As a personal trainer, advising my clients on diet and nutrition has been one of the true challenges of my career. When I first started as a trainer, I would give my clients diet plans that would be very prescriptive: 60% of their daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates, 20 to 30% should come from protein, and 10 to 20% should come from fats. Typically, I would find that about 10% of my clients would actually follow the diet, and even less than that would succeed at it. I kept asking myself why was it so hard for people to follow a simple diet plan, and for the those that did follow it, why did they not lose weight? As I asked my clients more questions about their experiences, I soon began to realize why.
When my clients would come back to see me after being on a diet plan for a few days, I would ask them how the diet plan was going. Their answers were all too similar:
“I followed the plan....but I did have a cookie here or there.”
“I followed the plan....but I did go back for seconds at dinner.”
“I followed the plan....but there was this birthday party.”
The thing that kept popping up was the “but.” They would follow the plan, but not 100 percent of the time. Why? What was it that made them not follow the plan?
As I asked more questions, I soon realized there were many reasons. Some admitted they had very little will power. Some actually felt peer pressure from family and friends to eat what they were eating or drinking. And some of my clients just liked to eat, and didn't want to restrict their enjoyment in eating. As a trainer, this was very frustrating, but it showed me that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another. So, I stopped prescribing diet plans in this manner and went back to the drawing board.
I started to look at some of the more famous diet plans, and how, or why, people were successful in following the plan. Body For Life, South Beach, and the Atkins diet have become some of the most notable diet plans in recent years. These diet plans have been successful for many people, and they all have great ideas for weight loss. But all of them also have seen their fair share of failure, and their share of people who disagree with the various approaches to weight loss. All of them, though, had aspects that I found useful and helpful to my clients. I wanted to add these aspects to my clients' diet plans. The key was to pick and choose carefully those aspects that I thought would be most helpful and easiest to implement for my clients. I didn't want them to fail like before. So I came up with some simple concepts gathered from the many diet plans, and used these as the new basis for my clients' diet plans. Following this process has led to the greatest success in weight loss for my clients.
1. Eat breakfast.
The first and most important concept for weight loss is to always eat breakfast. A lot of business professionals tend to skip breakfast, but doing so causes your metabolism to slow down. If you don't eat breakfast, your body will think you're not going to eat for awhile and start to slow down your metabolism to save energy for later. If you eat breakfast, your body will start to break that food down resulting in an increase in your metabolism, which in turn gives you more energy. I do recommend that my clients try to have a healthy breakfast, but I have been known to tell them to just eat anything for breakfast because I believe it's far more important to have something in your body at the beginning of the day than to not to eat anything at all.
2. Do not eat late at night.
The second, and equally as important, concept for weight loss is to not eat late at night. I tell my clients to have dinner between 6 and 8 pm, and to not eat after that time. This one is actually the most difficult for my clients to implement. The reason I recommend this, though, is because it is known that your metabolism slows down when you go to sleep, so you want the calories you take in at night to be used as energy and not stored as fat. On a related note, your dinner should also be small comparative to breakfast and lunch. In our society, we tend to do the opposite: no breakfast, small lunch, and big dinner. This is a recipe for slow metabolism and an increase in weight.
3. Have healthy snacks between meals.
The third concept for weight loss is to have healthy snacks between meals. This is similar to the idea of having 5 to 6 smaller meals throughout the day. These snacks can be considered small meals, and should consist of fruits, vegetables, or nuts. I found that an increase in the intake of vegetables does help with weight loss, not just from the calorie restriction, but also from the increase in metabolism.
4. Limit your white carbohydrate intake.
The forth concept for weight loss is to limit your white carbohydrate intake; things like white rices, pasta, and breads. I am not suggesting that people eliminate all carbohydrates entirely from their diet, but I do recommend eating small amounts of them or choosing healthy carbs. The reason is because of what carbs do to your blood sugar. White carbs cause a drastic increase in your blood sugar followed by a rapid decrease. With this happening in your body, your pancreas is producing insulin to counter this fluctuation, which in turn causes carbs to be stored as fat. It is also a recipe (in my opinion) for becoming pre-diabetic.
5. Do not overeat.
The fifth concept for weight loss is to never eat to the point of being stuffed. If you don't use the energy you eat, you store it. When you overeat, there is no way for your body to burn the amount of calories you just took in, so those calories are going to be stored as fat. Also, when you overeat, you tend to be less active which causes a slow down in your metabolism. A double whammy. You should always leave something on your plate (contrary to mom's advice when we were kids!). As a kid, though, we could eat anything and our metabolism was always on overdrive. We are not kids anymore, and need to be aware of how much we are putting on our plate and how much we are eating.
6. Get plenty of sleep.
The sixth concept for weight loss is to get plenty of sleep. This is another tough one for my clients to implement. The recommended amount of sleep to get is 8 hours per night. I know some of you laugh at that, but getting enough sleep at night does help in regulating your blood sugar. In addition, when you feel well-rested, you tend to choose healthier options when eating. Eight hours per night is the ideal, but most of us live off of 6 hours or less, and then play catch-up on the weekend. A helpful hint is to focus on going to bed at a regular time. That will help you to at least get a consistent amount of sleep each night.
These concepts can all help with weight loss, but every person is going to find that certain ones work for them and certain ones do not. There is no secret key to weight loss that works for everyone. Everyone has individual needs, strengths and weaknesses. It's finding what does work, in addition to what doesn't, that will result in success. I hope these tips help you in leading a healthier life, and in making good choices that work for you.