Being Lean is Not Always About Consuming Less
It might seem counterintuitive to think about eating more food to lean out, but what’s important is redefining the meaning of “more” based on caloric density and feeding frequency.
And speaking of leaning out, we’ll talk about some other things besides food you could use more of: water, vegetables, sleep, and planning. It’s a modern world, and we’re all trying to keep up, but some of the old school-rules your grandmother taught you do actually work. Just add in a little bit of modern science, and ta-da! Lean, mean, fighting machine, just in time for next summer.
Eating more: Caloric density
Calorie-counting is a complex process that can differ based on labeling, cooking method, absorption, or a myriad of other factors. However, within reason, you can equally compare caloric densities between foods.
Caloric density refers to the number of calories in a food item based on its weight. For example, a bag of potato chips weighs next to nothing but it can contain hundreds of calories. For the same amount of calories, you could eat an entire bunch of broccoli, which is significantly heavier. Therefore, the broccoli has a low caloric density (low calories per weight) where the chips have a high caloric density (high amount of calories/weight).
If you eat foods with a low caloric density, you can eat more, if you define “more” as the weight or portion size of the food. Low caloric density-foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, usually contain lots of fiber and water. Getting more of these along with some good fats like nuts or olive oil will improve satiation and leave you fuller for longer.
Now, if you’re used to eating 1,000 calories at every meal in fast food (which, we hope you aren’t), this might take some getting used to. A thousand calories of chicken and veggies is very hard to eat in one sitting, so you will theoretically be consuming less raw energy per meal. This is a good thing, since the energy you don’t immediately use goes into long term storage… usually meaning fat.
And now, this brings us to feeding frequency.
Eating more: feeding frequency
Say you’ve got 2,000 calories to consume in a day. You can stick to your old ways and eat two meals of fast food junk, or you can break it down into five meals at 400 calories each full of lean meats and vegetables.
This is also helpful if you have trouble controlling your urges because it allows more frequent meals. If you know you get grumpy when you haven’t eaten in a while and are hangry, you’re probably at risk of stuffing your face with an entire pizza. Newsflash: this is not conducive to being lean. But more frequent, healthy meals let’s you feed that urge and eat the same amount over the course of the day, just with a different strategy.
This method also fuels your body with just the right amount of calories for daily activity. Assuming you’re not running an ironman, there’s no need for 1,000 calories at once. But you probably could use less than half of that over the course of three to four hours. Eating healthy meals more often and in accordance with your activity level is a key trick to leaning out, especially if you don’t have an iron will to hold out when you’re hungry.
Drink more water, especially when it’s hot
As the temperatures heat up, so does your body. Add to that the thermogenic effects of food and exercise, and you’re just asking for a sweaty summer.
Sweat may be great for releasing heat, but it also depletes you of water. Water helps with just about everything in your body, including metabolism, transportation of substrates, and excretion of waste. Long story short: you need to be hydrated to lose fat.
So, how much water should you drink? The standard eight glasses per day may not be enough if you live in a hot region, exercise often, and/or work outdoors. An easy way to tell if you’re hydrated is to look in the toilet. Yep. May be weird, but it’ll definitely tell you if you need water or not. Darker yellow urine indicates that your body is craving H20, so drink up if that’s the case. A lighter yellow to clear urine means you’re in the clear—literally.
You can also check your body weight. If you weigh yourself at night at 80 kg but weigh in at 77 kg when you wake up, it’s not your diet miraculously working. More likely, you’ve lost water weight from not drinking anything while you were asleep. The same applies to your weight pre- and post-workout, since you lose water through sweat.
In order to maintain metabolism and proper body function, try to replenish water loss with ~1.5 L of water per kg body weight lost.
(Note: bodybuilders, fitness competitors and elite athletes often use dehydration methods to “make weight” or get a certain look. Don’t be swayed by these tactics. These effects of weight loss are just temporary, and the leaner look is really just your skin shrinking closer to your muscles because of dehydration. Unless you’re specifically training for these purposes and under the guise of a professional, always drink lots of water.)
