This isn’t going to be one of the usual new-year-new-you diet articles that you’ve become so accustomed to reading. In fact, the dreaded “D” word implies that your newly adopted nutritional habits are a finite pursuit whose end is usually celebrated with pizza, ice cream and a few bottles of craft brew.
Indeed, diets spell the death of the majority of weight-loss resolutions in February because cookie-cutter meal plans devised by nutritionists who have never met you lack personalization, sustainability and effectiveness: Maybe you don’t like eggs. Maybe you’re not a 180-pound male. Maybe you don’t have $300 a week to spend on groceries. These considerations are far too often marginalized by experts, athletes and, yes, even nutrition writers.
What follows here is not a blueprint of calorically perfect meals but rather a progressive 14-day set of fueling strategies you can implement to clean up your nutrition habits for 2018, no resolution required. The tips are straightforward and easy to follow, and each builds on the ones before, keeping you from getting overwhelmed while providing practical, day-to-day wisdom to steer you toward cleaner eating.
“Typically, people make too many changes at once and it’s too much to handle, process and adjust to,” says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, owner of DanaWhiteNutrition
.com. “Big lifestyle changes are better tackled in small increments to set you up for long-term success.”
This year, don’t burn out on chicken and broccoli by Valentine’s Day. Incorporate one food and lifestyle adjustment per day into your routine and ease into 2018 like a boss … a super-lean, lift-all-the-weight, take-no-prisoners boss who makes performance nutrition and clean eating look easy.
Day 1: Drink More Water
How much of the clear stuff are you having every day? If you’re like most people, not enough.
Adequate hydration is essential for proper metabolic function. But water also keeps you full, without adding calories to your daily total. A 2010 study in the journal Obesity found that individuals who consumed 16 ounces of fluids before a meal decreased the amount of food eaten at the meal, which led to greater weight loss compared to individuals who didn’t consume water before their meals.
DO THIS: Aim to consume half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. Have a water bottle at the handy at all times, and set a timer on your smartphone to remind you to drink up.
Day 2: Egg Up at Breakfast
Researchers at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that those who ate eggs for breakfast were leaner and had fewer cravings than those who didn’t. Plus, the protein from eggs provides much-needed amino acids to muscles after eight to 10 hours of fasting (while sleeping), as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fats from the vitamin-rich yolk. The perfect egg partners: slower digesting carbohydrates like oats and brightly colored fruits and veggies to add vitamins, antioxidants and physique-friendly fiber.
DO THIS: Schedule a set time for breakfast every day. Prep food the night before, if need be, and make sure to include eggs with your meal to build muscle and reduce cravings.
Day 3: Chew Your Food
“This may sound like something your mom would tell you when you were a kid, but there’s good science behind it,” says Greg Nuckols of StrongerByScience.com. “When you chew your food more per bite, you’ll naturally eat [almost 15 percent] less per meal and still feel just as satiated.”
DO THIS: Take a bite of food and notice how long you typically chew it. Then increase that time by two to promote satiety and calorie control.
Day 4: Get in Bed
Nuckols continues his parental coaching: “Sleeping less than eight hours per night is associated with increased obesity risk, increases in ghrelin (a hormone that makes you hungry) and decreases in leptin (a hormone that helps you feel satiated). It’s easier to stick to a healthy eating plan and consume fewer calories if you’re not hungry all the time.”
DO THIS: Turn off the TV and other devices and get to bed at a time that allows for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Day 5: Go Whole Grain
This is one of the easiest swaps you’ll ever make: Take all your white bread and tortillas to the nearest duck pond and trade up to whole foods. Whole-grain and whole-wheat products taste great and slow digestion because of their high-fiber and nutrient content. This means less of a negative impact on blood sugar and insulin release than their more refined counterparts.
DO THIS: Swap all your white bread and refined grain products for whole-wheat and whole-grain options. They are widely available and cost roughly the same.
Day 6: Perfect Your Protein Intake
Protein is the king of the macronutrients when it comes to building and repairing muscle tissue. And if you’re training the way you should, maximizing recovery with proper nutrition is crucial. Protein supplies your body with amino acids, increasing your chance for gains in lean muscle, and therefore an increase in your body’s ability to burn fat.
DO THIS: Aim to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day (on average), and strive to include protein in every meal and snack throughout the day.
Day 7: Prep Your Meals
Lack of preparation and planning is the death knell of every resolution dieter. To stay focused and on track, you need to have the right foods on hand — snacks prepared, meals cooked and ready to go, and lunches packed for the road or office. The first time you head to the fridge hungry and realize you have to cook, the more likely you are to heat up that leftover pizza or head to the drive-thru.
