Friday, January 7, 2011
Be Healthy, part 2 (sub-section: fat management)
(Since blogs are listed with the most recent entry on top, the main essay is immediately below this one. If you have not already, read that one first)
Having below a certain percent body fat does not automatically make you healthy...
*I've been using the term "weight" for the sake of simplicity, and out of laziness. We've all gotten accustomed to talking about weight. The common charts list something called "body mass index (BMI) which considers only height and weight. Weight is not a useful measurement. Arnold Schwarzenegger weighed 260lbs back when he competed. That gave him a body mass index of 33. In other words, he was technically morbidly obese. However, he had a bodyfat percentage of only around 6%. The average American is around 25%(male)/35%(female). The average American is right on the border between "overweight" and "obese"; judged not by weight, but by the amount of the body which is composed of stored fat. A healthy fat percentage is nearly half of what most of us are, 6-12% for men and 14-20% for women (women naturally have more fat than men, even when perfectly healthy). Our friend Arnold, despite being characterized as obese by BMI standards, had half the bodyfat of an average healthy person at only 6%. Muscle weighs more than fat. If you are trying to get more healthy, and not just look a certain way (and hopefully you are) you are exercising in addition to dieting. If you are exercising (at least if you are doing it right) you will gain muscle. Since muscle weighs more than fat, the number on the scale may actually go up, even while you need to use ever tighter holes on your belt to keep your pants from falling off.
Weight means nothing.
It is excess fat, not excess "weight", or pounds, that contributes to a host of diseases, lack of fitness, and lack of longevity. Everyone has heard the list.
They take different measurements, so will give you slightly different answers, but they will give you a good general idea of your fat percentage.
Remember that change comes slowly. Because it is gradual, you are unlikely to notice it if you don't keep records. An excel spreadsheet or a notebook with date, weight, measurements, and fitness benchmarks as well as any medical issues, and overall outlook on life, can keep you motivated by showing how much progress you have made when it may feel like there has been none. Taken over a long period of time, looking back at old notes and seeing the trend of improvement can be a major motivator to continue.
The best way to tell, over a long period of time whether what you've been doing is really helping is to keep records. If there are no signs of positive change, keeping records lets you know that you need to do something different.
It seems to fit in with our general cultural agreement that we should never be uncomfortable, that changing body shape and composition should be easy and painless and relatively quick. We want the sort of solution where we do some very specific thing, and then the problem is solved and we never have to think about it again. We want a quick fix.
When looking at excess fat as a health issue, and not just an appearance issue - as being one small part of the greater issue of fitness in general - drugs, surgery, and extreme fad diets don't make so much sense. They don't actually solve the problem. They, like most medicine, only address a symptom.
Drugs, surgeries, herbs, special foods, exercise classes and exercise machines all make someone money. America is all about marketing.
In truth we have all known the fat loss "secret" all along. It was never hidden. But if someone wrote a new book on weight management that said "the transition will be extremely difficult and uncomfortable, and once you reach your goal you will have to make certain major lifestyle changes permanent", it would never sell enough copies to become a household word; (or even a gym word.)
In addition to the popularity of the "quick/easy fix", there has been growing for a few decades a pervasive "politically-correct" movement which says that the number one priority is not to hurt anyone's feelings. Of course making someone feel bad about themselves for its own sake is not productive. But neither is lying to people. This has nothing to do with cultural perceptions of beauty, or patriarchy, or fashion magazines. Its not about being sexy or being accepted. In part one of this essay I listed a number of examples ranging from everyday life to rare emergencies where fitness makes a qualitative difference in ability and therefor on quality of life. Having a high ratio of fat to muscle makes all of those things more difficult. And of course the list of diseases directly caused by or closely correlated with excess fat is just as long. Despite all this, there has been a cultural backlash against encouraging people to be healthy, where the emphasis is instead put on accepting one's self as is.
