Gluten Free, Atkins, South Beach, Keto, Raw Food Diet, Juice Cleanses…the list goes on and on of diets that have produced some pretty staggering transformations. Through very effective marketing strategies, these transformations inspire droves of people around the country to give each of these fad diets a shot. The issue is: it is the minority of people that have experienced long term nutritional success due to any of these diets. Quite frankly, I don’t care what you can achieve in 21 or 28 days on a diet- because that’s just a snap shot. I want to see my clients find sustainable nutritional health over the course of months and years. And this is done through figuring out your own personal nutritional lifestyle as opposed to a cookie cutter diet.
Change How You Think About ‘Diets’
My primary issue with any “diet” is the mindset surrounding what a diet actually means. When someone says “I’m on a diet” there is an implicit start and end point. So, what happens at the end of the ‘diet’? That is, assuming you were able to make it that far. Depending on the protocol, there’s usually some sort of “reintroduction” period after you complete the diet, where foods that were restricted get slowly reintroduced. More than likely, regardless of whether you make it through a diet, most will eventually yo-yo back to their original nutritional habits- thus the previous 4, 8 or 12 weeks were basically for naught.
Rather than looking for the perfect diet, you should seek a nutritional lifestyle that fits your needs exactly- and is repeatable week in and week out. Thinking about your food intake as a lifestyle versus a diet is a great initial mindset shift, because there’s no end to a lifestyle. I can’t say what the best nutritional lifestyle is for everyone because we’re all so different. What I put into my body responds totally different than what someone else puts into theirs. I can though recommend some guidelines to help shape your own nutritional lifestyle.
Lose The Scale
It might be a little bit scary if you’ve always relied on a scale for a measurement of progress, but my first recommendation would be to throw the scale out the window. Regardless of whether you’re trying to bulk up or cut down, learn to put less of an emphasis on a body weight reading. Go instead by feel (how clothes fit is my favorite measurement)- you’ll certainly notice you dropped some belly fat when you have to go an extra 2 holes on your belt to keep your pants up!
The problem with a scale is that it doesn’t tell the full story, and there’s so many variables to that number staring back at you. A scale isn’t telling you that muscle weighs more than fat- that you can tone up and your abs will start to pop out, but that number on the scale may not change because the muscle you’ve replaced the fat with is denser. If I’m only basing my progress on the scale, then I’d be discouraged anytime I didn’t see movement in the direction I was seeking.
Also, once the addiction to the scale happens, most people are weighing themselves every single day looking for fluctuations. Again, this will only cause mental distress regarding your progress. If you are insistent on getting a number off a scale, look to weigh yourself at most bi-weekly, if not monthly. And make sure when you get this number, keep the variables the same- for example: first thing in the morning and try to keep it on the same day of the week- that will be your best reading. But try your best to transition your mindset regarding weight loss/gain based more towards “feel” as opposed to a number.
Keep It Simple With Meal Frequency
Some people say 6 small meals a day, others say 2 big meals, still others say the traditional 3 meals is your best bet…it’s up to you to determine which style of eating works best for your lifestyle. A lot of us work in careers where having 6 small meals per day is just not feasible because we can’t be eating throughout the work day. Others though, need those in between meals to get through the mid-morning and mid-afternoon crashes. I’d recommend starting with 3 moderate meals and if you need a healthy snack of nuts, vegetables or a protein shake, in between any of those meals, add them in as needed.
The key is, when you pick your meal frequency, to be consistent with it to determine which number is right for you. If one day you’re having 6 meals and the next day you’re having 2 and then the third day you have 4, it’s going to be difficult to determine which works for you. Hone in on a number of meals- even if it’s a range like 3-4 meals per day, so there’s not drastic differences- and be consistent for 4-6 weeks. Be honest with how your body feels and make adjustments from there based on what works best for your schedule. If you feel like your pants fit better but your energy levels suffered, then add in an in between healthy snack to your main meals. Conversely, if you felt like you were run ragged with meal prepping and were getting frustrated by the amount of Tupperware you were running through daily, try cutting back on the “in between meals” and see how your body responds. You want a sustainable way of eating, day in and day out, and if you’re not in love with the process, it’ll be very difficult for you to be consistent long term.
Not All Carbs Are Created Equal!
In today’s fad diet world, carbohydrates are the enemy. The issue is, to label all carbohydrates as “bad for you” is not an accurate statement. The best way to think about carbohydrates in relation to a healthy lifestyle, is to: limit the cardboard carbs– which are simple carbohydrates such as crackers, chips, pizza, cookies, etc. that do little for your body except get turned to glucose and eventually stored as fat. Gravitate instead to complex carbohydrates such as legumes, veggies and whole grains, which are high in fiber and offer a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that will vastly improve your health. Therefore, to say all carbohydrates are bad, and avoiding them completely, is not a good idea. Seek a well-balanced nutritional lifestyle, with everything in moderation- even the carbohydrates.
