Plan meals around protein-rich foods
What we should prioritise in our meals is protein, since protein-rich foods play an important role in promoting leanness. Protein provides satiety - it has even been shown that those who gain a greater percentage of their calories from protein feel more satisfied and eat less.
Another benefit of protein is that it triggers protein synthesis, preserving lean muscle instead of being stored as fat. Many studies show that people who eat high-quality protein at meals are leaner and have less belly fat.
Manage your carb intake
Carbs are seen as energy foods, however, studies show that eating carbs raises levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, that makes you feel calm and relaxed. In addition, glucose, which is what carbs are turned into after digestion, block the activity of a network of energetic transmitters in the brain called the hypocretin/orexin neurons. When the orexin network is blocked, your metabolic rate slows, which makes you feel sluggish and sleepy.
Refined carbs are shown to stimulate food intake so that we eat more calories than we intended. The solution is to get your carb intake under control, which doesn’t have to mean eliminating carbs entirely from your diet.
What we can do instead is aim to eat carbs at the right times during the day and favour whole food carbs such as vegetables, fruits, and boiled grains instead of processed carbs.
The best times to eat carbs would be post-workout and at dinner. After exercise, your muscles are more sensitive to insulin so that any carbs you eat will be stored as glycogen. Eating carbs for dinner is also recommended because this is the perfect time to raise serotonin and lower the stress hormone, cortisol, so that you’ll be able to wind down and go to sleep.
Pick foods that will satisfy your hunger, not stimulate it
We know certain foods are much more likely to satisfy appetite quickly and help us eat less, while other foods will stimulate our hunger and make us more likely to overeat.
Whole protein sources, vegetables and other foods that occur in nature tend to be very satisfying, but in contrast, refined and higher carb foods stimulate appetite so we eat more.
These differences have to do with the way food affects the brain. Refined foods can influence hunger hormones and target pleasure centres of the brain, and are also linked to blood sugar spikes and dips, which may easily stimulate appetite and cravings to help maintain energy levels.
Protein sources have the opposite effect, satiating you properly as they release hormones in the gut, telling the brain that you’re full. Green vegetables are digested slowly and contain a lot of indigestible fibre to fill us up.
Make your first meal of the day high-protein, low carb
Breakfast is a meal that requires special attention, since high-carb meals are the norm. The habit of having cereal, toast, juice or other carb rich sources is a mistake. These foods spike your insulin and increase serotonin, which will make you feel sluggish and slow.
In contrast, having high-protein, lower carb meals for breakfast sets you up to make better food choices throughout the day. Save your carb intake for more important times of the day, when your body will utilise it in more productive ways, like post-workout and dinner.
Make your diet nutrient-rich
Minerals such as magnesium, vitamin D, and iron are extremely important for metabolic health. Low levels of these nutrients cause complications that make it difficult to stay lean because metabolic rate is often reduced.
For example, a lack of magnesium leads to poor insulin sensitivity and problems with blood sugar control, both of which will halt fat loss. Lack of iron causes anaemia, which is an impaired ability to carry oxygenated blood to the cells and muscles. Vitamin D is important because it enables other nutrients such as calcium to sustain metabolic rate and bone metabolism, while preventing the hormone testosterone from being aromatised or changed into oestrogen.
Make sure to meet the requirements of these nutrients to stay healthy and ensure fat loss.
Use order, not chaos
Most people’s eating habits are all over the place. There is often no planning or care involved in preparing meals throughout the day and eating times are erratic. Both lead to being ravenous and grabbing the nearest option, which may not be the healthiest.
The only way of solving chaos is to prepare as much as possible. Control your eating habits beforehand by planning your meals in advance, including snacks. This makes it easier to avoid unhealthy choices. After a few weeks of proper diet planning and sticking to it, you’ll have steadier blood sugar levels, and this will allow you to avoid any extra stress.
Being in good shape comes from developing good habits. Planning meals in advance lets you lay the groundwork so that the other priorities on this list become easier to achieve.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. By prioritising what really matters, you can enjoy delicious, nourishing meals while getting lean and energised.