So you’ve established your goals in Step 1, here’s what to do to personalise your diet, get results and feel great.
You’ve gained weight
Have you also gained muscle (shown as a decrease in body fat %)? Muscle weighs more than fat, so building muscle (which will in turn burn fat since it is very ‘metabolically active’) will weigh more, and you still might be making progress.
Gaining muscle whilst burning fat will make you smaller despite weighing more, so look at your measurements to see if you have changed size or shape.
If it’s fat you’ve gained:
• Prioritise lean protein and vegetables and some fruit.
• Reduce starchy carbohydrate intake.
• Get enough fat to feel satisfied and energized, not too much to increase calories excessively.
• Drink more low calorie fluids.
• Use pre-emptive eating; eat before hunger sets in to prevent you from overcompensating later.
• Increase exercise (high intensity workouts and walking).
You’ve lost weight
Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on whether the weight you have lost is fat (good) or muscle (bad).
If you have lost fat your body fat % will be lower, measurements smaller, and you will look and feel more toned. Great! If you have lost muscle, fat % has gone up, and you look and measure smaller but feel flabbier.
So you need to…
• Increase protein and fibre consumption.
• Raise or lower starchy carbohydrate intake to see which works best for you.
• Increase resistance exercises (weights, high intensity workouts plus gentle walking).
• Reduce steady state cardio (jogging and power walking) which burns muscle as well as fat.
• Address lifestyle issues, in particular sleep and stress.
You’re hungry most of the time
• Fibre provides bulk, and also slows digestion. Eat lots of vegetables, salad and fruit. Fibre supplements (such as psyllium husks) taken with or between meals can also help when hunger is a big issue.
• Protein is very satiating and takes long to digest.
• Fat does not make you fat, but it slows down digestion of meals and is essential to body functioning. Choose full fat products if you like, so long as you don’t exceed your daily calorie needs.
• Resistant starch, found in cooled, cooked potatoes and under ripe bananas, is extremely filling (unlike processed carbohydrates).
• Vinegar and acids like lemon juice slow down digestion so food stays in your stomach for longer and decreases the amount of insulin released after eating. Any type of vinegar will do; use it instead of or as an ingredient in salad dressings.
• Pre-emptive eating; eat before you get too hungry so that you prevent the release of stress hormones to raise blood sugar, and to prevent you from overcompensating later and ultimately eating more overall.
You’ve got low energy levels
• Try increasing carbohydrates slightly. Some people need more than others.
• Make sure you’re getting enough B Vitamins and Iron which turn food into energy and distribute oxygen round the body, respectively. Red meat is great for both.
• Get some fresh air, it’s invigorating.
• Cocoa provides sustained energy as well as many other benefits.
• Coffee should be restricted to no more than three cups of good quality fresh coffee, ideally in the morning.
Do not use coffee as a substitute for proper eating, and if you feel it is impacting negatively on cravings and hunger then go without it.
• Green tea has less caffeine than black tea, and also contains theanine which relaxes the mind, so you stay focused and alert but calm rather than wired.
• BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) in supplement form help some people maintain energy levels, and are good to take first thing in the morning if you like to workout before eating.
• Black tea, like green, contains caffeine (slightly more than green tea) and theanine, contributing to a calm but focused disposition.
• Herbal teas containing energising ginseng and ginger can energise without caffeine.
• It sounds obvious but make sure you’re getting enough sleep at night. Less sleep = more hunger hormones.
You can’t stop craving chocolate/crisps/salted caramel peanut butter etc.
• Cocoa decreases craving for sweet and starchy foods by stimulating the pleasure seekers dopamine and serotonin in the brain.
• Fibre can help control cravings by sending messages to our brain that we are full, and therefore that we need no more food.
• Xylitol and Stevia are natural sweeteners that can provide a sweet hit without the calories, so long as they don’t increase your cravings for sweet foods.
• Try protein powder – cravings can sometimes be the result of a lack of certain amino acids, so adequate protein intake can help this.
Branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) can be taken as a supplement, however it is always better to get amino acids and protein from food or quality protein shakes between meals if possible.
• Avoid your personal trigger foods, at least until you feel more in control of your food choices and eating habits. Can’t stick to just one chocolate coated Brazil nut? Then don’t even have one, just for now.
So there you have your troubleshooting guide to personalising your diet to make it work for you
It was Einstein who said the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results. So try, assess, tweak, and repeat; be you body’s own detective and figure out what works for you!
Connect with Expert Pollyanna Hale.
N.B. Please seek advice from a qualified individual if planning on taking any supplements, and inform them of any conditions you have or medication taken.