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An Effective Approach to Eating and Diet Plans

I've spent almost 30 years discussing nutrition programs with people who are looking to lose body fat, gain body weight or build muscle, and its given me some great insights. Not into nutrition, that's really simple, actually it's even easier than simple. No, the insights I've gained are into the thinking processes that make something simple seem almost impossible, and how to change this thinking so that just about anyone can achieve their goals.

So, in the spirit of keeping this simple, I'm going to keep this article short and sweet and set it out under a few key bullet points.

Dieting is not an on-off switch

The single biggest issue is our black or white thinking towards our eating plans. We have an all or nothing approach, we have to cut out all junk, no alcohol, eat lots of steamed fish, and fill up on salads. This is just setting us up for failure, and that's if you can even be bothered starting after thinking it through, because sooner or later you will eat junk, you will have alcohol and you will toss the salad in the bin.

Well science tells us something very different. Small changes and small improvements allow our body to adapt, and adaptation is the key to long term, permanent, improvements in body composition and body weight changes.

So continuous, small improvements cause continuous adaptation rather than a forced rapid change that our body rebels against and tries to reverse.

3 key pitfalls of modern eating

Over time we have demanded more and more from those who produce our foods. From taste, texture, colour all the way through to product longevity we have adjusted what goes into our foods to meet our desire for these marketable traits. Add to that our increasing stressful lives and its probably no surprise what the 3 biggest pitfalls are in our current lifestyle.

  • Alcohol. Not only does this contain more calories than fat gram for gram, it plays havoc with our hormonal systems. Alcohol is a none biologically available energy source, it contains no nutrients and it causes big swings in blood sugar levels causing insulin peaks and troughs resulting in binge eating which causes big swings in blood sugars and the cycle continues.
  • Trans-fatty-acids. This is a fat typically found in margarines, some pre-packaged foods, pastry, cakes and biscuits. They are a form of fat that is not biologically active and all we can do with them is use them for energy. They cannot be used to help manufacture cells in the body nor can they be used to manufacture hormones, both of which saturated and poly unsaturated fats can do.
  • Simple carbohydrates, Typically obtained from sugars, fruit sugars, refined wheat produce and refined potato produce. These carbohydrates are quickly absorbed and cause swings in insulin levels resulting in binge eating.

3 easy wins

The further from processed foods, and the closer to naturally occurring foods you can achieve, the better. This can help swing your diet towards a high fibre carbohydrate, high nutrient, high healthy fats, and high lean protein diet. Here are 3 things to try to do more of, or more frequently:

  • Eat 3 portions of fruit per day and aim to eat 2-3 portions of green vegetables or mixed salad at each meal (and yes, feel free to add olive oil dressing to vegetables)
  • Eat more white fish, oily fish, chicken, turkey or lean cuts of red meat.
  • Eat more seeds, nuts, and oily vegetables (olives, avocados)

Remember though. Keep it realistic, don't challenge yourself with too many changes at once, A few small steps in the right direction is all it takes.

A 6 pack midsection in 6-8 weeks

The average man carries about 18-20% body fat and requires body fat levels of around 10% to have a visible set of abs (the 6-pack look). This equates to a loss of around 14-16lb of body fat.

The average woman has around 25% body fat and requires levels of around 15% for visible abdominals, which equates to a body fat loss of around 14lb.

Given that it has been observed quite commonly for a person to lose 2lb of just fat weight loss per week, and that this can be sustained for 8-12 weeks it stand to reason that the average person can achieve a 6-pack in as little as 6 to 8 weeks.

My reason for telling you this is not to make us all feel bad that we don't already have a 6-pack, but rather to show you that if we were significantly motivated, we are all closer to our goals than we probably realised.

However, now that I have said it, I don't actually want us all to rush out and achieve that look in the next 2 months. Rather I would wish that we all put a framework in place to not only ensure we get to our goals, but that once achieved, we keep it, and during the whole process, we enjoy life and have the energy to face our daily challenges, so please, read on.

Are supplements essential in a nutrition program?

There are a few supplements that may be helpful (see our sports supplement guide) but by and large no, they are not a must have.

However, there are 2 groups of supplements I think everyone should very seriously consider as modern food production will guarantee you are deficient. These are

  • The humble vitamin and mineral supplement. Yes, these really are critical to proper and full functioning of your body.
  • Phyto nutrients (Greens) the biologically active part of fruits and vegetables.

How to get started

Habits. Human beings are creatures of habit, we do the same thing over and over again, even if we try to change, move out of our comfort zone, a day or two later we revert back to our 'old habits'. But here's the good news. We're also highly adaptable creatures, so we learn new habits very quickly.

In fact we're so adaptable that studies have shown that if we change something, and change it consistently for 16 days, it becomes our 'new' habit. In fact some studies have this as little as 10 days, but as we're not in a rush, lets stick to the longest period, 16 days.

So here you go, for the next 16 days we're not going to start a diet, we're not planning to lose weight, gain weight or build/tone muscle, we're just going to create a different habit. A habit that's more useful long term for what you want.

Take a look at the above points and decide what realistic changes you can make. Nothing drastic, don't be unrealistic, just some changes you are 100% confident you can stick to. Remember its not all or nothing, its all about a few productive, simple, changes.

Now stick to this for 16 days. Remember, don't make it hard. If you're trying to diet, don't cut calories, if you're trying to gain weight, don't eat more. If you're finding it too easy, great, don't change anything, just stick with it.

In 16 days or less, you will have established a new set of eating habits, and so long as you give it a little thought, you'll find that you naturally fall into this habit day after day.

What's next?

After the 16 days you can make adjustments that are appropriate to your goals. If your aim is to lose a little body fat, then you need to reduce total calorie intake, just a little, nothing drastic, just the smallest drop that allows you to lose a pound or so of body weight.

Now this wont be as difficult as it may have been in the past. You are already in the habit of eating a little more of what you should, chances are you may not even feel hungry, and you certainly wont be low on energy or have bounce back binges caused by insulin swings.

But remember, take it slowly, small changes are best. It's not all or nothing, its not about sacrifice, its simply giving yourself time to adjust.

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