Some people may only need to have a cheat meal every week or two, while some people may want to take longer breaks that could last a week or more.
These breaks can have several benefits, like stimulating your metabolism and replenishing your glycogen levels. They will also help to satisfy any cravings without giving in and quitting your diet altogether! Make sure you practice self-restraint to avoid going overboard, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect. Even the most successful diet will have ups and downs, but as long as you’re making smart choices and sticking with it, you’ll find success and reach your goals.
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