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The Best “Weight Loss Foods” (Thankfully) Aren’t What You Think

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The Best “Weight Loss Foods” (Thankfully) Aren’t What You Think

If you’re worried you’re not eating the right “weight loss foods”…or have no idea what they might be…I have good news for you…

 

There are a lot of opinions out there about which are the best “weight loss foods” and which “make you fat.”

Some people claim that eating certain foods, like certain vegetables, nuts, and plant proteins, accelerates weight loss whereas eating others, like dairy, wheat, and other types of carbohydrate, slows the process down. In fact, some “experts” go so far as saying that losing weight and keeping it off is all about what, and not how much, you eat.

Well, I have good news for you: the “best” foods for losing weight include just about everything you could want to eat…if you know what you’re doing.

Let’s find out why.

There’s No Such Thing as a “Weight Loss Food”

Claiming that one food is “better” than another for losing weight is misleading because it misses the forest for the trees.

You see, foods don’t have any special properties that make them better or worse for weight loss. What they do have, however, are varying amounts of potential energy as measured in calories, and varying types of macronutrient profiles.

These two factors–the calories contained in foods and how those calories break down into protein, carbohydrate, and fat–are what make certain foods more suitable for losing weight than others.

Notice I said more suitable, and not “best.” And that’s because if you know how to regulate and balance your food intake properly, you can eat just about anything and lose weight.

Don’t believe me?

Well, Professor Mark Haub lost 27 pounds on a diet of protein shakes, Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and Little Debbie snacks, and you could do exactly the same if you wanted to (not that you should though–more on this in a second).

Professor Haub’s “shocking” experiment worked because it was based on the scientific principles of energy balance, which are the basis on which our metabolism operates.

In case you’re not familiar with energy balance, think of it like your body’s energy checking account. A negative balance is a situation where your body is burning more energy than you’re feeding it (it’s in the red as far as energy goes). A positive balance, on the other hand, is a situation where your body is burning less energy than you’re feeding it (it’s in the black).

A negative energy balance results in a reduction of total fat mass because your body has to get the additional energy it needs from somewhere, and body fat is one of the primary sources of this energy. A positive energy balance results in an increase in total fat mass as your body is programmed to store a portion of the excess energy you feed it as body fat.

Talk of calories and energy balance is unpopular these days as people don’t want to bother with counting calories to lose weight, but a century of metabolic research shows us that these are the facts, whether we like them or not.

If you consistently feed your body less energy than it burns, you’ll lose weight. If you do the opposite–consistently feed it more–you’ll gain weight. 

Weight loss does NOT require you to only eat certain types of food, avoid other types, combine types in various ways, or any other quackery. It only requires that you regularly feed your body less energy than it burns.

Why Some Foods Are Better For Weight Loss Purposes

Now that we’ve properly framed weight loss as an issue of how much, and not what, we eat, we can look at the issue of “weight loss foods” in the right light.

The reason why some foods are “better” for weight loss than others boils down to the amount of calories they contain and how those calories break down into protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

Going back to the financial analogy, look at this way: when setting up a meal plan for losing weight, you only have so many calories you can “spend” every day. Overspend (overeat) too frequently or by too much and you’ll fail to lose weight as desired.

If you did what Professor Haub did, and stuck to your calorie budget perfectly,  never overspending, you would lose weight regardless of what you “bought” with your calories. Nutritive value has no effect in this regard.

If you want to lose fat and not muscle while dieting, however, you have to spend your calories more wisely than Professor Haub’s experiment. You must not only maintain a negative energy balance, but you must do so with a proper balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat).

You see, when the goal isn’t to merely weigh less but to have a lower body fat percentage with all the muscle you currently have (or more), getting the majority of your calories from junk carbs and fats will no longer cut it. In this way, a calorie isn’t a calorie because some types of calories are now much more important than others.

Let’s see how this works.

Protein

Protein is the most important macronutrient to get right when you’re dieting for fat loss and is a primary factor in optimizing your body composition, not just “losing weight.”

The research is crystal clear: an energy-restricted high-protein diet…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A high-protein diet is even more important if you’re exercising regularly, as this further increases your body’s demand for amino acids.

How much protein should you be eating exactly? Well, if you want the long answer, you can check out the article I wrote on how much protein you need to build muscle, but a short answer can be found in recent research conducted by scientists at AUT University

“Protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g/kg of FFM [1 – 1.4 grams per pound of fat free mass] scaled upwards with severity of caloric restriction and leanness.”

I’ve found this to be very true, not only with my body, but with the thousands of people I’ve worked with.

As you get leaner, keeping your protein intake high becomes very important. If it drops too low (below 1 gram per pound of body weight, in my experience), strength and muscle loss is accelerated.

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy. They don’t make you fat or unhealthy.

