The word 'diet' gets a bad rap. Nowadays it's associated with everything from marketing gimmicks to bouts of starvation and the elimination of every food you love. I say this because when I reference the word below, I'm using it in its purest form...defined simply as "the kind of foods that you habitually eat."
Is there such a thing as a healthy AND sustainable diet? One that doesn't cause you to devour junk food like Joey Chestnut every time you're hungry? A diet that doesn't feel like a 'diet' at all? Eating healthy, just like fitness, is a gradual progression. You adopt small, new habits over time and commit to them as a regular part of your lifestyle. A good diet should allow you to enjoy your favorite foods in moderation without suffering any major setbacks to your health goals.
I've experimented with many 'diets' over the years and while I don't think a single one is perfect, I have discovered a few key principles from each that have helped me to stay lean, strong, and consistent. In no particular order....
1. BMR and Calorie Deficit. If your goal is fat loss, you need to consistently maintain a calorie deficit in order to see your waistline shrink. This is mostly dependent on your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR (calories your body burns daily in a sedentary state) and your daily activity level. Calculating your BMR is the easiest way to determine what your daily calorie intake should fall below. You can use the below link to determine your BMR. On days that you train with me or complete one of my at home workouts, add 500 calories to your BMR. If that's not incentive to workout more, I don't know what is.
2. Know your macronutrients (or macros) - Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. As I mentioned in my previous post, protein is the building block of muscle and critical in aiding recovery. Carbohydrates and fats both aid in energy production, though carbohydrates tend to be used for immediate energy needs as they are broken down by your body more rapidly. Fats help regulate everything from body temperature to hormone production and cell function. Of these three, be aware that fats are the most calorie dense per gram. Protein = 4 calories per gram. Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram. Fats = 9 calories per gram.
3. Be mindful of your daily caloric intake. While a phrase like "calorie deficit" might sound like a miserable exercise in deprivation, the total amount of calories you've consumed throughout the day is what matters most when it comes to fat loss. Don't be fooled by what you may have heard...it's not when you eat or how big your portion sizes are. Skip breakfast and eat a giant meal before bed if you don't believe me. This is why programs like Weight Watchers and Zone Diet have been so successful...you don't necessarily have to eliminate your favorite foods but you need assign them a place in your diet. 200 calories can be one hot dog, a snickers bar, 6 cups of broccoli, or giant handful of grilled chicken. If you own a smartphone, there's a free app called MyFitnessPal that has nutrition information on almost any food you can think of (even alcohol). Start to monitor!
4. Eat more protein. I'm a broken record when it comes to this rule. Most people don't realize how little they're consuming daily. Increasing your protein intake will decrease your appetite for other foods, provide sustained energy throughout the day, burn fat, and help build Lean Body Mass (LBM)....your body's fat burning furnace. Make it your goal to consume 3/4 of your bodyweight (lbs) in grams of protein DAILY (ie 200lbs = 150 grams), working your way up to .8 - 1 gram per pound. To help you visualize....1 oz of meat (chicken, steak, fish, etc) roughly amounts to 7 grams of protein. Buy yourself an inexpensive food scale (WalMart sells one for less than $5) to get an estimate of how much you're currently consuming. Above is an example of someone who committed to a protein rich diet for 9 months...
5. Ease off High Glycemic Index (GI) foods. Glycemic Index measures how quickly carbohydrates in our food cause blood sugar levels to rise. Because foods on the higher end cause blood sugar levels to increase rapidly, regular consumption can lead to a disruption of carbohydrate metabolism and increased circulation of insulin. The less sensitive your body becomes to insulin, the more likely it will trigger mechanisms for fat storage. Examples of High GI foods include sodas, breads, pastas, potatoes, rice, chips, cereals, cookies, fries, crackers, sweeteners (honey, sugar, etc), and beer.