The Fundamental Issue
A significant danger with long-term fasting is that some vitamins and minerals (especially water soluble vitamins, C and B), don't store well in the body. Because of this, fasting is one situation in which daily vitamin pills are actually necessary.
Done excessively, fasting can eventually lead to the sort of malnutrition based conditions listed in "Be Healthy" part 1. Long-term fasting by a person without excess fat stores to burn can cause the brain and vital organs to be deprived of glucose, leading to permanent damage or death.
It is true that some biological factors (such as hypothyroid) will lower the body's resting metabolic rate. However this fact does not change the calorie balance equation. It just means that the lower metabolism has to be taken into account when determining how many calories to eat.
On closer inspection, what many people are doing for exercise tends to be less intense activities, generally done for no more time than is recommended for general health (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week). Many diets may cut out certain foods, but aren't necessarily reduced overall in terms of total calorie intake. If a person does not have an overall calorie deficit, even if a person is technically dieting and exercising, they will not lose weight.
There are simple benchmarks to tell you whether what you are doing really counts as exercise: for strength exercises, you should be sore the next day. If you aren't at all sore, you weren't really working out. You were just doing repetitive movements and killing time. For aerobics the feedback is even more immediate: you should be sweaty and out of breath. If you can hold down a conversation easily, without pauses to catch your breath, you aren't working hard enough!
-lifting weights so light that you can easily do 15 or more reps without rest
-anything which is supposed to encourage "tone, not bulk"
An efficient exercise burns as many calories as possible in your limited work out time. Ideally it activates major muscle groups, core stabilizer muscles, and the cardio-pulmonary systems all at once.
A short list of examples of real exercise, (along with the calories they burn if done for an hour straight, with no rest):
Running upstairs/hill .. (1000)
Rock climbing ............... (650)
jump rope ...................... (600)
burpees .......................... (550)
running ........................... (450-700 depending on speed)
boxing / martial arts .... (400-600)
elliptical/stationary ...... (up to 400-600 on high resistance, at high speed)
mountain biking ............ (500)
rowing ............................ (450 at roughly 2min/500m rate)
aerobics .......................... (450)
moving furniture .......... (400)
swimming ...................... (370)
yoga ................................ (300)
sex .................................. (300)
skating ........................... (300)
road bicycling ................ (250)
weight lifting .................. (200)
(note that weight lifting increases muscle, and muscle increases metabolism, so the long term benefit is substantially higher)
As with overall weight, losing or gaining fat is dependent on overall calorie balance. The average person burns, about 2000 calories in a day. Of the calories burned more than half is from basic metabolism - heart beat, digestion, thinking, etc. Even if you don't get out of bed all day, you burn (very roughly ) 1200 calories (it varies significantly depending on size, gender, muscle mass, age, and medical conditions). The rest of the calories burned each day are from moving around and doing things. Every time a muscle contracts, whether its pushing a stalled car down the street, or smiling, it uses calories to do it. Obviously the calories burned from movement are variable, and under our conscious control. Mostly.
Here is an example:
Say you're slightly over-fat, your weight is stable, and you exercise at moderate intensity a few times a week. Perhaps you consume and burn about 2500 calories a day (on average - exercise days it will be higher, rest days it will be lower). You decide to take control of your body, and actively manage your fat percentage as a sub-component of your over-all fitness and health. You force yourself to eat slightly less, and exercise slightly more. You burn 100 calories more each day by exercising a little more (2500+100=2600), and you eat 100 calories less (2500-100=2400).
But at the same time your body is able to compensate for that 200 calorie a day deficit (2600-2400=200) with decreased fidgeting throughout the day and a slightly lower metabolism. Your body uses 200 calories less per day, and your new metabolic baseline becomes 2400. So you are still in calorie balance, and will neither gain nor lose weight. And after 4 months with no progress, you give up in frustration. If you go back to your old habits (eating 2500 calories a day) while your body still only needs 2400, and you end up gaining more weight then if you hadn't done anything at all!
