Looking at the top shelf of my bookcase, I guess you could say that I have my share of “diet” books…
Ever since I started paying attention to what I eat, how I exercise and how to lose weight, I’ve tried to read every single “diet” book that I can get my hands on. I’ve taken a few key pieces of knowledge and inspiration from almost every book I’ve read, and some of the bits of information that I’ve learned from these books have become important healthy habits in my daily life. That being said, there have only been a select few books that have caused me to honestly evaluate my eating and exercise patterns and decide if what I’m doing is really working. The only book that really sticks out in my mind (that has been “life-changing”) is Jillian Michaels’ Master Your Metabolism, which I read on a plane ride (on my very first trip to Colorado!) in the summer of 2009. After reading that book, I gave up using artificial sweeteners (I was a total Splenda addict) and started buying organic produce, meat and dairy.
Even though it wasn’t as revolutionary to me, Jackie Warner’s This is Why You’re Fat hit very close to home and was a big help to me when I read it. I still go back and reference a lot of the tools that Jackie shares in her book and really like her style of eating and exercising. (And I just really like her!)
It wasn’t until last month that I had another life-changing experience from reading a “diet” book. And really, I can’t even call this a “diet” book, because while it does give you the tools for successful weight loss, it’s about so much more. That book is Tom Venuto’s Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle. I could easily make the word count of this post well over 10,000- but I promise not to do that. I could write several posts based on what I’ve learned from reading this book – and I probably will do that.
I as lucky enough to get an a copy of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle sent directly to me from Tom Venuto himself, thanks to my ambassadorship with Fitfluential. I’ll admit- the book sat on my kitchen counter for over a week due to not having enough time to set aside to read it at first. Once I started reading though, I was hooked. I read the book until I fell asleep at night and would read a chapter as soon as I woke up in the morning. I had so many “a-ha” moments while reading through each chapter and just couldn’t wait to learn more! When I finished reading the book (and even throughout!) I felt inspired and like okay- I can do this!
The book starts out by explaining the biological reasons of why diets don’t work – your body can’t tell the difference between dieting and starvation! Many diets result in losing weight- but that weight can often come from lean body mass (which you don’t want to lose!). Losing lean body mass (muscle) can decrease metabolism and lead to hormonal problems and difficulty losing body fat in the future. I’m pretty sure that I feel into that diet trap and am still affected by my former weight-loss habits to this day!
One of the topics that Tom Venuto discusses in in the first part of the book is the importance of goal-setting. He recommends making “goal cards” so that you can constantly see and be reminded of what you want to achieve over the short and long-term. He has a free template on his website, but I just wrote out my own:
Tom stresses the importance of having a three-month goal, because it gives more of a sense of urgency than a one-year goal would. I’d love to think that when I look at this goal (for the millionth time) on April first, that it really has become true. All of that, of course, depends on my commitment.
One thing that I’ve found to be really unique about Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is that, unlike any diet book I’ve ever read, it doesn’t emphasize weight loss. Instead, the plan prioritizes fat loss. If you lose 5 lbs., and only 2 of it is from body fat (the rest of muscle)- that’s not really something to celebrate! Even though the scale is the easiest and most popular way to track weight loss, Tom recommends testing body fat percentage often to determine how much fat you’re really losing. He explains that you need to eat and exercise in a very specific way in order to maintain (and build!) lean muscle mass and lose fat. He suggests to look after the habits of body builders and figure competitors because they’ve got keeping a lean, toned body down to a science!
I’ve read several diet books that recommend that women eat anywhere from 1,100-1,500 calories a day- and that still continues to shock me! First of all, everyone’s bodies are different and there is no “magic number” of calories that every woman should eat. This book explains that you need to determine your daily caloric needs based on BMR, activity level, weight, lean body mass, age and gender. There are a few different formulas provided to determine your BMR in the book. You can get a pretty good idea of what your body actually needs- but I’ve definitely found that the sure-fire way to know is to undergo metabolic testing. (My BMR is around 1, 640 calories.)
