In this article, I’m going to discuss how to turbo-charge your fat-loss progress by following principles of smart decision making. Never mind which diet you follow. Success comes down to consistence over time; days, weeks and months of diligent adherence will produce startling results.
Just about everyone out there wants to lose fat. But most of you fall far short of your ultimate fat loss goals. Why? It goes without saying that the nutritional environment is as complex as ever, with new and conflicting diets proliferating by the minute. Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Ketogenic, The Warrior Diet, Gluten Free etc. etc. One moment fats are the enemy, the next carbohydrates are. Or is it starchy carbs? No? Then saturated fat? Or sugar? Oh Jesus! You could be forgiven for being utterly flummoxed.
But here’s the thing: it is not your choice of diet that is really holding you back. Sure, some diets are better than others. There will be some that suit you better personally. However, the truth is that there are a huge number of different approaches that will work, if you stick to them. Through my work I have seen clients and colleagues make great progress with high carb approaches and low carb approaches; by focussing primarily on food quality and by focussing on food quantity with a purely “If It Fits Your Macros” approach; with sugar, without sugar; with grains, without grains. There is something in that. Indeed I have personally used a number of quite different approaches over the years and had great (if different) results with many.
Hold on though. You stick to your diet like a CrossFitter to the chalk bucket don’t you…? Or do you? Really think about it. What percentage of the time are you adhering to your plan? If it is less than 85-90% of the time, then you are missing the point. Assuming you eat 3 meals a day, that means if more than 2 meals a week are off track, you’re in the red. How many of you still have your hand up? And forget meals: if you are failing in lots of small, seemingly insignificant ways each day, you are shooting yourself in the foot. That Digestive biscuit you have every morning, that milky venti latte, that glass (or two) of wine you have every night. These small but consistent mistakes are killing your progress. Because the body responds to chronic stimulus, not acute. Don’t worry about that one meal a month where you go out, have a double burger, fries and a milkshake. Worry about the small mistakes that you make every single day.
Luckily this works both ways. What counts with nutrition for fat loss is consistency, not whether you have chosen the perfect plan. As the days, weeks and months accumulate something magical begins to happen. The effect of adherence over time is powerful and transformative. Give your body time to register the signal and respond. Homeostasis dictates that it is loathe to change; but it will if you persevere. In the gym 4 good workouts a week beats 1 great workout a week. So in the kitchen 19 good meals trumps 10 perfect meals. I don’t care if you eat 200g or 250g of carbs per day. Just do it every day.
That said, the real question is: how do you stick to a plan? I think this is one of the most important questions about human nature because it influences the extent to which we are successful in all our pursuits. And I have given it a lot of thought. Here are my principles for sticking with your diet (they can be applied to all sorts of other behavioural goals too):
- Limit the number of food-based decisions you have to make every week. Every decision is an opportunity to make a bad decision. The more decisions you have to make, the more likely it is that you derail yourself with a poor choice.
- Make sure all food-based decisions are made at the right time and under favourable circumstances. Don’t make choices when you are hungry, tired or under time-pressure.
- Plan or prepare every meal. Leave nothing to chance.
Success in fat loss does NOT come down to will power. It comes down to how efficiently you are able to take will power out of the equation. Even an ironclad determination will falter where there is plenty of temptation. Lead us not into temptation…!
Going 1 step further, here are my practical pointers on applying the above principles. Give these a try for 1 month and I guarantee you will start to see results!
Do a weekly online food order
Going to the supermarket multiple times during the week violates both (1) and (2) above. Not only are you increasing your chances of making a bad choice, you are most likely making these choices under significant duress. You will probably be going to the supermarket after work (or after training) when you are tired, hungry and possibly hangry! These are not the ideal emotions to be experiencing when making food choices. How many times have you gone into the supermarket in the evening and ended up coming out with Doritos, Mars bars, ice cream and a block of cheddar that you are eating out of the packet like it’s a sandwich? Stop doing this now. Get on Ocado and make one order each week for all your food. I like Ocado because it stocks lots of independent farms’ produce and has high quality meat, fish and veg.
Do some food prep
BOOOOOOORING! Yeah, I know. But doing some food prep will dramatically improve your chances of getting lean. And the little effort it takes is more than worth it. All I am suggesting is to have lunch prepared for each day during the week. That’s 5 meals… Again this is about limiting decisions. If you have food with you when you get hungry, you’ll eat it without even passing a thought. If it gets to midday and you then find yourself having to choose lunch from local providers you are asking for trouble. Remember: do not rely on your will power. We are all only human.
There are 2 very easy ways to do this. The first is to simply cook a double portion of whatever you have for dinner each night. Zero extra effort and lots of extra benefit. The second is to do some batch preparation on a Sunday. I suggest you get a digital scale and some small tupperware. These are game changers. My go to is the below:
- Throw 5-8 chicken breasts in a baking tray. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil and Piri Piri spices from Waitrose. Bake for 30-35 mins at 200 degrees. Cut up the chicken once it’s cooked and separate into 150g servings and store in small tupperwares.
- Chop in half 1.5-2kg of sweet potatoes / potatoes. Place on a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 40-50 mins at 200 degrees. Separate into 300g servings once cooked (hint: that’s probably more than you need. Adjust as needed!).
- Throw a load of veg in a baking dish. Think courgettes, broccoli, peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, aubergine, kale, whatever really. Season. Roast for 45-60 mins at 200 degrees. Dress with a little olive oil, cider vinegar and feta once cooked. Throw over top of potato servings.
These three things together make for a delicious and balanced lunch. Throw in some Frank’s Hot Sauce and you have a party.
Where you can’t prep, plan
There will be times when you can’t prepare your lunch. And there will be times when you can’t control your own dinner too. In these situations, plan ahead to make the best of a less than ideal situation. If you haven’t managed to do food prep one day, make a decision the night before as to what you will have for lunch the next day and where you will get it. DO NOT LEAVE IT UNTIL LUNCH TIME THE NEXT DAY. Make decisions when you can be rational and deliberate. Decide where near your office is best to get food that complies with your diet. Decide exactly what you are going to get. Consult online menus and nutritional info if you need to check macros etc. Equally, if you have to go out for a meal, whether for work or with friends, decide before you get to the restaurant what you are going to order. Almost every restaurant has an online menu. Consult it the night or the afternoon before the meal and pick out what works best for you. You can even plan on what alterations you might need to ask for (never be afraid to ask the chef to swap and change things!). Of course, when you get to the restaurant, you may need to pretend to look at the menu. You don’t need your colleagues thinking you’re a lunatic and nothing unsettles people like a patron who orders without looking at a menu!
Follow the above guidelines for the next 4 weeks and see what happens. If you don’t get leaner, feel free to write me an abusive email at email@example.com In fact, feel free to write me an abusive email either way or if you have any questions at all. My philosophy is that success in fat loss comes down to following smart decision-making processes and planning ahead. Armed with this approach you build a foundation of consistency and adherence before which fat will simply melt away. Rely on intelligent planning, not on heroic will power.