The Un-Diet: How to Design a Realistic Nutrition Plan For Sustainable Fat Loss

I’ve been thinking about food a lot recently.

Okay, I think about food a lot all the time, not just recently, but this time it is with an eye to combining the foodie side of me that drools over the fish and chips episode of Good Eats on Food Network and the health nut side that winces at the words “deep fried.” I’ve already established that I am perfectly happy eating the same foods over and over again as long as I like them, so why, I thought, don’t I just sit down and make a menu for my slow post-wedding recovery cut that ONLY contains stuff I love and crave, carefully modified to work within my caloric intake and macronutrient guidelines? It’s just as easy to make a healthy stir fry with a tasty sauce as it is to grill up a plain old rubbery chicken breast with a side of broccoli and plain brown rice, right?

With these thoughts in mind and a stack of favorite cookbooks by my side, I got to work:

STEP 1: Establish your nutrition parameters.

For my desired rate of loss of 0.75-1 pound per week, I calculated that I would need to start at 1652-1755 calories per day using my handy Fat Loss Spreadsheet. I am attempting to follow the nutrition guidelines recommended for Turblence Training as well, so my macronutrient ratios will be approximately 40% carbohydrate / 30% protein / 30% fat at this intake level. I will stick to my usual 6 small meals per day with a post-workout recovery shake (or some other fast-acting carb with protein) on weightlifting days.

Each meal will average 284 calories with 28 g carbohydrates, 21 g protein, and 9 g fat.

I tend to feel rather congested, bloated and sluggish when I have too much dairy and sugar, so I will use limited amounts of these ingredients.

STEP 2: Make a list of favorite foods.

  1. Pad Thai
  2. Chinese Beef Noodles with Greens
  3. Chicken fingers with Fries and Ketchup
  4. Pepperoni, Pineapple, and Jalepeno Pizza on whole wheat crust
  5. Chicken or Shrimp Veggie Stir-Fry with Rice
  6. Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad
  7. Spinach Omelette with Salsa
  8. Sushi and Sashimi
  9. Fruit protein smoothies with soy milk
  10. Banana, pumpkin, or zucchini bread
  11. Spaghetti with meat marinara sauce
  12. Cereal with soy milk
  13. Taiwanese beef jerky
  14. Kettle corn popcorn
  15. Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
  16. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  17. Steel-cut oatmeal and fruit
  18. Chips
  19. Chinese dumplings/potstickers
  20. Chili
  21. Grilled fish with veggies and rice
  22. BBQ beef, pork, or chicken
  23. Hamburgers with fries
  24. Crepes

STEP 3: Make a list of healthy WHOLE foods that you actually like.

(A good starting point is the original Body-for-Life authorized food list from the book, not the web site.)

Protein – beef, chicken (dark and white), shrimp and all shellfish, turkey, all fish, soy milk, tofu, eggs

Starchy Carbs – rice, brown rice, sweet potato, potato, oats, quinoa, WW pasta, rice noodles, low carb pasta, beans, WW tortillas, pitas, or bread

Fruit – pineapple, peaches, nectarines, pears, lychees, longans, plums, grapes, cantaloupe, oranges, berries

Vegetables – broccoli, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, asparagus, onions, carrots (cooked only), green beans, sugar snap peas, bok choy, zucchini, squash, cabbage, Asian radish, okra, pretty much everything but lima beans and bitter squash

Fats – peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pecans, avocado, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, fish oil

STEP 4: Reinvent favorite foods using healthy substitutions or combine with other foods to meet macronutrient targets.

The goal here is to have only one portion of protein, one portion of carbohydrate (not the usual 2-3 in Western meals), and one serving of fat in any meal.

