Alright, here’s the challenge: create sustainable, effective, enjoyable fat loss for virtually any reader in no more than 3 articles. Contact me here with any complaints or questions. (Article 1 can be found here, and article 2 can be found here.) This is article 3 of 3.
In post 1, we talked about the importance of taking care of your emotions on a physiological basis, and in post 2, we talked about the principles of long term, sustainable fat loss.
Today, we’re drilling into the specifics of what to actually do to lose weight in a sustainable fashion.
I want to start by saying this.
(If you’re tempted to disagree, suspend your disbelief for just a moment.)
Your body can HAPPILY survive off of less total energy than you’re currently giving it.
Let that sink in.
Okay, to be honest, for me, I read that line somewhere, and I thought – “nope.”
“Any time I try to eat less, I feel awful.”
“That sounds nice, but how does one actually implement it without feeling deprived?”
This is how.
This is the secret. Brace yourself, because it’s not very exciting advice. But it works. Okay, ready?
Eat mostly unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
Okay but hear me out:
Unprocessed or minimally processed (aka “unrefined”/”minimally refined”) foods are generally nutritious, fibrous, satiating, and tend to have more bulk but less total energy in them.
They feed you, they feed your gut biome (more than half of the cells in your body are actually *non-human* micro-organisms that are critical to your health); they provide lasting energy, they give you the vitamins and nutrients you need, and they make it much easier to maintain a sustainable, mild calorie deficit.
To illustrate that last point, imagine this:
You’re really hungry.
You’re starving for food.
I say, “here, you can have one piece of really greasy, fast food pizza. But that’s it. If you’re still hungry, you can’t have any more. Sorry, you’ve already reached your ‘calorie limit.'”
^That’s what “counting calories” feels like, if you’re eating highly processed foods.
(Also, your gut microbiome is left very unhappy with what you’ve given it.)
But imagine you’re really hungry, and I say,
“Here, you can have baked potatoes, chicken, grilled veggies, all with some delicious sauce, and you can have as MUCH of them as you like! Come back for seconds. Have more. Here, you can even have some dessert. You’re actually still at a bit of a calorie deficit.”
^That’s what eating mostly unrefined foods feels like.
(Oh, and your gut microbiome is left feeling really happy.)
Sure, is it possible to overeat on minimally processed foods? Yes, absolutely – but it’s difficult to do.
So just as a brief reminder:
You still do, at the end of the day, want to be in a gentle calorie deficit.
(If you want to lose weight.)
But if you’re eating minimally refined foods, that’s much easier than you might think. And no, you don’t have to count calories.
Here are three reasons why:
Off the bat, basically all veggies are so nutritious, fibrous, low on calorie content, and physically filling (in terms of volume), that you can have as MUCH of them as you want. Snack away. Really. Have more. They also feed your gut microbiome very well. (Those lil guys are hungry, they need to eat too!)
Certain legumes like black beans and lentils are also incredibly fibrous and good for you, so I’m gonna lump them in with veggies; have as much of them as you want.
And lean meat (like chicken, turkey, pork), is not only nutritious, satiating, and low in calories, but your body burns 30% of the calories in these protein sources simply by digesting them.
(This is a real thing, and it’s called the “thermic effect of food.”)
So you can also have as much lean meat as you want.
And because this isn’t a “low carb” diet, you’re encouraged to have lots of starchy carbs and whole grains, like potatoes, brown rice, farro, etc.
(Yeah, these are all unrefined foods.)
“People say carbs aren’t satiating? There are not a lot of foods – calorie for calorie – that are as satiating as a baked potato. What people really mean, when they say that, is ‘refined carbs aren’t satiating.'” – Andy Galpin
There’s a lot of hating on carbs these days. I get it: pastries, donuts, white bread, these are all carby foods, and they’re not particularly good for you… so people think “okay, carbs are bad.” But these are all examples of refined carbs.
But potatoes? Brown rice? They’re unrefined whole foods. For long-term, sustainable fat loss, these are great.
The real question isn’t “low carb” or “high carb,” it’s actually “processed or minimally processed.”
So go ahead, have plenty of minimally processed carbs.
How to eat:
It’s pretty simple:
Just try to eat more of the less-processed or unprocessed stuff, and try to eat it first.
To make that happen, follow the “dessert method”:
When you’re hungry, start by getting in lots of healthy, unrefined food, first.
Then, if you’re still hungry after, have moderately refined food “for dessert.” If you still want after that, have some highly refined food too; you don’t have to be perfect.
Just focus on prioritizing the act of adding in minimally processed foods.
Massively helpful tip: In general, but particularly whenever you find yourself eating high-calorie refined food, really taste and savor your food, being consciously aware of what you’re doing, while sipping lots of water. And stop when you’re full – even if there’s some left on your plate. (Despite what your parents may have told you, you don’t have to finish your plate. Save some to enjoy later.)
And finally, some specifics of what to eat:
In case you’re a bit confused about what counts as “minimally” vs “highly” processed, here’s a (non-comprehensive but helpful) list*, to give you an idea:
Unprocessed or Minimally-Processed Foods
Generally, these are foods that won’t even need a “nutrition facts” label on them. Eat LOTS of these! They’re INCREDIBLE for fat loss!!!
Plants/ “Fibers”: VEGGIES OF ANY KIND!!! Beans, lentils.
