Unhealthy food is everywhere. Eating well has become a daily battle that takes a toll on your will power.
This article will cut through all the nonsense and give you the top priorities for rehabbing your diet. These strategies can help you perform better, be healthier, and get leaner.
Priority #1: Plan Meals Around Protein-Rich Foods
We know from eating behavior research that whatever food people eat first during a meal is the food they eat most of. For example, when college students started their meal with French fries, they ate significantly French fries overall than if they started with veggies. This tells us that whichever food “anchors” your meal can impact the number of calories you eat and the quality of your nutrition.
That food should be protein because protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy play a special role in promoting leanness. First, protein is filling. When people eat a greater percentage of their diet from protein, they feel more satisfied and eat fewer calories overall. A review of the issue found that for every 1 percent increase in protein intake, people naturally decrease calorie intake by between 32 and 51 calories daily.
Another benefit of protein is that it triggers protein synthesis, preserving lean muscle instead of being stored as fat. Finally, studies show that people who eat high-quality protein (defined as protein containing 10 grams of essential amino acids) at meals are leaner and have less belly fat.
Priority #2: Get Your Carb Intake Under Control
Many people think of carbs as energy foods. In fact, studies show that eating carbs raises levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin that is calming and makes you feel relaxed. In addition, glucose, which is what carbs are turned into after digestion, blocks the activity of a network of energetic transmitters in the brain called the hypocretin/orexin neurons. When the orexin network is blocked, metabolic rate slows and we feel sluggish and sleepy.
Finally, refined carbs such as bread, cereal, and sweets are known to stimulate food intake so that we eat more calories than we intended.
The solution to all this mess is to get carb intake under control. This doesn’t mean you eliminate carbs or even go on a low-carb diet if you don’t want to.
It does require you to eat carbs at the best times and favor whole food carbs—vegetables, fruit, and boiled grains—over processed carbs. The best times to eat carbs are post-workout and at dinner. After exercise, your muscles are more sensitive to insulin so that any carbs you eat will be stored as glycogen. Eating carbs at dinner is recommended because this is the perfect time to raise serotonin and lower the stress hormone cortisol so that you’ll be able to wind down and go to sleep.
Priority #3: Pick Foods That Will Satisfy, Not Stimulate
What satisfies you is personal—some people thrive on healthy carbs, whereas others find protein and fat combinations do the trick. Nonetheless, we know that certain foods are much more likely to satisfy appetite quickly and allow us to eat less, while others stimulate food intake and make us more likely to binge.
Protein, vegetables, and other foods that occur in nature tend to be very satisfying. In contrast, refined and higher carb foods tend to stimulate appetite so that we eat more than we need.
The difference has to do with how these foods affect the brain. Refined carb foods have been found to “hijack” the brain and make you feel unable to stop eating because of how they influence hunger hormones and target pleasure centers of the brain. Refined carbs are also associated with blood sugar spikes and valleys Appetite is stimulated and because refined carbs are associated with blood sugar spikes and valleys, you crave more high-carb foods to maintain energy levels.
Fortunately, certain foods are very satisfying and they have the opposite effect:
Protein foods are the most satiating of all because they lead to the release of gut hormones that tell the brain your full. Eggs, Greek yogurt, fish, meat, and beans all score high on the list for keeping hunger at bay.
Green vegetables are very slowly digested and contain a lot of indigestible fiber to fill you up. The cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower lead the pack.
Fruit is also slowly digested, contains a lot of water, and the higher carb content can kill a sugar craving. Apples and oranges score highest on the list of satisfying fruits.
Compared to refined carbs like bread and cereal, starchy vegetables and whole grains are digested much more slowly and they tend to be high in indigestible fiber. Even though they are more calorie-dense than green veggies and lower carb fruits, they can hit the spot when you feel the need for carbs. Regular potatoes top the satiety list. Whole oats and other boiled grains also tend to score well.
Priority #4: Make Your First Meal Of The Day High-Protein, Low-Carb
Breakfast deserves special attention because high-carb meals are the norm. This habit of mowing down cereal, toast, juice, or other carbilicious food is one of the worst things you can do first thing in the morning. These foods elevate insulin and raise the chemical transmitter serotonin, which will make you feel sluggish and foggy.
In contrast, having a high-protein, lower carb meal for breakfast sets you up to make better food choices throughout the day. The amino acids in protein activate the orexin network in the brain that was mentioned in #2. By enhancing activity of the orexin neurons, metabolic rate increases and brain function is enhanced.
In addition, willpower is topped off in the morning, which makes it easier to save higher carb foods for a more opportune time later in the day such as post-workout or dinner.
Finally, having protein for breakfast increases the likelihood that the carbs you eat at lunch or dinner will be stored in the muscle as glycogen instead of as fat.
Priority #5: Make Your Diet Robust To Faults: Solve Nutrient Deficiencies
Minerals such as magnesium, vitamin D, and iron are extremely important for metabolic health. Low levels of these nutrients cause all kind of complications that make it difficult to stay lean because metabolic rate is often reduced.
For example, lack of magnesium leads to poor insulin sensitivity and problems with blood sugar control, both of which will halt fat loss in its tracks. Lack of iron causes anemia, which is an impaired ability to carry oxygenated blood to the cells and muscles.
There are numerous studies showing an association between greater body fat percentage and a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D enables other nutrients such as calcium to sustain metabolic rate and bone metabolism, while preventing the hormone testosterone from being aromatized or changed into estrogen.
If your levels of these nutrients are topped off, they cease to be a concern. If you’re deficient, they become a top priority for health and fat loss.
Priority #6: Replace Chaos With Structure
Most people’s eating habits are absolute chaos. They go long periods between meals and they never plan anything. They find themselves ravenous and without healthy food options.
There’s really only one solution: You have to develop habits that allow you to put your eating behavior on automatic. Determine ahead of time what you’ll eat for meals and snacks. This has a couple of benefits:
By planning meals ahead of time, you’ll have an easier time avoiding tempting foods you don’t want to eat.
It gives you a set meal frequency so that you never wonder when your next meal is coming. This keeps your blood sugar steadier and allows you to avoid high stress levels that come from not eating.
Getting and staying lean is the sum of what you do over time. Planning meals in advance lets you lay the groundwork so that the other priorities on this list become easier to achieve.
Final Words: Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. By prioritizing what really matters, you can enjoy delicious, nourishing meals, while getting lean and energized.