How to stay lean and eat whatever you want

I remember starting my very first diet. I was about 15, had placed last out of 120 students in my primary school cross-country and was the 3rd fattest student at my secondary school:

I planned out all my calories, calculated for a deficit and excitedly returned home with spinach, eggs and tuna.

Like 99% of everyone, I stuck with my diet for approximately 6 days…and then the cravings kicked in. Eventually the explicit hallucinations of the colonel, dancing with bikini-clad chicken fillets dripping in half-melted Ben & Jerry’s, wore down my willpower…and before I knew it I had finished everything in the fridge, three buckets of Kentucky fried goodness and two pots of cookie dough ice cream (I used to microwave them and drink them).

The next day I woke up. I breathed deeply before stepping on the scales, praying that the laws of energy conservation had been temporarily suspended so my fat arse could preserve the 0.7kg it had so proudly lost last week.

Obviously my prayers didn’t work and a few days on my weight had regressed to its mean.

“Great job, you fat f*ck.”

A few weeks later I tried again…and again…and again…but by the time I graduated university I had conceded that this weight loss malarkey wasn’t for me – I just couldn’t be “consistent enough”.

Then in 2017, my overeating peaked. I was living in a council flat, working 24 hours a day and surrounded by junk food…it didn’t take long till I had swollen into a giant human-elephant hybrid at 27% body fat.

I knew another diet wouldn’t help so I hired a super-talented trainer to train me every day and cook all my food for me. This guaranteed my consistency and the results were insane:

24kg of fat loss, 6kg of muscle gain and the six pack I’d always wanted – in less than 6 months.

But soon after it was back to reality. Friends, dates, two companies and three jobs – life got very busy and without my trainer to keep me accountable, I slowly felt myself regressing.

In the 6 months that followed, I struggled to stay in shape. And I thought it would always be like that – a constant struggle just to maintain a healthy body-weight and athletic physique.

But in the last year, I’ve completely debunked this myth and found 6 strategies you can use to stay lean and eat whatever you want.

Last week, for instance, I went to a new restaurant every day and out for cocktails every other day…and yet here I am, at 12% body fat and almost a pound lighter than the week before, as I cut down for summer abs.

Here we go:

1. Fasting

Harvard’s leading anti-ageing scientist recently discussed how fasting is his no. 1 tool for life extension – but here I’ll discuss fasting solely as a tool for weight loss/maintenance.

I employ two methods of fasting:

Firstly, intermittent fasting. I skip breakfast, start eating at approximately 3pm, and usually finish my final calories at 9pm (or 11pm if I’m out). I do this everyday.

It’s hard at first because, if you’re used to eating breakfast, ghrelin (the hunger hormone, the one that makes your tummy rumble) will spike at breakfast time, to remind you to eat. But after a couple weeks of breakfast-skipping, the mischievous ghrelin hormone will have learnt to spike at 3pm instead (your new eating time) and your morning pangs of hunger will be gone.

3pm is perhaps a little late as a start time for the average 9-5er, but try gradually pushing the time at which you eat your first meal later and later into the day. The goal is really just to get to lunch time.

(NB: For anyone who still thinks you’ll die if you don’t eat breakfast, I strongly recommend reading this.)

Because you’re now eating so much later into the day, you only really have time for two meals: lunch and dinner. If you can opt for a light but filling lunch like this (450 kcal, 70g of protein and loaded with greens)…

…you’re left with an unbelievable 2050+ calories to indulge in for dinner (based on the average man’s 2500 kcal RDA).

So while the average dieter is at home miserably chewing on sticks of celery watching Coronation street, you can ball out to Wild Rice London and enjoy their giant prawn special:

What I love most about intermittent fasting is that you don’t have to think about it. It’s so unlikely your one meal dinner will exceed your remaining 2050 kcal, you really can eat whatever you want…and that takes out the hardest part of dieting: restriction.

(NB: I’m definitely not suggesting you eat junk food for dinner. I personally try to stick to more Asian restaurants because the nature of cuisine is generally healthier. That said, even the occasional McDonald’s dinner is better than over-restricting yourself, only to give into a weekend-long craving binge.)

