How to figure out the right ‘diet’ for you to get leaner, healthier and more energised
The topic of nutrition and knowing what food is best for each of us is a minefield!
What we eat has such a huge impact on everything about us including our physique, energy, mood, mental capability and more. There are tons of books out there advising us to cut this food group or that food group. And there is a growing field of science behind nutrition which is fascinating. But there is still not enough data or knowledge to tell us definitively what the best food to eat is for each of us as an individual. Every body is different and so how my body reacts to certain foods will be different to yours.
So how do you figure out the best ‘diet’ for you to get the results you want, lose weight, become leaner, be healthier and feel full of energy?
In this blog I’ll explain the approach I believe can work for you, and share some of the key changes I’ve made to my diet that have resulted in me feeling healthier, more energetic, and slimmer than I have in years. It’s a work in progress and I plan to continue experimenting (and of course reporting back on here on The Life Reporter).
I should clarify that I don’t mean I go on a diet, because I don’t. I don’t believe in restricting everything and making yourself miserable – that just doesn’t work. What I mean is that I recalibrate the food I’m eating on an ongoing basis, and I look for alternatives to give me a similar satisfaction, with the aim of achieving my ideal body shape and energy levels.
Some things have worked well and some things haven’t, but below are the steps I’d suggest you take and some changes you might consider to help you achieve your ideal body.
- Make the choice to put your health first
- Track how food makes you feel to start deciphering your optimum nutrition plan
- Become educated about food choices
- Step 1: What happened when I cut out refined sugar
- Step 2: What happened when I cut out wheat
- Step 3: Experimenting with ketosis for fat burning and health benefits
- Step 4: What about dairy?
- What’s left? The good stuff!
- How to make the change
Make the choice to put your health first
How do you feel on a day to day basis? Do you wake up groggy and struggle to get out of bed? Do you feel bloated or overweight? Do you feel lethargic and lacking motivation? Do you feel like you regularly need an sugary or caffiene-fuelled energy boost? Do you have health issues that are bothering you or limiting you in any way?
If so, making changes to your diet could transform you. Why shouldn’t you feel amazing every day? Yes, it might take some effort to get there but in my mind there is very little more important than putting your health first and sorting out your diet so that you can be the best version of yourself and be better equipped to be there for everyone else around you. Everything else in your life gets better when you feel you can perform at your best.
There is very little more important than putting your health first and sorting out your diet so that you can be the best version of yourself and be better equipped to be there for everyone else around you.
You might think it’s beyond what you can do (as I once did). If that is the case, it’s worth considering whether you want to continue life as you are now? I describe a great exercise that you can use to help you figure this out and motivate yourself to make some changes in this blog here. This is what worked for me and gave me the resolve to make these changes, which I view as long-term lifestyle changes rather than a short-term diet.
Track the impact of food on your body
The only way I believe you can understand what food works for you and doesn’t, is to experiment with your own diet and keep track of the results, almost like a detective on a mission to uncover your optimum nutrition plan. No single cook book or nutrition plan is going to give you the perfect answer. You have to figure it out for yourself.
There are lots of different ways to track this, but I’ve used a simple template (that I have in Evernote) as it’s easy to keep notes myself rather than an app where you have to spend a lot of time trying to find the right entry for what food you ate and you can’t note the effect anywhere.
To help you get started, you can download my template for food tracking here. You’ll see you can note the date, the food you ate, any commentary about how you felt, your energy or concentration levels, what your weight is (not that you should track that on a daily basis but rather look at trends over time), and any conclusions you’ve come to about food that appears to be causing problems or food that is energising you.
It is quite illuminating when you start tracking this. I hadn’t realised before that chickpeas might be causing me a problem. I ate hummus (which is made from chickpeas) several times a week for lunch and never thought twice about it. Then I experimented with a recipe using whole chickpeas. That night I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach pains and thought I must have some sort of bug. A few months later when I tried a similar recipe and the same thing happened, I realised my body did not like chickpeas! It took a while longer to then question my consumption of hummus but I noticed a pattern from my food tracker that left me a little bloated and lethargic whenever I ate it, so I cut it out and started to feel better.
Even doing that doesn’t mean I’ve got it right, so I then test every now and then by reintroducing those foods and seeing if the effect is similar or not.
So start tracking now and changing up your food to see for yourself how your body responds. Note the foods that energise you and add more of them, and try cutting out foods that might be depleting your energy or making you feel under par.
Become educated about food choices
I grew up in the 1970s and 80s on salami on white toast with lots of margarine, chips, absolutely no fish unless it was covered in batter to go with chips, processed food (Findus crispy pancakes anyone?), tons of sugary and artificial squash, lots of sweets, and so on. It’s a miracle I survived to adulthood! But that was just the way it was done back then in rural Lincolnshire where I grew up.
Nowadays, I consider myself to be more educated about my food choices. Most of the time I make sure I don’t eat processed food or refined sugar, I cook most meals from scratch using organic vegetables, plenty of good fats, proteins, and a small amount of good carbs (mostly from veg and fruit). I’m constantly experimenting with new recipes, new combinations of foods, and different approaches to eating. As a result I have seen a significant improvement in my body shape and my energy levels.
