During my life I’ve had a love/hate view of “the meal plan” segment of diet books. I want to make it work, but often it just takes too much time and effort to follow the plan and so I don’t stick with it for more than a couple days.
I’ve read many many books and articles on nutrition, food as medicine, and weight loss. In that time I’ve come up with a simple formula that I use to eat healthy and lose/maintain weight.
What follows is a simple approach to eating that is both healthy and conducive to losing/maintaining your desired weight.
The 5 Pillars of Healthy Eating
Remembering these pillars of nutrition will make eating choices easier than following a diet plan. Follow these guidelines to the best of your ability at any given meal. Keeping a journal at first will help you to see how you are doing. Try MyFitnessPal for an easy free way to track your food intake.
- Your Food Foundation: Lots of Vegetables and Some Fruit. Veggies are best because they are usually low in sugar. Best veggies are the green, the colorful, and the stinky (sulphur based veggies: onion/garlic family and the cabbage family – cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)
- Eat veggies/fruit in a roughly 2:1 ratio on any given day. Fruit is great, but too much can lead to a lot of sugar which the body loves to store as fat when it gets more than it needs at any one meal.
- Include Fermented Foods. Turns out they are very healthy for you. How much to eat? Include them as you like, just be sure not to forget about them. Examples:
- Greek Yogurt
- Soy sauce
- Minimize Dairy & Grains.
- Stick to organic dairy and let it be a small portion of your overall consumption, say 1/8 or less. Reason: many people are lactose-intolerant which causes bloating and inflammation that you may not realize.
- Avoid wheat when possible as many people are allergic to gluten and unaware of it. It causes inflammation of the gut causing bloating, gas, and other issues. Other whole grains (barley, oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc) are fine, but they should be 1/4 or less of your daily calories. Why? Because pound for pound veggies give you more nutrition than grains. Veggies maximize nutrition per calorie.
- Lower Exposure to Sugar, Trans-Fats, and Toxins.
- Sugar – try to keep ADDED sugar to <25 grams or less per day. As a guide 1 teaspoon sugar = 4 grams sugar. So that would be 6 teaspoons per day or less. See “I Quit Sugar” by Sarah Wilson if you want help reducing your sugar intake. Getting your sugar from fruit is much different and preferable than table sugar as the fiber in the fruit keeps your body from being able to absorb all of it.
- Eat organic produce where it makes sense.
- Wash all produce with soap, water, and a soft sponge/brush.
- Eliminate chronic toxins: nicotine, food additives, other drugs.
- Reduce/eliminate alcohol. 1 glass of red wine or 1 beer every other day if you must, but you don’t need it to be healthy. Alcohol is a toxic burden on your body, using up energy & water to process it, and it is linked to some cancers, in particular breast cancer in women.
How to Eat
Before you eat any meats, grains, or dairy, plan to eat 9 cups of veggies & fruits broken down as outlined below. You don’t have to eat them all before you eat anything else, but plan your meals so that you ensure you eat this much each day.
- 3 Cups greens
- 3 Cups colorful veggies/fruit
- 3 Cups Sulfur-based veggies (onion/garlic family and cabbage family)
Add in a protein at each meal. If you need more calories in a meal add in a non-wheat whole grain item. (1/4 or less of your whole meal) Finding non-wheat whole grain foods is actually quite easy these days. Breads, pastas, cereals, frozen pancakes, brown rice, quinoa. It’s easy. It just takes learning a few new foods. Just learn one new one per week.
Your Meal “Plate”
- 1/2 to 3/4 veggies/fruits.
- 1/4 or more: protein of your choice
- 1/4 or less: some grains, preferably non-wheat.
This is the new idea to embrace: not every meal will have grains or at least not that many. This is a big mind shift. As long as you are eating enough veggies/fruits and protein, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Veggies and fruits will give you the carbs you used to get from grains, but with a big boost. Pound for pound, veggies and fruits have far more nutrition than grains, and that is what your body needs for optimal health.
Why These Foods in These Amounts?