On the other hand, this is the best way to make changes long term, and to avoid the common "yo-yo" weight loss and gain. After all, chances are it took years to gradually put on extra fat. It is reasonable for it to take as long to take it back off.
The other way is to have the deficit be enough to over-compensate for the body's compensation. This means a combination of an additional 200-600 calories a day less consumed than burned, for a total deficit in the range of 400-800. Even though your body may stop subconscious fidgeting, it can't stop you from choosing to get up and move around and going out to run for 30 minutes a day. Having a deficit of 400-800 calories a day from combined diet and exercise, where food is consciously limited and metabolism is kept high from a combination of anaerobic (intervals, brief sprints at a pace that can not be continuously maintained) and strength exercises, the body's attempts at conserving fat become totally futile.
The big secret which nearly all fad diet plans willfully ignore is that in order to lose fat, (without the use of drugs or surgery) it is practically guaranteed that you will feel hungry.
The single most important change, one which is absolutely vital to losing fat, is
(to steal a phrase from my internet friend Mr Money Mustache):
"Learn to appreciate mild hunger":
In other words:
It HAS to be both. Of the two, however, the dieting part will play the greater role.
The average American, remember, eats 3800 calories a day. Basic life processes only need around 1500, and with moving around in daily life, maybe 2500 total. That makes an excess intake for our example of 1300 per day. Since this hypothetical person has a daily caloric excess, they will be currently gaining weight (fairly quickly at that!) In order to lose weight you need a calorie deficit of between 100-800. That means some combination of reduced intake and increased output has to change the balance from the current +1300 to (around) -500.
That's a total change of 1800.
will let you approximate your own basal metabolic rate (resting calorie burn), your overall daily calorie use, and your goal calories for fat loss (or muscle gain).
It also has detailed explanations of the terms and formulas.
They are (almost) all about controlling hunger and appetite, whether they say so or not.
Most of them fail because of an over-emphasis on making it easy. Like with giving up smoking, dieting is most likely to succeed if a person goes into it with full acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that the transition will be uncomfortable, probably very uncomfortable.
While there are many techniques that can help keep hunger to moderate levels, in the end hunger, like all forms of discomfort, is tolerable. Like using meditation to deal with pain, it can help to remember that it is just a sensation, an experience, and a temporary one at that. If you take the stoicism, Mr Money Mustache view, you can learn to actually enjoy the sensation, because whenever you feel it, that means you are currently burning fat to fuel your metabolism.
Some aspects of staying healthy require short-term discomfort. Getting vaccinations and blood tests hurt. Dental work hurts. Exercise is exhausting and sweaty and leaves you sore the next day. We don't do these things because we are masochists. We do these things despite the pain because it makes us healthy. By the same token, not eating when you are hungry does not make you a masochist. It does not make you anorexic. Being hungry does not mean you are "starving" yourself. It is in fact literally impossible to starve while a person still has fat stores (more than 5-10% bodyfat).
While it may feel like you are depriving yourself, you are actually taking care of yourself by consciously managing your health.
I can't emphasize this enough. It is OK to be hungry. If you take only one single thing away from this essay, let it be that. It is OK to be hungry. You don't have to eat just because you are hungry. Hunger is a sign of calorie deficit, and calorie deficit is the only possible way to lose fat. Therefor, it will be literally impossible to lose fat without feeling hunger. When you feel it, you have to find a way to deal with it other than by eating.
That being said, and with the understanding that it will be impossible to lose fat without experiencing some degree of hunger, there is certainly still plenty of room for methods to minimize (not eliminate) hunger. It's an important base to start from to accept that change is uncomfortable, but there is not really any need to stop there.
Especially since most of the methods for reducing hunger are actually healthy steps to take anyway!
There is only water. The feeling of thirst is designed to get us to hydrate. When we get in the habit of drinking sweet things, we add in extra calories when our body just needed plain water, and as far as your body's hunger sensors are concerned, those calories 'don't count' - you can drink 500 calories (2 standard 20oz bottles) in a minute or two, and still be as hungry as if you hadn't eaten anything. Problem is that in terms of calorie balance, they most certainly DO count.
