There’s some habits that are crucial for your quest to getting lean (and staying there) while maintaining sanity and balance in life. I can guarantee that if you work towards owning these habits (one at a time, course), you are well on your way to become a healthier version of yourself.
I haven’t included specific macro-nutrient ratios or total calories because what’s right for you is different to your buddy James who lives down the street. It depends on your body type, health, lifestyle and values, just to name few.
So how do you figure out exactly what works for you? You have to experiment with the last 10-20% to make things right for you. There’s no shortcuts. That being said, no one ever made a turn to worse by adhering to the following 10 steps.
1. PRIORITISE PROTEIN AND VEGETABLES
Your body functions better when it gets enough nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Protein (amino acids) are responsible for our structure, hormone function, enzymes and immune function. As is stated in The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition Certification Manual by Precision Nutrition, “While carbohydrate and fat balance is quite well maintained in the body, it’s quite difficult to maintain protein balance without adequate protein intake.”
Eating meals higher in protein will also improve satiety, which in turn can helps with unnecessary snacking.
Vitamins and minerals have several regulatory functions in the body but they do not act as a direct source of energy or fuel for the body. With these deficiencies come poor health, increased disease risk, obesity and more.
- Protein requirements wildly differ depending on sex, body type and activity level, just to name few. As a minimum eat at least 3 palm sizes of protein rich foods each day.
- As a minimum eat at least 4 fistfuls of vegetables each day. More is better here.
- Eat a wide range of different vegetables.
- Think your diet as a bucket, you fill the bucket with big rocks, these rocks are your vegetables and protein. Then pour sand in the bucket to fill in the gaps. This sand is everything else that you might want/need to eat. For some it’s a lot of carbohydrates, for others it’s a more fat and for some it’s both. Don’t build your diet around cereals, grains and processed foods that are often lower in protein and nutrients
- If you think you are low in certain vitamins or minerals I recommend getting your levels checked by a knowledgeable health professional who is well versed in nutrient deficiencies.
- Dan John (who else?) said it well, “eat like a grown up”.
2. ENTER THE SANDMAN
You can’t keep raging around like a mad bear in the woods. Even the maddest bear chills out every now and then and sits down to eat blueberries. Even more so, even the maddest bear sleeps throughout the winter. Your body repairs itself in deep sleep. You don’t improve during your workouts, you’ll improve while recovering optimally from the training.
If you are constantly sleep deprived you will make less ideal decisions with your health, work and family that will just build up to your poor physical and and mental health. If you think that you are wasting time sleeping because it cuts your day short, I’ve got news for you: you are not being as efficient as possible when you are a walking zombie. You get more done in shorter time when well rested.
If none of that makes you a lover of sleep I hope this will: lack of sleep negatively affect your fat loss efforts.
- Again, everyone’s different but I am yet to meet anyone who functions well with less than 7 hours of sleep. Try sleeping 7, 8, 9 or even more a night and see which makes you feel the best.
- Establish a bedtime routine.
- Manage your stress better. How? See #7.
- Invest in a proper bed and a mattress.
3. HAVE FLEXIBILITY
Eating doesn’t always have to be perfect, you won’t always have the option to choose a healthy meal. Sometimes you don’t even want to. You want to be able to go out with people you like and break bread with them, have few drinks and generally let the good times roll. There’s more important things to do than constantly worrying about how each food will affect your body.
- For 80-90% of the time stick with nutrient rich whole foods that make your body feel good. You know this: vegetables, meat, fish, legumes, nuts, starchy vegetables, fruit.
- Eat mostly foods that resemble home cooked.
- When going out or eating something that’s not considered wholefood, don’t feel bad or think you have to earn your food but don’t binge either. Eat the same way as you would eat any other meal. See #5. for hunger cues.
- As long as you are moving into the right direction with your weight or staying where you want to stay, you are doing it right. Slow progress that lasts is better than a strict quick fix that fades.
4. KNOW HOW TO COOK
This might be the most important skill to have in order to lead a healthy life. If you don’t know how to cook you can’t be proactive about your food choices. You will always be reacting to what is available around you or what other’s feel like cooking for you. You have no true control of your eating habits. Even if you eat out most of the time, knowing what ingredients go in different dishes will help you to navigate the healthier options.
Besides, your partner will love the fact that you can whip a delicious meal in no time.
- Learn the basic skills of chopping, frying, braising, steaming, boiling. You don’t have to master them, just knowing how to do them is enough.
- Know the basics of flavor matching. Know what goes well with different ingredients. This might be one of the most important skills when it comes to cooking. Just knowing how to make a simple salad dressing or stir fry sauce will get you far. Hint: less is more.
- Keep your kitchen stocked with ingredients. Nothing worse than getting home and realizing that all you have in the fridge is a jar of pickled onions and a half a carton of old milk.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR HUNGER CUES
It’s harder to overeat when you only eat when you are hungry. It’s better for your long term sanity to be aware of your hunger cues and feelings of fullness than it is to keep adding up calories to an app throughout the day. Eating is meant to be a pleasant experience, not an exercise in maths class.
