Lots of things are good in theory. Like when they decided to release another Dumb and Dumber twenty years after the original came out. I mean, the original movie was comedy gold! Of course a sequel starring the same actors would be a huge success!
Except the sequel, to put it bluntly… sucked. While it had some success at the box office (probably from fans eager to relive some of the original laughs with a new twist), it did not receive positive ratings from a majority of critics and viewers.
Sure, the idea of having two comedic geniuses reprise their original roles seemed like a hilariously great idea at the time, but it just didn’t work out how everyone hoped. Good in theory, bad in practice.
Diet plans are no different.
Diet plans, in theory, sound so great. They take all the guess work out of everything. With a plan provided to you, you know what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to eat. How could you not see result following the plan?!
Well, the problem is similar to how studio executives thought what worked twenty years ago in terms of making people laugh would work again, no problem.
But factor in two actors who aged and matured by two decades, new writers, different production companies, and a shift in climate for what makes people laugh, and what you get is a big swing and a miss. And just like the production of a movie, your life has tons of moving parts that are intertwined… all of which can affect your diet.
Diet plans might lay out what to eat and when to eat it, but it fails to account for many “real time” food issues. Issues such as…
emotional or stress eating
lack of planning
eating too quickly
kids getting sick, throwing off your schedule
special events (birthday events, etc)
eating at social outings
dining out frequently
unhealthy relationships with “bad” foods
lacking time to actually cook and prepare healthy food
boozing it up with your friends and family
So you can have the greatest ‘on paper’ plan, but if you live with people who don’t share your desire to eat better, eat out 3-4x week with clients, snack mindlessly when bored, and dive headfirst into a bowl of salty crunchy-ma-bobs after a stressful day…
…your diet plan doesn’t mean dick.
Let’s be honest for a second here, guys. We all pretty much know what constitutes as healthy eating.
Should you eat a spinach omelette with chicken sausage or chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup?
Roasted chicken with a vegetable medley or fettucine Alfredo with garlic bread?
Mixed berries with dark chocolate shavings or a slice of red velvet cake?
I’m not a betting man, but I’m willing to bet that even with ZERO nutrition background or formal education, 99% of you are able to pick the healthier option. So it’s never really a matter of knowing what to eat, which is precisely what a majority, if not all, diet plans do for you. The real issues are the “real world” problems that happen on a day to day basis regarding food.
“My family won’t eat the healthy food I cook, and I’m sure as hell not cooking two meals every night.”
“I just don’t have time to cook a healthy dinner after work.”
“Who really knows how big a serving size is when it’s given in ounces?!”
Not to mention that diet plans are rarely a long term solution. People eventually and inevitably make mistakes, get sick of eating the same old healthy food staples (ie: plain chicken), or just fall off the bandwagon because a designated plan becomes too rigid and doesn’t conform to the ever changing, fluid events called life.
These issues are not as simple as “eat that at this time.” They often require foundational ‘skills’ and knowledge that make it manageable to navigate and overcome these obstacles.
Relying on a set in stone diet plan doesn’t always work when your life, habits, and day to day routine are rarely set in stone. Knowing that, here are a few things that can help you take control of your nutrition and overall health.
Protein and produce.
(Almost) every meal you sit down to eat should focus on two things exclusively: quality sources of protein and colorful produce.
These are your nutritional staples that will help you maintain/achieve a healthy weight, provide your body with the nutrients it needs to carry out its vast array of cellular and physiological processes, and just enhance your overall quality of life. When you neglect these two things, your health will suffer.
Quality sources of protein include eggs, steak, ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb shank, tuna, tilapia, salmon, flounder, sea bass, cod, trout, swordfish (or any fish), crab, shrimp… essentially any form of animal flesh.
Not into eating meat? No worries. There are plenty of non-meat sources of protein including quinoa, beans (any and all of them), lentils, chickpeas, tempeh, tofu, cheese, edamame, peas, oats, and a variety of seeds.
As far as produce goes, we’re talking about non-starchy vegetables for the most part. Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, dark leafy green vegetables, eggplant, fennel, green beans, jicama, leaks, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, pickles, pumpkin, radicchio, radishes, rhubarb, snow peas, spaghetti squash, spinach, sprouts, summer squash, tomatoes, water chestnuts, watercress, zucchini… just to name a few.
To put this as simply as humanly possible, if 80% of your meals consist mostly of protein and produce, the need for a meal plan is basically irrelevant.
For every meal you eat, simply ask yourself, “Is there a source of protein on my plate? What about produce? Are those two things covering most of my plate?” If you can answer yes to all those questions, congratulations, you’re well on your way to navigating your nutrition.
What works for Bill, might not work for Becky. What works for Becky might not work for…
Everyone is different.
We all have different preferences, jobs, schedules, lifestyles, food tolerances, personalities, social circles, and even bacteria residing in our gut. Because of this, it’s not all that uncommon for one way of eating to work wonders for one person and terribly for another.
As long as you remember to focus on protein and produce and keep your total calories in check, almost any style or method of eating can help you get results.
Eat 3 paleo based meals per day with 3 snacks? Yep.
Eat 2 huge meals and no snacks while sticking to keto guidelines? Yup.
Fast until noon, eat a big lunch, and then graze and snack the rest of the day? Sure!
It really doesn’t matter. You just need to find what works for your schedule, lifestyle, and personal preferences. While certain principles and guidelines generally apply to almost everyone, nutrition is definitely not a one sized fits all deal.
Don’t become a product of your environment, make your environment a product of YOU.
