What if I told you the MOST important factor of your diet isn’t calories?
We’ve KNOW that fat loss comes down to Calories In - Calories Out for decades.
But people are failing diets now MORE THAN EVER.
So what gives?
From my experience as a nutrition coach helping hundreds of clients transform their bodies, I’ve found there’s one factor more important than calories...
CHOOSING A NUTRITION STRATEGY YOU CAN SUSTAIN
This means we’re prioritizing adherence over everything else when it comes to creating your ideal diet when you start online coaching. Forget “most-optimal”.
→ The best macros are worthless if you won’t consistently track macros.
→ A low-carb diet will create MORE yo-yo dieting if you can’t see yourself giving up carbs long-term.
→ A high-carb diet will probably make your fat loss more challenging if you’ve found you prefer the keto lifestyle.
You get the idea.
I’ve built my nutrition coaching practice on the belief that there is no single “best” diet for everyone.
We’re all individuals, with different goals, preferences, lifestyles, cultures… and THOUSANDS of other factors that play into what foods make us feel best, and how the impact our bodies.
Thus, to allow you to follow your diet long enough to...
1. Achieve the body composition goals you set out for
2. Sustain said goals after the diet is over
...you MUST start by choosing a diet structure that actually fits you.
What does this look like?
Of course, it depends. I’ve helped online clients create dozens of different diet structures over the last 6 years, often created ON our initial strategy call, as you tell me about your unique goals and lifestyle.
BUT, I’ve found 3 diet structures that work for the MOST clients, and really cover the needs of most any demographic you could think of.
More likely than not, one of these diet structures is a great fit for you.
Diet Structure #1: The Handful Diet
The reality is, some people just hate the thought of tracking their food.
If tracking calories & macros is the ONLY diet structure you have in your toolbelt as a coach, a good chunk of your clients WON’T get nearly the results they could.
I’m a fan of tracking for many of my online clients.
But for some, it just doesn’t align with their goals or psychology.
For online clients like this, we’ll most often implement something called The Handful Diet.
The only measuring tool you’ll need is your hand.
So, unless you had an unfortunate run-in with an alligator during your time as a golf pro…
This diet is pretty easy for most to stick to.
Here’s How It Works
All your meals are based on portion sizes, measured out with your hands. Your hand size typically scales with your body size, so this works well no matter your dimensions.
You know what they say about guys with small hands… they eat smaller servings of protein on the Handful Diet.
Everyone’s needs will be a bit different — all we’re doing right now is establishing a baseline.
We typically start here for 3-4 meals:
→ Protein: 2 palm-sized portions.
→ Carbs: 1-2 cupped hand-sized portions (more around workouts, less further away)
→ Fats: 1-2 thumb-sized portions (less around workouts, more further away)
→ Veggies: 1-2 fist-sized portions.
As time goes on, and we watch how your body measurements, biofeedback, and training performance are impacted by your intake, we’ll add or subtract a serving of carbs or fats as needed.
Pros Of The Handful Diet:
→ Works Great For Beginners To Nutrition - For many clients that are brand new to nutrition, we can make HUGE steps forward simply by getting you focused on eating lots of whole, filling foods.
This is the concept of dietary displacement - we’re not even focusing on avoiding certain foods, just making sure that you incorporate the above strategies. If you were following a typical “western diet” of highly processed foods before, you’ll find yourself much MORE full and eating LESS calories than before, thanks to all the additional protein, fiber, and food volume you’re consuming.
→ No Tracking - Again, tracking just REALLY isn’t some clients cup of tea. And that’s ok!
→ Lifelong Application - No matter the situation, this diet teaches online clients how to identify which foods are a good source of each macronutrient, and understand appropriate portion-sizes for their goals.
Cons Of The Handful Diet:
→ Requires More Prep Work - One of the big positives of this diet, is the fact that it pushes you to eat a lot of single-ingredient whole foods. One of the cons, is also the fact that it’s harder to work in mixed ingredient foods (foods that are a mix of protein/carbs/fats). Mixed ingredient foods DO take a bit more checking the labels, and figuring out how to distribute your “handfuls”.
→ Less Flexibility - A BIG part of what makes your diet sustainable in the long-term, is your ability to make it work with social events, family gatherings, work trips, parties, etc.
Ever tried to measure a “handful” of beer?
My LEAST favorite thing about the Handful Diet, is the fact that it IS harder to make events like this work while staying 100% on track with your goals.
Often for clients that don’t want to track long-term, but want a good understanding of how to make social events work with their nutrition, we’ll START with The Handful Diet, transition to tracking calories + protein to create education around social events, and then transition BACK to the Handful Diet after you as a client feel competent.
→ Harder To Measure Accurately & Make Specific Adjustments - The reality is, your calorie intake on the handful diet is really just a ballpark estimate. The fact that you are measuring with your hands, instead of a food scale of measuring cup DOES leave a lot more room for measurement error.
Plus, there’s a lot of diversity of caloric density within the macro options. Two different “palm-sized” portions of protein could be VERY different calorically, depending on the protein source.
In my experience, The Handful Diet works well for clients that want to focus more on the “lifestyle” side of things, but NOT those that want the quickest results, or want to get extremely lean.
Diet Structure #2: Tracking Calories + Protein
As a coach, I love nerding out about all things nutrition and training.
I have to eat different macros daily to achieve 3% better results?
Yep. Sign me up.
One of the most beneficial things for my career and client results was the realization that I’m a little crazy, and MOST people don't think like this.
In fact, most people want to think about their food as little as possible.
