The most common questions I get, whether it be via social media or in person, from a friend looking to make a positive change, all pertain to nutrition.
It’s an area that I see a lot of people struggling with, and I suppose it’s with good reason. There seems to be a constant stream of new fad diets, superfoods and “hacks” that, rather than making things more accessible, serve merely to muddy already murky waters.
If we look at the rising obesity levels and the vast amount of lifestyle-related diseases, we can see that the Standard American Diet (S.A.D) isn’t working. And if you want to look like the model on the cover of the magazine, then you have to do the things the model on the cover of the magazine does. Which means food scales, Tupperware and an experience not unlike doing your math homework every time you sit down to eat your boring as fuck meal of chicken and broccoli.
However, in between these two extremes lies a sweet spot and it is this area that I will focus on in this article.
For those who want to be healthy, energetic and live in the ballpark of lean, there is a more straightforward path.
It is the path of habit-based nutrition and It doesn’t involve apps, or calculators.
It is simple, instinctive and proven.
It’s made up of 5 lessons that, when applied, will make eating in a healthy, supportive way extremely simple.
#1: How to build a balanced meal
#2: Quality over quantity
#3: Eat less food
#4: Fasting is a superpower
#5: Smart supplementation
Before we get into more specific things, let’s get one thing clear.
No one perfect diet fits every situation.
In fact, diet shouldn’t be looked at as one single tool, but as the whole damn box.
Do you want to pack on 15lbs of lean muscle? There’s a diet that can help you do that.
How about drop 50lb of unwanted fat? Then there’s a diet for that as well.
There’s a diet for those wanting to run a marathon or compete in a weight class sport or for someone wanting to reveal a long lost six-pack, the list goes on. But, no one way of eating is perfect for all of those people, all of the time.
For the rest of you, the diet I’m presenting here will lead to the following results:
Effortless weight loss.
Improved energy levels
Make eating an instinctive and fun experience again
Help prevent lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, etc.
Allow you the freedom and flexibility to stick to the plan in every situation.
Will it make you six pack shredded?
It might, but it’s not really for that. It’ll more likely get you down to the kind of body fat levels where you are 6 – 8 weeks of more focused dieting away from that level of ripped.
Does it involve counting calories?
Not at all, in fact, you won’t be “counting” much of anything in this diet. It’s not that I don’t think Calorie Counting works, of course, it does.
Dr. Mark Haub proved with his “Twinkie Diet” that even the very worst food choices can still result in weight loss, assuming you can maintain a negative energy balance AKA caloric deficit.
I use calorie counting with a lot of my clients. especially as we start to get closer to their ideal weight, but I always make sure they begin by building good habits using the program I’m sharing here.
I have to give credit to Dr. John Berardi and the smart folks at Precision Nutrition for field testing these type of approaches across a sample size of hundreds of thousands of people and sharing the results with the rest of us.
Learning this new way of eating can take a little time, and it’s going to take some focus and discipline in the beginning but your health is certainly worth it, so stay the course, and soon enough all this will be effortless.
It’ll merely be the way you eat.
Let’s get started.
#1 HOW TO BUILD A BALANCED MEAL
The below infographics illustrate what your plate should consist of depending on whether its a regular type meal, a post-exercise meal or if you are a plant-based eater.
I have made these plates in restaurants and eateries all over the world, and it’s rare that I can’t make up some semblance of these and for those rare situations where you absolutely can’t make it happen, see #4.
The first plate is your Anytime Plate. This would be a meal that you consume as a part of your routine. This is the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The second plate is your Post-Exercise Plate.
How hard do you need to be training to earn it?
If you are working out at an 8 out of 10 level for 45 minutes or more, you’ve earned it.
The third is for those who follow a Plant-Based Diet and can be consumed as both an anytime and as a post-workout meal.
#2 QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
This straightforward strategy alone will do more for your long-term health and vitality than all of the fad diets in the world.
Remember the adage “You are what you eat?”, well if you eat crap, what do you think your body is going to become?
