This is one of the most common questions I hear, and the reason why I typically include macro plans and nutrition coaching in my training packages. Nutrition is 80% of your results, so even if you workout with a trainer 3 days per week, you’re not going to get the results you want unless your diet is on point.
The answer is simpler than you think…but it’s also probably more complicated. Let me explain…
Simple Guidelines for Weight Loss
Let’s just be brutally honest – you probably intuitively know what you’re supposed to eat for a healthy, fit body. You just don’t do it. Here are the simple guidelines you should be following:
- Eat REAL Food – Whole, natural foods are best for your body and brain. They are easily processed and used efficiently. What does that mean? If it’s naturally from the earth, it’s usually safe. If it’s in a package, use caution!
- Eat Lean & Clean – Eat lean meats, organic fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
- Avoid Sugar – Refined sugar, honey, artificial sweetener, coconut sugar – it’s all sugar and not good for your body. Too much of any of it is bad for you and will cause your body to store fat. The less you eat it, the less you’ll crave it.
- Limit Dairy – Dairy is typically hard for most people to digest and not ideal for gut health. Many people make an exception for plain Greek Yogurt due to it’s high protein, low sugar, and probiotics.
- Shop the outside edges of the store – that’s where the fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, etc are found.
- Don’t Overeat – Eat until you’re satisfied, stop before you feel full.
- Eat Small Meals (250-400 calories for most women, men may need significantly more) every 3-4 hours.
- Aim to eat foods that are high-fiber (4- grams or more) and low sodium (under 200mg)
- Now this one you may NOT know but is KEY: Immediately following a weight lifting workout (which you must do if you want to lose weight long-term and not starve yourself) you should eat a high dosage of fast-digesting protein and carbs (i.e. protein shake with fruit, chicken and sweet potato, oatmeal and egg whites). This is crucial to rebuild your muscles and spare muscle loss so you can make faster gains.
Why It’s Not So Simple
All of the above makes sense, right? People who follow these guidelines and rarely stray from them (clean eating 90% of the time) typically look and feel more fit. If it makes sense, why is weight loss so hard?
Because psychological and lifestyle factors, along with bad habits, throw the whole recipe off. I’ve spent hours writing detailed meal plans for clients with precise calorie and macronutrient amounts, measurements, even factoring in some leeway and using customized recipes for people’s unique preferences.
Those clients usually follow it for about two weeks before I hear, “Well my job has been really busy and I couldn’t cook my food” or “I had to travel and I couldn’t pack and prep” or “I followed it about 50%…but where does chocolate fit in there?”
Emotions, life, and habits always get in the way. Changing those habits takes time. Cutting sugar addiction takes time. Planning and prepping food takes time. Stopping emotional eating takes time (which is another blog altogether) but do keep these things in the forefront of your mind when you’re struggling with losing weight.
So what should you eat to lose weight?
Honestly? You should take healthy guidelines and then make them work for you. No one plan or program is going to work for everyone. Everyone’s body, genetics, and goals are a little different – some lose weight and feel great on Paleo, some need a high carbohydrate diet, some love macro-counting.
My advice is to experiment with various types of diets (and by diets I don’t mean cutting massive amounts of calories, I mean a way of eating that can permanently suit your lifestyle). Give it several weeks, even months, to let your body adapt. Three weeks is not going to tell you if one way of eating works best. Stick it out for 8 to 12 weeks or even more. Yes, it’s going to require patience and is not a quick fix.
Just one more tip for you, and then we’ll go onto meal and food-type specifics…
My Best Tip
This is the most successful way I know to lose weight and maintain muscle, because it’s worked for me for years: Eat as healthy as possible with some freedom and adaptations.
For example, I hate some protein powders, and drinking them with water makes me want to yak. But if I buy a yummy protein powder and blend it with ice, some cashew or almond milk, or sometimes with a banana or peanut butter or Greek yogurt or anything else that sounds good, I’ll stick with it. I hate plain oatmeal. But if I make overnight oats, I’ll eat them every morning and it’s still healthy. In other words, find ways to eat healthy foods so that they appeal to you.
Then I track everything in MyFitnessPal so I make sure I’m not over or under-eating. (FYI, your particular calorie and macro numbers depend on your body and daily habits, so there’s no set number for every person. Contact me for help with this).
But of course, you’re probably reading this because you want some concrete tips. So, with all of my disclaimers and helpful tidbits out there, now I will give you a few examples of what a good meal plan might look like to help you lose weight.
Portion sizes will vary by person, so make sure to read labels and experiment with the right amount for you:
- Oatmeal with flaxseed and some berries
- Greek yogurt with protein powder and berries
- Protein Pancakes
- Eggs of any type with whole-wheat toast or gluten-free bread (I try to keep any bread to a minimum since they are processed).
- Egg scramble or omelette with veggies and avocado with a side of turkey bacon
- Protein shake blended with fruit
- Overnight Oats
(These are basic combinations – use them to get creative! Add spices and low-calorie condiments, cook in a variety of ways to avoid boredom. Think Mexican, Asian, Greek, spicy, on a bed of lettuce, etc.)
- Grilled chicken breast with brown rice and green beans
- Salmon with asparagus and quinoa
- Lean ground turkey with broccoli and black beans
- Sandwich with fresh deli turkey/chicken breast, spinach, tomato, mustard
- Small corn tortillas with baked white fish, lettuce, salsa
- Spinach salad with chicken, feta cheese, walnuts, beets, blueberries and balsamic vinagrette
- Tofu with cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese (drizzle olive oil, lemon juice and salt/pepepr)
Snack and Pre-workout Options (both morning and afternoon)
- Apple with dip (Greek yogurt, peanut butter and Stevia)
- Celery and carrots with hummus
- Rice cakes with peanut butter
- Greek yogurt with protein powder and fruit (or pumpkin puree & cinnamon)
- Tuna salad (tomato, cucumber, reduced-fat mayo, lemon juice) with gluten-free crackers
- Almonds and strawberries
- Sweet potato with cinnamon and stevia, chicken on the side
- Quest Protein Bars or D’s Naturals No Cow Bars
- Lean turkey burger with lettuce bun and side salad
- Chicken with sweet potato and broccoli
- Spaghetti squash with ground turkey, low-sugar/low-calorie marinara sauce, mushrooms
- Tofu Shiritaki Fettucini with chicken and stir-fry vegetables cooked in coconut oil, dash of soy sauce
- Fish with garlic and lemon with steamed broccoli topped with a small amount of mozzarella or cheddar cheese
- Lean ground turkey with black beans, corn, salsa, avocado (combine in a bowl) topped with Greek yogurt in place of sour cream
- Chicken mixed with broccoli slaw and low-sugar BBQ sauce
- Lean beef with beet salad (use a variety of beets and a sprinkle of feta cheese)
These are just some starter ideas. When it comes to meals, think of what you can eat that includes a protein, carbohydrate, vegetables, and small amount of fat. Shoot for lots of veggies to boost fiber and help you feel full without tons of calories.
Try various methods of cooking, try new spices and flavorings, and eventually you’ll find new, healthy meals that you can enjoy which will also aid in weight loss!
Have more questions or meal ideas? Share them in the comments, and pass this along to a friend who would find it helpful. 🙂
NOTE: I am not a certified nutritionist. These are general guidelines for healthy living and weight loss. These recommendations are not prescriptive but have worked for me and many clients. For exact meal plans for your needs, you should consult a nutritionist.
This post contains some affiliate links as part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. These bars are chosen my personal preference, not due to paid advertising.