The holidays are wrapping up and many of you will look to do some kind of diet to shed a few pounds, drop some extra body fat from all the holiday treats, and feel a bit healthier going into the new year. That’s all fine. I’m not here to argue this diet or that diet. Most of them work as long as you stick to them, but that’s really the tricky part.
Nutrition can be really stressful for many people. With the loads of information and methods out there, it can be really easy to overcomplicate things. We tend to get bogged down by the minute details instead of focusing on the basics. I also know that many of you don’t want to constantly obsess about this stuff for the rest of your lives but rather build a lifestyle where you can sustainably and continuously practice great nutrition like it’s second nature.
To do all that, let’s first learn and practice some principles that I personally believe are vital for building a solid nutritional foundation. I’m pretty confident that if you incorporate some of these tips into your life, you will have a much better experience with ANY fat-loss nutrition or diet plan and you’ll be in a position for creating true, long-term change and achieving sustainable progress.
I’ll go through and explain 12 of my key principles for improving your nutrition and help make the entire process more sustainable, less stressful and even a bit of fun.
1. Take one small step at a time.
Usually, when we first start a new nutrition plan we’re super-motivated and excited to fix ALL the “broken” things overnight. Going full throttle at changing everything may help for a bit, but then reality hits, progress slows down, and we soon get overwhelmed and burnt out from trying to fix everything.
Rather than trying to tackle everything that you’d like to change all at once, I suggest you focus on ONE thing at a time. That way, the changes you do make stick and become habit before you move on. Take note. This is the most important point and why I’ve listed it first. When I give you the other 11 points, I want you to keep this one in the back of your mind.
Consistently taking small steps forward make for miles of progress over time. Try to find the easiest, simplest, low-hanging fruit-type thing you can change that will move you towards your goals. If it’s something that you know you can crush 90-100% of the time, and it seems almost too easy then that’s the perfect step to take.
2. Accept progress rather than absolute perfection.
“If it’s not right, it’s wrong and I failed.” – maybe you?
How many times have you heard that or even told yourself that? It’s that exact line of all or nothing thinking that’s keeping you down. If today wasn’t your best day of eating, instead of thinking “I MESSED UP! SCREW IT!” and then proceeding to eat everything and anything in sight for the next week, ask yourself “What’s one thing can I do a little better next time?” or “What’s a small step forward I can take?” Then just do that.
Nothing you do will EVER be perfect. Be ok with imperfection. The sooner you embrace little bits of progress and improvement rather than perfection, the easier this entire process becomes.
3. CHILL about the weight on the scale.
Yes, the scale matters to a degree but it’s not the only measure of progress. There are tons of other indicators that your nutrition plan is working that don’t involve a number on the scale.
If you’re trying to lose body fat and get healthier, and your clothes are getting looser, you’re feeling better, sleeping better, having more energy, looking better, and/or performing better in the gym, things are working. At that point, who cares what the scale says? The scale is only one piece of the picture. Take a second and zoom out before you decide to freak out about the scale.
The scale may not change as much as you’d like, but pictures can be very telling.
4. Eat slowly and chew your dang food!
Did you know that people who eat slower eat substantially less food than people who just inhale their meals? Eating slowly helps you feel fuller and more satisfied with your meals, which is very important if you’re in a calorie deficit and probably eating less in general. Research also suggests that chewing your food is beneficial mentally and physically (Source).
You’ll learn to appreciate the food more, and you’ll actually get to truly taste it, which makes everything about eating healthier more enjoyable.
5. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop eating when you’re satisfied.
Most of us have generally lost the ability to listen to our body’s genuine hunger signals. We get to this point of “I’m either completely starving and eat everything in sight or not hungry at all and don’t eat for several hours. There’s no in-between.” If that sounds familiar, it may mean you’ve lost touch with your hunger and fullness cues.
Tune in and listen to your hunger and fullness cues and you’ll worry way less about how much and when to eat. Check-in with your hunger periodically throughout the day. If you’re truly, physically hungry and not upset, anxious, lonely, bored or tired, then eat. Eat slowly and stop eating when you’ve eaten enough rather than stuffing yourself to the point of needing to undo your pants. If you’re not hungry, then you can choose to wait. Check in with yourself a half hour later to see if you’re hungry for some food.
An added benefit is that you can practice this anytime, any place. It’ll make navigating eating at social outings way more manageable. Whether you’re eating at home, a restaurant, Thanksgiving dinner, or a wedding reception, you can always choose how full you get.
6. 80/20 your food choices and eat foods you actually like.
Eat foods that support your health and goals 80% of the time and then have fun 20% of the time.
For the most part, this means you’ll want to eat mostly whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Stick to foods that were recently alive before you cooked them like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, natural oils, nuts, and seeds. Prioritize eating whole, fresh food over processed food, like french fries or donuts.
Leave a bit of wiggle room for other things like bread, pasta, nut butters, chocolate, bacon, or an occasional cupcake or slice of pizza. Just pay attention to how much and how often you eat them. Points 4 and 5 can help with that.
Overall, make sure you actually like the foods you’re eating. If you don’t like eating bland chicken, steamed broccoli and brown rice don’t start a nutrition plan that has you only eating that.
