A proven formula for helping people look and feel their best.
When your eating plan stops working, it’s normal to just feel… stuck. But you can fix almost any diet problem with these 3 steps. (The first one might really surprise you).
I’ve been working in the fitness industry since 2011 so I can say with certainty that mostly every eating plan breaks down eventually.
Kids come along, jobs get busy, family members get sick… LIFE happens.
It’s easy, too easy, to get lost.
But the exact nature of these nutrition breakdowns can vary. So, over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to come up with a solution that will fix almost any diet problem.
See, the nutrition “advice” you usually hear in the media and at the gym is often boiled down to buzzwords and mottos. You know the ones:
But when you’re a real human in the real world mottos don’t get the job done.
Slogans lead to nutritional wheel spinning, frustration, and fat-loss plateaus or even unwanted weight gain. They lead to:
It’s time to go beyond the clichés and discuss how to really fix a broken diet and start eating better.
I want to share how I troubleshoot eating plans when they’ve “just stopped working” and you don’t know what else to do.
And, finally, to show you how to use these powerful and purposeful strategies to improve your own eating. Or to help others do the same.
These steps are proven to work. I’ve now tested them with many clients, and some of them may surprise you.
Step 1: Remove nutritional deficiencies
When diets stop working, most people assume they need a complete overhaul right away.
I have to cut out sugar… and dairy… and carbs… and saturated fat.
Plus I have to eat more protein… more healthy fats… and more vegetables.
I have to start drinking lots of water too.
And exercise… maybe a 6 am boot camp… yeah.
Let’s call it the Mission Impossible approach.
Through lots of frustration, I realised that the Mission Impossible approach isn’t just difficult; it’s misguided.
Because a complete overhaul rarely addresses what’s keeping most people from eating well in the first place.
The problem is: People feel bad. And it’s really hard to find the effort that’s required for a healthy diet when you feel
bad most of the time.
Now, I call the root sources of feeling bad “limiting factors”. Limiting factors are the things that stand in the way of progress. They could be physical, mental, emotional.
Let’s focus on the physical first.
Physical limiting factors could be hormonal imbalances or sleep deprivation or too much lifestyle stress. However, a very common and very commonly overlooked limiting factor is actually dietary deficiency: not getting the right nutrients, in the right amounts, to look and feel your best.
Shocking percentages of the U.S. population are deficient in major nutrients, and by the way it's a pretty similar situation in the UK too.
When it comes to deficiencies, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition backs this up: It’s really hard to get all the essential vitamins and minerals from food alone.
This study analysed 70 athlete diets. Every single diet was deficient in at least three nutrients. And some diets were missing up to 15 nutrients! The most common deficiencies?
Another study, also published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, showed that people following one of four popular diet plans (including Atkins, South Beach, and the DASH diet) were also very likely to be micronutrient deficient, particularly in six key micronutrients:
When it comes to the average population (non athletes), shockingly, less than 10 percent meet the minimum standards for a “complete, balanced diet”. Like the other studies, these people are missing nutrients such as:
In situations where populations are fed institutionally (i.e. prison inmates and school children) things can be even worse. But there’s hope.
Research in the British Journal of Psychiatry shows that providing fish oil and a multivitamin to prison inmates reduces aggressive and violent behaviour by 35 percent and decreases antisocial behaviour by 26 percent.
And a paper published in Nutrition Reviews shows that giving children fish oil and a multivitamin improves both their behaviour and intelligence scores.
Bottom line: Dietary deficiencies are very common. Chances are, you’ve got one, no matter how good you think your diet is. At the same time, they’re not that hard to fix.
When you’re deficient in key nutrients, you feel bad.
As discussed above, optimised energy levels, appetite, strength, endurance, and mood all rely on getting enough essential nutrients.
That’s why you can eat “clean”, go Paleo, avoid meat, lower your carbs, or count calories - you can do “everything right” nutritionally and still feel terrible.
The most common deficiencies I see with new clients are:
The thing is, in the modern world, fixing a deficiency is pretty easy.
To find out if you are deficient in any area, there are a few options:
Have a dietician do a diet analysis.
Record what you’re eating and enter it into an online nutritional calculator.
During a consultation with a client I go through a breakdown of what they’re eating and this tells me most of what I need to know. From there, I help them:
As soon as they get these nutrients, they start getting results.
My clients quickly start feeling better:
In the end, the first step to fixing dietary problems is to identify and remove nutritional deficiencies.
Step 2: Adjust food amount and food type
Once we’re getting all the raw materials necessary for proper functioning (i.e. essential nutrients) we can move on to bigger issues:
In my coaching program I help clients get away from using handbooks, websites, databases, spreadsheets, and complicated equations when planning meals.
You see, while I know that total food (calorie) intake matters, I'm not really a fan of counting calories (for most people, most of the time).
To begin with, calorie counting does nothing to help you tune into your own powerful hunger and appetite cues. By learning how to listen to your own body, you have better long-term success in healthy eating.
