We have a lot of posts here about how the foods you eat affect your body, and how to use that knowledge to achieve your goals. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, increase energy or boost your immune system, a healthy diet can be the key. But what if you don’t have the time or inclination to learn all that sciency stuff?
While really understanding how the foods we eat and the way we eat them impact our bodies and our health will help you to achieve your body image goals, we completely get that some of you just want a simple diet plan you can follow that will help you to lose weight, get fit and feel better. This post is for you.
A Simple Diet Plan
To permanently change how you look and feel, you’ll need to permanently change how you eat. And, you can’t do it overnight. If you try, I guarantee you’ll fail. Your body is accustomed to eating a certain way, and to having certain foods. If you suddenly make a drastic change to those habits, your body will rebel and you’ll be overwhelmed by cravings.
To implement the diet changes below, you’ll need to be prepared to do so gradually. When I changed my diet, it took two years to completely shift from the way I had been eating to the way I eat now. Every time I tried to speed up the process, the cravings knocked me off course and I had to start over.
The Two Keys
There are two keys to eating healthy. The first is learning to avoid the insulin spike. Don’t worry, I ‘m not going to hit you with all the science here. If you want to know, go read the article on Why We Get Fat. This post will stick to practical steps.
The second key is meal timing – simply learning to eat smaller meals spaced closer together rather than large meals spaced many hours apart.
Master these two keys and your body will respond by losing weight*, increasing energy and becoming more resistant to illness.
*Unless your goal is to gain weight, in which case follow the plan here but combine it with the information in the post on Eating to Gain Mass.
I promised no sciency stuff, so plain and simple, here’s how to eat to avoid the insulin spike that causes your body to store what you just ate as fat, and to trim off the fat you already have.
- Eat a diet high in proteins such as meat and eggs. If you’re vegan, you’ll need to research the seven essential amino acids and how to get them on a vegan diet.
- Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Steamed is the healthiest way to cook vegetables although plenty of vegetables such as beans, peas, carrots, and celery are great raw, and better for you. Cooking removes some of the nutrients so raw is often best.
- Eat whole unprocessed grains in the form of whole oats. Don’t use quick oats or steel cut. These have been partly processed, doing your body’s work for it and increasing the rate of absorption. You want slow-release energy, not a sugar spike. See below for Will’s Sugarless Muesli Recipe.
- Add some cheese (includes cottage cheese) to your diet. Be careful not to eat too much. While cheese is healthy it’s also very high in calories.
- Eat small meals spaced closer together. A small meal every two to three hours is optimal. Avoid eating meals more than four hours apart. This will put your body into ‘starvation mode’ so when you do eat, your body will respond by storing at least some of what you just ate as fat.
- Reduce the size of your meals throughout the day. This one is very important. Breakfast should be your largest meal of the day and dinner your smallest. Your body doesn’t need calories in the evening and it certainly doesn’t need them while you’re sleeping.
- Exercise regularly. Since you’re reading this on Topp Performance we’ll assume you’re already exercising at least occasionally. Ideally, you need to exercise intensely a minimum of three times per week, for a minimum of 40 minutes each time. Do add weight training to your exercise routine. Few things have the power to keep you healthier, leaner and more resilient overall than adding muscle mass.
- Eat sugars. Sugar is toxic. It makes you fat and weakens your immune system, not to mention causing diabetes. You may have been told that eating fat makes you fat. This is completely wrong. Dietary fat does not make you fat. Sugar does. Avoid it at all costs. Artificial sweeteners are a good substitute, or if you don’t like the taste of aspartame, you can try Stevia, a natural organic sweetener.
- Eat processed grains. This includes bread, bagels, muffins, cereal, cookies, pizza crust, etc. If it’s made from flour of any kind you want to avoid it. It probably isn’t practical to entirely remove these foods from your diet, but the less you have the better and none is ideal. Processed grains make you fat and rob you of energy because your body very quickly converts them into sugar. This includes whole grain breads and muffins. In recent years the muffin has been marketed as a healthy alternative to donuts and other snack foods, but it isn’t true. They are loaded with processed grains and sugars and they are making you fat.
