Today I’m not going to tell you what to do. Because deep down nobody wants to be told this. We want to build autonomy. Instead, I’m going to make some simple diet set up recommendations that have worked for the majority of my personal coaching clients.
You get to choose if you want to apply some of the simple diet and lifestyle ideas, or ignore them and move on to another diet and fitness blog.
Simple Diet Set-Up #1: Create Calorie Awareness
Before we jump into a simple diet and lifestyle set-up you’ll see two words used fairly often – “good enough.” Many of us get wrapped up in perfection. When dieting perfection isn’t needed – good enough is.
Get a good idea of how many calories you need each day to reach your goals. Is this perfect? No. But it’s a good enough place for you to start.
- Fat loss: Bodyweight x 10-12
- Maintain weight: Bodyweight x 13-15
- Gain weight: Bodyweight x 16-18
You don’t need to count calories to be successful. But as Yale researchers showed us, for fat loss creating a calorie deficit is important.
Use this number to give yourself a rough idea of how many calories to eat per meal. For example, if 2,100 calories are needed to reach your goals, and you like to eat 3 meals a day with no snacks. You now know this is roughly 700 calories per meal.
You can look at nutrition labels or nutrition info online to learn more about the foods you’re eating. Apps like Myfitnesspal, Lifesum, Chronometer – and websites like Calorie King can help with this.
In order to lose body fat, you have to create a calorie deficit. This is non-negotiable and there’s no getting around it.
You can do this in a number of ways.
- Weighing portions and tracking your calories in an app.
- Follow a specific diet like keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, or vegan and eliminate entire food groups (or macronutrients like carbs or animal protein)
- Improving the quality of foods you eat, eating less calorie-dense foods, and controlling portion sizes by using your hands
Today, we’re looking to improve calorie awareness by taking on two small tasks.
- Reading labels or looking up nutrition info online or in an app
- Learning about calorie density and choosing foods that fill us up without a ton of calories
Mission 1: Read labels and look up nutrition online
We are notoriously bad at estimating how much we’re eating. So today we’re going to create better awareness by learning about the calories in the foods we make at home and when we go out to eat.
- If you’re eating anything with a label pay attention to the serving sizes and calories per serving.
- If you’re eating anything without a label (an apple for example) look it up in an app like MyFitnesPal or Calorie King. Simply type in the food and learn about the calories in different serving sizes.
Before going out to eat see if the restaurant provides nutrition info online, and choose what to get before you arrive. If not, see if they have the nutrition info on the menu when you get there.
Interesting that the salad you were thinking of getting is actually 1,000 calories ?
Take note of the recommended calories per day to reach your goals. This will give you an idea of how many calories to take in per meal as you eat out or create meals of awesome on your own.
Mission 2: Choose less calorie-dense foods
Calorie density can simply be summed up as more food with fewer calories.
More specifically, it’s the number of calories in a given weight of the food. A food high in calorie density has a large number of calories in a small weight of food (i.e. olive oil). A food low in calorie density would have a small number of calories in the same weight of food (i.e. broccoli).
Choosing foods lower in calorie density is important because these foods are satiating and fill our stomachs without adding tons of calories to our diet.
Generally speaking, vegetables and fruit are the lowest in calorie density, followed by whole food starches, animal proteins, and finally liquid calories, nuts, seeds, and oils. Highly processed foods like cookies, candy, ice cream, and fries would also be calorie-dense foods.
Now, this doesn’t mean we can never eat these foods. It just means to be aware of them, eat them in moderation, and adjust the consumption of them based on our current goals.
For now, reading labels and looking up nutrition info online to learn about the foods you’re eating is helpful.
If you’re up for it, look for a few places to swap some calorie-dense foods with less calorie-dense options.
- Orange instead of orange juice
- Side of fruit or a side salad instead of fries
- Mustard in place of mayo
- Seltzer water with lime instead of soda or an adult beverage
- Fresh fruit instead of dried fruit or trail mix
- Zucchini noodles instead of regular
Simple Diet Set-Up #2: Appetite awareness
Something to keep in mind with hunger. It’s not an emergency.
Nothing is going to happen if we get a little hungry. It’s just uncomfortable sometimes and a little hunger can be a good sign.
