Right off the bat, I’ll go on record and say I’m not a fan of quick fixes or “hacks”.
If something seems too good to be true, it usually is too good to be true. Every human body is different, and everyone has different goals- so the same diet will not work for everyone. However, what I intend to lay out here is a framework that people can adapt for their body and their goals to get results.
Don’t get hung up on counting calories
Unless you are a weight classed athlete where every macronutrient tracked is vital, counting calories is very labour intensive and can lead people to rebel against their food plan. The stricter the parameters, the bigger the rebellion can be. But if calories in are less than calories out, weight will decrease right? Yes, but there are a number of factors that can influence calories in (the labels on food not being 100% accurate, how the food is cooked, and how much of the calories the individual actually absorbs efficiently) AND calories out (exercise and activity level). So it can be time-consuming, AND frustrating trying to track. However the main reason I say try to avoid counting calories is even simpler- it doesn’t keep you in tune with your body. You aren’t eating for satisfaction, you are eating to meet a pre-determined number, which can throw you out of line with your own hunger and fullness cues, and develop a relationship with food that is not healthy, or sustainable.
Portion your food mindfully
This is one of the main points I took when studying Precision Nutrition- a simple, effective way to portion your food is to use your hands. Your palm dictates your protein portion. Your fist dictates your veg portion. Your cupped hand dictates your carb portion. Your thumb dictates your fat portion. Using this system, you can easily make adjustments to meet your goals without obsessively tracking every macronutrient you take in. A plate for someone looking to lose body fat may have a palm of protein, a cupped hand of carbs, a fist of veg and a thumb of fat, for example. Someone looking to gain muscle may add a second palm of protein to their meal, or an extra cupped handful of carbs post-workout for example. Based on how the body reacts to these measurements, the amounts can be increased or decreased accordingly.
Eat mindfully, without distractions
This is another point I took from PN that resonated, and I’ll tell you why. Sitting down and eating in front of the tv distracts you from your hunger/fullness cues, which can very easily lead to over-eating. If you are not mindful when taking in your food you can very easily lose track of just how much you are eating. You also tend to eat faster than you would if you were say sharing a meal with your family or friends and having a conversation, which again means that you can take in more food than you normally would. It can take as long as 20 minutes for your body to signal to your brain that you are full. If you are trying to cram your food in during the first half of your favourite tv show, you may not even realise you are full until the end credits- whereby you realise that actually, you didn’t need that extra helping.
Eat according to your goals- and realise what it means to do so
This sounds very simple, but it’s something that people need to realise of all goals. It’s not always going to be easy. If you are trying to lose weight, the truth is sometimes you are going to have to leave the table with a little hunger remaining. To be clear, I am not advocating starving yourself! If you leave the table ravenous you are likely to binge later, on “high reward” foods like processed sugar etc that will give an instant kick to your energy levels, but very little in the way of actual nutritional value. That said, if you are trying to lose weight, eating until you are stuffed is not a realistic expectation, you have to make peace with the fact that sometimes, you’ll be a little hungrier than you are used to. Conversely, the other end of the spectrum- for someone looking to gain, you may find yourself leaving the table slightly more full than you are used to, and potentially not comfortable. It's not a problem that comes up as much, however, it is potentially an issue. Sometimes you will have to eat a little faster than normal to get the extra calories in before your usual fullness cues kick in. Whatever your goal, there will be a trade-off that you have to identify and accept in order to achieve it.
Eat a diverse selection of real food!
This one is very simple but will take you a long way. Let's compare eating sugary fruit, with a chocolate bar for example. So, an unnamed chocolate bar contains 228 calories (roughly) compared to a large banana which has 121 (roughly). However the hyper-palatable chocolate has a number of pitfalls- firstly it has no dietary fibre, so the sugar will be absorbed far quicker into the bloodstream- resulting in unpredictable spikes in energy levels, and a faster return of hunger. The mighty banana, a fairly high sugar fruit, also contains dietary fibre- resulting in slower absorption of sugar, a more predictable supply of energy, and a slower return of hunger. That is observing sugar alone, you can add a little peanut butter (natural, without the added nasties) to your banana and you then have a food that will give you a steadier supply of energy, with the added peanut butter has fat and protein (which spend longer in the stomach and thus help with hunger pangs) and will be comparable in calories. It’s a no-contest, and that’s without even touching on the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that help your body function at it’s best. Hint, the banana dominates here too. The message? Eating natural, real food gives you a better bang for your buck in terms of nutrients (both macro and micro), and satiety. Why eat something that won’t give you as much, and leave you craving more shortly after? Keep it real!