In fact, there are big benefits to keeping carbohydrate intake as high as possible when dieting including:

  • Better workout performance
  • Improved retention of lean mass
  • More satiety
  • Better energy levels

Trust me–low-carb dieting sucks and is completely unnecessary for the vast majority of people looking to lose weight.

Personally, I never go below 0.8 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight when I’m dieting to lose weight.

Dietary Fat

Dietary fats play a vital role in the body. They’re used in processes related to cell maintenance, hormone production, insulin sensitivity, and more.

If fat intake is too low, these functions can become compromised, which is why the Institute of Medicine recommendsthat adults should get 20 to 35% of their daily calories from dietary fat.

That said, those percentages were worked out for the average sedentary person, who often eats quite a bit less than someone that exercises regularly.

For example, I weigh about 190 pounds, and if I were the average, sedentary type, my body would burn about 2,200 calories per day (which is what I would be advised to eat so as to not gain or lose weight). Based on that, the IoM’s research says my body would need 55 to 80 grams of fat per day. That makes sense.

But I exercise 6 days per week and have quite a bit of muscle. My body burns about 3,000 calories per day, and if we were to blindly apply the IoM’s research to that number, my recommended fat intake would skyrocket to 65 to 115 grams per day. But does my body really need that much more dietary fat simply because I’m muscular and exercise regularly?

No, it doesn’t.

The bottom line is your body only needs so many grams of fats per day, and based on the research I’ve seen, if you exercise regularly, dietary fat can comprise 20 – 35% of your basal metabolic rate (measured in calories) and you’ll be fine. Calculating this way, instead of based on your actual calorie intake, is more in line with the IoM’s research.

Figuring Out Your Weight Loss Numbers

Chances are you’re wondering how to determine the proper amount of calories, protein, carbohydrate, and fat for your weight loss needs.

I’ve got you covered. Just head over to my article on meal planning and you’ll get walked through the entire process.

My Favorite and Least Favorite “Weight Loss Foods”

Alright, now that we’ve covered all the groundwork, let’s talk actual foods.

Generally speaking, the best foods for weight loss are those that provide an abundance of micronutrients and are filling while also being relatively light in calories and in dietary fat and added sugar in particular. When you focus on eating these types of foods, you’re much less likely to struggle with hunger issues and overeat.

For example, my favorite “weight loss foods” are…

  • Low-fat varieties of protein like lean types of meat (chicken, lean beef, fish, and so forth), low-fat dairy products, egg whites, and even grains and vegetables. While protein powder is convenient, it can leave you hungry if you have satiety issues.
  • Whole grains like wheat, brown rice, oats, and barley.
  • Vegetables like green beans, carrots, broccoli, and artichoke.
  • Legumes like green peas and beans.
  • Tubers like white potato and sweet potato.

As you can see, a bunch of high-fiber, unprocessed foods that taste great, provide your body with plenty of micronutrients, and keep you full.

The foods you want to avoid when dieting to lose weight are those that are very calorie dense, high in dietary fat and added sugar, but which aren’t all that filling. Highly processed junk food like chips, candy, cookies, and other “goodies” and caloric beverages fit this bill, of course, but there are quite a few healthy foods that do as well.

For instance, I love oils and butter, but have to limit my intake of them while dieting because they pack a ton of calories and dietary fat without doing much of anything to fill me up. The same goes for foods like nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, avocado, and whole-fat dairy–all foods I love, but that I avoid while dieting.

 

What do you think about “weight loss foods?” Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Mike Sisco

    The high fiber micronutrient packed foods make all the difference in the world when cutting!

    • Michael Matthews

      Totally.

  • Ben

    High protein + moderate carb intake makes cutting easy. I was eating around 1700 calories with a high carb/protein ratio and didn’t feel hungry at all during the day. Now i’m eating around 3000 calls, with less protein and i’m getting hunger pains. Filling yourself up on chicken or low fat mince meat is definitely underrated in the weight loss world!

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup, very true!

  • Preece

    Great article. I only struggle with one part of it- the fat. I’ve cut down a lot, and its too soon to tell if it made a difference. Until then, I do have lingering questions in my head when i’m preparing my 4 egg whites (which I think are horrible!) – would having 2 whole eggs instead make that big of a difference in my getting to 16% bf? Do I really need to measure the half and half in my coffee and make sure its just 2T?

  • Misses Robinson

    I have been reading that whole fat dairy is superior to low fat, especially for weight loss. I’m confused. Have you fully researched this recently?

    • Michael Matthews

      No individual food is better than another for weight loss. It’s all about calories and macronutrients.

      Whole-fat dairy is less processed, which may make it healthier, and the fat in dairy is good for you, so it has that going for it.

  • Legumes + Dairy + Fish + Eggs + Chicken is definitely working.
    But, too much high fat milk causes digestive issues due to limited bile production. Around 750 ml max is fine, but anything above 1 L of whole milk is trouble. I just skim the cream off the top.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah I also need to watch dairy intake or my stomach gets upset.

