One of the most frequently asked questions in my line of work are in regards to diet. I must confess, it’s not my favorite topic. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, it’s just that these conversations are just not pleasant to have with folks.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that conversations about diet can quickly become like religious or political debates; people are so rooted in their preconceived ideologies that they can’t have a reasonable discussion… despite the fact their ideologies are not producing the results they are looking for.
There is also the uncomfortable reality that many people are emotional eaters, which is what makes nutrition coaching so difficult for trainers. A client’s head-knowledge knows what they should be doing, but their emotional side doesn’t comply. In these situations, a mental health expert is a far better choice for someone trying to shed weight.
Despite that, there are still many people we work with that need some sort of guidance on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.
Unfortunately, most Americans start with the latest fad diet, so let’s begin with a healthier definition of the word…
My Definition Of “Diet”
“An eating plan that is conducive to your body composition goals, that you can start tomorrow and STAY on for the rest of your life. If you can’t do it for 30 years, don’t do it for 30 days.”
If you’re still defining “diet” as, “Crazy 30-day, unsustainable, calorie-limiting, macronutrient-eliminating, soul-crushing, crash-course to failure eating plan” my response is (in my best Dr. Phil voice), “How’s that workin’ out for ya?”
One of my mentors Dan John recently shared his (too) simple formula for fat loss…
- Sleep 7-9 hours/day
- Drink coffee
Dan quipped, “There was no objection with the coffee. Everything else was a non-starter. My idea that one should sleep 7-9 hours was dismissed with, “who has time for that?”
As I look over that list put together by my wise mentor, I look for what low-hanging fruit I’m still not picking. I’m lucky enough to be a good sleeper, I enjoy one great cup of coffee every morning (click here for the best stuff on the planet), and I’ve been eating one meal per day for over a decade now. Lifting? No problem there.
This leaves just one thing, which starts my list of the four basic problems that I think one should tackle before starting a diet…
Problem #1: You’re Not Doing DAILY Low-Intensity Steady-State Physical Activity
Don’t talk to me about starting a crazy diet if you’re not, at bare minimum, walking at least 30 minutes a day… every day. If you can’t make time for 30 minutes, it means you need 60. If you’re not in good enough shape to go 30 minutes, start with 5 (or whatever you can do) and work your way up.
My students are probably tired of hearing this, but I will continue shouting this from the rooftops for anyone willing to listen: Steady-state cardio is the BIG thing that is missing from the vast majority of adult American’s lives. It can be literally anything: Walking, hiking, light jogging (if your body can tolerate it) biking, rowing, etc. etc.
It’s a physical activity that you can do while maintaining a conversation.
Change this one thing, and it will change everything.
Problem #2: You’re Not Eating Enough Protein
When I mentioned this to one of my classes, one student was brave enough to pipe up, “How much is enough?” Since I’m not a doctor or registered dietitian, I decided to keep it safe and give the answer provided by the American College of Sports Medicine: Between .5 and .8 grams per pound of bodyweight. I also like the answer of 1 gram per pound of lean body mass.
Although the second one is harder to calculate, the fact that it takes into account body fat percentage makes it superior for body composition goals.
My student quickly took to her calculator.
“It says I need 150 grams of protein per day! Impossible!”
My response, “Ok, how about 150 grams of carbs per day?”
“150 carbs? Oh, that’s a piece of cake! I’ll have that done by mid-morning.”
(The class laughed at her unintended pun)
This example illustrates a simple fact: protein is far more satiating than carbohydrates. Although 1 gram of each contains an equal number of calories (four), these are very different calories. The grams of carbs in one sleeve of Oreos are almost the same as the grams of protein in 3 small chicken breasts. Think about the palatability of a sleeve of Oreos (gone in 60 seconds) versus 3 chicken breasts and you’ll understand why this is such a powerful tool for fat loss.
“How do I get that much protein without eating so much chicken that I start growing feathers?”
The simplest solution is protein supplements. I’ll start by saying anything is better than nothing. However, there are a few requirements I put on my protein supplements…
- Grass-fed whey
- No artificial sweeteners (stevia only)
- No junk fillers (more common than you’d imagine)
- Independently tested by third-party labs (the FDA is not involved in supplements. It’s the wild wild west when it comes to what’s on the label versus what’s in the jar, unless it’s tested by a third-party)
- Not ungodly expensive
There are many supplements that cover the first four… It’s the last one that can be tough. I’ve been using and recommending Legion for about 5 years now. Speaking of which, let’s take a break for a word from our sponsors…
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Problem #3: You’re Not Drinking Enough Water
For the purpose of this conversation, water is defined as, “any hydrating liquid containing zero calories.” I know some of you just can’t stand plain water. Fine… do the fancy stuff.
I can’t count how many times I’ve felt ravenously hungry only to realize that my water intake for the day was tragically low. After some deliberate rehydration, somehow magically my hunger went away.
Forget about diets until you consistently get one ounce of water per pound of bodyweight per day… every day.
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Problem 4: Fix Your Crappy Breakfast
A number of years ago, breakfast was touted as “the most important meal of the day.” The funniest thing I remember from that era was all the commercials for fast-food restaurants. They were trying to convince you to have their junk food first thing in the morning as a healthy thing to do. Later, as fasting became more and more popular, the trend waned. No worries though, I’m sure it will make a comeback just like every other diet trend.
When we think of traditional breakfast foods, we think of cereals, muffins, fruits, etc. Let’s also not forget our fancy coffee drinks loaded with sugar.
We having dessert for breakfast.
Some of these cereal products even try to make themselves sound healthy, but here’s the reality…
You can start your day with a bowl of Corn Flakes with no added sugar, or, you can start your day with a bowl of sugar with no added Corn Flakes. And, from a macronutrient perspective, the two are almost identical.
With our nutrition coaching clients, we try to work on one thing at a time… and breakfast is a great start. Traditional lunches and dinners are far more nutritionally balanced, so if you go from having dessert for breakfast to something more balanced, this is one of the single most impactful things you do for your overall eating.
For my more seasoned readers, there was probably nothing in this post you haven’t already heard a thousand times. But I would challenge you to periodically re-examine the basics and make sure the ‘easy’ stuff is covered.
Until next time,
Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached “Team Protocol” to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie, and dog, Asher.