Every day we are bombarded with fad diets and conflicting information on how to eat healthy and lose weight. No wonder people fail to reach their weight-loss or health goals. (Read The 6 Most Promising Weight-Loss Supplements.)
Popular nutrition information and diet strategies are simply too complicated or unrealistic to maintain over the long term. And many nutrition books contain hundreds of pages of difficult-to-understand "sciencey" stuff that only dieticians bother to read or need to understand.
So, I've come up with a simple nutrition formula that we use at Performance University. It helps everyone, from average Joes to professional athletes, more effectively burn fat by ensuring that each meal is healthy and well balanced. This isn't a restrictive diet plan. It's a healthy and realistic eating strategy for putting together balanced and nutritious meals—a strategy you can use for a lifetime.
The Thermic Effect of Food
The term "thermic effect of food," or TEF, describes the energy we expend to consume (bite, chew and swallow) and process (digest, transport, metabolize and store) our food. Certain foods require us to burn more calories than others simply by eating them.
Here's the breakdown:
- Fat (9 calories/gram) is simple to digest because the body keeps breaking down fat into smaller and smaller molecules. For every 100 calories of fat ingested, you burn approximately 5 calories.
- Complex carbohydrates (4 calories/gram) take more effort to digest because of the complexity of glucose molecules. For every 100 calories you ingest from complex carbs, you burn approximately 10 calories.
- Protein (4 calories/gram) requires the most work to digest because it is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscles. For every 100 calories of protein you ingest, you burn approximately 25 calories.
Based on this information, you can form an eating plan that minimizes the amount of calories consumed and naturally increases the amount of calories you burn. No calorie counting required!
Foods to Eat
Do your best to include each of following food categories in your three or four daily meals. It's unrealistic to expect that every meal will include all four categories, so don't stress if you occasionally miss a category.
Choose your favorite food from each category to form your meal. Ensure that it's a whole food and not processed. The food recommendations below are great examples, but they are not comprehensive. If you enjoy a specific food, do the research to see if it falls into one of the categories. (Learn how to balance your protein intake.)
- Lean Protein: eggs, chicken, fish, bison, beef, low-fat dairy
- Fibrous Carbohydrate: fruits and vegetables
- Starchy Carbohydrate: sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal
- Healthy Fat (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, Omega-3 fatty acids): avocado, nuts, olive oil
Foods to Avoid
It's no secret that you should limit your consumption of processed foods, simple sugars, saturated fats and hydrogenated oils. However, limiting consumption doesn't mean you can never eat it. (See The Unhealthiest "Healthy" Foods.)
I recommend using the 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of your meals consist of healthy and whole foods, while the other 20 percent consists of not-so-healthy items. This will keep you on track with your diet by preventing binging and cravings without adverse effects on your health and weight.
The amount of food you eat largely depends on how much energy you need. You can get technical and calculate your daily energy demands and count calories to ensure you are meeting your goals, but this is time consuming and difficult to stick to in the long term.
As a general guideline, if you are left feeling hungry within an hour or so after finishing a meal, you probably didn't eat enough. On the flip side, if you feel full for hours, you likely ate too much. It really comes down to common sense, intuition and simply listening to your body.
As for specific portions of each food category suggested above, I recommend using this formula to fill your plate.
- Protein & Fibrous Carbs - largest serving on your plate.
- Starchy Carbs - smaller than the protein and vegetable serving.
- Healthy Fats - smallest serving on your plate.
There are certainly other issues—like thyroid function—that can impact weight loss. And there are instances where counting calories and restricting a diet are necessary. However, these require an individualized approach and are not long-term solutions. The information I provided above is not a diet. It's a lifestyle change to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.