Getting started diet guide: Improving your nutrition

Man eating a salad at a table

In this getting started diet guide for improving your nutrition, there are some things we will and won’t cover.

What we will cover:

  • The basics of good nutrition
  • Important nutrition principles for sustainable weight management
  • Accepting there will be challenges
  • Tough love, accepting your circumstances, believing you have a choice in change
  • The value in making things easier 

What we won’t cover:

  • Minutia. Like whether you should drink lemon water for fat loss
  • Advanced nutrition techniques like carb or calorie cycling
  • Specific diets like keto or intermittent fasting
  • Exercise
  • If Baby Groot is better than Baby Yoda

Getting started diet guide: The first place to start is always in your head.

When practicing health and fitness, when practicing anything. I can guarantee with 100% accuracy that a few things will happen.

  • You won’t always be motivated
  • At some point, you’ll feel tired
  • Stress will make things hard
  • You will get bored with it
  • At times you’ll feel like you have too much on your plate

All this is ok and expected. The best thing we can do is plan for them. One way to do this is with the if-then strategy.
If I’m not motivated, then I will [small action].

For example, if I’m not motivated to cook, then I will order a meal that I know is healthy and meets my calorie needs.

If I don’t have time to go to the grocery store, then I will order them online for delivery. And set this up to recur each week until I have more time. 

The goal isn’t to be perfect but to always do something. Even if it’s 1% better. 

Getting started diet guide: Tough love and the truth.

I’m 39 years old and single. This is because of the choices I’ve made. If I continue to make the same choices I’ll continue to live  like this.

Your health is where it’s at today because of the choices you’ve made and the habits you’ve built. If this makes you uncomfortable or hurts a little – embrace that pain. Pain is a very powerful motivator.

Humans naturally want to move further away from pain and closer to comfort.

But things can change. If you start making better choices, you’ll start building better habits. And the good news is you always have a choice.

  • There are things you can never control like the weather or someone else’s thought and actions.
  • You can control some things like your schedule and home environment.
  • Then there are things you have complete control over like your actions and your mindset.
spheres of control
                                 Thank you Precision Nutrition for the awesome graphic

This doesn’t mean these things are easy. But it does mean you can control them with practice.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed. Pick 1 or 2 things from the general improvements section.

Practice them until they feel automatic. Add a new habit after this. If you’re struggling with these 1 to 2 things ask yourself how you can make it easier to practice. Or try something else.  The idea is always something, never nothing. 

Change takes time

Stomp your feet and throw a hissy fit all you want. This is going to take a while. Sorry, 4-minute abs, and 30-day detox. For most people at least a year to build a strong foundation of good habits.

Avoid majoring in the minors.

the big rocks, pebbles, and sand
                                                              Image from Precision Nutrition

If your dog wanted to lose weight what would you do? You’d walk them more and feed them less. You wouldn’t put them on the keto diet, research insulin, or start putting butter in their water.

If you focus on the minors you won’t have enough room for the majors. 

Focus on the big rocks. The few things that will make the biggest impact.

  • Move your body more in ways you enjoy.
  • Create a calorie deficit if weight loss is your goal.
  • Eat more whole foods than processed ones.
  • Go to sleep
  • Practice some form of de-stressing

Lemon water, magic berries, and detox teas can wait. 

Make things easier to do.

I won’t bullshit you. Some sort of discipline is needed for long-term weight management. 

But you don’t need to try harder or have more discipline to the extent you may believe. Our environment trumps motivation, willpower, and discipline every time.

If there’s something you want to do make it easier to do it. If there’s something you want to stop doing make it harder to do.

Want to eat more veggies? Take them out of the crisper and place them on the shelf so they’re easier to see. Better yet, buy frozen ones you don’t have to prep and can heat up in the microwave.

Want to eat less junk food? Don’t keep it in the house. If you can’t do that make it harder to get to. For example, don’t keep cookies on the counter where they’re easy to see.

  • Start with the places you spend the most time
  • Next move on to the people you spend the most time with. Ask for their support
  • If you don’t have a great support system hire a coach

Are you treating this as a long term solution or a quick fix?

