The Perfect Diet

copyright © 2008, 2009, 2013 Scott Owen

Enjoy what you eat. Lose weight. Keep weight off for good.

Don’t be intimidated by the amount of text you see here. The diet is actually fairly easy to follow, but it works best if you understand more about how your body uses the energy in food.

Here are my four basic rules:

Rule #1
To lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than you burn.
If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.
It is as simple as that.


Rule #2
To keep your metabolism going, you need to eat regularly and get regular exercise.
You need to keep your metabolism (the chemical processes in your body which convert food and fat into energy) going. If you starve yourself, or if you only eat a few big meals and have long stretches of the day that you feel hungry, your body will eventually go into ‘starvation mode’, and lower your metabolism to preserve your fat reserves. Then if you start eating normally again, since your metabolism is low, the calories from your food will be converted to fat.
Eat 5 to 6 times a day (e.g. breakfast at 08.00, a snack at 10.00, lunch at 12.00, a snack at 14.00, a snack at 16.00, dinner at 18.00).
It may seem like an impossible task to consume fewer calories yet eat more often, but it isn’t: The trick is to find foods which are relatively low-calorie but make you feel full. Fortunately, there are lots of foods which do that, such as lean meats (protein), water-based pureed soups, vegatable juices, and yoghurt drink, just to name a few.
Exercise 3 times a week for at least an hour each time.


Rule #3
During your diet, limit your carbohydrates especially around exercise time, and in the evening.
Your body will convert your fat into energy if your metabolism is working and it runs out of carbohydrates (sugars) to burn. If your body can’t burn the fat fast enough, then it will start burning protein (and your muscles are a good source of protein for the body to break down for food). So eat sensibly, and try to emphasise protein rather than carbs or fats, and exercise at a constant, moderate pace (not too fast). Your body will continue burning fat for 30 to 60 minutes directly after exercising, but will stop if you give it carbs as an alternative, so don’t eat for an hour after exercising. That way your body will use its own fat reserves as often as possible.

Rule #4
Always, always, always read the labels! Get to know your food, and don’t eat or drink foods labelled “diet”, “light”, “low carbs”, “low calorie”, “low fat” or “no fat” - it’s more often than not misleading marketting because if a food is low in one thing, they are either high in another, or they’ve added junk fillers like gums and starches. So don’t consume foods containing gums (e.g. locust bean gum, guar gum or xanthum gum) or starches (e.g. cornstarch, tapioca starch), these are just junk fillers which mess up your ability to burn calories. Oh, and don’t eat or drink anything containing high fructose corn syrup.

Other than that, you may eat (almost) whatever you want provided you adhere to these three rules.

Okay, well maybe just one more rule:

Rule #5
Don’t take these rules to extremes.
Don’t starve yourself or nibble constantly, don’t exercise every day or twice a week for 3 hours, and don’t try to eliminate carbohydrates or fats altogether.
Have patience, pace yourself, and you can reasonably expect to lose about 1/2 to 1 kg (1 to 2 lbs) per week.

 

Background

When we returned from Canada in 2008, I set out to lose the weight I’d gained while there. Well, I managed to lose all that weight, plus a few extra kilos that I’d collected over the years (for a total of 15.7 kg = 35 lbs), and I felt really healthy as a result. I created a diet-plan for myself by combining extensive reading with some common sense. This is the result.

Virtually every diet I’ve ever seen consists of foods I don’t like to eat. But for a diet to be successful, you need to be able to maintain the diet, then maintain your weight after you reach your target weight. If you don’t like to eat the food, then you’re more likely to cheat on your diet, and even if you do finish your diet, you’ll regain your lost weight because you revert to foods you like but haven’t ‘trained’ for.

For example, if you don’t like lettuce salads, don’t force yourself to eat them just because you are dieting. That makes the dieting no fun, and you just revert to fried chicken and ice cream when you finish anyway. That said, many foods you don’t like may just be prepared improperly. Salads can be really good if you take the time to add the right ingredients which complement each other, and you can add pieces of chicken or shrimp to make it a meal on its own.

