The New York Times recently published an article Entitled “The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds”. It summarizes the findings of a recent study published in JAMA. The study size and methodology of the study make it unusual, so it is getting a lot of attention in the nutrition community, and it is getting a lot more press than usual. I’ve gotten a LOT of questions about that article in the days since, and this post answers the most frequent of those questions.
What did the study test?
In brief, about 600 people participated in the study. All of the participants learned how to prepare and eat healthier diets with an emphasis on minimizing sugar and processed foods. Half were assigned to a group that learned how to eat a healthy low-fat diet, and half were assigned to a group that learned how to eat a healthy low carb diet. They were not told to eat a certain number of calories or given macronutrient breakdowns.
What did the study conclude?
The study found that both groups lost weight by eating healthier, less processed foods. It also found that it didn’t really matter if you eat a low fat or low carbohydrate diet; as long as the diet is healthy, weight loss is likely. Further, the study ruled out certain possible genetic predispositions regarding weight loss.
Is it true that you can eat what you want if you just eat healthy food?
Sorry, folks, it’s not. The amount that you eat still matters, but if you are eating healthy food, you are likely to eat less because whole foods make you feel fuller for longer periods of time. Thus, if you eat healthy foods, you’re likely a) to eat lessand b) to feel full longer. That means you are consuming fewer calories than you used to, and all other things being equal, you should lose weight.
In light of the study, what should I do if I want to lose weight?
There is no one-size fits all approach to weight loss. That being said, a great place to start is to make your food choices healthier! If you find you are losing weight simply by doing that, stay the course until you stop losing, then modify what you are eating. If you need help in doing either of those things, we’re here to help!
In Part I of this article, I talked about what a mass is and my reasons for doing one. Today, we’ll look at how it went and what my plans are for the future.
I started my mass in November for a reason: I wanted to use holiday eating to my advantage. I knew that is a time of year where I have more social obligations that have me eating out, with less control over the quality and quantity of food that I eat, I love holiday food, and I adore holiday desserts! Given that the goal of a mass is to gain weight purposefully, why not use the excess calories that I likely would be consuming anyway to my benefit?
Now, this doesn’t mean I ate all of the junk, all of the time. To the contrary, I continued to eat whole, unprocessed foods for the vast majority of my meals, and I continued to monitor my protein, carb, and fat consumption, including portion sizes of each, as well. I did not, however, worry about what I was eating or drinking on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, and enjoyed every party and festive occasion during the holiday season.
I ended up gaining a total of eight pounds in a period of eleven weeks, which was just about what I hoped to gain. I’ll be honest – I hated the feeling of being stuffed, sluggish, and bloated for the last four weeks, during which I was eating obscene amounts of food in order to gain weight in the appropriate amounts. It also meant that I had to figure out how to get into the gym even during the holiday week, as missing more than a session or two meant the odds of my adding fat rather than muscle increased with each missed workout.
Currently, I am playing a waiting game before I can mass again, then try to stay at the same weight for a period of time before dieting to lose the fat and see just how much muscle I have added. Psychologically, it is challenging to know it will be nearly six months before I can tell whether what I am doing is working in the way I hope it is, but I am excited to see the results!
In November, I did something I never expected I would do: I started overeating on purpose. Yes, you read that right – I deliberately ate more than my body’s caloric requirements for the express purpose of gaining weight. Why would I ever do that after all of the effort that I have put into LOSING weight? The answer? MUSCLES.
You may be asking yourself, how does gaining weight result in muscles? Well, not all of it does, and none of it does unless you have an exercise plan in place that is designed to stimulate muscle growth. In short, though, hypertrophy training (lifting weights in the range of 7-20 reps) combined with surplus calories allows you to add more muscle in a shorter amount of time than simply working out alone. The downsides? You have to commit to putting in consistent time in the gym, you have to accept that approximately three quarters (or more) of the weight that you put on will be fat, and you have to accept that you will probably need to diet again before you get to see the muscle you worked so hard to build!
Why do I want more muscles? There are several answers. First, I want to improve my body fat percentage. I’m a small person who looks thin, and you would never guess that my body fat percentage is as high as it is. I want to change that, not to compete in bodybuilding or anything like that, but because I will be a happier and better athlete with an improved muscle to fat ratio. Small increases in my skeletal muscle mass now go further for me than weight loss in helping me achieve that goal, and a calculated mass will help me do that more quickly than I could do it just with time in the gym. Second, because I am not genetically endowed with a lot of muscle and was not particularly active as a teen and young adult, I have struggled with injuries to my shoulders and elbows. Assuming proper technique, building more muscle in my upper body in particular will allow me to do things like Olympic lifting more safely and more effectively. Third, I’m almost fifty. If I don’t put on muscle now, I risk being unable to do the things that I love and want to do well into my seventies, eighties, and perhaps even nineties (longevity runs on both sides of my family). Finally, more muscle equals more food, as muscle has greater energy demands than fat, and I LOVE food!
Now that you know what a mass is and why I decided to do one, stayed tuned for Part II next week to learn how it went.
When people learn I am a nutrition coach, one of the first things they often say to me is “Oh, I wish I had more time to eat healthy food, but I’m just too busy to cook.” I get it. I really do. I was a trial attorney for twenty years, a partner in my own law firm for the last nine of those years, and have two children who cannot seem to eat enough. I did takeout and junk for years, until I realized one really basic thing: I needed to keep it simple. For the last few years, dinners in our house have been healthier, faster, and easier as a result of making these five “Keep It Simple, Stupid” changes:
• Find your shortcuts. For us, it’s an electric grill with removable plates, a rice cooker, and an air fryer that turns out the most unbelievably moist chicken ever. Each of these prepare foods quickly, with a minimum of advance preparation, and little clean up involved.
• Do a large grocery shopping once a week for protein and basic vegetables. Chicken breasts, pork loin, salad mix, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus almost always make it into our basket.
• Stock your pantry and freezer. We always have rice, potatoes, frozen vegetables, and frozen fish in the house. We get them at a local discount club in very large quantities, so we only need to stock up on them once a month. If we haven’t gotten to the store lately, we pull out a few filets of fish in the morning and put them in the refrigerator, then cook them that night along with some rice and frozen vegetables.
• Invest in spices and vinegars. Those plain chicken breasts will taste very different if you use orange ginger spices on them rather than garlic and herb, and champagne vinegar and balsamic are worlds apart in flavor profile, making that same salad taste quite a bit different.
• Cook a little bit more than you need to cook each time you do. We commonly eat about a pound of meat at dinner, but I will usually prepare two pounds. That second pound becomes lunches for several days or dinner when we are really slammed with activities.
Using these tips, we generally manage to make active meal preparation and clean-up take less than half an hour total per night. While the air fryer or grill, rice cooker and oven are working away at cooking and roasting stuff, we are able to catch up on other things around the house or finish those final few work emails before we sit down to dinner. By keeping it simple, we improve our nutrition and reduce our stress levels. So remember, when you need to work on your nutrition, just look to KISS!
Amy Mariani is the owner of Fit & Fabulous LLC in Winchester, Massachusetts. She is also the nutrition coach at www.mountainstrength.com. Her mission is to help people eat healthy and love life.
Please note that you should consult with your physician prior to embarking on any major changes with regard to your nutrition. Unfortunately, absent authorization from a medical professional, we are unable to provide individualized nutrition coaching to anyone under the age of eighteen, or to persons with certain medical conditions. We are always happy to work with authorized medical professionals under these circumstances.