what i learned from the last 11 months experimenting with nutrition.
nutrition nutrition nutrition - i've worked out for years, but never spent the time to figure out nutrition. now its entirely clear that nutrition is the biggest factor for fat loss, while working out has other benefits. this has become more obvious as my metabolism has slowed with age.
count calories - started out by starving myself the first month. this brought my energy level way down and was not sustainable. counting calories allowed me to eat more and still lose weight (e.g. 1-2 pounds each week). this helped me keep muscle, have energy to workout, and was sustainable for a longer period of time. this also let me keep a balance of fats, carbs, and protein; along with monitoring how much sugar i was getting. and i've just started using it to help reduce sodium.
fat is not bad - started out by going low fat everything. this took my fat intake down to practically nothing. except this brought my energy level down, i was hungry all the time, and i had trouble thinking. also, my body went into a fat hording state. that was fixed by consuming 20% of good fats per day. related, low fat products add in more sugar for taste. so the only low fat products i eat now are no/low fat dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, cottage cheese).
fat calipers - a scale is useful, but fat calipers are very useful. by checking bodyfat percentage, along with bodyweight, i can make sure that i'm mostly burning fat, and that i'm not in a catabolic state and just losing muscle mass. a fat caliper is probably the best fitness purchase i have ever made.
liquid calories - never realized how many calories i consumed from drinking juice and soda (not to mention the sugar). so i switched to mostly zero calorie liquids : water, coffee, tea. that brought up the problem that i was getting too much caffeine, so i've switched to decaf coffee and decaf herbal/green teas. i still drink many calories from protein drinks, so i will try to switch to 'eating' more protein when bulking. some of my pre/post workout drinks were heavy too, so i've switched those to lower calorie alternatives. also, i didnt have any alcohol while dieting, because its just empty calories and interrupts the fat burning process.
make small changes over time - screwed this up a number of times. first, i cut out all fats at once, which crippled my ability to think. then, when i was bulking, i switched from a 500 caloric deficit to a 500 calorie surplus, which probably shocked my kidneys to no end. my last mistake was drastically reducing my sodium intake, which totally dehydrated me. er, um ... hopefully i've learned my lesson to make these changes over time.
dont diet too long - started out with about 3 months of reduced calories. the first month was real bad because i was basically just starving myself. in the 3rd month, my body went into a catabolic state, so my energy level was way down and strength started to drop dramatically because i was burning up muscle mass. it took me a month being on a caloric surplus to return to an anabolic state. since then i've been making sure to at least do a couple weeks of maintenance calories between 2 months of reduced calories.
what you eat, and when - i've known for some time that many small meals throughout the day works. but now i try to eat certain foods at certain times. so i try to get most of my starchy carbs earlier in the day. i also try to avoid fats and carbs at the same time; but eat fats with protein instead. and there were a couple meals where i was getting about 60 grams of protein at once. found out that you want to limit protein intake to about 45 grams per meal, so i had to modify my schedule to split that amount up.
portion size - related to small meals, now i get less than 300 to 400 calories each meal. but i'll do that 6 to 7 times a day, which makes me feel like i'm eating all the time so i don't get hungry. also, i un-super-sized all my plates and certain food items. the smaller plates give me the satisfaction of 'cleaning my plate', and it keeps me from loading too much on in the first place. an example of a smaller food size is using an english muffin, instead of a slice of bread, when i have peanut butter. the smaller surface area of the english muffin reduces the amount of PB i pile on.
glycemic index - to some degree, i eat foods with a lower GI. the idea is that lower GI goods will keep your sugar levels from spiking so your body can concentrate on burning off fats. overall, i just try to keep my sugar intake below 10% each day, and that forces lower GI foods. regarding sugars, i also try to limit sugar substitutes.
cardio zones - for me, cardio works best at low intensity as soon as i wake up, and/or after lifting weights. lifting weights will burn off the stored glycogen, and then the time i spend doing cardio will be mostly burning fat. now i'm into the habit of alternating my cardio workouts. after a leg day, i'll do light cardio (e.g. walking) for recovery. a moderate intensity day will be on the elliptical, stair climber, or walking hills. for high intensity, i'll do interval training by jogging on a treadmill. then i just cycle through those 3 different routines for some variety.
separate weights from ego - i've tried switching from powerlifting to bodybuilding before ... multiple times ... all failed attempts. the problem is i'll see somebody lift a heavier weight, and i go back to lifting heavy again ... it's a vicious cycle of testosterone. so i finally injured myself enough times to realize this was not sustainable. i've been able to drop the amount of weights that i lift, do more reps, and really concentrate on form and tempo. now i can alternate each month between lifting heavy for strength and lifting more reps for size. my joints thank me for this.
grocery stores are evil - most everything in a grocery store is not 'meant to be part of a healthy diet'. the bodybuilder forums sometimes refer to it as walking the perimiter, because that is where you can find the raw foods. if you start walking up and down the aisles, its mostly crap. there used to be too many products for me to choose from, but now it has become a challenging hunt for foods that are good for me. and i totally ignore the deceptive labeling for 'no fat', 'low sugar', 'high fiber' etc... and go straight to the nutrition label to compare. of course the nutrition label can be deceptive based on serving sizes and being able to round down to 0 by lowering the serving size. bastards.
drag your friends into it - blogging my weight loss goals helped. it definitely helped me to tighten up the diet a couple times when the end of a month was approaching and i wasnt to the new goal weight. my friend helped out by letting me weigh in on his WiiFit. the seriously obese avatar (based on BMI) was wrong ... but also motivating. and my mom even cut back on xmas cookies, which is my kryptonite.