Proteins: Chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, fish, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese.
Carbs: Potatoes, farro, brown rice, fresh or frozen fruits of any kind, steel cut/old fashioned/rolled oats, quinoa, corn, sprouted grain bread.
Fats: Olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, nuts like pistachios and almonds, many cheeses (particularly sharp, aged ones), unsweetened cacao.
Hydration: WATER!!! Drink Lots! Hot or iced tea, or coffee, without any sugar in it.
Miscellaneous: Spices; cook and spice things to your heart’s content.
Massively helpful tip: Want to speed this process up, feel incredible, and start seeing some results sooner? Just TRIPLE the amount of vegetables you’re eating. Roast them in the oven (throwing in some olive oil and spices), sauté them on the stove, find some salads you love, and generally include them with as many meals as you possibly can. You can even sneak them into shakes using blender. (I fill a Nutribullet with a scoop of chocolate protein powder, half a banana, ice, almond milk, and as much kale as I can fit. Fresh out of the blender, it actually tastes incredible, just like a chocolate milkshake.)
Alright, so that’s unrefined foods. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it??? Actually sounds kinda good, right?? It’s totally possible to just live off of unprocessed foods and feel great. But if you’re still a bit hungry after eating from this section, feel free to move down the list:
Moderately Processed Foods
Here are just a few examples of “moderately processed” foods:
Carbs: Bread – particularly white bread (whole wheat is definitely better/less refined), pasta, bagels, tortillas, white rice, instant/flavored oats.
Proteins: Lean deli meat.
Fats: Sesame oil, flaxseed oil, and high-oleic oils; “expellar-pressed” canola oil, mozzarella/mild/medium cheese, most regular peanut butter, and my favorite: dark chocolate.
If you ate plenty of minimally refined foods first, were still a bit hungry, and then had some moderately processed food after (like some whole wheat pasta, dark chocolate, or even some white bread) then I’d say: GREAT JOB.
You’re doing this exactly right.
If you still want a treat after that, by all means:
Highly Processed Foods
Think “fast-food,” “packaged and preserved,” and “obvious treats.” You don’t have to cut these out entirely, but you’d be amazed just how much you reduce your intake of these foods by focusing on adding in and prioritizing unrefined options.
Carbs: Baked goods like pastries, donuts, cookies, cakes, Twinkies; packaged energy bars, french fries, sugary cereals, “non-sugar syrups and spreads” that are actually very high in sugar, any beverages that are very high in sugar (read the label, you may be surprised), and all foods with 10+ grams of added sugar.
Proteins: Highly-refined high-fat deli meats like salami, pepperoni, and most cold cuts, hot dogs, deep fried meats, most protein bars, high-fat ground meat like burger patties (and most fast-food in general).
Fats: Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, and most other cooking oils, processed cheese (like those pre-cut, plastic-like American cheese squares), anything deep fried.
Moderately helpful tip: When I’m feeling really low, and I want to just forget everything and jump right to one of these treats, sometimes I ask myself: “Would I rather have the healthy, good-feeling body I want, or this bowl of ice cream?” That usually makes me stop and think just long enough to get in some minimally processed food first.
*Oh, and thanks to Precision Nutrition for help with building this list – particularly for their info regarding fats and oils.
Last – How to make this happen:
This is all actually extremely doable. It’s not rigid, it’s flexible. You’re not cutting out anything; you can eat whatever you want. You’re just doing your best to get in more unprocessed foods, from now on.
It’s a little slow, so you have to manage any expectations for quick results, but yes, it works.
And results last.
Plus, taking care of your body like this feels amazing. If you’re wondering if it’s worth it – it is.
As far as I can see, there is literally one thing standing in your way.
There’s one last action item to ensure your results:
Do whatever you need to do to make sure you always have minimally processed options (that you enjoy), ready to eat.
Always, from here on out.
Whether it’s grocery shopping or ordering meal kit deliveries, whether it’s cooking every day or batch-cooking meals, do whatever you need to do to always have unrefined options on hand.
How good would it feel to always have plenty of your favorite lean meats (like grilled chicken), your favorite veggies (like pre-made salads), and your favorite minimally processed carbs (like oatmeal and potatoes) stocked, cooked, and ready to go???
How nice to have them on hand; to never feel “hangry” again? How easy would it make all this?
I guarantee you, if you made the decision to make that happen – if you made a promise to yourself to prioritize continually having these foods ready and available – sustainable fat loss would be virtually inevitable. You’d feel incredible, you’d look incredible. Your energy, mood, biomarkers, cholesterol would massively improve. Your sex appeal would surge (not that any of this blog’s readers need it!). Even your teeth would be healthier. And you’d drop body fat. Not overnight, but sustainably, and forever.
You can make that decision right now if you want. You can make it happen.
(And remember, you don’t have to decide to be perfect all the time – “imperfect consistency” is the goal!)
Plus, once you make a habit out of keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with mostly unrefined foods, it’s actually pretty effortless. It becomes natural; it becomes automatic.
(In fact, taking good care of your body ultimately makes life easier.)
I encourage you to make the choice:
From now on, do whatever you need to do to keep your favorite minimally-processed options at the ready.
And if you make that decision: sustainable fat loss will be virtually inevitable.
And it will have been achieved in no more than 3 articles, as promised.
Reach out with any questions, and let me know how it goes.