Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans

5 Nov

Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans

Tim Skwiat, CSCS, Pn2

While there are quite a few effective nutrition programs out there, there’s not necessarily a single, universal “best” option. In fact, in a recent article published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared various popular diets differing in macronutrient composition, and they found that differences in weight loss and metabolic risk factors were small (i.e., less than a couple of pounds) and inconsistent.1

What they did find, however, was that the single-most important factor influencing weight loss and improvements overall health (i.e., disease-risk outcomes) was adherence, or the ability of folks to stick with a program and consistently meet program goals for diet and physical activity. This led for the researchers to “call for an end to the diet debates.”

In the POUNDS Lost study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared four different diets (with varying amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), and they found that “reduced-calorie diets result in meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.”2

With all of that being said, there are some common themes—criteria, if you will—amongst the most effective nutrition plans, including:3

  • They raise awareness and attention.
  • They focus on food quality.
  • They help eliminate nutrient deficiencies.
  • They help control appetite and food intake.
  • They promote regular exercise and physical activity.

While there may be no universal “best” diet, there may be a best option for you, and that’s what’s most important. How can you begin to find what works best for you? The following Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans is a great place to start.

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Habit 1: Eat slowly and mindfully. For fat loss, there are two habits that you’ll need to master, and speaking generally—when combined with good food quality and done consistently—these two simple tools are typically enough for almost all clients to lose fat:

  • Eat slowly.
  • Eat until 80% full (i.e., just until satisfied; no longer hungry, but not “full”).

Slow eating provides a host of benefits:

  • Slow eating helps you “check in” and be present, pay attention, and sense into the cues that your body is sending you, why you’re eating, etc.
  • Slow eating allows you to sense into your body’s internal hunger/satiety cues.
  • Slow eating creates awareness of food textures, tastes, and smells.
  • Slow eating enhances digestion.
  • Slow eating doesn’t depend on controlling what you eat. It can be done any time, anywhere, and no matter what’s on your plate or who’s around, you can always eat slowly.
  • Slow eating makes you and your body the boss. You don’t have to rely on eternal cues and control methods (e.g., calorie counting, weighing/measuring food, points, etc.), and relinquishing external control gives you more real control.

Slow eating also ties into another extremely important component of how to eat: Learning appetite awareness. This is key to distinguishing when you feel that want to eat, need to eat, and have eaten enough (or too much). This ties into the concept of eating until 80% full, which you can track using this handy 80% Full Food Journal. Incorporating an Appetite Awareness Tracker along with the aforementioned food journal can be quite helpful in this regard as well.

If you can master the art of eating slowly and mindfully and learn to sense into (and listen to) your physical cues, you will be well on your way to improving your health, body composition, and vitality. You’ll be a nutrition ninja!

Extra Credit ==> Mindful Eating: HOW Do You Eat?

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Habit 2: Eat protein-dense foods with each meal. When it comes to improving body composition (e.g., losing fat, building/retaining muscle), optimizing protein intake may be one of the single most important dietary and lifestyle changes that one can make. Protein-dense foods increase satiety (i.e., feeling of fullness) and thermogenesis (i.e., boost the metabolism), and high-protein diets have consistently been proven to be effective at improving body composition (e.g., fat loss), preserving metabolic rate, and improving overall health (e.g., better blood lipids, blood sugar management, insulin concentrations).4–6

Increasing protein intake means moving from “surviving” to “thriving” and from “adequate” to “optimal.” Ideally, you should aim to consume a portion of protein-dense foods with each meal. Generally speaking, one palm-sized portion of protein is equivalent to approximately 20 – 30 grams of protein, and we recommend that:

[If you like to “count,” then a good rule of thumb is probably somewhere around 0.18 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per feeding.]

Your best protein options include:

  • Lean meats, poultry, fish/seafood, and/or wild game (preferably grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic, etc., when appropriate)
  • Eggs (preferably pasture-raised, which is distinct from free-range and cage-free)
  • Lean dairy, especially Greek yogurt (with live cultures) and cottage cheese (preferably grass-fed, pasture-raised)

As noted above, there are a number of beneficial outcomes associated with a higher protein intake, and most experts tend to agree that folks can optimize protein intake by consuming about 0.7 – 0.9 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. This can be tricky, and this is why a protein supplement like BioTRUST Low Carb is “foundational” for the overwhelming majority of folks.