  • Kat

    For me, amping up flavor and seasonings offset any disappointment I may have felt with a “diet” food. For instance, egg whites over whole eggs = blah. Egg whites with Mrs. Dash, onions & garlic = yum. Cottage cheese blah. Cottage cheese with a couple drops almond extract and smothered in cinnamon yum yum yum. Don’t ever try to be satisfied with unsatisfying food.

    • Same for me! Although I can tolerate most edible flavors alone, adding spices and lemon/curd etc. makes it easier to digest due to acid regulation and probably enzyme regulation.

    • Michael Matthews

      Agreed! Salsas, mustards, spices, etc.

  • Leslie

    Hey Mike great article but one question?you never mentioned fresh fruit only dried fruit as a no when dieting. Do you consider fresh fruit a go? I eat a banana a cup of berries and an Apple almost daily. Thanks!

  • Alex

    Agree with you one hundred percent on the energy balance, but, there are certain foods, which could be labeled fatloss foods in my opinion.
    For example, green tea has fat lowering properties thanks to its catechins, as does cayenne and black peppers( capsacain and bioperine).
    (I have read the same about green coffee, but i dont trust it as a product)
    And whilst these could be labeled spices and herbs, lemons, pineapples and grapefruit, which certainly can be labeled as foods, have also fat lowering abilities. Especially grapefruit.
    I agree with you onehundred percent on the macronutirent in vs macronutrient out thing, but some foods, are not only more nutritionally dense it seems, but also have better fat lowering properties.
    We also have egg yolks, and liver, which are both high in choline and inositol, which, again, are fatburners.
    And then we have broccoli, which, not only is high in chromium, which is supposed to make more insulin sensible, but also has been shown to naturaly raise testosterone levels ( not sure bout that).
    So, some foods, whilst having same macronutrients as others, seem to be more fatburning.
    Im sure you didnt mention all this because u didnt want to overcomplicate things, but, i thought it was worth to mention.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Alex!

      I wouldn’t really classify tea as a food and you’d have to drink an absurd amount of it to get enough catechins (50-60 cups per day).

      None of those foods have been scientifically proven to accelerate weight loss, and in the case of a few, like peppers and citrus fruits, they’ve been proven to do nothing.

      • True! Fat loss is like losing money. All you need to do is spend it! Then again we do have elaborate shopping and gambling events, so who knows? 😛

        • Michael Matthews

          Hahah

  • Austin

    Hey Mike I have plateaued I think and don’t know what to do. So I dropped anywhere from 6Ibs at the least to 12 at the most of fat during the summer. I then took 2 weeks off during the beginning of school to maintain. After that I started to cut but I made a mistake on my macros and calories and instead of being at a 500 cal deficit I was at like 200 at the most but rough maintenance would probably be more accurate for like a month and a half. I redid them and like quadruple checked but my weight doesn’t seem to have gone down in the past 3 weeks. I am gonna give it one more week and try something else but what should I do? I eat 1800 six times a week and 2400 once a week as a refeed day. So I don’t know what to do I don’t think my metabolism would be slowed down especially after 2 months of rough maintaining but how low is it safe to go with my calories when I weigh 155 Ibs? Its gonna take 3 months to cut down to 7-8% body fat when I KNOW I’m burning fat and my goal is for the end of January so I don’t have long to figure this out

    • Michael Matthews

      Hey man!

      First let’s check your numbers against this:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/healthy-meal-planning-tips/

      You may be using too high of a multiplier or it may be time to move more.

      • Austin

        My Numbers are right with your formula. I have just been using the take bodyweight times 12 to get my calories and the amount that it tells me is the same as your method.

        I move plenty though. Lift 3 times a week, HIIT twice or 3 times a week with regular walking when its nice out and on weekends I’m on my feet for 8 hours moving.

        What if I just eat my bodyweight times 10? So 155 times 10=1550?

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay cool just wanted to make sure.

          That’s good on the exercise. We could increase the lifting frequency if you’re down?

          If you can’t do that, then let’s drop cals to 1600/day and see how your body responds. Keep the refeed in.

          • Austin

            Hey Mike just finished reading BLS and I wanted to let you know I enjoyed it a lot. Now I have to try to decide if when I bulk I do the Kinobody Geek God program like I was going to or your workout. I have a couple of quick questions

            I think I may know why my weight isn’t going down. You see I did not do legs more then about 3 or 4 times in about 4 months and my legs turned to jelly and I have noticed in the last few weeks they have hardened back up and appear bigger, do you think that could be the cause for my weight not decreasing?

            With HIIT does it have to be absolutely exhausting or just as long as it has intensity cause on the treadmill I can do 12.5 MPH I can only go for like 10 minutes before I am exhausted but at 11 MPH I can do like 20 minutes?

