If you’ve read books or articles about weight loss, chances are you’re familiar with the following phrase: “The secret to making life-long changes is doing it slowly”. Little by little. I also know that’s the last thing you want to hear. But, like I mentioned before, it’s true. One of the first changes you will make is the way you think about words like diet, and instead refer to your new eating habits as a healthy lifestyle. Click here for a short explanation of why that is.

To begin your new healthier lifestyle, you should also start slowly. You will eventually need to permanently change the size, frequency and quality of the food you eat. But if you make all these changes at the same time, it will be very difficult and you are much more likely to fall off the wagon, feel like you’ve failed (again) and therefore more likely to give up. That’s why you need to ease your body and mind into this new way of life. Even with these small changes, you will begin to see and feel a difference in your physique.

*Note*: While “Intermitent Fasting” has become popular, it is not clear whether it is recommended for women.  IF is basically fasting from anywhere from 14 to 36 hours and then eating normally again after that, eating for only a 10 hour window, and on some plans you eat only one meal per day. (Visit daily burn for a quick explanation of the 5 most popular IF methods). The intended result is increased insulin resistance, heightened alertness, reduction in disease risk among others. It seems to do wonders for men, but seems to be detrimental to women’s reproductive and overall health. Some women are happy with the results and don’t sem to have fatigue, sleeplessness or reproductive side-effects, but more studies, including long-term studies are needed to clarify how safe this approach really is for women.

What weight loss, muscle gain and maintenance are really dependent on is how much energy you consume compared to how much energy you expend in a certain amount of time and most health experts would agree. Also, I love to eat and if you like food, enjoy snacking and being social too, fasting is probably not going to be very comfortable for you, regardless of the effects it may have. I prefer and have reaped great results from the 5-to-6 meal a day approach wich allows for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks! So here at DIYMBU I will focus on this approach since it is something both genders can benefit from with little to no risk of hormonal or metabolic side-effects. That said, if you’re ok with going without food for long periods of time or would prefer it, give Intermittent fasting a try and see how it works for you! Everyone is different and it may just be your thing. If you try it, please comment here and let us know how it worked out!

Step 1

The first change will be size and frequency of meals.

You will make your main meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – smaller (make them about 50 – 75% the size they usually are), but you will add in light snacks in between. The aim here is to eat every 2 to 4 hours, or before you feel hungry.  (A green salad for example will be digested quicker than a ham sandwich).

While this approach was originally believed to help rev up your metabolism, it has been found by several studies that is not the case. Then why use this approach? You may ask. Well, what really helps fat loss is a caloric deficit which means eating fewer calories than you burn.  When you consume more calories than you burn, the surplus “fuel” will get stored in fat deposits to be used later. If you’re aiming to lose some extra fluff, then you’re going to have to eat less than you are eating now, which may make you feel hungry in between your usual 3 meals per day. That’s where the snacking comes in.

Your stomach can take between 2 to 5 hours to empty depending on how much you eat. Because main meals will be smaller, your stomach will empty earlier, making you hungry before your next usual meal time. Feeling hungry and waiting anxiously for your next meal is NOT a healthy way to change your lifestyle. You are bound to crack sooner or later, or simply get really cranky (Have you seen the snickers commercials? That’ll be you).

That’s why you will add – healthy – snacks in between your main meals. The timing doesn’t matter. Once your stomach empties and you feel a bit hungry, drink some water first to make sure you’re not just thirsty (yes, it can feel the same) and if you are hungry, have a healthy snack! It’s that simple. Try not to eat sooner than 2 hours, you will more than likely still be digesting. And remember, size isn’t the only thing that matters! A bagel with cheese is small but packs a hefty amount of calories for its size.

The point of this is to get used to eating fewer calories without feeling hungry while at the same time, keeping your body fueled at all times. And because you’re eating fewer calories than you burn, nothing should be getting stored as fat for later, giving your body a chance to use stored fat for energy!

Making the change:

  1. Cut your main meals by about a third (or even half). Remember that, for now, you can keep eating the same foods you were eating before. Just smaller portions of them.

Examples: From: 3 eggs, 2 slices of toast with butter, 3 strips of bacon To: 2 eggs, 1 slice of toast and 1-2 strips of bacon. Also, less oil for the eggs if you use it.   From: Full size of pasta with bread and salad with dressing. To: Half size pasta, half the bread and half the dressing OR a dressing with half the calories.   From: Foot-long sub and large drink. To: 6 inch sub with small to medium drink.   From: 8 oz Steak diner with mashed potatoes, veggies and roll. To: Up to 5 oz steak, half the potatoes, all the veggies (half if they have butter or oil) and half the roll. You get the idea. You can eat what you were eating before, just smaller portions.

