From extreme calorie restriction, to sprawling "off-limit" food lists, to tracking every single morsel of nourishment, strict dieting can be a major turnoff. The so-called "best diet in the world" is useless if you can't stick to it, and many popular restriction-based diets are downright hard to stick to!
If you want to lose weight without following a complicated rule book that dictates when and what you can eat, this article is for you. If you want to drop fat without feeling like you have to drop your social life, this article is for you. Simply put, if you want to shed excess weight and the stress that usually comes along with it, this article is for you.
Read these eight steps, start living them, train for fat loss a few days per week, and reap the benefits of a healthy diet without having to abandon the fun in your life.
1. Eat Protein And Vegetables At Every Meal
Protein is the key player when it comes to muscle growth and recovery. But outside of its invaluable muscle-building benefits, protein slows down digestion, keeping you fuller for longer, which means you'll be less likely to stuff yourself silly if you eat an ample amount of it.
To keep overall calories at bay, choose lean proteins at every meal, ball-parking around 30 grams. If you're unsure which lean protein options to choose, keep this advice in mind: "The fewer legs, the better." Think about it: Between fish, two-legged poultry, and the four-legged cow and pig, fat content increases as the number of legs increases. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is a solid starting place when you're unsure.
Lean protein sources: Chicken or turkey breast (no skin), pork tenderloin, filet mignon, sirloin, tenderloin, egg whites, low-fat Greek yogurt/milk, bison, venison, soy protein, whey protein, casein protein
Vegetables contribute to your fullness because they're high in both water and fiber. Water fills your stomach, and fiber slows down digestion, both of which can keep you from steering toward extra calories and sweets. Eating veggies is also a surefire way to increase vitamin and mineral intake, which is important for optimal health as well as cognitive and physical performance.
2. Eat Carbohydrates at Three Meals
Eat direct carbohydrate sources like oats, rice, and potatoes at three meals per day. Make sure that two of these meals include your pre- and post-workout meal. Carbohydrates are your body's primary energy source, so consuming them at your pre-workout meal will help "top off" your fuel tank. This will help you give 100 percent effort during your training. In your post-workout meal, carbohydrates can enhance recovery and replenish your used fuel, so to speak.
Note: On nontraining days, when your activity is probably much lower, reduce carbohydrate-focused meals to two per day to account for the reduction in energy expenditure.
3. Choose Complex Carbs
Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, due to their high fiber content. Choose complex carbs over simple, quick-digesting options to enhance fullness and provide your body with longer-lasting energy throughout the day.
A quick way to identify complex carbohydrates is by observing the color of the carbohydrate. The darker, more brown in color, the better the option usually is. For instance, opt for brown rice over white rice, or whole-wheat bread over white bread.
- Complex carbs: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, fruits, vegetables.
- Simple carbs: Cookies, cakes, chips, pretzels, sugar-sweetened beverages, candy.
4. Eat More Healthy Fats
Fat is a (ridiculously delicious) nutrient that promotes fullness because it digests slowly. Fat is very calorie-dense, so the type of fat you choose is critical. Eating primarily "healthy," unsaturated fats has been suggested to improve blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and weight loss.[1-6]
The Fat Facts
- Unsaturated Fats: Avocado, fatty fish, olive oil, canola oil, omega-3 fish oil supplements, nuts, seeds, nut butters, flax seed.
- Saturated Fats: Coconut oil, reduced- and full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt, butter, egg yolks, animal meats.
5. Use Your Hands
Measuring out every morsel of food can be a real pain in the butt. Fortunately, you can absolutely lose weight without weighing all your food. Of course, portion control is still an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but there's an easier way: Just use your hands!
Palm of protein: Consume a palm-sized portion of protein each time you eat. Choose complete protein options (animal, soy, or quinoa) for most of your meals to ensure you're getting all the essential amino acids necessary to optimize muscle growth and recovery.