-When a meal has multiple courses, always eat the vegetables first. If you end up being full before everything has been finished, its better to end up not eating the calorie dense, low nutrient foods.
-Be aware of high calorie foods and add-ons (like toppings or sauces) which may be dense in calories yet not very filling. Try mustard instead of mayo, spices instead of cheese, sauces that are not oil or cream based. Like with sweet beverages, things added for flavor can sneak in extra calories without the body noticing.
Ideally, try to have dinner relatively early every day, if at all, and then don't eat anything else for the rest of the evening.
The 2nd method will be much harder to adapt to at first because it is so different than we are used to. Many people feel not just hunger pangs, but also cranky, weak, even faint, whenever their blood sugar drops.
This is not an inevitable part of life!
It occurs only because having the luxury of always-available food "spoils" our metabolic system. Transitioning to (for example) a every other day diet, one would have those symptoms frequently and severely; at first. But after a few days, a couple weeks at most, the body will adapt, and no longer will one be a slave to blood sugar levels (with the exception of certain medical conditions like diabetes or anemia).
Particularly if a person has extra fat stores, the body does not actually need a continuous external source of sugars in order to function. It just prefers it. Even more than with hunger, it's important to realize that the feelings associated with low-blood sugar will pass, and if suffered through for a few days may never recur again.
-Eat only until you are satisfied, and then stop. Satisfied means no longer feeling hungry. It does not mean feeling "full". Feeling satiated will almost always come before a feeling of fullness - (although if eating until full is what a person is used to, one may not even notice when they are satisfied). If you eat until you feel full, you have almost certainly eaten more than your body needs. If you eat until you are "stuffed" you have definitely eaten way too much!
eating for one reason, and one reason only: to provide sustenance and nutrition that your body needs.
Many people eat out of boredom, or as a distraction from being sad. Find other things to do. Try a double whammy by exercising for 10 minutes whenever you realize your appetite is emotion based.
One of the most common reasons people eat when they aren't even hungry is because other people around them are eating.
Don't eat just because people around you are eating, just because it's a party or because you are at a restaurant.
Its ok to say no.
Its ok to tell people you aren't hungry.
People may look at you funny, or even resort to peer pressure, but they will ultimately understand. And if not understand, they will at least let it go. And if not, well then nuts to them! Anyone who actually wants to bully you into eating something may not really be your friend.
Seeing or smelling something delicious can make us want to take a bite, even if we don't actually need any calories. Sweet things particularly tend to be extremely calorie dense, so even "one little bite" can go a long way to undermining a diet, (especially if the goal calorie deficit margin is low).
You don't have to try a bite of something just because someone offers.
You don't have to taste something just because it looks or smells good.
People eat just because its "meal time". Don't do that. Don't eat because of what the clock says, if you aren't actually hungry (unless, obviously, that is your method for controlling blood sugar induced hunger)
Its important to be totally conscious and deliberate about each and every thing you consume. Just like with fidgeting, all the little things add up over the course of the day.
Not one word of this should be taken as implying that any particular food should ever be "off limits". No need to ban your favorite food outright.
All foods vary in two important relevant aspects: calorie density and nutrient density. For the purpose of fat loss, all that really matters is calorie density. For the purpose of nutrition all that really matters is nutrient density. For the purpose of health both are really important.
But neither one dictates exactly what you have to eat, nor exactly how much of it. In order to be able to eat a reasonable amount and maximize health, it's a good idea to try to eat foods which have the most nutrients for the least calories.
Its a good idea, but it is absolutely possible to lose fat on a steady diet of junk food.
This most certainly isn't a good idea, but it is illustrative. The problem with this diet isn't that it is processed or that it has refined sugars or that it has carbs. The problems with it are 1) it doesn't have enough nutrients, and 2) it will leave you hungrier than a healthier diet, making it harder to maintain.