Simply by returning to the foods that have been proven over generations to be healthy, you can make healthy eating simple, instinctive and downright pleasurable.
This means both a diet high in vegetables, it means healthy fats and it means good sources of protein.
Let’s get into some of these in a little more detail.
When it comes to veggies, you should go both broad and deep. That is to say, you should eat a lot of different varieties, and you should eat them in large amounts.
Organic is preferable, followed by conventionally grown and with GMO crops coming in at the very bottom of the list.
An excellent way to know exactly what you’re buying is to look at the label.
If it is a 5 digit number beginning with a 9, then it is organically grown.
It it is a 4 digit number then it was conventionally grown but isn’t organic
If it is a 5 digit number beginning with an 8 then it’s been genetically modified.
My favorite way to remember all of that comes courtesy of Iron Man Triathlete/Cro Mags frontman John Joseph.
“Ignore the 4, Hate the 8, Dine on the 9”.
Although I don’t want to get to into counting Macros here, I want to point out that a lot of the “conventional wisdom” about protein intake comes from the bodybuilding community whose goal is to build ungodly (and oft times unnatural) levels of mass.
If posing onstage in your undies isn’t on your to-do list, then so long as you adhere to the ratios shown in the infographics above, you’ll be A-OK.
This is pretty much the boom time for plant-based protein, and the options seem to be expanding on a daily basis. I am a fan of Gardein products, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend trying the Impossible Burger, it holds up with any “regular” burger out there.
Eating a sick animal isn’t going to do much for keeping you healthy so make sure you invest in good quality meat and eggs.
Avoid factory farmed and processed animal proteins.
Look and purchase based on following terms:
Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Organic, Free Range, No Added Hormones, No Antibiotics
Another note on animal proteins, if we take a look at the Blue Zones, which are the areas of the planet in which people live the longest and stay the healthiest. We see that, while only one of the Blue Zones subsists on a pure vegetarian diet, they all consume a lot fewer animal proteins than recommended on the Standard American Diet.
Fats have experienced somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. It turns out that a lot of what was commonly thought about their relationship to heart disease was based on bad science.
Fats are essential for cellular and hormonal health and should be a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
I know there can be some confusion over good and bad fats and the ratios you should eat them in.
Hopefully, I can help simplify matters a little bit.
So long as you stay away from processed foods, you stand a good chance of avoiding the most heinous of the fats.
Steer clear of anything with Trans Fats in it and avoid margarine, canola oil, palm oil and other industrial seed oils.
As for the good stuff, try and eat some of these deliciousnesses every single day:
Coconut, both fresh and oil
Grass fed Butter
Pasteurized and grass fed meats
Fatty Fish and Seafood
The best sources here would be things like potatoes, both sweet and regular, quinoa, rice, beans and lentils.
You should aim for a 1/4 ratio of fruits to veggies.
#3 EAT LESS FOOD
Although this may sound obvious, most people drift into a state akin to autopilot when they sit down to eat. They focus on the television, their social media feeds or work and not on the food they are putting into their body, and thus they end up wolfing down much more significant quantities of food than they need.
The goal should be eating until you feel satisfied, not stuffed. By observing this rule, you ensure that the food you eat will give you energy, not leave you passed out on the couch in a food coma.
The best tactic to use to help develop this ability is to remove distractions and eat slowly and mindfully.
No TV, no phone. An exception can be made for good conversation with friends or family.
Take the time to appreciate your food.
Stop eating when you feel like you are at 80% full.
If you have eaten the right amount for fat loss, you might feel a little like this:
Immediately after eating: You might still feel a bit hungry but wait it out. That feeling should pass within 15 – 20 minutes.
1 hour after eating: You should feel satisfied with no desire to eat another meal.
2 hours after Perhaps a little peckish but it’s not overwhelming
3 – 4 hours after” Definitely feeling hungry, 7 or 8 out of 10 (with ten being ravenous”.
Not hungry yet? Likely you overate at the previous meal.
