One of the things people always suggest is to write about the topics that you get asked about regularly. In my daily practice as a fitness and wellness director, nutrition and weight loss is the number one topic that I discuss with clients. Nutrition is one of those things that is pretty simple, but definitely not EASY. I don’t create meal plans for the clients that I work with. It’s just not my expertise, but I get asked to pretty regularly. If you have access to a service that creates meal plans for you, and you like them, and it works for you, that is awesome. But if you want to try and tackle it on your own (and I believe you can!) give these 5 steps a shot.
- Before you make any changes, evaluate WHAT you’re doing now.
This step is really important and it’s the first step for a reason. Many people overlook the fact that while they may have more body fat than they like, they aren’t constantly gaining weight everyday. Therefore, they have a set point that needs to be identified. You can’t make the right changes if you don’t know what you’re currently doing. Most people eat pretty consistently (good or bad!) so before you make any changes at all, spend about a week cataloging everything you eat. If you need some help going through the results, find someone to help you identify some problem areas. You can use an app on your phone to catalog your intake, or just keep a handwritten journal. You need to know what you’re eating and approximately how much. What you are looking for is your total caloric intake per day as well as inconsistent eating behavior (binges or long stretches without food).
- Always add activity before you restrict calorie intake.
This is another issue I see with people who are gung-ho on starting both a new nutrition plan AND a workout program. This creates a lot of stress for the body and can sometimes set you up to fail at both. There is a point where you just can’t subtract any more calories and still remain healthy. I always suggest that increasing your physical activity by exercising should be first on the list. By doing this, you can buffer a lot of the bad nutrition habits and once your body adapts to the new exercise program, then you attack your nutrition from a QUALITY standpoint.
- One meal at a time.
When you go to clean up your diet, take a close look at your nutrition journal you made in step one. Start with breakfast, and spend as much time as you need to make it the PERFECT meal. Don’t worry about the rest of the day until you get breakfast dialed in. Once you are comfortable with your breakfast meal, move on to lunch (or mid morning snacks or whatever). By taking one meal at a time, you can get into a better routine and it’s not such a huge shock. Many people try to go from eating 2 meals a day from a drive through to eating 6 or 7 small meals that are super healthy and need a lot of preparation. That lasts about a week before it turns out to be too much effort all at once. Take your time, and get each meal PERFECT before moving on.
- Prep your meals for the week (kind of).
Meal prep is a hot topic right now and for good reason. It works well. But some people have issues with meal prep. You’re essentially eating left overs all the time and there is a lot of repeated meals and a lot of up front work. Personally, I don’t mind it, and eating week old cold chicken doesn’t bother me. But, I can see how it might not be perfect for everyone. So here’s the tip for this step. Prep your PROTEIN. Protein usually takes longer to prepare and you need have good quality sources or protein ready, or the drive through window starts to look like a viable option. You can always have some fruits and veggies cleaned and cut and ready to grab on the fly as well. Good sources of fat are also usually quick to grab and not an issue. If you CAN, prepare each meal for the week on whatever day of the week works for you. If you weigh and measure things, it will be much easier this way. But if you can’t do the full prep, just grill up a lot of meat and prep your protein. You can whip together your meals for the day quickly without having to prep EVERYTHING. I can pack my meals for the day while my 3 eggs are frying during breakfast. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to do!
This is an important step, but a little bit tricky for some. Everything you do MUST be measureable, observable, and repeatable. This means that you must be able to evaluate your progress by looking at what changes you made and whether or not those changes worked. The scale is not a reflection of you as a person, it is a scale and it displays numbers. This means that whenever you make a change to your nutrition, you need to see if it worked. If it didn’t, go back to what you were doing and change something else. 2-week periods are usually enough time to see change. Strive for between 1-2 pounds of weight loss (or gain if you are gaining) per week. If you miss the mark for the week, don’t stress it, but evaluate the week and see if you can find the reason without judgments! I recommend weighing every couple of days rather than every day. Water weight tends to fluctuate radically and can cause the scales to be misleading. When you weigh, put your weight into a graph to see the changes over time. Even with some ups and downs, you WILL see progress heading in the right direction. The IPhone has a health app that will graph your weight, and I’m sure there are more options out there.
I had some pretty good conversations with two folks this last week that encouraged me to outline these 5 easy weight loss strategies. While I’m sure there are more steps that could be included, these are my primary recommendations and I think that they will get anyone on the right track. Learning HOW your personal nutrition plan should look is the most important thing. It will be a constant work in progress, but if you lay the appropriate groundwork, you can make changes depending on your goals. Good luck with your journey and let me know in the comments any other strategies you have. And of course, any questions. I’d love to hear from you!