Ah,nutrition. The topic I love to hate for so many reasons especially as someone in the fitness/health industry. It is arguably the most important pillar there is when it comes to weight management and overall health some would argue. Yet, it is the area where the most confusion, misinformation, and gimmickry can be found.  So it’s only fitting that the first installment of the “Being Basic w/Britt Series” starts with my interpretation of the basics or what I like to call Nutrition 101.

This article is not going to go into the depths of nutrition some of you may be seeking. Some may finish reading this and say “well that was a load of crap, it taught me absolutely nothing” and some may actually be disappointed at how basic, yet seemingly fluid these principles are. Whatever camp you may (or hopefully not) be in, consistent, abundant research proves there are a few principles that have and will probably always remain true when it comes to nutrition.

First, we have to answer the question “when we are talking about nutrition, what stance are we looking at?” Is it the longevity and overall health? Weight management? Optimal performance?  I put this disclaimer out in the forefront as those questions must be considered when we speak of how nutrition is relative to any given scope.  Some of these basics may not hold as much weight when compared to how it affects the other constructs.  So for the purposes of this article, I’m going to take the stance that about 90% of the population will care about which is weight management and overall health (not disease management; yes, there is a difference).

With that out of the way, what are the basics of nutrition? No I’m not talking, what is a protein, carb, and fat. I’m referring to the question “what are the basic concepts of nutrition when it comes to a weight management and health perspective?”  In my opinion, looking at the research over the last 30 years, there are a few key points, principles, and practices that reign true for healthy weight management and longevity/quality of life.

Weight management is dependent on energy intake and expenditure

Most people will not want to hear the line of “calories in and calories out” plays a large part in the game of weight management in terms of nutrition, insert hard asterisk here.  This is probably the most basic principle to understand and accept yet is vastly misunderstood, overlooked, or misinterpreted. There are no special foods, special diets, magical formulas that will help one loss or gain weight. In the simplest sense it does come down to eating the appropriate amount of calories to match your metabolism and goals. And if one is not managing their weight appropriately and an underlying serious medical condition is not the root cause, more often than not the person is not in the correct energy balance state they need to be in for their goals (i.e. not losing weight, not in a caloric deficit).

However,(this is why that hard asterisk was inserted) for some people/situations other factors, especially lifestyle-based, may play a role in how easy (or difficult) this may be. Stress, sleep, stage of life, and health conditions like hypothyroidism can affect this process, but AFFECT IS NOT CAUSE. Your hormones aren’t the cause of not being able to lose weight, they are just making it a little or a lot more difficult. Carbs aren’t making people fat, the ability to consume the appropriate amount of calories for one’s given metabolism is making weight gain more likely.  To spare you (and my keyboard as I pound away on this topic) if you want more information (or proof) I highly suggest reading Dr. Layne Norton’s “Fat Loss Forever” book. Layne is a world class strength and physique athlete and coach who did his Ph.D in nutrition. This book highlights the multitude of studies proving the validity of this concept.

One can eat whatever they want when it comes to weight management, but like anything there is always a cost.

The whole weight management equation of CICO (calories in, calories out) can be compared to a budget of sorts. Eating a 500 calorie meal of McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries is technically the same as a homemade meal of chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato from a number perspective. Where the difference lies is food volume and micronutrient consumption. The whole, unprocessed meal of chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes will yield a “more bang for our buck” in terms of packing a micronutrient punch as compared to the McDonalds meal. We can save our dollars (calories) and purchase 4 decently practical and reliable Toyota Corolla or blow it on 1 Lamborghini, the money spends the same we just get different things.  Circling back to calories, wh01en it comes to a weight management AND health perspective one will feel more satisfied, consuming more micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and other health-enhancing nutrients when the majority of their caloric intake (budget) is made of whole foods. Treats and “unhealthy” food being saved, or budgeted, for special occasions or when planned for. Which brings me to my next basic point:

At some point most successful weight management will involve the use of SOME type of measuring system. 

Humans are hardwired for simple and easy. We will do whatever we can to make our lives as comfortable and unchallenging as possible. This is not to say we are inherently lazy or incompetent, but most of us live in a day and age where our cognitive abilities to plan, think, and execute are usually consumed by things such as running a family, making a living, etc. Take this point and infuse the fact we have generations who have developed this relationship with food as a medium for celebration, therapy, or enjoyment and it makes serving size and portion control extremely difficult without some basis of measurement. This is a big reason why most people can not manage their weight. It’s not a matter of education on healthy nutrition, but rather an execution of appropriate portion control. Now this can be exercised in a variety of ways. The simple “hand method” works amazing for most people. Others may need to break out the measuring cups, food scales, and count calories/macros. Whatever method one may need, my basic point remains the same, we can not talk about successful weight management without discussion on portion control and most people at some point in their lives will need to implement such. My own bias, this is why giving children the education on appropriate portion control (and outlook of food and nutrition) is so valuable. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Even in these basic points, there are so many layers when it comes to nutrition.  There are hard lines and rules, but understanding the complexity of the situation and person at hand will determine how hard those rules may come into play. The more one can educate themselves, consistently practice these skills, the easier and more successful weight management will be in most situations.