This can be a tough area for a lot of people struggling with their diet as your environment can have a tremendous impact on your overall habits, behaviors, and success (or lack of).
However, it’s important to realize that at the end of the day, you and only you are responsible for your choices.
If you find yourself constantly struggling with overdoing it with the snacks… make them inaccessible. If you buy snacks and keep them in the house or office, you’ll probably end up eating them. But you can’t eat what’s not in the house or office. So stop making it so convenient to access your kryptonite by reducing the frequency or amount in which you buy them. Not saying you have to go cold turkey, but if you know you’re only allowing yourself to buy chips once every two weeks, you’ll probably ration and treat them a bit differently than if you replenish your stash every few days.
Try to avoid behavior like this. Via GIPHY
And if that method is too extreme, ease up a bit. Maybe you try placing some of your favorite snacks in pre-portioned ziploc baggies, making it difficult for you to mindlessly overeat hundreds of calories.
Along the same lines, it might be worth looking into making time to prep some of your meals ahead of time. Right off the bat this might sound daunting… cook all my meals ahead of time?! That’ll take forever!
While you can certainly take this all-or-nothing approach and prep a weeks worth of meals, remember that you don’t have to be a hero right away. Start small. Prep a few days of lunches because you know thats when your workload is usually at its peak. Or maybe prep a couple days worth of lean proteins so you can give it a quick reheat, making dinner less of a project for the days when you’re exhausted after a hard days work.
Prepping your food or complete meals will take some dedicated time and effort. However, the time and frustration it will save later in the week (when your energy levels and motivation are usually lower) usually always trumps the time spent prepping.
But maybe snacking or prepping aren’t your issues… maybe your struggles occur when you eat out at restaurants or order takeout. Quite frankly, this is a great problem to have. You’ve got a quasi-personal chef ready to cook and give you what you want! Just because there’s a set menu doesn’t mean you can’t customize or tweak a dish to your liking. I mean, if businesses want you to become a return customer, there is zero issue with doing this.
Swap fries with some mixed veggies. Ask for grilled instead of fried. And if you get confused amidst the endless menu options, just remember… protein and produce.
What if your problem is at home with unsupportive or stubborn family members?
Surely this can be a big issue, but if something is truly important to you, it might be worth while to have a heart to heart conversation with your loved ones about why making changes to your diet is so important to you. This may help shift their mindset from one of “this is totally screwing up MY food and MY enjoyment at meals” to “I’m a reason why (insert your name) is going to live a better life.”
You can also try to very slowly but surely introduce some new, healthier options at meal times. Complete overhauls go over about as well as appearances by Kanye West at award shows.
So instead of swapping the entire meal out, maybe serve a side salad in addition to your family’s normal meal. Get others used to the idea of healthier options with their “comfort” foods. Over time, these once rejected foods just may become the new norm. Smaller more gradual steps will almost always lead to higher rates of success compared to trying to do too much, too soon. Slow and steady wins the race.
There’s no such thing as bad foods.
We’ve all heard before how certain foods are just straight up bad for you. If you want to lose weight and stay healthy, you cannot eat X, Y, and Z.
And you can probably put this list together yourself: sweets, chips, booze, chocolate covered bacon, deep fried oreos embedded in brownie sundaes, etc. Except heres the problem with this line of thinking.
Forbidden fruit always tastes sweetest.
So when you constantly tell yourself you can’t eat donuts, cheeseburgers, or whatever the hell makes your little tummy say “YIPPEE SKIPPY”, the urge to eat it will continually get worse over time.
Numerous studies have shown that will power is actually a finite resource. It’ll run out eventually and you can’t just power through with more mental toughness. So saying ‘no’ to a craving repeatedly over time will almost certainly result in binge like activities where you end up hating yourself afterwards.
Labeling certain foods as ‘bad for you’ can also lend its way to creating an unhealthy relationship with food. In this case, certain folks can become so neurotic about avoiding ‘bad’ foods that when they do slip up and eat something unhealthy, they think it completely derails their progress. As a result, they get even more restrictive with their diet, only to inevitably ‘make a mistake’ again down the road, get more restrictive, make another mistake… see the cycle?
Food obviously provides us with sustenance so we don’t keel over and die. But it’s also intertwined in so many social aspects within our lives that developing a toxic relationship with food can really screw up enjoying time with friends, family, vacations, and creating lifelong memories.
So what do you do about it?
Listen, as long as you’re abiding by protein and produce for 80-85ish percent of all your meals, eating an unplanned indulgence will not derail your progress or cause you to instantly gain 5lbs of fat. Instead, you’ll probably enjoy life a little bit more, create some more memories, and not feel limited by a hyper-restrictive diet that labels certain foods as ‘absolutely off limits’. This approach to eating will contribute to sustainable, long term results… which is exactly what you need for a healthy body and lifestyle.
Your kid just scored the winning goal and wants to celebrate? Great! Go get some ice cream.
You’re visiting NYC and you passed a bakery that smells amazing? Go try it out (might I recommend Posh Pop Bake Shop or Dominque Ansel?)
It’s date night and you wanna try that new burger joint? Have at it.
There’s nothing wrong with eating less than healthy foods. The problem is eating these things too often, which then can land you in some hot water. Super restrictive diets leave tons of room for mistakes which too many people equate to failure. Too many failures leads to decreased motivation and inconsistency. Then before you know it, your guilt and lack of progress land you right back to where you started, if not worse.
Don’t hesitate to treat yourself IF you’ve been consistent with most of your meals. Constantly t