If you’re always feeling hungry there could be some interesting things going on.
1). Are you actually physically hungry?
It’s easy to get physical hunger confused with something else. Physical hunger can feel like an empty stomach, stomach growling, light-headedness, headaches, moodiness, lack of energy, or weakness.
Signs that it might NOT be physical hunger but something else.
- Have you been working really hard for hours and need a break
- Did you walk past some food and did the sight or smell trigger the desire to grab something to eat?
- Size of dishes, packages, and various containers
- Sweet, savory, fatty, salty, etc..
- Crunchy, creamy, tough, or chewy
- Colors look appetizing, the packaging does too
- A particular memory with a meal or food or the way a certain food makes you feel. Stress, anxiety, desire, discomfort, pain, happiness, excitement, etc…
- Social situations where people are eating, cultural traditions, peer pressure
- Habits like watching TV
- Mental, I need this food, I want this food, I’m supposed to eat this food.
As you can see there are many things that can make physical hunger with wanting to eat confusing.
When you want something to eat but are not sure if you’re physically hungry. Try rating your hunger on a scale from 1 to 10.
- 1—Starving and might eat a person if given the chance
- 2—Very hungry, cranky, low energy, lots of stomach growling
- 3—Pretty hungry, the stomach is growling a little
- 4—Starting to feel a little hungry
- 5—Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
- 6—A little full, comfortably full
- 7—A little uncomfortably full
- 8—Feeling stuffed
- 9—Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts
- 10—So full you feel sick
As you eat, continue to check in with this scale every few minutes or as 25%, 50%, and 75% of the meal is consumed. Do this one more time a few minutes after you’ve finished eating.
2). Feeling hunger when dieting or trying to lose weight is very natural and should be expected.
Feeling hungry can also mean that fat loss is happening. Your body may be recognizing this and is trying to get you back to homeostasis – eating the same amount of calories you did before. Just being aware of this natural process can go a long way.
3). Notice when you’re full and stop eating.
When you’re full ask the wait staff to box up a meal and don’t be afraid to throw it out. Put utensils down and get up and move around if possible.
4). Enjoy the meal (not just another thing to get done).
Eating can often feel like another thing we have to do. Make take to eat by scheduling it in. Enjoy your meal.
Simple Diet Set-Up #3: Eat 2-3 Balanced Plates Per Day
When you wanted to improve your diet in the past, what have you done? If you’re like most people you tried to completely overhaul your diet overnight.
Maybe that meant going Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian, Keto, Low fat, South Beach, or detoxing.
What usually happens a few weeks in?
- You forgot to prepare one of the meals
- Didn’t have enough time to go grocery shopping
- Were having a rough day and decided that ice cream was a good solution (sometimes it’s the only solution ?).
Trying to change everything at once is tough.
In his book The Power of Less, author Leo Babauta describes the strategy of doing less to achieve more.
This has helped him to quit smoking, lose 65 pounds, run a marathon, triple his income, write multiple books, completely eliminate his debt, and create multiple online courses.
Oh yeah, and he’s a father to 6 kids, a husband, and a full-time writer. Below is what he noticed about making a change in his life.
- When he tried to change only one small thing in his life, he succeeded at doing so about 85% of the time.
- Two things simultaneously, he succeeded only about one-third of the time.
- Three or more things simultaneously, he almost never succeeded.
Today you’re going to take a page from Leo. Using a simple diet template, make 1 healthy meal per day for the next few days.
A simple meal template
- A serving of protein (chicken, beef, fish, tofu)
- A serving of veggies (broccoli, spinach, asparagus, salad greens, kale… just kidding. Kale is gross)
- A serving of healthy fat (olive oil avocado, butter, omit if your protein is fattier like eggs or beef)
- Smart carbohydrates (rice, potato, fruit)
- Zero calorie beverage (water, unsweetened tea, black coffee)
Why not create a bunch of different meals?
Because simplicity is your friend. You’re a busy person and the less you have to think about what you’re going to eat the better.
An example of dinner:
- Protein: Chicken
- Veggies: Broccoli and carrot
- Healthy fat: Olive oil
- Carbohydrate: Rice
- Season as necessary with salt and your favorite spices or spice blends
Dominating 1 meal per day is now your new normal. If the rest of your day gets crazy – you know you dominated 1 meal and created a tiny win for yourself. You can always level up from here.
