The first thing you must understand about leading a healthy life is also the first things you must understand about weight loss. What you ingest is absolutely the most important building block for your body, and the most efficient tool to help you reach your goals. Most people can’t out work their fork.
Of course there are folks out there with freakishly awesome metabolisms that can eat like hell every day and still win marathons, build awesome muscle, or otherwise maintain a competitive edge. Must be great. But I guarantee you those people would still benefit greatly from a healthier diet. This brings me to point number two. We need to change the way we perceive the word ‘diet’. When I say diet, I do not mean what most of you are thinking – this is not a temporary strict change, by diet I mean your daily eating habits; the ones that you perpetuate every day and carry forward through life.
Understanding and accepting that changing my ‘diet’ meant changing my lifestyle has been instrumental towards success on this path. It was the key that unlocked the door, and stepping through it has allowed me to depart from the person I no longer want to be. I believe that having this mindset is the only way to sustainably maintain (and continue to make) progress in health. Below, I’ll lay out and explain the nutritive guidelines I have set in place for myself that have allowed me to lose over 110 pounds, (UPDATE: Goal met, -122lbs) and describe how the have evolved along the way, and how you can use (and tweak) them to work for you.
First, we’ll talk about food, what you drink will come later. Most diet structures revolve around where you source your protein, fat, and carbs from, and the way you proportion these sources in relation to each other as well as how you dole out your general proportions. For all rights and purposes, vegetables like leafy greens and others with a low glycemic impact should be the basis on which all long-term diets are placed. Though they are generally going to be comprised mostly of carbs, they are usually very low in carbs, and I consider them in a category of their own. It is generally accepted that for weight loss, you want to order these as protein first, fat second, carbs last. If you’re a marathon runner, you would want to bring carbs higher up in ranking. If you’re climbing Mount Everest, you need much more fat than the average human. You must always be adjusting and tailoring what you eat, in amount and ratio, for what you are working towards.
Because my goal has been (and continues to be) fat loss, I place a very heavy emphasis on Protein as my main dietary component (again, after low glycemic vegetables), followed by a ‘moderate’ amount of healthy fats. I consume as few carbs as I can get away with in a healthy manner, remember I have an amount of stored carbs in the form of unnecessary body fat to use up. I make a point to choose only hard-working sources of carbohydrates, this is an important factor, and we will touch more on this later. This structure is proven, both by myself and many others. For a more comprehensive look into why this approach is so effective, I generally point people towards this easy to follow, evidence driven article.
Let’s get a little more in-depth.
When people ask me what my favorite kind of food is, I almost always respond with, “Meat.” I love meat. It’s just the best. There are so many kinds, to be prepared in so many ways. It’s just great. I will never be a vegetarian, and will especially never be a vegan. I just love meat too much. It should be noted that I do not in any way approve of treating animals with anything but the utmost and absolute humanity and respect, I think more highly of all other animals than I do of humans. But I believe that we have evolved to utilize the resources on this earth, to include animals themselves. We are Omnivores. I respect your personal choices, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, more power to ya, just be sure you are feeding yourself well and meeting your bodies’ nutritional requirements! As for me, I run very well on animal protein. I try to vary my protein sources as widely and as often as possible. Yes I eat red meat. Yes I eat bacon (I’m eating bacon right now, yes really) I try to eat lean protein sources like chicken and fish more often than heavier meats, but it is often not the case.
Related: Tuna and Kidney Bean Salad
You have to have a wide range to keep yourself interested
Nothing is sustainable if you get sick to death of it. Great protein sources that you should prioritize over others are going to include Fish and seafood; Tuna, Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Shrimp, etc. Chicken and other fowl, don’t forget eggs! Then comes red meat, beef is obvious and prolific but there are also wild, clean sources like Elk, Deer, Moose, and let’s not forget the love of my life, Bison. You can eat pork! Though you should prioritize the aforementioned sources before you go for cured meats, you can still eat lunch meats and brats and sausages. Try to find sulfate/sulfite free versions. ALWAYS try to make the smarter choice, but variety is the spice of life, and I believe essential to staying on a good track. Sometimes it is just not possible to make that better choice, and that’s ok. Why am I not including other great protein sources here like greek yogurt, or quinoa, or legumes? Because when building a plate, I think of these things in different categories. More on that coming up.
By now, we have all heard of healthy fats vs unhealthy fats. Growing up, we were all told fat was the enemy. But in truth, the right fats, in the right amounts are incredibly beneficial. Fats are often going to be what you prepare your food with, so choose the right ones. Olive oil is a better choice than Crisco. Flax seed oil is a better choice than vegetable shortening. Real butter is a better choice than imitation butter or like substitutes! Avocado and walnut oils are popular now, and for good reason! Everything in appropriate moderation. You want to aim to eat far less saturated fats. In general, if it is hard at room temperature, it is probably high in saturated fat (looking at you coconut oil) Now, that is not to say that these things are inherently bad, but they aren’t going to be the ideal choice. Look for mono and polyunsaturated fats, and avoid hydrogenated, saturated and trans fats. Vary your sources! Different oils come with different flavors, choose what you think will most complement what you are cooking.
