By now you should know I'm biiiiiiiiig on individualizing your diet.
Real quick... just a refresher if you're newer to following me.
What does "individualizing your diet" mean?
Well...you make your diet specific to YOU--your lifestyle, your dieting history, your favorite foods, your non-negotiables, your preferred exercise modality, your personal goals, your schedule, whether you have a family or just a million cats to worry about, you name it.
The problem with fad diets isn't that there inherently flawed. In reality, they work for a ton of people out there. The reason they don't work for many people is because they're too "one size fits all" and they don't account for many people's personal nuances and factors that they may need to stay successful.
The science is in the compliance.
I was on a consult call yesterday with a woman who had succesfully seen results in the past with a trainer. Scientifically, he was doing all the right things. He gave her the cookie cutter meal plan, removed carbs from her diet, had her weigh out veggies, forced her to hit 20,000 steps, etc. The science says "Yes you shall lose weight". The compliance says, however, "okay but for how long." This woman is a mom who runs the household, husband works crazy hours, needs some freedom for her kids and life, and like most of us LOVES SOME DANG CARBS. She doesn't need some cookie cutter, restrictive meal plan. What she needs is a diet individualized to HER lifestyle, which is why she's now part of the Clar-e-ty tribe.
After getting off that call, I was a little fired up and wanted to create some content to help YOU individualize your diet so you can finally throw that fad diet out the window.
SO here are 10 ways you can individualize your diet.
1. Meal timing and frequency.
Science is pretty wishy washy when it comes to meal timing and frequency. SOME studies indicate that a 4-5 meal frequency works best for metabolic health, hunger/cravings, and digestive health. It’s generally my starting point for clients because after working with hundreds of clients, it’s the most commonly preferred frequency.
But if you’re a teacher and can’t have 4-5 meals because you’re busy making sure kids don’t eat glue...then this isn’t a frequency you can realistically follow regardless of what scientific studies say.
If your schedule requires you to have 3 meals per day, then have 3 bigger meals per day. If your schedule is more flexible, and you have the hunger, opt for a more frequent feeding schedule. Try out a couple and see what works best for your hunger, energy, schedule, and cravings. If you like big meals, stick with fewer meals and break up those meals with small snacks if you get hungry.
Same goes for the timing of those meals! You can eat when it works best for YOUR schedule. I personally love eating a breakfast around 9-10am because it lets me work from 6-7am for a few hours with coffee coursing through my veins. I generally love a bedtime snack so I try to have a dinner between 6-7pm so I can be digesting my food before getting into bed. That’s what works for ME.
Assess your schedule and find what works for you realistically. Try a few out and then once you have it down, stay consistent! Your body likes routine!
2. Your non-negotiables.
This is second most important. If your diet removes your favorite foods, then you will ultimately fail that diet no matter how dedicated, motivated, and disciplined you are.
Restriction leads to cravings.
Cravings lead to binges...whether it’s 3 weeks down the road or 3 years down the road. That client I was telling you about lasted a whole year. Then she suffered a surfing accident, her routine changed and her brain went to “fuck it” mode and she gained nearly 30lbs. IF she had been including those yummy foods she loved from the start, her mindset after her surfing accident wouldn’t have changed too much.
There’s generally two different groups when it comes to treats: grazers and bingers. I lean towards grazing, so I give myself daily treats (my classic rice cake, peanut butter, and chocolate chips). Others are more bingers and want one bigger treat per week. In that case, decide a day where you’re going to enjoy some of your favorite foods. More on these types of breaks coming up.
3. Diet breaks and refeeds.
Diet breaks and refeeds are one of my favorite ways to teach clients three things. First, it teaches them how to eventually intuitively eat and listen to their bodies. Secondly, it lets them “binge” in a more controlled fashion so it’s not something taboo. Thirdly, it lets them see that 1-2 indulgences per week actually don’t make much of a difference on the scale.
If clients struggle with their diets and plans just weighing down on them, or they want to track but don’t want to obsess, or they have a history of yo-yo dieting or disordered habits, I’ll regularly give them tracking-free breaks for a few days so they can find that moderation and balance.
If clients are struggling with hunger, whether it’s in a reverse diet or in a deficit, I’ll give them refeeds where they intentionally eat more food (via mostly carbohydrates) and can satisfy that hunger response. If I have clients who struggle with binging, I’ll give them regular refeeds to normalize binging. This removes the taboo of extra food, allows it, and then becomes less fun to actually do. One of my favorite binging transformations was with a client 2 years ago. I gave her 2 forced binges per week. The first 2 weeks, she was happy and thrilled at the extra food. About 3 weeks in, she no longer wanted them because it was no longer a rebellious thing she was doing anymore...she’d rather eat normal food and include sweets when she wanted them. Take alcohol and underage drinking. Almost anyone who drinks underage finds it thrilling. They’re rebelling and breaking the rules. It’s exciting and new and fun. Then 21 hits and it’s just like “yeah, okay, I can have it now” and that binged behavior starts to decrease.