Eat before going out
Face it: when people drink alcohol, they don’t make the best food decisions. Just ask any late-night restaurant at your local college; they’ve seen it all.
Even if you’re not a drinker, going out to a party or event often means fried hors d’oeuvres full of fats and sugars (another reason to love weddings). Avoid the urge to eat these by eating a meal that aligns with your goals just before heading out the door.
Eating fiber- and protein-rich foods will quell your hunger for hours to make those unhealthy snacks less tempting. And adding in a glass of water every few drinks will help you stay hydrated, since much of our presumed “hunger”when drinking comes from thirst.
You don’t have to be totally dry—getting a taste of cake won’t kill you. But eating beforehand can prevent a bite from turning into a binge.
Get more shut-eye
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware of the benefits of getting a good night’s rest, so I don’t need to re-hash all the ways sleeping eight hours per night makes you more accurate, a better decision-maker and just generally less moody.
However, did you know not getting enough sleep can also make you fatter?
I’m not saying you can eat fifteen cheeseburgers and sodas a day, get a good night’s sleep, and voila! The pounds just fly off. Still doesn’t work like that, sorry.
But if you are otherwise nutritionally sound, a lack of sleep may be why those stubborn inches of fat won’t leave. During a research study at the University of Chicago, subjects spent two different 2-week periods on the same caloric deficit, but during one of those 2-week period they were sleep deprived. What they found was that participants lost equal amounts of weight during both periods, but during the well-rested period, most of the weight loss came from fat. (And this was under controlled conditions, where people didn’t have access to late-night snacks. Imagine the difference if they’d given sleep deprived people access to chips and frappuccinos!)
Sleep also helps you make better decisions about your food—in the grocery store, in controlling portion sizes, and when you’re craving chocolate. According to an article in Obesity, fourteen individuals were deprived of sleep for a night and then asked to make decisions about food and report hunger. When compared to a night of 8.5 hours of rest, the subjects impulsively made poor food choices, even when instructed not to do so. They also self-reported more hunger, even when their hormonal profiles (their ACTUAL hunger) remained the same.
Have vegetables at every meal
This can be tough, especially if you’re eating five or more meals a day. Vegetables aren’t exactly known for their succulent, savory taste, and they don’t always play well with others. If you can handle leftovers, the easiest way to follow this rule is to make a giant stir fry to last a few days. Use broccoli, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, onions… even watercress and bok choy. A veggie stir fry can get you through 6-10 meals if you portion it out right.
Another great trick is to use a blender. If you can add some asparagus to your dinner and have a salad along with lunch, that just leaves breakfast and snacks. If you’re an early riser like me, you may want to cook a full breakfast to start the day; tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms go great in an omelet.
On the other hand, if you get dressed in the dark as you rush out the door for work with one sock on, you might want a quicker, easier option. Investing in a good blender allows for a ten-second breakfast that you can eat for a snack later. Toss some berries in with ice, add protein powder or milk and a couple of your favorite vegetables, and you’ve got a meal. To make it even better, throw in a good fat and some cinnamon or nutmeg. Peanut or almond butter makes a delicious addition (assuming you’re not allergic!) and half of an avocado will make it a smooth, creamy snack.
Get ready for summer!
Here’s your plan to prepare for summer: hit the gym, hit the kitchen, and hit the hay. If you need a little help with the gym part and you are a woman check out Fat Loss for Women – Practical Advice From a Strength Coach. There is a great program at the end of that article!
Plan your days ahead of time so you know what to expect and aren’t blindsided by hunger. Get a good night’s rest so you don’t miss a workout from exhaustion. And overall, enjoy yourself and have fun doing it because stress won’t help you get lean.
Try some new tricks and figure out what works best for your body and your life.