I was recently asked advice on weight loss and what diet is best to achieve this. While I make no claims to be an expert in any sense of the matter on weight loss, I am comfortable giving general guidelines and tips on how one might go about transitioning from a SAD (standard American diet) to that of a real foods based diet. Before dishing out my advice, I relayed just how important it is to know that not one of us needs the same nutrients in the same amounts as the other. We are all incredibly unique. Our bodies need different things at different times throughout our lives.
A little background on said person seeking advice. He is a middle-aged man looking to lose weight and has been advised to follow a low-calorie/low carbohydrate diet plan. I was asked to keep it short and simple (not an easy task for me) so this was what I recommended…
First, I don’t like giving general statements about what is/is not going to work for someone. What one person needs is totally different from what another does. Without a thorough evaluation, all I am able to do is give very general advice. With that said, I’ll keep it as simple as I can.
What to cook.
If you’re wanting to follow a program that is higher protein/fat and lower carb, here is how I would go about doing that. Keep it simple and stick to meats and veggies with a few healthy fats added in. That means no grains (oats, rice, quinoa, corn, etc.). I would also steer clear of protein shakes/drinks or anything that you would be replacing a meal with. For proteins, this link should help you understand what your options are.
For fats, keep in mind you’re getting some with most meats (I do not recommend eating a low-fat diet what-so-ever) and then whatever you’re cooking your food in. If you’d like to add some fats in addition to that, I would keep it relatively for flavor, i.e. avocado on top of a salad or some type of salad dressing. Butter on potatoes or other veggies, etc.
As for carbs, stick to veggies. Steer clear of most fruits (people can tend to overdo it on fruits) unless you’re just really itching for something. Make sure you’re getting plenty of variety in your veggies with efforts to include greens. As for starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash, and some root vegetables, I would not avoid these. Maybe keeping your starchy carbs to 1/4-1/3 cup per meal would be a good place to start. Really keep in mind that every body is different as to what it needs. If you’re not getting quality sleep, if you’re work is super stressful, if you’re doing high intensity exercise, etc., you’re going to need more carbs than the next person (most of the time).
Things to pay attention to, to help you tweak your carb intake would be energy levels (not feeling rested even with adequate sleep, 7-9 hours/night in complete darkness), moodiness (are you finding that you’re overly agitated?), and quality of sleep (are you having trouble falling or staying asleep?). If you’re noticing any of these issues than you probably need to be eating more starchy carbs while avoiding refined sugar/processed foods/etc. One other thing I would suggest thinking about is if you’re good with moderation or you need things to be black-and-white as far as rules around what you’re eating are concerned. This will be key to your success at this. If you do well with moderation (you can have a cookie here or a few bites of ice cream and be done) then great, keep that in mind and maybe eliminating these foods all together isn’t what’s best for you. If you prefer black-and-white rules around food and it doesn’t stress you out or lead you to binge on said food afterwards, then that’s great as well. I just think this is an important thing to know about yourself before taking on any dietary changes/challenges.
What fats to use.
Check out these two links for good ideas on what fats you should be eating and others you should be avoiding:
Examples of meals.
This depends on how much you want to cook and how important variety is to you. I’ll give you some examples but first, if you want to make these changes a priority, you really need to schedule time to plan what you’re going to be eating for the week and then doing as much grocery shopping and food prep as you can during these scheduled times. What my family does is we plan a couple of meals per week, we grocery shop on Sunday’s and I do most of our cooking on this day as well. Here is an example of how this looked for us this week… I’ll include links that I used so you have a few ideas to go off of.
Some general ideas for how to go about batch cooking would be to cook a couple pounds of meat for breakfasts, roast a bunch of vegetables for heating up or throwing into salads, breakfast frittatas are great to have on hand, roast a chicken to have on hand, make some hard boiled eggs, etc. I never don’t have options for food and I try to only allow myself a meal away from home 1-2x/week to make sure I’m eating the foods I’ve prepared.
Here are the meals I planned for this week:
We also will do breakfast frittatas that we make on Sunday and then eat throughout the week. Most times, we keep it real simple…. cook up some meat and veggies, beat roughly 15-18 eggs, grease a big casserole dish with butter and plop everything in and let it bake.
Lunch: Most lunches for myself are leftovers or salads. I make tons of soups and stews or I always have some meat browned and veggies ready to throw a salad together. Getting a high quality bratwurst that you like and having that with a salad and some roasted potatoes or other veggies is quick and easy to throw together. For salad dressings that aren’t homemade, I prefer this brand. Their creamy ranch is so good and you can get them at most Whole Foods and Natural Grocers or, of course, you can buy them online.
Snacks: Good quality deli turkey (pay attention to ingredients, there shouldn’t be anything other than turkey and spices) with a good quality mayo or some slices of cheese. I like nut butter with an apple or on top of some roasted cinnamon sweet potatoes. Hard boiled eggs, a small portion of your breakfast food or dinner meals. Another good snack idea is jerky (either homemade or grass-fed beef/properly raised meats… keep it really clean with the ingredients) and in a pinch, I like these bars. Try keeping snacks centered around proteins and fats.
Dinners: We do a ton of slow-cooker meals, soups, slow cooked meats like carnitas, rice bowls, taco salads, roasted whole chickens or individual pieces, roasted veggies, hashes, steaks, burgers, etc. I really keep it pretty simple. Spaghetti and sauce on top of spaghetti squash noodles, etc.
Here are some good recipe ideas from one of my favorite blogs to get meal ideas from–> link. Really, if there’s something you like to have, a little time on google search and you should be able to make it fit into a healthier version that consists of real foods.
Good drink options.
Water, first and foremost. Be real with yourself when it comes to alcohol. Alcohol is a condensed version of sugar that has no positive health impacts on your body. If you do want to have a drink, I would favor vodkas made from potatoes or grapes mixed with water/soda water, lemon and/or lime, or wine. Here’s a good article that has a nice cheat sheet–> http://www.marksdailyapple.com/top-10-paleo-party-rules/.
As for coffee/caffeine, limit yourself to 1-2 cups (a cup is 8 oz)/day with no caffeine after 12 noon. Organic coffee is best and if you do decaf, make sure it is swiss water processed. If you like cream in your coffee, stick with heavy whipping cream. If you can find a grass-fed option that would be best. Kalona brand is really good for this and what we drink in our home. Steer clear of any prepackaged creamers like CoffeeMate, etc.
If weight loss is your goal, stay away from smoothies/shakes. It’s much easier to consume ample calories in these drinks not to mention that food is meant to be eaten (for the most part), not drank.
Other notes and comments.
This is a lot of information and since I don’t really know where you’re beginning from, a way to keep it simple would be to say to 1. Eat real food…. stuff that comes from the earth and that you have cooked at home. 2. Move every day… just getting up and walking every morning or doing some deep breathing and stretches, this is moving, do it. Especially if you sit for much of the day in a car or at work. Set a timer and every hour, move for 5-10 minutes at your desk. You get the idea, I’m sure. 3. Sleep. Seriously, you need to be getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep/night. This means no phone, ipad, computer, tv, etc. before bed.
I really could go into way more detail but this is the gist of how to get a good start at being healthier and getting your body to a weight it’s meant to be at. I briefly touched on food quality so here are some links to resources for why the quality of your food is so important and how to decide where food quality is most important. For produce, look here and here. For animal products, check out this link and this one.
As always, if you have any questions, use the comments below and I’m happy to get to them!
Happy New Year!