Dieting doesn’t have to be hard. So many of us look at constructing a sensible and effective eating plan much like we view going to the dentist; we dread it and don’t want to go through with it. Do you count calories, eat only for half the day, or haphazardly eyeball your portions? Whatever you choose to do and whatever your goals may be, there are some basic, fundamental principles to follow for an overall healthy eating plan. Once you adopt or in some cases revisit these rules, it will be easy to adjust for your specific needs. Below are eight principles to heed when approaching the realm of food and nutritional needs. It might be time to end your fear and shed some light on the nonthreatening realities of diet planning.
Principle 1: Cue the Protein
Including protein seems like a no-brainer, but you really need to take a look at your current eating plan and ask some honest questions of your habits. Are you eating real food? Do you take too many protein supplements? Are these protein feedings spaced out during your day, and do you get ample amounts? Take action: First, take in a daily count of one gram per pound of bodyweight to get started. Next, make sure that most, if not all, of your protein is coming from whole foods such as chicken, lean meats, fish, Greek yogurt, eggs low-fat cheeses, and low-fat milk. Some supplement use is fine but should be reserved for bookending your training sessions and at times when you need a convenient, fast shot of protein with no real food in sight.
Principle 2: Don’t Fear Fat
Most people have adopted the old practice of eliminating as much fat from their diet as possible. They think that the less fat eaten translates into less body fat. If you’ve been under a rock for the past decade or so, you don’t know the positive power of fat and how it can fuel your training. Take action: With a host of benefits including hormone regulation, energy production, and inducing satiety, healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nut butters, and mixed nuts will only help you reach your goals. However, since one gram of fat contains over twice the calories of protein keep your intake on the moderate side. Shoot for .5 to .8 grams per pound of bodyweight.
Principle 3: Add Carbs
Carbs were once our friend. They gave us energy, nutrients, and satisfaction. Ah, those were the good ol’ days. Now, things seem to have taken a negative turn. Carbs are the scourge of dieters everywhere. We can no longer enjoy a bite of bread without feeling guilt or the need to double our efforts in the gym. Take action: Say it with me: carbs are our friends. They are our preferred energy source and, although they aren’t essential to survival, they are necessary in many ways for the high-level athlete or lifter. Start with two grams per pound of bodyweight for a period of time (say, four weeks or so) and then adjust as necessary according to your specific goals.
Principle 4: Eat All Day
Yes, there are more than several diet strategies out there touting their effectiveness as the only way to do things. Intermittent fasting and IIFYM are just a couple that come to mind that use extreme measures regarding marketing and promises. All types of so-called new and improved ways of eating seem to crop up every year, but to what success? Take action: The rule of thumb is to follow a simple plan of action. One that isn’t a fad, trend, or the latest marketing campaign trying to sell books, programs, or special supplements. Eat balanced, nutritious meals spaced throughout the day. Eat enough protein, carbs, and fats that include all of your required daily nutrients without extreme measures or long periods of fasting or eating whatever you want.
Principle 5: Eat Enough
Ask anyone trying to gain muscle and they will inevitably say that they eat a lot of food and can’t gain an ounce. They act as though they are being cross-examined and under oath when describing their treacherous journey to pack on muscle. Take action: If gaining muscular bodyweight is your goal, write down everything you eat for three days. Take a hard look at what you wrote and ask yourself if it was consistent, if it looks like enough to accomplish your goal, and if it includes all of the criteria listed above.
Principle 6: Vary Your Nutrients
Many diet plans will have you eating the same thing every single day without much variety. It is true that some meals are great to have every day—you may have a favorite breakfast or dinner dish you crave and will never stop eating. But varying your diet is still a good idea for better health since you get more complete nutrients by eating an array of foods. Take action: Explore different types of fruits and vegetables—even ones you never thought about trying. Also, switch up protein sources from meat to different varieties of fish. Go with different sources of nuts, oils, and fatty fish for essential fats. The more colorful and varied your diet, the more you’ll benefit from a wider array of nutrients.
Principle 7: Don’t Sweat the Numbers
Many dieters turn into accountants, counting every single morsel, calorie, and gram that goes into their mouths. They keep detailed files, spreadsheets, and utilize several apps in hopes to help close-in on their desired goal. Their mathematician ways seem to never be enough so they find even more ways to track their every act of eating. Take action: First off, take a breath. Sometimes you get so lost in the weeds of things that you lose sight of the big picture. Once you have an eating plan in place, set it into motion and give it ample time to have an effect. If you feel the need to track do so with a broad stroke. Don’t get too caught up in the details to allow your plan to have a fighting chance.
Principle 8: You’ll Mess Up (and It’s Okay)
Too many individuals seem to have an all or nothing attitude—they are either full throttle or at a standstill. These are the same people who start everything on a Monday. Don’t be one of “those people” only focused on an optimal environment and eventual results in order to begin. Take action: If you are about to embark on a new eating plan then just begin now. Why wait? Another strategy to adopt is whenever you fall off the horse and have a bad day of eating, just pick up where you left off. Don’t throw the entire day away and have a “start the whole thing over” mentality. Pick up the pieces and get back at it.
You’ll Be Glad You Did It
Creating a healthy eating plan for whatever reason shouldn’t be too complicated or a cumbersome burden. Take simple but deliberate steps, and set your plan in motion without overthinking every minute detail. Use these principles to break free from the diet accountant mentality—finally enjoy your journey for once.