The most important element of your weight and health is what you eat. This is also referred to as your diet. I use the word diet to refer to what you eat, not some special plan you follow for three weeks and then give up. I’ve changed my eating habits and seen some success doing so. Most of you aren’t fat like I was, but you can still be “skinny fat,” meaning you’re skinny but your body fat percentage is high and you’re not particularly healthy. Here are some tips/suggestions for you if you want to eat healthier:
Remember: food is fuel. Part of the problem is how we look at food. If you look at food as fuel for your body it can help you eat better. In order to eat differently you must not look at food as an escape or a way to cope or a reward – you need to realize that the food you put into your mouth is used by your body to keep it running and build stuff – be it muscle or fat.
Eat Enough Food! Too often when people want to lose weight they cut way down and end up with a big caloric deficit. This can cause your body to shut down and stop working right; you may lose some weight for a bit but it’s your body cannibalizing your muscle rather than burning up your fat. Don’t just guess at numbers. Use these resources to figure out how much you should be eating:
Determine your Basal Metabolic Rate with this calculator. Your BMR is the amount of calories your body would burn if you stayed in bed all day.
I recommend you first get used to eating that amount of calories, because chances are you’re not. Once you’re eating that amount try to cut down a bit, by 10% or so. See how that works for a while and go from there. Don’t cut down too much or you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. Click here for a little more info on changing up the calories to lose weight. If you want to gain weight, go here.
Eat Early and Eat Often! Don’t skip breakfast. Eat a couple hundred calories every 2-3 hours. It will get your metabolism going and prevent you from overeating. Sometimes I hear people say “wow it’s 3pm and I haven’t eaten since breakfast” as if it’s a point of pride. It’s not going to help you lose weight. Eating smaller portions of food more frequently will help keep your blood sugar regular and keep you from eating a bunch of crap because you got real hungry.
Eat the right stuff! There are a lot of different people out there saying a lot of different things about what you should eat. I can only go by experience and what I’ve read. I’m currently reading a book called Good Calories, Bad Calories that I’ll post on later. But for now, aim for 40% of your calories to come from carbohydrates, 40% from protein, and 20% from fat. This will be tough to get used to but it’s good. The biggest problem I’ve had is reducing my carb intake. I still don’t have this down just right but it’s a good goal to shoot for. This is called your “macronutrient breakdown” and the 40/40/20 ratio is a good starting goal. Most of us eat almost all carbs and fat with very little protein. We’ve been taught to avoid fat like it’s the plague, but we load up on carbs in ridiculous amounts and get fat.
Yesterday for breakfast I had 2 eggs, 3 strips of turkey bacon, and 2 pieces of chicken sausage. It was delicious, and more healthy than one bagel. A better nutrient breakdown and less calories.
Eating the right stuff also means you will likely have to do some cooking for yourself. You can do so very quickly and easily. It takes less than 10 minutes to cook up the stuff I had for breakfast. Make yourself a lunch so you don’t eat crap like fast food. Plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time so you don’t just eat out. If you don’t have a slow cooker, get one, because they are awesome. Failing to plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time will almost certainly result in you being frustrated and staying unhealthy.
Track what you eat! This was the biggest change for me. Making the above changes is only possible if you actually pay attention to and track what you eat. Most people horribly underestimate the amount of calories they eat in a day. You eat more than you think you do. My stock answer when people ask me “how are you doing it?” has been “I pay attention to what I eat.” We eat so mindlessly, snack on little things here and there, and it all adds up. So track what you eat. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is on The Daily Plate. Sign up for a free account and start tracking your food. The site has a large database of foods and in several months I’ve only had to manually add one thing myself. They also track your macronutrients so you can easily track the 40/40/20 with a neato pie chart right on the front page. DO IT NOW!
If you screw up, don’t stop. There will be meals or days where you just totally blow it and eat like garbage. Sometimes for sanity you just need to have a gigantic piece of cheesecake. You want to change your view of food for the long term, and unless you are some kind of weirdo you are not going to go through life never having another cheesecake or ice cream sundae. It also might be useful for you to not indulge in these things until you get a grip on your food situation – but whether intentionally or not, don’t stop eating right when you mess up once. Keep going and remember you have your whole life to drop the weight and get healthy. Think long term and you’ll be good to go.
If you have any thoughts or feedback I’d love to hear it. Up next, I’ll write a bit about exercise and activity – another important element of being healthy.