Actually, you shouldn't even be asking this question.
Rather, you should be devising a long-term practical and sustainable eating plan.
This page outlines 4 nutritional principles of the Sensible Fitness Program. They got me from 'average' to an all-time best condition in 3 months.
I haven't looked back since.
Aside from the odd adjustment, this is largely the eating plan I still use today. It's actually not a diet.
It's much more.
Read on and you'll see that my version of "how to diet" is actually a long-term sustained eating plan which is practical, enjoyable and allows for flexibility – whatever your eating preference.
In fact, this page should probably be titled: how not to diet.
The best parts about the plan – or I'd be wasting my time (and yours)
- It promotes 'real' food (regardless of your preferred eating practice);
- You get to enjoy eating more, because of an 80-20 ratio – which provides flexibility;
- It allows you to remain in touch with society. Accepting dinner invites and eating out are not off limits;
- You can stay in shape while on holiday;
- There's no sense of deprivation, since there's no elimination of any particular type of food.
NOTE: The focus here is on my own nutritional plan. You'll need to consider the specifics of your particular practice. For example, you may be Vegan, lactose-intolerant, or diabetic. Or maybe you follow the ketogenic style of eating. Either way, the same principles apply.
4 Nutritional principles of the Sensible Fitness Program
They're intended to:
- Align with your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE);
- Support your fitness goals whether they're for muscle-gain, maintenance or fat loss;
- Support physiological and health needs by providing adequate ratios of micro and macronutrients (including fiber);
- Provide you with eating pleasure and flexibility – ensuring long-term adherence.
Let's look at each point in a little more detail:
1. Aligning calories consumed with calories spent
Before you get to the specifics of 'what' and 'how' to eat, you need to ensure the appropriate relationship between your energy intake and output (depending on your fitness goals) – and whether to go for vegetarian, high-carb, low-carb, keto or otherwise.
You'll probably opt for one of the following three scenarios:
- CALORIE-SURPLUS –> To gain weight
- CALORIE-BALANCE –> To maintain weight
- CALORIE-DEFICIT –> To lose weight
To put any of these into practice, you need know what your current TDEE is. Then, in line with your fitness goal, determine your future TDEE to fulfil it. (I explain this on the page: calculate BMR-TDEE.)
You can then track and ensure your intake is what it needs to be using one of the many available nutrition tracking apps.
Do you have to count calories?
At first, yes. Once you're familiar with your specific needs, you'll no longer need to.
Having already achieved my own transformation, I spend most of my time maintaining. I'll occasionally (once or twice a year) use a mild surplus or deficit, depending on my goal.
2. Supporting your fitness goals
There are endless combinations of macronutrient ratios and calorie-levels you could use.
If I go into all possibilities, this page will end up as a book. So let's take the above 3 scenarios into account as we consider the basics – with the help of the image below:
(Note, the goal examples below are good for general application. They are what I would normally use. The ratios would be very different on a keto or vegan eating plan. (You can read more about my go-to program here.)
Having already achieved my own transformation, I spend most of my time maintaining. However, I will on occasion (once or twice a year), use a mild surplus or deficit – depending on the goal.
Although you might be close to nailing down a possible eating plan – there is one additional variable I'd urge you to consider.
A 'somatotype' has to do with your individual genetic/metabolic tendency. This influences how easily (or not) you're able to change your body composition (body fat-muscle ratio), as well as how your constitution tolerates carbohydrates and fats, etc.
Your somatotype will definitely be in the mix when it comes to your individual TDEE and macronutrient ratios. If you're new to this kind of planning, you'll need to monitor your progress closely at first – and adjust as necessary.
If you already known your body's tendencies, then you could consider adjusting your future TDEE accordingly. (See the page on Somatotypes for more details.)
3. Supporting optimal physiological and health needs
With its 80-20 ratio of whole unprocessed foods/pleasure foods, the sensible eating plan provides me with more than adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber – ensuring all essential bodily functions, cell repair and of course – physical performance.
Again, if you have a particular structure to your eating which may exclude certain types of foods or nutrients from your diet, I would encourage you to fully inform yourself of any limitations or special considerations – before engaging in rigorous physical activity.
4. Providing flexibility and eating pleasure
Because of the relaxation-response and positive biochemical triggers, eating for pleasure is a very important aspect of overall wellness.
Nobody can ever be totally happy eating only unprocessed meals. That's where the 20% part of the plan comes into play. Room for those so-called 'unhealthy' but oh-so enjoyable foods.
Gone are the days where I traded forbidden foods for guilt.
The nutritional aspect of the sensible fitness program contributes to a very healthy relationship with food. Yes, if anything's going to foster long-term adherence to a healthy way-of-life – it's flexibility.
How to Diet? Wrapping up
To reiterate, 'the sensible way' promotes long-term sustainability in healthy and enjoyable eating. You might on occasion use a periodic calorie-surplus or deficit – if your goals or needs so warrant.
But largely, it's a life plan.
What if you need or decide to change your weight?
Let's briefly look at a few final considerations:
Smooth corrective action
Any calorie-adjustments should amount to smooth and temporary calorie/macronutrient fluctuations. And if you're on top of your game, you can actually factor pleasure foods like ice-cream into your eating plan, even while on a calorie-deficit.
Tune in to your body
If you make the effort to become organized and stay in touch with your body's needs – there should be NO reason why you would ever find yourself in bad shape – and in need of a 'diet.'
Aside for legitimate illnesses or medical reasons of course.
If, however, you find yourself in a lifestyle-induced overweight or obese state, the initial part of your transformation 'could' be misconstrued as a diet by some. But in the realm of the sensible way, this is merely the beginning of a permanent lifestyle change.
No beginning and no end
If significant weight loss is required, your calorie-intake at first will of course need be lower to promote the required weight loss. But only until you've transformed. Beyond that, there is no 'dieting.'
Remember, a 'diet' has a beginning and an end.
You've probably heard statements like: "I'm going on a diet", or "I began dieting again." These are roads to nowhere.
The ultimate situation:
Is to have a permanent solution: like the Sensible Fitness Program. You need not ask the question any longer of "how to diet?" But rather, "how to eat right."
Whether you're carb-resistant, carb-sensitive or somewhere in-between – make sure you consistently play to your body's strengths and tolerances. And don't forget the pleasure foods.
You can then simply shelf that D-word for good.