Please don’t let perfection be the enemy of good enough. If you can’t make the perfect meal template you’ll be fine.
- Stay protein and veggie-focused (can’t get carbs, can’t get fat, cool. No worries.)
- Adjust foods based on personal preferences
- Monitor your progress and reduce or increase portion sizes as needed
And yes, you read that right. 2-3 meals per day. Intermittent fasting is a tool in your arsenal you can use.
Simple Diet Set-Up #4: Eat More Whole food
Most diets agree on the same principles.
- Eating fewer processed foods is a good idea
- Adding more veggies is a good call
- Eating protein is good for our health and physical performance. Animal or plant-based is a personal preference.
- Understanding hunger and fullness is important
- Learning about calorie balance and energy balance helps too
While it’s nice to tell ourselves that we’re going to eat 100% clean, is that realistic? Are you never going to have pizza, ice cream, beer, or wine ever again? Probably not. Those things are delicious and hard to resist.
And a little secret – you don’t need to give those things up to be successful. A diet that is made up of MOSTLY whole foods that are minimally processed is good enough.
What are 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;
But it can also include minimally processed or packaged foods, such as:
- canned tomatoes
- bagged frozen shrimp
- frozen vegetables
These foods provide you with the calories your body needs and keep you healthy and fit for a long time.
How to mix in whole foods and processed foods
Avery needs 2,500 calories to maintain its weight. If Avery eats A, B, or C diet they will lose weight.
Why? Avery created a calorie deficit. They’re taking in fewer calories than their body needs consistently.
As you can see. Some days Avery is eating uber clean. On other days they’re mixing in some processed foods.
Good nutrition isn’t about being perfect.
It’s about applying good and evidence-based nutrition habits “most of the time.”
For some, this may mean 70%, for others 80%, and yet for some 90%.
You’re not bad by having pizza, ice cream, or beer. There’s room for all foods in your diet. So long as they’re eaten in the right amounts for you and your goals.
So the next time you make a meal, instead of viewing it as a good or bad moral decision – try looking at it differently.
- This meal improves my performance.
- It makes me healthier.
- It helps me eat slowly and feel full longer.
- This meal helps nourish me but avoids foods that don’t feel good to me.
- Is enough to fuel me but not so much that it slows me down.
- Or something meaningful for you
Expecting yourself to follow a diet 100% is setting yourself up for extreme frustration.
Have a little self-compassion for yourself and remember this.
- Quantity of food and calories matters because it determines whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight.
- Quality matters because it can influence how much you eat. Higher quality foods usually lead to eating less, fewer cravings, and more health internally.
It’s always your choice. Enjoy what you eat too.
Simple Diet Set-Up #5: Sleep
Sleep is extremely important not only for physical performance but also for mental and emotional health. Every single physiological response in your body requires a certain amount of rest in order to run optimally.
I’m sure you’ve competed in a sporting event, had a test, or have had to take part in some other physically or mentally draining activity. If you’ve ever had to do these deprived of proper rest, you probably know how difficult this can make them.
Often resulting in a lack of concentration, fatigue (physical and mental), poor mood, and slower reaction times. It may have felt as if something was just “off” that day. In order to feel “ON,” good consistent sleep is necessary.
Quality sleep can help with:
- Physical and mental performance
- Optimism/Positive outlook on life
Hibernating like a bear also helps to naturally release human growth hormone (HGH) which is a big player in muscle and cellular regeneration. This means that you’ll be recovering and repairing much more efficiently.
Your immune system is working its hardest while you’re snoozing so a lack of sleep also contributes to a weakened immune system. This means that you are more prone to a virus, sniffles, or bronchitis.
Sleep deprivation can also be both acute or chronic meaning that the effects of poor sleep can be felt very quickly or over an extended period.
Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to:
- Increased risks of depression
- Obesity/Weight gain
- Inflammation in the body
- The ability to handle the daily stress that you and I face every day
- Physical performance
- Decreased sex drive
- Poor decision making
- Frequent colds or getting sick often
- Hormones are thrown out of whack
Plus, the longer we stay awake the more opportunity there is to overeat. It’s pretty easy to see just how important sleep is… so why aren’t we doing it consistently?