Greek yogurt, nuts (to include peanuts, even though they are a legume) and seeds are great sources of protein, yes, but I normally choose to classify them as a fat because they are primarily a fat (usually). EAT MORE NUTS! Almonds are a powerful snack! Mix it up with cashews, walnuts, pecans, winter squash seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, the occasional brazil nut. You say, what about non-fat greek yogurt? I don’t usually eat non-fat yogurt. It’s been processed out for no real good reason, real yogurt has fat. Deal with it. I choose to eat food in the most natural form I can find it, I believe in this approach and will continue to stick by it. Avocados are great too! Eat good fats guys, don’t ever cut fat out of your diet, your body needs it. Appropriate fats like the ones I’ve listed above can help to promote better cholesterol, improve brain function, improve the composition of your muscular and skeletal system, improve the health and function of your skin, and help you lose fat! Don’t forget to do your research, play around with what suits YOU and your goals best.
Listen, I’m not here to demonize carbs. They are also necessary for proper function and performance, but again, for the goal of weight loss, must be cut and limited drastically. I try to completely avoid wheat products, white and brown rice, white potatoes (to my lament) and other fast carb sources with little to no other nutritional benefits. Why? I simply don’t need them, and they are counterproductive to my goals. Why would I choose to consume these things when I can get incredible nutrition from Lentils, beans, pulses, quinoa, sweet potatoes (which are DISTINCTLY not yams, by the way) wild rice, and other slow carb, high nutrient and fiber sources? Many people want to classify some of these foods as proteins, and many of them are great protein sources, but again I am looking at what they primarily are, carbs, and classifying them as such. Pro tip – sprouting these things leads to even better, more absorbable nutrition, and I’ll be writing an article about that at a later date.
Related: Mediterranean Quinoa Bowl
But I do still eat fast carbs, mostly in the form of fresh fruit. Bananas, apples, berries, oh boy! I love fruit. Fruit, and in particular fresh fruit, are great sources of a variety of vitamins and minerals to help every bit of your body run well. Eat whole sources – fruit juice doesn’t really count as a good choice. Canned peaches are not the way.
Don’t forget, on a daily basis to adjust the ratio of protein to fat to carbs to meet your specific needs
Have we all heard of the 80/20 rule? It applies all over the place! Here it is to mean that 80 percent of the time you should be making the right nutritive decisions, and that it’s ok to kinda slack off 20 percent of the time, and still make progress. It is in your best interest and an overall good policy to try to always make good decision, 100 percent of the time, but to be realistic, this is not always possible. You can, however, find better alternatives for your “cheat” meals. For example, craving chocolate milk? Mix ditched cocoa, almond milk, and honey instead of traditional milk and syrup. Always be looking for improvements!
Check out this article I posted about Nutritive Kitchen Staples!
For that matter, ALWAYS take into consideration what you are drinking. If it’s a prepackaged beverage, it’s a good bet that there is a better alternative. First of all. Drink more water. Seriously. Drink. More. Water. Thirsty? You need water, nothing else. Stop drinking soda. You don’t need it. I don’t care if you’re an Olympic athlete in the middle of your most intensive training, you don’t need it. You need caffeine? Drink coffee or tea (sans all that ridiculous added sugar and cream). Stop. Drinking. Soda. That shit is so bad for you. That includes energy drinks. Stop it. Most of us don’t need sports drinks either. Water is the answer. Water is your savior. Once more for those in the back, DRINK MORE WATER! Am I saying never ever drink these things? No. Remember that 80/20 rule. I drink wine guys, you can still imbibe, just make sure you’re factoring it all in.
Let me sum up what I try to always avoid.
Wheat products – yes even whole wheat. Most grains in fact. Soda (gross, I cannot stand how sweet soda is) Regular processed sugar. Yoooooooo, honey is the way to go! Chips, sadly. Anything that is clearly super over processed and unrecognizable as being real food. Do I always succeed at keeping these things out of my mouth? No absolutely not. Chips, and really all potato products are just too sinfully delicious. Except for soda, I am known to sometimes eat these things that I know I shouldn’t. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up on the occasion. It will happen. Just don’t let it be a habit!
Should you count calories?
Yes and no. You should absolutely familiarize yourself with the calorie count and basic composition of the foods you eat. It is good to be mindful and aware of what your input is so that you know what your output needs to be. But DO NOT OBSESS over it. You will drive yourself crazy. It isn’t a sustainable practice to fixate on the calorie count of every last thing you put into your body for the rest of your life. Do your research so that you can piece together solid, reliable estimates when you want to look back and figure out how much you’ve consumed for the day, and don’t stress over it after that.
This is the approach I have successfully taken to drastically improve my health. It is constantly evolving with new information, and changing needs. I will probably always maintain a diet with the same basic hierarchy of Vegetables, Protein, Fats, Carbs, it fits my lifestyle and the lifestyle I intend to have. This allows me to eat an ample, satisfying amount, while still making consistent progress towards my goals. I believe that most people can benefit from this model, but that everybody has a different set of needs, and as such should make sure to do their research and consult proper authorities when making a lifestyle change.
What has worked for you?
Let me know in the comments, start a conversation!
Don’t forget to check out these articles that go further into detail about how I turned my life around!
- How I’ve Lost over 110 pounds
- Tried and True Methods of Physical Activity I’ve used to Lose over 115lbs.
- How Training for a ‘Focus Goal’ Pushes you to Achieve Bigger Goals
- Responsibility for your Dependents is Your Most Reliable Source of Accountability
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
Join us for the journey!
Get great updates and inspiration with The Tenacious Crasis newsletter!