Rise before the sun, jog before breakfast, and eat three home-cooked meals interspersed with protein-and fiber-rich snacks. Hit the gym every day and renounce beer, Chinese takeout, and any food that’s breaded, battered, fried, or sweetened.
That’s it: Your blueprint for superlative health. If that sounds doable, you can stop reading now.
Still with us? Good. You’re human. And you’re busy. Chances are you’ve occasionally ordered greasy takeout while crunching a deadline, or scarfed down a candy bar as you rushed to a meeting. Real life interferes with diets—and maybe that’s why a UCLA analysis of eight studies found that about 40 percent of dieters regain lost weight or even exceed their prediet weight after 4 or more years. It’s tough to stick to a diet that doesn’t adapt to your life.
Another problem with diets: They’re usually built on self-denial, and people (most people, at least) aren’t masochists. “Anytime you withhold something enjoyable from somebody, whether it’s television or affection or pizza, they’ll resist it for only so long,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., the author of Mindless Eating. “Those are deprivation diets. Effective in the short run, but not sustainable.”
So we came up with an antidiet. Our plan is flexible enough to fit your schedule and realistic enough to keep you from feeling deprived. We’ve started you off with a day of nutrient-dense eating. From there, use the checklists to guide your choices. Turns out you don’t have to be superhuman to shrink your belly.
Can at least half the foods in this meal be described as protein sources?
Does this meal make up about a quarter of my day’s calories? That’s 550 for a 2,200-calorie diet, a reasonable goal for an average-height, 30-year-old man who’s moderately active and looking to lose weight.
If there’s bread, a muffin, or cereal, is it made from whole grains?
Too busy for breakfast? That’s dangerous thinking. A University of Massachusetts medical school study found that people who regularly skipped breakfast had a risk of obesity that was 4 1/2 times greater than those who routinely ate a morning meal. And when University of Minnesota researchers followed a group of high school students for 5 years, they found that the body mass indexes (BMIs) of students who always skipped breakfast were about 30 percent higher than those of students who ate every morning
But don’t eat just anything. In a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, people who ate egg-based breakfasts consumed about 20 percent fewer calories during the day than those whose breakfasts were based on bread alone. The protein in those eggs may increase satiety and delay hunger pangs.
So how in the name of Jimmy Dean should you eat those eggs? Pair them with whole-grain bread and a lean protein like ham for a smart sandwich that will fuel your race to the office.
Thomas’ Light Multi-Grain English Muffin
Protein is crucial for satiety—but so is fiber. This Thomas’ English muffin contains more fiber than a half cup of garbanzo beans.
Hormel Natural Choice Smoked Deli Ham (2 slices)
This line of deli meats has no preservatives or added nitrites or nitrates.
Eggs (2 large)
Scramble them in a small skillet.
Avocado offers all the creaminess of cheese but has fewer than half the calories per gram.
Pair with: Milk (1 cup, 1%)
575 calories, 32 g protein, 49 g carbohydrates (14.5 g fiber), 31 g fat, 731 mg sodium
Breakfast Power Sandwich
Panera’s egg sandwich boasts a fiber count that’s rare among fast-food breakfast sandwiches. But the benefit doesn’t end there: It has about as much protein as a 4-ounce pork tenderloin.
The apple doubles the fiber load of the meal and delivers plenty of quercetin and catechins, antioxidants that may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, and diabetes.
Pair with: Cappuccino (8.5 oz)
Why not brewed coffee? Because a cappuccino gives you a dose of dairy along with your caffeine fix.
540 calories, 31 g protein, 63 g carbohydrates (8 g fiber). 18.5 g fat, 915 mg sodium
Smucker’s Natural Chunky Peanut Butter (2 Tbsp)
Wheat Thins Fiber Selects 5-Grain Crackers (5)
Smucker’s Natural has no added oils, sweeteners, or fillers, and it boasts plenty of fiber and healthy fats.
246 calories 8 g protein 14.5 g carbohydrates (4 g fiber) 17.5 g fat 175 mg sodium
Am I eating this meal within 2 hours of my last snack?
Is there at least one source of protein and one source of fiber?
Can I identify the produce in this meal?
Lunch is a meal you’re likely to buy rather than make, and the countless unhealthy options outside the home means it’s easy to pack in too many calories. But if you eat too few calories—or the wrong kind—you risk battling hunger pangs before dinner, priming you for overindulgence.