There’s nothing wrong with taking a trip to hardcoreville. Or following a restrictive diet so you can lose fat fast for your wedding in 3 months.

Getting ready for beach reason, revenge body, and 30-day challenges are all acceptable goals. But make sure to treat them as such.

Get good at the basics before leveling up. Build a strong foundation for sustainable habits first.

Getting started diet guide: Calories matter most

Calorie deficit, calorie surplus, and calorie maintenance. These are the only 3 diets that matter. And the only 3 diets that guarantee results.

  • To lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than your body needs. This is a calorie deficit.
  • To gain weight, you must eat more calories than your body needs. This is a calorie surplus.
  • To maintain weight, you must eat the calories your body needs. This is calorie maintenance.

If you’re not losing weight you’re eating too much even if you think you’re not. 

Not gaining weight? You’re not eating enough even if you think you are.

Because most people come to me wanting to lose some amount of fat and build lean muscle. Let’s look at it that way.

You can create a consistent calorie deficit over time in a few ways.

1). Restricting a macronutrient or food group.

How diets work

This is not my favorite method but it can work well for some. 

Restricting a macronutrient is what we could call a “diet.” The Keto diet restricts carbs. A vegan diet restricts animal protein. And the Paleo diet restricts grains, legumes, and dairy. 

If you currently eat these things, stop, and don’t replace the calories you will lose weight. Provided a calorie deficit is present.

2). Skip a meal or intermittent fast.

Intermittent fasting 16/8

If you currently eat breakfast, stop, and don’t replace the calories. You will lose weight provided you create a consistent calorie deficit over time.

3). Keep the same diet but eat less of it.

You reduce serving sizes at one or more meals. Skipping snacks could be another way to eat less of what you currently do. The idea is to be 1% better. Simple swaps and adjustments can go a long way.

4). Improve food quality.

Instead of a caramel macchiato and bagel with cream cheese you now have water, apple, and scrambled eggs. Whole foods will usually be less calorie dense and more filling. Thus, helping to create a consistent calorie deficit over time.

When it comes to weight loss calories matter most. But this does not mean they are the only thing that matters.

  • Quality of food matters
  • Sleep matters
  • Rest and recovery matters
  • Your relationship with food matters

Lots of things mater. But calories matter most with weight loss.

Getting started diet guide: General improvement (operation clean up your nutrition.)

Most diets agree on the same principles.

  • Eating fewer processed foods is a good idea
  • Adding more veggies is great
  • Eating protein is good for our health and physical performance. Animal or plant-based is a personal preference
  • Understanding when you’re hungry and have had enough to eat matters
  • Learning about calorie balance is important
  • Eat more whole foods and less processed foods.

Creating calorie awareness

A study from the New England Journal of Medicine shows us that calories matter most when it comes to weight loss, gain, or maintenance. This is regardless of whether the calories come from protein, carbs, or fat.

It helps to get a good idea of how many you need per day. A simple method is taking your body weight and multiplying it by the following numbers.

  • Fat loss: Bodyweight x 10-12
  • Weight maintenance:  Bodyweight x 13-15
  • Weight gain: Bodyweight x 16-18

Example: 150 pounds x 10-12 = 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day. This gives you 500 to 600 calories per meal with no snacks.

This isn’t perfect but it doesn’t need to be. It gives you a good enough idea of where to start.

If you want to get more precise the bodyweight planner from the NIH is the same one I use to create custom nutrition guides for my coaching clients

You can create calorie awareness by weighing food portions and tracking calories in an app. Calorie awareness can also be created by looking at nutrition labels or looking up nutrition facts online. 

Eating fewer processed foods and more whole foods

Whole foods include such foods as:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Whole grains; beans and legumes;
  • Minimally processed lean protein (e.g. a whole chicken, a steak, a piece of fresh fish, etc.)
  • Nuts and seeds for healthy fats;
  • etc.

But it can also include minimally processed or packaged foods, such as:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Bagged frozen shrimp and fish
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Tofu
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt

These foods provide you with the calories your body needs and keep you healthy and fit for a long time.