            Also can HIIT be split into multiple sessions on the same day?

            And finally I know this question is kinda weird but if I am 5’10 155 Ibs at 12-13% body fat what percentage do you think I would have to hit before I start looking lean quickly cause it seems like slim guys look almost the same from like 9-14 or 15% and once they hit below 9 they shred out like crazy fast? I just ask so I can get a estimation of what to expect before I decide to cut calories or not ya know what I mean?

            Thanks Mike

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks man!

            Ah yeah if you’re regaining muscle in your legs. that could definitely be the cause.

            You want to really push yourself on the HIIT. You want to spike your HR. I don’t use treadmills for this reason–they just don’t go fast enough.

            I wouldn’t split the sessions. Just do one 25-30 minute session. You don’t need more.

            Yeah once you get below 10% everything comes together nicely…

          • Austin

            One more question for now Mike. Ok so treadmill not the greatest. You seem to really approve of a stationary bike, should I increase the resistance on the bike for HIIT or should I just leave the resistance at zero but pedal as hard as I can for 30 sec?

            Thanks

          • Michael Matthews

            I like to increase resistance.

  • Austin

    Hey Mike I know I said I only had that one other question but something I read in BLS is really bothering me. For fats I have generally exclusively used peanut butter because it is cheap and I live in a dorm so I can only prepare food once a week in bulk so is that bad, the peanut butter? I have been doing this for months. If it is what is a good preferably cheap substitute? Also I like whole grain pasta. Is whole grain pasta as healthy as whole grain rice? because I like both but with the pasta it seems like I get to eat a lot more.
    Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Ideally you would get a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fat but you probably are if you’re eating meats?

      I also would recommend a natural type of peanut butter–not Jiff.

      Whole-grain pasta is great. I love it.

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  • Hi Mike, I purchased your custom meal plan in Dec 2014 and thought it was great.

    However, there are several times per day that it tells me to ingest whey protein. So, I used whey for about 6 months, and then heard some disturbing things about it. (see #6 in this article http://breakingmuscle.com/supplements/10-things-i-know-about-protein-that-you-dont)

    So, long story short I have since decided to give up taking whey protein. There’s just too many unknown variables and I don’t want to become an expert in whey just to figure out if eating it is good for me.

    Anyway, I was hoping you could tell me what are the best actual real food protein options out there? I know you sell whey supplements but I would rather get my protein through food. Is that even possible?

    I’ve been eating greek yogurt but it just doesn’t have the same amount of protein punch that whey provides and so I end up needing to eat more yogurt or get creative with other high protein foods to compensate.

    Are there real foods that are as protein dense as whey, or other types of organic food supplements that are just as sufficient as whey protein?

    Thanks for your time.

    Jeremy

    • Thanks Jeremy!

      That’s a rather sensationalist article, which is what BM likes.

      That said, you don’t have to eat whey to reach your goals. You can definitely get all the protein you need through food.

      You’ll want to start eating more meat, really. Or eggs/egg whites. You can only go so fair with dairy before your stomach will get upset.

      • Yeah, I totally agree, the article is a bit over the top, but that article and several others got me thinking about how much whey I eat/drink. I was just a little worried that if I quit it completely that I wouldn’t see gains because I wouldn’t be getting enough protein.

        Are there organic protein supplements that work just as good as whey, that aren’t whey? I’m fine with eating more meat and eggs but sometimes it’s just hard to gulp that much down per day.

        BTW, I do use your Pulse and Recharge supplements. Which are awesome.

        Anyway, thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

        • Yeah how about the “vegan’s whey,” which is a mix of rice and pea protein. Great absorption and amino acid profile. I’m going to make one for Legion next year.

          Thanks for the support my man. You rock.

          My pleasure. Write anytime.

          • Awesome, now that is something I would like to see! Thanks again!

          • It’s coming so stay tuned! YW.

          • Hey Mike, unrelated to supplements, what ever happened with the MFL app you were working on?

          • Still working on it man.

            I should have the beta running this summer!

  • Ransom

    Hey Mike,

    Just wanted some clarification on something mentioned on here and differently elsewhere. In this post you say when in a caloric deficit, one should be consuming 1-1.4 grams of protein per lb of fat-free weight.

    But i thought in some other posts, like the ultimate guide for meal planning, you say it should be 1-1.2 grams per lb overall (including fat weight).

    Thoughts?

    • Sorry for the confusion.

      We can keep it simple and say 1 to 1.2 g/lb when cutting and 0.8 to 1 g/lb when bulking and maintaining.

      • Ransom

        Per lb of overall bodyweignt? Damn, I was hoping it was non-fat weight, that would make my current cut slightly less unpleasant. Anyway, thanks for the clarification.

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