Any diet can be effective in helping you lose weight, gain muscle mass, or achieve another health-related goal. At it’s most basic format, it all comes down to calories in versus calories out, which I discuss in detail here.
Beyond the basic diet
Beyond the basics, there are some tips and tricks which can make help make any diet more effective. These general rules help to make your diet easier to stick with and avoid common mistakes which prevent weight loss, even if you’re taking in less calories than you’re expending.
I use these tricks of the trade to make diet plans for myself more effective, and they are also widely utilized by professional bodybuilders and physique athletes to get the most from their efforts. Many of these tips go beyond just improving the effectiveness of your diet, and will help increase your energy levels and workout results as well.
Brew a cup or two
Coffee can be an amazing dietary aid. More than a fair portion of American adults already drink coffee consistently, but by changing your cup of coffee just a tad, you can get some serious weight loss benefits from it.
An 8-Oz. cup of black coffee has less than 3 calories, and up to 180-200 mg of caffeine, enough to help burn 50-200 extra calories over the course of the day, depending on how adjusted your body is.
You’ll also experience a temporary energy boost, which can help you get going in the morning when your body may be low on energy from being in a caloric deficit. Some people also report reduced appetite after drinking coffee, so there’s a possibility it may work as an appetite suppressant for you.
But don’t take this tip out of context, one or two cups and a small bit of cream or sugar is okay – especially right after waking up – but going overboard will turn this dieting “do” into a definite “don’t”.
Drink! Drink! Drink!
Okay, don’t take the title too literally. Drinking water consistently throughout the day can help you feel full and prevent impulse eating. Drinking cold or ice water can also help your body burn a few – and I mean just a few – extra calories per day. But hey, everything helps!
Don’t starve yourself – It Really Is Bad!
A lot of people trying to lose weight through dieting complain about constantly being hungry, and it’s understandable because of the caloric deficit their bodies are in. I’ve already mentioned two ways to help suppress your appetite, but it’s important not to starve yourself either.
If you take in too few calories each day, your body reacts by beginning to store more fat, which can be an enormous impediment to your success. You may also be more likely to overcompensate for your hunger and over-eat.
It’s also important to note the difference between having a craving and being hungry. Try to stop and ask yourself if you’re actually physically hungry. If you can’t identify physical signs, you probably don’t need to be eating.
Learn to time your carbs
Don’t worry, you don’t have to plan out every gram of carbohydrates and when you’ll eat them (but it ISN’T a bad idea). However, by trying to eat a majority of your daily carbohydrates at specific points in your day, you can greatly enhance the results of your diet and workout programs.
If you’re consistently able to exercise, you should try to take in between 60-70% of your daily carbs during three specific points. Try to take in between 20 and 25% upon waking, 1-2 hours before your workout, and immediately following your workout. These are also the best times to ingest simple carbohydrates (sugars), as they will be put to the most use by your body.
If you aren’t able to exercise, a good general rule is to eat a large majority of your carbohydrates during the times of day when you’ll be the most active and need to expend the energy.
For most, this means breakfast-time to about mid-afternoon. Try to avoid late night carbs, as they’ll probably go unused.
Hot! Hot! Hot!
You’re trying to get “hot”, so why not spice things up a bit?
Spicy peppers like habañeros and red peppers can help reduce appetite, and give the metabolism a slight boost. Personally, I find that they also help me wake up in the mornings, likely because it shocks my system.
Peppers go great with healthy breakfast foods like omelets and have extremely low caloric values, so you can add as few or as many as you like without worrying.
Certain spices such as Cinnamon, Cayenne, Black Pepper, and Ginger also have positive affects on the metabolism. Many also have other benefits such as helping indigestion and reducing bad cholesterol.
Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong when you’re spicin’ it up!
Hungry? Try this:
For most of us, carbohydrates make up a large portion of our daily calories when we aren’t dieting. When dieting, carbs are usually the first thing to be cut down. Eating more fibrous carbs will keep you full longer and provide many other [unrelated] health benefits.
Eat, Eat, Eat, Eat, and Eat Again!
No, I’m not talking about stuffing your face. That would be counterproductive! But what I am getting at is that you should absolutely be eating at least 5 small to medium sized meals each day.
There are numerous reasons for structuring your diet this way. Firstly, when you eat only three times per day, you’re much more likely to become more hungry and over-eat at each meal. Conversely, eating 5 or 6 smaller meals each day will help keep you full and reduce what I like to call “snack-time cravings”.
Additionally, some experts speculate that eating more frequently COULD have a positive effect on your metabolic rate. Whether or not this is true is difficult to tell, in part because there are so many factors that influence the metabolism.
However, eating more often will help you avoid diet-busting snacks and large meals, and will also keep nutrients flowing through your system throughout the day. This, in turn, lends itself to increased energy levels throughout the duration of the day.
One common reason many people don’t follow this rule is that they “don’t have time to eat that many meals” each day. I understand that – I stay pretty busy myself between working with my clients, triple majoring, and minoring in in a foreign language – but it isn’t an excuse unless you allow it to be.
Try setting aside 2 hours during your weekend to prepare a few days worth of meals in advance, or look for good deals on protein bars (10 for $10, anyone?) and similar, no-hassle nutritious products.
Cutting Out Meals? You’re Cutting Yourself Short
Never, never, never – ever – skip a meal if you can avoid it. A missed meal here and there is perfectly fine, but skipping regularly can have disastrous effects.
When you cut out meals, you’re cutting out calories. Your body will adjust to the reduction in calories by slowing down your metabolism.
Think of it this way: when you skip a meal, your body does not have to break down any food. Not only are you not getting any NEW energy to power your body, but you’re also not expending any to break down food.
It’s a lose-lose situation. The only results of repeatedly skipping meals will be an empty stomach, slow metabolism, and loss of energy.
I decided to include this final tip as a bonus because it can indirectly have a positive affect on your results. Always remember to put things in perspective. Don’t beat yourself up over missed meals, cheat meals, or anything else. Life happens.
Perspective can also motivate you to stick with your diet; if you were to live only to the age of 50, and you dieted hard for 3 months to lose the weight you wanted, it would only be .50% of your life (and that’s counting 24 hours per day!).