The old paradigm was ‘What is the most I can eat without gaining weight?’.
Your new paradigm should be “What is the least amount of food I can eat while maintaining energy, health, and performance?”.
#4 FASTING IS A SUPERPOWER
Fasting gives you the freedom to choose.
It gives you the freedom to enjoy your holidays, indulge in cake at parties and not be force fed garbage just because you have no other choice.
It gives you a plan B for pretty much all situations.
Stuck at an airport and it’s junk food or nothing? Choose Nothing.
Had an epic cheat day? Follow the Feast/Fast model and wipe the slate clean.
Worried that birthday dinner is going to knock your weight loss program off track? Fast through breakfast and lunch and have yourself a very happy birthday.
I promise no harm will come of a few missed meals now and then.
It will help you develop mental toughness and resilience and redefine your relationship with food as one that you, not your hunger pangs, have ultimate control over.
Fasting is a skill and like all skills it takes practice and patience to develop.
Once you have done your first few 16 – 24 hour fasts, it gets easier.
Personally, I fast 16 hours every day and have done for several years now. I also throw in a 24-hour fast every 7 – 10 days and go up to 5 days without eating a couple of times per year.
The longer fasts are less about weight loss and more about long-term health. Studies have shown the entire immune system gets a significant boost from going that type of duration without eating; it promotes mitochondrial biogenesis which means your body can generate more energy, it triggers Autophagy which is your bodies cleansing process on a cellular level and fasts of that duration can help upregulate your bodies fat burning metabolism.
Once you have been following #3 for awhile, you will already have become familiar with recognizing true biological hunger cues, as opposed to those bored hunger pangs.
The next step is to start by skipping a meal. I suggest starting with breakfast.
If you are a male, work up to 16 hours of fasting once or twice per week
Ladies, go for 14 hours.
Whether you choose to go all in on daily Intermittent Fasting or not, it is still a handy card to have in your pocket that will give you the power to choose whether or not to eat from a position of strength.
#5 SMART SUPPLEMENTATION
Although I subscribe to a Food First philosophy, it’s fair to say that getting in all of your essential nutrients strictly from your diet is a challenge for most people and it is for this reason I recommend a minimalist, although comprehensive, supplement regimen.
As with foods, choose organic, Non GMO and whole food sourced whenever possible.
In the brackets are the brands I personally use. I have zero financial gain from sharing them.
Greens Powder: Put simply this is a concentrated form of the nutrients that you would get from eating a large quantity of vegetables.
(Garden Of Life Raw Organic Perfect Food Green Superfood)
Multi Vitamin: Look for something Organic and Whole Food sourced (as in real food stuffs, not the grocery store..).
(Garden Of Life: Vitamin Code for Men)
Omega 3/Fish Oil:
(Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega)
Vitamin D: If you live in sunny climates and you get a lot of skin exposure to the sun then you can skip this one. Otherwise put this on the list.
(Nordic Naturals D3)
Probiotics: You can get these from food sources such as Kimchi, Sauerkraut or Kefir. If none of those tickle your taste buds then go the supplement route.
Meal Replacement Shake: Extremely useful for travel days and keeping in the car along with a shaker cup. Just buy a bottle of water and use 2/3 of the bottle to make the shake and the other 1/3 to rinse it out when your done.
(Garden Of Life: Raw Organic Meal)
All of the above can be found in plant based forms as well.
As you can see, these represent less of a goal focused diet and more of a lifelong way of eating. Once you have the above systems in place anything else you want to do from a dietary perspective becomes a lot easier to introduce.
If you decide you want to get down to single digit body fat, compete in a weight class sport or pack on some much needed muscle, then you will already have built a solid framework on which to hang some of the more advanced dietary strategies.
And more importantly, you will be eating in a way that supports your long term health. A way that is simple, instinctive and in tune with your body’s natural hunger cues.
If you would like to work with me personally on nutrition and/or training, I do work with a small group of people in an online format. Shoot me a message and let’s chat to see if we would be a good fit for each other.