There is no ‘one size fits all’ diet that is perfect for everybody….
There are definite eating principles or ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ which are pretty universal when it comes to losing weight or getting fit & healthy, but it’s also important to have the flexibility to be able to modify an eating plan or develop a strategy to better suit your personality, work schedule, lifestyle, budget etc, to give you the best chance possible of succeeding.
The best diet plan for YOU, is the one that YOU can stick to (assuming it’s also effective in achieving the result you want)
So what we need are some options to choose from…
If we are given several weight loss eating plans or strategies to choose from, we can decide which one is going to be the easiest to stick to given our various life circumstances.
But the compromise is this:
YOU need to understand that good results don’t come easy, and there MUST be some level of self-discipline and maybe even discomfort with ANY strategy you choose.
Just choose the best one that you’re most likely to stick to which is going to be the least uncomfortable for you.
Here are 7 different options when it comes to effective weight loss eating strategies:
Tracking Your Calories
This is a well-known and quite traditional method of losing weight, at the end of the day it does work (at least to a certain point). If you’re the personality type that works well with structure and organisaion, then spend a few weeks calculating your calories and staying within a calorie ‘budget’ to help you drop body fat. I recommend using the ‘myfitnesspal’ app to keep track.
This is effectively addressing food quantities, but will also be quite an enlightening experience for you. You’ll soon learn which foods are the big culprits when it comes to exceeding your calorie budget, and for most people this will lead to at least some healthier choices.
I do still recommend you think about good healthy food choices when doing this strategy, whilst you can still get fat loss results just by reducing calories alone, keep in mind there are good calories and bad calories which will dictate your potential in the long run, not to mention the affect it can have on your overall health & fitness.
Go caveman styles
Now there’s plenty of diets out there which will have you eating healthier food, very similar in practice to a caveman or ‘paleo’ style diet, I just particularly like the easy to understand concept of ‘eating like a caveman’, people seem to just ‘get it’ and it gives you an easy frame of reference by which to make food choices without having to undertake your own nutrition course. I don’t think its necessary to go full hardcore Paleo (if you want to then great!), but it’s a great concept to start with.
So basically with this one, just don’t eat anything that wouldn’t be available to a caveman. This will cut out all the processed crap in your diet, is very effective for fat loss, and will improve your health dramatically.
So if not knowing what types of food to eat is the thing holding you back, this is the quickest way to empower you to be able to make those choices on your own.
Could you kill it and eat it? Pick it from a tree? Or pluck it from the ground?
If not then do your best to avoid it.
Good strategy – eat pretty much whatever you want, whenever you want and as much as you want – just keep it caveman styles.
Basically the gist is, you will alternate between days where you are allowed to eat carbs (on training days) and days where you will avoid or limit carbs (non-training days). So this strategy addresses both what you are eating, as well as how much you are eating.
After a strength training session, your body will handle ingested carbohydrates a bit better than at other times of the day, so we have a bit more leniency with carbs during these times, which is precisely what we want to take advantage of.
This is a really good strategy for those people who like to keep things simple and find it hard to commit or stick to a restrictive eating plan for more than a few days. From a psychological perspective, it’s a lot easier to cope when you’ve only got to restrict carbs for no more than a day or two at a time (plus it gives you a reward for your training efforts – train more = eat more).
If you want a more comprehensive rundown on carb cycling you can see an old post I wrote here.
The Cheat Day
This involves choosing one day per week where you don’t have to think about following your healthy eating plan and you can eat whatever you want. The caveat is, you have to be spot on with your nutrition for the other 6 days of the week – lots of good healthy nutritious meals, and no slip ups!
This strategy can be very helpful from a psychological standpoint, it’s a lot easier to be disciplined throughout the week if you know there’s an end in sight and you can treat yourself on the weekend. If you’re craving for pizza for example, you don’t have to grit your teeth and never have one ever again, that is mental torture – all you have to do is wait a few days and you can have it.
Having a cheat day can even be beneficial from a weight loss standpoint (within reason). When restricting calories & in particular carbohydrates for a week, certain hormones in your body will start to drop which will limit your body’s potential for burning fat, having a cheat day will ‘reset’ these hormones preventing this from happening. A lot of figure competitors, fitness models and bodybuilders will schedule in strategic ‘cheat days’ for this very reason.
Keep in mind you can obviously overdo it with your cheat day, if you’re eating 2 large pizzas, a bag of potato chips, a bottle of coke and a tub of ice cream all to yourself then that’s a bit much. Most people will find that after 6 days of healthy eating, once cheat day comes around they tend to under-do it rather than overdo it, usually one or two cheat meals which stray from the plan is enough to satisfy.
This refers to choosing regular periods where you will completely ‘fast’ or not eat at all. There has been recent studies which show that fasting has several health benefits ranging from improved cholesterol to improved insulin sensitivity (which plays a big part in how well you’ll tolerate carbohydrates).
We now also know that eating frequent small meals has been shown to have NO effect in terms of speeding up your metabolism as was thought to be the case for along time by many health & fitness professionals (myself included).
Basically whether you eat 6 meals per day, or 3 meals per day, it will make NO difference to weight loss as long as calorie intake is the same.
Fasting has been around for centuries, and is included in many religious practices so it’s really nothing new, but its hasn’t been till the last few years that it’s actually been studied and people are using this strategy to lose body fat and improve health.
Intermittent Fasting is really nothing fancy and doesn’t need to be confusing; it’s basically just giving yourself certain ‘blocks’ of time where you will not let yourself eat. I personally find this strategy very easy and straightforward, and think it can be a great approach for many people.
