4 sustainable nutrition habits for weight loss

I’m giving away the 4 sustainable nutrition habits I teach to all of my online nutrition clients. Get good at these 4 practices and you will be eating healthier and losing body fat with minimal effort and no deprivation. 

Habit #1: Eat mostly balanced plates

Goals

  • Eat at least 1 balanced plate per day (eventually working up to 2-4)
  • Eat mostly home-cooked balanced plates
  • Progress and not perfection.

i.e. if you eat 3 meals per day that’s 21 meals per week. 17 balanced plates would be 80%. This is amazing!

What is a balanced plate?

A balanced plate is a meal with a serving of protein, non-starchy vegetables, carbohydrates (starchy or fruit), and healthy fats. Preferably cooked at home.

balanced plate

Portions

Below you will find serving sizes for one portion of protein, veggies, carbs, and fats. If you need two servings, simply double it.

  • Calories = number of calories on average per serving
  • Macro = number of grams of that macronutrient (i.e. 20 grams of protein)
  • Weight = the weight of the item if you put it on a food scale
  • Hand portion = one serving using your hand to estimate
  • Example: 1 palm or 100 grams of chicken breast may be 110 calories, and 23 grams of protein.

Example: 1 palm or 85-115 grams of cooked bison may contain 122 calories and 20 grams of protein

protein list

Example: 1 fist or 87 grams of cooked broccoli may contain 30 calories and 6 grams of carbohydrate

Example: 1 cupped handful (1 medium) or 150 grams of cooked potato may contain 115 calories and 26 grams of carbohydrate

carbohydrate list

Example: 1 thumb or 14 grams of almonds may contain 82 calories and 7 grams of fat

healthy fat list

Example day of balanced plates

Meal 1:

  • Protein: Greek yogurt + protein powder
  • Veggies: None
  • Carbs: Banana
  • Drink: Black coffee
  • Fat: Almonds

Meal 2:

  • Protein: Deli turkey slices
  • Veggies: lettuce, tomato, baby carrots, cucumber slices
  • Carbs: High-fiber bread
  • Drink: Zero-calorie beverage
  • Fat: Avocado

Meals 3:

Protein: Lean steak

  • Veggies: Broccoli
  • Carbs: White rice
  • Fats: Olive oil
  • Drink: Water
  • Seasoned to taste

Snack:

  • Protein and fat: String cheese
  • Carb: Apple

I recommend setting aside an hour to plan 4 to 8 balanced plates you feel confident and comfortable making and rotating regularly. Use the recipe index and meal planning guide I have provided to help simplify the process.

Notes:

  • Veggies in the morning can be tough sometimes. Feel free to substitute a piece of fruit.
  • If eating a fatter cut of protein (salmon, beef, eggs, you may not need to add fat to the meal as they already have it. Feel free to omit it.
  • If you’d like to eat a lower-carb meal every once in a while that is ok. Simply focus on protein and veggies.
  • When dining out use the same principles and hands to estimate portion sizes
  • If you’re a vegetarian most of your protein sources will be combination foods.

Habit #2: Purposely wait 4-6 hours in-between meals

Goals:

  • Wait 4 to 6 hours between meals and identify what type of hunger we are experiencing.
  • To eat a regularly scheduled meal times
  • 80% or more consistency

I.e. If you eat 3 meals per day that’s 21 meals in a week. Practicing at 17 meals would be 80% consistency

Why practice this?

Most of us eat for many reasons, often not related to hunger and this is OK. Registered dietician, Dan Feldman describes this below.

“In the book “Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach,” the authors discuss several “voices of hunger.” We can all benefit from acknowledging the following voices of hunger:

Biological hunger: This is characterized by physical sensations such as gurgling in the stomach, growling noises, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, stomach pain, irritability, feeling faint, or headache. Not everyone experiences biological hunger in the same way. We typically feel it when we haven’t eaten in a while.

Taste hunger: We may eat because something tastes good or the occasion calls for it. For example, we might eat a scoop of ice cream with the family on a hot summer day – not because we’re hungry, but because it’s summer and we want ice cream.

Practical hunger: When we plan ahead. For example, if we’re going to a concert that lasts from 8-11 pm, and our only eating opportunity is at 7 pm, even if we’re not hungry yet we’ll still probably eat anyway, so we’re not ravenous at the concert. (Why is food at concerts so fucking expensive?)

Emotional hunger: When we eat to quench uncomfortable feelings, such as loneliness, boredom, or anger. Many of us derive a sense of comfort from tasty food, so it sometimes becomes a go-to when we’re dealing with difficult emotions.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with eating for reasons other than physical hunger. While some goals may lend themselves to eating based primarily on physical hunger, we’re also humans, not robots. And as humans, we sometimes eat for reasons other than physical hunger — there is nothing wrong with this.

Simply becoming more cognizant of the different voices of hunger is hugely beneficial for improving your relationship with food.”

This practice allows you to learn more about when you’re physically hungry and when it’s something else.

We’re also looking to eat at MOSTLY (not all the time) regularly scheduled meal times. This is to help regulate appetite and not let ourselves get too hungry.

How to practice this

Part 1: Purposely wait 4-6 hours between meals.

Are you physically hungry between meals or is it something else?

  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired
  • Bored
  • Stressed
  • Excited
  • Just need a break
  • Procrastinating
  • Thirsty
  • It’s what you’ve always done (i.e. post-dinner treat in front of TV)
  • Because it’s there

Write down or take a mental note of what you notice. Chances are you’ll start to see patterns

Part 2: Get a rough schedule of your meal times based on your schedule.

