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Top 10 Diet Tips

By Steve Edwards
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You may not know the difference between Atkins, Scarsdale, or Dr. Phil, and frankly, you shouldn't have to. Eating just isn't that complicated. Here are 10 simple guidelines. It may not be enough info to get you onto the cover of Muscle & Fitness, but follow these tips and your body will be on a steady path to salvation.

Eat At Home1. Eat at home. Or, at least, don't eat at convenience stores, fast food chains, gas stations, or in the break room at your office. All of these places are filled with mainly junk food. As a society, if we did nothing but avoid Big Gulps, French fries, chips, and processed meats, we'd all be a lot thinner. If you can avoid these places, it starts to become challenging to eat poorly. When you don't avoid them, it's almost impossible to have a balanced diet.

2. Eat often. You should eat something every two or three hours while you're awake. Not a full meal, but something. "Three squares a day" is an antiquated ritual, but this doesn't mean you can't eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It just means that they shouldn't be all-you-can-possibly-gorge affairs. Eating often keeps your blood sugar levels stable, translating into more consistent energy levels.

3. Eat for what you do. Do Oprah and Lance Armstrong eat the same things? Probably not. In fact, Lance Armstrong doesn't eat the same way all of the time. The more exercise you do, the more you need to eat. And beyond just eating more, this is when you need to think about the makeup of your diet. The biggest variable in your diet is the amount of carbohydrates that you consume. Carbs are for energy only. If you aren't exercising, you don't need many. But when you're on the go all day, let them be your primary fuel. While a small amount of the carbs you consume can be stored in body tissues for later use, their main function is to provide immediate fuel for energy. The leftovers are stored as fat. Still, if you don't get enough, your ability to think, move, and generally function will diminish. Clearly, your carbohydrate consumption requires some thought, and it should be the most variable portion of your diet. Carb intake should vary between around 40% when you're not active or overweight to up to 70% when you're on the go all day long.

Eat Plants in Their Natural State4. Eat plants (in their natural state). Fruits, veggies, and whole grains are all from different food categories, yet they are still very similar. For one thing, in their natural state plant foods all are abundant in fiber, which is something our diets tend to lack (just try and find much fiber in any food mentioned in #1). Eating whole foods helps our bodies self-regulate and brings our pH levels into balance. A balanced body functions better. In general, our diets have become way too acidic, and plants tend to be alkaline.

Drink Water, But Not Soda5. Drink water (but not soda). Your body needs a lot of water, which is why you get thirsty. What you don't need, however, is soda. Calories in soda are worse than just wasted calories. They come from ingredients that are nutrient poor. Drinking more than a soda a day will make it nearly impossible for you to have a balanced diet. And diet sodas aren't much better. Their added ingredients (like phosphoric acid) will alter your body's pH and affect its ability to properly digest necessary nutrients. Soda is the number one threat to a healthy diet in the world today. Pure junk. It serves zero purpose.

6. Stay hungry. This is a metaphor, but it's also meant to be taken somewhat literally. You should eat until you're not hungry, instead of until you're full. So much about our diets is habitual. Your body has eaten enough food well before your brain gets the signal that it's full. Cutting off your meals early is a simple way of cutting out many superfluous calories.

Eat Healthy Fats7. Eat healthy fat. Don't confuse the fat you eat with fat on your body. You need fat to be healthy, but it's important to choose the right kinds of fat to eat. There are four types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fat. We need the first three in the right balance to improve our health and even help us lose fat. Saturated fat comes from animal products and should be kept to a minimum, as the body needs very little and excess is dangerous. Unsaturated fat comes from nuts, olives, flaxseeds, fish, and avocados and should make up most of your fat intake. Trans fats are those made by man. We don't need any. They are hazardous, and guess where you find them? Once again, see #1. Your total fat intake should be between 20% and 30% of your daily caloric intake. Keep in mind that fats are over twice as dense as proteins and carbohydrates (9 calories per gram compared to 4), so a little goes a long way.

8. Get enough protein. Protein is found in abundance in meats (any animal), dairy products, and legumes (beans, peas, etc). Protein builds muscle and should make up between 15% and 30% of your diet. Because it's hard to digest, it helps to get some each time we eat. Adding a bit of protein to each meal or snack is about as much attention as you need to pay to this nutrient. If you do this, your protein needs will likely be met.

9. Alcohol counts. I know, I know, you know this. Still, many people tend to consider "drinking" an activity that's separate from the rest of their diet. While this may be socially true, trust me, your body is noticing. Alcohol contains nearly twice the calories of proteins and carbs (7 calories per gram). It's not terrible to have a glass of wine with dinner or a couple of beers every now and then. Just remember that they are part of your diet, meaning that the rest of what you eat should be adjusted accordingly. Alcohol serves no performance purpose other than, perhaps, mental stimulation. Like soda, it needs to be limited if you're going to maintain a balanced diet.

Plan Ahead10. Plan ahead. Just like anything else in life, your diet will go smoother if you plan ahead. If "I'll just grab something when I can" is a regular saying around your house, chances are that your nutrition plan is not working in your favor. Citing #1 again, "convenience" and "fast" foods are based on a quick and addicting junk model. For example, when was the last time you saw a piece of fruit in your office vending machine? Taking a few minutes to strategize your week's meals will do you a world of good.

Implement these 10 steps, and I guarantee your diet will improve. But if you can't do it all at once, my advice is to not be too hard on yourself. Hey, it's only food. Whatever you do can always be undone. It's stressful enough trying to live your life and stay fit and trim without you having to worry that you shouldn't have had that cookie. An eating "disaster" isn't a big a deal in the overall picture. Eat too much? Try doubling your workout the next day, cleanse for a couple of days, or hike all day long over the weekend. Exercise can offset even the worst of meals. The key to everything is to find a balance that works for you between exercise, eating, and life.

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