Summer is just around the corner and everyone is racing to get ready for beach season. Undoubtedly, most people are going to overcomplicate their diet, assuming that losing weight is more complex than brain surgery.
Despite what many people will have you believe, improving your diet doesn't have to be torturous, complicated, expensive, or restrictive.
Spend some time making changes that won't leave you feeling deprived and you'll be rewarded with a better body, improved health, and a greater appreciation for your favorite foods.
Without further ado, here are 5 tips that you can implement today, without a major diet overhaul.
1. Ditch the sugary drinks
You drink because you're thirsty, and nothing will satisfy your thirst better than water. Black coffee and unsweetened tea are also great substitutes for that afternoon pick-me-up or simply to give you something to sip on throughout the day in lieu of sweet drinks.
Zero-calorie diet drinks are a slippery slope – it's best to just say no and skip them altogether. They don't have any immediate negative consequences on your body composition, but may lead to cravings for other sweets, derailing your diet indirectly. And who knows what a lifetime of ingesting artificial sweeteners will do?
My best advice to get enough water is to drink a 16 oz glass about 20 minutes before every meal. The rest of the time, opt for black coffee or green tea.
Why it works
You can eliminate TONS of useless calories from your diet by following this simple step alone.
Consuming juice, soda, sports drinks, and “coffee” drinks befitting a 12-year old girl's palate will do absolutely nothing to stave off hunger, but they're packed full of ab-concealing calories. Not to mention they displace real food, the most important aspect of any diet.
2. Stop snacking
People tend to snack out of boredom, habit, and availability.
The best way to eliminate snacking is to eat more substantial meals (more on that in #3).
You'll do yourself a huge favor by eliminating bad habits like going through the drive-thru for breakfast or hitting up the vending machine every afternoon (a couple favorite activities of old me).
Next, purge all snack items from your work, home, and car. On your next trip to the grocery store, only buy real food. If you don't keep snacks in the house or within arm's reach, it becomes inconvenient to eat them and they'll be pushed out of your diet.
To avoid mindless snacking, try to keep your mind busy during the day. This could mean focusing on your work, reading a book during downtime, or hitting the gym in the evening. Whatever you have to do to make the most of your day.
Why it works
I don't know anyone who snacks on chicken breast, greens, or bell peppers, so chances are, any snack you'd consider isn't the type of food that should be making its way to your mouth.
Additionally, since snacking isn't a full meal, we tend to gloss over them when adding up everything we ate for the day, whether it's just ball parking or actually doing the math. Studies show that overweight individuals drastically underestimate their calorie intake while underweight people overestimate how much they eat.
A handful of chips here, a candy bar there, and maybe a bowl of ice cream for an afternoon snack may not seem like much while you're eating them, but those sneaky calories are what lead to weight gain and/or prevent weight loss.
Overeating by just 500 calories per day (which is extremely easy with typical snack foods) will put roughly a pound of body fat onto your frame every week – Stop Snacking!
3. Get a minimum of 30g of protein per meal
If the food in front of you doesn't contain at least 30g of protein, it isn't a meal. It's a snack (see #2 above). You should be aiming for about 6 oz of lean meat, a cup of cottage cheese, or 4 or 5 eggs to make up your protein portion of a meal.
30 grams is roughly the amount of protein you need to consume to trigger protein synthesis (building them muscles). Since muscle mass is the major determining factor of metabolic rate, this is vitally important to support weight loss.
Why it works
Setting this rule for yourself helps you avoid snacks and unproductive calories.
Things like hotdogs, pizza, popcorn, and nachos naturally get pushed out of your diet because the protein content is so low, in relation to fat and carbs, that you would need to eat a massive serving to hit the minimum requirement.
No more passing off mac n' cheese, pancakes, or a bologna sandwich as a meal.
4. Eat one serving of veggies with every meal
This is an easy one. If the meal itself doesn't contain a vegetable, just have one on the side. The easiest way I've found is to eat your veggies while you're preparing the meal. Eat half a cucumber, a bell pepper, or a couple celery stalks and you're all set.
If you're prepping meals ahead of time, just buy bags of frozen broccoli, green beans, and mixed veggies. You can add a cup or two to your Tupperware and they'll get steamed when you microwave the meal. Easy as can be.
NOTE: If you don't have the willpower to eat a few vegetables, give your a mother a call and have her come over to cut the crust off your PB&J.
Why it works
Besides the myriad of benefits provided by the micronutrients, antioxidants, and fiber, eating vegetables will help fill you up, decreasing overall calories consumed.
5. Cheat on your diet, big time
I knew you'd like this one!
Don't bother with low calorie garbage. Eating those little 100-calorie snack packs everyday is going to lead to craving more snacks. It's like trying to give up smoking by switching to light cigarettes.
Have a little discipline in the day-to-day and then, once or twice per week, have that large milkshake, bacon double cheeseburger, or meat lovers pizza and be satisfied. You'll feel much better about yourself if you program a few indulgences into your diet.
No more self-loathing after you eat 32 wings at your Memorial Day cookout.
The last time I had ice cream, my favorite dessert, I ate four Blizzards from Dairy Queen. That was well over 2,000 calories in a single sitting. But guess what? I haven't had ice cream in over four months because I had my fill. That's much better than getting a small frozen yogurt every day and still wanting more.
Why it works
If you have a small cheat every day, how great is that slice of birthday cake on the weekend really going to taste? It'll most likely be pretty underwhelming.
On the other hand, if you spend the week eating mostly healthy meals made of real food, that slice (or 3) of birthday cake is going to feel like a delicious punch to the face.
A 2,000 calorie mega cheat is still a smarter move, diet wise, than having an extra 500 calories per day totaling 3,500 per week.
What to do now?
I haven't given you any forgotten ancient secrets, magical mystery pills, or cutting edge information. What I've done is give you 5 actionable steps that'll help you correct bad habits that are keeping you from having a better beach body, all while keeping your sanity and social life in tact.
What more could you ask for?
Try adding one of these new diet habits every week to have a better body by summer!