Fist of carbs: For both vegetables and more starchy carbohydrates like oats, rice, and potatoes, use your fist to eyeball the right portion size. You can always go over on nonstarchy veggies to get more vitamins, minerals, and food in your tummy.
Thumb of fats: For liquid fats such as oils, spreads, and butters, incorporate two thumb-sized portions 3-4 times per day, preferably not too close to your training session. For solid fats such as nuts and seeds, count out one serving according to the package, which typically provides around 15 grams of fat. (For example, 24 almonds is one serving.)
6. Eat More Frequently
Let go of the traditional three-meals-per-day mindset and provide your body with the fuel it needs every 3-4 hours to stay full and maximize protein synthesis (MPS), which is the body's muscle-building process. Whether you have big meals or small snacks, you should have protein every time you eat! Eating protein every 3-4 hours will help you maintain that precious, hard-earned muscle while on a fat-loss diet.
Around 20-30 grams of complete protein turns on muscle protein synthesis for approximately 90 minutes, and then MPS returns to baseline within three hours. By eating every 3-4 hours, you "turn on" your body's ability to build muscle as often as possible throughout the day.
Also, keep in mind that the longer you go without food, the more likely you are to indulge in a high-calorie, high-sugar option. This is because your brain recognizes sugar as a rapidly available fuel source. Hello, cravings! Even more, long periods without food will reveal your hangry side, which nobody likes—not even you.
7. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to keep hunger under control. Filling up on fluids stretches your stomach, which is a satiety signal in and of itself. Additionally, your brain and muscles prefer to operate in a hydrated state, so you'll avoid common consequences of dehydration such as increased irritability, decreased focus, and suboptimal strength and power.
Make sure you choose calorie-free fluids. A bottle of your favorite soft drink or sweet tea can easily contain over 200 calories! If you're trying to cut back on calories, there's no better place to start than with liquid calories, especially alcohol. Stick with water, diet beverages, and calorie-free additions.
If you're ever feeling randomly hungry, don't just dive into your candy drawer. First, try consuming 12-16 ounces of fluids before eating, and then re-evaluate your hunger situation 15-20 minutes later. You'll be surprised how often you feel hungry when you're actually dehydrated.
8. Cheat Occasionally, But Consciously
Chances are you're not prepping for a photoshoot anytime soon, so there's no reason to ramp up restriction or remain glued to your Tupperware every day. Break up your weekly routine with an occasional "free" meal, whether it's eating dinner at your favorite restaurant or enjoying larger portions than usual.
A weekly indulgence will mentally solidify the idea that this isn't a diet—it's a way of eating to feel good and perform well. Enjoying the food should be your top priority, but make sure you still get your protein in at this meal!
- Fernandez, M. L., & West, K. L. (2005). Mechanisms by which Dietary Fatty Acids Modulate Plasma Lipids. The Journal of Nutrition, 135(9), 2075-2078.
- Riccardi, G., Giacco, R., & Rivellese, A. A. (2004). Dietary fat, insulin sensitivity and the metabolic syndrome. Clinical Nutrition, 23(4), 447-456.
- Vaughan, R. A., Garcia-Smith, R., Bisoffi, M., Conn, C. A., & Trujillo, K. A. (2012). Conjugated linoleic acid or omega 3 fatty acids increase mitochondrial biosynthesis and metabolism in skeletal muscle cells. Lipids in Health and Disease, 11(142), 2090-2098.
- Maroon, J. C., & Bost, J. W. (2006). Omega-3 Fatty acids (fish oil) as an anti-inflammatory: an alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for discogenic pain. Surgical Neurology, 65(4), 326-331.
- Xu, Y., & Qian, S. Y. (2014). Anti-cancer activities of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Biomedical Journal, 37(3), 112.
- Grosso, G., Pajak, A., Marventano, S., Castellano, S., Galvano, F., Bucolo, C., ... & Caraci, F. (2014). Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: a comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PloS One, 9(5), e96905.