(Of course, not everyone knows how to do this from the start. It takes a little coaching and some practice.)
Nor does calorie counting help you balance your health goals with our natural human enjoyment of food. In the short term, anyone can turn eating into a numerical and robotic exercise. But, in the long run, this strategy falls apart.
(Just ask anyone who “used to” count calories. You shouldn’t have a hard time finding them.)
There’s another problem with calorie counting: It’s just not all that accurate.
Because of imprecise labelling, lab errors, and differences in food quality and preparation, calorie counts recorded on food labels and websites – even those within the USDA’s nutrient databases – can be off by as much as 25 percent.
Then there’s the fact that human absorption is so wildly variable based on food preparation methods, and even the bacteria living inside your gut.
Bottom line: Even if you’re the world’s best calorie counter (and you can avoid the inevitable lifestyle problems associated with it) the maths just doesn’t add up.
I teach most clients a different approach to calorie control.
Estimating portions requires nothing more than your own hand as the ultimate, portable measurement tool.
For example, men might begin by eating:
And women might begin by eating:
First, I help clients see what this looks like, in real life. On a plate.
Then, I adjust actual portion sizes up or down, depending on each person’s unique body and goals.
Men who want to add mass fast might get an extra thumb of fat or an extra cupped handful of carbs per meal.
But men who want to lose fat might scale down to 1 palm of protein, 1 thumb of fat, and 1 cupped handful of carbs per meal, eaten slowly and mindfully to 80 percent full.
Of course, just like any other form of nutrition planning, including detailed calorie counting, this is just a starting point.
You can’t know exactly how your body will respond in advance. So stay flexible and “steer dynamically”. Adjust your portions based on your hunger, fullness, overall activity level, and progress towards your goals.
Start with the basic template and then adjust your portions at any time using outcome-based decision-making, aka: “How’s that working for you?”
For 9 in 10 people, eliminating nutrient deficiencies and getting food portions right will make a huge difference in how they look and feel.
However, for those who want to go further because they have more advanced goals or because they’re already doing the first two and still struggling, let’s talk about food composition.
I have a really simple shortcut for helping people “eat correctly for their body type”.
I begin by classifying clients into one of three general body types (or somatotypes):
Nutrition for Ectomorphs
Ectomorphs are thin, with smaller bone structures and thinner limbs. Think of a typical endurance athlete. And they have a few key features that affect their response to food:
Their engine speed is set to “high revving”. They tend to be thyroid- and sympathetic nervous system-dominant with either a higher output or higher sensitivity to catecholamines like epinephrine and norepinephrine. They typically
have a fast metabolic rate.
They’re high-energy. They’re often fidgeters and pacers. They tend to burn off excess calories with near-constant movement throughout the day.
They tolerate carbs well. These are the rare people who can seem to eat cake and biscuits with impunity.
Ectomorph types therefore generally do best with more carbohydrates in the diet, along with a moderate protein and lower fat intake. So that’s what I recommend: more healthy carbs and less fat with a moderate amount of protein.
A nutrient distribution for this body type might be around 55 percent carbs, 25 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.
(But don’t drive yourself crazy with the maths. Just think “higher carbs and lower fat.”)
Here’s what that might look like using my portion control guide.
Ectomorph men begin by eating:
Ectomorph women begin by eating:
Nutrition for Mesomorphs
Mesomorphs have a medium sized bone structure and athletic body, and if they’re active, they usually have a considerable amount of lean mass. Many explosive athletes like wrestlers and gymnasts fit this criteria.
Their bodies are designed to be powerful machines. Excess calories often go to lean mass and dense bones.
They tend to be testosterone and growth hormone dominant.
Thus, they can usually gain muscle and stay lean easily.
They therefore generally do best on a mixed diet, with balanced carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. So that’s what I recommend.
A nutrient distribution for this body type might be around 40 percent carbohydrate, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. (Again, don’t drive yourself crazy with the maths. Just envision a roughly balanced mix of all three macronutrients.)
Here’s what that might look like using my portion control guide.
Mesomorph men begin by eating:
Mesomorph women begin by eating:
Nutrition for Endomorphs
Endomorphs have a larger bone structure with higher amounts of total body mass and fat mass. Powerlifters, and throwers are typically endomorphs.
Their engine speed is set to “idle”. They tend to be parasympathetic nervous system dominant. Unlike ectomorphs, endomorphs are built for solid comfort, not speed.
They’re naturally less active. Where the ectomorphs tend to burn off excess calories with near constant movement, excess calories in endomorphs do not seem to cause that same increase in expenditure. This means that excess calories are more likely to be stored as fat.
They typically have a slower metabolic rate and generally don’t tolerate carbohydrates as well, particularly if they are sedentary.
Therefore they generally do best on a higher fat and protein intake with carbohydrate intake being lower and properly timed (e.g., mostly after exercise and earlier on in the day). So that’s what I recommend: more fat and protein, less carbohydrate.
A nutrient distribution for this body type might be around 25 percent carbs, 35 percent protein, and 40 percent fat.
