Good vs. Bad Foods and the Calorie Deficit

If you’ve read my last few blog posts you will by now know that to lose body fat you need to hit a calorie deficit of around 20% by either reducing your calories in increasing your calories out or a mixture of both.

So, where does the notion of healthy and unhealthy foods come from?  If you only need to eat a certain number of calories a day to get results can those calories come from anything at all?

As with most things there are simplistic and less simplistic answers to the this.

Simple answer. Yes.

If you are currently overweight with a diet full of processed foods and you do very little activity then simply reducing the number of calories you consume and creating a deficit will work.  How you make up those calories at this point isn’t really relevant.

Yet once you get used to eating in a calorie deficit and perhaps exercising regularly perhaps you will want to start looking at what you eat to make up those calories.

BUT.

This is because there are lots of benefits of eating less processed food.

This ISN’T because the calories in a banana are different or better than the calories in a KitKat (in fact the calories in a two finger KitKat are roughly the same as a large banana).

So a 1,000 calories of burger, chips and cake is the same as a 1,000 calories of chicken, salad and fruit but you might feel better eating more of the later as part of that 1,000 calories.

The thing is (and this makes me sad because I’m quite partial to junk food generally) eating more unprocessed foods can mean:

  • You have better energy levels and fewer slumps throughout the day
  • You feel less fatigued / bloated after meals
  • You can eat bigger meals (500 calories of chicken and veg tends to be a bigger portion than 500 calories worth of cake)
  • You feel more satisfied after meals
  • Your body composition can change for the better (and remember t’s not all about weight – it’s about how you feel overall)

So …

I’m not advocating living off McDonalds to get that calorie deficit.

I am saying you don’t need to eat ‘clean’ to do it.

You just need to be sensible.  If you eat less junk food you will probably feel better and notice positive changes.  If some of your calories come from processed food though it isn’t the end of the world.

Note, I’ve not even mentioned Macros here.  For some tracking their Macro splits is useful, necessary even – but if you are reading this and thinking about simply switching from ready meals to home cooked food, it’s not the stage where you really need to worry about this.

Ultimately – If you currently live of takeaways then drastically changing that isn’t likely to be sustainable.  Reducing the portion sizes (and so the calories) is more manageable.  Once that’s a habit you can start to make more changes and look at swapping some of the takeaways out.

Small sensible changes that fit into your life will always work better than drastic ‘eat clean’ diets.  Who wants to never have the foods they enjoy!

My Unexpected Breakfast Hero

Last week I had a bit of a rubbish week nutrition wise – and I know to be honest it was largely down to my breakfasts.

Some people say they can’t eat breakfast- I am the total opposite- I need a good breakfast to set me up for the day.

Last week I just found myself not enjoying my normal breakfasts – I just didn’t fancy them and I found that this dissatisfaction towards my breakfast prep quickly spread to all my other meals and I soon found myself snubbing my home made meal prep and opting for carbs upon carbs, sugar and generally processed, stodgy not particularly beneficial foods.

I decided that this week I needed a week away from Paleo.  I still think overall it’s the system that works best for me but I also know I occasionally get myself into a tizz and whilst I’m there restriction doesn’t really work.

So I ordered some meal prep for my main meals for this week (blog to follow later this week) and decided that for breakfast I would eat what I fancied.

Now I walk past McDonalds to get to work – and I teach first thing so by the time I do walk past I’m normally pretty hungry.  This week I’ve just gone in and ordered what I fancied.  This sounds pretty unhealthy, and yes they were high calorie meals, but actually, when you look at it, as breakfasts go they aren’t as bad as I first thought.

Here’s my thought process:

 

Traditional Breakfasts

Crunchy Nut Cornflakes with semi skimmed milk (30g)

180 calories

31g carbs

4g fat

6g protein

Porridge with semi skimmed milk

243 calories

19g carbs

4g fat

8g protein

Two slices toast with butter

380 calories

56g carbs

16g fat

8g protein

 

Now I got these numbers from MyFitnessPal so I don’t claim they are 100% accurate. These are the type of things we traditionally eat in the morning.  They are all quite low in calories and protein and high in carbs.  For most people a 30g bowl of cornflakes is probably unrealistic – have you ever measured out a bowl of cereal- a suggested serving is massively disappointing!  My issues with these breakfasts is that, whilst they are low in calories they don’t provide me with much protein (and I try to eat 160g a day) nor will they fill me up – which means that any calories saved at breakfast are likely to be made up in snacking mid-morning when I get hungry.  Mentally they also don’t particularly satisfy me so again I’m much more likely to snack –an on stuff I shouldn’t snack on at that.

In comparison, this is what I had at McDonalds the last two mornings:

 

 McDonalds Breakfasts

Three pancakes with sausage and syrup plus extra sausage and bacon, Flat White coffee

988 calories

117g carbs

37g fat

39g protein

Sausage egg and cheese bagel with extra sausage and bacon, hash brown and Tropicana

1,058 calories

87g carbs

56g fat

45g protein

These breakfasts are about 70% higher calorie wise.  For some this would be extremely detrimental to their daily calorie intake granted.  However I burn 3,000 to 5,000 calories a day so I actually do need to eat a lot of calories each day to avoid a detrimentally low deficit. A thousand calorie breakfast therefore isn’t the worst things as my subsequent meals are unlikely to reach that level.  In addition these meals filled me up AND satisfied me.  I felt like I had had an enjoyable and filling breakfast and didn’t feel the need to start snacking an hour later.  The protein content of the meals was also high, hitting around 25% of my daily aim.

For my requirements then these higher calorie higher protein meals actually work better for me than the more traditional ideas of a breakfast.  And because I’ve felt satisfied and enjoyed my breakfast I’ve found it easier to stay on track the rest of the day.

Now normally when I’m following a Paleo style diet I have this:

 

My Go To Paleo breakfast –

Smoked salmon trimmings (half pack), 3 eggs and tomatoes

277 calories

5g carbs

22g fat

31g protein

 

This has the benefits of being high in protein and low in calories and fat whilst also being filling.  I know it’s better for me than a McDonalds breakfast.  Realistically I know for my long term health I need to eat this more often than I have a McDonalds breakfast.  Yet when I’m really not feeling this of a morning then rather than letting my whole day fall away because mentally I’m not going to be satisfied, because I know that today I’m going to throw a mental tantrum, the odd McDonalds breakfast won’t hurt.

In conclusion – as a society we tend to group things as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.  However whether a food will work well in your diet or not actually depends on so many factors- what you eat the rest of the time, what you burn, how it makes you feel etc.  Rather than following accepted ideas about different meals we should look at our own situation on any given day, week or month and pick options that benefit us best in that moment – even if that might sometimes seem an unusual choice.

I’m not a trained nutritionist nor am I suggesting that you should have McDonalds for breakfast every single day – just that sometimes we need to look outside the boxes we are currently in and objectively review our options because no foods are simply good or bad – it’s never that black and white.