Everyone is in search of “the best diet”. Here’s a secret: it doesn’t exist. Not keto, not vegan, not carnivore, not low-carb, not low-fat. The best diet is the one that allows you to control your calories, gives you a good relationship with food, and is sustainable over the long term. If you’re trying to find that kind of diet, this post will help.
When I was a kid I could absolutely demolish food. When you’re eating a lot of food, simple math dictates that much of it won’t be very good for you, and I was no exception. I ate lots of junk. But it didn’t matter. I played sports year around and had the metabolism of a hummingbird, so I stayed lean and athletic. Even through college and the early years thereafter, I stayed active enough that I could eat about whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted.
“You may be able to do it for a while, but it’s really hard to out-train a bad diet.”
But, like everyone, it eventually caught up to me. My activity level and my metabolism slowed down. I found myself at age 34 weighing 220 pounds. On a 5’10” frame with thin wrists and ankles, that was entirely too much weight, meaning I was carrying entirely too much fat.
I got committed to losing the weight and lost 40 pounds pretty quickly over the next six to eight months. Over the next few years, through various diets and training programs, I stayed in the 170-180 range, which is about right for my frame. At certain times I was keeping the weight off through intensive training, at other times through a very restrictive diet, and at other times through a combination of the two. But I learned that it’s really hard to out-train a bad diet.
The Experimentation Phase
During that time I experimented with a lot of different eating and training protocols. On the training side, I did everything from tons of jogging to Navy SEAL workouts to heavy barbell strength training to kettlebell workouts to Olympic lifting. On the dietary side, I did low-carb diets, cyclical ketogenic diets, Paleo diets, the Warrior Diet, the Anabolic Diet, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), and experimented with different levels of meal frequency – eating six small meals throughout the day to “stoke your metabolism” used to be all the rage, much like Intermittent Fasting is now.
“Nearly every diet works – they do it by limiting the amount of calories you consume.”
And guess what? Basically all of them worked. Here’s why: through one method or another, every one of them limited the amount of calories I consumed. The method typically involved restricting one macronutrient, such as carbs or fat, or restricting the volume of food you ate by limiting the time frame during which you ate. But all of them functioned by the same principle: fat loss resulted from decreased calories consumed.
Now, the zealots for any particular method of eating (I hate the word “diet”) will tell you that their favored method has magical powers, usually related to hormones or something equally poorly understood. And hormones do matter at the margins to make a certain method of eating more effective or tolerable for certain individuals. And that’s what this is all about: finding the method of eating that works for you and is sustainable over the long term.
The Sweet Spot
In 2011, I found my sweet spot. In August of that year I started Intermittent Fasting (IF), which is a fancy term for an eating schedule that involves an extended period where you don’t eat, followed by a shorter eating window. I did it according a 16/8 schedule. I’d fast for 16 hours or so, usually actually 17-18, then I’d eat during a 6-8 hour window. I like to eat at night and be full when I go to bed, so I’d start my eating window at 3:00 with a small meal, then I’d train in the evening, then would consume most of my calories between 8:00-10:00 at night. While minor details have changed through the years, this has been my eating method since 2011.
I have coffee in the morning (with sweetener and some cream), then more coffee in the middle of the day. Then I begin my eating every day around 3:00 (never earlier, but sometimes later if I’m not training that day). Not eating during the early part of the day allows me to consume most of my calories at night and go to bed fully satisfied. It also makes my days very simple in that I don’t have to worry about breakfast or lunch; I’m free to do my thing, whether that means work or play.
“If you eat too many calories while doing Intermittent Fasting, you’re still going to gain fat. Book it.”
But, regardless of what some of its proponents will tell you, IF is not magic. It works because it makes it much more difficult to overeat. When you’re only eating during certain times, it’s harder to eat too much. Still, it can be done. If you spend your eating window consuming junk for eight hours you are going to gain fat quick, fast, and in a hurry. Book it.
That’s why I combined my IF protocol with an IIFYM/Flexible Dieting protocol where I make sure that I consume a certain number of calories each day. Within that calorie number, I also consume a certain amount of protein, carbs, and fat. Counting calories and macros may be a chore at first, but it doesn’t take long before you can estimate everything. For a year or two I logged everything I ate into MyFitnessPal to make sure I was hitting my calorie and macro numbers. I haven’t done that in years now because I know that if I eat according to a certain pattern, I’m going to hit my goal numbers or be very close.
Charting Your Course
I’m now 45. With this protocol, I’ve stayed between 178-182 with abs for years. I still drink bourbon with my friends. I eat something sweet just about every day. I usually end up leaner after the Thanksgiving and Christmas season than I was going in. I lose weight during my vacations. I’m rarely hungry and much more satisfied with my food than when I used to eat whatever I wanted at all times. And I can still crush some food. It’s a running joke with a buddy of mine that he can’t eat his entire steak and I’m going to finish it off. And I’m gonna stay lean while doing it.
Still, as much as I love this method of eating, it may not be what’s best for you. You may love breakfast. I haven’t eaten it since August 2011. I still eat breakfast foods (I love bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, etc.), but I eat them at night. Not eating in the morning may be a deal-breaker for you. If so, find something different. The best diet for you is personal to you, being tailored to your body type, your goals, and your preferences. The point is that losing fat is the result of limiting your calories, and building the body you want requires that you pay attention to your macros to ensure you get enough protein, carbs, and fat to reach your body composition and performance goals.
The man’s life requires us to have strong, capable bodies. If we’re weak or overweight, we’re limited in our abilities. That’s why I train and eat to be strong, lean, and athletic. And I can help you get there as well. I took my years of experimentation and research and turned it into over 30,000 words on how to train and how to eat in a way that makes you strong and lean – The Man Strong Blueprint: A Beginner’s Guide for the Body You Need. I think it’s the best book out there that addresses both training and nutrition together.
There are no meal plans, only principles. It lays out a way of eating that can be modified to fit your preferences and goals. But if you just want to find out exactly how I eat and copy that, well, that’s in there as well. You can find more information on it here. It’s an absolute steal for the value it provides. There’s little in life more freeing than being liberated from things that would control you. Food is one of those things. Be free, be strong, be courageous, provide value. This is the man’s life. Godspeed.
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