Just think higher fats and protein, lower carbs.
Here’s what that might look like using our portion control guide:
Endomorph men begin by eating:
Endomorph women begin by eating:
Step 3: Fine tune the details
In the grand scheme of things, details like meal frequency, calorie/carb cycling, and workout nutrition – are just minor tweaks. Very minor tweaks. But let’s address them anyway.
For years dieticians and nutritionists (myself included) thought that the best approach to splitting up your daily food intake was to eat small meals frequently throughout the day.
From early research we assumed that this would speed up the metabolism, help control the hormones insulin and cortisol, and help better manage the appetite. However we now know it doesn't make too much difference.
All the latest research suggests that as long as we eat the right foods in the right amounts, meal frequency is a matter of personal preference.
You can eat lots of small meals each day (i.e. every few hours). Or you can eat a few big meals each day (i.e. with bigger time gaps between them).
Now, my advice is: Listen to your own body and apply the “how’s it working for you?” test.
If you’re covering all your other bases and your current meal frequency isn’t “working’ for you”, try switching it up.
Experiment with fewer meals if you eat more frequently. And more meals if you eat less frequently.
Because either approach is valid, you’re free to find the approach that works best for you.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both strategies.
In my experience for individuals with weight loss goals, fluctuating blood sugar levels and over-eating are often a problem they face and so introducing 'snacks' between the main meals can overcome these problems.
Calorie and carb cycling
Whether your goal is to lose weight, build muscle, see your abs, or get back in shape, carb and calorie cycling can make a real difference.
(Make sure deficiencies are eliminated, calories are controlled, and macronutrients are aligned appropriately – and that you’re doing all of this consistently before considering any of these fine-tuning strategies.)
While it may have a fancy name, carb cycling is simply eating more carbohydrates on some days – usually on high
volume or high intensity exercise days – and eating fewer carbohydrates on other days – usually low volume, low
intensity exercise days, or rest days.
I focus on carbohydrates (and not protein or fats) because carbs seem to influence body composition, how you look, and how you feel the most.
By changing carbohydrate and therefore calorie intake on particular days, we can keep fat loss going and metabolic rate humming along, without the ill effects of stringent calorie or carb restriction.
The carb and calorie cycling approach is pretty simple, and based on your activity.
On the days you’re not lifting weights or days you’re just doing low intensity or short duration exercise, eat a baseline diet of mostly protein, vegetables and healthy fats with minimal carbs.
On the days you are lifting weights or you’re doing longer duration high intensity exercise, add starchy carbs to your baseline diet.
And that’s pretty much it. No need to measure grams or count calories. Just follow a baseline diet on lower carb days.
And add carbs on higher carb days.
Just remember this: Removing deficiencies, controlling calorie intake, and beginning eating for your body type, and doing this all consistently must come first. If you haven’t done those first, this strategy usually backfires.
What should you have before, during, and after your workout?
If you’re training specifically for maximal muscle adaptation, and/or training with high volume and intensity then eating an appropriate meal about 1-2 hours before and after training may be important.
Also, for more advanced individuals, using a branched-chain amino acid drink (which is lower in carbs and calories), or a protein plus carbohydrate drink (which is higher in carbs and calories), during training can make a real difference in terms of adaptation and recovery.
However, if you’re exercising for general health and fitness – or simply to look and feel better – you should only consider the question of workout nutrition once you’ve:
And might I gently remind you done all the above consistently. Yes, every day. Over and over and over.
Then if you’re still looking for a little boost, my best recommendation is to continue to eat normally around your workout. And use a simple branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement. Five-15 grams mixed in a litre of water and sipped during an exercise session should do the trick.
What to do next:
If you’re frustrated with an eating plan that’s not working but aren’t sure what to do about it hopefully this article has given you something new to consider and try.
1. Remove “limiting factors”.
If you feel bad, no strategy is going to work for you, start by rooting out and eliminating “limiting factors”. This includes addressing any sleep problems and talking to your doctor if you feel there may be a hormone imbalance.
But the most common and commonly overlooked problem is nutritional deficiency. And the easiest way to wipe it out is by:
2. Calibrate food amount and type
Make sure you are eating the right kind and amount of food.
Start with the hand-measure portions for men and women.
From there, adjust portions based on appetite, meal frequency, activity level, weight goals, and results.
Then, if you feel the diet could be further tailored, consider adjusting portions for your body type.
3. Be consistent.
With these strategies, you should get results relatively quickly in most cases. But not overnight, and not if you’re inconsistent.
The key to staying consistent while fixing a broken diet: accountability. That could mean keeping a food diary, hiring a decent trainer, a trusted partner or friend, or an experienced nutrition coach.
Want more help?
Improving your diet and health while meeting the other demands in your life can feel a little overwhelming. It's my mission to help make the process easier.
Women and men I coach learn how to optimise their food intake and activity levels to achieve their goals in sustainable, long-term ways.
If you'd like to become a client and allow me to hold your hand every step of the way then contact me today