Bonus recommendation ==> Branched-chain amino acids, which play an intricate role in muscle building and recovery (particularly leucine), reduce muscle breakdown, and help regulate blood sugar levels. BCAAs are particularly useful during exercise, and they may also be especially applicable when protein needs aren’t being met (e.g., fasting, not enough protein at a given meal). What’s more, there’s some evidence to suggest that BCAA supplementation may be especially important (to help maintain muscle and metabolic rate) for older folks, whose protein absorption mechanisms may not be as effective.7

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Habit 3: Eat vegetables with each meal. Mom and grandma were right: Veggies are good for your health and your body composition. Studies show folks who eat more veggies tend to do a better job of losing fat and keeping it off. What’s more, a diet high in vegetables helps balance the body’s pH, which is important for both bone and muscle strength. Vegetables have a high nutrient-density and low energy-density, which means that you can consume a relatively large volume comparative to their calorie content. (See Move More, Eat MORE for more on this.)

While vegetables are also packed with important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals), they are also loaded with important phytochemicals that are necessary for optimal physiological functioning. These same plant chemicals often serve as anti-oxidants that combat oxidative stress, one of the most important factors mediating the deleterious effects of aging.8–10

Vegetables can essentially be prepared any way that you like (and it’s a good idea to include some healthy fats to maximize absorption of key nutrients),11–13 and while there’s not a limit on the number of non-starchy vegetables that you can include, the following is a good starting point:

Generally speaking, the more color (and the more varieties of colors) means the greatest array of beneficial phythonutrients, and it’s a good idea to consume a variety of vegetables each day. To optimize health, you may consider trying to include at least one serving of each of the primary colors each day:

  • Greens: Various lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, zucchini
  • Reds: Tomatoes, red bell peppers, red cabbage
  • Oranges: Carrots, orange bell peppers, various squashes, pumpkin
  • Whites: Onions, garlic, parsnips, cauliflower, yellow squash
  • Purples: Eggplant, purple cabbage, beets

For more examples, please see the World’s Healthiest Foods list.
Bonus recommendation ==> Supplement with a greens powder, which contain vegetables, fruits, grasses, etc., that have been distilled into powder form. While not necessarily a substitute for eating whole vegetables and fruits, greens powders are a good option to add to smoothies, when traveling, and for folks who struggle with adding vegetables to each meal.

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Habit 4: Carbohydrate intake should match activity levels. For fat loss, most people will do better by reducing carbohydrate intake, but it doesn’t mean that a low-carb diet is necessary. Rather, a controlled-carbohydrate diet seems to work best. Generally speaking, most people will do best with some carbs, with appropriate adjustments made for activity level, goals, and body type. In other words, the more active you are, the more smart carbs you’ll need; on the other hand, sedentary folks, especially those who are trying to lose fat and/or have more endomorphic body types, typically need fewer carbohydrates.

While there is often debate about low-fat versus low-carbohydrate diets and whether or not there are any metabolic advantages (there doesn’t seem to be any given the data at this time), there is some evidence to suggest that an individual’s insulin sensitivity status may influence the outcome of a reduced-calorie diet.14 For instance, in a study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, researchers found that folks with poor insulin sensitivity lost less weight on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet compared to more insulin sensitive folks (as well as compared to folks who followed a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, regardless of insulin sensitivity status).15

Why? Adherence (or lack thereof): Folks with a poor insulin sensitivity status had a much more difficult time sticking to the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, and as a result, they were much less likely to lose weight. Why did they have trouble sticking to it? It’s hard to say for certain, but we can speculate that their less-than-stellar carbohydrate metabolism induced a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that increases hunger and energy intake (after consuming a low-fat, high-carbohydrate meals).

