If you wanted to be more productive, you would etch out a designated amount of time in your day to commit to doing work. If you just went about your day without a plan, haphazardly doing work here and there, chances are you wouldn’t get much done.
Dieting is no different.
If you want to get the best results from your fat loss diet, you’ll be best served by following a structured and regimented diet plan.
Too much randomness and variability will mess with your diet and fat loss goals. Too much variability will set you up for failure. Things like:
- Not really knowing the macros and calories on a certain food item.
- Not having an idea of what you’re going to be eating, or constantly eating out.
- And, yes, eating hyper-palatable, trigger foods, that cause you to overeat.
In fact, studies have found that too much variety can increase food intake.
When I say ‘reduce variability’, I’m not advocating a diet plan where you eat nothing but dry chicken and broccoli several times a day or follow a restrictive meal plan. What reducing variability means is minimising the risk of you slipping up.
Having a structured diet plan simply mean that 90% of the time you follow a plan that you’ve created and the other 10% you can relax a little with your eating.
So, how do you do that?
Creating Your Own Diet Plan
There are six key components to a successful diet plan:
I’m going to explain what these are below with examples when needed, but some of these will require you do some experimenting to find what best suits your personality and lifestyle.
This is the type of diet you’re choosing to follow whether it be high carb, low-fat or low-carb, high-fat, vegan/vegetarian, Paleo, whatever.
When selecting a diet, consider these things:
- Taste preference ––it should accommodate foods that you enjoy eating
- Takes into consideration any health limitations, allergies etc.
By selecting a diet you enjoy, adherence improves and you’ll be able to stick to it long enough for progress to happen.
I’ve spoken about variability and planning earlier, and this is where meal planning comes in.
Even though a flexible approach should be taken when constructing your meal plan, meaning, fitting in foods you enjoy––having something to adhere to and follow will enable you to better stick to your diet.
Preparing in advance will also ensure you’re meeting your micronutrient requirements (vitamins and minerals) by consuming adequate amounts of nutrient-rich foods, like vegetables and fruits, that you may miss out on if you’re constantly eating out.
Meal planning will also teach you about foods––macronutrients and micronutrients––and how your body responds to certain foods. It’ll also enforce the creation of good habits, by consciously thinking about the foods you’re going to consume and why, you’ll choose foods that are good for you, both from a health and performance perspective.
We now know that eating smaller, more frequent meals doesn’t have any special ‘metabolic advantage’ versus eating larger, less frequent meals.
Ultimately, how many meals you choose to eat will come down to what best suits you and your lifestyle.
If you have a large appetite, or you’re currently dieting and calories are low you’ll be best served with a lower meal frequency (2-4 meals per day). This will allow you to eat larger meals in a single sitting resulting in better satiety and feelings of fullness.
Conversely, if you struggle to eat large amounts of food in a single sitting, or are currently in a muscle gaining phase which may require eating a large amount of food, then spreading your calorie intake into more meals (4-6 meals per day) will help solve this problem.
Nutrient and Meal Timing
Nutrient and meal timing are terms used to describe when you eat your meals and the specific macro makeup of those meals.
While meal and nutrient timing aren’t as big a factor as some people make it out to be––no, you won’t lose your gains if you don’t slam back a protein shake the second after finishing your last set, and neither will you go catabolic and crash your metabolism if you skip breakfast––there are some instances when meal and nutrient timing do become important.
The first is when carbs are low, like during an extended diet phase. Here you could place the majority of your carbs around your workout to help maintain performance in the gym.
The second is if you train fasted or haven’t eaten anything 3-5 hours before your workout. In this instance, having some food around the workout window can help maintain muscle and help improve performance.
The biggest factor in whether you diet successfully or not is how well you deal with hunger. And yes, some hunger is an inevitable part of the dieting process, but the foods you choose to include in your diet can make things easier, or harder.
If you’re dieting, calorie intake will be low and you’ll be better off choosing foods that are low in calorie density and high in nutrient density.
Lean protein, fruits, potatoes, beans, lentils, and vegetables, are all great choices.
Energy-dense foods like cereal, chocolate bars etc. are less filling and thus, less satiating. This is why you can eat a chocolate bar and be hungry again ten minutes later while a calorically comparable meal filled with protein, healthy carbohydrates and veggies will keep you satiated for longer.
For the most part, aim to have some staple foods and meals that you eat regularly. This makes things simple and prevents paralysis by analysis seeping in.
The key factor here is that you choose what you want to eat and what you don’t want to eat.
Higher Calorie Days
People use to believe that one day of higher calorie eating during a fat loss phase would help increase fat loss by way of ‘boosting the metabolism‘ and upregulating hormones that may have downregulated during a deficit, but, alas! This has turned out to, in fact, not be true.
As I discussed in the PHASE Diet: you need at least 3-4 days of higher calorie eating for a lot of the physiological and hormonal down regulations to pick back up.
With that said, higher-calorie days can be important for some people because the psychology of dieting is far more important than the physiology of dieting.
And the people who are successful with their dieting endeavours tend to be those who can handle the psychological mindfuck that dieting brings with it.
So while one day of higher calorie eating won’t do much to upregulate hormones that have been suppressed from an extended dieting period, they give you a small break from a week of low calories and can help with adherence in the long run. There are generally three types of ways you can implement a higher-calorie day.
- Refeeds: while a refeed can be anytime you overfeed during a dieting phase for a day or two when I refer to refeeds, I’m referring to the common definition of one day of eating at calorie maintenance, with the bulk of the calories coming from a higher carb, lower fat intake.
- Cheat Meals are one or two ‘free’ meals per week where you can eat whatever you like for one meal on top of your daily dieting intake. Note I said one meal. Not the one meal plus everything else in your kitchen. I want to point out that I’m only using the term ‘cheat meal’ as it’s the commonly used term. I don’t like using the word ‘cheat’ when talking about because food or diets as it inadvertently demonises foods which only increases the anxiety and ‘fear’ around eating those foods. Which, for long-term adherence, is no bueno.
- Cheat days are, well, a food orgy. A day of hedonism where there are no rules – eat yourself silly and then pass out from the food coma. I’m not a fan of cheat days. A topic I’ve discussed here.
Out of all of these approaches, I recommend the refeed–a controlled increase of calories to maintenance
Pick one day during the weekend where you bump calories up to maintenance intake (bodyweight x 14) or a slight surplus (bodyweight x 15-16).
So, if you weigh 170 lbs, this means a calorie intake between 2300 – 2600kcal once per week.
Please note the refeed isn’t necessary. If you don’t want to include a higher calorie day, that’s fine. Again, this is a plan made by you, so you get to choose what you want to do. I’m just giving you some guidelines; how you use this information is up to you.
I understand that flexibility is the cool kid on the block and hey, flexibility is awesome. But flexibility on its own is like the hyperactive kid running rampant whose only focus is to enjoy the shit out of life. You need structure and routine to bring some order and semblance to flexibility for you to be successful with your dieting and fat loss goals.
Use these keys to set up your own diet so that you’re prepared for successful fat loss.