If your goal is getting lean and confident, while also learning how to create a simple and sustainable lifestyle - we can get you great results by simply focusing on your overall calories and protein.
I feel confident prescribing this to online clients, in a big part thanks to the 2018 DIETFITS Study, which showed that there is no noticeable difference when it comes to fat loss when we compare a low-carb approach to a low-fat approach.
So basically, using this approach clients are using a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal.
When you start coaching, you’ll do a 3-5 day nutrition assessment - I’ll have you simply eat as you normally would.
I’ll have the ability to hop into your food diary. From your nutrition assessment, I’ll have a great idea of where we need to start you calorically to reach your goals (this allows your nutrition to be MUCH more accurate and fit to your individual needs than plugging your weight and height into an online calculator will ever be).
This assessment ALSO gives me a good idea of what nutrients your body needs more of for better health, how we can adjust you meal-timing for better training and recovery, and what foods could be ADDING to your current struggles.
From here, I’ll assign you a calorie and protein goal. Your only task is to hit both of these daily, from mostly whole foods. You DON’T need to worry about carbs & fats - just let ‘em fall where they may.
Pros Of Tracking Calories + Protein:
→ Flexible Lifestyle - This is one of my favorite approaches for those that REALLY want a flexible lifestyle, and enjoy going out for food & drinks more often. Having the “calorie budget” really allows me to teach you how to strategize where you’ll “spend” your calories for the day to make social events work, while still hitting you “budget goals” (calorie and protein targets).
The ability to actually find a diet that works WITH your lifestyle is what you’ve been missing in the past. In my experience as a coach, it’s the biggest thing most everyone that struggled to stick to a diet has been missing. So the way this approach allows us to educate you on how to make your nutrition (and a lean body) SUSTAINABLE is crazy beneficial.
→ Simple - While this approach generally DOES require clients to learn how to work more protein in to their day, it’s also pretty damn simple for most. There isn’t much of a learning curve here (much less than tracking all the macros), so most online clients are able to master this in the first week of the Prepare Phase.
→ RESULTS - This straight up works. As long as you are SUPER consistent (which is where the Daily Accountability Tracker all of my online clients fill out comes in to play), fat loss essentially becomes a simple math problem.
I have seen AMAZING client results with this approach.
→ Education - Another thing I love about having you as a client track your food in an app, is I can always hop into your food diary and use it as an educational tool.
You were struggling with cravings around 4pm all week?
I can check your food choices, and give you my exact recommendations for what I would change to make this a non-issue in the future.
This is 100X more effective than a meal plan, because it really helps me give you the knowledge of what a normal day in your life (not just one where you’re eating “strict” on a meal plan) needs to look like in order to SUSTAIN these results without me.
Cons Of Tracking Calories + Protein:
→ You Have To Track - Again, for some clients the idea of tracking all their food in an app just isn’t appealing.
→ Getting Too Flexible - One of the most common mistakes that comes with this approach, is the getting a bit too flexible with your food choices - basically, the urge to hit your calorie goal daily with lots of restaurant food, Pop Tarts, ice cream, and a few protein shakes.
Now, NONE of these foods are “bad”.
The problem is, eating foods that you didn’t cook always brings in room for error. You just have no way of knowing exactly what ingredients were used, or the exact portion-size. Like we’ve talked about, the ability to go out to eat is a big part of WHY this approach is sustainable. But when it becomes a daily habit, fat loss often stalls.
When food intake becomes mostly processed foods (e.g. pop tarts) you CAN still lose weight as long as you control calories. The problem is, the foods are literally designed to make you crave more, and just aren’t very filling. So controlling calories becomes MUCH harder.
Diet Structure #3: Tracking Macros
Finally, we have tracking macros.
Here, you’re assigned a target intake for the three macronutrients…
...with the goal of being within 10 grams of the protein and carb targets, and 5 grams of the fat target daily.
The process of tracking & assessing your intake, and establishing your targets is exactly like what I described for online clients that are tracking their calorie + protein intake.
Pros Of Tracking Macros:
→ Specificity - Macros do allow us to get VERY specific within your nutrition. This means they're a good idea for online clients that want very specific results (photoshoots, bodybuilding shows, etc.).
→ “Most Optimal”/Quickest Results - Like we’ve talked about, the “most optimal” approach really depends on what you’re able to adhere to. But, if you’re down to track all your macros, this allows us to optimize EVERYTHING - carbs, fats, specific nutrient-timing, refeeds - to achieve the best and QUICKEST results possible.
→ Education - Most of the coaches who start nutrition coaching with me to learn how to be better coaches themselves track macros. It really allows me to teach you how your body responds to each of the nutrients, how to optimally fuel your training and recovery, and how to adjust macros for satiety.
Cons Of Tracking Macros:
→ Tracking - Again you have to track. Here, you’re tracking MORE than Calories + protein. For most clients that are brand new to tracking, this ISN’T a good option.
→ Less Flexible - This is less flexible than Calories + Protein, because you now have specific carb & fat targets to hit. (Although often, I’ll give clients who want to track macros but also maintain a more flexible lifestyle one day per week with only a Calorie + Protein goal.) It DOES often take more planning. Really, this is about determining if you’re OK trading less flexibility for quicker results.
The reality is, ALL of these approaches take planning, preparation, and consistency. No one “wings it” on their way to success.
My online clients crush it, because they realize this, and put in the work REGARDLESS of which diet structure they choose.
There is now better time than RIGHT NOW to start getting your nutritional habits dialed in. Choose the method that best fits you, but you NEED structure. (And if you decide to track your food, check out THIS BLOG for a complete setup guide.)