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The Secret To Lean Eating

I’ll often tell my personal training clients that nutrition will be responsible for 75% or more of their results. This is true whether they’re looking to lose weight or add muscle mass.

I believe deep down most people know that their diet really is the determining factor in whether or not the time they spend working out will pay any dividends.

A good diet and sub-par workouts will be more effective than a poor diet and excellent workouts in almost every case. So why is it that getting the diet part right can be so difficult?

I’ve often pondered this question while brainstorming for ways I could be better helping my clients. Experience has shown me that in the majority of cases, the root problem can be traced back to one or more of the following factors:

  • Over-complicating matters of what to be eating or how to make it.
  • Faulty belief systems, assuming the diet must be perfect all the time.
  • Failure to plan and prepare in advance.
  • Refusal to make short-term sacrifices and temporarily give up certain foods or drinks.
  • Managing dietary habits and routines in the REVERSE order of what’s most effective.

In today’s post I’ll be discussing each of these issues and revealing what I believe to be the true secret (if there is such a thing) to lean eating.

More after the jump…

Let me preface this discussion by describing a common trend I see with personal training clients who struggle with their diets. It’s something I often refer to as the “roller coaster cycle.” An individual will do fairly well with their diet for a day or two, maybe longer, then slip into a period of poor food choices.

This could also be reflective of someone doing well with their diet during the day, but then blowing it with poor choices at dinner. It’s symbolic of being on a roller coaster ride with going up and down between good choices and bad.

Inevitably these roller coaster cycles will only produce feelings of guilt and failure. I can assure you this is no way to establish a pattern for success. Unfortunately I see far too many people beating themselves up for not being able to stay consistent.

What they fail to realize is that they’re not the problem, their SYSTEM is the problem!

Just like with anything else in life, success will largely be determined by first having a plan, and then working that plan.

Nutrition habits that produce weight loss and gets one to a level of leanness they desire don’t happen by chance. These habits are developed over time with consistent actions based off of a plan.

In other words, you need to have a SYSTEM that will work to produce the results you want while also being doable on a regular basis.

Let me give you some examples of not having a plan in place.

Failure to plan and prepare in advance

It’s 7:30 or 8:00PM and you’ve just walked into the house after a long day. You open the fridge and look around to see what you might have for dinner. More often than not you’ve probably already lost the battle.

It’s too late, you’re hungry and eight ball says the chances of you thawing out those frozen chicken breasts and steaming up some veggies don’t look good!  You’re going to be tempted to grab something quick or head out the door to the nearest drive-through or neighborhood restaurant.

I don’t care who you are, the combination of hunger and the lack of a plan will more often than not lead to poor choices. I’ve often struggled with this very thing myself, which is exactly why I make it a point to have a plan.

In my kitchen you’ll see a small whiteboard on the front of the fridge with a calendar. Underneath each day of the current week you’ll find initials and a note on what’s going to be for dinner that night. The initials are either mine or my wife’s. We plan this out each Sunday picking who’s going to cook each day of the upcoming week depending on our work schedules.

The idea is to share the load and work together, but also equally important is the element of having a plan in ADVANCE. You see we’ve learned this the hard way by both coming in the door late at night after work and looking at each other wondering what’s going to be for dinner.

By making a plan we make better choices. Sounds simple, and it really is, but I know we’re probably in the minority here. Let’s face it, the days of our parent’s generation where a man would come home after a long day of work to find a hot meal waiting at the table are long gone.

A lot of families now have both spouse’s working outside the home just to make ends meet. Even if that’s not the case, there shouldn’t be the expectation of one individual doing the cooking ALL the time. There’s a bit of relationship advice if anyone’s interested.

But back to the point at hand, do you see how having a plan can make such a big difference?

Another example would be getting to lunch time and having no idea of what you’re going to have. If this is left to chance the end result probably won’t be pretty. Again, it’s all about having a plan and a system that works.

Packing your lunch works great, but it’s by no means a necessity. What is important however is not feeling like you’re starving when you get to lunch. Another reason for a mid-morning snack to control blood sugar levels. This can make the difference between you choosing that grilled chicken salad over the fried chicken sandwich and fries.

If you frequently make poor choices at lunch because you’re overly hungry, rushed for time, or whatever, identify the problem and fix it!