The more you can read and learn, and of course test out and track, the better tweaks you will be able to make to help your body reach it’s optimum condition. Consider purchasing informational books, cook books, or reading relevant websites, listening to podcasts to learn more (see my general guide to inspirational guides and podcasts and check out the Five Steps guide for a list of cook books specifically that have helped me).
Step 1: What happened when I cut out refined sugar
My eyes were opened to the possible detrimental effect of sugar during an Allan Carr weight seminar (which is what really kick started my healthy eating habit a couple of years ago – read more about the approach here). Their suggestion to cut sugar out was new to me back then but having read lots more and seen some of the emerging opinions from scientists such as Dr Robert Lustig. I can’t see anything good about consuming refined sugar.
I don’t think we should be seeking to cut out entire food groups (such as no meat or no carbs) but refined sugar is not a food group. Instead it is an addictive substance that causes weight gain, makes it harder for your body to regulate your appetite (by restricting leptin production), provides fuel for cancer cells, causes oxidative stress (a big topic in itself but basically the impact of free radicals on our cells that can over time lead to chronic disease), causes insulin resistance which can lead to Type II diabetes, and much more.
It is astonishing how many things have refined sugar in so you have to start to look carefully at labels, consider what you’re ordering when eating out, and switch out some of the more common ingredients you might be used to using when cooking.
Coming off sugar will wreak havoc with your blood sugar. When I did this I had two days with an awful headache I couldn’t shift, I felt completely lethargic and miserable! By the third day I started to feel better. I was still craving sugary snacks and chocolate though. It was hard to battle through this, but keep connecting to the ‘why’ of why you’re trying to do this and what the vision is for where you want to get to.
The benefits don’t always come immediately. I went through a phase of a few breakouts rather than the clear skin I was hoping for, which was frustrating. Perhaps my body was getting rid of some toxins (that’s how I like to think of it anyway). It was quite up and down on the energy levels but I’ve learned more since then about other foods that can impact your energy beyond sugar. But cutting out sugar helps you to lose weight, gets rid of those energy slumps in the middle of the day and after a while the cravings you had will be gone. It also means you know you’re getting healthier as you’re avoiding all the potential pitfalls of sugar consumption.
I’ll describe how I cut sugar out of my diet in a future blog, but in the meantime, there is more detail in my Five Steps to a Better Life Guide, which you can download free on my Guides page – see Step 3.
Step 2: What happened when I cut out wheat
Cutting out wheat may go against mainstream beliefs unless you’re a Celiac. I avoided the idea of it for many years, even though I’d read about it, as I thought it might be too much of a fad. But the talk about being wheat-free (modern farming and milling destroying much of the nutrients and the overuse of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides amongst other things) struck a chord in me more recently. I’d also been finding too much bread had been creeping into my diet: sourdough with my eggs in the morning; pitta for lunch and on occasion bread with dinner.
I decided to cut back on it as an experiment. Just one day was enough for me to see a result. The morning after a wheat-free day, I woke up with a much flatter tummy. The fact was that until then I thought I’d been following a healthy diet for (mostly) two years and fitness regime for a year, but I was frustrated that I still wasn’t feeling completely slim. I’d lost weight but my tummy wasn’t flat. My current belief is that daily consumption of wheat (and possibly other foods) was causing inflammation that led to some mild bloating but it felt so normal that I didn’t realise I could solve it.
I also found myself waking up earlier each morning feeling refreshed on 6.5 or 7 hours sleep, which had never happened before, instead of feeling groggy if I didn’t get 8 hours. This then buys me more time for my morning routine.
The challenging part for me with cutting out wheat is that so much of it (particularly bread and pasta) had formed a staple part of my diet. I’ve had to work hard to adapt my meals and replace it, and to resist temptation (which isn’t always easy).
A caveat to this is that I experimented with going wheat-free at the same time as experimenting with a ketosis-led diet (see below) so I can’t say for sure that it’s cutting out wheat that generated these results. But on a couple of occasions since, I’ve succumbed to the temptation, eaten some bread and been astonished by the consequences. My tummy immediately expanded and lost the ‘trim’ feeling I was becoming accustomed to. And the next morning I found it hard to wake up and get out of bed. I then spent the rest of the day feeling pretty lethargic. This has happened a couple of times; enough to convince me that bread and other wheat products were having an adverse effect on me.
And a word of warning: don’t automatically reach for the ‘gluten free’ products in the supermarket aisles. These are often not a healthy alternative. Instead seek natural foods and different recipes that focus on good fats, proteins, and a small amount of vegetable-based carbohydrates.
Step 3: Experimenting with ketosis for fat burning and health benefits
I’m quite fascinated by research coming out about the impact that your body being in ketosis can have on your health. Ketosis basically means that if your body doesn’t have enough carbs to make the blood sugar glucose to burn for fuel, it starts to produce ketones from fat and uses them for fuel instead.
