Eating delicious, nourishing food is simple. Don’t overthink it.
Recently, we discussed why eating too healthy halts fat loss in its tracks, and why we are so prone to making this mistake.
In brief, eating healthy disrupts you – mentally, socially, physiologically. The quest for fat loss shouldn’t turn into an obsession over food.
It’s easy to see why this happens – we all want results, as quickly as possible. Why spend 6 months losing fat if you can do it in 6 weeks? The logic is easy to understand. But it is flawed. Fat loss comes from creating new habits, not from crash or fad diets.
So, now that we know eating healthy should be avoided, how do we do it? By keeping the following five bits of advice in mind, you’ll create a mindset that allows you to lose fat without compromising your happiness.
1) Follow the 80/20 principle.
I mentioned the 80/20 principle in my post on why eating too healthy kills fat loss. It’s a great tool for maintaining balance in your meals, essential to eating well.
Make 80% of your meals “healthy”, and 20% “cheat” meals. If you eat 21 meals per week, that gives you four cheat meals each week. I hate using “healthy” and “cheat” to describe meals, but it’s the best way to illustrate this point.
These numbers can be flexible. Some weeks I eat one cheat meal. Some weeks I have five or even six; this often occurs when special events are happening, such as attending weddings or banquet dinners, or when I go home to see my parents. By exercising moderation and not pigging out, I often end up just as lean afterwards, and recharge my motivation to eat well.
Don’t miss out on important events because of a fear of “bad” foods. Make eating well the “norm” while allowing flexibility in your life.
2) Keep things in perspective.
Eating delicious, nutritious food should not be a barrier to living a good life.
If you find eating well to be a barrier rather than a springboard, it’s time to re-evaluate your situation. Where is the majority of your eating-related stress being created, and how can you alleviate it?
For example – if your job involves taking clients out to eat, find ways to eat well at the restaurant. Look up the menu ahead of time. Restaurants are getting very creative with their salads (check out the “Sriracha Steak Salad” from my local Movie Tavern if you don’t believe me). Salad isn’t your thing? Grab a meat + veggies combo. This situation should NOT be stressful – I love trying new restaurants, and there is always a delicious meal available that also nourishes your body.
3) Transition into new eating habits.
The worst thing we do when trying to eat well – or start any new habit – is go from 0 to 100, way too quick. Instead of setting a simple goal and gradually expanding on it, we go from never working out to lifting weights 7 days a week while running 10 miles and doing a month-long juice cleanse.
And then we’re dumbfounded when our new habits don’t stick.
We’re not searching for a quick fix. We are building habits into our identity and lifestyle.
Habits are not built overnight. They take time. We must ease into new habits, rather than diving in head-first. The long-term payoff is much, much higher, and worth investing in.
For example – in the long-term, we want to minimize use of sauces high in sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup. However, I will never recommend a client who is just learning to cook meat and taking the beginner steps to eating well to cut out barbecue sauce as a first step. It’s no where near the top of my priority list. Grilled chicken topped with Sweet Baby Ray’s still contains WAY less sugar and processed ingredients compared to the Standard American Diet.
Transition into your new eating habits. Focus on the wins – the good foods you are adding; do not exert energy on strictly eliminating every single food you enjoy from Day 1.
4) Take time to experiment.
Too often, eating well comes across as a chore. Another thing we are “supposed” to do that we really don’t want to do.
This is so wrong. Food should be fun. Don’t make it a source of stress!
One of the best ways to keep food interesting is experimentation. Try new foods! Cook old foods a different way. Throw different vegetables into your stir-fry.
In the beginning, we focus on establishing a set of foods and meals you like to keep in “rotation”. These are go-to meals for when you need nourishment, when your primary focus is work or family, and you just need to eat and move on. Our “rotation” meals save us time and energy while still providing delicious, nutrient-rich meals.
This saves time and willpower for experimenting with new foods – a great way to spend an evening with your spouse, or with your roommates.
5) Listen to your body.
Whether you’re listening or not, your body is communicating to you, 24/7.
It communicates by shedding fat – or storing more. It communicates by a settled stomach after a meal – or through heartburn. It communicates through increased energy levels – or afternoon crashes.
Pay attention to the queues your body gives. If you’ve lost 10 pounds after dieting for 12 weeks, and notice that, after a nice long period of leaning out, your progress has stalled, likely your body communicating that it needs a break. Time to take a week off and indulge!
Listen to your body, and track what it is telling you. Record your fat loss. Pay attention to your energy levels. Connect the dots between the actions that result in improvement and those that stall your progress.
Find what works for you – “N = 1” can be very powerful – and stick to it.
The hardest part about eating well – or starting any new lifestyle habit – is staying consistent. By using the techniques we’ve discussed to avoid the mistake of eating too healthy, we can avoid burning out, and instead design our eating habits to design the lifestyle we desire. Empower your food to empower you.