And it’s the one that helps you keep your sh*t together.
Odds are you’re either on some kind of diet, have previously been on some kind of diet, or you’re searching for the perfect diet to help you meet your fitness goals. And I’m here to tell you that in my own journey I have tried every diet possible, and I want to tell you which one works for YOU: and that’s going to be the one that’s actually best for your emotional well being.
Guys, I’ve Done It ALL. And I just want to tell you from experience, that it’s ALL frustrating.
Beyond frustrating. I’m a former fat girl who tried and failed at all the diets before learning how to best eat for me. I’ve spent years blogging and educating people about the “better way to eat,” while answering questions, regularly, on how to best “keto/paleo/IF/IIFYM/etc.” My journey of using nutrition to change my life (literally – my body, my life, and my career) has led me to a few conclusions that I think you should hear.
Eating RIGHT for YOU is SO.DAMN.HARD.
Read that again: eating “Right for YOU.” It’s hard because you want someone to tell you what to eat or what diet works best for you, and honestly; it just comes down to you understanding you: your genetics, your lifestyle, your diet history, your internal health, your support group, and what is doable long term that still keeps you HAPPY. And that’s a hard diet to find right there.
I want to tell you my background so that you can believe what I have to say.
In 2003 I graduated college 40 pounds heavier than I started. I was an English major so at the time, I didn’t know anything about nutrition. I started my “weight loss journey” with Weight Watchers:
- A calorie deficit program in which I lost weight and then plateaued because I dropped too many calories too fast and had no where to go.
I stopped WW due to frustration and then I gained my weight back plus some. I actually decided I would just go vegetarian (which turned to Vegan) because it seemed simpler than having to diet. Just don’t eat meat. Or dairy. Or eggs, or any protein. I took on the ultimate carb load. I’m sorry guys – but it is SO hard to eat vegetarian/vegan and get enough protein to build muscle and burn fat without actually gaining fat. Even if my food choices were healthy – beans, rice, fruit, veggies, grains…..this was NOT a calorie deficit plan. It was a carb load without the energy of the complete protein I needed and good fats from animals and fish. I got softer looking and more tired. Not necessarily “healthier” in the way I wanted to feel.
So then I learned about fitness, started going to the gym, eating protein again, and I even got into CrossFit – an organization which at the time, pushed The Zone Diet:
- A calorie deficit program that organized my carbs, fats, and proteins for me. But I was STARVING on this program and eventually stopped, gained weight again, and continued my yo-yo weight gain cycling.
So after the Zone program, I moved on to the Paleo Diet:
- A carb-restricted calorie deficit program that helped me lose weight…until I plateaued AGAIN. But this time, instead of yo-yo’ing, I decided to cut more from my diet and went full on Keto (before it was even trendy) and cut all carbs from my diet. I ate protein and green veggies and that was IT. I got lean. And mean. And ultra-moody. And I resented everything and everyone in the world. I was anxious and angry and was jumping out of my own skin.
So I started having “cheat weekends.” Which turned into binge weekends. Which turned into feeling guilty all week and depriving myself during the week to undue the weekend damage so that when the weekend hit, I would do it all over again. SMH. This obviously didn’t do anything to change my physique so I decided to take on intermittent fasting:
- Another calorie restricted diet that just limited my eating to a short window during the day. I would go until 2, then 3, and then 4pm before I would eat. I would workout and eat my meals between 4-10 and then stop…and get ready to do it all over again the next day. I got NOTHING out of intermittent fasting other than a slowed down, screwed up metabolism….which in fairness, was probably already screwed up by everything I had already done to it previously.
Somewhere in the mix I started Carb-Backloading:
- No carbs at all during the day but then a carb heavy meal after a heavy lifting session at the gym and this worked until I started eating EVERY CARB UNDER THE SUN all evening long in order to get my fix from the YEARS I deprived myself of carbs…..
To then trying out the Carb-Nite Solution:
- Eating carbs only one night a week after a heavy gym sesh so that I wasn’t storing as much carbs in my system each day but was able to still burn fat weekly while replenishing glycogen on that one night a week. It worked … like all diets do for a short period of time… but all I could think about when I was restricting carbs was how much I wanted carbs.
I learned quickly that I can’t restrict. It drives me mentally BATTY. Insane. And I flip out and binge when carbs are “allowed.” This is just one reason why diets don’t work for a lot of people- especially women. Restriction leads to binging which leads to another diet and the cycle never ends, we lose our sanity always trying to be on some sort of diet! I’m emotionally stressed out just writing that sentence! And we women, tend to wrap our emotions into our food choices!
Side note: Ironically, diets actually work better for men. Men don’t attach emotion to food and are much more rational about it. Most don’t fall into the restrict-binge pattern like many women do, and they don’t have the same hormonal imbalances we are fighting when it comes to carb restriction. AND they usually don’t stay on them forever like women do. Aren’t we ALWAYS on a diet?!
