It’s a Lifestyle not a Diet!
You have probably heard this before and maybe thought it’s become a cliché, but I want to give you my take in on it in hopes that it may finally hit home for someone.
If you want to look a certain way (lean, defined, in shape) you must adapt new habits as part of the way you live, not as a temporary fix.
It’s interesting that by definition, the word diet as a noun means “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats”, but as a verb it is defined as “To restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight”. In our culture, the word diet is commonly used as a verb and has instilled fear and negativity in most people. The trends and fads over the years that have demonized fat, carbs, dairy, grains, etc. have led people to believe that in order to achieve a better physique, we must give up all the foods that we like and (by definition) “restrict oneself to small amounts or special foods”. Just the thought of having to completely cut out food groups has overwhelmed people, caused a lot of procrastination, and maybe even discouraged people from ever really trying.
I used to be one of these people myself…the “I’ll start tomorrow, or I’ll start Monday” type. I’d mentally prepare to “never eat sugar again” or “never eat cheese or frozen yogurt or bread”. I was convinced that this “all or nothing” mentality was the only way. I could hold out for a few days and maybe even weeks, but inevitably, I’d feel deprived, feel like this is impossible, and not only would I give in and satisfy whatever craving, I would fall off the deep end and eat EVERYTHING I had denied myself. I figured I had messed everything up and I “may as well”. This, my friends, is a vicious cycle that many people get caught in and it’s very difficult to see your way through if you don’t know how. It’s overwhelming how much diet information is out there and how many people offer “advice”.
So here we go, I will break it down as simply as possible and give you the Secret….
The secret is: there is no magic. There is no one right way. There are no magical foods. There are no magical pills. The real secret is learning about nutrition and your body and how to make the “lifestyle” work based on your preferences, tastes, habits, and schedule. The truth is that you can start with any “diet plan” that sounds reasonable and appealing to you. Some examples are The Eat Clean Diet, The Zone Diet, The Paleo Diet, The Primal Blueprint, etc. From there, you monitor your success and how you feel and make adjustments along the way.
First, if your goal is to lose fat, you must get your body in a caloric deficit for it to turn to fat stores for energy. You cannot eat whatever you want in whatever amounts all day, but that does not mean you have to starve either. Educate yourself on what’s in the foods that you commonly eat and you may surprised that they are high in calories due to high refined sugar content and processed fats. Or, you may be drinking a lot of calories in the form of juice, soda, coffee drinks, and alcoholic drinks. Educate yourself on the three basic macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. They each have their role in providing energy and you do not have to cut any of them out to lose body fat. Having a basic understanding of each macronutrient will help you make better choices and will help you plan your meals.
Dieting is very much like managing your finances – you have a certain number of calories (in the form of Carbs, Protein, and Fat) and you need to “spend” them wisely on the foods that will give you the most nutrients and keep you full and satisfied. I recommend that each meal contain all three macronutrients for sustained energy, and it’s up to you to figure out what ratios make you feel your best and still yield results. Now that you know you have to reduce your calories, look to some of these “extras” that aren’t providing you body any quality fuel and gradually reduce them. Yes, I do mean gradually! Give up the “all or nothing” mentality because it is not sustainable!
This leads to my second point. You must find a way of eating that is SUSTAINABLE. This means that you can maintain your good eating habits without feeling deprived. If you can’t imagine yourself eating cabbage soup all day everyday or living off of a “liquid diet” then don’t even go there! Don’t set yourself up for failure! Yes, you may have a friend who tried one of these crazy fad diets and lost 10lbs in a week, but did they keep it off? Body change takes time and as I’ve already mentioned, you can’t view it as a temporary solution, otherwise you will lose all your hard work if you go back to your old ways. These new habits that you develop are going to keep you in the shape you desire.