  1. Pad Thai: Use noodles from package, but create new sauce recipe using Splenda instead of sugar. Add 1 c. veggies, 1/2 oz. crushed peanuts, and 3 oz. chicken breast, shrimp or lean beef per serving.
  2. Chinese Beef Noodles with Greens: Use only 2 oz. (dry) noodles, 4 oz. beef, and add 2 c. spinach, bean sprouts, and spaghetti squash as filler
  3. Chicken fingers with Fries and Ketchup: Make coating using ground oats instead of flour and bake chicken breast fingers. Pair with baked sweet potato “fries” and low carb ketchup.
  4. Pepperoni, Pineapple, and Jalepeno Pizza on whole wheat crust: Make “pizza” with tomato paste, fat-free mozzarella, jalapeno slices, pineapple chunks, 5-6 slices of turkey pepperoni, and 2 oz. chicken breast or shrimp
  5. Chicken or Shrimp Veggie Stir-Fry with Rice: Use olive oil spray for stir fry, sub Splenda for sugar in sauce, and sub brown rice or quinoa for white rice.
  6. Panera Asian Sesame Chicken Salad: Sub Newman’s Own Asian Sesame Ginger dressing or other under 40 calorie/2 T. dressing. Combine 3-4 oz. pre-grilled chicken breast with 4 c. mixed greens, 1/2 oz. almonds, and 1 sliced fruit or 3/4 c. grapes.
  7. Spinach Omelette with Salsa: 3-4 egg whites or 3 egg whites/1 whole egg
  8. Sushi and Sashimi: Make at home subbing Splenda for sugar in sushi rice vinegar mix. Pair with 3/4 c. serving of vegetables or salad and 2 oz. protein.
  9. Fruit protein smoothies with soy milk: 1/2 c. light soy milk, 1/2 c. water, 1 c. ice, 1 c. fruit, 3/4 scoop vanilla protein powder
  10. Banana, pumpkin, or zucchini bread: TBD (Check Amyella’s recipe); pair with 1 c. soy milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 T. cocoa powder
  11. Spaghetti with meat marinara sauce: Use WW or low carb pasta; 2-3 oz. limit. Include 2-3 oz. chicken breast, shrimp, or lean ground beef or turkey breast in the sauce and 3/4 c. of wilted cooked spinach.
  12. Cereal with soy milk: GoLean, GoLean Crunch, or Cheerios (oat-based) cereal only. Follow recommended serving size and combine with 1/2 c. light soy milk. Add protein source such as egg whites on the side.
  13. Taiwanese beef jerky: Use as protein snack serving. Add baked sweetpotato fries or fruit serving.
  14. Kettle corn or butter light popcorn: 1/2 bag = 1 post workout carb serving. Combine with chocolate soy protein drink
  15. Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream: Make popsicles with Dymatize Elite whey. Add mini choco chips.
  16. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit: Make own trail mix with 1/2 oz. nuts, dried fruit, etc. for a total of no more than 200 calories.
  17. Steel-cut oatmeal and fruit: Use as carb serving. Pre-cook steel-cut oats for convenience.
  18. Chips: Use as carb serving. Make chips from sweetpotato using mandoline or food processor, add creole seasoning, and bake.
  19. Chinese dumplings/potstickers: Storebought; follow recommended serving size and serve with extra cup of vegetables or in a soup (wonton or egg drop).
  20. Chili: Use lean ground meat and add a LOT of extra vegetables. Serve over salad instead of rice.
  21. Grilled fish with veggies and rice: Self explanatory…
  22. BBQ beef, pork, or chicken: Modify BBQ sauce recipes to use Splenda or fruit instead of sugar. Serve with quinoa, brown rice, or SP baked fries and 1 c. vegetables.
  23. Hamburgers with fries: Make burgers out of lean turkey or ground beef; wrap in lettuce leaves instead of using bun and add sweetpotato fries or fresh fruit. Use low carb ketchup.
  24. Crepes: Sub Splenda for sugar and ground oats for flour. Use 3-4 egg whites in recipe for protein. Sprinkle with sugar and add 1/2 serving of fruit.

STEP FIVE: Develop meal plan based on list of favorite meals.

Menu 1:
M1: Spinach omelette with 3 egg whites, 60 g total oatmeal and raisins
M2: Chocolate protein soy milk shake, 1 pear or peach
M3: 8 pieces homemade sushi (1/2 c. rice, nori, rice seasoning, fish cake, pickled radish, chives, green onions, and egg), 1 cup asparagus veggie mix
M4: Chocolate protein soy milk shake, 1 c. longans (Chinese fruit similar to lychee)
M5: 1 c. lean beef chili over 2 c. spinach; 1 small black plum
M6: 5 dumplings, 1/2 c. sauteed garlic green beans

Menu 2:
M1: 1/2 c. light soy milk, 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 c. GoLean cereal
M2: Pineapple protein shake
M3: Baked chicken fingers with sweet potato fries and veggies
M4: Beef jerky, zucchini slices, and peach
M5: Beef noodles with extra greens and veggies
M6: Trail mix and chocolate protein soy milk shake

Menu 3:
M1: Breakfast pita sandwich (1/2 WW pita, 3 white/1 whole egg spinach scramble, salsa or low carb ketchup)
M2: Berry crepes with optional SF maple syrup
M3: Turkey burger lettuce wrap with low carb ketchup and sweet potato fries or chips
M4: Zucchini bread with chocolate protein soy milk shake
M5: Shrimp with veggies in red sauce stir fry with 1 c. quinoa
M6: Peanut butter protein shake

I’ll be posting recipes for each of the above dishes over the next week. Today I am more or less following Menu 1.


Some diet, eh?

Fitness on a Budget Part 1: The Poor Man’s (or Woman’s) Precision Nutrition Plan

I have a small, semi-blasphemous announcement to make.

