Eat whole foods. Measure fats. Keep your meals boring.
A simple life-long best-shape-of-your-life program that actually works.
“So, is it another part of Angela’s weight loss theory?”
A client of mine asked me, while chatting about servings of nuts allowed, and why it’s important to keep an eye on them.
“Should I be low fat now?”, the client continued.
“No. But fat calories are denser than other calories, and because of that we need to pay a bit more attention to these yummy fat-rich foods.”
All our favorite diets from Paleo to Vegan, from Keto to Zone to low fat — they promise us a few simple rules in exchange for an easier way to maintain ideal body weight, shed of a few pounds of excess fat, get and stay healthier — all without having to count a single calorie, feeling hungry or having to exercise for hours.
In the end, these diets still represent a system of eating better foods and managing calories eaten. No magic or special fat-burning foods.
The problems come, when, as it was in my case, we oversimplify things to a point of failure. We think that, as long as we count carbs well, and eat all the healthy fats — there’s no chance we’ll put on weight, we’ll just keep getting leaner till we reach our ideal body weight and, as long as we keep it up — we’ll maintain that weight and superior health for life! (But then of course who wants to stay keto for life except for the fans and people with too much invested interests?)
The problems come, when we start thinking that some calories are magic, they can just disappear in our body somehow, that as long as we don’t raise insulin with carbs — there’s no way the body will put anything into fat storage.
Or sometimes we think, all we have to do is to stop eating bread and we’ll lose all the weight. And then we can start eating bread again. And then we find out a few days or weeks later that our weight didn’t leave us for good with bread and pasta, and for some mysterious reason we developed an increased taste for nuts and low fat (usually sugar-loaded) skinny desserts.
Here’s the reality.
There’s no magic weight loss diet where you can eat unlimited calories any day every day and still lose weight. There are no especially fattening foods, that make our body store fat without us overdoing it. Everything in moderation actually works, as long as we can learn to maintain that moderation.
There’s no magic weight loss diet where you can eat unlimited calories any day every day and still lose weight.
I see this every day in my practice, when people share with me their failing attempts to lose weight.
People start exercising thinking it’s all they need to lose weight — being frustrated not seeing results, not realizing we don’t spend that much energy on exercise and our hunger increases to balance it out anyway.
People start eliminating some foods, gradually starting to eat more of other foods, and of course there’s no progress as energy balance stays the same.
People start not eating much Monday-Friday just to binge it all over on the weekend.
People start thinking some foods are “free calories”, since they are low fat, low carb, vegan [insert your favorite magic food here] and then the weight wouldn’t somehow move, and now we think we are broken.
… the list of stories goes on and on, and the common through line here? We don’t track all our food consistently. We have no reliable system to manage food, and hence there are no results. Or we do track things, we starve ourselves of essential nutrients eating too little, and this very unsustainable way sabotages our long-term health and efforts.
There’s a better way, of course. Some people do manage to lose and maintain ideal body weight for life. This way is about our environment and a system of food rules we create for ourselves, it’s about neuroscience and using our brain tendencies to help us maintain results instead of doing everything to sabotage ourselves.
Here are 3 rules I developed as a nutrition coach for my clients seeking to reach and maintain best shape of their life. You can use it too! It’s a very flexible system. These rules are based on countless books and research papers I read on a subject of successful dieting and weight loss, food behavior science, and all of my clients’ experience I’ve accumulated over the past 10+ years.
Michael Pollan created his food rules for healthy eating. I created my food rules for anyone to reach and maintain the best shape of your life in a healthy way, in the environment of food abundance and food triggers everywhere.
Rule 1: Eat Whole Foods.
What is whole and why it matters?
Anything not juiced, pureed, made into liquid, extract or powder, transformed into some mouth-watering product. Anything that you need to chew, and you can’t inhale or melt in your mouth.
No green juices, superfood smoothies, sprouted bread, whole wheat pasta, organic all-natural nut butters, extra virgin special reserve olive oils, grass-fed ghee, C10 MCT oil, cold-pressed immunity shots, unsweetened almond milk — nothing you don’t need to chew.
Whole foods are — fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, whole grains and beans.
Dairy is a questionable item because it is kind of whole, but it requires no chewing, and you can gulp a whole tub of all-natural sour cream and you can throw your weight loss program out of the window then.
To naturally maximize satiety and stay lean “without trying”, we need to maximize satiety with fewer calories, and that’s accomplished by having as much volume, fiber, water in our foods as possible, with as much chewing as possible. That’s why we need to have some rules around dairy products.
Since dairy is one of the richest and for most people the only calcium source I recommend to go with 300–400 ml of 3–5% yogurt or/and kefir per day with no flavorings and sugars added.
This is a foundation of your daily meals. Get these foods, cook them and eat meals and snacks made out of them. The less processed and altered any food items is (like raw almonds instead of roasted and salted) — the easier it’ll be for you to manage food intake, supporting the best shape of your life.
- a) Best Meal Formula — to maximize satiety, optimize blood sugar, and get adequate amounts of all nutrients I always recommend building your plate around good portion of protein-rich foods, lots of colorful non-starchy veggies, raw and cooked, and either a starchy carb like sweet potato or whole beans or grains, or a whole food fat source like avocados or olives or some nuts.
