Everyone agrees healthy eating is one of the pillars of weight loss and muscle building – but changing your diet completely isn’t that easy.
It’s often said that no one diet works for every individual. While this is true, you may have noticed that most of our content on the Flat Belly Bible targets a similar goal: eating more natural whole foods and less junk. That’s because there are no secrets to healthy eating. There are strategies that can lead to various performance benefits, but 99 percent of diet is cutting junk and eating real food.
While those nutrition guides tend to be detailed and filled with recipes, the 8-week transition plan is for those of you who are less detail oriented. Conceptually-based diets like this can be easier to follow, because they focus on providing you with a short list of “no-nos,” leaving you with a fairly wide array of foods that you are allowed to eat.
Of course, that isn’t the attitude you want to have for long-term success. Any diet, no matter how easy it seems, will take some willpower on your part if you want to see results. Your long-range goal should be to eat well, period. If you can accomplish this, your physical transformation will become a natural extension of your lifestyle, instead of something you need to pursue.
As healthy eating becomes a habit, you will find the other intangibles (such as weight loss, increased energy, etc.) falling into place. For many people, the easiest way to accomplish the healthy eating habit is to make a gradual transition from food choices that hinder human performance to ones that help you perform better.
By making this transition gradually, you’ll find that eating healthier foods isn’t as difficult as you expected.
Healthy Eating Week 1
No junk. Eliminate junk food from your diet. That’s it, just junk. Other than this, you can eat whatever and whenever you like. Now, how hard can that be? Guess this depends on what I mean by “junk.” But all I’m concerned with this week is the obvious stuff like potato chips, candy, ice cream, cake, etc. You may be stricter if you’d like, but for Week 1, don’t be too hard on yourself. For many of you, this step alone will reap huge benefits.
Cheat Days: 2
Since no one’s perfect, you get 2 days to cheat. That’s right, 2 days where you can eat anything you want! A trick on these days (and, yes, this means there will be more) is to listen to your body. At first, it’ll probably tell you it wants whatever you’ve been denying it. However, over time, it’ll start to crave nutrients you’re deficient in.
Learn to read your body’s subtleties. If you’re craving ice cream, you may be short on essential fatty acids. If you crave a hamburger, your diet may lack protein. This way, you can make better food substitutions. It’s a way of getting in tune with yourself that will benefit you for your entire lifetime.
Weekly focus: Water. Not swimming in it, though that’s good too, but staying hydrated with it. You should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. Diet sodas and such are no substitute, because they contain a passel of ingredients that live right at the bottom of the junk heap. Drinking a glass of water when you feel hunger pangs coming on will not only keep you hydrated, but will help stave off your hunger to some degree.
As for other drinks, juices and sugary sodas also (obviously) fall into the junk category. And alcohol should be kept to a minimum. We tend to forget (purposely or not) that alcohol has calories. A lot of them: 7 calories per gram. Mixers can be even worse—not only can they add calories, but sugary calories influence the way alcohol reacts with your body. When you do drink, red wine is the alcohol of choice, with natural beer running second.
Healthy Eating Week 2
Each week’s rules are cumulative, so the “no junk” rule from Week 1 will apply until the end, as will each subsequent week’s rule. Remember that this is a learning and conditioning process. It’s like you’re in a school and the subject is your own body.
Eat small, eat often. Eat four to six small meals a day, and don’t eat anything for about 3 hours before you go to sleep. Following these rules will keep your blood sugar levels more static and your energy level will stay consistent.
Try to keep each snack or meal balanced. Keep a 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrate, and 30 percent fat scale in mind, though you don’t need to worry too much about it. Just realize that you need a bit from each macronutrient group. Eat based on what you’ll be doing for the next few hours (if you’re working out, eat a little more; sitting at a desk, eat a little less).
The 3-hour-before-bed rule is important, especially for fats and carbohydrates. By allowing time for all the carbs you eat to get into your bloodstream, your body will sleep in fat-burning mode, rather than in calorie-storing mode. This is important because undigested carbs in your stomach at night are stored in adipose tissue (fat).
Cheat Days: 2
Weekly focus: Carbs are not the enemy. Your body needs them, just like it needs proteins and fats. The trick is to choose the right carbs. As a society, we eat too much refined sugar. Complex carbs, like whole-grain breads, whole-grain rice, sweet potatoes, and legumes are outstanding foods. Even fruits, which have simple carbohydrates wrapped in fiber, are very good for you and hard to overconsume.
