The common prescription for losing weight (or at least avoiding packing on pounds) has long been to eat less, move more. That's all wrong, at least according to Nick Donohoe, a weightlifting coach and author of the The California Diet. His plan puts forward the idea that to move more — and be in better shape — we need to eat more, too. Raising the number of calories you consume, he argues, can even end up boosting your metabolism.
Donohoe developed the program, which is more of a lifestyle than a diet, after he and his equally athletic wife, Shawn, had tinkered with their own food intakes for many years. They both realized that when they committed to cardiovascular exercise and weight training, loaded up on protein and healthy fats, and kept low-glycemic-index carbohydrates to a minimum, they were able to slim down, tone up, and eat much more food overall than they had previously.
"Conventional logic says to eat less and move more if you want to lose weight — but then why is it no one can ever do this?" Donohoe says. "It's because as soon as you eat less, your energy levels drop and you feel like crap, so there's no way your body wants to move more. If you're overweight and you cut your calories in half, like some weight-loss programs suggest, that sends your metabolism crashing down, and you'll stop burning as many calories."
Working out "more," according to this plan, means getting at least four hours of intense exercise per week. That should include cardio, of course, but Donohoe also strongly recommends strength training to help boost resting metabolism and build lean muscle mass.
"With metabolic flux, your resting metabolic rate is higher, and it takes more calories to process all this food. So you're actually better off with 3,000 calories in and out than 2,000 calories in and out." How many calories? "Fifteen times your body weight is your maintenance level of calories," Donohoe says. "So, for instance, I weigh 200 pounds and work out for one hour several times a week. That means I need 3,000 calories per day to maintain my current weight. That's a lot of calories by most people's standards, but given my workout routine, getting only 2,000 would cause my metabolism to crash."
If you want to lose weight, the diet advises cutting 500 calories from your maintenance level. "However, on days when you're feeling naturally hungrier and want more calories, that's totally fine," Donohoe says.
The second big tenet of The California Diet is what to eat. Although there are no hard-and-fast dietary restrictions, overall, this a high-protein, high-fat, and low- to medium-low-carb diet. They suggest one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, which is higher than most diets recommend.
Getting enough fat is also key. "Many diets either explicitly or implicitly ask you to slash too much fat," Donohoe says. "That has a terrible effect on the body because hormone levels already take a big hit when you cut calories. Hormones make you feel lean, strong, and just good overall, so when you also cut fat, it's a one-two punch, and you'll feel very sick." He advises getting 25 percent of your daily calories from fat.
One of the hardest parts of the diet: Recording everything you eat, at least for the first few months on the program. This, according to Donohue, will help you dial in your diet to make sure you're getting the right amount of total calories, protein, and fat, until choosing the right foods becomes second nature. You should also weigh yourself on a scale once a week. Although body weight doesn't tell the whole story of health, Donohoe insists it's important for tracking your progress.
"You may have a hard time for the first few weeks, but you won't likely feel totally worn down by the diet," says Donohue. "You are going to have days where you miss your targets, but that's not a huge deal. If you land within them on most days, you'll make it."