So you need to eat foods you like, but you also have to ‘know’ your food, understand what is in your food and understand how your body breaks it down and uses different types of food. When you buy food, read the label every time. Check out what you are eating, and look especially at calories, fillers/thickeners (like gums and starches), and sweeteners.

For example, a lot of people think a Caesar Salad is a great diet alternative to a regular main course. In reality, a Caesar Salad with its dressing and Parmesan cheese can easily contain many more calories than a main course! Try oil and vinegar-based dressings instead – fruit-based vinegars can add some amazing taste, without the calories of a cream-based dressing – and skip the cheesy sprinklings on top.

If you understand your food, you may discover that some of the foods you really like but thought were fattening, are actually great snacks; and foods you thought were healthy are actually huge sources of calories. For example:

Introduction

Imagine a special vehicle, with a fuel tank that can expand and contract. This vehicle also has a special converter inside which will convert different types of fuel you put into the car into the type of fuel it needs, but of course the converter motor needs to burn some of the main fuel in order to do the conversion.

If you keep putting more fuel into the vehicle than you use driving around, then the fuel tank fills up and expands with the excess fuel, and of course that makes the vehicle heavier. If you drive around and burn more fuel than you put in, the fuel tank contracts and gets lighter. If you keep putting too little fuel into the vehicle, it will stop. If you keep putting too much fuel into the car, then at some point the weight of the fuel will be too much for the engine to move the vehicle, and the engine will seize up and stop.

If you put a type of fuel into the tank which needs to be converted, then the converter motor kicks in, does the conversion but burns some of the fuel in order to do the conversion. You’ll have put more fuel into the converter, but your tank won’t get as big as when you put the main fuel in, and you’ll still be able to drive around.

If you rev the engine when you are parked, then you burn fuel, even though you’re not going anywhere. But if your motor is switched off when parked, you’ll not burn any fuel.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed: This special vehicle is YOU! Your body acts as a fuel tank which can store energy in fat, expanding and contracting depending upon whether or not you burn less or more energy than you eat. You can eat different foods, but they require conversion into the type of energy the body needs - some more than others - so even though they may have the same number of calories on the label, your body needs different amounts of energy to convert them into what it can use. If you keep your body’s engine running and rev-ing, even when parked on the couch, you continue to burn more energy than if your body’s engine revs very low (this is known as your “metabolism”). But if you eat too little and move too little, your engine is smart enough to rev very low and you burn less (so, ironically, if you don’t eat often enough, you can actually gain weight).

It is true that losing weight is simply a matter of burning more calories than you put in. But to do that effectively, you need to know what kind of foods use energy to be converted (so you can eat more of it to feel full while getting the same or less energy), you need to eat often and keep moving in order to keep the engine rev-ing and burning fuel, and you need to avoid foods and ingredients which trick your body into lowering the revs.

And here’s what you need in order to implement my rules:

Tools

One thing you absolutely must have, is a digital kitchen scale. You can measure the weight of your food and easily calculate the number of calories you are consuming. Weighing food is much more consistent and accurate than measuring volume (e.g. with spoons or cups). (I use Soehnle for their accuracy, style and affordability.)

The other tool I consider essential is a calorie-counting application, to help you calculate your calories, plan your day’s meals and track your progress. In the past I’ve used Calorie Count, but currently I recommend MyFitnessPal. Both also have apps for tablet and smartphone.

Things to know

Weight, BMI and body-fat

Exercise

Raise your metabolism - ways to get your body to burn more calories:

Don’t eat

Watch out for foods with misleading labels

Dieting advice

Ideal Body Weight Calculator
enter gender and height for an “Ideal Body Weight”

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An “Ideal Body Weight” could be* 

*These calculations are based on the Divine and Robinson formulae. They do not take into account the kind or amount of exercise you do nor how much muscle you build. They are simply guidelines based on averages and normal, healthy body-fat percentages. For example, if you have more muscle (which is denser than fat) and a lower body-fat percentage, your ideal weight may be higher.
I determined a personal “Ideal Body Weight” of 78 kg and used this as my target weight. Having reached my target and with the amount of exercise I do, I now have a body-fat percentage of about 14%, which feels both healthy and aesthetically pleasing.

Scott@ScottOwen.org



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