To be honest, I hate the word ‘diet’. In fact, I cringe every time I hear it. Why? Well, it’s not only because today’s quick-fix diets promise a remarkable amount change in an amount of time that is rarely ever sustainable. It’s also because any kind of diet forces you to fixate on what you are or aren’t “allowed” to eat, when in reality, the focus should be on how to eat.
The best “diet” for you and your health or fitness goals is the one that you can stick to. Full stop. The key thing to remember when it comes to losing weight is that you aren’t just trying to shed pounds for the short term — you’re trying to keep them off for the long haul. With restrictive diets, it’s all too easy to “yo-yo” back to your older, unhealthier eating patterns as soon as you like the number you see on the scale. And that’s not to mention how that diet that’s blowing up on Instagram or TikTok probably doesn’t account for the fact that no two bodies have the same exact nutritional needs.
To avoid getting stuck in that endless cycle of feast and famine, think long-term. That means focusing on creating consistent, healthy eating habits that can efficiently fuel your mind and body day in and day out. When you eat what makes you feel good, the weight loss part eventually takes care of itself — especially when you also like how it tastes. This approach sure beats torturing yourself in a misguided effort to lose the greatest number of pounds in the least amount of time.
The beauty of this approach is that you’re not locked into a narrow, prescribed list of “good” foods. Once you have the basic principles down, you have a whole lifetime to experiment with foods that both your body and tastebuds will love. Who knows? You might just find some new favorites along the way.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at some guiding principles that can help you plan out healthy meals that make sense. With these rules of thumb and a working knowledge of macros, you have the foundation you need to eat your way towards both your short and long-term fitness goals.
This first rule of thumb is an important one. It doesn’t have anything to do with nutrition, but if you break this rule too often, none of that attention to nutritional detail will end up mattering. What’s that rule? You have to like what you eat.
The goal is to make healthy eating sustainable, which is impossible if you find yourself forcing down foods you know you hate just because they’re “healthy”. That will either leave you starving, or consume way too much willpower, which could be better spent on building other positive habits. Either way, force-feeding yourself brussel sprouts day after day will inevitably send you running back into the loving arms of a bacon cheeseburger before too long.
Finding what you like to eat is an important part of changing your diet, especially at the very beginning. In these early days, it’s all about taking baby steps, and trying to see your old favorites from a new point of view. If you love fried chicken, try nudging yourself towards some well-seasoned grilled chicken instead. Never eaten dates before? Now's the time to see what new fruits and forgotten veggies can do for you. Look for a healthier recipe that incorporates a favorite ingredient. If you cast a wide enough net and think outside the box with the foods you eat and how you prepare them, you’ll be on the right track soon enough. Now, let’s take a look at some of the other ways that can make your meals both nutritious and delicious.
Protein is an important macro, which functions as the building block for muscle, not to mention healthy skin, strong bones, and so many other things your body needs to function well. So it’s only right that honing in on a proper protein is the foundational step towards building a healthy meal.
Pick a meat, fish, legume, etc and begin to build your meal around that item. These proteins will help you feel fuller longer while equipping you to build and maintain the lean muscle you have been working towards through your workouts. It’ll also make sure you’re getting a wide variety of other key nutrients, too. When it comes to sizing protein for a meal, opting for a portion that’s roughly the size of your palm is a good way to go.
Turns out your parents were right about at least one thing: If you want to be healthy and strong, you’ve gotta eat your vegetables. Not only do they provide some of the carbohydrates your body needs to fuel up the right way, they also play a huge role in digestion and overall gut health thanks in part to a full complement of micronutrients and fiber.
The good news is that unlike at your childhood dinner table, you get to pick which veggies are on the menu. Find one that you already enjoy, or choose one that pairs well with your protein of choice (like steak and asparagus).
You’re also in charge of how those fistfuls of vegetables are prepared, and there are no shortage of good options. Hated boiled veggies growing up? Try baking, roasting, grilling, or even air frying instead. And if you’re still on the fence, remember that you can season and always spice things up to make your vegetables more palatable. Whatever you choose, plop two fistfuls of veggies on your plate and you’ll grow up big and strong.
