You might know, I have a document called “Dan’s Nutrition Rules,” which is a set of guidelines for eating clean. I try to keep it easy by tweaking the things you are already doing to maximize nutrition, basically so you don’t have to completely shop for different stuff and restock your cabinets. Certainly you could try a more intensive process like Ultimate Reset or 21-Day Fix which basically prescribes what you eat, but honestly what I’ve found is that from MY rules, basically following 3 of them will have a large impact, perhaps as much as 85-90% (anecdotal estimate...) the results you will get from following a strict, prescribed diet. Here they are:
1) Focus on three big meals.
I’m sure you’ve heard about eating 5-6 small meals as being a good thing. It is. But in our lives of taking lunch breaks and wanting to eat something substantial for dinner, I’ve found focusing on 3 meals is actually more manageable, and also allows you to have a couple healthy snacks in between if need be.
In general, you want breakfast to be BIG and include carbs, proteins, and fats. This is tough. Cereal isn’t going to cut it. You need protein, like from eggs, some kind of grain (quinoa or steel cut oats are nice) and preferably some fruit or veggie.
Lunch you are looking for something balanced as well. Big salads with protein are good. Left overs from dinner plus greens work.
Dinner, if possible you want to eat the fewest amount of carbs as any of the three meals. You are wrapping up your day and carbs, being the most quickly metabolized macronutrient, will not be used as energy before bed, and therefore get stored. Without getting too much into, "is red meat good or bad?" "can I eat pork?" etc., just try to eat something filling, made of whole food, and with a very small portion of carbs. If you worked out right before dinner, you can be a little more lax with this rule.
Another key is after dinner STOP eating.
If you want to try the 5-6 small meals, be my guest, it’s actually great according to some research. But if you are feeling a little busy, I’d say you will have more success with plannin and picking 3 nutritious, filling meals.
2) Have a veggie or fruit at every meal
That shouldn’t be too hard right? Actually breakfast is one of the trickiest. If you are going to pick a fruit for breakfast, I suggest either berries or melon. A great veggie option is spinach or kale steamed with a little salt and pepper (lemon and/or garlic are ok to add too). It literally takes minutes in a pan and can be prepped while the rest of breakfast is cooking.
The reason behind this rule is that being on a diet isn’t all about cutting out foods, it’s also about adding the right foods. Plant foods, particularly dark green vegetables, are rich with micronutrients including antioxidants which are generally accepted to make you healthier! Also, the high fiber to calorie ratio of fruits and vegetables is favorable for keeping you full and keeping your digestive system in good shape.
3) Limit sugar
Take out soda, white bread, and products that are mostly white flour (most crackers, cereal, cookies, packaged snack foods, etc.).
Look out for food that has hidden sugar.
Is a teaspoon of sugar in morning coffee ok? Actually yes. Small doses like this (15 Kcal worth) is mostly harmless and might actually help fulfill a sweet craving. Take for example Honey Nut Cheerios, which might seem healthy, but derives 72% of its calories per serving from sugar or simple carbs (ground up oat flour).
(21.1g simple carbs per serving x 4 = 84.4 Kcal from carbs. Out of 118 total calories, that is 71.5%. source: caloriecount.com)
Consensus among scientists now is that we were WRONG in the 50’s that dietary fat was the enemy – simple carbs and sugars are more likely the cause of metabolic syndrome and the obesity epidemic we are currently facing.
I think you could say that with a moderate amount of effort, and a moderate amount of self-control, you could integrate these 3 rules into your life! I call it the “I’m not going on a diet, diet” because really, you aren’t on a diet. You’re just making good decisions and eating food.