SAME WITH FOOD.
4. Meal/nutrient breakdown.
Some people lean towards more fats. Others lead towards more carbs. As a bare minimum, you need to be eating 0.8g/lb body weight in protein and 20% of calories need to come from fats. Generally, for optimal brain health, I encourage 100g of carbs at a minimum.
But OUTSIDE OF THAT, you can structure things how you want.
At a meal, I like to see a handful of protein and veggies (2 if you’re hungry or love veggies), a handful of carbs and a small thumb-size portion of fats.
BUT if you’re a carb lover, eat some more carbs!! IF you hate carbs, swap out your serving of carbs for some more fats.
What matters is calories in and calories out and that generally, you’re eating mostly whole foods.
Same per meal. If you’re not a huge carb lover in the morning, and you crave carbs at night, save some for the end of the day for you to enjoy!
5. Macros v. portions.
Not everyone needs or should even track macros. If you’re wanting to try it or a seasoned dieter, sure, macros are a great way to get more honed in on the quality of food you’re putting in your body. It also lets you get more flexible with treats and whatnot because if your macros are on point, you’re going to continue to see results.
But often, macros are overwhelming. They can be triggering for a lot of people. OR most commonly, there’s SO MUCH to change and implement prior to macros. Take a person who doesn’t exercise, walks 2k steps per day, and eats fast food every meal. Do they need macros? Heck no. They need to move more and eat more whole foods. Maybe in 6 months, they’ll be ready for macros but there’s no need that early on. They need habits first.
It’s okay if macros and calorie counting isn’t something you want to do. Remember...the science is in the compliance!!! If tracking macros causes you to be uncompliant then it ain’t the plan.
6. Types of meals.
You don’t have to eat like a bro and eat only egg whites or chicken, rice and broccoli.
If you like cooking and making creative meals, especially if you’re cooking for your family, do it!
If you’re really busy in life and need to use a meal prep company, DO IT.
If you’re unmotivated and bored with your meals and need to eat out for some meals (or use a meal company like HelloFresh or BlueApron), do it.
If you like simple meals and classic bro eating, again...do it.
Keep majority of your foods (75% and above) coming from whole food sources. Get a balance in there. Make your plate as colorful as you can. What matters is the big picture.
7. Restaurants & dining out.
You can make healthy decisions when dining out.
You can also enjoy nights out that aren’t so healthy!
IF you’re on the road or busy during the day, have some go-to restaurants that help you stay the course. Places like Chipotle let you alter your meal and have nutrition info on tracking apps!
Date nights, nights out with friends, tailgate parties, etc. are crucial for your overall mental health. Connection and community are a HUGE part of staying mentally healthy and as a result physically healthy. In fact, because of Covid, a lot of individuals have lost their means of connection and community and we’ve seen a rise in mental health conditions and struggles. Don’t neglect these for the sake of a pound or two lost.
Move often and move daily. Go for walks. Stretch. Go to yoga. Lift weights.
Get some lifting and weight training in there.
Train for your goals and what you enjoy.
If you’re trying to grow muscle, you need some heavy lifting in there.
If you love the community of group exercise, keep that membership going.
If you’re not ready to walk into a gym yet, go
If you’re training for a marathon, go for runs—but still lift weights because muscle = power.
9. Deficit creativity.
I’ve written a ton on this, so check out past blog articles on this but it’s still worth mentioning as a way to individualize your fat loss phase. You don’t need to cut your intake indefinitely. You don’t need to slash 1000 calories out of your diet to lose weight.
You could diet for 1 week then have 1 week off. You could diet for 2 weeks and have 1 week off. You could diet for 2 weeks then have 2 weeks off. You could diet for 5 days then have 2 days (say on the weekends) off. You could diet just on your rest days and keep your training days higher (carb cycling).
You could just cut 10% and hold steady monitoring your biofeedback and implementing diet breaks and refeeds along the way as your biofeedback and motivation start to slide.
There are a million of ways to do this. It depends on everything we’ve already talked about: your dieting history, your non-negotiables, your job, your schedule, your biofeedback, etc.
WHICH IS WHAT MAKES MY JOB SO FUN 😊
10. Your goals
If you’re in a fat loss phase, you’re going to have a diet different than someone wanting to put on muscle. You can individualize your diet specific to your goals. If your goal is to lose weight BUT also build better habits and heal your body, your diet is going to look different. You might have more diet breaks and refeeds. You might go slower than a traditional 12-week deficit phase.
If you’re wanting to learn habits to help your kids grow up with a better relationship to food, your diet is going to look different than an Olympic weightlifter trying to make weight and lift as heavy as possible.
There’s a million other ways to individualize your diet. This is just 10 of the most common ways I generally start with each client of mine.
You’re not a one-size-fits-all person...and neither should your nutrition be.
Note that this stuff is constantly changing. Different phases of life are going to require different actions from you. This is why having a coach during different phases of life helps so much!
Want to learn more? Apply here for a consult call to start today.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.