How To Lose Body Fat, Feel Healthier, and Fix Your Nutrition With This Simple Tactic

It’s late on a Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in my Jeep enjoying a medium Dairy Queen Reese’s peanut butter cup Blizzard. I just finished a tough leg workout and I’m savouring my favourite planned treat. Knowing it’s something I get to enjoy each Saturday makes avoiding and setting boundaries around high calorie impulse food so much easier across the rest of the week. I’ve trained myself to delay gratification and to enjoy the Blizzard free of shame or guilt. 

A medium Reece Blizzard clocks in at a “reported” 740 calories(and an impressive 21 grams of protein). Average this across a week and it equates to 105 calories per day. I can plan around and fit 105 calories per day to enjoy a special treat, especially given my activity level.

I’m going to start with a few key assumptions:

  1. If you had more time you’d cook more healthy meals you love.
  2. You eat more mediocre crap than you feel good about.
  3. You hate the idea of giving up all the foods you love.
  4. You want some combination of losing body fat, feeling healthier, and having better energy.

Restricting all junk/high calorie/processed foods you love, is a recipe for shame, binging, and failure. You rob yourself of some of life’s joy, only to break down in moments of fatigue or stress then overindulge and get caught in a spiral of shame. These episodes more than offset your dieting and workout efforts, leaving you frustrated with your lack of progress and “lack of discipline”. This is neither the path to happiness nor progress with your health and fitness goals. 

When coaching nutrition, I get clients to reframe food choices into three categories or “buckets”:

Bucket 1: All the “healthy” meals and food options you enjoy. 

Bucket 2: All the mediocre high calorie “crap” you don’t really enjoy or feel fulfilled by.

Bucket 3: All the treats you love that bring you joy. 

Admittedly words like “healthy” and “crap” are nebulous, vague, and subjective, but ultimately we know what they mean in our individual context.

A big point is realizing we enjoy bucket 1 meals more than bucket 2 meals. Most people don’t realize just how many options they enjoy from bucket 1. Most people underestimate how much they impulsively overeat from bucket 2 and fail to recognize they still crave the bucket 3 treats, indulge, then feel shame, partially ruining the enjoyment of those treasured treats. The solution to long term fat loss and body composition maintenance, along with a good relationship with food is to rebalance your ratio of these 3 buckets.

Bucket 1: The Healthy Foods You Enjoy

We often mistake healthy home cooked meals as bland options we dread. But when you pause to think, we all have numerous nutritious meals that we love eating. The issue is less the enjoyment and more the time and effort required to cook and clean. Given the futuristic fantasy option of a Star Trek replicator, if we could instantly summon baked salmon, rice, and brussel sprouts, or lean ground turkey pasta, or chicken stir fry, then mediocre delivery food wouldn’t be an issue. We’re often mentally tired, physically drained, stressed, and our ancestral lizard brain craves easy.

This isn’t about only ever eating “healthy” home cooked meals, it’s about recognizing how much you enjoy these meals when you get to sit down and eat them. To have them more often it takes commitment to a little more planning and preparation. We can efficiently cook 4-8 of our favourite meals in a batch and require minimal added time, effort, or cleanup over and above cooking 1 meal at a time. And for those who claim “I can’t eat the same meal all the time”, this is a narrative that’s not serving you. It’s an excuse to justify convenient high calorie options. Likely you have zero issue with the same high calorie snacks each evening. Discard this narrative and develop a list of meals you can rotate through cooking so you still experience overall variety.

I eat the same breakfast everyday outside of travel for over a decade. Not only do I still enjoy my orange, cup of microwaved quick oats flavoured with coconut protein powder, 4 scrambled eggs, and black coffee, it’s so routine and low friction I make it on autopilot. I put on a podcast, cook breakfast, and load a blender with ingredients for additional healthy and convenient meals for my busy day. And don’t let some swearing imbecile videoing himself in a grocery aisle demonize and scare you away from oatmeal. 

Bucket 2: The Mediocre High Calorie Crap You Don’t Really Enjoy 

For years I was tempted by mall food court Chinese food. I would see the buffet of chicken balls in cherry sauce, chicken fried rice, and ginger beef and “treat” myself. Every time I’m reminded how this is not the “good” Chinese food you order from real restaurants on special occasions. There’s a reason why the good stuff costs three to five times as much. Every time I felt just a little sick and like I’d wasted money and calories. Only to forget the experience and do it all over again six months later, until I recognized the pattern and cemented in my mind how mediocre this food really is. Mall food court Chinese food now serves as my metaphor and reminder of all of the mediocre crap we consume on impulse but never feel satisfied by.

