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Ten years ago, I thought I was pretty smart when it came to following good health practices. At the time, I was already five years into the fitness game. I'd taken classes, learned from some smart trainers, and constantly went to seminars and absorbed as much knowledge as possible. Things in the gym were going well too. I'd train hard, and watched myself become stronger and more muscular.
But something still seemed to be missing. I'd go home and enjoy my lunch of Strawberry Pop-Tarts and then wonder why I wasn't seeing the type of results I expected for the work I was putting in. Sadly, it took a while for the obvious answer to sink in.
I like to joke around, but everything you just read happened. I literally ate 2-3 packages of Pop-Tarts per day. I fully grasped what I was doing, but I was thinking about the situation with the type of mindset that gets us all in trouble. Namely, why should I worry about something that was just 200 calories per serving?
Our eating habits are a much bigger issue than exercise. Dietary behaviors can be a lot harder to fix. You can easily see the flaw in my Pop-Tart meal plan. We all have gaps in our diets that make our six-packs look more like pony kegs.
It's popular in fitness circles to say, "You can't out-train a bad diet." That's a great place to start. Consistent exercise doesn't give you a license to eat whatever the hell you want. It's a flawed rationale. You should want to eat what your body needs—the types of foods that will leave you energized, lean, and healthy. When you do that, the occasional cheat meal or dessert becomes inconsequential. This more sustainable mindset will allow you to pick and choose what you eat, rather than eating the foods that will make your efforts in the gym feel like a waste of time.
Diet is important. There's no way around it, but having a good diet does not mean you have to be dieting, or following some restrictive, pain-in-the-ass plan that you'll inevitably quit.
Plan for the opposite. You'll still eat plenty, but you'll eat more of the right stuff and less of the bad stuff. You will still have flexibility.
Your mantra should always be: Eat for the body you want, not the body you have. It's a guiding principle that will make this entire process easier.
Clean Out Your Kitchen
Most articles that offer a tutorial on cleaning out your kitchen point out all the "terrible" foods you need to remove from your home. That is a waste of time. I know you might keep some foods in your home that aren't healthy. You might also have significant others, roommates, or friends who turn your kitchen into a community eatery.
I prefer to focus on the foods you should eat. The nice list is a lot shorter than sharing every food on the naughty list. Your good food list doubles as a reminder of what to fuel your body with each and every day. Sure, you'll have a checklist, but changing your diet can be tough. It's a new behavior and a new approach. The more reinforcement you receive, the easier the process becomes.
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I'll take you step-by-step through different food categories. This list is not completely inclusive; there are foods not on this list you can still eat. If you're 90 percent compliant with the foods mentioned here, you will find the abs hiding in your kitchen.
Fruits and vegetables. It doesn't matter if you go for the fresh variety or frozen, load up on as many variations as possible. Avoid vegetables that come premade in some sort of sugary sauce. Vegetables should not be loaded with sugars. If the ingredient label says something different, go with another choice. Load up on produce as much as possible, especially the veggies. Remember from your daily rules: The more veggies you eat, the more weight you lose. You can eat a lot of veggies and it'll be hard for you to gain any bad weight.
The caveat: I love a good salad. You should too, or learn to. The problem is that most salad dressings suck. They're loaded with sugar and soybean oils that add unnecessary calories. Stick instead to olive oils or vinaigrettes, and make sure the sugar count is less than 5 grams.
Load up on as many choices here as possible. Red meat (like steak and lean ground beef that's 15 percent fat or less), pork, poultry (chicken or turkey), eggs, fish, and seafood are all good options. Your goal is to eat protein at each meal. The more variety you have, the easier it'll be for you to find a satisfying option.
Dairy products are somewhat controversial. Some people believe they are bad for weight loss. If you have a food sensitivity or allergy, then you want to avoid or limit your dairy consumption. If not, researchers at the University of Tennessee found that people who eat dairy lose more fat while on a weight loss plan. Include options such as hard cheeses, cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt. Stick to Greek yogurt, which has higher protein. Avoid the fruit-flavored variations—they are loaded full of sugars. A better option is slicing up fruit or defrosting your frozen options and adding them to your yogurt.