Over-complicating matters of what to eat or how to make it…

Let’s start with the first part, we can make this real simple by sticking with predominately natural, whole foods. Sure a high quality meal replacement shake can be fine for a substitute with some meals or snacks, but processed and refined foods that provide empty calories are always inferior choices.

You’re not going to change your shape, and keep it, by eating Lean Cuisines or whatever in a box, pre-made meals all the time. This isn’t so much about having a time problem as it is having a priority problem. Re-heating left-overs is not the same as nuking processed food in box.

Again this all goes back to preparation. I tell people all the time if you don’t have a Crock Pot, go get one. It’s probably the most used piece in my kitchen outside of the Vitamix. You can make up a wide variety of dishes in bulk quantities and put away containers of ready made meals in the fridge for the week.

Don’t think for a second that I’m whipping up fancy meals from scratch all the time when it’s my turn to prepare dinner. If you always have time to do this, good for you, consider yourself in the minority. But for those of us pressed for time with busy schedules, you’ve got to be creative if you want to make good choices on a regular basis.

There’s also the misconception that people who regularly eat healthy, do so by having to eat the same things over and over again. This is by no means a necessity. There’s certainly nothing wrong with experimenting with various cooking methods and recipes.

Using the grill, a convection oven, and Crock Pot are great ways to make healthy meals without a ton of prep or cooking time. Of course the Crock Pot is a slow cooker, but you can just chuck stuff in there and put it on low and come back at night with dinner ready.

Again, don’t over-complicate things!

Refusal to make short-term sacrifices or temporarily give up certain foods or drink…

I’m not going to sugar coat or dance around this one. Look, we’re all big boys and big girls who are capable of making adult decisions. If you know something is a vice that’s keeping you from seeing the results you want, get it out of your diet for a while.

Nobody says you have to give up <fill in the blank> for the rest of your life, but you’ve got to decide just how important your goals are. If those goals aren’t more important to you than those cookies or three glasses of wine at night or whatever, then you’ve got a priority problem not a diet problem.

Often times this might just mean not having certain foods or drink as frequently, but then again you may find you’re better off giving them up completely for a while. You make those decisions based off of whether or not your diet is working to provide you with the results you want.

Managing dietary habits and routines in REVERSE order of what’s most effective…

It’s not uncommon for fitness trainers and nutritionists to make recommendations for keeping a food journal or diet log. Truth be told, this is an excellent idea which can significantly improve results.

The way I see it though is the practice of keeping a food journal is often done in reverse order of what would make the biggest impact.

Logging or tracking what you’ve eaten AFTER the fact, while helpful for becoming more conscious with what you eat, does little to promote habit formation through planning and preparation.

That’s the secret, there I just gave it to you. It’s planning and preparation…I’ve simply found no way to omit these two pieces of the puzzle and still see consistent favorable results.

Try keeping a food or nutrition journal in reverse by writing down what you’re GOING to have for your meals that day. Then you can go back and edit if you ended up deviating from that plan for whatever reason, which may not necessarily have been a bad thing.

Prepare and plan….prepare and plan.

Focus on these two foundations for success with lean eating and you’ll find things go way smoother.

On a final note, don’t obsess with trying to be perfect all the time, it ain’t going to happen. First off it’s not practical and second it’s no way to try and live your life. If your diet becomes a burdensome chore of always trying to eat boring and bland meals that you don’t like, how long do you think you’ll be able to stick with it?

Cut yourself some slack and put things in the right perspective. If you’ve eaten clean most of the week and exercised regularly, that piece of pizza on Friday night won’t make a big difference. However, if that one piece of pizza is likely to turn into the whole pie, you might want to refrain until you’ve got better control over your eating.

Be patient with yourself as healthy eating habits and routines take time to develop. Pick one thing at a time and work solely on that one change until you’ve established a habit. Don’t look to overhaul you’re entire diet at one time as this likely will become overwhelming and make sure to visit the Orthodontist in Calgary if you want the healthy smile which you always desired.

Remember the most important thing is to make a plan then work that plan over and over until it becomes part of your subconscious thoughts.

Striving for consistency and not perfection is the way you’ll find success.

If you could use some assistance with making diet and lifestyle changes find an accountability partner or coach who can help. Going it all alone can be tough. If you live in the Lowcountry area contact me for a free no-obligations consultation and trial of my Charleston personal training programs.

Also feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Hope you found this post to be informative and helpful. God bless and take care- S.

Shane Doll CPT, CSCS is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.


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