If it really is this simple then why do millions of Americans struggle every single day when it comes to diet? [Note: by diet I don't mean "dieting"; I'm talking about the nutrition you are consuming on a daily basis.] A huge culprit is that we constantly talk about proteins this and carbohydrates that when in reality we should be talking about food! After all, isn't that what we're eating?
So where do you start?
One Improvement at a Time
A whopping 98% of self-directed training programs (exercise and nutrition) fail because people try to do too much at once (Precision Nutrition). Set yourself up for success by focusing on realistic, attainable goals. Pick one meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) and focus on making it healthier. Yes, that's it! Trying to change each meal and snacks all at the same time is too overwhelming and will likely lead to frustration and a return to old, unhealthy habits. The timing will vary for everyone. Maybe this will take you a week or maybe it will take you a month. Be patient. Once you feel you've conquered one meal then move on to the next. This may seem small, but it's a huge step in the right direction!
Stop Focusing On Calories
Say what? Isn't this what we've always been told to do: count calories? If you've ever tried counting calories then you know this is much easier said than done. For starters, it involves a lot of math and unless you know the exact measurement of each serving you are consuming and every single ingredient used in the recipe then you can be mistakenly estimating your caloric intake by up to 50%. Yikes! Additionally, it often requires a website or app and those calculations are far from perfect with an error range as high as 25%. Instead of getting your scale or calculator out every time you sit down to eat keep your focus on portion size. Ladies, use the guide below to visualize portion control. This is a much easier and more accurate solution for keeping tabs on "how much" you're eating. Guys, take each portion below and multiply by two (i.e., two palms of protein, etc.).
If you think that eliminating carbohydrates from your diet is the magic fix think again. Sure, if you cut carbs temporarily you will likely lose a few pounds. However, restricting your carb intake long term can actually have disastrous consequences especially for those of us who are active: decreased thyroid output, increased cortisol output, decreased testosterone, impaired mood and cognitive function, suppressed immune function, and muscle catabolism. In other words, you feel lousy/sluggish and your mood is sour. Most people do best with some carbs (see portion control pictures above for suggested serving size) so focus on consuming minimally processed carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables like sweet potatoes). If you'd like to do some more in-depth reading on the science behind carbohydrate intake check out this article.
Keep It Simple
Revisit the four rules at the top of this post. Be mindful of them when preparing each meal and crafting snacks. In addition to these rules, try to observe the following:
1) Don't overly restrict.. anything! It will often rear it's ugly head in the form of binge-eating.
2) Focus on enjoying a wide variety of minimally-processed, whole and plant-based foods.
3) Observe how you feel, look and perform after eating foods.
4) Decide what to do based on the data you collect about yourself (in #3 above) NOT what others tell you to do.
5) Don't follow a dietary prescription for someone else's body. The only rules for your body come from your experience with food.
As humans, we tend to over-analyze things. We think the more complicated something sounds the better and/or more scientific (and thus, right) it must be. I hope what I've written above has shown you that big changes in dietary habits start in the form of small, simple changes. Now that you have the secrets its time to get to work!
What are your biggest struggles when it comes to dietary habits?