On the same token, it is equally possible to gain excess fat on healthy foods:
Eating the right things, but eating too much of them, will still make a person fat. Having excess fat, even with healthy food choices, is still unhealthy.
The solution to both, then, is to both be aware of calorie density, and be aware of portion size.
Keep in mind that each and every bite consumed is a trade off between it, and something else you could be eating. This does not necessarily mean weighing food and tracking each and every calorie, but at least knowing the general caloric density of the broad types of food, and being able to estimate.
Imagine taking exactly one pound of different types of food. The total weight is the same, but the amount of calories in them will vary wildly. Take these examples:
|Potato chips / Fries||2,600||1200|
(potato, corn, squash)
These are all rough estimates, because they are broad categories, and weight and volume measurements differ between different foods within them. However, they show the range of relative differences between the categories.
The foods that the vast majority of people's daily diets are primarily based on are 10 to 20 times as high in calories as vegetables, for the exact same amount of food!!
In just one single pound of french fries or chips, there are enough calories for an entire day.
That's less than one large bag. As calorie dense as a burger is, the large fries that comes with it as a "side" may well have even more. The range of calorie density is just massive. Compare this chart to the healthy food pyramid. Contrast it to how most of us eat. (Contrast it also to the official USDA food pyramid, which was largely influenced by the commercial food lobby!)
Notice that oil is almost 40 times more calorie dense than veggies.
Say you start with a healthy, nutrient rich, low calorie salad. Then, for flavor and variety you add in some shredded cheese, croutons, maybe some chicken or bacon bits, and then top it all off with a generous pour of oil or cream based dressing. That dressing which you think of as just a little garnishment for flavor probably has more calories than all the vegetables put together. It may even have more calories than the entire rest of the salad! All of a sudden a meal that you thought of as being down at the bottom of the list has shot up towards the top.
(Don't be like Homer)
For example, there are quite a few restaurant salads which have over 1000 calories - so this one dish, which is sometimes used as an appetizer or side, actually has close to half of one's needed calorie intake for the entire day.
No one is really surprised that long time vegans tend to weigh less than people who subsist on mostly fried foods, but this chart shows exactly why. Aside from oil, most plant foods reside all the way at the very bottom, while animal foods dominate the top.
Not on the list is alcohol, which has zero nutrients, but has more calories per gram than carbs do. Because of this "low carb" beer is somewhat silly, since the alcohol itself is a source of calories. Since it is in liquid form, like soda, alcohol doesn't satisfy hunger, but beer has anywhere from 100-250 calories per bottle.
Another way to visualize calorie density is to keep calorie size constant, and see the size of portions for different foods. The following pictures were all borrowed from: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-
Click the image for a full size view:
(depending on your browser, you may need to click the image that comes up in a new window as well)
Notice that some foods completely fill the plate, and look like they could actually be a meal in themselves. Others look kind of sad, and wouldn't even qualify as a complete snack. Yet, as far as your bodies metabolism is concerned...
every one of those pictures is the exact same amount of food
(200 calories each - one can of beer is about equivalent as well).
Because there is such a huge range of calorie densities, trying to limit calories by controlling portion size alone is impossible. And simply banning certain foods and then ignoring portion size won't do it either, as a few generally healthy foods, (like nuts, vegetable oils, and dairy) are dense in calories. But looking at food in terms of its caloric density gives the question a new perspective. Imagine you wanted a 200 calorie snack. You can pick anything from those pictures you want. It is absolutely fine to pick the chocolate. Just realize that its a trade off. It's not "cheating". But it does mean giving up the giant bowl of vegetables, fruit, or cereal, or the medium sized bowl of pasta or yogurt. Its up to you if it's really worth it. At the end of the day, you can only eat so many calories while having an overall deficit. How you choose to spend them is entirely up to you. Of course, the pat of butter or shot of Bailey's Irish Cream is not going to satisfy your hunger nearly as much as anything from the top of the list, and they won't give you the same nutritional value.