Overall, when it comes to choosing smart carbs, the emphasis should be placed on whole, minimally-processed foods that are slow-digesting and high in fiber. Some folks find that consuming the majority of these carbs after exercise is best for body composition and recovery. When carbohydrates are added to meals (not necessarily every meal), the following is a good starting point:

Again, carb intake should be proportionate to activity levels, and particularly when the goal is fat loss, a portion may not be included at each feeding. For advanced folks, focusing on including carbs in the hours after exercise may be optimal. When you do choose to add carbs to a meal, the following are the best choices:

  • Colorful, starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, winter squashes)
  • Colorful fruits (e.g., berries)
  • Other sweet/starchy fruits and vegetables (e.g., bananas, plantains, potatoes)
  • Legumes (e.g., lentils and beans)
  • Whole, intact grains (rather than foods made from processed flours), including whole or steel-cut oats; wild, brown, or red rice; quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat groats; sprouted grains; kamut or spelt grains; maize; millet; and barley
  • Other whole grain products (e.g., sprouted grains)

Bonus recommendation ==> Managing blood sugar and insulin concentrations are key to optimizing body composition, health, and performance. Supplements like IC-5 can help improve carb tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic flexibility, which are key players in weight management.

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Habit 5: Eat healthy fats daily. Don’t fear the fat! Despite a bad rap, fat does NOT make you fat. In fact, healthy fats from whole foods play important roles in manufacturing and balancing hormones. They also form our cell membranes and brains and nervous systems. They also transport important vitamins and minerals.

Healthy fats are critical for recovery and repair and supporting mental health and feelings of wellbeing. Fats slow gastric emptying and the release of glucose into the bloodstream (i.e., reduce the glycemic response), and furthermore, studies show that consuming fats can reduce the amount of food eaten in subsequent meals.

Generally speaking, the following are good starting points for portion sizes:

The key is to balance fats, and a variety of healthy fats usually does the trick:

  • Raw nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, etc.) and nut butters (e.g., almond butter)
  • Raw seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Olives and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Butter (preferably from grass-fed cows, e.g., Kerrygold)
  • Fresh coconut, coconut milk, and extra-virgin coconut oil
  • Cold-pressed, extra-virgin oils (e.g., walnut, macadamia nut, avocado, hemp, pumpkin, flax)
  • Fatty fish (e.g., wild salmon, mackerel)

Bonus recommendation ==> Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, which, for the overwhelmingly majority of folks, will be “foundational.” For more on why this (i.e., fish oil) is such an important supplement, please refer to the following article:

The Benefits Of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation

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In sum, for most people who are eating 3 – 4 meals per day, the following is a good starting point:

  • 1 – 2 palm-sized portions of protein
  • 1 – 2 fist-sized portions of vegetables
  • 1 – 2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats
  • 1 – 2 cupped-handful portions of carbohydrates can be added as needed (i.e., not every meal), depending on activity levels, goals, and body type.

With all of that being said, this is just a starting point. Remember to practice the first Habit, which emphasizes how you eat. Tune into your internal cues (e.g., satiety, appetite) to gauge what works best for you. In other words, find and do what works (for you). Focus on food quality and emphasize building a solid foundation of high-quality nutrition, done consistently.

Depending on where you are in your journey, you might start with something small, like adding a fish oil supplement to help balance your fat intake and reduce inflammation. From there, you might want to make sure that you consume a portion of lean protein at each feeding. Once you’ve nailed that, you might make sure that you’re consuming some colorful vegetables and/or fruits with each feeding.

In other words, take it one step at a time and focus on working on one change or new habit. Direct all of your time and energy into something that you are ready, willing, and able to do. Master that task or habit, and then take that next step. As Robert Collier said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Many find this step-like, habit-based approach to be far more tolerable, and more importantly, successful for long-term behavior change and weight management. However, some folks need or desire to make bigger changes, faster (e.g., athletes making weight, preparing for an event). In these cases, it’s important to understand that you’ll need to tolerate a greater amount of discomfort and disruption to your routine. Worry not, we’re here to support and encourage you every step of the way.

Notice and name what you do well and where you need help. Are there certain challenges that you face? The more awareness (here’s that mindfulness thing again) that you have of your habits, behaviors, and triggers, the more proactive that you can be in your approach to good nutrition. Remember, good nutrition (and being healthy) is not about perfection; it’s about improvement. It’s about the process—the journey. It’s about making the best, wise choices, as often as possible. It’s about living with purpose and getting up each day being your “best self,” with integrity. It’s about chasing health and wellness.