While you don’t want a diet based on nothing but carbs, making the right carb choices will maximize your body’s potential. Try to avoid white rice and flours. Read labels, and try to avoid ones that use the word “enriched,” because this means these products have been stripped of their natural nutrients, overprocessed, and then fortified with a few random nutrients.
Healthy Eating Week 3
Eat some colorful, low-density food at every meal. These are foods that take up a lot of space without a lot of calories. Veggies are the most obvious example. You can eat a salad bowl overflowing with lettuce and veggies and you most likely won’t exceed 100 calories.
By eating low-density foods like veggies and fruits that burn fat, you’ll keep your portions under control naturally, because they have very few calories for their size.
Conversely, high-density foods, like chocolate and butter, are loaded with calories in even the smallest amounts. So beware of salad dressings and other things you add to salads and veggies. Only add enough for flavor; don’t fill up on them. When it comes to live foods, the richer the colors, the fresher the products tend to be. Try to eat a variety of colors in your diet. This simple and somewhat random act will help ensure that you’re covering your bases, nutrient-wise.
Cheat Days: 1
Weekly focus: Protein at every meal. This becomes even more important as you eat more low-density food, because protein tends to be high-density. Many veggies have a lot of protein, but the quantity you must consume starts to become prohibitive. Try to get some protein—meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, or legumes—each time you eat, especially when you’re working out hard, because you need to repair broken-down muscle tissue.
Frequency of protein consumption is even more vital for women, who aren’t able to digest as much protein at one time as men are. It’s almost impossible to get all your necessary protein at one or two meals, so try to get 10 to 20 grams of protein each time you eat.
Reading labels is a simple way to learn how to estimate your protein intake, but if you eat natural foods, most of which don’t have labels, you can look at online nutritional information guides to determine the amount of protein each serving contains.
Healthy Eating Week 4
Cook at home. One of the best ways to control your eating is to prepare all your meals yourself. Eliminate all fast food (which should have been gone in Week 1) and most other restaurant food. You may still eat food from certain restaurants where you can be sure of the ingredients (most will be savvy enough to make a point of how healthy their food is).
But avoid all fast food chains, even ones that claim to be “healthy.” Restaurants need their food to taste good, so they’ll often use compromised ingredients, even when they list low numbers on fats and/or calories. Fast food can contain many hidden evils in addition to calories.
For example, next time you see one of those nutrition charts, check the sodium levels; most fast foods use ridiculously high amounts of salt. Avoiding fast food alone will often bring your body closer to homeostasis; its desired state of balance. This can be hard for many of us because we now have to plan our meals and prepare ahead of time, but try and treat it like vocational school—you don’t learn a new “job” without a little retraining.
Cheat Days: 1
Weekly focus: Fat is essential. Remember that fat is a vital part of your diet, not just something that makes you fat. What is not vital is a lot of saturated or trans fats. Trans fats are mainly those that are artificial, and hopefully they’ve been eliminated from your diet by this point, since they’re generally only found in junk. Saturated fats are found in dairy products and meats, and you don’t need too much. For cooking, try to use olive oil when possible.
Also, the addition of either flaxseed or hempseed can have a pronounced effect on your health. These seeds are loaded with essential fatty acids, omegas 3 and 6. Be careful about that amount of fat. It is dense and has 9 calories per gram, opposed to 4 for both carbs and protein. A tablespoon goes a long way!
Healthy Eating Week 5
Reduce starchy carbohydrates. Starches include rice, bread, potatoes, corn, beans, and other legumes. While many of these are in no way bad foods, most people tend to consume far too many of them. So what you want to do this week is cut way down on them, if not cutting them out completely.
Then add them back in when your body feels like it needs energy, which it will at some point if you’re exercising (and why wouldn’t you be?). But don’t add a huge plate or bowl of pasta; instead, add a small single serving. Starches are great energy food, but if you eat too many, they turn the tables and make you sluggish!
Cheat Days: 1
Weekly focus: Sugar is only beneficial after a hard workout. Your body doesn’t need processed sugar. But if you really enjoy it and can’t avoid letting some sneak into your daily diet, the 1-hour period after you exercise is the best time to indulge. During this window, your blood sugar is low, because you’ve used it up to finish your workout (assuming you pushed yourself), and sugar during this time will help you recover faster because it speeds into your system and initiates the recovery process.