You have to realize, remember, and keep in mind, that which ever thing you pick is INSTEAD of something else. If you pick the 1/3 of a candy bar, or the little chunk of cheese, that's it, thats the meal. If, in our examples from above, you are starting with a baseline of 2000 calories a day, and trying for an 800 a day deficit, that means you can have 6 items from the plates in the picture above, per day. Total, among all your meals, however you split that up.
Obviously if you choose the bacon, hotdog, shot of liquor, piece of cheese, a two kinds of candy, you are going to feel desperately hungry pretty much all the time. On the other hand, if you chose the vegetables and fruit, and maybe a bowl of whole grain cereal, that amount may actually fill you up and leave you reasonably satiated. Look at that picture again, and the relative sizes of portions that make 200 calories. Imagine only being able to pick 6 of them for your entire days food. That is the trade off you are facing every time you pick a food to eat.
This visualization also shows why the "processed foods VS home cooked food" dichotomy is a ridiculous over-simplification. Yes, there is a lot of candy, junk snack food, and fast food near the bottom. But there are also a number of ingredients commonly used to cook with. Butter, cheese, and oil, are all denser in calories than even the highly-processed sugar-filled candy. If home cooking consists of lasagnas and pies, fried food and mammal meat, or is even just cooked in oil or butter, is heavy on carbs, or is covered in cheese, it will be just as calorie dense as anything purchased ready-made.
Whatever you choose to eat, it is vital to match portion size to calorie density. The denser it is, the less of it you can have.
Everything you choose is displacing something else, so choose wisely.
As I talked about in part one, nutrient density is also a variable. There are certain things we need to eat a minimum of, regularly if not every day; specifically protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Looking back at the picture, it just so happens that nutrient density more or less varies inversely with calorie density. Vegetables and fruits are higher in vitamins and minerals then meat, dairy, and carbs. How convenient!! Given that you have to eat a certain amount of the type of foods high on the picture in order to get enough nutrients, it leaves less and less room for the crap at the bottom. Since the point of dieting is health, it would be counter-productive to cut out nutrient rich food.
The point is, eat vegetables and more vegetables. And then some fruits. And then even more vegetables. Occasionally a little meat or dairy or oil or whole grains.
Occasionally does NOT mean every meal.
It does not even mean every day. As mentioned in part one, we don't need nearly as much protein as most people think. Until very recently, very few cultures ate protein and fat rich food with every meal. In order to lose fat, 50% of food consumed should be vegetables, absolute minimum.
Of course there are going to be times when you eat things other than vegetables. Even if you manage to make your diet 50% vegetable (which you should, if you really want to lose fat), you will go out to eat with people, others will cook for you, you won't have time to cook, and whatever else. It isn't necessary to cut out high calorie foods completely (or any particular food). Match portion size to calorie density. If something is high in sugar, oil, meat, dairy or refined carbs, eat just a tiny bit of it. Eat as much (non-starchy, i.e. not corn or potato) vegetables as you want.
Controlling appetite is about preventing eating when one isn't really even hungry.
When we do eat, however, it is easy to eat too much; even when one doesn't have an appetite for it.
There are ways to minimize that too:
-Eat slower. Using a small spoon helps you take smaller bites, so that it takes longer to finish. There is a delay between eating and when the body realizes it's full, so eating slower gives the body's feedback systems a chance to catch up. By the same token, be deliberate about chewing, and wait a few minutes before getting those seconds, to see if you really are still hungry.
-Decide on your serving size in advance. Again, you can decide to have more later, but if you don't think about it chances are you just pile an arbitrary amount on the plate, and then eat it all just because its there.
-Don't feel you have to finish everything on the plate! Its totally ok to have leftovers. This is especially true in restaurants, where they typically serve 2-4 "servings" of food on a single plate.