When eating slowly, every bite you take is a dance on your tastebuds. You’ll get more out of each forkful. It’s also a fact that when eating treats this way you’ll end up eating less since you are more aware of the flavours. You are more likely to get that “I’ve had enough” – feeling with less food. Compared to rushing through a bowl of ice cream in 2 minutes flat (including licking the bowl) without really focusing on the taste at all. Although, occasionally man has to demolish a bowl of ice cream just to show that he is a man.
It also takes a while for your stomach to send the signals of fullness to your brain. If you rush through your meal of meatballs you are more likely to end up feeling stuffed. That in turn will make you lethargic and possibly give you indigestion. Not a happy place to be.
- Feel hunger for 60 minutes before eating to be sure that you are actually hungry and not just bored and looking for something to do. Or not mixing the feeling of thirst with the feeling of hunger.
- When eating do so without rushing. Take at least 20 bites with each forkful, placing the fork on the table between each mouthful.
- Be mindful and fully present. No tv or other distractions.
- Stop eating when you feel “just right”. Vague? Maybe, but if you’ll practice you know how this feels.
6. EAT ACCORDING TO YOUR ACTIVITY LEVELS AND BODY TYPE
If you spend 8 hours a day sitting at your desk, your calorie requirements are vastly different than someone who shovels dirt 8 hours day. If your choice of sport is darts your fueling tactics should be different to one who lifts weights for an hour each day.
- Keep your protein and vegetable serves the same but play around with your carbohydrate and fat intake. See if you feel better and get the desired results with higher carbohydrate and lower fat intake or if you are better off with lower carbohydrate and higher fat intake.
- If you are feeling tired and lethargic increase your carbohydrates first and see how you react. If you are feeling better and getting the results you want, keep doing it. If not, change something and reassess.
7. MANAGE STRESS
Stress causes hormonal imbalances in your body that affects your fat burning capabilities as well as overall health. We make worse decisions when under stress. Stress also affect your sleep and, as mentioned on #2, lack of sleep is the evil enemy of fat loss.
- Learn to play. Do something that is not considered “productive”. Paint, dance, draw, write, play curling, headbang to a Machine Head song or shred you air guitar to Rocket Queen. Switching off and playing is great for creativity. By the way, watching tv or reading a book is not playing.
- Live in the now.
- Keep a gratitude journal of the things you are grateful for. Life’s pretty good once you start adding up the little things. Too often we let them pass without fully appreciating the moment.
8. DO SOME FORM OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Doing physical activity will improve your mood and release stress. I am a big proponent of resistance training and think everyone should lift weights. There’s just too much scientific data to support the benefits: prevent osteoporosis, improve metabolism, improve/maintain mobility and flexibility, better coordination, reduce the effects of getting older, reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases and improve brain function. Then there is the general sexification. That’s just few. You’ll also be stronger, more confident and will have an increase in your caloric expenditure.
- Lift weights twice a week. Limited on time? Check this out.
- Find an activity that you enjoy. As long as it gets you moving and sweating.
9. RAISE LESS HELL WITH YOUR DRINKING
I think this is pretty obvious but it’s too important not to mention. Big drinking sessions not only add a huge spike in your calorie intake but also your overall health. You are more likely to make poorer eating decisions when hitting the cans. The effects of hangover carry well over to the next week. It’ll affect your training sessions as well as your mental capacity to get stuff done. It’s also an idiotic way to release stress.
Sure, I too, have a few too many now and then, but it’s few and far between. I hate how it makes me feel the next day(s). To me the feeling of getting drunk is not worth the time wasted the next few days.
- If you are having trouble stopping, ask yourself if there is a void you are trying to fill?
- Could you replace the drinking with another and more productive activity?
- Is it always the certain people that you raise hell with? Hangout with other people.
- Enjoy a drink or five but don’t get drunk every weekend. I honestly don’t know what else to say here.
- Still struggling? It might be worth getting some help with your drinking.
10. IGNORE FAD DIETS
Observe fad diets that come and go and you’ll notice something: the diets that people have success with usually have the same things in common. 80% of fad diets are all based on eating enough protein, vegetables and wholefoods. The remaining 10% is the “magic” that “will change your life”. Whether it’s avoiding whole grains, relying on coconut oil, putting butter in your coffee, adding a miracle shake, not eating carbs at night or not eating carbs at all, only having organic food, eating a kilo of kale or only eating potatoes that are grown in the magical dirt freighted in from Machu Picchu.
The reason why most fad diets are able to show great testimonials and results is because each diet will work for some (although I’d be skeptical with the “magic” part of the diet. Word magic in health and fitness industry usually translates to word bullshit). Those who it works for become the crusaders of their diet claiming that it is the only right diet for everyone, ever.. It is not.
My diet is a mixture of different ways of eating that feel right for me. Is it perfect? No. But it aligns with my goals (stay lean, healthy and feel good),
values (animal and environmental welfare – lower in meat/protein than what’s normally recommended. But not vegetarian as it wouldn’t make me feel as good),
lifestyle (life not revolving around eating, no calorie counting, flexibility to eat out, have few drinks over the weekend etc.)
- Ignore media suggestions for “best” diets. Go even further and ignore diet books and blogs about the best diets. Except this one of course, wink wink.
- Use your body and mind as a guide to what is right for you. If eating something makes you feel like shit and doesn’t give you the desired results stop eating it. No matter what anyone else says, especially on the Internet.