Updated: May 12, 2019
Weight loss and fat loss are among the top fitness goals for many women today, and there is a lot of great information as well as not so great information out there on how women should approach nutrition with this goal in mind. There are so many approaches, methods, diets, and general recommendations that it can be a frustrating and confusing experience figuring out what information is right. My hope is to help simplify this process for you, so that you can approach nutrition for fat loss/ weight loss with a clear, informed head and figure out what works best for you as an individual versus trying to fit yourself into a closed nutritional box as so many women unfortunately do.
There are a few things I want you to know before I dive into the specific factors that matter most when trying to lose weight/ fat. The first, and probably most important thing is that there is no “right” way to do this. Many women take very different approaches to the process, and I don’t want you to think that there is an end all-be all method for fat/ weight loss. Most of the popular methods out there follow most of the nutritional priorities I am about to lay out for you. It’s simply just a matter of whether or not those specific methods work for your lifestyle and the way you train. Everything will work if you follow the general guidelines that I am about to address. I think the better question is, will it work for YOU?
The next thing I want you to know is that this is all one big experiment. Yes, of course we have plenty of scientific research that points to the effectiveness of different types of workouts and nutritional methods for fat loss/ weight loss, but how are those methods working for YOU? The only way to know is to test it out! My recommendation for trying any nutrition plan or training plan is to give it at least a few months to collect some sort of data on how well it is working for you. Aside from whether or not the plan is delivering the results you want, this data should include how easy or tough it is to integrate the plan into your life. If you find that the plan is making your life hell, it may not be the plan for you. Don’t be afraid to try new methods, as long as you can commit long enough to really figure out if the methods are/ aren’t for you.
Lastly, I want you to know why you want to start this weight loss/ fat loss journey to begin with. Is it to improve your health? To feel better? To feel more confident? What is the underlying reason for starting your weight loss/ fat loss journey? This is important to answer because your journey is most likely going to require some level of discomfort and sacrifice, and when things become challenging, remembering why you started can play a huge role in whether you continue on your journey or not.
Now, onto nutrition.
There are four nutritional priorities that I feel you should be focusing on the most when attempting to lose weight/ fat. They are a moderate caloric deficit, caloric composition, micro nutrients, and water intake. Of course there are several other factors that can enhance your fat loss/ weight loss results, but they won’t matter if the above four nutritional factors are not in check. It is important to get these big picture items in line before thinking about factors like nutrient timing, meal frequency, or supplements because they are going to matter more for your results.
Moderate Caloric Deficit
Moderate is the key term here. It has been established fact for many many years that taking in less calories than you expend will lead to weight loss. This is still true today, however taking in too few calories can be problematic for your overall health and training performance. Eating too little can cause you to feel tired, irritable, and can disrupt your hormonal balance. Weight loss that compromises your health and fitness is probably not worth it in the long run. A drop in body weight of 1 to 2 pounds per week is the ideal rate of weight loss/ fat loss for maintaining optimal health and sustaining training performance. This equates to a caloric deficit of 250-500 calories per day. The best way to achieve this moderate deficit is to combine a caloric deficit with exercise.
Counting calories is one method for making sure you’re hitting a caloric deficit, but it’s not the only method. A combination of using hand measurements for the different food types as well as tuning into your hunger cues can also lead to a moderate caloric deficit without the calorie counting. Aim to get about 1 serving of each type of food in each meal, take about 20 minutes to eat your meal, and only eat until you are about 80% full. This will feel like you could eat more if you wanted to, but you are no longer feeling hungry.
2. Caloric Composition
Caloric composition simply means the types of foods you eat on a daily basis that make up your total daily calories. Diets higher in quality protein with moderate amounts of quality carbohydrates and healthy fats tend to be better for weight loss/ fat loss. It is important that a majority of your diet contains quality foods like lean meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocados, nut butters, and olive oil to get quality protein, carbohydrates, and fats. It is also important to maintain a moderate caloric deficit while consuming these high quality foods to achieve the optimal amount and type of weight loss/ fat loss (losing fat mass and maintaining muscle mass).
High protein in the diet is going to help your muscle fibers repair themselves after working out, and may even help you build more muscle during the weight loss/ fat loss process, especially if you are just beginning your weight loss/fat loss journey. Maintaining and repairing your muscle mass from training is going to help you maintain or increase your basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn while resting) which is important for long term weight/ fat loss. The more muscle you have, the more calories you can burn while doing nothing, which equals increased fat burn. High dietary protein combined with a resistance training program will promote the loss of fat mass as opposed to calorie-burning muscle mass.
Include quality foods high in dietary protein at each meal and snack time. Some examples of high protein foods include chicken breast, 90% or leaner ground beef, ground turkey, dairy, protein supplements, rice and beans, seitan, and soy. 1 serving of protein is about the size of your palm.
It’s a rather common myth that consuming carbohydrates causes weight gain. The truth is, a calorie is a calorie, no matter what the source. A carbohydrate calorie is the same as a protein calorie or a fat calorie. It is when carbohydrates (or fats or proteins) are consumed in excess that leads to weight gain. Carbohydrates are going to be important for fat loss/ weight loss in helping fuel and recover your muscles for exercise. They are stored in the muscle for energy in the form of muscle glycogen until used during exercise. Strength training and high intensity exercise like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or sprints greatly deplete your glycogen stores and must be replenished for the next training session. Carbohydrates are also the primary energy source for your brain to function optimally. Consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrate, again while maintaining a moderate caloric deficit, will improve training performance, recovery, and overall energy levels.
Quality carbohydrates include sweet potato, white potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole grain bread, and oats. 1 serving is about one cupped handful. Aim to eat 2 to 3 servings of quality carbohydrate per day.
Healthy fats are important for hormone regulation as well as feeling satisfied between meals. They help improve our ability to metabolize fat and improve our body composition (more muscle and less fat mass). They also help us absorb key vitamins to include vitamins A, D, and K. Your body needs quality fats to function well!
Quality fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters like almond butter and peanut butter, and coconut oil. One serving is about the size of your thumb. Aim to eat 2 to servings of quality fats per day.
3. Micro Nutrients
Micro nutrients are all the vitamins and minerals your body requires for optimal health. These nutrients come from all types of foods, which is why it’s important to eat a variety of foods.
In addition to eating a variety of lean meats, quality carbohydrates, and healthy fats, be sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from the entire color spectrum. Aim to eat 1 to 2 servings of fruits and vegetables at each meal/ snack time. 1 cupped handful of fruit and one fist size of vegetables equals 1 serving.
4. Water Intake
We are almost 70% water! Water is vital for virtually all cellular processes occurring in our bodies including weight loss/ fat loss. Staying hydrated is necessary to lose excess fat.
Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily. If you are nowhere near this number right now, start with what you can manage. If that’s 6-8 ounce glasses of water, start there and slowly increase your intake over time.
I’ve covered a lot of nutrition information, and haven’t even touched the remaining half of the nutritional priorities that include meal frequency, meal timing, or supplementation. These factors aren’t going to matter if the above four factors are not in check, so please start there. Get really good at the big picture items I discussed, and you’ll be surprised at how far that will take you in feel better, moving better, and getting better fat loss/ weight loss results!
I hope you found this article helpful. Got a question or comment about this post? I’d love to chat! Shoot me an email at Brie@brieogletree.com or comment below!