By eating this way you will ensure that your cells are getting all the nutrients and building blocks they need for energy, cellular functioning, toxin removal, cellular repair, immune system response to germs, and to optimally communicate and work with other cells in the body.
Eating this way will keep you disease free and full of energy. Your risk for all the major dreaded diseases will be greatly reduced: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. And if you have any of these diseases, there is a very high likelihood that you will experience improvement, possibly even a full reversal of the disease. (If you are under treatment for any of these diseases, be sure to work with your doctor if you plan to make any major changes to your lifestyle.)
This way of eating was developed by Dr. Terri Wahls. Her book is Minding My Mitochondria. I highly recommend reading it. The updated version of this book is The Wahls Protocol. It will be available March 2014. She has an amazing story (see video below) of how she overcame a debilitating autoimmune disease by eating this way. Imagine what it will do for you!
Stock up on:
- Greens (Kale, Spinach, Mustard Greens, Collards, Bok Choy, Lettuces, Bok Choy, fresh herbs – rotate different ones each week)
- Colorful Veggies & Fruits (Sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots, (buy different varieties each week)
- Sulfur Veggies (Onions, Shallots, Leeks, Garlic, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts)
- Legumes (beans), Nuts, Seeds (flax, chia, sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
- Non-dairy milks – Hemp milk, Rice Milk, Soy Milk, (rotate a different one each week)
- Wild/Organic meats, fish, dairy
- Use coconut or olive oil for sauteing.
But 9 Cups Veggies/Fruits Seems Like a Lot!
It’s natural to think that, but if you break it down, you’ll see it’s really not that hard to do. Bear in mind, these are pre-cooking measurements. Cooking will reduce the volume of produce because of the high water content. If it makes it easier, you can work your way up to this over a week or two. Here’s what eating 9 cups of veggies and fruits a day could look like.
Basically each meal is going to revolve around veggies and fruit. I eat a roughly 2:1 ratio, veggies to fruits. Veggies will shrink up when cooked, especially greens. You won’t have to worry about feeling full! And you will have lots of energy from all the nutrition.
Fats will come from your proteins (meats, fish, eggs) or from avocados, nuts, or added oils such as coconut and olive.
Don’t worry about fats. They are not bad. Your body, especially your brain and nerves, need them. They are high in calories so you DO need to count them for losing or maintaining weight, but as long as they are not trans-fats, and as long as not too many come from saturated fats, then you’re ok.
A helpful tip is to have some meat or fish cooked ahead of time to use for fast lunches. Canned salmon is also a great choice.
Remember, the things to avoid are sugar, trans-fats, and toxins.
A Typical Day
The amounts below will need to be adjusted to your overall calorie goal for each day.
- 2 cup greens
- 1/2 cup banana
- 1/2 cup mango
- 1 cup wild blueberries
- 1 cup hemp milk
- 1 scoop Green Vibrance powder (optional, but really good for you!)
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 Cup bone broth (organic chicken broth)
- 4-6 oz grass fed chicken – prepared any way you like
- 2 cups broccoli & cauliflower with olive oil drizzle & sauteed garlic
- 1/3 cup cooked brown rice with sauteed onions
- 2 cups sauteed chopped collard greens, garlic, & lemon
- 4-6 oz wild salmon
- Toasted gluten-free garlic bread
- 1/2 cup sauteed mushrooms
- apple slices & peanut butter
- 2 oatmeal pumpkin pancakes or Paleo pancakes or slice Paleo banana bread
- Build each meal around 2-3 cups of veggies and fruit. Add your protein and if needed, add a non-wheat grain.
- Cook your proteins ahead of time for putting together a quick lunch or dinner
- Plan your next meal before you get hungry so that you’ll stay on track.
- Eating out: order double vegetables instead of the potato or grains.
- If you are on the go, carry healthy snacks with you such as sliced apples, banana, nuts, etc.
- For great recipes, simply search the web. You’ll be amazed the delicious recipes you can create with vegetables!
- Allow yourself reasonable cheats every once in a while. You know a slice of pizza or whatever. Just have it with a giant salad so you’ll only have one slice. And have a little protein too so that you won’t get hungry in an hour or so.