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Restricting yourself is not the answer. Having a wide variety of quality food options and being mindful of quantities will keep you the happiest and healthiest.
Personally, I can’t follow any plan where I can’t have tacos…or dark chocolate.
7. Drink fewer beverages with calories.
This really goes along with Point 6. 80/20 your beverage choices as well. Most of the time, stick to beverages without extra calories like water, tea, or black coffee.
If you want to spice up your plain water, make it sexy ;). Infuse flavor with cut up fruits and veggies. There are tons of “sexy water” ideas on Pinterest. You can also drink sparkling water. If you’re drinking lots of sugary sodas, take a small step forward, replacing regular sodas with Zero calorie ones. Yes, I know there’s debate on whether you should use artificial sweeteners but from a fat-loss perspective, they can help in moderation.
And every so often, if you want to have a Coke, an iced caramel macchiato, or 1-2 beers or G&Ts with some friends on Friday night, go for it and cut yourself some slack when you do. Because just like food, what you’re drinking, how much you’re drinking, and how often you’re drinking matter the most.
8. Make time to get a good night’s rest.
We hear about the importance of sleep yet many of us still brush it off. Sleep is definitely very important for fat loss and health in general – and if you’re not getting enough, things will likely be a bit more difficult.
Shoot for at least 7-8 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep on average. If you’re not getting at least 7 hours a night, that’s ok. Let’s start small and figure out how to get to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier for now.
Institute a bed-time ritual to signal that it’s time to wind down for bed. It can be as simple as brushing your teeth, making yourself a hot cup of (decaf) tea or simply turning off your phone, computer or tv. Whatever you do, make sure you can do it most of the time.
If getting more sleep just isn’t feasible right now, let’s improve the quality of what you are getting and keep interruptions to a minimum. Set a comfortable room temperature and turn off all electronics to keep the room dark. An eye-mask can keep any light out. If you sleep better with your furry friend, let them sleep with you. If not, kick em out (easier said than done, right?). If your partner snores and keeps you awake, get some earplugs or smother them with a pillow (kidding).
Remember, it’s ok if you’re not sleeping perfectly right away. Just keep practicing and making small improvements over time.
9. Train how you want.
There’s no magic exercise routine for fat loss. Sure, some methods can work better than others but all exercise done consistently can help you the unwanted weight.
Find the type of exercise you LOVE doing and can do several times a week. If you love lifting weights, lift weights. If you love doing Pilates, going to a spin class or Zumba, then do that! If you have fun and can show up 3-5 times a week, that’s what matters in the grand scheme.
Do whatever gets you to the gym instead of crashing on the couch.
10. Have a solid “Why”.
Trying to reach a goal can be challenging. Work hard for something long enough and eventually that there will be times where you just don’t have the motivation or desire to keep doing what you’ve been doing. That’s why it’s important to have a really good reason WHY you are working towards your goal. Because when things do get difficult, you’ll need to remind yourself why you are putting in the work.
Before you begin any plan, have the right reasons for wanting to change. Wanting to lose body fat to live a healthier life, be a role model for your family, or perform better in a competition are just a few examples of good whys. They are rewarding and naturally satisfying for you. On the contrary, you’re not putting yourself through all of this because someone threatened to leave you or not love you unless you lost 20 pounds. See the difference?
11. Get a coach.
Anytime I’ve wanted to get the best possible result in the fastest amount of time with the least stress, I got a coach to help me do it.
With nearly an infinite number of methods to body lose fat, an internet full of conflicting information, and your own bias, it can be really difficult to figure out things on your own. Even if you do, you’ll likely spend a lot more time second guessing every decision you make, wasting a lot of time and adding lots of stress.
Instead, get a coach who can look objectively at your unique situation and guide you towards your goal. A good coach can work with you and help you remove obstacles in your life and solve problems that will certainly arise so you can make steady progress. And if you’re one of those people who wants to “figure it out” so you can learn, I can promise you that you’ll learn 10 times more from someone who is experienced rather than on your own.
Get a coach. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.
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12. Be patient and enjoy the journey.
Understand that noticeable results and substantial changes to your body and lifestyle take weeks and months rather than days. This is especially true for fat loss.
Your progress also will speed up, slow down, move forward and sometimes go back – because that’s how life is sometimes. Things usually don’t play out nicely in a straight line. Expect setbacks and some failures. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them instead of letting them keep you down.
Finally, if you’ve made it this far in the article, you’ve probably picked up on a common theme. You’ve got to enjoy everything you’re doing. Rather than being hyper-focused on the outcome, enjoy the behaviors you’re practicing consistently and the life you are creating for yourself. Take in every bit of this experience good or bad, failure or success – and enjoy it all as it comes.
I hope this article helps you get started or at least get your brain churning on your next steps.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this all. Remember what I said at the beginning. Take just one step at a time. Find that one thing you can start changing today that you are 100% ready, willing and able to change and focus on that.
Start small and simple. You’ll soon be progressing towards the next thing. Take enough steps and with time, you’ll be looking, living and feeling like an entirely new person.
Feel free to reach out with any questions on this topic. And if this article helps you in your journey, I’d love to hear about it. Just send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.