My advice for making your fat loss plan sustainable is very simple: eat what you like! If you happen to especially like foods that are high calorie, such as pizza, pasta, burgers, ice cream and other desserts, you will need to get creative and find ways to satisfy your taste buds with fewer calories. Just about ANY food can be made over to be more “clean”! This will take a little more effort on your part to seek out recipes and try them, but the results are well worth it.There are countless blogs and websites devoted to “clean eating” and I challenge you to find substitutions for some of your favorite things and incorporate them into your meal plan regularly.
So how does this all come together so that we can eat what we like and still lose fat? Well, it is about moderation and portion control to an extent, but also learning to love the foods that fuel your body and keep you full and healthy. Create a foundation of fat loss foods as your steady “diet” and change your view of non-fat loss foods as “treats”. Quite simply, eat smaller frequent meals built around lean protein and vegetables. Reduce the amount of starchy and sugary foods you eat and focus on whole grains rather than refined.
Now, this is the fun part- dress up your meals with the flavors you crave! You can make chicken and vegetables Italian style, Mexican, Greek, Indian or Chinese with different spices and condiments. Find ways to make pizza with lowfat cheese and a “cleaner” crust without refined flour, or lower fat turkey burgers and baked fries. Incorporate one 0r two small “treats” daily, such as a few chips, a mini candy bar, a cookie….whatever you feel is hardest for you to give up. Keep it in there in small amounts and learn to appreciate being able to have your favorite foods in moderation rather than scarfing down the entire package and feeling guilty about it. Remember, the food will still be there tomorrow and the next day and you are not restricting anything, so don’t eat like the world is going to end!
Come up with a rough framework of how you will eat for the day and make sure you have all of your foods on hand or know where to get them. I understand that life gets busy and many people rely on take-out food, which is fine if you know what to choose. Once you learn the basic fat loss foods and understand that the high calorie preparation methods are holding you back, you will be able to eat at ANY restaurant and stay on track. Be as prepared as possible at all times at home and when you are out. I always have a few Quest Protein Bars stashed in my purse, gym bag, and car in case life throws me a curveball. Quest is my favorite treat because it’s actually a balanced snack or meal replacement, but only seems like an indulgence.
You may still be wondering if you ever get to eat your favorite indulgences and the answer is yes! Not every day, and not in crazy amounts, but if you are sticking to your plan and choosing reasonable portions of clean and healthy foods 90% of the time, go ahead and have 1-2 treat meals a week! Yes, the full fat, full sugar versions of whatever you like, but keep it to just one meal and stick to your plan the rest of the day and the day after. This should give you something to look forward to and keep you from over-indulging regularly. Over time, especially once you have experienced some progress, you will find that this lifestyle gets easier and you no longer crave the foods that were holding you back before! You may save your treat meals for holidays and special occasions and since they are less frequent, you can truly enjoy the experience without any guilt.
If you are finding your diet hard to stick with or you feel deprived, then it’s time to re-assess! Find a way to make it fun again and get re-inspired. You can not suffer through it because, again, it will not benefit you in the long term. The goal is slow and steady progress. Losing 1-2lb of fat a week is a reasonable rate to still be able to maintain muscle. If you are not meeting this goal, making adjustments is simple. If you are not feeling your clothes fitting looser and the number on the scale is not budging, then cut back on another treat that you are consuming regularly and see if that helps. This is going to take time, patience, and careful observation, but once you nail the process, you will be set for life!
We can certainly get more detailed about food choices and why you may want to choose certain foods over others, however, I hope that this took a little bit of the mystery and stress out of “dieting”. Do yourself a favor and get rid of the “all or nothing” approach and make small sustainable changes one at a time. Go back to thinking of your food in the bigger picture…as a lifelong way of eating for health and maximum energy and your body will reward you with a leaner physique.
This is a guest post by competitor Milenka Andrea, inspired by her experiences , practice, and lots of research. She gives credit “The New ME Diet” by Jade and Keoni Teta for shaping her philosophy, and her coach Adam Signoretta for helping her put it into practice and for dispelling a lot of dieting and bodybuilding myths.