More than the adoption of any particular “magical” diet or weight loss program, a healthy eating plan is much more about a few important habits practiced regularly. If you would like to make a change in how your body looks and feels, here are the basic principles (nutritionally) behind a body transformation success.
1. Eat enough protein (at least 15-20 grams each meal). Lean meats, low-fat dairy, egg whites, soy milk or products, lentils and beans are all excellent. But most foods, including whole grains and vegetables (even fruit!), contain protein. Protein shakes are also available for convenience or supplementation, if necessary, to get what you need.
2. Take a break from eating regularly. A 12-hour break each 24-hour period is a good minimum (from the last meal of the day until the first meal of the next day). Most men, and some women, desiring to get leaner will do even better with a 14- to 16-hour break (or eating within an 8-10 hour “window” each day).
Alternatively, taking a full break from eating from dinner one day until dinner the next once or twice a week can also work very well. These “down times” from eating promote cellular health, boost immunity, ramp up fat burning and are likely to extend life.
3. Have vegetables and occasionally some fruit with every meal. These fibrous, low-calorie, high-bulk foods allow you to fulfill a fantasy — eat all you want, and more than you ever thought of eating — and still lose fat! They also provide an astounding array of health-promoting nutrients, so work them in.
4. Eat more whole grains, and cut way down on or avoid white flour and sugar products. White flour and sugar, together with vegetable oil (see 5 below), make up more than 60% of most Americans’ calories. Since none of these provide any meaningful nutrients besides calories they can be totally eliminated without hurting your health at all. Save them for special occasions or not at all.
5. Watch your fats. Since the Institute of Medicine has declared there is no safe level of saturated or trans-fat intake, we should seek to keep these fats to no more than 5-7% of calories. Use lean or fat-free versions of animal foods instead. Minimize or avoid all added oils as much as possible. Healthier fats include whole food olives, avocados, seeds and nuts. Also consider fatty fish a couple times a week, or a DHA supplement, and a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseeds each day for healthful omega 3 fats.
6. Focus on whole foods and keep your diet plant based. Whole foods work synergistically, giving them a total health impact greater than their individual nutrients. So don’t rely too heavily on supplements to get your nutritional needs met. Health benefits from things like fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytonutrients, etc., are profound and more impactful when taken as part of a whole-food, plant-based diet than when taken as supplements to a convenience, or processed, food diet.
7. Develop food preparation strategies. Every successful “body transformer” has a plan for their meals and how they will be ready when they need them. They set aside time for packing lunches and snacks, for preparing food in advance (like on the weekends), so they can just grab it during the week, and the like.
That’s it! These seven habits, practiced 80-90% of the time (most people give themselves a free or “cheat” meal every three days or so), are the bedrock system that you can use to get in great shape. Until you truly get them operating in your life, you really have nothing else nutrition-wise to concern yourself with.
Many people, without concern for calories, macronutrient ratios (like high carb/low carb) or anything else, will reach all of their health and fitness goals just by following these seven habits alone.
They are that effective.
1. Consider the seven habits above. Are you doing all of these steps regularly? Most people do not, hence so few have really good health and optimum weight. Think about which of the seven habits you don’t have and how you could begin to incorporate them more regularly in your life.
2. When you succeed at developing a new habit from above, set your focus on developing another, and another, until all seven are your usual routine. Your body will thank you!
Thomas Morrison is a fitness coordinator at the Bradley Wellness Center.