A common setup is to limit your eating ‘window’ to an 8-hour period every day, and fast 16 hours of very 24 hour period.
This is not as hard as it might sound, 8 hours is plenty of time to eat enough food.
Personally, for the majority of the last year, I have restricted my eating to an 8 hour window between about 1-2pm and 9-10pm. I have noticed a lot more energy during the day as a result and stress way less about food and having to prepare meals (like breakfast) and it doesn’t bother me if I don’t eat at regular intervals or specific times.
I also much prefer eating less during the day and eating the majority of my food with my biggest meals in the afternoons / evenings.
This setup just works well for me and my personality / preferences, and if it sounds like something that could work for you, maybe give it a try.
Effectively for most people, if you were to follow this same approach, all you would have to do is remove breakfast and make lunch your first meal of the day, whatever time you eat lunch is the start of your ‘8 hour eating window’. So if lunch is at 12pm, you need to finish eating for the day by 8pm.
Especially good strategy if you hate eating breakfast in the morning and find you just force yourself anyway OR if you tend to eat not so good breakfasts that aren’t conducive to your goals anyway. Spending half of your day in a ‘fasted’ state, (morning to lunch) can also be beneficial in terms of burning body fat as an energy source.
You could start your 8 hour window anytime you want though really, it doesn’t HAVE to be setup like this. You could eat breakfast at 7am and stop eating for the day at 3pm. (this would be a lot harder to do from a psychological standpoint though in my opinion)
As mentioned, studies have shown actual physiological benefits from intermittent fasting, but it’s also another way of addressing food quantity – if you have less time to eat food in a day, you will most likely eat less food.
One Habit At A Time
If you’ve been ‘dieting’ on and off for years, and just can’t seem to stick to a ‘weight loss’ eating plan or a ‘health kick’ for any good length of time, then slow and steady might be the way to go for you.
For all the diets and strategies to pick from, sometimes it’s as simple as recognizing the need to change those deeply engrained daily habits that are specific to YOU, addressing them, and knocking them off one by one.
Identify and remove your bad habits, adopt some new good habits, and all of a sudden you’re doing things a lot differently and getting great results.
Some of examples of bad habits to remove one at a time might be:
– Buying junk food and keeping it in your pantry (to tempt you)
– Drinking alcohol with dinner every night
– Sleeping in and skipping training
– Snacking on sweets every afternoon
– Not preparing your own lunch every day so you have to buy it
– Sugar in your coffee
Some examples of good habits to adopt one at a time:
– Going grocery shopping every Sunday to be prepared for the week
– Making your own healthy dinners and taking leftovers to work the next day
– Exercising at a regular time and day and being consistent
– Ensuring you eat some veggies with every meal
– Stretching / foam rolling tight muscles every night when you watch TV
– Taking a fish oil supplement very day
If this sounds like a sensible approach for you, get out a pen & paper and write a list.
What are the daily habits hindering your results?
What is one habit you can implement today which will be easy, AND a step in the right direction?
Choose an easy new habit you’re SURE you can maintain, focus on that one thing for a month then keep working down the list. If you’ve tried in the past to completely overhaul your diet all at once and failed…. as the old saying goes – slow and steady wins the race.
(Bad) Meal Replacement SUPER Shakes
There are often bad connotations with meal replacement ‘diets’. A lot of the ones we hear about often recommend super low calories, which just won’t work in the long term and are very hard to stick to.
Whilst a solid meal containing real whole-foods is the ideal situation, there’s no getting around the fact that it does take time, planning and preparation. Meal replacement shakes may not be ideal, but it can still be a hell of a lot better than a solid meal based around unhealthy food choices, and its definitely easier and more convenient. Realistically the number 1 obstacle for most people when trying to eat better is time, planning and preparation.
If you’re constantly struggling with a particular meal and have done so for a while, (breakfast and lunch are the most common) then resign to the fact that you’re having a tough time preparing your own meal, and you’re not likely to find anything healthy when eating out. It might be time for a different approach.
If this is you then maybe you need to just replace those meals with a quick, easy, tasty and HEALTHY meal replacement, I like to call them SUPER SHAKES.
Here’s what I would include in a super shake:
– Scoop of high quality whey protein poweder (we stock very high quality and great tasting protein powder at the gym)
– Water, or half water & half Rice Milk, or almond Milk
– WHOLE punnet of strawberries or blueberries (or half of each)
– BIG handful of baby spinach (I promise you cannot taste the spinach in a super shake!)
– Natural Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt optional
– All blended up into a delicious smoothie.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a super shake like this, plenty of nutrients, plenty of healthy calories so you won’t starve, and it’s quick and easy to make. So if you’re stuck eating toast for breakfast and you’re buying a sandwich for lunch and you just can’t manage to break that habit, super shakes might be your answer.
In fact if you just CANNOT get a handle on your food at all and you need a completely different approach, you could have a super shake for breakfast, a super shake for lunch, and all you need to do is prepare a healthy, nutritious dinner. Having to think about 1 meal per day is a lot easier to manage than 3, plus most people will tend to spend a bit more time with their dinner and be a little more structured for that meal anyway.
So there we have it, 7 eating strategy’s to choose from depending on what suits YOU best and will be easiest for you to stick to. Keep in mind that you can combine some of these approaches too, for example the way I eat is a combination of – caveman eating, intermittent fasting, the cheat day and sometimes I’ll rely on the super shakes.
I hope this has given you something to think about, now its time to structure your own eating strategy which you can stick to, and get great results!
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