-When eating pre-packaged foods, take a look at the serving size. If it says there are 4 servings per container, don't eat the whole box in one sitting.
-Be aware of condiments and other add-ons. Just one tablespoon of mayo - the amount you might spread on a sandwich - has 110 calories. Because oil and cream based sauces and dressings are so extremely dense, they add up really fast. Just how fidgeting burns few calories, but adds up over the course of the day, a tiny amount of added sugar or cheese or even the oil that sticks to food in a stir-fry, all ends up adding significantly to the days total calories.
-Be especially conscious when eating socially. Maybe its the distraction. Maybe its something about being around other people who are eating. For whatever reason, people eat more when they are around lots of other people. To a lesser extent, people also eat more with distractions like television, when putting fork to mouth goes into autopilot, and the mind doesn't fully register that its been eating all along.
This has been an awful lot of information.
I have deliberately avoided as much of the technical side of digestion, metabolism, the glycemic index, and the like as possible.
And it is only a subset of the bigger picture on health.
Is it any wonder that there are so many attempts to over simplify and take short cuts?
Ideally you should take all this information as a base with which to build your own plan that will work for you.
I will make my attempt at summarizing and simplifying everything I wrote into 4 simple rules, with one vitally important note. This is just one approach, and there are many others that can work just as well, (and which may work better for you).
1) No starches (commonly called "carbs") i.e. bread, cake, pasta, fries, chips, etc
2) No added sweetener of any kind. This includes "natural" sugar, honey, agave, and calorie-free artificial sweetener
3) Zero liquid calories. Drink water. Coffee or tea are fine, as long as they are straight, with no sweetener, cream, or flavoring added.
4) Daily food curfew about 4 to 6 hours after you wake up. This means eating breakfast, and possibly lunch, but nothing at all between lunch and bedtime. (Assuming you wake up between 6am and 8am, this would mean a food curfew at 12 noon.) This gives the benefits of short term-fasting, and also naturally restricts calories without the tedium of counting and tracking.
And the vitally important note is that you WILL feel hungry all the time, and that the only possible success will come from accepting it.
This plan must be done while continuing to exercise. In order to prevent losing muscle mass, it is important to get enough protein. Once you reach your target bodyfat percentage, you should GRADUALLY increase daily calorie intake until it exactly matches the calories you burn each day. At that point you should eat until you don't feel hungry, but never more than that.
The good habits you picked up during the dieting process all need to become life-long habits, or else you will gain back all the fat you lost.
For the first couple weeks I recommend tracking your calories - literally every thing you eat as well as your daily exercise, and using a calorie calculator (use Google) to make sure you are in calorie deficit. Once you have established a pattern, and know what calorie deficit feels like, you may not need to track any longer.
Once you have reached your goal bodyfat percentage, you do not need to tolerate a constant low-level hunger anymore. You should eat until satiated. However, that doesn't mean that just because you are now thin and strong and healthy you have license to eat "whatever you want". If you return to your old habits, you will return to your old bodyfat percentage. The same steps for losing fat happen to coincide with healthy eating habits for anyone of any size. Once you reach your goal, the only thing that should change is total calories consumed. The rest needs to be lifelong.
Don't forget what I wrote in the beginning: everything above is meant to be considered from within the context of the main "Be Healthy" essay!
Health includes avoiding illness, fitness, and nutrition, not just being thin. Whether you or those around you are happy with how you look is irrelevant.
I am not, as you may be aware, a trained professional on any topic remotely related to all this. I'm just an ordinary guy (with a background in science), who likes to stay healthy and loves collecting information, understanding things, and putting together the big picture out of lots of seemingly independent details. I'm also someone who likes to share what he learns from others.
But I don't expect you to take my word for it.
Here are just a few of the sources from which I gathered data for this essay:
There are others as well, but I encourage you to find your own information.
Google is your friend.
When you are done reading, get off the computer, and put what you have learned into practice!
Be healthy, my friend.