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Bonus resources:

Additional references used for this article: 16,17

References:

  1. Pagoto SL, Appelhans BM. A Call for an End to the Diet Debates. JAMA. 2013;310(7):687. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.8601.
  2. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(9):859-873. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0804748.
  3. Berardi J. Paleo, vegan, intermittent fasting…Here’s how to choose the best diet for you. Precis Nutr. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/best-diet.
  4. Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S – 1561S.
  5. Soenen S, Martens EAP, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Lemmens SGT, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. J Nutr. 2013;143(5):591-596. doi:10.3945/jn.112.167593.
  6. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tomé D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:21-41. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141056.
  7. Casperson SL, Sheffield-Moore M, Hewlings SJ, Paddon-Jones D. Leucine supplementation chronically improves muscle protein synthesis in older adults consuming the RDA for protein. Clin Nutr Edinb Scotl. 2012;31(4):512-519. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2012.01.005.
  8. Floyd RA. Antioxidants, oxidative stress, and degenerative neurological disorders. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med Soc Exp Biol Med N Y N. 1999;222(3):236-245.
  9. Betteridge DJ. What is oxidative stress? Metabolism. 2000;49(2 Suppl 1):3-8.
  10. Fernández-Sánchez A, Madrigal-Santillán E, Bautista M, et al. Inflammation, Oxidative Stress, and Obesity. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(12):3117-3132. doi:10.3390/ijms12053117.
  11. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. J Nutr. 2005;135(3):431-436.
  12. Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(2):396-403.
  13. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C, Failla ML, Ferruzzi MG. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2012;56(6):866-877. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100687.
  14. Pittas AG, Roberts SB. Dietary Composition and Weight Loss: Can We Individualize Dietary Prescriptions According to Insulin Sensitivity or Secretion Status? Nutr Rev. 2006;64(10):435-448. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00174.x.
  15. McClain AD, Otten JJ, Hekler EB, Gardner CD. Adherence to a low-fat vs. low-carbohydrate diet differs by insulin resistance status: Research Letter. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2013;15(1):87-90. doi:10.1111/j.1463-1326.2012.01668.x.
  16. Berardi, J, Andrews R. The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Second Edition. Precision Nutrition; 2013. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/cmd.php?Clk=5266221.
  17. Berardi J, Scott-Dixon K. Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certification: Master Class. Precision Nutrition; 2014. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/pn-level-2-vip.
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5 Responses to “Habits of Highly Effective Nutrition Plans”

  1. What an excellent post! This post is filled with practical commons sense practices that anyone could schedule into their daily routine. Plus it was worded with physiological truth which anyone could understand. Great job,

    • Tim Skwiat November 6, 2015 at 9:38 am #

      Hi Ellie,

      Thanks so much for stopping by, for taking the time to read this article, and for sharing your wonderful feedback. I sincerely appreciate your encouragement and kind words, and I’m very glad to hear that you found this helpful. Keep up the great work in your own right!

      My best,

      Tim

      • Ellie www.newcreationsministries.wordpress.com/ November 6, 2015 at 11:51 am #

        Oh you are too kind! (as well as a class act.) Of course when we eat right, it makes our bodies more alkaline which provides us with a positive, cheerful attitude, 🙂 and some believe this all happened by chance. Blessings,

        PS I wanted to follow but am having a tough time with this new WordPress format finding the right icon, sigh.

  2. Mark November 17, 2015 at 7:52 am #

    My wife and I are 75 in good health but really need to reduce body fat and weight, this aritcle was very very helpful Thank You, The Townsends

    • Tim Skwiat November 17, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi Mark,

      I hope this finds you doing great! Thank you very much for stopping by, reading this article, and sharing your kind, encouraging words. I’m very glad to hear that you found this helpful. I want you to know that if there’s anything that I can do to help you and your wife achieve your health and fitness goals, it would be my pleasure to do so.

      In addition to this article, I wanted to recommend that you consider checking out the following discussion that I had with another client over at the BioTrust Nutrition Community Forums. In the thread, I talk a bit about some of the factors that affect age-related changes in metabolism and muscle mass. It’s just a brief overview, but I think it’s a great starting point for folks who are concerned about muscle loss and decreases in metabolic rate:

      Strategies to Counteract Age-Related Decline in Metabolic Rate and Losses in Muscle Mass

      If there’s anything that I can do to help you and your wife, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Keep up the great work, Mark!

      My best,

      Coach Tim

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