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How to eat better without sacrificing the foods you love

The most common New Year's resolution

Can you guess the top New Year's Resolution?

Eating better, according to a survey by YouGov.

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common resolution that most people don't stick to for very long, so they set it again next year. And the year after. And the year after that...

Fortunately, this is a resolution I don't have to worry about anymore.

I'll tell you how I eat pizza, burgers, and chicken sandwiches, drink 2-3 nights per week, and still get made fun of for how good of shape I'm in by my family and friends.

But first, why do so many people fail to eat better?

They feel restricted.

Most people "start the year off strong" by going on an intense diet like juice cleanses or Whole30. Even if you make it through the entire diet, it's really hard to go back to normal and maintain your current shape or continue getting in better shape.

Especially if you don't love the food you're eating.

When you're restricted, you're always going to feel tempted to eat unhealthy food.

My basic principles

When I was in high school, I suffered a spinal injury that forced me to cease all physical activity for over a year. Because I ate whatever I wanted at that point, I put on a lot of weight and got really out of shape.

I learned the importance of eating right, and became obsessed with learning the best strategies and discovering the best-tasting healthy food to lose weight and stay in great shape.

The keys for me have been to absolutely love what I'm eating and not feel restricted, while sticking to a few basic principles that have helped me stay in great shape for the last 10+ years.

1. My week is structured into "On Meals" vs. "Off Meals"

On Meals are healthy (but delicious) meals. I eat On Meals during my regular routine, which for me is typically Sunday dinner through Friday lunch.

This is when it's easiest for me to stay on track. I can cook most of my meals so I have total control over what I'm eating. Even when I was at my banking job, I'd make extra dinner so I could bring healthy leftovers for lunch the next day.

Off Meals are the meals when I get to eat out at new or favorite Chicago restaurants and don't worry about how healthy my pizza or bar food is. The only thing I worry about is getting some protein in there (see #3.)

Here's a look at how I structure my weeks:

This means even with "cheat meals," I still eat really well over 80% of the time.

Typical On Meals for me are:

Breakfast: Protein shake (protein powder, spinach, strawberries, chia seeds, water, ice) 
Lunch: Scrambled eggs, spinach, Ezekiel Bread, Peanut Butter (peanuts and salt only), hot sauce
Dinner: Protein (steak, salmon, tilapia, skin-on chicken, etc.), green vegetable, sweet potato

2. I remove the guesswork

Options = Temptations.

That's why most of my On Meals are consistent or very similar week-to-week. I love what I'm eating, I know it's good for me, and I know what to buy at the grocery.

I go to the grocery at the same time every week (Monday morning), and I don't buy anything unhealthy that would tempt me to cheat during an On Meal.

If I'm eating out for lunch or dinner during what would be an ideal On Meal (especially for those of you on the road,) I'll look up healthy options in the area or on the menu ahead of time to make my decision easier.

Usually I'm looking for somewhere I don't have to get a sandwich, like Chipotle.

3. I strongly limit my sugar intake

Sugar spikes insulin, which puts the body into fat-storage mode and makes it hard to lose or even maintain weight. By keeping my insulin levels low, my body uses fat for energy and doesn't store it.

There are three really common mistakes I see people make that I've been able to avoid:

  • I don't drink calories/sugar: Water, water, more water. I'm not an olympian or professional athlete, so there's no way to justify a Gatorade or other sugary drinks like soda. I don't put sugar or cream in my coffee or tea (learn to like the taste of pure coffee beans and tea leaves.) And less obvious, I don't drink any fruit juice like orange or apple juice. The juice alone has no fiber like the whole fruit does to offset the insulin spike from the natural sugar.

  • I limit my grain intake: I get most of my carbs from veggies and a limited amount of grains. Those grains are almost always sprouted grains or 100% whole wheat. I avoid cereals and carb-only snacks, and learned to trade regular potatoes for sweet potatoes- regular potatoes create sneaky high insulin spikes.

  • I don't eat sugar without some protein offset: If I'm going to have dessert or a carb-heavy meal, I offset the sugar spike with some protein, which tempers the insulin effect. In other words, I usually don't eat a sugary snack or dessert by itself. I'll have it with or soon after a protein and fat-rich meal or snack.

4. I prioritize protein and healthy fats

I am not a doctor, and there are definitely people who swear by monitoring "calories in vs. calories out." But I never worry about calories. I just focus on eating the right foods, which for me means prioritizing good protein and healthy fats.

And because I know what I'm eating is good, I just eat until I'm actually full which is awesome.

For example, I eat all the guacamole I want, which is a "high-calorie" food but only because it has a lot of healthy fat.

So I'll eat 200 calories worth of guacamole, but I won't eat a "100-calorie snack pack" or 90-calorie granola bar that may not be a lot of calories, but will spike my blood sugar.

To recap:

  1. I structure my week into On Meals and Off Meals

  2. I remove the guesswork from eating well

  3. I strongly limit my sugar intake

  4. I prioritize protein and healthy fats for as many meals as possible


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