One simple rule for lazy dieters

Don’t feel like cutting grains and other modern foods out of your diet? Not big on exercising? Can’t be bothered to cook a single meal yourself? No problem, I’ve got you covered.

This rule won’t provide many of the benefits that you’d get from eliminating modern foods from your diet, intermittently fasting, or strength training and exercising, but if you can absolutely do nothing else, do this one thing:

Every time you eat (or drink), consume more protein than carbs

Ask yourself: What’s the point of eating? At the most basic level, you eat calories to fuel bodily functions and to avoid starvation. Most of us aren’t faced with starvation and therefore don’t have to choose between chewing leaves and dying from lack of food. That being the case, I recommend viewing the consumption of protein as the primary biological purpose of eating. Consuming protein should be your goal, and everything else should just come along for the ride. In short: The purpose of eating is to consume protein.

Here’s the deal: Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate, and Alcohol are the 4 macro-nutrients that are likely to comprise your food. Of these, Carbohydrate and Alcohol are completely non-essential. While bourbon is delicious, you don’t need alcohol and your body can manufacture plenty of glucose (carbohydrate) via a neat process called gluconeogenesis (literally, new sugar creation) from the protein and fat you consume. You could, in theory, eat a zero-carb diet indefinitely and be fine. Fat is also essential, but only in limited amounts. You could get by on just protein for quite sometime. Even trace amounts of fat with your protein would allow you to survive for a very long time. I’m not recommending a starvation diet at all, I am just pointing out that protein is the one macro you can’t cut out and so protein consumption emerges as the major biological purpose of eating.

Not only is protein the most essential macronutrient, it’s also the most satiating. Fat mildly satiates the appetite and carbohydrate increases it. Taking fat out of the equation, you can think of carbohydrate like an appetite accelerator and protein like an appetite brake. The idea is that if you’re braking more than you’re accelerating, you will slow down. When you have carbs, you typically want more calories; there is a reason restaurants bring you bread before you order. Protein, on the other hand, fills you up fast and is all but impossible to overeat. Most people who don’t engage in heavy strength training have a tough time eating more than 100g of protein per day, which is about the amount found in 1.25 pounds (20oz) of meat or a dozen eggs. The USDA recommended daily allowance for protein is a mere ~50-60g for adults. Let’s say someone eats double the USDA recommended daily protein allowance, eating 120g of protein per day. If they followed my one rule above, let’s look at what their day could look like:

120g protein = 480 calories
120g carbohydrate = 480 calories
100g fat = 900 calories

For a total of 1860 calories — a perfectly reasonable amount of food for your average joe (or jane). In my experience, you’d be hard-pressed to find a non-athlete who would not get stuffed consuming 120g of protein per day. To the contrary, I have struggled to get people I’ve trained in the past (especially girls) to consume that much protein. Most people simply aren’t used to it and have no idea how filling it is. If you follow no other guideline, simply consume more protein than carbs anytime you ingest calories. You can get away with simply eating more protein than carbs and just ignoring fat because it’s also difficult to eat pure fat. Most fat comes along with protein and carbs so as long as you keep your protein intake higher than your carb intake you will most certainly keep fat low as well. I eat quite a bit of fat by most people’s standards (butter on steak, anyone?) and my fat intake is rarely more than 100g in a day.

Does following this rule require a little bit of work, in terms of getting to know what foods contain how much protein and carbs? Yeah, it does. But it’s easier than anything else you’re going to do diet-wise. This is as easy as it gets, and if you pay any attention whatsoever to what you put in your body you should get the hang of this in a week or two. If you’re doing serious strength training or engaged in heavy exercise, this will likely not work for you. If you are a typical gym-goer who just does some cardio and basic weight-training on machines and bosu balls, this would be fine as you aren’t doing enough to require more nutrients. For your average joe office worker, this would work fine and would definitely keep you out of trouble.

Just to cover a few examples:
-Soda: Not OK. Don’t even think about it. Diet soda is OK occasionally with food. Not by itself.
-A Sandwich/Sub: Nope. Anywhere from 20g to 60g of carbs. Good luck finding that much meat on a sandwich.
-Wraps with lots of meat in them: probably a good substitute for a sandwich or sub as you might get 40-50g of protein and only 20g of carbs.
-Pretzels/chips/nuts: If you have a small amount with a big piece of chicken or steak, sure. By themselves as a “snack”? Nope.

Most restaurants provide pitiful amounts of meat in their dishes. If you get something like a chicken Caesar salad, you will invariably have to request double (or even triple) chicken. Keep this in mind when ordering at restaurants and try to stick to whole cuts of meat with defined sizes (e.g 8oz chicken breast, 6oz pork chops) and vegetable/carb accompaniments to meet the rule. You will have to lookup the carb content of a few things like fruits, vegetables, and anything else you eat and start to get a sense for how much volume contains how much carbohydrate and, of course, do the same for meat.

Remember: the point of eating is to consume protein. If you aren’t eating protein, you shouldn’t be eating. If you make a point to always eat protein when you eat and then always eat more protein than carbs, you will keep yourself out of trouble. What about drinking? Stick to liquor and sometimes wine — stay away from beer and sugary mixed drinks. For aspiring professionals, Martin Berkhan has some good advice about how to get drunk, not fat.

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