I’ve never been a fan of dieting dogma. As I see it, clean eating should be a way of life, not a strict and complicated set of diet rules that are hard to stay on top of.
I only like to give you nutrition tips that are easy to follow; they all fit with my overall feeling is that your eating should be guided by moderation and balance, and that you shouldn’t feeling guilty when you have the occasional treat.
That said, there are some basic guidelines which, if followed, will help you feel freer and happier when you sit down to eat. These are my five diet rules to live by.
The Only Diet Rules I Observe
Diet Rule 1: Eat, then stop
This is one of those diet tips that’s far too easy to take for granted. We all know that we shouldn’t eat more food than we need to, yet this is a challenge for so many of us. The way to combat it is simple: eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.
Intuitively, that makes a lot of sense. This is one of the simplest diet rules there is, so why is it a problem for so many people?
We all know that processed food is no good for us, but we rarely take stock of just how bad it is.
Processed food—along with excess sugar, MSG, environmental toxins or even starvation—can drive your hormonal system out of whack. One hormone that can be affected by this mess is leptin, which tells your brain when you’ve had enough food to eat.
If you’re suffering from leptin resistance, your brain doesn’t receive this signal, making you eat far more than you should.
You can restore your hormonal function with a proper diet, but in the meantime, you should aim to be very conscious and aware of when, what and how much you’re eating.
Ask yourself these questions when you sit down to a meal:
- Am I really hungry right now?
- Do I really want to eat this?
- Am I stressed out?
- Am I anxious?
- Am I looking to fill some other void?
Mindfulness when you’re eating is a big step towards maintaining a healthy diet, and will help ensure that you’re eating what you need when you need it. That’s one of the big benefits of intermittent fasting – it helps you become more mindful of what you’re eating.
Diet Rule 2: Eat mostly plants
If you’ve read any of my work, be it my New York Times-bestselling book The All-Day Energy Diet or even its ancient predecessor Eating for Energy, then you’ll know one of my most basic diet rules is this: eat mostly plants.
Mind you, I’m not saying you should become a vegan. I’m not a vegan. Actually, I really enjoy eating meat.
Here’s what it comes down to: if you look at the science, you’ll see that what really keeps us healthy and prevents disease is a diet full of vegetables and fruit. It’s really as simple as that.
The problem is that most of us eat meat at every meal, along with several helpings throughout the day of sugary and/or processed foods. We’re simply not giving our bodies the nutrition they really need. That’s actually one of the reasons we developed our Energy Greens—a greens powder drink mix to which you just add water.
Do your best to have a salad with your meals. If a salad doesn’t suit your fancy, try to make sure that at least two-thirds of your plate is filled up with vegetables, ideally green ones. They’re the ones that are packed with all those amazing nutrients your body really wants.
Diet Rule 3: Cover your bases
A lot of the issues you might be dealing with—from cravings to low energy—can be the result of basic micronutrient deficiencies. You might be deficient in calcium, iron, magnesium, or some other nutrient, and that might be the simple root of your problem.
This is why the whole supplement industry has taken off, but the sad part is that the fix you’re reaching for in that bottle of pills might be readily available in a head of broccoli!
You should be eating a whole foods diet and using that as the source of your nutrient intake.
This goes back to the last rule as well: if you’re eating a lot of meat, be sure to eat a lot of veggies and fruit throughout the day as well, because they are going to give you the most bang for your buck in terms of micronutrients—from phytonutrients that prevent cancer and disease to all of those alkaline minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Diet Rule 4: Supplement, don’t replace
This is a continuation of the last rule, and it requires a quick look into our dictionaries: the word “supplement” means “in addition to.” It doesn’t mean “to replace.”
Sadly, many people believe that if they’re getting their nutrients from pills, they don’t have to find them in their food. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m not against taking pills and supplements, but even the best multivitamin doesn’t replace good, healthy food. For example, if you’re taking high doses of supplemental vitamin C, your body is always going to recognize nutrients in food first and foremost before any supplements.
As far as essential supplements, I do recommend you take a good digestive enzyme, as well as a good probiotic and even fish oil. That’s pretty much it. If you want to go above and beyond that, go for it, but if you’re using a multivitamin, get a good, whole foods-derived multivitamin, not one that’s coming from synthetics.
Rule 5: Planning + Preparation = Success
This is one of those important yet often overlooked diet rules.
Even if you didn’t know anything about nutrition, but simply had the diligence to sit down for a couple minutes every week—maybe on a Sunday—and plan out a week’s worth of healthy meals, you would be far, far ahead of anybody who knows everything about nutrition but isn’t doing this.
Truthfully, I’m guilty of not doing this enough. That’s one of the reasons I developed meal plans: because I need them myself.
The beautiful thing about having a good meal plan to follow is that you know exactly what to eat and when to eat it. Better yet, if you’re following a meal plan like the one I offer in my upcoming book The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, you’ll alway be eating something delicious and very healthy.
Just think about your average day: you get home after a long day of work, and you’re still feeling the stress from all you’ve endured in the last several hours. At this point, the last thing you want to do is figure out something healthy to eat. Your willpower is shot and you’re far more likely to reach for a quick-and-greasy plate of junk food to quiet your hunger pangs.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.