- Is it because we’re busy staying up late on Facebook
- Checking email
- Shift work
- Overcommitting to family and friends
- Watching television
- Doing nothing
- Wearing a lack of sleep as a “badge of honor?”
Most of the reasons we stay up late or don’t sleep much are related to priorities and personal choices as opposed to any real commitments and “HAVE TO DO’s.”
To overcome this let us build your sleep routine.
This is from a document Precision Nutrition gives to certified coaches and the one I go over with clients in my coaching program.
1). Keep a regular schedule. Our bodies like regularity. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time. With a regular schedule, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed and stimulating hormones to wake up.
2). Keep alcohol and caffeine moderate. Both will interfere with sleep. Try to avoid caffeine within 8 hours of your bedtime.
3). Eat and drink appropriately. A regular to smallish-sized meal about 2-3 hours before bed, one that is balanced in nutrients, can help facilitate sleep. Try not to drink too much liquid in the hours before bed, which will help you avoid waking up for bathroom breaks.
4). Do a brain dump. Take a few minutes to write out a list of whatever is bugging you. Whatever is in your brain, get it out and on to paper.
5). Turn off electronics. Digital devices stimulate our brains. I recommend unplugging from all screens at least 30 minutes before bed. This includes television, computers, and smartphones. The screens release a blue light that prevents our brain from preparing for sleep.
6). Stretch, read, have sex, de-stress before bed. Consider trying some yoga poses, reading, or meditation.
7). Go to bed before midnight. This is better aligned with natural light cycles.
8). Set an alarm to go to bed. Work backward and add buffer time: If you need to wake up at 6 AM and want to be in bed for 7 hours, start moving towards bed around 10:30 PM with lights out by 11.
9). Exercise regularly. Physical movement (especially outdoors) can promote restful sleep at night.
10). Take a bath or shower. A warm bath with Epsom salts or even a cool shower (depending on personal preference) can promote restful sleep.
11). Keep the room dark. This means curtains, shades, and/or a sleep mask.
12). Have a stress-free or clutter-free bedroom. Get rid of stacks of mail, boxes, clothes strewn about, etc.
13). Keep it cool. Anywhere from 60-68 F (15-20 C) appears to work best at night.
14). Use white noise. For instance, turn on a fan, humidifier or HEPA filter.
15). Get outside in the sunlight and fresh air during the day. Or, if you work shift, try to get lots of bright light and movement when you should normally be awake.
And no, you don’t have to do all 15 things to get a great night of sleep. Pick a few that feel right to you and try them out for the next month.
Simple Diet Set-Up #6: De-stress And Self-care
There are actually two types of stress, Eustress or a good type of stress. And for lack of a better term, Stress Stress or the not so fun type of stress.
Eustress (good stress): Is that anxiety you feel when you are doing something you really care about and is aligned with your values in life. Often expressed and felt as butterflies in the stomach, goose-bumps, and sometimes tears. This type of stress helps you to grow and become better.
Stress (Not as fun stress): Not as fun stress is often felt as pain. Now the word pain might automatically bring about thoughts of something you don’t want but this is how stress gets the best of you. If stress is able to convince you that this pain is something bad then it will win. It’s easy to become depressed, anxious, and paralyzed.
However, if you can flip it and realize that pain is only a sign that we need to change something – whether it be our diet, job, relationships, or even thoughts, then you win.
The interesting thing with stress is that we need a little bit of both to get us going. Too little stress and we’re unmotivated, bored, and stagnant. Nothing gets done because there’s no push and no real reason to get anything started or finished. Too much stress and we’re anxious, scared, and confused about what to do next.
And right in the middle is the sweet spot or what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. This is the place where everything is rolling.
So how can we get to that place and stay in that place?
The first step is getting clear on what you can and cannot control.
This is from a document Precision Nutrition gives to certified coaches and the same one I go over with clients in my coaching program.
Use the image below for the following exercise. Create your own on a piece of paper and fill it in.
Questions to ask yourself.
- What in my life do you have total control over?
- Some control over?
- No control over?
Review the diagram and test your assumptions. For example:
- Are you absolutely sure you have zero control over certain things? None? How do you know for sure?
