The other day I started answering a few questions that I get on how to plan out meals when trying to eat healthy. These are the questions that I get from just about every client that I work with so I figured most of you probably have some of the same questions. I know I did and really could have used all the help I could get.
Here are a few more to help you in your journey.
How do I make healthy choices with my eating?
The first few steps I take aren’t to make a complete overhaul of every meal. It’s to modify portion sizes of what you currently eat. That way you aren’t just going cold turkey and feeling like the world as you know it is gone. Ultimately it’s better to limit the amount of processed or “junk” foods and make better food choices for your health, but limit doesn’t mean never. It may mean once a day instead of every meal, or once a week instead of daily. It’s more what fits with your lifestyle, preferences, and goals.
Once you have a handle on meeting your goal macros, then look at a few areas that you could improve upon with food choices. Reduce the amounts of things like mayonnaise, cheese, and salad dressings. Try working in some healthy oils like olive oil in cooking veggies and on salads, nuts and nut butters. Pick low fat dairy or leaner cuts of meats. Opt for egg whites instead of whole eggs. Eat a whole grain English muffin instead of white toast.
You can even add an extra side of veggies and reduce portions of other things. You don’t have to change everything, but pick a couple things to substitute and see how that goes. You can even do a mix. If you always have whole cream in your coffee, try half cream and half skim milk. Change the ratio little by little, so you don’t notice an obvious change.
When do I get or how often should I have a cheat meal?
Personally I don’t do cheat meals and I don’t typically have clients do them either. I’ve found that cheat meals tend to turn into mini (and sometimes not so mini) binges and weight loss stalls or there may even be a gain. It’s also mentally difficult for many dieters. Cheat meals even when they aren’t huge tend to be higher carb, higher fat, and higher sodium than someone’s usual meals.
This translates to water weight on the scale. It has a tendency to cause panic and frustration, and many of us temporarily throw in the towel after that. I really encourage you to work foods you love into your eating when you have cravings, special events, and other occasions. No foods are off limits so nothing is a “cheat”. It’s just satisfying a craving or enjoying a social event with a small portion of foods you want and fitting them into your plan.
That being said there are times when refeeds or off plan meals are a good thing. Refeeds are planned increases in carbs that serve a physical purpose when someone is very lean. For example, during competition prep. Off plan meals are for mental reasons and can also serve a purpose when dieting. Sometimes you just mentally need a break from tracking and it helps you come back mentally stronger instead of totally falling apart.
If you have an off plan meal, you need to be OK that it may prevent fat loss for the week. If you’ll be upset or have guilt and regrets afterwards, consider just working it into your calories and macros. Food should not cause guilt and regret.
Do I really need to track/weigh/measure everything I eat?
Honestly yes. Even the most experienced experts and calculators are still taking a best guess when laying out your macros and calories. Everyone’s metabolism is different, activity levels are hard to determine, and other factors can all impact the amount of calories we need each day. Tracking, weighing and measuring allows you to know exactly how many calories, proteins, fats, and carbs you are eating. Combine this knowledge with your goal, and you can accurately make adjustments when you need to.
Imagine that you sort of track and you’re eating about 1800 calories a day. You should be losing weight at those numbers but the scale isn’t moving. You decide to eat a little less so you make portions smaller, but how much smaller are they? Some days you’ll end up eating less than others. You won’t know for sure how much you’ve reduced or even if you have. Compare that to knowing each day that you are eating 1800 calories and you want to reduce another 100 per day.
Tracking along with weighing and measuring allows you to do that and know for sure. It also helps to prevent accidental undereating or overeating. You don’t have to weigh and measure forever. It’s definitely a great idea to do so for a while in the beginning until you get a handle on serving sizes and calories. Once the scale is moving regularly or you reach your goal, you may find that you only need an occasional check in to make sure you’re still on track.
If there are questions I can help answer for you or you’d like more details, feel free to ask at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments below.