One of the biggest reasons people struggle with their diet is because they try to do “too much, too soon”.
Don’t get me wrong, aspiring to eat nothing but grass-fed meats, organic fruits and vegetables and your own sprouted whole grains is truly an impressive nutrition goal; however, in reality that’s well beyond the grasp for most people (your coaches included).
In reality, building an awesome physique and better health doesn’t require such extreme diet change. But what improving your physique does require is a consistent commitment to improving your diet.
And since so many people get paralyzed with the myriad food choices and meal plans they could follow, we like to keep things simple at ModelFit for those just starting out.
In fact, we base our nutrition coaching philosophy around the following 2 themes for all our clients.
1. The rule of displacement
Basically, this rule is great for beginners, because it allows people to use convenient commercial products as an initial step in improving their diets.
- Supreme bar: 390 kcal, 15 g fat, 36 g carbs (4 g of sugar) and 30 g protein
- Snickers bar: 270 kcal, 14 g fat, 35 g carbs (29 g sugar) and 4 g protein
Clearly, the main differences between these two products are that the protein bar contains far less sugar and a good dose of protein (which explains the higher calorie count). Therefore, if your current afternoon snack is a chocolate bar, swapping it for a commerical protein bar will result in a positive change in your health.
Now let’s be straight, commercial protein bars do contain a number of less than ideal ingredients (ie. high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols and soy protein isolate). Therefore, commercial protein bars should never be considered a true health food.
However, when attempting to build a progressive change towards a sustainable improvement in your approach to eating, using protein bars as a bridge to help wean you off of sugary-treats and onto ultimately healthier choices is a step in the right direction.
2. Progression in stages
This rule builds off the former. Perhaps the biggest mistake I routinely see made made by nutrition coaches is giving novices a strict meal plan consisting exclusively of foods like chicken breast, spinach, cottage cheese and almonds.
Uh hello… don’t you think that if this person enjoyed these foods already, they might actually already be eating them?
What do you mean french fries aren’t really a vegetable?!?
In my experience, very few clients are able to follow a strict meal plan with any devotion. Frankly, I’ve only seen success with the meal plan approach when clients have a firm end point to their goal, i.e. a marathon, figure competition, your wedding.
I’ve always said that expecting “new to healthy eating” clients to stick with a “perfect meal plan” is about as “wise” as a personal trainer expecting a new client to be able to learn and execute a powerclean during their initial visit.
Dumb, dumb, dumb!
So long ago I gave up preaching interventions that don’t work (ie. handing out meal plans) and have started to focus more on the process of producing behavior change.
Let’s revisit our protein bar vs. candy bar example.
In this example, let’s imagine you are a new client of mine and currently, you have a “candy bar a day” habit.
Unfortunately, this daily candy bar habit keeps you sitting around 25% body fat. Now a reasonable goal might be for you to try and get that number down to 15% over the next 6-8 months. But how are you going to go about making the necessary dietary changes?
You could start by swapping the candy bars for protein bars. Definitely a step in the right direction. However, this strategy might only get you down to 22-23% body fat.
Remember, regularly consuming commercial protein bars is not a habit that is conducive to optimal leanness. To get down to below 15%, you’ll need to eat the way really lean people do (ie. tons of veggies, proteins and healthy fats).
But jumping from candy bars to apples, almonds and tuna isn’t something that most people can buy into right away. A more reasonable (and ultimately, far more successful) approach would be to approach it in the following manner:
As we can see, each step along this progression signifies an improvement in food quality.
We went from purely processed crap (month 1), to less crap (but still processed foods in month 2-3), to incorporating natural foods (in month 4-5) and finally ended up at month 6, with zero processed foods. Success!
Attacking nutritional change in this manner always makes for far greater compliance and ultimately, a far greater likelihood the end behaviour takes root.
Humans are creatures of habit and comfort, which is why convenience foods are so appealing. Although it’s tough to argue for any processed food as being optimally healthy, they can be used to improve someone’s diet.
The key when using processed foods is to ask yourself if they are moving you “closer to” or “further from” your goals. If you ask yourself that question, deciding what to eat becomes relatively straightforward!