To hit target calorie counts and sustain your energy all afternoon, you want a meal with a healthy dose of complex carbs, not refined ones. That’s because complex carbs digest more slowly, helping you power past your 3 p.m. slump. Second, to ward off afternoon hunger pangs, make sure you include plenty of protein, which has been shown to increase satiety. Finally, pack in extra nutrients by picking a lunch that includes at least a serving or two of produce. One easy, tasty solution: chili. It delivers complex carbs (beans and vegetables), produce (tomatoes, onions, and peppers), and a hefty shot of protein—all in a single bowl.
Amy’s Organic Black Bean Chili (1 cup)
This canned chili is more than just organic—it’s also relatively low in sodium, high in protein, and totally jacked with fiber.
Sargento Mild Cheddar Cheese Cubes (30 g, about 7 pieces
Shredded cheese is messy and hard to measure. Cubes are simple; just count them up and drop them into your bowl.
Fage Total 2% Plain Greek Yogurt
(7 oz) Greek yogurt is as luscious as sour cream but has more protein and fewer calories. Add a dollop to the chili and enjoy the rest with your orange.
532 calories, 41 g protein, 55.5 g carbohydrates (16 g fiber), 17 g fat, 935 mg sodium
Burger King and McDonald’s both make decent burgers, but only Wendy’s offers this hearty alternative to fries.
Pairing your chili with a burger adds another helping of protein. This burger’s smaller bun helps lower the calorie count, while double the beef patties packs in the protein.
580 calories, 41 g protein, 48 g carbohydrates (7 g fiber), 25 g fat, 1,630 mg sodium
WORD TO THE WISE
Concerned about high sodium levels? They’re hard to avoid in restaurant food, so if you’re trying to control your intake, stick to the “At Home” options.
Larabar Pecan Pie (1 bar)
The typical snack bar is bloated with furtive sweeteners and heavily processed soy products, but this bar is honest food, simple and nutritious. Its sugar comes from natural dates, and outside that, you’ll find only two ingredients: pecans and almonds.
220 calories, 3 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates (4 g fiber), 14 g fat, 0 mg sodium
Am I eating this meal at least 2 hours before I go to sleep?
Can I identify at least one source of protein and one source of fiber?
Can I point to the produce in this meal?
Is this the smallest of my three main meals of the day?
The average man eats about 900 calories at dinner. The problem? Dinner ought to be his smallest meal of the day. Loading up on energy before you head off on your day’s errands makes sense, but doing that before you fall asleep in front of The Colbert Report doesn’t. The goal is to keep your belly full during waking hours only; there’s no need to load up your body with lots of calories when it’s about to go to sleep.
So stop thinking of dinner as an end-of-day binge and start thinking of it as an opportunity to nab the last few nutrients you need for an optimal day of eating. Ideally, your dinner should be about half of what you’re probably eating now—no more than about 450 calories. That’s roughly 20 percent fewer calories than you took in at breakfast or lunch, and that’s plenty if you’ve stuck to the plan so far. After two big meals and two hearty snacks, your appetite should be moderate and your cravings under control. Besides, you still have dessert to top it all off!
Kashi Stone-Fired Thin Crust Margherita Pizza (1/3 pizza)
Baby Spinach (3 cups)
Spinach boasts ample vitamin K and vitamin A, plus folic acid; a recent Swedish study found that a compound in spinach could also boost the efficiency of the cells’ mitochondria, in turn helping oxygen consumption during exercise.
Chopped Walnuts (2 Tbsp)
With the addition of walnuts, you transform a drab bed of dressed leaves into a legitimate salad. Plus, gram for gram, walnuts pack in even more omega-3 fats than salmon does.
Newman’s Own Lighten Up Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (2 Tbsp)
422 calories, 18.5 g protein, 36.5 g carbohydrates (7 g fiber), 23 g fat, 1,091 mg sodium
Thin Crust Ham, Mushroom, Green Pepper, and Onion Pizza (1/4 large pie)
A combo of lean meat, three kinds of vegetables, and a thin crust keeps the calorie count low but your satisfaction high.
Garden Fresh Salad (1/2 salad)
This side salad provides a couple of extra grams of fiber (the better to fill your belly), plus more than a third of your day’s recommended intake of vitamin C and 120 percent of your vitamin A.
490 calories, 20 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates (4 g fiber), 22.5 g fat, 980 mg sodium