A great way to approach this is to jot down your 3 to 5 favorite proteins, veggies, fruits, starchy carbs, and healthy fats. You’ve just simplified your diet and made grocery shopping and meal planning crazy easy. 

Eat protein and veggies with the majority of your meals (creating balanced plates)

nutrition plate for men and women with portions

Studies like this from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are showing high protein diets are effective for weight loss. This is due to increased satiation from the meal. 

  • Men, start with 2 palms per meal. This is 40-60 grams of protein per meal.
  • Women, start with 1 palm per meal. This is 20-30 grams of protein per meal

Because vegetables are low calorie and high fiber. According to the Oxford Academy, incorporating them into your diet can increase satiations and decrease calorie intake. and add bulk to meals. Another benefit is the psychological advantage of adding something to your diet versus taking away.

  • Men, start with 2 fists per meal
  • Women, start with 1 fist per meal

Eat slow and check in with hunger during your meals

Slow eating has been shown to significantly reduce the number of calories consumed per meal (1)

Before eating ask yourself if it’s physical hungerer or if it’s something else. An acronym I picked up from Luka Hocevar is HALT.

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

If it’s physical hunger eat. Eat slow to give yourself time to feel full. Every few minutes check-in with yourself. Ask how much hunger you have on a scale from 1 (not hungry at all) to 10 (starving).

Avoid snacking if weight loss is your goal 

That handful of trail mix you’re eating once or twice per day is adding up. Create awareness around the serving size by weighing or measuring it. Or skip it altogether.

Hunger isn’t an emergency. Can you hold off a little longer until your next meal?

Again, is it something other than hunger? HALT.

Practice uniform eating and create go-to meals

Too much flexibility and randomness will mess with your nutrition and weight loss. It makes it hard to know this like:

  • The calories in foods and meals you’re eating
  • What you’re going to eat or get when you eat out

Studies are showing that variety leads to increased food intake. By eating the same few meals and adjusting them each week you make planning and prepping easy. This also makes for one less decision you have to make each day.

Uniform eating also helps you get a better idea of how much you’re eating. Thus, adjusting serving sizes is easier based on how you’re progressing.

What this looks like in the real world.

Breakfast

  • Option 1 – Apple, hard-boiled eggs, avocado
  • Option 2 – Banana, protein shake in water, a handful of nuts

Lunch

  • Option 1 – Rice, side salad with olive oil, grilled chicken
  • Option 2 – Plantain, Brussel sprouts, salmon

Dinner

  • Option 1 – Potato with butter, broccoli, steak
  • Option 2 – Rice, asparagus cooked in butter, turkey

Eat foods you like in the right amounts.

I know what you’re thinking – “I can’t eat the same thing every day.” Odds are if you took a good look at the diet you probably already are.

If you create meals you enjoy you won’t get bored. Progress isn’t boring. Boredom is good. It means you’re challenging yourself

Plan, prepare and build a routine around it

Choose 1 to 2 days each week to grocery shop, plan, and prep meals. Any two days will work, I like Sunday and Wednesday.

Why twice? To keep things fresh and give yourself the ability to change something if you want.

Keep your planning and prep simple at first. Despite what you see on Instagram most meals don’t actually look like that.

Buy chopped frozen veggies to save you prep time. Use fruit as a carb source instead of a sweet potato you’d have to cook. Rotisserie chickens and precooked protein can be useful when you’re pressed for time.

You don’t even have to plan and prep something healthy. The win is taking time to sit down and plan. You can level up from there.

Take action today

There’s a small section of the population that is extraordinary at something. Take Serena Williams for example. Why is she better at tennis then you are?

It’s because she got good at the basics of tennis. She practiced the fundamentals over and over again. Like forehands, how to serve, and backhands.

If you do the same with the nutrition you’ll get the same extraordinary results.

  • Create calorie awareness (Calorie balance is the most important part of weight management)
  • Eat protein and veggies with meals
  • Eat whole foods more often than processed ones
  • Have go-to meals and practice uniform eating
  • Build some sort of meal prepping routine
  • Eat foods you enjoy and don’t get overly restrictive

Nutrition and dieting are simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. 

Did the getting start diet guide help? If not, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

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