It’s no secret we have an obesity crisis here in America, and it’s getting worse by the year. From 2017 – March 2020, the rate of obesity rose dramatically, from 30.5% to 41.9%. The pandemic only accelerated this issue, leaving many of our waistlines expanding further than ever before.
How do we reverse this trend?
The math behind gaining weight
If anyone understands the struggle of the “average Joe” when it comes to weight loss, it would be me. Shortly after I graduated from college, I gained nearly 70 pounds over a span of 6 years. The funny thing was, I didn’t feel like I was being gluttonous or eating poorly. My diet wasn’t perfect, but overall, I considered it “healthy”. But regardless of how healthy I thought I was being, each year, 5-10 pounds were stacking onto my frame, like clockwork.
This is how weight gain works. Some people gain weight quickly, but the vast majority of us gain it slowly over time. A weight gain of 5 pounds per year equates to a 17,500 calorie surplus over the course of a year (there are approximately 3,500 calories in one pound of body fat; 5 pounds of body fat x 3,500 calories = 17,500 calories).
This means, on average, someone who gains 5 pounds of body fat in one year eats roughly 50 more calories than they need each day.
This seems minimal. 50 calories per day isn’t much… but if this happens each year, fast forward a decade, and you’re 50 pounds heavier than you were 10 years ago.
This is exactly what happened to me from 2004 – 2010, causing me to tip the scales at almost 300 pounds. After my first daughter was born, I had enough, so I decided to get serious and do anything I could to lose the weight. I used myself as a human guinea pig, trying out various protocols on myself. Eventually, I lost 100 pounds of body fat, and began coaching others through the discoveries I had made, and the system I had developed.
The power of a high protein diet
The best dietary tip for long term fat loss is to get more protein into your diet.
Almost all diets that work for the long haul have protein as a major staple in them.
There are 3 powerful reasons for this.
First, protein is the most filling of the 3 macronutrients, by far.
There are 3 main macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat (technically, alcohol is a 4th macronutrient, but we won’t worry about that today).
Hunger is your enemy when dieting. You want to do everything you can to strategically eat in a manner that fills you up, and reduces your hunger as much as possible. 3 cups of Frosted Flakes, and 1 pound of lean chicken breast both have around 500 calories. The chicken breast will leave you feeling full and satisfied, with a steady energy source for hours. The Frosted Flakes will give you a big sugar rush up front, and you’ll be ravenous shortly thereafter.
Second, protein has a sky high “thermal effect”.
Every macronutrient has a “thermal effect of food”, or a “TEF” for short.
The thermal effect is the percentage of calories which are burned in the digestive process after you eat the food.
Carbohydrates have a thermal effect of ~10%.
Fats have a thermal effect of ~2-3%.
Protein has a thermal effect of a whopping ~25%.
If you eat 1,000 calories per day via protein, your body only absorbs 750 of those calories; 250 of them are used in the digestive process.
This is a huge win metabolically; eating a high protein diet is the simplest, most straight forward way to boost your metabolism.
Third, protein helps to spare your muscle while you are dieting.
When you’re eating to lose weight, you want to be sure every pound you lose is pure body fat. You want to preserve your muscle as much as you can. Muscle helps to boost your metabolism, it makes daily tasks easier, it increases your testosterone (important for both men and women), and it gives you confidence.
When you’re losing weight, if you’re not getting enough protein, up to half of the weight you lose is muscle mass. This is dangerous to your long term success, and a huge reason why people yo-yo diet. Losing muscle mass decreases your metabolism, making it more difficult to maintain your losses over time.
Think about the power of these 3 advantages of protein in tandem. Protein helps to fill you up, it boosts your metabolism significantly, and it helps you maintain your muscle. Are you starting to see why it’s so important to keep your protein high?
How much protein do you need?
I’ve helped thousands of people through fat loss transformations over the years.
Most of the people who come to me are frustrated; they’ve been trying to lose weight, and it’s not working.
“Eat more protein” is an overplayed soundbite; potential clients often tell me “yes, Jason, I know protein is important when dieting”.
But when I ask them how much protein they’re eating each day, they’re unsure. As a general heuristic, if you don’t know exactly how many grams of protein you’re eating each day, you aren’t eating enough.
I have yet to come across a single potential client who wasn’t woefully short in their protein consumption before working with me. After fixing this problem, instantly, the client is full, satisfied, and the weight starts flying off of them. Many of them even complain to me that they’re “too full” to eat all the food… in their fat loss diet. Sounds like a good “problem” to have…
So, how much protein do you need?
You want to consume enough protein to adequately protect you from muscle loss. The science currently shows that number to be around 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass on your body.
That number can be a bit tricky to calculate, though. Let’s make it simple for you.
What is your “dream body weight”?
This could be your weight as a senior in high school, or some other time when you were in the best shape of your life. If you’ve always battled with your waistline, give it a wild guess.
Then, eat that many grams of protein per day.
Cap this number at 225 grams of protein for men, and 140 grams of protein for women. Those are the maximum protein recommendations you should use for your diet.
(Side note – eating ample protein is not damaging to your kidneys; this is a myth. If you have healthy kidney function, protein is nothing to worry about. If you have kidney disease, and/or failure, be sure to consult with your doctor or physician before starting any new diet.)
The protein leverage hypothesis
One, final thought for you.
As the years have gone by, and America has become more obese, our eating habits have been analyzed and dissected for answers. It seems we haven’t yet cracked the code and figured out exactly what has caused the obesity crisis. Sedentary lives and overconsumption have something to do with it. But environmental and societal factors come into play as well.
There’s a theory starting to gain traction in the nutritional science community called The Protein Leverage Hypothesis.
The Protein Leverage Hypothesis is a theory that the underconsumption of protein is causing us to overeat as a whole. Our bodies are biologically primed as a survival mechanism to crave protein for its muscle sparing, and filling effects. When we don’t eat enough protein, we’re never fully satisfied, and we will continue to crave food, causing us to overeat fats and carbohydrates, often in combination.
Could this theory be true?
Could obesity be helped, and potentially solved simply by eating more protein?
Nutritional science moves at a snail’s pace, so only time will tell.
But one thing is for certain. If you’re struggling to find a sustainable method to lose the weight and keep it off, eating a high protein diet is one of the best strategies you could ever use.
Jason Helmes is a former Plymouth-Canton teacher who owns and operates Anyman Fitness out of his Canton home. Anyman Fitness is an online fitness coaching service that helps its clients reach their goals in a simple, straightforward manner. You can contact Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his site here for more information.