Adding a little protein, but not too much, will enhance your recovery even further. The best ratio is 1 part protein to 4 parts carbs. You should avoid fats during this immediate post-workout period, because they slow absorption—a good thing most of the time, just not during and immediately after working out.
Healthy Eating Week 6
If man makes it, don’t eat it. This is likely to be the hardest week of your diet. You want to eat only whole foods and eliminate all processed foods, even good ones, for the week. This includes breads, most salad dressings, all cereal, luncheon meats, cheese, dried fruits, anything with preservatives, and alcoholic beverages.
What you can eat are whole foods such as fruit, raw or steamed vegetables, meat (sans any type of sauce), natural whole-grain rice, poached eggs, etc. Since your eating habits have been slowly changing, this shouldn’t be that big a shock to your system, but keeping in focus that you only have to do this for 7 days will make it easier.
(Although each week’s rules are cumulative in the plan, Week 6 is more of a “cleanse” or “reset” week where you avoid all processed food; after Week 6, you can go back to the occasional processed food, but chances are you’ll take what you learned this week and tend to make healthier, smarter choices.)
Cheat Days: 1
The “cheat day” mentality isn’t a bad one. Rewards like decadent desserts, a night at the buffet, or drinking with friends are good for you as long as you keep them in perspective. These are rewards for a life well lived and you should be able to feel good about doing them. Plus there’s some method to this madness as well in that you still tend to crave nutrients you lack.
So if you’re cutting down on the calories to lose weight, allowing yourself a cheat day will give your body a chance to take in what it needs to avoid being malnourished.
Weekly focus: Nuts make great snacks. A handful of raw almonds or cashews is a quick and easy snack that goes a long way. Don’t be put off by the high fat count of nuts, because this means it takes fewer of them to satiate you. Nuts are loaded with important phytonutrients, as well as good fats, proteins, and fiber.
Healthy Eating Week 7
Be yourself. No rules—just try and eat as healthily as you can and do it by feel. Trusting yourself might seem like a lot of responsibility, but by now you’ll be up to it. Learning to eat by feeling what your body needs is an important step in your transformation.
Consider the way you’ve been eating over the last 6 weeks, but don’t worry about what you should and shouldn’t do. Just fuel yourself. The point is to take a mental break. Relax and allow yourself to eat in a way that feels normal. You may be surprised to find yourself craving something healthy instead of a candy bar or soda.
You’ll be better at listening to your body because it’ll tell you what it needs to eat, as opposed to what you’re used to eating. Your body should feel somewhat transformed. Does it?
“Reward for a Life Well Lived” Days: 1
Weekly focus: If you’re so hungry at night that you can’t sleep, try a protein shake (like Whey Protein Powder) before bed. When it’s real, and not habitual, hunger means you lack nutrients your body needs to repair itself as you sleep. You want nothing but protein powder and water. No carbs or superfluous calories.
But protein at night, especially whey, will help the body repair damaged tissue and enhance the natural growth-hormone spike that you get while you sleep.
Healthy Eating Week 8
Eat a perfect diet. Now it’s time for a real challenge—are you ready? The perfect diet is strictly individual, as there’s no one diet that suits everybody. So who better to choose the perfect diet for you than you? Our bodies are all different, and the key to your own perfect diet is learning about how your body reacts to different foods under different circumstances.
Your journey over the last seven weeks should have brought you to a new understanding of how food affects your body, both for good and for bad. Now it’s up to you to put it to the test. See how well you can eat for a week. In fact, see how well you can eat for the rest of your life. Live and enjoy.
Reward Days: 1, of course!
Weekly Focus: Don’t bonk. Bonking is a state where your body runs out of stored blood sugar for energy. If you feel like your workouts are going backwards instead of forwards, this is a likely culprit. Use your energy level as your gauge. As soon as it starts to drop, start adding carbs back into your diet until you feel energized all day long.
When you feel energized during your workouts and not sluggish throughout the rest of the day you’ll know you’ve found the right balance between carbs and other nutrients. Also, remember that as you body puts on more muscle, you will need to eat more. Muscle weighs much more than fat and as you gain muscle and lose fat you will shrink at the same weight.
You will also require more calories in order to maintain your muscle. So when you’re working out hard, don’t be afraid to eat more carbs than you do otherwise.