- A little cheese, sausage, or bacon can go a long way. Life is too short to deny yourself too much. Enjoy a little and savor it.
How to Lose Weight the Simple Way
Now you know how to eat nutritionally. So how do you lose or maintain weight the simple way? If you are finally sick of the fad diets that never work and if you are really ready to lose weight and to do what it takes, here is the formula that always works if you stick to it:
COUNT YOUR CALORIES DAILY – FOR LIFE.
It’s both the good news and the bad news. The bad news is that people cringe at this task. The good news is that it’s really not that hard. And the GREAT news is that IT WORKS.
To Lose Weight: eat less calories than your body burns daily.
To Maintain Weight: eat the same amount of calories that your body burns daily.
I’ve tried those other diets that said “eat as much as you want and:
- just cut out carbs – you’ll lose weight
- just eat raw foods – you’ll lose weight
- just eat only plant foods – you’ll lose weight
- just exercise for 1 hour everyday – you’ll lose weight
- just combine your foods a certain way – you’ll lose weight
- just take these supplements – you’ll lose weight
These don’t work unless you are lucky enough to have a net calorie deficit on a daily/weekly basis. And unless you are counting your calories, you won’t know if you are. So you could be putting in lots of effort to make a bunch of changes, but since you aren’t in a calorie deficit each day, you get nowhere. Talk about frustrating!
When you count your calories, you will know if you are on track or not. It’s math. If you count everything honestly you can finally be in control to make this happen.
Steps to Successful Daily Calorie Counting
- Choose a Tracking Method. The first good option is a free online tracker such as MyFitnessPal (the one I use) or LoseIt.com. These are both great because they will calculate your daily calorie amounts based on your age, weight, activity, and the amount of weight you’d like to lose per week. You could also try Weight Watchers which is very effective. They use points instead of calories. It works. Or you could simply use a journal and add up your calories manually. You can find calorie counts of foods online.
- Be Honest. Count everything because it all counts. All the little things add up, and faster than you realize.
- Plan Your Next Meal or Snack Before You Feel Hungry. This will ensure that you make rational smart choices.
- Eat Before You Get Hungry. This is similar to #3, but this tip will help ensure that you don’t overeat or eat a craving type of food. (sweets, chips, etc)
- Stop Drinking Your Calories. This one is a super easy way to cut out calories. Water is best. Or you can find flavored seltzers with no sweeteners including no artificial sweeteners which are bad for you.
- Always Have Healthy Snacks Prepped and Packed. Hunger has a funny way of sneaking up on us. If you have some apple slices, peanuts, or a banana handy, you can save yourself from neutralizing your morning workout in the 5 minutes it takes to eat a chocolate muffin!
- Exercise. Speaking of workouts, they are not required to lose weight. BUT, if you do some type of physical activity daily you will make it SO much easier to stick to your daily calories and succeed. (because you’ll be allowed to eat more) For those of you that don’t like exercise, just think of it as movement or activity. Exercise can be walking, dancing, gardening, house cleaning, even standing for extended periods of time burns calories.
- Rebound from Overeating. It will happen from time to time. Try not to make it bigger in your mind than it is. Don’t pack in the rest of the day. There’s no need to do that. Calorie deficit is an ongoing weekly calculation not just daily. So remember the longer term time frame and realize that by just getting back to your program you can still have a net deficit for the week. When you fall down, just get back up. Getting upset doesn’t change the past, it just lowers your morale and potential for future success. Just say “moving on!” and then do that.
And that’s it!
Diet and Nutrition Resources
For further reading.
The Complete Beck Diet for Life: The Five-Stage Program for Permanent Weight Loss by Judith Beck. This book is a fabulous dieting guide that focuses on changing your thinking and behaviors in order to have the success you desire. It is very practical and powerful.
Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss and Super Immunity by Dr. Joel Fuhrman
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
I Quit Sugar: Your Complete 8-Week Detox Program and Cookbook by Sarah Wilson
What are your thoughts and experience on healthy eating and weight management? Have you had success? Are you frustrated and ready to try something new?
I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, G+, or your favorite network. Thank you!