- Are you absolutely sure you have total control over certain things? How do you know for sure?
Make sure each item holds up under critical scrutiny. Then, look at the circle and see where you’ve allocated everything.
1). Highlight the items under “total control”. Start there. You are the boss of those things. For the next few weeks, focus on making deliberate choices that reflect this reality. Control what you can actually control.
2). Think about the items under “some control”. What could bring them into the “total control” sphere? What pushes them out into the “no control” sphere? When and how could you control these items? Do you need to control these? For now, just think about them.
3). Let go of the items under “no control”. All you can do is manage and dynamically respond to these, using whatever behaviors and other factors that you can control. Release your grasp on things you can’t control.
The second step is getting clear on your stress.
Below I’m tying stress with stress eating. But the principles can be applied to stress in general.
1). Figure out what is meant when you use the word “stress”. “Stress” is a vague word, and because it doesn’t pinpoint any concrete problems, it doesn’t suggest any solutions.
You might find junk food to provide “relief”. Relief from what?
2). Framing realistic expectations around “stress” in general is important. Do we really want to eliminate all stress in our lives? Probably not. Life would be pretty boring.
Sometimes we have created this fantasy in our heads that if we didn’t have a job and had a personal trainer and chef, every day would be seamless, effortless, and we would have the body of a supermodel. Ummmm, no. That lifestyle creates its own set of challenges.
3). Eating secondary to emotions becomes destructive when it’s the primary way we deal with feelings such as loneliness, boredom, anger, stress or depression. Food doesn’t fix anything. It just makes problems feel a little further away – like any other drug.
4). Do you have any positive role models? Or, examples of how other people handle higher levels of stress in positive ways. Many of my clients have never had a positive role model for how to handle stress, so the only way they know is numbing feelings with food or procrastination.
5). Some of this might be rooted in reward/entitlement. In other words, some of my clients are never good to themselves…except with food. Some clients are never indulgent….except with food. Some of my clients are never irresponsible…except with food. If food is the only way to accomplish some of these, they will run into health problems.
6). Keep a stress journal. Take note of when you’re feeling stressed. What time of day is it? Who are you with, what are you doing, where are you (work, home, in a large crowd)? You’ll start to notice patterns around it. Build a daily routine around stress management
By now you’re probably noticing how important building a consistent routine is. This doesn’t change when it comes to your stress management.
- Schedule time each day to relax and unwind. The same time each day if possible.
- Take purposeful pauses during the day. Every 90 minutes or so take a brief break – as little as 5 minutes will do. Step outside, take a few deep breaths, sit back with your eyes closed.
- Take time each day to pursue a personal interest, have a good conversation, or do something for yourself. Again, even if it’s only a few minutes.
- Try different techniques and see what works well for you. Meditation, breathwork, cold therapy, hot bath or shower, massage, reading, walking outside in the fresh air, or maybe a sport or activity you like – play!
Two of the easier things you can do are take 5 and the core 4.
Take 5: Refresh your browser if you don’t see a video
The core 4 are questions to ask yourself at any point in your day if you’re feeling stressed and anxious. A simple way to check-in, slow down, and complete a mind-body scan.e
- What are you feeling, physically?
- How are you feeling, emotionally?
- What are you thinking?
- Based on this scan, what have you learned about yourself today?
I want to leave you with a couple of quick thoughts and tips as you apply the simple diet set-up concepts above.
- Be patient. My personal diet journey took 10 years. Yes, 10 fucking years before I figured it out. I don’t think it will take you that long but keep in mind that working on it is worth it.
- Have a plan after meals. Immediately after eating know what you’re going to do. Walk, read, work, etc.. This will keep you from eating more.
- Monitor your progress. In whatever ways feel meaningful for you. Weight, body girth, pictures, fat percentages, mood, journaling, how clothes fit.
- Go the fuck to sleep. Yes, go to sleep.
- It’s probably not the sugar
- It’s probably not the carbs
As always, thanks for reading.
EAT BETTER, MOVE MORE, AND TAKE BACK CONTROL OF YOUR HEALTH
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- Strategies for better sleep and stress management so you can be more productive, focused, and engaged in your day to day activities
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