There’s so much information out there that it’s easy to become confused. I’ve been training and coaching people for over 30 years. I’ve been able to work with and observe some of the most successful and accomplished fitness professional in the industry and see first hand what they did to achieve results. Because I managed one of the top Golds Gyms in the world for 8 years, I was able to evaluate the results of various programs not just for weeks or months, but for years. That girl who lost 40 pounds, did she keep it off? That guy who won all those shows, how did he look 2 years later? Those people who trained 2-3 hours a day, what ever happened to them? I got to actually see both sides of the coin.
A few years back I wrote a book titled, “The Diet That Works!” It’s a book that teaches people how to take their current diet and turn it into a diet that will work best for them. It’s a way to develop your own custom diet based on the most effective and successful fitness nutrition principles.
We are all on some type of diet. A diet is simply the sum total of all the foods and beverages we consume during the day. So, whatever you eat and drink regularly makes up your diet. The question is, how do you make your diet work for you?
The ideal diet should not be some temporary fix but a lifestyle approach to eating that puts you in control of your health, energy and appearance. When it comes to weight management, there are some basic dietary principles that will work well for most people pursuing a fitness lifestyle. It’s really not that difficult to implement them into your life.
Begin by writing down everything you eat and drink (along with the times) for 5-7 days. You have to create an awareness of what you are actually consuming and see what your body is used to. A big key in creating the right diet for yourself is starting from where you are. There is no magical number of calories to automatically jump to. You don’t want to start so far below your normal daily caloric intake that your body right away begins to resist your efforts. You want your initial new diet to be sustainable and not a shock to your body, lifestyle, or budget.
Look at your list and identify the obvious obstacles that are holding you back. This usually involves those non-necessary fun food items like cake, cookies, candy, chips, pizza, wine, ice cream, etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever have these things, you just can’t have them to the extent that it will inhibit your progress. This is different for everyone. Some people can have some “fun foods” almost everyday while others struggle to make progress if they go off-plan once a week. Use your list to determine just how often and how much of the potentially problem causing items you are having. Once you know this, you can begin to get this under control.
From your list determine how often you actually eat during the day. Ideally you want to eat 4-6 meals a day spaced over every 3-3.5 hours that you are awake. When you go a long period of time without eating it can trigger your body to start conserving energy which it will do by slowing your metabolism. Also, those prolonged periods without food can cause a dip in your blood sugar level which can then cause overeating later due to cravings. More importantly, this food delay can cause a blood sugar spike when you finally do eat. Your body (pancreas) will secrete insulin to lower that excess blood sugar and try to convert and store it as fat. So even when you are not eating too many calories, your body can still be triggered to store what you do give it. No, it’s not just as simple as calories in versus calories out. Our body is an ever changing, open system that makes adjustments over a period of hours, not at the end of each business day like a bank. And since the body prioritizes survival first, it will try to store calories any chance it gets. Why give it a reason to?
Now, this doesn’t mean that if you’re only eating twice a day you need to jump up to 6 meals tomorrow. Start with 3 meals a day and work your way up over time. The goal is to give your body an optimal amount of nutrients. It’s extremely difficult to do that in only three feedings or less. And while overeating can cause you to gain weight, under-eating can keep you from losing weight. So giving your body the ideal amount of calories it needs each day is a lot more effective for long term weight management. And it’s simply a lot easier to do that consistently with more meals. Plus, if you actually plan and eat regular meals you are less likely to experience cravings and less likely to snack on those unwanted “fun foods” we mentioned earlier.
Make sure you are actually having complete meals and that each meal has an adequate amount of protein. The difference between a snack and a meal is that meals have structure. 20-25 grams of protein at each meal should be a minimal amount for most physically active women in good health, 30-35 for most men. Women who are involved in more intense training including anaerobic weight and resistance training can easily need 30-35 grams per meal or more, men 40-45 generally speaking (the more meal you eat the less protein you will need at each meal). Protein is made up of amino acids that are essential to the body. It must be consumed at regular intervals throughout the day for optimal utilization. Protein is also slow digesting and thermogenic (causes heat production) so is ideal for contributing to becoming leaner. Protein also helps to stabilize that all important blood sugar level that we mentioned before. The very first thing to consider when putting together each meal is including enough quality protein.
Create the right nutrient and caloric balance by adding complex carbs and/or some healthy fats to your protein choice. A big mistake that “dieters” often make is under-eating. If you don’t give your body enough calories at meal times, it’s almost as bad as missing a meal entirely. You can avoid this by making sure that you properly structure your meals. Every serving of protein should be accompanied by a serving of complex carbohydrates or healthy fats or both. It is not realistic and potentially unhealthy to try and get too many of your daily calories just from protein. Your body needs other nutrients and those will be found in the complex carbs and fats that make up the balance of your diet.
Carbohydrates are not your enemy. They are a great source of energy and nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, etc. The key is to have the ideal amount and type for your goals, and to position them in your diet where they provide you with the most benefit. Fat has also gotten a bad rap. Your body needs healthy fats to function properly, both saturated and unsaturated. Many nutrients we consume are fat soluble and will be poorly absorbed if your fat intake is not adequate. Plus, fats are very important for many bodily functions including proper hormone balance and production. The ideal diet needs to be about more than just calories, it needs to nourish your body properly so that it can best support your fitness goals.
Generally speaking, you want to place the majority the complex carbs you eat during your most active periods, which is earlier in the day for most people. Also, it’s ideal to place some complex carbs at the meal right before your workout for adequate energy, plus right after training to maximize recovery. The meals that don’t have complex carbs (remember every meal should have protein) should contain a serving of healthy fat and can also contain fibrous carbs (veggies with little to no starch). A typical fitness diet of 5-6 meals a day would have 5-6 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 food choice options for you:
Lean Protein Options- chicken breast, turkey breast, eggs and egg whites, lean steak like eye of round and flank, various types of fish, Greek yogurt, low and nonfat dairy product, etc.
Complex Carbohydrate Options- brown rice, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, kidney beans, black beans, apples, oranges, peaches, pears 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.
Once you get your meals structured properly, then it will be easier to assess your daily caloric needs and make the right adjustments. Remember, start from where you are and only make small to moderate changes to your food intake at any one time. Your body will only change so fast and only lose body fat so fast, trying to force it beyond what it is able to do will quickly lead to failure and feelings of frustration. Learn to listen to what your body is telling you. It’s fine to use the scale, pictures and measurements as tools to help you track progress. But don’t let them define who you are or how you feel about yourself. Don’t overreact to an unwanted result. Slow changes are usually more permanent. Losing 1-2 pounds a week if your goal is weight reduction is very good progress. Adjusts your calories via food selection and/or amounts, or by increasing your activity level, to keep you progressing.
Finally, you must learn to believe in yourself. Change takes time so don’t beat yourself up for not being there already. If you have a bad day, let it go and simply get back on track. You don’t need to be perfect to be successful. Take things one day at a time and keep trying to do better. You are worth the time and effort you are putting into yourself and the results you get will be well deserved. Taking a lifestyle approach to healthy dieting will give you benefits in addition to achieving your ideal weight. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with looking and feeling good.
Write down everything you eat and drink.
Eliminate excess fun foods.
Check your eating frequency.
Make sure each meal has adequate protein.
Place your complex carbohydrates around your most active times.
Include healthy fats at your meals that don’t have complex carbs.
Implement a regular exercise program including some anaerobic and aerobic training.
Stay patient, positive and consistent.