How to make a diet plan that works

Every once in a while, you decide to change your body and be more lean and muscular. You are eager to start with a diet plan and get all the benefits. A few weeks go by and the scale doesn’t move. You try to figure out what is wrong and while being confused, you give up. You have no one to blame and you are getting depressed because it’s your fault.

Well, what about starting again?

What about educating yourself about nutrition and start creating your own diet plan to achieve your own specific goal?

Why you need a diet plan

“Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.”
— Larry Winget

The thing with diets is that you have to be on track the whole day, not just for an hour, as it is with a workout.

This means that you should be able to resist any temptations, have alternatives when there are no healthy choices, and sometimes eat even if you don’t feel that hungry.

Now find me a person who does all that for 12 weeks without a plan and I will give him/her a medal.

This doesn’t happen. Ever.

You want to accomplish a goal, you need to have a plan. Period.

You can go by chance, but I prefer to go by the book.

The reason plans work, is that they have you covered. Things will go wrong no matter how good your plan is. So you may as well be prepared for everything. This way you will have to worry a lot less and use less willpower.

You don't have to be a Jedi knight to fight temptation
You don’t have to be a Jedi knight to fight temptation

Basically, you have to know the details and get your head right about your diet plan.

Mindset of dieting

A grave mistake most people do with dieting is that they think of “yes foods” and “no foods”. This should be eaten and this should not. There might be some truth to that as you get more advanced but, in general, this is plain wrong. First and foremost because your brain doesn’t work so well with that.

When you label something as “off-limits” your mind will want it more. It will even devise a way to make justifications of why you should have it.

Does this change if I think it’s not forbidden? Of course, it does.

Most of the times you won’t even want it. And even if you do, having all the required knowledge beforehand, will make you plan appropriately.

Does this mean I can have pizza in my diet? Probably.

Curious how? Keep reading.

How to create a diet plan

A plan has to be easy and straightforward. If you make a diet plan with 100 foods, you plan for failure. The more choices you have the more problems you are going to create.

Probably having a variety of foods, especially vegetables, is good for your organism and probably it makes sure, you get all the vitamins and minerals. But that would only work in the paleolithic era. Today, you don’t have the same healthy choices and chances are, you won’t have these same choices every single week.

If you can interchange the vegetables you consume according to the season, by all means do it.

I just find that most people are not very good with that or they are too lazy to spend some time and get the proper vegetables.

KISS Principle

KISS means keep it stupid simple. The more you complicate things, the more difficult it is for you to follow them.

I used to think, that I have to take into account all the possible little details in order to make my diet plan. It sure wasn’t true. Knowing just enough will make you start and stick with your plan.

The point is not to have the best diet plan, but to achieve the discipline levels you want and create a habit.

If you can follow one diet plan, you can follow any diet plan.

Personally, I use an app called Strides. It hits me with notifications about the habit I need to form and asks me to log it.

Can it get any simpler than 3 boiled eggs?
Can it get any simpler than 3 boiled eggs?

If you want to read more on the topic of habits, I highly suggest you read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It has all you need to know and more.

How many meals should I eat?

The two reigning patterns that people seem to follow are the 3 meal plan and the 6 meal plan. I have experimented with both. My opinion? Go with 3.

Reason? Fewer meals, less hustle.

Don’t even bother with the whole “more than 6 meals” agenda, it has been already resolved and busted out. Here’s a great article on debunked diet myths by Martin Berkhan, creator of leangains.com. It has everything you want to know about eating every 3 hours or 30 grams of protein per sitting. All false by the way.

If I could eat just one meal and be done with it, then even better. I think of my time as very valuable and want to focus on other activities rather than eating. You may find it disturbing, but there are far more productive things to do rather than sitting at a table for 20 minutes, for 6 times, every day.

I enjoy eating just as much as you, probably more. This doesn’t make it a valuable time spending activity.

But the thing is the body doesn’t work that well with just one meal. In order to have a constant flow of energy through the day, you will need to have at least two meals. Even with just two, you’re pushing it.

My ideal number is 3. 11:00, 17:00 and 22:00.

I suggest you try out with 3 and see if you need to add a snack or rearrange, to go with 4 meals or more. The most important thing you should take away is that you need to schedule your meal times.

Don’t eat randomly. If time goes by and you haven’t eaten according to plan, your appetite will most certainly go up. Raising your chances of indulging into some treats, which you wouldn’t do if you weren’t that hungry.

Also, another thing I have noticed is that I function better with less food during the day and more just before sleep time. This may seem counter-intuitive to most, as we have all heard the myth that you shouldn’t eat carbs after 6 pm. False as well. Just pretend you have never heard of it.

Carbs raise tryptophan concentration, which is a precursor of serotonin and serotonin makes you sleepy[1]. This doesn’t mean you should eat sugars and sweets before you sleep. It just means that is beneficial to eat the carbs, you were going to eat ANYWAY, in your last meals rather than in the morning.

Long story short. Schedule with time sensitivity. Don’t spend more than one day making your diet plan. Plan with simplicity in mind and be practical.

Few points to consider:

  • Buy anything you need for your diet on a weekly basis
  • Schedule your meal times
  • Follow your diet plan for at least 4 weeks. If you know your plan is working, go for 8 weeks
  • Make simple meals with 3-4 ingredients. Easier to cook.

In general, I would say make a plan, whatever plan, stick to it and then evaluate and readjust. but we need to know a little more before we get there.

Fundamentals

pyramid of nutrition properties
Get you priorities straight

First and foremost, you should be able to know your dietary calories. That means how many calories you get, from the food you eat.

Why you need that? Because this is the only way to make progress and lose that fat or gain that muscle.

Remember in the beginning, I mentioned caloric deficit. That means, expend more calories than the calories you consume.

