How to Create and Stick to a Nutritional Blueprint

It’s one thing to lose 40 pounds. It’s quite another to maintain a new baseline. Soon after I slimmed down to 170 pounds, I found old habits creeping back. It happened gradually, but a few months after I hit my new baseline, I found myself a bit heavier. It was just 175 pounds, but it was easy to see that things were turning for the worse. I wasn’t doing the same things I did on my way to losing those 40 pounds.

It had me asking: is this sustainable?

The easy answer is yes. Of course it’s sustainable, because we are human beings and we have the power of will to achieve anything. But I wasn’t looking for an easy answer. I was looking for an honest answer. After looking at the problem from multiple angles, the answer became clear. Yes, this was sustainable — but not if I tried to keep doing the same things I did to lose 40 pounds.

Losing vs. Maintaining

When trying to lose weight, we can go to extreme measures. This doesn’t mean starving ourselves, but it does mean going through periods of intense exercise and restrictive eating habits. When I dropped those 40 pounds my carbs were basically limited to lentils, and those mostly came in the a.m. After that it was meat and veggies the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, I found that impossible to stick with long-term. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I stuck with it even for a year. It’s just so restrictive. Yet once I got to a new baseline, I didn’t have to eat that way in order to maintain it. I’d still have to eat a healthy diet and keep those simple carbs at bay, but it didn’t have to be as extreme as a meat and veggies only diet. There is a certain balance we can achieve while maintaining a healthy weight. The trick is to find it.

The Blueprint Revelation

My cousin has never let other people’s expectations define him. He got into top universities, but went to a lesser one, because it offered the programs he wanted. After graduating — a semester early with two majors — he didn’t enter the workforce, but instead continued playing poker online. His parents were worried that he had a gambling problem, but it wasn’t gambling at all. He, like many other online poker players, made a six figure annual salary. Even after the government tried to shut down the industry, he still finds ways to play poker online, which funds his nomadic lifestyle.

Lately he has been training in jui-jitsu in Brazil, and sends me frequent status updates. One thing he noted was the dietary differences between Brazil and the U.S. Salads and fruits are in abundance, so they figure prominently into the daily diets of Brazilians. There is also plenty of meat to go around, as well as eggs. The combination sounds somewhat like my previous restrictive eating plan. That is, until he said, “Well, I’ve had four pieces of bread already today, so it’s not as though I’m rigid about it.” That’s when things started to click a bit.

What I needed was not a rigid eating plan, and especially not a meal-by-meal plan. Instead, I needed a general idea of what foods I could eat, no matter the time of day. I could then fit those foods into whatever schedule I was following on any particular day, making it easier to ingest the foods I need to remain healthy, fit, and trim, while not forcing myself to eat specific things at specific times.

The Blueprint in Action

The blueprint starts with the shopping list. I use an app on my T-Mobile smartphone that not only allows me to create a shopping list, but allows my wife to add items as well. That makes the shopping aspect easier. The idea is to buy the proper foods, and then figure out how to prepare them later. But since they’re the only foods that enter our home, it’s actually quite easy.

Meat. I make no apologies for my love of animal flesh. In fact, I consider animal flesh the primary part of my diet. Since I work out fairly intensely, I try to ingest about a pound of lean animal flesh per day. If I can’t fill that quota in any given day, I supplement with a scoop of whey protein. Getting and adequate amount of protein ensures that I feel full, which helps me avoid snacking on junk food.

Salads. Homer Simpson might claim that you don’t win friends with salad, but you probably won’t lose much weight without them, either. A salad per day keeps the belly away, or something like that. I strive for one salad — usually with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and broccoli — per day. That can come as part of my post-workout meal, which helps keep my body in an alkaline state, or before dinner, so I eat less at what is typically my biggest meal of the day. But as long as I get one, that’s all that matters.

Veggies. In addition to the veggies on my salad, I try to include at least one big serving of veggies with my dinner. If I had the salad for lunch, I try to include two veggies with dinner. Broccoli and cauliflower especially fill me up, so there’s no desire for dessert. I’m usually quite contented with between 1/3 and 1/2 pound of meat and two servings of veggies at dinner.

Fruit. I had read, while slimming down, that fruit isn’t something that I should include in my diet. Why I believed it I have no idea. Fruit is great, because it provides both simple and complex carbohydrates. Best of all, raw fruit is not processed, like breads, so they’re easier for the body to digest. That is, you fulfill your nutritional needs in a form your body is more primed to handle.

The easiest way to ensure daily fruit ingestion, I’ve found, is in a smoothie. I blend up a cup of blueberries and a banana as my pre-workout shake. That ensures that I get those nutrients daily. I also try to eat an apple with my post-workout meal, or with breakfast.

Breads. No, I don’t cut out bread. To do so would be kinda nuts. Some people can do it, but most people find it difficult to avoid bread completely. (And if you’re married to someone who refuses to give up bread, you’re stuck with it.) I strive to consume my daily portion of bread before my workout, but that’s not always possible. I do, however, stick with one serving of bread per day. That helps keep me sane while keeping the carb consumption low.

In my years of experimenting with diet and fitness, I’ve gone from rigid plan to rigid plan. The same thing happens time and time again: I find success in the beginning, but find sticking to such a rigid schedule unsustainable. The secret, as I’ve discovered lately, is to plan as loosely as possible. Find a blueprint, not a rigid plan. That way you can work with the ebbs and flows of life, rather than fighting them. The results so far are resoundingly positive. I’m back below 170, and feeling more energy than ever.

Joe Pawlikowski

Joe Pawlikowski writes and edits several blogs across the web, including his personal blog, A New Level.

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