Whether needing to eat on the run, grab a quick work lunch, microwaving tv dinners, or ordering from food delivery apps, far too much of the food we eat out of convenience and “necessity” is mediocre. It’s often expensive and usually leaves us feeling ill or sluggish. It’s rarely fulfilling, leaving us wanting, craving, and feeling entitled to the treats we truly love. The added danger lies in the feeling of shame for eating so much high calorie food so often, and not even feel like we enjoyed it. So when we treat ourselves to the foods that matter, we feel guilt and shame. Guilt and shame robs us of some of the enjoyment of treasuring the foods we love, and increases the likelihood we overindulge. The person who loves chips, but feels out of control when eating them and crushing an entire family sized bag in one sitting. Then feels shame for their perceived lack of control, robbing the joy of having something they love. We all know that the experience of the last few chips in the bag is very different from the enjoyment of the first handful. 

The goal is to at least progressively eat less from bucket 2 and work toward ruthlessly eliminating it. You likely won’t be perfect so build in some forgiveness, but continually work toward less. Identify the situations where you’re most likely to grab high calorie mediocre crap. Is it when you’ve slept poorly and didn’t give yourself enough time to pack a home made lunch? Is it when you skipped cooking at home and ordered from a delivery service? Is it because you felt too tired to cook after work because you’re staying up too late watching Netflix or scrolling social media? The goal isn’t to feel shame for these behaviours, it’s to identify the habit or trigger that leaves us unprepared and needing to rely on something convenient. 

Even in the event of not having enough time, there are better solutions that can push some of the bucket 2 behaviours closer to the theme of bucket 1. 

Consider buying meals from a meal prep service. The difference in cost above the price of groceries, may be well worth the time saved, especially if this means more quality time with family. There are more meal service options than ever that provide affordable, high quality, and tasty options. These meals average out costing less than the surcharge of food delivery apps or driving through fast food outlets. Most services allow the choice of a variety of meals, solving the “I can’t eat the same thing over and over” crowd’s excuse.

We often put our heads in the sand about our maladaptive food preparation habits, only to spring for the closest fast food option on impulse. Even thinking ahead to plan an approved array of convenient options can improve the overall quality of your nutrition. Plan ahead with these intentions:

-Skip the fries and high calorie drinks.

-Order diet soft drinks instead.

-Go for subs and wraps instead of burgers and fries.

-Choose the smaller meal size but double the protein and veggies(get the 6 inch sub but the 12 inch worth of protein and veggies).

-Go light on sauce and cheese.

-Find locally owned “Mom and Pop” sandwich shops or other eateries instead of large chain fast food outlets. 

Try making a log of all of the mediocre convenient meals and snacks you eat across an average week. This alone might serve as a wake up call. Even if you cut the incidences in half, you might put yourself on track for your fat loss and metabolic health goals. 

Bucket 3: The Treats You Love

People usually go wrong with dieting because they try to willpower their way through cutting out their favourite treats forever. This never lasts and usually fails spectacularly. The mistake is believing you could go forever without the foods that bring you joy. 

We also need to differentiate between the mindless mediocre crap of bucket 2 and the joyous indulgences of bucket 3. Some people are so fearful of change, they cling to everything. This isn’t possible if you want to improve your metabolic health, lose the excess body fat, and change your life. There’s a line we must draw. Sometimes a food can be both bucket 2 and 3. If I had 1 large blizzard per day, every day, this would be firmly within bucket 2 behaviour. But by making it a special treat once a week, it’s neatly contained within bucket 3. Something I’ve noticed: on the occasions I eat blizzards more frequently, I don’t savour them as much. 

Part of the problem is we’ve been brainwashed my modern food engineering and marketing that we are entitled to have this high calorie food every day. That we deserve dessert with each meal. This is ludicrous and highly maladaptive. We aren’t entitled to high calorie snacks, dessert, and a couple of beers or glasses of wine because we got through a tough day. 

The goal, as with all things nutrition, fitness, and health, isn’t perfection. The goal is to work toward the habit of planning ahead to consume more bucket 1 meals and feel the benefits of better energy while enjoying our everyday nutrition more. This allows us to progressively reduce or nearly eliminate reliance on bucket 2 convenience. Reducing bucket 2 consumption allows us to better appreciate our bucket 3 treats and allows us to enjoy them without shame or guilt. Less shame and guilt throughout your weeks should lead to fewer incidences of binging on bucket 2 foods, and decreased intensity and severity of such binges when they do occur. Perfection creates an impossible standard and usually leaves us feeling we’ve failed. We quit and do so in grandiose fashion. If we instead approach the process with empathy and forgiveness when we falter, we are more likely to get back on track faster and enjoy sustainable success. 

If this sounds like something you’ve been struggling with, email me here or send a message on instagram @andrewcoatesfitness

I want to help and answer your questions. 

I also talked about this concept on the Dieting From the Inside Out podcast hosted by Jared Hamilton listen here on apple/iTunes, or here on Spotify.