The second type of fasting I use is the prolonged fast. This is when I fast for 24 hours or more (my record is 84 hours without food). The main benefits here are to your immune system and life expectancy but this can also be an effective way to offset a particularly calorie-intensive weekend or break fast-food/sugar addictions.

2. Inclusion vs. Exclusion

As aforementioned, the hardest part of dieting is restriction. When you tell your brain it cannot have sugar, it will start craving sugar.

Ben Greenfield, and many other top-of-their-game nutritionists, therefore recommend inclusion over exclusion.

Instead of excluding sugar or KFC, try including vegetables, lean proteins and other healthier high-satiety-index foods first!

For instance, when it gets to 3pm and for whatever reason I’m craving KFC, I DO NOT tell myself I can’t have the KFC. Why? Because that is a restriction…and psychologically, the brain f*cking hates restrictions – especially restrictions on its food, and doubly especially on high-calorie foods which were essential for survival in the caveman days.

Instead of excluding the KFC from my diet, I first include a smoothie filled with protein, leafy greens and other high-satiety-index foods (all of which have been shown to suppress hunger).

Once I’ve had the smoothie, I am still allowed to eat the KFC. But guess what? I’m too full.

If you’re hungry, you just need some food. You do not need KFC, or a doughnut or any other junk your brain might lead you to believe is necessary for survival.

So, instead of cruelly telling your brain it can’t eat what it wants (an instruction which runs perpendicular to its evolutionary programming), just tell your brain it needs to wait: first, we’re going to include some healthy, satiating food…if still hungry afterwards, we can move onto the naughty stuff. 9/10 times, though, you’ll be too full.

3. Slow chewing

This was the game-changer for me.

It’s well-known that the stomach requires 20 minute to “feel full”. But for a habitual overeater like me, my stomach never got that 20 minutes.

I realised the error of my ways when my petite, extremely European ex-girlfriend treated me to a fine French dinner.

We sat down. She blinked. The food was gone.

“WTF are you doing!? You can’t eat that fast!”

For the next hour she lectured me on how to eat “like a French person”.

“First, you must appreciate the food. You must smell it, see it, fantasise about it. Only then can you even begin to think about putting it in your mouth.”

Over the next few weeks with her, I developed “slow chewing”. The practice of eating your food really f*cking slowly – and loving it.

The upshot of it is the following:

  • Use small cutlery
  • Before the first bite:
    • Smell the food
    • Imagine how good it’s going to taste
    • Be grateful for it
  • Taking the first bite:
    • Put as small a bite as possible on your folk/spoon (still big enough to enjoy all the flavours, though)
    • Bring the bite to your nose and inhale
    • Slowly open your mouth, and rest the food on your tongue
    • Finally, you can bite
  • Chewing:
    • Chew slowly
    • Aim for 10-15 chews before swallowing
    • Roll the food around your mouth
    • When first starting out: chew as much as possible before swallowing
  • The second bite:
    • Don’t rush it
    • Put the cutlery down
    • Talk to the other guests
    • Then pick the cutlery up, slowly
    • And slowly proceed to the second bite, much like the first

It’s really quite beautiful. Never before have I appreciated the flavours or aesthetics of food like this.

Not only does slow chewing give your stomach enough time to “feel full”, it also tricks the brain into thinking it’s not hungry.

If you eat fast, your brain thinks you’ve been starving, and eats more.

If you eat slow, your brain thinks you’ve been well-fed, there’s no scarcity of food, so eats less.

Slowly does it.

Summary

So, in summary, to eat whatever you want and lose weight/stay in shape:

  1. Fast: intermittently, or over prolonged intervals (if you’re trying to get out of a negative spiral)
  2. Inclusion: don’t restrict/exclude foods…instead, just include high-satiety foods (lean protein, greens etc.) first, so you get full before you have the chance to eat the junk stuff
  3. Slow chewing: eat slowly and mindfully

Enjoy!


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