In a previous article, I outlined why diet plays its own, very important role, in fat loss. Although this concept is a very easy thing to understand, its not so easy to implement. Many of us still continue to overeat despite our knowing how it will negatively affect our waistlines and our health. Everyone who succeeds with and maintains their fat loss has found their own strategies for avoiding the Eat-monster, but for some of us, this will be a lifetime struggle.
I won’t admit to being perfect in my diet habits. I have no problem buckling down when it counts, but as most of you know, I like to eat. And I like to eat good food. There are a few things I do on a daily and weekly basis, however, that keep me from sabotaging myself on an hourly basis and I’m going to share them in the hopes that you may find them helpful as well.
Track your diet. This isn’t something you have to do forever, but if you can’t get a handle on your weight, you need to see where you are making your biggest mistakes so you can find solutions. Some people simply are not aware of the caloric content of the food they are eating. Read your labels, weigh and measure your food if you don’t have a label, and educate yourself on how to eyeball portions. Most nutrition information can easily be found by looking it up on your smart phone.
Like the title says, “Fat loss begins in the grocery store“. I’m very serious about that. Its why we say not to go to the grocery store hungry. If you have hungry, growing kids in the house, it can be a little harder to avoid some foods, but for the most part, I avoid buying junk and snack foods that I know I will find irresistable. When I do buy them, I make sure they are a healthier version such as baked chips, or low fat ice cream.
Stock your fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats or meat substitutes, and low calorie beverages like seltzer water. Stock your pantry with canned vegetables, potatoes, onions, beans, and rice. Keep some low fat chicken sausages, turkey meatballs, marinated chicken breasts or thighs, and/or meat substitutes in your freezer in portions you can easily thaw and cook in a short period of time. If you can, plant some fresh herbs in a window box or on your porch. My husband will tell you that I have a condiment problem and that the majority of the things in my fridge and pantry are flavored sauces, vinegars, vegetable or herb pastes, miso, flavored salts and oils, and an assortment of unidentifiable things that I should probably have discarded years ago. But there’s a method to my madness, ie flavor makes foods far more satiating. Which leads me to my next point.
Take an interest in the flavor of your food. With pretty much ALL the recipes available on the internet, there is really no excuse for eating bad, boring food. We all have different tastes and tolerances, but flavorful food is far more satisfying than bland food. It also doesn’t require a lot of effort. Just be smart and don’t rely on fatty ingredients to make your food flavorful. There are many ways to create great flavor without creating a large calorie count. For example, making a fruit salsa to serve on grilled chicken or fish or marinating some chicken thighs in teriyaki sauce before grilling them. Food kits like Home Chef can make preparing meals both easy and delicious. (Be sure to check your nutrition facts on your meal kits as well. You can always add additional vegetables and protein if you want to.)
Plan for when you can’t cook. The unfortunate side of avoiding all junk/convenience foods is that when you find yourself running out of time and options, it makes it very easy to just go to a drive-thru. Guess what? Almost all fast food restaurants (and many restaurants in general) have their nutritional information available online and they also have healthy options. If you know you will be hitting the Chik-fil-a or McDonald’s a couple times a week, plan out what you are going to order, check the fat and calorie content and try not to overdo it. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it. As long as you are tracking what you are eating, you will know when you need to back off.
You can avoid at least some of your drive-thru visits by prep-cooking big batches of food once a week. I routinely grill a large pack of chicken that I can keep in the fridge for any meal I please. You can pre-chop a bunch of vegetable for stir-fries or salads. You can pre-bake potatoes and sweet potatoes, make a large batch of rice, cous-cous, or oatmeal for reheating. A banana or an orange is always an easy thing to toss in your bag or your car and there is nothing wrong with pre-bottled protein shakes that meet your nutrition needs.
Stop getting hung up on the idea that you need to eat a certain way depending on the time of day. If you are hungry, eat a meal. It should be a good quality meal that has some sort of complex carbs, lean protein, and vegetables and/or fruit. Don’t shackle yourself with an antiquated meal schedule or by societal expectations. I think it does far more harm than good.