Does anything actually work for us???
After studying and failing and succeeding and failing and succeeding at weight loss, I learned a LOT about food and the human body – both men and women’s. Most of all, I learned about myself. I learned I couldn’t be restrictive or I would binge. And through years upon years upon years of coaching people, I’ve learned that MANY women are the exact same. Diet restriction leads to binge. #amiright?!
Can Macro Counting Help?
After years of playing trial and error on myself; I learned about basal metabolic rate, the amount of calories I needed to survive, the amount I needed to get through the day, the amount I needed to maintain muscle, to fix my metabolism, to grow, and even to actually lose weight. You’d be surprised at how high those numbers are – especially if you’ve ever been a chronic dieter. And I’m not going to get uber specific here, but learning about how many calories my body needs at any given point has been a game changer for me, personally. And not just any type of calories: I know that I need about 130+g of protein, about 65+ grams of fat, and roughly 150g of carbs to feel sane, satisfied, maintain muscle, and burn fat. (Did you hear that? I need carbs to not lose my freaking mind. And my hormones need carbs too. More on that in a future post but odds are, if you’re a woman reading this post and you feel like you’re going insane, you may need a few more carbs.)
I now know how to fill my plates and snacks to meet the requirements I need, and I’m super happy with my life now. I don’t use apps and I don’t track every morsel I eat: I know what I need to aim for, I know what foods are the ones I need to eat, and I enjoy everything: proteins, fats, carbs, even treats and alcohol (on occasion or when not currently preggo – lol). For me, just learning more about myself, applying it to my plates, eating the foods I want, and enjoying my life has never felt greater. And even currently on my second pregnancy, I know how to eat better, what my body needs, and how to survive postpartum eating as well. Guys, my weight loss journey started in 2003 and I didn’t feel like I got a grasp on it until somewhere in 2015 maybe?
Learning how to eat for YOU is not an overnight fix, but learning about what foods your body needs – combined with what makes you feel sane (not being deprived at any given moment) could help you find success, happiness, and even your best physique! You can do this too.
How Can My Story Help You?
I’m telling you, I’ve tried every diet that’s ever existed all to learn that they work because they restrict calories, and then they stop working. And most people think they’ve failed so they try the next trend, and then “fail” forward to the next diet, and so on. Some people are chronic dieters. Always looking for the next trend, the next big “thing” and the be-all end all plan.
And yes, while for some people, a temporary diet under the supervision of a qualified coach might actually be the answer (I’m thinking athletes here), the simplest answer for most people, is to look at food as a whole and figure out what makes you happy, what you can put up with, what you can live without, what you can SUCCEED at for the rest of your life. One of my best friends told her class of college students: “Don’t pursue the job that makes you happy, pursue the one with the most amount of shit you’re willing to deal with. Every job comes a certain level of shit and it’s the shit you’re willing to deal with that will keep you the happiest in the long run.”
What shit are you willing to put up with for the rest of your life in order to be happy AND successful??
For me, that means staying away from gluten and sugar, MOST of the time, and enjoying dinners out and parties and holidays without regret. It’s not dieting any more. It’s not restricting anything. It’s knowing how to choose healthy food and prepare wholesome meals made up of proteins and veggies and good fats, and also knowing that if I want dessert I know how satisfy myself without needing cake and muffins or binging on Reeses’s cups. It’s also knowing that I can have a Reese’s cup if I want one. It’s so much about having ice cream in the freezer and knowing I can have it if I want it, but forgetting about it because I don’t “crave it because I’m restricting it.”
The “shit” I’m willing to put up with is,
- Meal prepping every weekend so that I have “good foods” ready to go at all times.
- Paying a little more for organic fruits and veggies and humanely raised meats and protein sources.
- Spending some money on collagen protein for my coffee, and cutting sugar from my coffees and teas so I can have them somewhere else, like in my Perfect Bar or my nightly snack.
- Saying “no” to fast food and pizza and “quick meals” so that when I DO eat those foods, they’re so much more delicious.
- Eating dinners in to save money and having one nice meals out-without regret on what I order-once or so a month.
Does that help? That’s my shit list–mostly food prep and spending time in the kitchen. And then when we do go out for dinner or go out to a party I can enjoy myself without guilt. That’s my life and I don’t restrict a damn thing anymore. I prioritize the “good” and I do NOT obsess about the “bad.” I’m happy with my food AND my body. I do work hard in the gym 4-6 days a week in the gym (give or take) and I know that helps, but honestly I think it helps my sanity and level of confidence more than anything. 😉
So the “diet” that works for me is the one that keeps me sane. Let me give you an example of a day in the life of feeling healthy and sane.
Pre-breakfast: coffee with collagen protein and milk or a “healthier” creamer if I want one. (Most of the time, it’s just frothed milk so I can feel extra fancy in my yoga pants on the couch.)