While the Paleo movement has made it popular to avoid all grains, your option to include them in your diet follows dairy rules. If you have gluten or wheat sensitivity, you want to avoid all processed grains (breads, pastas, and cereals). That might be a tough transition, but it can also be a difference maker in your weight loss; it'll reduce inflammation and can lead to instant weight loss.
I've seen people drop gluten and lose 10-20 pounds incredibly fast, but this does not mean that carbs are the enemy. It means you need to understand your body to determine how to fuel it correctly.
Carb sources you can eat at any time include: potatoes (white and sweet), rice (brown and white), quinoa, oatmeal, and beans.
If you don't have a gluten problem, breads and pastas are fine, but eat them in moderation. We'll provide a meal plan template that will make it easier for you to determine when you can enjoy your favorite carb sources.
Stick primarily to coconut oil and olive oil. Other options are not needed, and most are not good for you.
Nuts and Fats
You'll hear this message repeated, but fats are not bad. They are necessary and will help you build muscle and become leaner, as well as support the production of testosterone. You want to eat good fat. We suggest eating fattier protein sources and cooking with healthy oils. That also means you can enjoy avocado and a variety of nuts and nut butters, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts.
To keep your intake in check, a big handful is a good measure as a serving size for nuts. As for nut butter, two small spoonfuls should do the trick. Just don't fool yourself. A massive spoonful of peanut butter piled 6 inches high is not the same as scooping out as much that fits in the basin of the spoon.
What Am I Supposed To Drink?
If you paid close attention to the shopping list, you noticed that you don't have many drink options. That's by design. Drink water, followed by more water. Most beverages are the equivalent of liquefied candy. That list includes your favorite fruit juices, which can have upward of 30 grams of sugar in one glass. Coffee and tea are both great options, as is milk, as long as you don't have a dairy allergy. If you do, opt for almond or coconut milk).
Vegetable juice is a healthy alternative, as long as it's not loaded with added sugars. To make sure you're in the clear, just look at the ingredient list. It should only contain vegetables.
What About Cheat Days?
Let's be honest: Dessert is awesome. But, when you start a new program, the last thing you want to do is go back to old habits. It's no different than meeting up with an ex who you know was wrong for you in every way. You return because it's familiar, even though you know the end result will be bad.
Don't hang out with your ex when you know it is wrong. Talk about unhealthy! Don't go back to the foods that never satisfied you and put you in your current position, wanting something more for yourself. Cheat days and indulgences can be a part of any program, but don't give yourself a reason to slip. If possible, remove foods that trigger bad habits, and you'll have no choice but to the foods your body needs and the healthy you desires.
Your Daily Checklist
1. Write Down Your Goals
2. Sleep 7-8 Hours
3. Drink At Least 6 Glasses Of Water
4. Include Protein In Each Of Your Meals
5. Eat Veggies At Every Meal
6. Track Your Fitness And Diet
7. Go For A 20-Minute Walk
Exercise doesn't have to come in just one form. As you work to get back in shape, going for walks can be an important change of pace that will do as much for you mentally as it will physically. Walking is a stress reducer. It's also movement, which is important in a world where we sit for 8-10 hours per day, and create tight hip flexors that alter and limit our movement. Walking can help offset that, and promote blood flow, which can help you recover from weight training. This is known as active recovery.
8. Avoid Crap Foods
We've cut you some slack for the first few days, but now get serious. If you cut corners or sneak in snacks like potato chips, cookies, or french fries, it's time to cut out all junk food and sweets. Those foods cause you to burn fewer calories than healthier choices; your snacks are more likely to be stored as fat. A 20-year review published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that those types of processed foods are the primary reason that the average person can gain up to 17 pounds of (unhealthy) weight during the same time period. Step up your game. Remove the foods you know don't belong in your diet, and start consuming more of the foods that do.
Now that you know what foods you should eat, we'll show you how to put it all together. Our flexible meal plan will be the easiest diet you've ever seen. We'll also address the supplements you need to fill your nutritional gaps.