1. Keep a Food Journal
If you bite it, you write it. Keeping a food journal is one of the best ways to manage your nutrition. It keeps you accountable and is cited in the scientific literature as being an effective tool for weight management.
A food journal will help you memorize your food’s calories and macronutrients. It’s just like using flash cards to learn multiplication tables. The repetition of entering these foods will create a database in your brain.
2. Have a Plan
I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule and not a fan of micromanaging. If you have a game plan for about 80% of your calories, it shouldn’t be any trouble getting the rest. So in other words, have a game plan, but not too detailed. Here are some ways to accomplish this.
A. Plan ahead on your food journal for a majority of your meals. Leave some room for change in plans or uncertainties.
B. Stick to a basic routine for most of your meals. If you have a few meals that hit close to the same amount of calories and macronutrients that you can cycle in, it will still give you some structure to work with for the rest of your choices.
C. Get your trouble areas out of the way early. So if you are always low on protein and high on fat, then consider starting off your day with a lean and high protein breakfast.
That’s just some examples. You can find something that will work best for you and your situation. Some days you can’t plan at all and some days you’ll have to bring all your food with you. Just roll with the punches and remember that one bad meal never made anyone fat just like one awesome meal never made anyone lean.
3. Learn to Cook
People who are successful in the long term learn how to adopt their nutrition choices into a lifestyle change. Eating a variety of tasty foods is a hell of a lot more appealing than eating the same 6 bland foods every day. Cooking will also save you money. Star with a less expensive protein like chicken breast, ground beef, eggs, etc. and go from there.
4. Avoid Extremes
Anything that eliminates whole food groups, foods, nutrients, etc. should be looked at with scrutiny. All foods can fit into a balanced diet. The human body is a resilient and adaptive machine. It’s not going to break down because you feed it a bowl of ice cream.
There are lots of gurus who would tell you otherwise. They say there’s only one way of doing it. Avoiding extremes also brings me to my next point…
5. Beware of Disordered Eating Behaviors
Keep an eye on disordered eating behaviors. Sometimes you can’t help but be a little high strung about food and reaching your goals and there is a time and a place to be very diligent (end of bodybuilding competition preparation, before a weigh-in for a sporting event) I recommend that you don’t get too stressed about your diet. Some examples I would look out for are:
A. Labeling foods as “good” or “bad” based on their name and not their nutrient composition or taste. Foods don’t have virtues. They’re just delivery vesicles of nutrients and flavors to your body. Treat them accordingly.
B. Stress and anxiety when you don’t have control. Do you sweat bullets when you have to dine out at a place you didn’t plan beforehand?
C. Meaningless rituals. Do you eat every 2 hours on the hour even though there’s no scientific literature to support this habit? Just an example.
D. Social isolation. Find yourself avoiding interactions with others in order to maintain control of your diet?
6. Find the Balance
More isn’t better. More is never better. More:
Vitamins and minerals
… is not better.
A symphony works because all the instruments play at a tone, intensity, and tempo that compliment with the others. Figure out the balance for you because every person plays a different song.