With so much uncertainty around us, you’d be forgiven for putting your health and fitness goals on the backburner. Right now, you should be eating in a way to serve you best. And what serves YOU best might be different from everyone else.

You might be really struggling with this isolation. You miss your family and friends. You lost your job. It’s tough right now. It might not the time to be worrying about how many calories you’re eating. 

I mean, I think this was all of us the first few days of isolation..

Focusing on staying as healthy and happy as you can might be your best option. Or, this might be the perfect opportunity to get in shape. You’ve got more time on your hands. You’re not that stressed. Things are good… Well, as good as they can be.

So, if you are looking to stay in shape or get in even better shape during this isolation period; what should your eating look like?

First of all, your eating should reflect your goals.

If you want to lose fat, you need to eat less.
If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat more.
If you want to ‘tone up’, you can get away with eating the same amount, just change up the quality.

That’s the first step – quality food. You’re at your healthiest when you eat quality foods. And goals are easier to achieve when you’re at your healthiest. Try to make the majority of your food whole, unprocessed foods.

What does this look like? 

It means you’ll be eating:

  • Lean meats
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Healthy fats like oils and avocado

You’ll also want to minimise the amount of packaged foods you eat. Think about it. What foods do we over-consume?

Chips, cookies, pasta, lollies. The foods that come in packages and are heavily processed are quite often doing us the most damage. Limit your intake of these foods and you’re off to a great start.

You also need to adjust your food intake. If you’re no longer working you need to make up the difference in activity somewhere. Particularly if you’re no longer training because the gym’s have closed. Let’s say you were working 9-5 and going to the gym after work 3 days per week before all this. If you’re no longer doing that, you’re burning less energy now.

If you’re burning less energy but consuming the same amount as before, you’ll be putting on fat. I’d definitely recommend starting an at-home training program. You’ll also benefit from reducing your food intake to accommodate the change in calorie burn.

When it comes down to it, if you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, you’re going to lose weight. You need to tip the scales in your favour – quite literally.

Quality food helps with reducing your calorie intake dramatically. Researchers found eating a diet of unprocessed foods reduces your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day. If you eat processed foods, you’ll eat 500 calories MORE per day [1].

While you don’t always have to count calories to lose weight, your calories always count. If you’re looking to lose weight, try reducing your calorie intake by 10-15%. If you want to gain muscle, try bumping your calories up by about 20%.

What does a 10-15% reduction in food look like?

If you’re counting calories, here’s the best way to do it:

Take your daily calorie count for the last 14 days and add it all up. Now divide that total number by 14. That gives you your average daily calorie intake. If your weight has stayed roughly the same within the last 2 weeks, we can predict that this is your maintenance calorie number. This means that you won’t lose fat or gain fat eating this way.

All you need to do now is multiply that number (your daily calorie number) by .9 for a 10% reduction, or .85 for a 15% reduction.

For example, your daily calorie intake is 1800. Multiply 1800 by .85. That equals 1530. Your new calorie target is anywhere from 1450-1600 calories. Use a range to give yourself a little wiggle room.

If you stick to this number for a couple weeks, you should see some fat loss. If not, try dropping your calories by an extra 5-10%. I wouldn’t go much lower than that, though.

What if you don’t track your food?

You can still reduce your food intake and get great results. Try reducing portion sizes. A great guide for portion control is Precision Nutrition’s hand-size chart.

Source: Precision Nutrition

Your palm determines your protein portions. Your fist determines your veggies. You can use your cupped hand for your carb source. And your thumb determines your fat portions.

They recommend a great starting point to be this:

For men –

  • 2 palms of protein dense foods
  • 2 fists of vegetables
  • 2 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 2 thumbs of fat dense foods

 

For women –

  • 1 palm of protein dense foods
  • 1 fist of vegetables
  • 1 cupped handful of carb dense foods
  • 1 thumb of fat dense foods

 

Eat 4 meals of that makeup per day and you’re good to go.
It’s important to note though, these are general guidelines and may not be appropriate for everyone. You may need more or less food depending on your daily activity, muscle mass and many other factors.

The point is, you can manage your portion sizes without counting calories. If you measure out a typical day of food with your hands and it turns out you’re eating double the recommended amount, try cutting it back. Don’t cut it in half and starve yourself, try reducing it slightly and keep an eye on your results.

The same thing applies to muscle gain. If you want to increase your calories by 20% you can multiply your daily calorie intake by 1.2. If you’re not tracking, you can try adding in an extra portion or 2 of each food category mentioned above. Protein is particularly important here. A lot of people under-consume protein as it is. It’s especially important to get enough protein when trying to build muscle.

Either way, something has to change during this isolation. Eating the same way as before will not only mean you stay the same, it could mean going backwards.

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