I have been coaching people for a long time and I’ve talked to a lot of them about diet. Some of you are going to feel personally attacked by this statement, but its true. The vast majority of people I have coached who have a hard time controlling their eating follow the same pattern. They get up and either only have coffee or have a “light healthy breakfast”. Then they end up eating a mid-morning snack because they are hungry. Then, at lunch time, they feel guilty for having snacked mid-morning and eat a light healthy lunch. Then they graze all afternoon up until dinner and again, they feel guilty and eat a light dinner and then end up eating again before bed. For the record, a lot of these “light” meals are just light on carbs and protein which is why they end up so hungry and/or tired. Believe it or not, “tired” is an eat trigger as well. We crave carbs when we are tired because our brain needs energy to function.
Do this instead: Start by not defining breakfast as “cereal or eggs or pancakes” or defining lunch as “salads or sandwiches”. Eat a big breakfast and make it a good one. Its okay if it looks more like dinner than what you’d order in a diner. When I was in Hawaii, there was a breakfast place near our hotel that would serve a seared tuna fillet with rice and a poached egg for breakfast. I’d have that and a bowl of fruit at 6 am (I was getting up at 3 because of the time difference so I was pretty hangry by then). When you get hungry again, have some fruit or just go ahead and eat lunch. Yes, eat lunch even if its only 10:30 in the morning. Again, make it a good one. If you don’t get enough energy calories and protein, you’ll be hungry again in an hour. You’ll probably want another small meal mid-afternoon which will set you up to be satisfied with a light dinner. No, you don’t have to sit down and eat a full meal with your family. Sit down with them, yes, but only eat what you need at that time. You’re done growing, your kids are not. That is a pretty easy way to explain the difference in what’s on your plates.
If you really want something before bed, have a serving of ice cream or a glass of milk. Think about whether or not you could have eaten more during the day or if its just something you need to get used to. Hunger is what fat loss feels like. By eating this way, you are consuming the energy calories your body needs when your body needs them. By the time your day is ending, you shouldn’t need much unless you are a growing child/teenager. The timing will be different if you are a shift worker or you do your workouts late in the day, but I think you can figure that out.
When I need to cut weight, I tend to have a complex carb with lean meat or fish for breakfast, fruit or a fruit smoothie with protein for second breakfast, more lean meat and beans with vegetables for lunch, an ice cream break in the afternoon and by dinner time, I didn’t need much if at all. Its not actually a whole lot of calories, but it is a lot of fiber, vitamins, minerals, my daily protein requirement, a modest amount of carbs, and not too much fat. Yes, I do get hungry at first when I make the switch, but that goes away and when it periodically comes back, I drink more water and/or eat an orange or banana to take the edge off.
Last thing, I’m going to pick on some of the folks I’ve counselled over the years and share this: Don’t read all these recommendations and say things to yourself such as “Well I can’t. . .” or “I don’t like . . .” or “I need . . . “. If what you’re doing is working for you, it will show. If its not, well, you have to change something. Change is hard, but you have to stop talking yourself out of it.
Truth is, when I was training like a strength athlete (or figure competitor), I ate like one. I ate a lot. I ate a ton of protein, a ton of carbs, and kept my fat low. For me, that wasn’t fun and I got pretty sick of it. I’m back to just light bodyweight work and a lot of walking these days and so I don’t really need to eat as much as I used to. I am more concerned about the quality of my meals these days. I still hit the drive-thru now and then, but I know I feel better when I eat more fruits and vegetables and leave the processed crap in the grocery store.
Anyway, if you feel you need to lose some fat, take an honest look at what kinds of foods (and drinks) you regularly run into in your house and have an honest conversation with yourself as to whether those foods are helping or hurting you. Its probably time to re-write your grocery lists and take a look at the nutrition info of the restaurants you frequent. These are simple things to do and implement. It may not be easy, but change rarely is.