The diet puzzle and creating your own pieces

Holy crap there is a lot of research and diet trends out there. Atkins, low glycemic, paleo, cleanses, Zone, etc. It’s a buffet of diet options.

As a guy WITHOUT a degree in nutrition or chemistry, this is stuff is pretty confusing. I’m still not certain what is the “right” diet.

I’ve read a lot of information over the past 15 years and I’ve learned two things.

  1. None of the diets out there know me personally so it is my responsibility to educate myself and be honest about what is working for me.
  2. Measuring and recording my calories is the only way that I will know what I’m actually eating (I tend to overestimate) and the only way I will be able to review what I have done if I want to make changes.

Back to Basics

As I’ve gotten older, the importance of my diet and the choices I make really affect the way that I feel. The days of eating grilled cheese and ice cream every night and waking up feeling great are long gone.

This transition happened to me as I was leaving college. At the time, I was still very concerned with my appearance. I worked out a lot but for some reason it was my diet that I really focused on.

I learned the basics of nutrition. I did a lot of digging in to supplements.

What I found is most of quality dieting is just common sense. You can really overthink this stuff. Just keep it simple.

Unless you are an elite athlete, the basics are more than enough to get you going in the right direction.

With the basics in hand, I set my direction. And while time has marched on, the basics have stayed the same.

Here’s how I determined my current direction.

Set the course

I’m not focused on how much I weigh (though I do weigh myself). Nor am I focused on how I look. I figure if I’m eating right those things will take care of themselves. The focus is on feeling great each day.

The concept for me is simple: do the research, set the course and trust the plan.

If you are serious about creating a diet that works, you absolutely must know what you want to accomplish BEFORE you create it.

For a variety reasons, the best diet for me is based on balancing what I eat and avoiding things that I know are bad. Pretty simple. The key is really listening to your body and knowing everything you eat.

Know your rules, set some guidelines

If you are going to set your diet, you need to set some guidelines. These rules are basically taking common sense ideas (don’t eat donuts for every meal) and adapting them to the goals and lifestyle you want.

Here’s what I’ve found works and doesn’t work for me. My nutritional goals are to set my diet to supply me with what I need to perform at my best each day (mentally and physically) given that I have a limited amount of time to prep my food and limited money to spend.

I consider the following my guidelines:

  • I need about 3,100 calories per day to maintain where I’m at. This is based on an estimate of calories burned each day.
  • The ratio is about 40% fat, 30% carbs, 30% protein. This seems to be the best ratio I’ve found for my workout regimen.
  • I try to eat about 230 grams of protein per day. That is based on my lean body mass (165 pounds) multiplied by 1.4. That is the highest multiplier I have found that is considered in the safe range for kidneys.
  • I try and keep sugars low but I’m not avoiding carbs.
  • Vegetables are great but too many in one sitting upsets my stomach. Especially squash and broccoli.
  • I need about 1,100 calories before my 11:00 AM workout.
  • To avoid headaches, I try to drink about 120-140 ounces of water.
  • I can enjoy a cocktail at night but more than one and my mouth dries out and I don’t sleep as well.

The hardest part about eating a balanced diet is following the rules you set up for yourself. And being honest with yourself about breaking them.

Follow the rules

Referring back to my previous post 3 Simple Ways To Improve Precision With Your Weight, Calories and Sleep I mentioned an app called My Macros+ that will track all your calories. It also breaks down the type of macros that you are eating and can break them out in a nice pie chart. Here are a couple of example days.

As with all data, it is only as good as the information that is available. In this case, while the macros are accurate, the sub-categories (saturated fat, fiber, sodium) may not be as accurate for me because not every food I look up has that information. However, if you really wanted to you could get that detail if you look hard enough.

The rules are the same. The challenge is following the rules every day.
The rules are the same. The challenge is following the rules every day.

As a reminder, every calorie we consume is broken in to one of three macro nutrients – protein, carbohydrates or fat. One gram of protein and carbs has four calories while a gram of fat has nine calories.

Understandably, each day is going to vary. But one of the real benefits to me is that as the day goes on, I can see where I may be over my limit and where I have some room. So many times this has guided me toward what I eat for dinner and how much to eat.

For example, if I get home from work and see that I’m short on protein and fat but my carbs are good, then I may eat a salmon burger. If I just need protein then a can of chicken would fit.

It is kind of like a puzzle except you get to create the pieces. You know what you want it to look like at the end of the day but how the pieces take shape is up to you.

Review and rework

The course I’m on and the results I’m getting are awesome! I feel great every day and my production is high. Additionally I like the way I look and have actually lost about 14 pounds in the last 8 months.

But it didn’t happen over night. It has really been a process over the last year of testing things, tweaking my diet and observing the results.

The persistence has paid off!