My philosophy on nutrition is centered around a whole food plant based diet. Eating whole, plant based foods lets you achieve your fitness goals without sacrificing your health. It’s possible to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in other ways, but it’s difficult to obtain the same level of overall health. There have been many studies showing that whole food plant based nutrition helps to reverse and prevent disease. There are also plenty of examples of athletes that follow plant based diets, busting the myth that you have to eat animal products to increase strength and build muscle.
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
In this article I describe the components of a perfect diet. I tell you about foods you should never eat and foods you should eat all the time. But I don’t know anyone who follows these rules perfectly. Even the most disciplined eaters treat themselves every once in a while.
Don’t feel like you have to be perfect in order to look better, feel better, and be healthier. Incorporate cheat meals into your diet. If you don’t want to completely give something up, decrease the amount you eat of it. The biggest key is changing your eating habits to include more of the healthy foods and less of the unhealthy foods.
Stop Dieting and Focus on Nutrition
I hate the word diet. It has two definitions. When I use the word diet, I’m always referring to the first usage. The kinds of food a person habitually eats. I hate the second usage. A special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.
When people “go on a diet” to lose weight, it rarely works out long term. They lost weight at first, but end up gaining it back. They end up living their life bouncing between a healthy weight and an unhealthy weight, or an unhealthy weight and a less unhealthy weight. The only way to make a lasting change in your health is by focusing on nutrition and making permanent changes to the way you eat.
Other than being healthier, there are other advantages to permanently changing your diet. It’s easier both physically and mentally. Physically, it’s much easier to go through the change once than to do it each time you start a new diet. You adapt to your new way of eating one time instead of multiple times throughout your life. Mentally, it’s much easier because you don’t have to learn a new diet every few months. You simply learn the principles of eating healthy and follow them for the rest of your life.
Simplicity is a key part of a healthy, nutritious diet. The rules should be simple and easy to remember. The foods should be simple and easy to prepare. The ingredients should be simple and unprocessed. If you over complicate things, you’ll suffer from information overload and may not even get started.
Simple rules means keeping the counting to a minimum. If you’re trying to lose or gain weight, counting calories is still important. But if you’re eating the right foods, you won’t have to count every type of calorie. You also don’t need to worry about when or how often you eat. These types of techniques can be useful when you are trying to go from 7% body fat to 5%, but they just over complicate things for most people.
Simple foods with simple ingredients make it easier to eat healthy. It doesn’t have to be a chore to prepare a simple meal. If you don’t have time during the week, you can prepare healthy meals on the weekend. If you’re eating something pre cooked, aim for meals with fewer ingredients.
Protein (Why most of what you’ve heard is wrong)
The way marketers talk about protein, you would think it’s the only part of nutrition that matters. In reality, it’s just an easy sell for supplement companies. It’s important to get enough protein, but once you get about .75g/lb of bodyweight there isn’t much of a difference. The .75g/lb of bodyweight is for elite bodybuilders, so most people don’t even need that much. And it definitely isn’t something you need to worry about when first changing to a healthy diet.
Sustainable weight loss happens when you eat at a slight caloric deficit and sustainable weight gain happens when you eat at a slight caloric surplus. Once you’re getting enough protein, more isn’t always better.
Feel Free to Cheat (Sometimes)
If you want to go all in and never eat anything unhealthy again, go for it. But don’t feel guilty if you cheat a couple of times each week. It’s often helpful to save your cheat meals for when you’re eating out, or at social gatherings. The important thing to remember is not to let your cheat meals ruin all of your progress. A cheat meal containing more calories than you should consume in a whole day can cancel out any progress you make throughout the week. If you’re smart about them, cheat meals are important so you don’t feel restricted and they can even make you appreciate those guilty pleasures even more.
Keys to Losing Weight By Cutting Fat
Losing weight on a whole food plant based diet starts with minimizing the amount of fatty foods you eat. Even though fatty foods like nuts, seeds, and avocados are healthy they contain more calories than fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Another key to losing weight is cooking with vegetable broth or water instead of oil. When you cook with oil it’s easier to lose track of how many calories you’re eating.
Slow weight loss is more sustainable than trying to lose it all at once. Instead of trying to lose 20lbs in a month, try to lose 5lbs a month for 4 month. Shedding the weight slowly makes it so you’re losing fat instead of muscle or water weight. If you’re doing strength training for the first time, remember you may be adding muscle while losing fat which makes it more difficult to track your progress by weighing yourself. Instead of relying only on your weight, also track your progress by taking body measurements or even taking pictures at the same time each week.
If you’re still having trouble losing body fat after removing most of the fatty foods and oils from your diet, it’s time to count your calories. Start measuring how much of each ingredient you’re using and track it in a food journal for a week. At the end of the week, add up your total calories and calculate your average daily intake. From there you can cut 100-200 calories a day from your diet and reevaluate your results a few weeks later.
Once you’re at a healthy weight, add some of those healthy fatty foods back into your diet so you can reap the health benefits. But make sure to do it in moderation, so you maintain your new, healthy weight.
Keys to Gaining Weight By Adding Muscle
The first people to object to a whole food plant based diet are usually men who want to add muscle. Everything they hear and read says protein is the only factor when trying to build muscle. But there are many other factors as well. Carbs are your body’s main source of energy, so they help you work harder during your workouts. The vitamins and minerals that mostly come from plant foods support vital functions in your body. Another factor that’s overlooked when people focus too much on protein intake is the importance of calories. If you want to gain weight and build muscle, you must take in more calories than you burn.
Nutrition plays a key role in building muscle in a healthy way. To reach the high caloric intake needed to build muscle, eat more healthy foods that are high in fat like nuts, seeds, and avocados. Also eat more whole grains and legumes. It’s easier to get more calories from these foods than from fruit and vegetables, but make sure to keep eating fruit and vegetables to get the nutrients the provide.
It’s tempting to try to gain 10lbs in a month, but taking it slow helps make sure you add muscle instead of fat. If you’re extremely skinny and you’ve never done any prior strength training you’ll be able to add muscle more quickly to start off. But 2lbs a month is a good target for most people. Gaining about 2lbs of muscle each month will minimize the amount of fat you gain.
Pillars of a Healthy Diet
Make these foods and drinks the center of your meals.
- Whole Grains
- Legumes (Beans, Peas, etc.)
- Nuts & Seeds
Eat these foods, but make sure you don’t go overboard.
- Unrefined Oils (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Extra Virgin Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil)
- Lean Meat (Chicken, Turkey)
- Dairy (Milk, Cheese)
These foods should be saved for special occasions and cheat meals. Do your best to eliminate them from your regular diet.
- Other Meat (Beef, Pork)
- Processed Food
- Flavored Drinks
- Refined Carbs (Bread & Pasta that isn’t whole grain)
- Refined Oils (Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Soybean Oil, Safflower Oil, Corn Oils, Margarine)
If you’re eating some animal products and getting enough sunshine, then you won’t need to take any additional supplements. But, if you’re trying to avoid all animal products you’ll want to take a B12 supplement. This nutrient is in some animal products because the bacteria in their bodies produces it. The cleaning, washing, and cooking reduces any B12 that plant foods would contain. It’s recommended to take about 2,500 micrograms each week.
If you don’t get about 15 minutes of sun exposure each day, you may also want to take a Vitamin D supplement. But it’s much better to get it through natural sun exposure.