Ditching The Diet Halo

It’s arguably one of the most frustrating bridges to cross with a fat loss client, when we have to make the distinction between what might be considered a “healthy” diet versus one that is calorically appropriate for them.

Unfortunately, much of what we’re inundated with (aside from flagrant misinformation) is still the notion of good foods versus bad foods and healthy (clean) eating versus “dirty” (junk/highly processed) eating.

I’ll make a short comparison below. Here’s a sample of what a client might show me as their “healthy” breakfast:

2 slices Ezekiel (sprouted grain) toast

1/2 avocado

2 eggs

1 TBSP olive oil/coconut oil to cook eggs

Now let’s look at the estimated calories:

2 slice toast (160 calories)

1/2 avocado (150 calories)

2 eggs (140 calories)

1 TBSP oil of choice (120 calories)

Total intake: approximately 570 calories

On the flipside, is a client who goes to McDonald’s and orders an Egg McMuffin (310 calories).

Which is “better” for fat loss? The Egg McMuffin.

That being said, the “healthy” breakfast will have more fiber (and a different micronutrient profile) and would hypothetically be more satiating (which is key during fat loss) but if we’re looking for ways to reduce calories, the numbers tell a certain story.

Over the years, I’ve found that the two most misleading phrases a fat loss client will say can be:

But I don’t eat that badly

I eat mostly healthy foods

Neither of which gives one shred of reality to how MUCH someone eats.

And if the scale isn’t trending down over time, quality means a lot less than quantity does.

At risk of my readers opting to go through the fast food line to kickstart their fat loss, just remember that no one is going to convince you an Egg McMuffin is the best thing you can put in your body. To the credit of most chain fast food establishments, we can at least say that the calories are close to accurate and it removes a lot of the guesswork if you’re counting calories.

Here are 5 areas you might want to look at where your diet halo might be getting in your way:

  1. Those are healthy fats, right? From olive oil to walnuts to fatty fish, we hear about the numerous benefits to essential fatty acids. However, with fat calculating a whopping 9 calories per gram (more than double what’s in carbs or protein), it’s an easy nutrient to go overboard with. Measure your oils, count your almonds and be mindful that foods like salmon, while delicious, are not low calorie options.
  2. Organic, grass-fed and/or free range options don’t reduce calories. If you have the financial wherewithal to afford organic, non-GMO, grassfed, etc foods, remember that calories don’t necessarily change between the alternatives. 4 oz of steak from a locally sourced beef is going to have approximately the same calories as 4 oz of steak from Applebee’s. The source may be different and you might have a concern over the quality of each but don’t count on calories to be noticeably different.
  3. Eyeballing is a terrible form of measurement. If you think you don’t use too much of a salad dressing, coffee creamer, cooking oil, nut butter or “handful” of anything, think again. Our eyes routinely deceive us so grab your tablespoon, level the nut butter and look at the listed serving size on the label. Often what is advertised as lower calorie is only so because the portion sizes have been broken down. Notice when a food label says that it contains 2.5 servings in a container and calories are “XXX’ per serving.
  4. Poor protein sources. Cheese, nuts, and nut butters. All of these items are sources of protein and they are “quality” sources of protein. However, you’re getting far more calories from fat in these foods than protein. Much of what is marketed now is protein-centric because companies know that bringing your attention to that will help sell a product. Even Starbucks advertises a protein box that has 23g of protein and nearly 500 calories. That means that only 92 calories are accounted for by protein. By comparison, 225 calories in that box comes from fat but they probably wouldn’t sell as many if they were marketed as the “fat box”.
  5. Minimizing calories from alcohol. I’ve written a lot more about tracking alcohol for fat loss in the past. The short of this is that not only does your body halt fat loss when you’re consuming alcohol but we typically consume more food calories when we drink as well. Restaurants/bars will frequently eyeball serving sizes so you’re at the mercy of someone who may or may not have your fat loss goals in mind. It’s not uncommon for me to see at least 30% of a person’s daily caloric intake come from alcoholic beverages (especially ladies who are frequent wine consumers).

(Special thanks to Jessica Slater for the nifty halo).