Let’s Talk Nutrition with Coach Mike

There is a lot more to say on nutrition than I can in one blog post, but if I were to pull out one tool that’s been the most useful and effective in helping me lose 60-lbs and keep it off for almost eight years now, it’s without question the concept of “disciplined flexibility.”

And it’s really nothing groundbreaking. It’s built around something you’ve all heard before: “everything is okay in moderation.” 

I’ve got two different approaches to this. One works best for weight loss and cutting and is more accessible for beginners. The other works better for maintenance, bulking, more liberating and sustainable long term, but it’s trickier to master.

The Structured Approach

The diet I followed when I lost 60-lbs in 2016 was very structured. Sunday through Thursday I ate from a restrictive list of foods. Meats, vegetables, healthy fats (usually almonds or avocados), and a bedtime snack of fruit were the only things allowed. I ate until I was full, but if it wasn’t on the approved list, I didn’t eat it. No wiggle room, period. 

The fun part is that Friday and Saturday night for dinner you could eat anything you want. Pizza, wings, ice cream, beer, you name it. I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, so I cannot attest to the validity of these claims, but the rationale put forth by Cory Gregory (the creator of the diet) was that by eating such a clean, strict diet during the week, those cheat meals created an anabolic response in the body that actually fueled muscle growth. The potential for such an anabolic response was also highlighted in a book called “The Anabolic Diet” by Dr. Mario DiPasquale, but like I said, I’m an accountant not a nutritionist, I don’t know enough to be able to tell you what’s BS and what’s not at that detailed of a level. 

What I did learn though is how valuable the structure was for me and how critical structured cheat meals were for keeping me on a plan.

I lost 60-lbs in a 7-8 month period and never gave up beer.

I never gave up pizza.

I never gave up ice cream.

I never gave up anything.

I simply restricted when I allowed myself to enjoy those things. Everything is okay in moderation. 

Disciplined flexibility.

The structure of the diet I followed is what made it work for me. The key ingredient was establishing a strict window of time where what I ate was no holds barred, nothing off limits. (For clarity, please do not conflate this to mean “gorge yourself on a weeks’ worth of food on one night”.)

If I wasn’t within that cheating window, I forced myself to be disciplined. For the entire duration of the period I was losing weight, I never cheated once when I wasn’t allowed to. I developed discipline and the ability to say no when junk food was easily accessible. 

I took no prisoners, made no exceptions. Outside of homemade desserts people would randomly bring into the office or social events that occurred during the week, I eventually found it to be relatively easy to stick to the plan. It sucked the first week or so, but once I settled in, I started noticing the weight melting off and more importantly, how good I felt. My mood was up. My energy was up. I wasn’t eating anything processed. Everything was whole food and my meals usually contained less than 5 ingredients. I became addicted to how good eating this way made me feel.

And it worked on both fronts. 

On my strict days, whenever I had a craving I’d just hold onto it. If I craved Chinese food on a Tuesday night, I’d just make myself wait until Friday and I’d full send it on all the crab rangoons and whatever else I had been craving since Tuesday. Because I waited until Friday when I was allowed to have it, that Chinese food felt earned and I never once felt guilty about it. 

On my cheat days, I’d get out of my system what I needed to and by the end would actually be excited to get back into my strict eating routine so I could get back to feeling how great it felt to eat clean.

I’ve tried hundreds of diets. I’ve counted macros. I’ve done Weight Watchers. I’ve tried Atkins. You name the diet, I’ve probably tried it. I failed them all five times over, but this one actually worked for me because it required me to develop discipline and rewarded me for it.

The Loosey Goosey Approach

Slowly overtime, the structure started to erode away. I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m trying to maintain where I’m at and fuel my body for the unnecessary amount of exercise I subject my body to. 

I followed the structured approach for so long that whole food became my default way of eating. I don’t really need to structure, because going right back to eating whole food after I have a cheat meal is almost automatic. I don’t really follow that strict of a diet anymore, but some of the key principles have continued to stick with me, liberated me from following diets, and became a sustainable lifestyle.

First, I took note of how good I felt when my diet primarily consisted of meats, vegetables, and healthy fats.I still focus most of my attention here, but I also incorporate a lot of other things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, some dairy, etc.  I eat fruit with every meal and not just as a bed time snack. The most important takeaway was how good the body feels when you fuel it with high quality whole food and cut out as much processed crap as possible. That addiction didn’t wear off, and thankfully, eating whole foods is perhaps the best thing on Earth you can become addicted to.

Secondly, I learned that if implemented sensibly, cheat meals are absolutely critical for me. Deep down, that young man that would drink a twelve pack of mountain dew every other day, eat pizza three times a week, and had no regard for health whatsoever is still in there. I can’t follow strict diets that do not build cheat meals into them because I need cheat meals to feel like a reward and not something that I should feel guilty about.

This difference is, now I pretty much cheat whenever I want. If I have a craving now, I almost always satisfy it. That’s the flexibility I’ve afforded myself, but the discipline comes in on those days before and after. If I have Tuesday night Chinese food, I make sure to clean it up on Wednesday and Thursday. Like I mentioned earlier, after a cheat meal I’d start looking forward to cleaning it up the next day. It’s the same concept now. I don’t punish myself for cheats or get down on myself when I do it, but it does disrupt how I feel physically and that’s usually enough to get me right back on track for another couple day stretch where I eat fairly clean. 

I would have never been able to incorporate this much flexibility when I was initially losing weight. I didn’t have the discipline then, but I do now. I cheat whenever I want, but I try to be conscious of not doing it multiple days in a row and keeping it still somewhat limited within the context of a week. I’m willing to say no when I need to, but I’ve developed enough control to where I don’t really have to say no that often.

I follow the loosey goosey approach pretty much year round now, but I’ll bring the structure back every once in a while in if I feel like things are getting out of hand or if I want to lean out a little before summer. 

I recommend most people start with a structured approach. Develop the discipline to say no. Experience how powerful it feels once you feel like you’re in control. 

Once you prove to yourself that you can do that and you reach more of a maintenence phase, it’s a tool that’s always in your back pocket. You can start to experiment with the loosey goosey approach and if you find that it’s not working or you start moving backwards from your goals, go right back to the structure.

Don’t expect it to be easy, but do expect your perspective to shift once you realize how relatively easy healthy living can be if you develop and practice disciplined flexibility.

Additional Resources:

Coach Erika – She is certified in nutrition and would love to help you build upon these concepts with more specific guidance tailored to you and your goals. If you want a 1on1 nutrition coach, talk to her!

Cory Gregory – I only shared the key concepts that stuck with me and not every detail of his diet. If you want access to the specific diet I followed in 2016 that inspired a lot of how I continue to eat and approach nutrition. It’s behind a paywall, but if you want to get the full scoop on it you can find it there. I don’t think its perfect, which is why I’ve evolved it as time went on, but it was a great starting point for me. Cory is super charismatic and fun to listen to. www.corygfitness.com

-Coach Mike