While carbs aren't going to be the star of the show, these complex carbohydrates certainly deserve a supporting role on any well-balanced plate. Grains like rice and quinoa can be your friend here, but potatoes also fit the bill. And don’t listen to a diet that forces you to completely cut bread or pasta out of your life, because there’s definitely room for everyone’s favorite carbs in your mindful approach to eating. The amount of these foods on your plate will vary depending on your particular nutritional needs and fitness goals, but opting for one fistful is a fitting place to start.
The one thing to keep in mind with picking your carbohydrates is focusing on whole food sources first. This includes both complex carbohydrates like mentioned above, as well as some carbohydrates like fruit. The overly processed carbs are what you want to steer clear of on a regular basis. These are going to offer little nutritional value. Our whole food sources will help you feel fuller and more energized for longer.
Beyond that, the right carb comes down to meal pairing and personal preference. Just like with veggies, there are many ways to dish up your carbs, whether that means throwing some quinoa into a salad, or making some sweet potato fries as a side for your choice cut of meat. Heck, go crazy and add some fruit to your dish! This is a great pairing at breakfast time! At the end of the day, it is important to fuel with carbs, rather than fear them.
If there’s anything from diet culture you’ve internalized, it’s probably the notion that fat is always the enemy. Say it with me: healthy fat is your friend. True, a gram of fat has more calories than the same amount of protein or carbs. But dietary fat is an extremely important macronutrient that no body should be without.
There are multiple types of dietary fat that play a vital role in your health and you can and should fit a variety of them into your diet. The one kind of fat you want to stay away from is the Trans Fat. This can show up in labels under Hydrogenated Oils or Partially Hydrogenated Oils. These you want to keep to a minimum consumption.
With that being said, the other kinds that are important can be included in a variety of ways. That could be as simple as cooking your meat and veggies in olive oil, keeping your portion size in consideration. Guac may be extra, but the mighty avocado is an essential superfood that’s great for getting those good fats in your system. Almonds are another excellent choice. And for maximum efficiency, choose a cut of fish like salmon as your primary protein, and you’ll be adding omega-3’s to your diet without taking up any extra space on your plate. But if you are adding an item to your plate specifically to get some dietary fat, keep the portion to about the size of your thumb.
With these tips, you’ve now got a sense of what it takes to compose a nutritionally balanced meal that can taste good while putting you on the path to looking and feeling good, too.
The last and most important thing to remember is that nobody’s perfect. Creating lasting change is a gradual process. No matter where you’re starting with your journey or where you want to end up, there will eventually be some bumps and detours along the way. Your meals aren’t going to look like what I just described above 100% of the time, and I’ll say it again…THAT’S OK!
Occasionally snacking on chips and salsa, grabbing some pizza, or going out for ice cream are all part of what makes life worth living. No food is ever truly off limits, and a few moments of self-indulgence aren’t going to undo your hard work. Wherever you find yourself, just make the next right (and reasonable) decision. Losing the all-or-nothing mentality will help you win in the long run, whether that means making the best of what’s available at the buffet or squeezing in a shorter-than-normal workout on a hectic day.
The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to use this outline as a starting point to improve on your baseline level of nutrition one step and one meal at a time. The end goal is to be healthy and fit for life, so keep that in mind next time you think about giving the latest fad “diet” a try. If you focus on building habits that are sustainable, your desired outcome will eventually not just be attainable and maintainable, but inevitable.
If you’re looking for on-demand, expert advice about nutrition, exercise, and everything else that goes into your health journey for the long haul, look no further than a Future coach. It’s the best way to get modern personal training in a way that sees you as an individual. That means your coach will get to know your likes and dislikes, so they can customize their nutritional advice and fitness game plan to whatever it is you want and need. Because progress can happen 24/7 and not just during a one-hour window a week, your Future coach will be standing by to check in, offer advice, and adjust your strategy. Whether you need on the fly workouts, meal ideas while traveling, or you just want to mix things up. With the combination of flexibility, structure, and accountability they provide, forging a partnership with a Future coach is the best way to have your cake and eat it too.
Ready to lose weight without the one-size-fits-all approach? Sink your teeth into this special offer on your first month of personal training with Future. Sign up here to save.