Breakfast: Eggs with a veggie (usually cauliflower or spinach), some sweet potatoes or beans, and avocado. This meal fuels me for my workout.
Lunch (post workout): Something I whipped up over the weekend and have ready in the fridge – like a big taco salad with lettuce, taco-seasoned beef, corn, black beans, salsa, avocado, Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream for extra protein), and sometimes corn tortilla chips for dipping instead of a fork. #sanity
Snack: a Perfect Bar because I f*&$ing LOVE them. And either a coffee, a tea, or a seltzer water.
Dinner: Something I’ve probably whipped up in the instant pot like beef and butternut squash stew or just tonight- a creamy chicken soup with coconut and potatoes, veggies, chicken, and homemade chicken bone broth. And you know what? Sometimes I have a piece of BREAD with my soups! (Gasp!) And guess what else? It never hurts me in any shape or form.
Pre-bed Snack: I freaking love a big bowl of cottage cheese….with something added. Sometimes it’s nuts and seeds, but usually it’s an organic low sugar jelly or jam with chia and flax seeds, and sometimes some dark chocolate chips. DEVINE. And full of protein and good fats, and enough sweetness to make me feel SANE.
I’m likely in the ballpark of 1900 calories, give or take a hundred.
These are good days.
On bad days, I might eat my kid’s frosted covered animal crackers with her because we’re exhausted and she wants a cookie and she loves sharing with mommy. (Guess what? Those days don’t make much of a difference, if any, in my training or physique because it’s not EVERY day this happens.)
Sometimes we go out for donuts on the way to Nanny’s house, or we have a family date night and order pizza or go out to Buffalo Wild Wings and get all our favorite flavors of wings….with french fries and house salads.
Eating well in order to lose weight and build muscle doesn’t have to be boring, depriving, and it doesn’t have to suck the sanity out of you. You just need to figure out what foods you enjoy – the foods that help you reach your goals – build in some prep time for cooking these foods, and stop depriving yourself of the foods that keep you sane! Figure out the shit you’re willing to compromise with, and then let go of the rest.
“Every once in a while” is VERY different from “every day.”
I was listening to a podcast today on nutrition and the speaker mentioned how having a piece of cake doesn’t have to affect your “diet” or physique, or whatever your goal may be. But eating cake every day might. Blowing your meals every day might. Having one terrible day of food isn’t the end of the world when you go “back to normal” the following day. It’s continuing the unhealthy patterns that make the biggest impact over time. And equally, it’s making the better choices consistently, that make the best impact over time. You’ve got to find your balance, learn to get rid of food guilt, and then know how to continue your best practices after you have a fun night out or holiday celebration, or whatever the case may be.
Here’s What I Need You To Do, Right Now:
- Figure out what shit you don’t mind dealing with for the rest of your life. (food prep, cutting carbs, skipping breakfast, eating carbs once a week…whatever it is).
- Figure out what keeps you sane. (Having a bowl of cereal once a day, or pizza once a week, or a beer every other night…)
- Figure out your personal caloric make-up: what you need every day to fit your goal. (This nutrition calculator is awesome)
- Create a menu that fits ALL of this.
- Set aside a day to shop, cook, prep, and set yourself up for success. (This one day may be hell, but it gets easier and quicker the more you do it – I PROMISE.)
I don’t want to sell you anything other than my promise that I WANT you to find happiness with your food, success in your “diet,” and confidence in YOURSELF. I’m also not going to lie – I have built a life around helping people find their way with food and I’d love to personally help you as well.
FREE! Use this meal plan if you want it!!
I’m giving you a 7-day muscle building and fat burning food plan for free to use however you want. Use it as is, modify it, give it to a friend who might like it, or look at it just to get an idea of what I could offer you. This is a generic plan I actually created for one of my StrongFigure fitness coaches, but I know it also fits the average needs of most of my clients. Even if you modify it, odds are, it could help you or someone you know.
And I also want you to know that I really enjoy creating meal plans and helping people find methods of success when it comes to food. My years of learning about food, fitness, and the body has led me to a career in which I’m able to help others do the same. I calculate each person’s specific caloric needs, break that down into protein, carbs, fat, fiber; and I plan a menu for my clients based on their likes/dislikes, and amount of prep time they are willing to put into the kitchen.
Work with me!!!
If you’d like some one-on-one meal planning assistance, click here to see what I can offer you!!
I promise you, you will never go on a diet again if you work with me. And if you don’t want to work together – just promise me that you’ll only go on the diet that you can put up with for the long haul! Figure out YOU, what makes you happy, and what shit you’re willing to do to get there and I swear you’ll find success. But the key to a proper weight loss journey that STICKS is finding what you can do for life, while happily living life, and not just succumbing to the next quick fix or a trendy diet fad. Find your shit ladies and gentlemen, and find lifetime success.