- b) Meal Timing — don’t eat 3 hours before bed to optimize sleep, gut health and fat-burning metabolism. Eat 3 meals. Eat on time. The more meals you eat — the more food you have to manage, the more challenging fat loss and best shape of your life become. Eating when appetite or hunger come isn’t a great strategy to maintain ideal body weight. Sticking with meal times at all times is.
Now you might say, “Angela, but what about healthy oils?” Olive oil with all the antioxidants and vitamin E, this amazing longevity food? You can get all of this and better by eating whole olives, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds for vitamin E, that come with more satiety and less chances to overshoot calories by a lot.
Now that we started talking about fats — let’s get to my best-shape-of-your-life rule 2.
Rule 2: Manage Fats.
And by fats I mean 2 things. Foods that are mostly fat by calories — from nuts and seeds, avocados and olives to lard and cheese and nut butters and olive oil.
All these are full of nutrients! Especially nuts and seeds! So high in minerals and fibers and all the healthy goodness! Except the fact, that you can eat a ton of them, if you don’t watch it, and you can easily add 500+ to your daily menu without feeling like you overdid it, without feeling like you are that much fuller, innocently eating all healthy, accumulating a pound of body fat a week easily.
When my clients want to maximize fat loss we start with eliminating liquid fats and cheeses — olive oil, avocado oil, butter, ghee, sour cream, heavy cream, all cheeses. Not just the ones you add to your cooking and meals, but also eliminating any restaurant and ready-to-eat supermarket meals because fats there aren’t the best quality and the amounts exceed all your expectations.
And then we start with managing whole fatty foods by allowing an assigned number of servings. I personally try to maintain 6 pack abs year round and I almost never go beyond 4 servings of fat-rich foods per day. 1 serving is an ounce (30 g) of nuts, 30 g of pure dark chocolate, 1 tbsp of oil, ½ small avocado, 30 g of cheese. I measured them once precisely and now I eye-ball it.
And no, it doesn’t mean you need to count fats in all of your foods, taking skin off your chicken. What it means is simply managing foods, that predominantly made out of fats with not much proteins or carbs.
With clients who are trying to get lean fast, we simply stick with a sub-rule: no fat unless it comes with lots of protein like in meats, eggs, fish and moderate to low fat yogurts and kefirs.
And remember that things like pasta, bread, pizza, and other dense carb sources — we eliminated these with the rule number 1 — Eat Whole Foods.
“What about sauces and dressings? How do I make my food tasty now without my favorite ketchup and mayo, or this mouth-watering salad dressing from Whole Foods?”
And now we got to my rule number 3.
Rule 3: Keep Your Meals Boring.
You see, except for special occasions, it’s in your best interests to like your food but not too much. You shouldn’t be super excited about any of your meals or snacks, otherwise you simply end up overeating on a regular basis. That’s just how our brains are wired — seeking pleasure and dense calories all the time.
If you decide to have a dressing or sauce with all these herbs and spices and other more or less natural flavor enhancers, some sweetness and possibly all the healthy oils and fats, and you pour it all over your steak with broccoli, this dressing, couple of spoons of it, might add 200 calories to your meal AND you might want to go for the second serving of steak/fish/chicken with broccoli. All good food! But overeating of anything on a regular basis will lead to excess body fat NOT fat loss.
Fake low cal versions of dressings, ketchups, mayos will mess up your gut microbiome and you’ll end up eating more or/and not able to lose weight that easily.
What’s the solution?
Get some simple fresh or dries herbs and spices mixes, good sea salt, some lemon/lime juice, and add a bit to your food so it tastes good. Just not TOO good. And you just might find that you want to stop eating your boring meals much sooner, and will go out there seeking excitement in life instead of on your plate.
A funny cashew story and why I never keep cashews in my house.
With a friend of mine we share this “vice”. If we have cashews in our house in ANY amount — we will finish them sooner than later. All the other nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds — we can totally eat a measured amount. But not cashews. And so for life-long ideal body weight maintenance you got to know these tempting foods and make a habit of not keeping them freely all around yourself — because sooner than later you’ll eat a whole lot of it!
And that’s pretty much my simple best-shape-of-your-life formula.
Eat whole foods. Manage fats. Keep your meals boring.
A couple of extra tips that are very useful in everyday life, when you are bombarded with unlimited exciting food triggers.
- Food-shop with a list, in the morning, once a week — to make the best choices and avoid temptations easily.
- Never make food decisions and choices at night. Never go shopping at night. If you need something — get it in the morning or do with what you have. Not sure what to eat for dinner? Decide in the morning or once a week preplan it.
- A restaurant night out? Have a plan in advance — what will you choose? What will you say no to? For me it’s a no to a bread basket, eat a salad first, eat lots of protein with non-starchy veg, if dessert — shared.
- Eat slowly and with zero distractions. Just eat. Research shows — the more distracted with other things we are — conversations, emails, Netflix, loud music, browsing social media — the more we’ll eat and the less satisfied we’ll be with our meals. And our digestion not gonna be that good.
Do we always have to have some rules around food?
People who don’t have rules that reflect their goals and values end up not reaching any goals and lacking confidence, self-respect with an extra “bonus” of health problems and more often than not additional body fat in all the wrong places.
🍕But what about pizza?
And pasta and all these other novel snacks and food inventions?
You can make them a part of your plan, your personal rule book, if you want to! But make sure you track and measure it all in some way, however imperfect. There is no magic food. There are no magic calories. Low carb, low fat or however vegan.