Healthy Nutritional Lifestyle Parameters
In a perfect world, every meal would include the following:
- Lean Protein (eggs, chicken, fish, lean red meat)
- Colorful Veggies (broccoli, peas, carrots, bell peppers)
- Complex Carbohydrate (sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa)
Fat (Unsaturated Fat- i.e. avocados, pecans, almonds)
- Most effective as a snack because of their satiation qualities
- 8-20 oz of Water
fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth
- Snacking on fruit endlessly is not a great idea because of the amount of natural sugar in it, however, using fruits as a way to satisfy your sweet tooth is a great hack to avoid the dessert drawer. As long as you can stay away from the cool whip and chocolate sauce while you’re having fruit, take advantage of the natural sweetness and allow fruit to be your “dessert” at the end of a meal.
Unfortunately, we are not perfect beings, nor do not live in a perfect world, so if one meal per day can have all of these components, you’re going to be on the right track. Just make sure the other meal or two (or three) have some of these components and you’re still ahead of the game. For example, every breakfast may not include a veggie omelet with a small bowl of rolled oats oatmeal. It’s okay if breakfast is just regular eggs and a small whole grain English muffin- just keep it within your “healthy meal parameters” and stay away from the Lucky Charms and Pancakes.
Once you have basic parameters down for each meal, don’t worry so much about getting caught up in the macro side of things- unless you’re on track to be doing a fitness competition or you are a high-end athlete. For everyday Janes and Joes, macros will only drive you crazy. Remember, the whole idea is to keep your nutritional lifestyle simple and easy to replicate day in and day out, week in and week out. At some point, your motivation to get out a food scale and weigh all your food for the week, will fade away- then where are you left? Just get used to the idea of moderation.
Rather than worrying about g/kg of body weight for your macro intake, try these principles instead:
fill your plate the most with veggies and the protein of your meal
- Use the vegetables to satiate yourself (curb hunger)
slowly and give yourself a few minutes before determining if you want a second
- A lot of times once the food settles, you’ll realize you don’t need that second plate of food
- If you do decide you need a second plate of food, again gravitate to the veggies and protein
- Drink water liberally throughout the meal to further satiate yourself
Forget Trying To Be Perfect ALL the Time
Cheat meals become the downfall of a lot of healthy eating habits. Because we live in an all or nothing society, it seems most people are either attempting their 10th try at Keto or eating take out several nights a week- with no in between. Our nutritional lifestyle DOES NOT have to be perfect in order for it to be effective- it just needs to be consistent. Most diets wind up failing because there is such a rigidity surrounding how strict they need to be- once a cheat meal happens the wheels fall off and we think “F**k it- I might as well eat what I want. The diet’s blown.”
The main adjustment to your nutritional perspective is to look at your meals from a weekly perspective rather than daily. Regardless of the number of meals per day, consider that you roughly have 21 “main meals” per week (breakfast, lunch and dinner). If you make positive food choices for 19 out of those 21, that means 90.4% of your meals were healthy. Famous Physical Therapist, Gray Cook, once said at a conference I attended: “If you do anything 90% of the time, you’re going to have damn good results.” And he is 100% right. As long as you’re able to throw the brakes on if/when you have those 2 flexible meals (I’d recommend them being non-consecutive for best results), you’re going to be well on track to maintaining a healthy nutritional lifestyle.
Deprivation will also lead to the demise of healthy eating habits as well. Rather than thinking in the negative, change your mindset to think more in the positive regarding your food choices. For example, rather than saying to yourself, “I can’t have the box of TastyKakes after dinner.” Instead say to yourself, “I can have some fruit and yogurt as dessert tonight.” When you feel like you’re being deprived, it will lead to more often nutritional benders. Therefore, be careful with your negative thought processes, and every once in a while, give in to your cravings, but nip it in the bud before it leads to several consecutive poor nutritional choices.
At the end of the day you can listen to my nutritional advice, you can seek the help of nutritional coaches, dietitians, etc. but the bottom line is you need to find the nutritional lifestyle that works for you. It doesn’t matter what results other people have gotten eating this way or that, you need to figure out how you can consistently eat the most healthy. Understand that you are your best guinea pig. Try different meal times, or drinking 120 ounces of water to satiate yourself, or a meal replacement with a quality protein shake. Don’t be afraid to make these adjustments, just be consistent with the change and honest with how your body responds after 2, 4 or 6 weeks.
Forget the archaic method of weighing yourself and make adjustments based on “feel.” Pay attention to types of food that make you feel abnormally bloated, or your energy fluctuations throughout the day relative to your food and caffeine intake. Strive to stay within the meal parameters I laid out, and use the 90% rule for the week. Don’t beat yourself up over a cheat meal- embrace it and get back into good nutritional choices starting with the next meal.
Remember that 21 day fixes rarely work, and mostly result in yo-yoing back to where you were. “Diets” plain and simple don’t offer long term solutions- rather, you should be seeking a sustainable nutritional lifestyle that will yield results for years, instead of 2 or 3 weeks. In this coming week, I challenge you to be conscious of the meal parameters I laid out and keep in mind the 90% rule if you wind up having a cheat meal or two.
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.