Basically what you need to do, is calculate the calories you expend through your activity and your lifestyle and then make a plan with the appropriate calories.

A deficit if you want to lose weight or a surplus if you want to gain weight. It’s that simple, now let’s see how we can calculate the calories we expend.

The calories we expend is mostly known as BMR or basal metabolic rate.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimal rate of energy expenditure per unit time by endothermic animals at rest.
—  McNab, B. K. 1997

There are two known formulas for calculating BMR. The first one is using your age, sex, height, and weight. It is the Harris-Benedict equation.

Men
BMR = 66.5 + (13.75 x weight) + (5.003 x height) - (6.755 x age)

Women
BMR = 655.1 + (9.563 x weight) + (1.850 x height) - (4.676 x age)

Weight is in kg, height in centimeters. Make the conversions, or even better use this calculator tool right here.

The second one is taking into consideration your lean body mass. In order to know your lean body mass, you need to know your body fat percentage.

It is the Katch-McArdle formula. (BF is body fat, LBM is lean body mass)

LBM = Weight(in kg) * (1 - BF%/100)
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM)

Remember that this is your resting metabolic rate. Which means it doesn’t take into consideration your daily activity.

According to Harris and Benedict again, you should multiply these calories with a modifier according to your activity level and see your TDEE, total daily energy expenditure.

ActivityModifier
Little or no exerciseBRM x 1,2
Exercise 1-3 days per weekBMR x 1,375
3-5 days per weekBMR x 1,55
6-7 days per weekBMR x 1.725
Twice Per Day or Heavy exercisingBMR x 1,9

Example. A guy with a BMR of 2000 calories, with a sedentary life or simply not exercising, is expending
2000 x 1,2 = 2400 calories

So now that you know your TDEE, it’s time you measure your TDFI total daily food intake. I am joking, there is no such term, but you have to calculate your food intake calories.

The way you do that is simply getting the food you would eat, the proportions of them (in weight) and then according to the data, you can calculate the calories of those foods.

Let’s have an example.

You would like to eat two apples for breakfast. You go into nutritiondata.self.com, search for apples. Click on “Apples, raw, with skin”. Change the serving size to 100 grams. this gives us 52 calories. We weigh the apples and the total weight is 360 grams. So the calories of those apples are, 52x(360/100) = 187,2

You do that for all the foods you consume and you have your total food intake.

Now I find that a little bit exhausting. Enter Dutrition.

Dutrition is the app that helps you do just that. Type in your foods and proportions and it calculates their calories and other data like proteins, carbs or fats.

dutrition interface

You can sign up and try it out yourself. It’s FREE.

How to follow your diet plan

Small Tips

  • Have the exact amount of food that you’re going to eat in your plate. No more no less. It makes you eat just what you have planned and no more.
  • Try to eat with others as often as you can. It makes you eat slower and you are also networking. There’s a great book about that, called Never Eat Alone.
  • Eliminate distractions. If you have anything in the house, that you have decided not to consume, throw them away or give them to someone else. It’s much easier to follow a diet when the house is not full of chocolates and cookies.
  • Hydrate. Water helps you maintain your body fluids, suppress hunger and makes your skin look good.

Break the plan

We have mentioned breaking a diet in our body fat article, but the benefits of that are just too many. We need to elaborate a bit.

Breaking the diet helps you maintain it longer. Actually it’s a habit that helps you keep the habit of healthy eating.

The first and most common break is a cheat meal.

I would kill for some pizza rolls right now
I would kill for some pizza rolls right now

Cheat meals have their place on a diet plan. My personal preference is once every week. It makes you stay on schedule and then indulge in a craving of yours at the right time.

Ideally it should be via eating out. It’s easier to control the proportions and limit the chances of stuffing yourself to death.

You are not a turkey on thanksgiving. Don’t act like one.

Cheat meals should be just meals of “not so optimal” foods for your diet. Not a food contest.

If you find it difficult to keep it modest once a week, there is another solution. The daily treat.

The daily treat is about having a small amount of some sweet, candy, or chocolate once every day.

To be honest, I don’t recommend that because, for most people, it gives them an excuse to eat 2 chocolate bars and call it a “treat” but sometimes it helps.

If you have sugar cravings all the time, then this small trick might help you keep them down. Try it out and see how it works.

What about pizza?

You can have pizza as part of you cheat meal lets say, that it’s scheduled, or via a daily treat like one slice of pizza. If you read the “A Guide to Flexible Dieting” that I mentioned in the previous article, you would know that as you get leaner, it’s probably better to have cheat meals, more frequently than if you have a higher percentage of body fat.

Why you need to make your own diet plan

I am going to say this straight. If you don’t make your own plan, you won’t follow it.

It happens 9 out of 10 times. Are you the exception? Chances are you’re not.

I am perfectly fine with not providing a diet plan because it makes quitters go away and never read this blog again.

At the end of the day, it lets you deal with more like-minded people and creates less hustle.

You reap the benefits of following a diet plan and you should have that responsibility as well. Everything is and should be your fault.

Trust me, I have given many people a plan that I would follow and very few of them followed it. Not to mention that a diet plan I follow may not be that good for you.

There is no one plan fits all. Some may work better with big breakfasts some with big dinners.

There are too many factors in a diet plan that make it work better for the individual.

Start working on your plan and start reaping the benefits.

Things to take away

  • Make a diet plan
  • Keep the plan simple, max 3 ingredient foods
  • Decide on how many meals work for you. Most popular, 3 and 6
  • Get your calories straight, deal with everything else later
  • Break the plan, on schedule. Not randomly
  • Put the time on making an appropriate diet plan. It will benefit you in the long run

Till next time.

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