General Overview of Diet & Nutrition

I often take my degree for granted and I’ll be the first to admit it. I forget that I studied nutrition. However, what I’ve come to learn is that my students & clients “know what to do.” They just don’t want to do it. Therefore, I feel it’s important to have an overview of diet and nutrition. Just the basics…so in this post we will take a journey on understanding:

1. Diet and what that means
2. The macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein & fat) that we need to consume daily. Other nutrients will be discussed separate posts.
3. Breakdowns of meals plans that are balanced & provide proper nutrition.

Diet and What That Means

When we are seeking to lose weight, maintain weight and even gain weight (yup, I said it…gain weight…there are people who need to gain weight) it’s important to maintain a well balanced diet. Keep in mind a “diet” is nothing more than the pattern of foods we choose to eat. It can mean cutting down carbohydrates, increasing protein, eating less calories…catch the drift? So as you can imagine there truly are an infinite amount of “diets” one can be on. It doesn’t necessarily mean one is better than the other. What it does mean is that there are options to fit anyone’s lifestyle.

At the end of the day this blog will be focusing on weight loss and nutrition. Therefore it’s important to remember the following about weight loss:

Calories In. Calories Out. That’s it folks.

Please be careful when figuring out how many calories you need to take in daily. There are energy requirement calculators you can use…or equations to look up. For example Mifflin St Jeor and Harris-Benedict formulae are often used to estimate energy needs. A rule of thumb, though is to not dip below 1000 calories. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional for personal guidance.

A bit of my personal story on dieting

I get asked the question: “How did you lose all the weight?” And my usual answer is I watched what I ate. My friends all know I love my ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s anyone? Karamel Sutra, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch), and I also have an unruly obsession with macaroni and cheese. These two foods are my “go to comfort foods.” Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t fall prey to the diets out there. So here’s the list of diet’s I’ve tried (and most were, in the short-term, successful):

1. Cabbage Soup Diet
2. Grapefruit Diet
3. Atkin’s Diet
4. Vegetarian Diet (ovo-lacto, meaning I ate eggs & milk products)
5. Portion Controlled (My own)
6. NutriSystem (mainly because I worked there and wanted to lose weight on the system)
7. Weight Watchers
8. South Beach
9. Jenny Craig

So I can very easily say, “I’ve been there. Done that.” There are a few I am certain I’ve left out – not intentionally, of course. My memories seem to have blocked them out for some reason. Overall, the major lesson I learned is that I can lose weight on any diet. It was finding something I could stick to that made the difference. Ultimately, it was just portion control and choosing better-for-you food options.

After school, it changed the way I thought. This brings me to the next topic.

Basic Nutrition

Macronutrients are defined (via as:

1. A substance required in relatively large amounts by living organisms, in particular
2. A type of food required in large amounts in the human diet

So here macronutrient puzzle pieces:

Protein, carbs & fat puzzle

The common thread between these nutrients is that they provide calories. Calories are nothing more than a unit we use to measure the energy of a food. The more calories something has, the more energy is provides.

Here’s the calorie breakdown of the macronutrients:

• Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram consumed
• Protein: 4 calories per gram consumed
• Fat: 9 calories per gram consumed
• Alcohol: 7 calories per gram consumed (see below about alcohol)

What does each of these macronutrients do?

Carbohydrates: breaks down into glucose in the body. I won’t get into the metabolic processes, but most carbohydrates break down. Those carbohydrates that don’t break down are generally classified as fiber (either soluble or insoluble). Fiber still provides calories which is why they are included in the total calories when looking at a food label. Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source. Actually, our brain runs exclusively on carbohydrates (specifically glucose). The AMDR (Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range) is 45 – 65% (of total daily calories) for most people.

Protein: breaks down into amino acids. We use protein for virtually everything (even energy, in cases of carbohydrate deficiency): rebuilding muscles, hair growth, hormone production, enzyme production, healthy cells and in general “growth and repair.” It’s an important nutrient – but one that doesn’t need to be overdone. The AMDR is 10 – 35% (of total daily calories) for most people.

Fat: breaks down into fatty acids. These are used all over the body in helping to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, protecting internal organs, keeping us warm and moving around other nutrients. The AMDR is 20 – 35% (of total daiy calories) for most people.

Alcohol: I won’t say much about alcohol other than it provide 7 calories per gram consumed. My general rule of thumb is that I would rather eat my calories than drink them away. Alcohol is readily absorbed and drinking our “nutrition” seems silly to me. I would rather savor food and enjoy the experience. My opinion. Doesn’t mean I won’t indulge a few times a month (even less so, if I’m being honest)…it just isn’t worth it to me.

Meal Plan Breakdown

The AMDR is broad, and gives us a range to work within. The following table shows a breakdown of how many grams of each nutrient you need to achieve the Low-End & High Ends of each macronutrient. It’s important to remember that each of us need a range of nutrition. Eliminating one over the other is just crazy. We need energy in all forms to be healthy. If you use tools like Spark People, can adjust your goals for the specific range you want, and as always, seek the advice of a qualified health professional before making changes to your diet.

AMDR Macronutrient Ranges

This is it for now. There’s a lot to digest in this post. Please feel free to leave questions in the comments.

For now, stay healthy.



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