- Drink your calories. Avoid those sugary drinks, whether it’s soda or a Starbucks latte. It’s easy to drink a thousand calories a day. Most of us aren’t big on drinking water but that’s OK. I’m not either. I drink sugarless soda, coffee with artificial sweetener, vegetable juice, and sugarless cashew or almond milk.
- Consume large amounts of alcohol and when you do drink, don’t combine it with large amounts of food. Alcohol contains seven calories per gram and many alcohols have added sugars. Combined with food, this is a fat bomb. If you drink, red wine is healthiest, assuming it’s consumed in moderation.
- Go more than a few hours without eating. Your body will respond by lowering your metabolic rate to conserve energy. Not only will you be tired, but when you do eat your body will store as many of the calories as it can as fat.
- Eat large meals. Large meals make you lethargic and again, your body will store the excess as fat. If you feel full (as opposed to simply not being hungry), you’ve eaten too much.
- Eat after dinner. As the point has already been made, your body doesn’t need calories at this time of day. If you’re sitting on the couch in the evening snacking, your body is storing almost all of those calories as fat.
- Eat junk food. This one is obvious as of course you should avoid junk food. Most of the stuff in the snack aisle at your grocery or convenience store is made with high amounts of sugars and processed grains. They contain nothing healthy and tend to be very high in calories. If you want a snack, have popcorn made at home with only a small amount of butter. Be careful of the store-bought seasonings. Many of these are 25 calories per teaspoon.
- Sleep too little or too much. Adults require between seven and nine hours per night of sleep. If you’re not getting enough, your body won’t respond to training. It’s not just you who lacks energy. Your cells will too. Without proper rest your cells can’t grow or repair themselves at peak efficiency. Lack of sleep will undermine your efforts at the gym. Oversleeping is bad too as it often leads to depression. It’s almost impossible to stick to a plan if you’re depressed.
Gradual Change is the Key to Success
I started all this by pointing out that you’ll need to make these changes gradually. Our body literally gets addicted to eating a certain way. There are 225 chemicals in an orange, all of which can be reproduced in a laboratory. We know that our body can be addicted to chemicals such as drugs but a chemical is just a molecular structure that can’t be further broken down except by breaking the atomic bonds. Everything we put in our body is a chemical. If you suddenly deprive your body of all the chemicals it’s been used to having, the cravings will become unbearable. You will literally be going through withdrawal.
To avoid this, you’ll need to make small changes over time. Start by looking over the Do’s and Don’ts above and identify the one thing you’ll find easiest to change. Make that one change only for now. Maybe it’s having a larger breakfast (or having breakfast at all). Maybe it’s switching to diet soda. Whatever is easiest, do that first and give yourself at least six weeks to get used to it, until you don’t even think about it anymore. Then, make the next easiest change. Just keep doing this until you’re following all the guidelines above. It might take a couple of years but that’s OK. You’re making a lifelong change to your eating habits. It’s going to take time but you’ll reap the benefits for the rest of your life.
If You Want to Lose Weight
If you’re like most people, you’re changing your diet in order to lose weight and keep it off. That’s great and the above guidelines will definitely do that, but only if you eat fewer calories than your body needs. There’s no escaping the simple rule that to lose weight you must run a calorie deficit and that means calculating your caloric needs and then counting calories to make sure you are short.
To accurately calculate your caloric intake you’ll need to use a TDEE calculator (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). You can find these calculators online. To get an accurate number you’ll need to be honest about your body fat percentage (you can estimate this fairly accurately from looking at body fat percentage photos, which you can also google). In addition, you need to be honest about your activity level. Input these numbers and the others the calculator asks for and the number you get should be fairly accurate. Keep in mind though that this is only a starting point. Everyone’s body is different and experimentation will be required to find the right caloric intake for you that will result in steady fat loss.
Will’s Homemade Muesli Recipe
Muesli a fantastic long-burning energy source but store-bought muesli will have sugar added. Very bad. Here’s a simple and delicious sugarless recipe to make at home.
- 1 bag of whole large flake oats (don’t use steel cut or quick oats!)
- 1 medium bag of raisins
- 1 small bag of nuts (I like walnuts but many people prefer slivered almonds)
- 1 small bag of sunflower seeds
This recipe is healthy and a serving at breakfast will give you energy that will last for hours. You can also have a small serving at any time of day when you find your energy levels dropping.