DO THIS: Create a shopping list replete with healthy selections and head to the store. Cook food in large batches and portion it out into meals and snacks for the week. Also, buy things that are healthy and easy to make in a pinch: microwaveable oatmeal (without sugar!), protein powder and/or ready-to-drink protein shakes. (See Day 13 for more ideas.)
Day 8: Get Your Jolt
The caffeine in brewed coffee boosts alertness, temporarily increases strength and assists in fat burning. Have your first fix at breakfast to start your day with a bang, and at least six hours later, put some in your preworkout drink 30 to 60 minutes before your first rep. As a longevity bonus, the European Society of Cardiology found that those who consumed 4 cups of antioxidant-loaded coffee per day had a 64 percent reduced chance of early death.
DO THIS: Take in 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine once or twice daily for performance benefits, including one dose preworkout. Limit caffeinated coffee in the hours before bedtime to ensure optimal sleep, and allow several hours between helpings to avoid jitters.
Day 9: Fish for Recovery (and Other Stuff)
Now that you have eight days of healthier habits under your belt, it’s time to consider supplementation, starting with fish oil. Fish oil doesn’t get the fanfare and accolades that some products do, but it is a health-and-performance powerhouse that supports brain and joint health while boosting your fat-burning capabilities. Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those who took 6 grams of fish oil per day while exercising dropped 1.2 percent body fat — in just 12 weeks!
DO THIS: Introduce a basic, quality fish-oil product, such as Omega-3 Fish Oil from the Vitamin Shoppe ($29.99), and take 2 grams, three to four times per day.
Day 10: Expand Your Antioxidant Menu
White says the importance of antioxidants for active individuals cannot be stressed enough. “They need to be a regular fixture in the diet to be effective at fighting inflammation and boosting immunity and skin and heart health,” White says. “The best sources are plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.”
DO THIS: When selecting your produce, reach for the brightest-skinned options: bell peppers, tomatoes, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries. Augment your intake with a quality multivitamin like MyTrition ($39.99) from the Vitamin Shoppe.
Day 11: Power With Protein
As you try to decide what to tote along with you throughout the day or what type of food to fuel with when you’re out of the house, always think protein first. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals who ate 30 — and no more than 45 — grams of protein at each meal produced the greatest association with lean mass and strength. That doesn’t mean you’ll need five to six 30-gram helpings of protein, however. Participants in the study showed improvements in strength and mass with only two helpings per day. The sweet spot will be somewhere in between.
DO THIS: You should aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. To put yourself in the ballpark, aim for 30 to 45 grams of protein at meals and have lower-sugar, protein-rich snacks available to you at all times. Think jerky, almonds, Greek yogurt, protein powder and boiled eggs to keep your cravings at bay while aiding muscle repair.
Day 12: Spud Up
One food that helps you stay full and happy — while also scoring high in general deliciousness — is the almighty potato. “Carbs help give you energy, but some people have a tendency to overeat them,” Nuckols says. “However, in a 1995 study that tested the satiating effects of 38 common foods, boiled potatoes were found to be the most satiating item (how full you feel per calorie consumed) by far. In fact, they were almost 50 percent more satiating than the next food down the list (ling fish).
DO THIS: Whether boiled, baked or even microwaved, a potato any time of the day is likely to keep you from binging on less-healthy comfort food. Drizzle with olive oil and a bit of pepper for an easy, guilt-free craving crusher.
Day 13: Write On
While we have until now intentionally avoided prescribing calorie counts and macronutrient breakdowns, it’s time for you to start tracking. By journaling everything that you’re taking in each day, you can quantify your journey and — here is the important part — adjust as necessary in order to reach your goals. Often, you won’t realize your nutritional weaknesses until you actually expose them on paper. Research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that those who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who did not keep track.
DO THIS: Develop a spreadsheet that tracks the basics, including water, calories, carbs, protein and fat, as well as sodium and fiber. Notate how you’re feeling, what’s working and what’s not. Not an Excel expert? Try a simple journal like Fitlosophy’s Fitbook, available at the Vitamin Shoppe ($11.99). You also can use fitness apps like MyFitnessPal.
Day 14: Stop Eating … Seriously
Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intermittent fasting — stretches of eight to 16 hours or more without eating — can help you lose 0.5 to 1.7 pounds per week while also improving body composition.
DO THIS: For someone who is just beginning (or returning to) a healthy eating lifestyle, extended bouts of intermittent fasting might spell disaster. A better bet is to try two consecutive days per week, once or twice per month, when you go 12 to 16 hours without food. Try passing on dinner on those days, then have a reasonable breakfast. On those two days, strive to keep calories to 500 to 700 total while keeping your water consumption and workout schedule normal. It’s just two days. You can do this. <