6. Eat this, not that. While the calorie based model is a good starting point for those that are trying to adapt to a new diet, it doesn't take into account the way your body processes macronutrients. Case in point - regular consumption of High GI foods can disrupt your metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and won't provide anywhere near the amount of nutrients contained in healthier food options. Someone who goes on an all Twinkie diet to hit their 1800 calorie mark won't see the same results (in terms of body composition) as someone who consumes the same amount of calories from a more wholesome diet. Not to mention how awful you'd probably feel from eating Twinkies all day. What should you eat more of?
Protein: Lean Meats, Turkey Bacon, Fish, Eggs, Fat Free Cottage Cheese, Greek Yogurt (sugar free)
Carbohydrates: Green Vegetables, Root Vegetables (ie. sweet potato), Peppers, Mushrooms, Black beans, Lentils
Fats (in moderation..ie. not more than half your bodyweight in grams daily): Nuts, Avocados, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil
Not that (too many to name but you get the idea):
Protein: Wings, Burgers, BBQ, Hot Dogs, Deli Meats, Cheese
Carbs: High GI foods....sodas, breads, pastas, potatoes, rice, chips, cereals, cookies, fries, crackers, sweeteners (honey, sugar, etc), and beer.
Fat: Margarine, Butter, Mayonnaise, Cheese
Note: You might've noticed that I left fruit out of these categories. While fruit is beneficial in certain circumstances (ie immediately before or after a workout for replenishing lost glycogen), they contain sugars which can hamper insulin sensitivity and fat loss. Treat fruits as a natural form of candy and ideally have them immediately (within an hour) before or after a workout.
7. Eat natural, whole foods and always read the label. Humor me for a second and read through the nutrition facts and ingredients on the can or box next time you're aisle shopping. Sodium nitrate, sulfites, and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are just a few common preservatives you might find on the label. While these are great for making sure your food stays edible for a year, they're not doing any wonders for your body. Many other aisle foods are loaded with high frutose corn syrup, enriched flour, sugar alcohol, hydrogenated oil, and strange additives. These include many so called healthy foods labeled as "gluten free", "zero calories", or "low carb". Regular consumption of these foods can lead to hormone disruption, increased appetite, and increased risk for chronic disorders ranging from heart disease to diabetes. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients, the better. Remember to shop along the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid aisles when possible.
8. Eat more fiber. Foods high in fiber help regulate blood sugar, enhance fat loss (via boosting insulin sensitivity), and lower the risk of heart disease. Ideal sources include green vegetables, beans, nuts, and cauliflower. While foods like oats, prunes, berries, and bran muffins are high in fiber, they're loaded with far more sugars and High GI carbohydrates than the greener alternatives.
9. Carb Cycling. While this principle requires an extreme amount of dedication, especially on the weekends, I can promise you it's one of (if not the best) tool for enhancing insulin sensitivity, hormone regulation, and fat loss. It works like this...on days that you train with weights (or do one of my at home workouts), increase your carbohydrate intake (in grams) to 3/4 of your bodyweight and ensure your fat intake (in grams) does not exceed 1/2 your bodyweight. On days that you are sedentary/resting, lower your carbohydrate intake to 1/4 of your bodyweight and increase your fat intake to 3/4 of your bodyweight. This is fairly easy if you're consuming your carbs in the form of green vegetables. Protein intake will stay the same on both days..ideally .8-1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
10. Food prep. Oftentimes when you're hungry, all dietary bets are off. One of the last things you're motivated to do after a long day at work is spend an hour preparing a meal. Same applies to going out to eat during your lunch break. Prepping your food in advance will help break this trend, so break out your apron and tupperware containers. There's no shortage of recipes online, but please try and adhere to the food guidelines listed above. I've found the slow cooker (aka Crock Pot) to be a useful tool for meal prep if you find yourself pressed for time during the day. Prep the night before, refrigerate, and turn it on before you leave for work.
Nutrition is absolutely critical when it comes to fat loss and you can't out train a bad diet. If you find yourself stagnating, take a moment to reflect on what excuses are keeping you from progressing. I'm too busy. I don't like to cook. My significant other/family doesn't eat the same foods that I do. I hate vegetables. What are yours?
Commit to changing TODAY and look at this as an opportunity to start building habits that you'll keep for the rest of your life.