Schedule your meals 4 to 6 hours apart. A range allows for flexibility. The idea is to eat before you get too hungry.

  • Meal 1: 8 am-8:30 am
  • Meal 2: 1 pm-1:30 pm
  • Meal 3: 7 pm-7:30 pm

Take notes of what you notice. Are you getting antsy for a snack around 4 pm? Is it related to physical hunger, are you tired, or something else? If it’s physical hunger, maybe this is an opportunity to plan for a light snack. If it’s not, maybe this is an opportunity to try something else.

Choose an action to take during this time.

During this time, choose a specific action to practice some self-care.

  • Journal
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Walk
  • Deep breathing
  • Listen to music
  • Puzzles
  • Just sit and be still
  • Have a conversation with someone
  • Anything that fills your cup

What if I am physically hungry or am not sure if I am physically hungry?

Try the Take 5 strategy. Try sitting with it for 5 minutes, have a glass of water, or use one of your self-care tools.

Hunger is not an emergency, it’s just a little uncomfortable.

If you’re still physically hungry permit yourself to eat something. Choose snacks that can fit in one palm. Aim for fibrous, protein, or high water-content foods.

  • Fruit
  • Turkey slices
  • Cottage cheese
  • Protein bar
  • Beef jerky
  • String cheese
  • Raw/crunchy veggies
  • Small handful of nuts/seeds

Fruit list

protein snacks

high protein snacks

Photo credit: MNU

Have a plan after eating

After you finish a meal, give yourself something to do. This can be a great way to give yourself time to check in with hunger and fullness cues.

Also, it distracts you from going back for seconds when you’re not physically hungry.

  • Clean up and do the dishes
  • Go on a walk Read

Write/journal

  • Work on a puzzle
  • Pursue a personal interest or hobby

Try and choose something active and less passive so that you’re engaged in the activity.

Habit #3: Eat slowly and mindfully

Goal:

  • To eat slower than normal (15-20 minutes if possible)
  • to recognize when you’re 80% full, and purposely stop eating
  • Aiming for 80% consistency If you eat 21 meals per week, practicing at 17 would be 80%.

How to practice this:

For as many meals as possible take a break every 2 to 5 minutes and put your utensils down. Place your hand on your stomach and ask yourself (out loud or intuitively) how much hunger you have on a scale from 1 to 10.

Hunger scale

Tips to help practice

Eat slowly: It takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes for your stomach to register signals to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. By eating slowly you give yourself a chance to feel full.

  • Put utensils down between bites
  • Use chopsticks to naturally slow you down
  • Eat without distractions
  • Take a sip of water or a deep breath between bites

At restaurants: Ask restaurants to take your plate away immediately (or ask for a to-go box). You’ll likely keep picking at it if it sits there.

Wasting food: If you’re afraid of wasting food because of money try looking at how much is on your plate and assigning a monetary value to it.

  • How much rice are you leaving on your plate – 25 cents?
  • How much pizza are you leaving – 75 cents?

If you relate wasting food to starving kids or people in other countries please know that you’re not helping them by eating food when you’re not physically hungry. Instead, donate money to an organization that helps to feed them.

Take a 5-minute break: If you have a hard time assessing whether you’re physically full or not. When 75% of your meal is complete take a 5-minute break. If you’re out with others, simply start a conversation to distract you for a little. If you’re alone, give yourself a brief task. You can always come back to the meal later.

Habit #4: Create calorie and nutritional awareness

Goal

  • To learn more about what and how much you’re eating
  • To build skills that lead to more intuitive eating in the future
  • Not to judge what we’re eating as “good” versus “bad” or healthy versus unhealthy. But to simply create more awareness.
  • Aim for 80% consistency

Why practice this?

You don’t have to count calories to be successful, but calories do matter when it comes to fat loss. To lose body fat you have to create a calorie deficit. You can do this in several 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 and eating less calorie-dense foods
  • Controlling portion sizes by using your hands
  • And more

For today, we’re looking to improve calorie awareness by taking on two small tasks.

  1. Reading labels or looking up nutrition info online or in an app
  2. Learning about calorie density and choosing foods that fill us up without a ton of calories

calorie density

Mission 1: Read labels and look up nutrition online

We are notoriously bad at estimating how much we’re eating. So this week 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.

nutrition label

  • If you’re eating anything without a label (an apple or a slice of pizza 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 1,000 calories.

Find your recommended calories per day to reach your goals. This will give you an idea of how many calories to take in per meal. For example, if 2,100 calories are needed to reach your goals. You’ll know this averages out to 700 calories per meal with 3 meals and no snacks per day.

We’re not judging what we’re eating. We’re simply creating more awareness around what and how much.

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 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.

calorie density

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 our consumption of them based on our current goals.

calorie density of foods

If you’re up for it, look for a few places to swap some calorie-dense foods with less calorie-dense foods.

  • Orange instead of orange juice
  • Side of fruit or side salad instead of fries
  • Mustard in place of mayo
  • Seltzer water with lime instead of soda or an adult bev
  • Fresh fruit instead of dried fruit or trail mix
  • Zucchini noodles instead of regular

Take action exercise

  • This week learn more about the foods you’re eating and how much by reading labels and looking up nutrition info online. Look at things like serving size and calories per serving.
  • Make a couple of simple swaps this week. Grab the small ice cream instead of the large. Swap orange juice with an Orange. Drink a glass of water after an adult beverage. Include a serving of veggies or fruit with most meals

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