Switching to fat burning has the obvious benefit of helping you to lose weight. But there are other potential benefits: it’s long been used as a method to control epilepsy, and is showing promise for other conditions such as acne, reversal of type 2 diabetes, reverse polycystic ovary syndrome, and the overall reduction of inflammation, which can cause all sorts of chronic diseases over time. It’s also being studied for the potential treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and intriguingly also promotes autophagy where the body cleans out damaged cells, toxins and waste, which potentially could delay the ageing process.
To get into ketosis you can either restrict cabs or fast intermittently (which again, seems logical to me given that 24 hour access to food is a very modern phenomenon for humans!).
I’ve been experimenting with an intermittent fasting approach promoted by Dave Asprey, the founder of Bulletproof. This includes having his (very delicious) Bulletproof coffee in the morning, which adds exogenous (external) ketones to your body as well as (just about) filling you up so you last until lunch time without consuming anything else. This means between last night’s dinner and lunch time, you’ve intermittently fasted for around 16-18 hours, enough to get the ketosis effect.
As well as tying in with giving up wheat and seeing the best result in terms of leanness I’ve possibly ever had, I also feel so much more alert during the day. There’s no lethargy, no need for an afternoon pick-me-up and I feel full of energy.
The only down side so far is I’m not sure I feel quite as energised during my workouts (which are usually in the morning when all I’ve had is coffee). I still plan to do a lot more research into intermittent fasting, ketosis, and perhaps Bulletproof approach isn’t the complete answer, but as a start for me I feel there have been some real benefits.
Of course, you should research very carefully before trying this. It isn’t appropriate for everyone, especially those with adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues, insomnia, pregnant women and more.
Step 4: What about dairy?
I’ve ended up with very little dairy left in my diet apart from the occasional latte but I don’t often feel like that anymore because I’m loving the creamy and tasty Bulletproof coffee so much. The arguments against dairy is that most of it contains casein and lactose, which can cause inflammation and digestive issues for some people. have quite a lot of butter, which has lower levels of casein and lactose due to churning, and so can be easier to digest. I’ve not been a big fan of cheese either so it isn’t hard to avoid, although I know this might be a deal-breaker for some real cheese-fans I know! But again, it comes down to figuring out what’s right for your body. If you’re not getting the results you want, it’s worth experimenting to understand how your body responds to different sources of dairy.
What’s left? The good stuff.
If you’re cutting out any or all of these types of food you might be questioning what on earth you are actually able to eat. The answer is plenty!
There are so many delicious, natural, energising foods and in this day and age we are so lucky to be able to find a huge range of it relatively easily through supermarkets, local markets, health food shops or failing that, online.
The ideal mix from all the reading I’ve done over time and the current science (which still has a long way to go and will likely change over time) appears to be
- A relatively high proportion of good fats (the research of the 70s is being debunked as we realise that a limited diet fats is a contributing factor to our current diabetes epidemic and much more).
- Butter (ideally grass-fed which seems to be only Kerrygold at least in the UK)
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil (avoid vegetable oils)
- Duck fat or pork lard
- Good quality protein
- Omega-3 rich seafood such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout
- Meat such as beef, lamb, duck and pork
- Offal (liver, kidneys, marrow etc.)
- Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, cashews or pecans.
- Limited carbohydrates
- All sorts of vegetables, but particularly sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, fennel, spinach
- Additional nutrient-dense foods
- Bone or vegetable broth
- Acids (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar)
- High quality sea salt (not table salt!)
- Fermented foods (to promote good gut bacteria)
The ratio of these will vary by body type, but again, it’s best if you can experiment and track the results (download my results tracker template here) until you find a mix that is working for you.
In all these foods, the better quality source you can find, the better it is for your body. There is a big difference between a cheap battery-farmed chicken that might be lacking essential nutrients and will have been pumped with all manner of antibiotics, have synthetic chemicals in their feed, and be injected with water and preservatives, which can find a way into your body, and an organic, grass-fed chicken.
If you can afford it, I believe it is worth investing more money in your food as it fundamentally impacts the quality of your life
Granted, that makes it potentially harder to find and definitely more expensive. But if you can afford it, I believe it is worth investing more money in your food as it fundamentally impacts the quality of your life. If you are on a budget you can prioritise the foods you purchase as organic by looking at the list of foods that are the worst offenders for containing pesticide residue that others
How to make the change
Depending on what your starting point is, it can take a lot of adjustment to clean up your diet. You may feel so super-motivated that you’re ready to get going right away. Or perhaps you need to take it one step at a time. Any improvement is worth the effort, so even if it’s giving up one type of sugar, you’ll be on the road to success. Just keep it going.
Here’s how I’d recommend you do it.
You need to clean through your cupboards and get rid of all the junk, and restock with healthier alternatives (guidelines for how to do it and what to get are in my Five Steps guide which you can download for free here).
Then you need to be prepared to deal with the crash, because there will be one. If you change the food your body is used to in one go, it’s going to have to adapt to that change. But it is worth it!
And you must keep going through the tough stuff. Make sure you’re prepared with a plan for how to stock your kitchen cupboards, the recipes you might cook, food to have while you’re away from home, the best options for eating out. And if you get your mindset right you can battle through this part to get to the reward of a healthier, leaner and more energetic you.
Let me know what you’re experimenting with and the results you’ve had in the comments below.