Let’s face it, we’re human and we love food! That’s a good thing. Being on a diet to lose those unwanted pounds is not about starving yourself or only eating a bunch of stuff you don’t like. It’s about making better choices and incorporating foods that are good for you, yet still enjoyable. The word “diet” doesn’t mean keep eating less and less, your diet is simply the sum total of what you eat each day. All you need to do is make your day-to-day diet one that allows you to reach your goals.
The first step is simple. Write down everything you eat and drink each day for 5-7 days along with the times. You have to create an awareness of what you’re actually doing before you can improve it. If you can see the problems then you can solve them.
Once you have your food log, look it over and note those obvious items that are holding you back. This doesn’t mean you can never have them again, but the pizza and cookies and ice cream and donuts and alcohol and chips can all add up to be a problem. Your food logs will tell you how much you’re having. Your body will tell you if that is too much.
Next you want add structure. You want to space your meals out relatively evenly throughout the day for better digestion and assimilation of the nutrients. Try to eat 4-6 meals each day, eating every 3-4 hours or so. Going long periods without eating can play with your blood sugar levels and create cravings, making it more likely that you will grab something less than desirable. By eating on schedule when possible you put yourself in control.
A proper diet is not about caloric restriction, it’s about giving your body the right amount of quality nutrients for maximum energy, recovery, body composition control, and metabolic activity. Even when trying to get leaner you always want to diet on as many calories as possible. It’s simply a much better approach for lasting long-term success.
Each meal should have a target amount of protein, usually 25-40 grams or more depending on various factors. It should also contain a serving of complex carbohydrates and/or healthy fats. The fewer meals you eat, the more calories from protein, carbs, and fats you’ll need to have at each meal. While the protein amounts should be pretty constant throughout the day, you can adjust your carbohydrate and fat intakes to match your energy needs for different days or different times of the day to match your energy/activity needs. This, along with having eliminated or minimized the high fat, high sugar, high alcohol “fun foods” will allow you to take control of your caloric intake better and start seeing some results.
You don’t have to be overly aggressive with reducing your calories in the beginning, especially if you’re starting or increasing your exercise program. Make a moderate but sustainable change and then let your body tell you if it’s too much or too little. There is not a magical number of calories to simply compute and then jump to it. Everyone’s needs are different. Just start from where you are, make an initial adjustment, and see how your body responds. Shoot to lose 1-2 pounds a week. A bit more or less is fine but losing too fast initially can cause you to stall later, so don’t over do it.
In terms of overall diet structure, you want to place the majority of the complex carbs you eat during your most active periods of the day. Also, it’s ideal to place some complex carbs at the meal right before your workout for training energy, and right after training to maximize recovery. The meals that don’t have complex carbs (remember every meal should have a serving of protein) should contain a serving of healthy fats, and can also contain fibrous carbs (veggies with little to no starch). A typical fitness diet of 4-6 meals a day would have 4-6 servings of protein, 3-4 servings of complex carbohydrates, 2-3 servings of healthy fats, plus 2-3 servings of fibrous carbs. Below are some basic food choice options for you (obviously, avoid foods that you are allergic to or which give you problems).
Lean Protein Options- Chicken breast, turkey breast, lean ground turkey, extra lean ground beef, eggs and egg whites, lean steak (like eye of round and flank), various types of fish, Greek yogurt, low and nonfat dairy product, quality protein powders, etc.
Complex Carbohydrate Options- brown rice, red potatoes, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, yams, pinto beans, black beans, lentils, apples, oranges, peaches, pears, grapefruit, and other fruits, rye, wheat and other whole grain breads and pastas, etc.
Fibrous Carbohydrate Options- broccoli, spinach, kale and other leafy greens, asparagus, peppers, onions, squash, cauliflower, etc.
Healthy Fat Options- almonds, walnuts, peanut butter, almond and other nut butters, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, flax seeds and flax seed oil, mct oil, coconut oil, fatty fish like salmon, trout and sardines, etc.
When dieting to lose weight, if you reduce your calories gradually you won’t have as many cravings or energy crashes, and you’ll be able to stay a lot more compliant with your plan. You still have to live your life. You still need energy for work and daily activities, not to mention your workouts. You don’t want to risk shutting down your metabolism by restricting yourself too severely. You still want to and should be able to go out and enjoy that occasional fun meal with your friends. The goal is to develop a permanent eating lifestyle that puts you in control. First clean up the “fun foods”, then add some meal structure and make good food choices. Then you can learn to adjustment the food amounts and calories to manage your weight, maximize your energy, and optimize your health.