Tom Venuto discusses the various body types and how each effects how your body responds to food and exercise. The chapter that really turned on a light bulb for me was Chapter 8- Balancing Your Macronutrients. When I think of paying attention to specific levels of macronutrients, my mind automatically goes towards body builders (or Heather telling me about her eating plan during her competition training). In all honesty, the specific breakdown of carbs, proteins and fats just isn’t something that I’ve paid all that much attention to in my weight-loss efforts. I’ve focused more on just counting calories, period (while also making sure that I eat a lot of veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, etc.).
A starting point for metabolically healthy and active individuals is to aim for 50% carbs, 30% protein and 20% fat. If you want accelerated fat loss, decrease the carbs and increase the protein for a balance of 40% carbs, 40% protein and 20% fat. You can adjust the percentages based on your specific needs. I’ve been working with a ratio of around 40% carbs, 40% protein and 20% fat- give or take a few percentage points. I’m usually a little higher in fat and lower in carbs- but not by much.
Tom emphasizes the importance of protein and why it’s so crucial for muscle repair and growth. In addition to that, it’s important to pay attention to when protein is consumed (as related to exercise) and combining protein with carbs for a post-workout meal. The key to eating the right foods all throughout the day of course is planning. If you have your meals planned out (or already prepped) you’re automatically set up for a much greater chance of eating clean (rather than just grabbing the first thing you see when you’re hungry!).
Paying attention to and counting macronutrients definitely takes a lot of effort. You’ve got to just suck it up and commit if you’re serious about losing fat! I’ve been logging foods in MyFitnessPal on and off for years- but have been pretty diligent about really keeping track over the last few months. One of the great thing about the My Fitness Pal app is that it breaks down your macros- which makes it a lot easier to see if you’re hitting the right ratios!
You can adjust your macro percentages under “goals” on the My Fitness Pal website. I have mine at the 40/40/20 ratio at 1,600 calories a day. I started paying attention to my macro ratios and staying around 1600 calories a day about ten days before Christmas. I also loosely followed Tom’s workout plan (which I will talk about in further detail in a follow-up post) and focused on strength training with some cardio. Although I didn’t measure my actual body fat percentage, I lost over 2 lbs. the first week and just felt lighter. Unfortunately, I fell off track from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day and did very little tracking and at lots of crap (but still exercised – which is never my problem). I was able to get back on track right after the new year and am determined to stay there from now on.
The books suggests eating 4-5 meals each day, depending on your schedule and lifestyle needs. (For me, that means a pre-workout snack, breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner.) Each meal should include a lean protein, a starchy carb (like grains or a root vegetable) and a fibrous carb (a non-starchy vegetable or fruit). If you follow that combination, you’ll easily hit your macronutrient needs. Tom also outlines the 12 foods that are the worst offenders (which include things like pastries, white flour products and sugar-sweetened soft drinks) and the “Terrific 12″ foods for fat burning. Those include: whole fresh fruit, vegetables, sweet potatoes, potatoes, oats (rolled or steel-cut), brown rice, beans and legumes, 100% whole wheat or whole grains, low or nonfat dairy products, chicken and turkey breast, eggs and egg whites, lean cuts of red meat and game meats.
Tom’s acknowledges that there will be higher calories meals and days every now and then, but it’s important to stay on track and eat clean the majority of the time. The way that I interpret that is this: I’m able to make a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at home most days of the week. I usually eat out once a week for dinner and one to two times for lunch. I’m focusing on making healthy choices for those meals out (it’s easy to grab a quick, healthy, macro-balanced lunch if I’m doing a work demo at Whole Foods, for example) and that if I splurge on dinner once a week it all balances out. I know that for me having a cheat meal isn’t going to undo my hard work- but an entire cheat day probably will.
There is an entire section of the book devoted to Tom’s fitness plan, and as I stated above, I’ll be writing an entirely different post about that (hopefully soon!).
Do you pay attention to macronutrient ratios? What are some of your favorite “diet” books?