Nasi Lemak & Fitness 104: “Clean” vs Calories

  • After a journey through 101, 102, and 103, you should have this concept tattooed on your forearm ingrained in mind:

Calorie is King

Over and over again, research (and research and research) has proven the importance being in a caloric deficit to lose weight.

To lose weight, eat below what you expend. To gain weight, eat more than what you expend.

It ain’t rocket science.

Thus, diets that recommend all sorts of hippy foods without emphasizing energy balance should be taken with a pinch of salt.


Don’t food choices matter? Here’s some borderline crazy diets for perspective:

The Twinkie diet & the Pizza diet (psst, they didn’t end with a triple bypass), and the ongoing Nasi Lemak Diet.

As I mentioned, calories matter a whole fucking lot. It’s the make or break factor in weight loss.

But to answer the question: Food choices do matter, but not in the way the food industry plays it to be.

Let’s look at the big picture.

The Cons of Calories

1. The Satiety Factor
Food choices impact how full you feel, even if they add up to the same calories. 

A. Big Mac, Large Coke = 800 calories
B. 2 bowls of rice, 200g of grilled chicken, an entire head of cabbage, an apple, an entire bottle of Coke Zero = 800 calories

Happiness may not last very long with happy meals.

Why? Meal B, with lots of fiber and protein, slows down digestion, sustains fullness and cages the hungry wolf in you longer.

While hunger is largely unavoidable in a calorie deficit, feeling hungry all the time is a surefire way to lose control.

Feeling hungry every 6 hours is better than feeling hungry every 3 hours. Invest in your calories smartly.

2. In Moderation?
Certain foods trigger overeating.

“I ate a slice of pizza, I feel great!” Says no one ever.

A slice of pizza easily becomes 5, with cheese sticks, soda, garlic bread and chicken wings.


Foods that combine salty, savory and sweet tastes can easily trigger the body to go “yolo, diet starts tomorrow”. Even more so when in a state of caloric deficit.

Aside from the food itself, culture, childhood, genetics, social pressure are all potentially at play to what triggers us to stuff ourselves silly. A topic I very much love, but one for another time.

To counter this: figure out what food makes you lose control, and exterminate it. Give your Tim Tams to me, put them out of convenient reach, or just toss them out (I highly suggest solution #1).

This may sound like an oversimplified solution, but the adage “out of sight, out of mind” holds true: the more convenient and accessible foods are, the more easily we overeat.

Our willpower is a finite resource, while I’m all for moderation, certain people and certain foods should never cross paths.

3. Nutrients
Getting sufficient vitamins and minerals are crucial to maintain optimal health.

While Big Macs, cheese cakes, roti canai and ice cream are okay, and certainly viable food choices in weight loss, they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your total caloric intake. They’re inferior to unprocessed foods in nutrient content.

Thus, it’s super important to plan your day of eating: ensure hitting your fiber intake (1g per 100 calorie), protein intake, only consume other foods to fill out your calorie quota (refer here to calculate).

The Other Side

While calorie balance determines weight (which as a result, determines many health markers), food choices matter for satiety. Eat mostly non-processed, high protein, high fiber meals, and you’re goooood.

However, brought too far, we have all that is wrong with the #EatClean camp.


At the opposite end of the spectrum:

Is Cleaner always Better?

1. Food from Heaven
We worship that one food that can end obesity, cure depression, be the solution to immortality.

Over years, this deity took shape in the form of coconut oil, acai berries, dark chocolate, red wine, kimchi, cricket protein…


Hear me out: These are amazing foods. But they are not the key ingredient.

Nothing is.

No one food can change your life except ramly daging double special cheese.

A 300lb Giant (pun intended) shopper, scooting on an electric cart, eating 5000 calories on average does not benefit from dousing every food in coconut oil; he needs to slash 2500 calories from his fucking diet.

2. Food from Hell
There are two ways to make your point.

1. Make your point.
2. Degrade others so you appear superior.

The latter seems to be the way the “Clean Eating” camp sees “Non-Clean foods”.

mcdonaldsEating a piece of chocolate, a bite of a burger, a piece of fry and sniffing buttery scent of freshly baked cakes are deemed as poison to the body.

It is too broad to generalize this, but like the 1st point, in controlled amounts (in the context of your caloric allotment) there is no one food that instantly makes you fat or destroy your health.

3. Affordability
My biggest beef with “Clean eating” is the price point.

“Healthy food” is expensive in Malaysia. The average salads, meal prep package, organic foods outlets are at least RM20 per meal.

Slapping “Organic”, “Sugar Free”, “Low Carb”, “Low Fat”, “GMO free” in BOLD on food instantly makes it much pricier.

Certainly, there are outliers to the bell curve. You can find well-priced “clean” eats.

However, for the unassuming newbie looking to explore the fitness lifestyle, this price point is a strong factor that shuns them away from wanting to change their health.

With prices of every fucking thing soaring, we don’t need health to become a commodification.

4. Cleanliness…
…is arbitrary

Digest this.

The Malaysian Body

If your calories are in order, you’ve achieved priority #1.

Then comes protein goals (refer to 102) and fiber intake (1g  fiber/ 100 kcal you consume).

Eating “clean” makes it easier to achieve those 3 factors. But it’s not a necessity.

I can guarantee that almost any overweight person will shed pounds if they eat below their caloric expenditure.

Under 1 condition: They execute. And the method of execution lies the question and the answer.

If you’re a weirdo person that can stop at a slice of pizza, great! But not many mortals can do that.

If eating “clean” aligns with your lifestyle, good for you! But not many people can follow to your specific food choices.

Incoming cliched conclusion: What works lies somewhere in the middle.

Find your own Recipe

Honestly, my method isn’t special. Almost all diets work (even the cabbage soup diet): remove a huge chunk of your regular food (rice, sugar, alcohol etc), you remove a huge chunk of calories.

But none of these diets considers the grand scheme of things-

The best diet is the one you’ll follow,

Consistency is the hack to beat this F@#*(ng diet game.

I’m not a big fan of rules, but to play this game for life, (to look good permanently rather than for a beach holiday) some OCD is warranted.

Dealing with “Haterz”

The hardest hurdle in dieting is set up by people closest to you. One’s willingness to change is a highlight on the lack of progress of their peers.

When I first started lifting and counting calories, the common responses I got:

“I don’t count calories, I have a life”
“I don’t count calories, I just eat clean”
“Counting calories, isn’t that OCD?”

Then they look at you like you’re crazy.

This is where you say:

“It’s a good thing that you make decisions for you and I get to make decisions for me, because if the roles were reversed, it sounds like we’d both be really unhappy.”


It’s never easy standing up against the majority, but it’s worthwhile.

Having a like-minded community helps build accountability to a certain extent.

For those who need a community, I created, a long time ago, a Facebook group IIFYM Malaysia where people who have any questions regarding flexible dieting in the context of Malaysian food can post their questions!

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