  1. Add snacks!

Try to stick to high energy or high fiber snacks. If they are packaged, no more than 150 calories, 200 at the most. And try to stay away from overly sugary snacks. Examples:

  • A handful of peanuts and a fruit or small salad.
  • 1/2 a sandwich ( no mayo)
  • A protein bar
  • A cup of broth based soup. (not creamy)
  • A small salad with beans or other lean protein
  • Carrots and cucumbers. Or any other type of veggie sticks
  • Onigiri (rice ball)
  • Stick cheese and fruit/veggies
  • Grapes, mandarin oranges, an apple, any fruit is fine.
  • Popcorn is actually a great snack. No butter though! Use no more than a tablespoon of grapeseed oil or something similar instead. You can season it with salt, hot sauce or lime and salt, etc…

3. Cut out one unhealthy food or snack. For example, if you have chocolate or cookies or potato chips every day. Cut down to only once per week. You can substitute your sweets for some sort of fruit and salty treats for homemade (butter-free!) popcorn.

Now, since you are eating more times throughout the day, you shouldn’t feel hungry. You’re eating almost the same amount of calories, but spread out throughout the day so your body won’t think you’re in danger of starving. Eating so often will take some getting used to, though it will be nicer than most “diets” in which you aren’t allowed to eat any of the things you normally enjoy, and you won’t get hunger pangs!

4.  Adjust your beverages too.

Stop drinking sugary sodas and other sweetened drinks and start drinking more water!

Drinks count too! It’s really amazing the amount of calories and fats and bad-for-your-health things drinks can add to your diet. Sodas, flavored and dressed up coffee drinks, smoothies, juices and the like, carry a pretty high sugar content. Some of them even add fat in the form of whipped toppings or creamy consistencies. Personally, I hate wasting my daily energy allowance on drinks. They don’t fill you up or make you feel satisfied and they usually have little to no nutritional value. I love food, so I’d rather eat than drink my calories. Eventually, you too will have to eliminate these beverages at least 80% of the time. The goal is to eventually substitute all your beverages with water, unsweetened tea and black coffee (coffee with only a bit of sugar and or milk is ok).

You have more than probably heard about how important water is to our existence. We are made mostly of it, it helps keep our organs clean and functioning at their best, it keeps our bodies balanced, and I could keep going on and on. The point is, the only fluid we should be drinking is plain, clean water. Now, I love coffee, and I enjoy a night out with friends. I would be lying if I said I only ever drink water, however, I only have coffee in the morning (black) and I only drink on the weekends (not very often). I sometimes drink green tea or jasmine tea or mix a bit of fruit juice in my water when I feel like a flavored beverage and I don’t add sugar. I usually drink at least 2 liters of water per day, not including my huge coffee (yes, coffee counts!) or teas.

I wasn’t always this good though. It took a 3 month-long treatment that only allowed water to get me started on it. After which I went back to sugary drinks.  Eventually, I gradually made the switch: regular soda -> diet soda -> sweetened teas -> unsweetened teas -> water. My coffee habits changed more slowly. Over the last 13 years, it has gone like this: 16 oz. vanilla latte (every morning! eek!) -> 12 oz. vanilla latte -> 16 oz. americano/drip coffee with 1 pump of syrup and non fat milk -> americano/coffee with almond milk and stevia ->  americano/coffee, black 1 tsp raw sugar -> black americano/coffee. You can read my whole water transition story here.

Once you wean yourself from sodas and sugary drinks (and see the results!), it becomes easy not to drink them!

Here are some examples of how you can adjust your beverage intake to better assist in your new lifestyle:

  • The most important beverage-related change you must make is… you guessed it! START DRINKING WATER if you don’t already! If you never or very rarely drink plain water, start small and get a 1 liter bottle and try to finish it by the end of the day. Once that becomes easy to do, try to drink 2 liters of water per day. It will be easier to stop drinking all the other stuff if you displace it with this life-giving liquid.
  • If you usually have a Venti frappuccino in the morning, you’ll have to change it to at least a grande (Preferably a tall). These drinks are seriously more like a dessert than an every-day breakfast coffee. It’s better to save them for special occasions.
  • If you drink a can or bottle of coke with each meal, get the mini versions! These are super helpful during this part of the adjustment.
  • If you drink an 8 oz glass of orange juice, make sure it’s not from concentrate, and only have 4 oz. If you can get ahold of whole oranges and eat them instead, do that. Eating the fruit is much better than just drinking juice. Store-bought juices should be kept to a minimum.
  • If at all possible, switch sodas out – including diet sodas! – for iced tea. You can start with sweetened iced tea and then gradually make your way to unsweetened tea. From there you can switch to just plain water!

5. Move a little more. Add a little activity to your days by doing things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther, walking to the store if possible, walking during your lunch break or even during work hours if possible, etcetera.

In Summary: For the first week or two you are making these changes:

  1. Smaller versions of your main meals and light snacks in between when you get hungry.
  2. Cut out one habitual unhealthy food. (chocolates, chips, donuts…)
  3. Drink more water and make adjustments to your beverages.
  4. Move a little more

That’s it! For the first 2 weeks that’s all you need to do. Try it out and share how you feel or feel free to ask any questions!