I legitimately bought and paid for Precision Nutrition (version 1.0) last year, but I have no plans to pick up the recently announced, limited availability “upgrade” to version 2.0.

Like many other fitness and nutrition geeks blogging and posting away on the forums and boards of the Internet fitness subculture, I was curious about Precision Nutrition, the nutrition plan to end all nutrition plans, and impressed enough with its author Dr. John Berardi’s articles on his website to justify the $97 price tag for the program. I’ve certainly paid more in the past for college classes, a not-so-hot hair cut and highlight session at a local salon, a single night at a hotel, and yes, nutrition and exercise coaching and plans from other experts. However, I fully realize that spending almost $100 on a nutrition program is a budget-breaker for a lot of folks out there, though, which is why I decided to write this article.

I do not regret picking up the program because I feel that all education is valuable and I simply choose to funnel the money most women spend on cosmetics and clothing into acquiring more knowledge, but I absolutely do not feel that a bulked up individualization guide, some 90% compliance tracking charts, and the addition of actual calorie calculations/estimates (the original PN is rather patchy on how much you are supposed to eat for maintenance, fat loss, and muscle gain) are worth an additional $39.99 on top of what I’ve already paid, especially since I have already created my own free downloadable Excel spreadsheet to figure those things out and plenty of (also free) sites on the web also allow you to plug in your typical activities and workouts to pop out a ballpark estimate of your daily energy expenditure.

To put it bluntly, I think the “upgrades” should have been made available to existing owners of 1.0 as free PDF downloads, particularly since folks ordering the PN program now automatically get the v. 2.0 extra materials without an additional charge.

But let’s get back to exactly why I don’t consider the upgrade a must.

I feel that my genetics are pretty average, and as such I respond pretty well to just about ANY nutrition plan as long as it contains sufficient protein, veggies, fruits, unprocessed starches, and the right amount of calories. Nutrition for the general fitness enthusiast/hobbyist like me who works out for 45-60 minutes 6 days a week and does not train for a sport is, well, not even close to rocket science.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of the modern Western touchy-feely “everyone is special” attitude, but I think people have a tendency to think that they are each custom-built, one-of-a-kind sports cars with a slew of special fuel intake needs when in fact, 99% of us are just run-of-the-mill Toyota Camrys that run perfectly well on the cheapest unleaded gasoline and regular oil changes every 3 months.

I love the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook and would definitely recommend getting the PDF download of it (no shipping there, at least. 😀 ). Besides the recipes, there are also quite a few good tips on how to speed up food preparation.

As for the rest of the system…one of the members of a women’s fitness forum I run asked about PN a while back and I compiled a list of links to Dr. Berardi’s articles on his site that more or less cover the basics of PN as well as how to tailor it for yourself. Between those free articles, Dr. Mohr’s nutrition guidelines for TT (which are already VERY close to the nuts and bolts of PN), Gourmet Nutrition, and the two free PN PDF downloads that I also linked in my response–Gourmet Nutrition Desserts and Precision Nutrition Strategies–you can probably piece together the majority of the program on your own. If you are still hungry for more knowledge after reading those articles, then by all means pick up the full program, but I don’t consider it a necessity if you are already pretty well-read on sports/bodybuilding nutrition and don’t need someone to hold your hand through bulk food preparation.

And now, my list of Berardi articles for you to print out and compile to make your very own Poor Man’s Precision Nutrition Guide:

Useful FREE resources from non-PN sources:

Pick up the PDF copy of the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook, and you’ve pretty much got the PN system for 1/3 the price, sans the audio CDs (which just reiterate the 7 habits and some cooking tips from Gourmet Nutrition) and the DVDs that explain things to true newbies.

Unless you really, really want to have access to the forums at to ask questions or access the bonus workouts, I don’t think the full program is required to design your own PN-based nutrition plan if you have a pretty good understanding of healthy nutrition already and are comfortable with preparing your own meals. Just use my (free!) Fat Loss Spreadsheet to calculate your caloric intake needs for both maintenance and fat loss, consistently and diligently apply the 7 habits, post-workout nutrition, and tailoring techniques covered in his articles above, pair the nutrition plan up with a good workout regimen that includes both resistance training and cardio/intervals (Body for Life, Turbulence Training, Leanness Lifestyle, etc.) and voila! You’re doing PN!

And if you STILL can’t shake the hankering for the “real” Precision Nutrition v. 2.0 program after taking a swipe at it yourself using the wealth of free resources on Dr. Berardi’s site, I’m not going to try to talk you out of it. Just realize that after reading through the articles above, the official PN binder is a most definitely a want, not a need, and make your spending decision accordingly.

Fitness on a Budget Series: