**This post was originally an email to my newsletter. If you like this, you’d love my newsletter. You can sign up here.**
I had an epiphany recently.
It happened while eating lunch with my “normal,” non-fitness friend at our favorite high-end establishment: Chick-Fil-A.
It was his turn to order.
“Let me get the fried chicken sandwich, with fries, a sweet tea, and a cookie. Extra Chick-Fil-A sauce.”
I went next.
“Let me get the fried chicken sandwich, lettuce and tomato on that, with a large fruit cup as my side, an extra 6-piece grilled chicken nuggets, and a large Diet Dr. Pepper.”
He smiled, “All about the balance, huh?”
I chuckled, then told him, “It’s my ‘Healthy-Unhealthy Rule’ I made up. Any time I get something less nutritious, like a fried chicken sandwich, I gotta pair it with something more nutritious, like a large fruit cup.”
But what I didn’t tell him was everything else I considered in my head before ordering.
- For breakfast, all I had was a protein shake and a handful of blueberries (which was low in fat and low in total calories)
- This was my pre-workout meal for the lift I had planned in about two hours from now
- I knew we would be eating a big dinner at a delicious steakhouse (which would be higher in fat/calories)
Then it hit me: I took this thought process for granted. I’d been making decisions and creating “rules” like this for years, with myself and 1:1 coaching clients, but hadn’t written it out.
Well, today that changes. I’m gonna share some of my best stuff with you⏤this is the good shit.
The whole process I’ve coined “Stealth Dieting”.
And, ideally, you won’t need to become a Registered Dietitian or have almost a decade of experience in the fitness industry to figure it out.
Let’s get into it.
Stealth Dieting 101
The goal: To discretely stay “on track” with our fitness goals without limiting fun.
We don’t want to be “that guy/girl” who has to bring their own food, inconvenience others, or annoy the waiter with their special requests. But we also know that getting results comes from consistency. We still care about our goals. So saying “fuck it” all the time won’t cut it for us.
Stealth Dieting is the solution to finding this balance. It’s an art and a science. So I’m going to lay out the pieces for you, but you have to put them together on your own.
TIP #1: MANAGE EXPECTATIONS FIRST, ALWAYS.
A coaching client asked me how to know when they’re “overeating” or if they’re just simply… enjoying a meal. When they’re dieting, when is it “right” or “wrong” to have that burger and fries they’ve been craving? Or enjoy that dinner with friends?
I emailed them back and said there’s two ways I look at meals:
1. Priority = Fat Loss/Muscle Gain/Health
I only see it as overeating if your “goal” for that meal is to stay on track with your diet because fat loss/health is a higher priority to you in that moment. Therefore, you’d be “overeating” simply because you had a calorie goal you wanted to hit, but this meal pushed you over. It’s not good or bad, it’s just what happened, objectively.
2. Priority = Enjoyment/Life Satisfaction
I don’t think it’s overeating if your goal is to enjoy the life experience of eating that meal with friends/S.O.. Then it’s just simply… eating. YOU decided that fat loss isn’t as important to you for this meal, and that’s ok, so you shouldn’t feel guilty because you did what YOU thought was most important.
So give yourself permission to commit to one, but neither are “right” or “wrong.” The whole point is to make sure it’s a conscious choice, not an impulsive one.
If you don’t manage expectations first, you can’t know the appropriate next step(s).
TIP #2: BALANCE YOUR CALORIES AROUND WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT
Using my Chick-Fil-A example above, my most important meal/event for the day was dinner. Knowing this, I crafted my other food and exercise decisions around maximum enjoyment for that meal (I chose priority #2).
Since I knew most of my calories were coming from dinner, it made sense to eat fewer calories in earlier meals to balance things out.
This is important: I’m not advocating starving yourself until dinner. I still want you to listen to your hunger, but the way you do that will be with less “calorie dense” options. Higher protein, higher fiber, and lower in fat will be preferred here (which I’ll touch on next).
Here’s an example:
To take this a step further, you can stretch this same logic out to an entire week.
If you know you’re going to have a weekend filled of gluttony, why not be proactive in the days leading up to it? Again, I’m not recommending extreme deprivation, but it makes sense to do some planning ahead.
One way of doing this is by using a weekly calorie budget. This is a life saver for my clients who enjoy a more flexible approach on the weekend.
Here’s an example of how it could work:
TIP #3: Emphasize PROTEIN, FIBER, LOW-FAT Foods
One of the first things I tell clients when they’re trying to navigate any social situation is “When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a big piece of meat and vegetables.”
If you don’t know/don’t care about calories, you can guarantee a good food choice by biasing a high protein, higher fiber, and low-fat meal. These meals will inherently keep your calories in-check because fiber and protein are the most satiating qualities in a meal. It’ll keep you fuller for longer.
I recommend going lower in fat not because fat is bad (it’s necessary), but because it’s the most calorie dense macronutrient⏤it has 9 calories per gram, whereas proteins and carbs have 4 calories per gram. By default, you can eat more than twice as many carbs and proteins as you can fat.
Take a look at the “Day of Eating Out” example above. Notice how every meal (except dinner) is centered around these three things.
An easy way to implement this is by asking yourself this question before every meal: “What’s my protein source and what’s my fiber source?”
If you have each of those covered, you should be in good shape.
TIP #4: THE GOAL IS “GOOD ENOUGH,” not perfect
Think again about my Chick-Fil-A order: fried chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato, large fruit cup, 6-piece grilled chicken nuggets, and a large Diet Dr. Pepper.
Why didn’t I choose a grilled chicken sandwich instead? It’s lower fat/calories, right?
Yeah… but I wanted the fried one. I love their fried chicken and I care more about enjoying that than making the “optimal” fat loss choice. (This plays back into tip #1 about managing expectations.)
I also know that “good enough” most of the time will get me much better results than “perfect” only some of the time.
APPLICATION: Stealth Dieting In Real Life
I’m getting tired of writing and this article is getting fairly long, so I’m gonna make these rapid fire.
SOCIAL SITUATION: RESTAURANTS
- Expectations: is this a fat loss meal or a life satisfaction/enjoyment meal? Have you been making slow progress lately? If yes, maybe you should consider making it a fat loss meal. If no, enjoy freely. Just make sure to commit BEFORE getting to the restaurant.
- Balance calories: how’s your eating been the rest of the day? Have you ate like an asshole? If yes, maybe you should keep this meal in check. If you’ve ate well and planned ahead like above, you know what to do.
- Protein, fiber, low fat: Let’s say you’re getting Chipotle. Maybe you should get double meat and skip out on the cheese, guac, sour cream, and chips (Or don’t! But accept the consequences of that.). Yes, the rice is fine. At a sit down restaurant? When in doubt…
- “Good enough”: What if you got the chicken tenders and a side salad instead of fries? Remember the Healthy-Unhealthy Rule. Or, if you wanna eat like an asshole, that’s fine⏤it’s like that sometimes. Just promise yourself that you’ll get back on track at your very next meal (not on Monday).
Random Restaurant Tips
- Don’t go to a restaurant ravenously hungry because you’ll use self-restraint 0/10 times. Aim for a 4/10 on the hunger scale, 1 being ravenously hungry. Have half a protein shake or a few unsalted nuts to hold you over until you eat.
- Limit or avoid bread and chips served before the meal.
- Look at the calories online before you go and see if you can find at least 2 healthy-ish options to choose from. Make sure you have 100% clarity before ever sitting down or else you’ll bail on your plan.
- Focus on having fun with your company, and actually try to savor the food. Don’t rush. Be mindful of how quickly you’re eating and how much food each bite contains.
- Put down the phone.
- Put your utensil down between each bite while you chew. Taking a small sip of water between every one or two bites can help.
- Have your salad dressing on the side and dip your fork in the dressing *first*, then pick up your food to eat. This limits how much dressing you use, but you still get some with each bite.
- When in doubt, order a big piece of lean meat (or possibly a lean steak or salmon) and veggies. Be cautious of oils, and always overestimate your calorie intake for the dinner to provide a margin of error in case it’s not completely accurate.
- Finish your meal at a 7/10 on the hunger scale, 10 being uncomfortably full.
SOCIAL SITUATION: BAR
I’ve had some experience here, so I’m happy to share these with you. I can promise you won’t find this shit anywhere else on the Internet.
- “Pre-game” before going out to save money and limit unnecessary calories (if people buy you a sugary shot at the bar, you don’t decline).
- First, check out this post as it will give you a quick rundown of how to approach it. I’ve also made this video that can help, too.
- Alcohol (ethanol) DOES contain calories — 7 calories per gram (this is why you should opt for hard liquor and zero kcal mixers to minimize extra kcals). If you drink too much, it can cause fat gain just like other foods/calories can. That being said, the calories from alcohol aren’t inherently fattening by themselves. In most food data bases, you can just type in the type of alcohol you’re drinking, select the serving size, and it’ll be pretty close. All you have to do is fit those drinks into your daily calorie total and you’re good to go!
- The body sees alcohol as a toxin and tries to get rid of it immediately, so it will try to metabolize it first before any other macronutrients. Meaning, it’s typically the foods you eat AFTER you drink (eg 2am pizza) that contribute most of your fat gain, especially because that food is mostly “sitting around” waiting for the alcohol to be metabolized first.
- Having a post-drink meal ready upon returning home to avoid late night binges. My go-to is having a deli meat sandwich (honey whole wheat bread, turkey, cheese, spinach, tomato) pre-prepared in a plastic baggie, along with baked chips, a Powerade Zero, and some fruit.
- Balance calories throughout the day by eating quality protein, veggies, and fruit (low calorie/nutrient dense options) only leading up to the night of drinking. (Covered above.)
- “Healthy” alcohol would be just straight liquors because you’re maximizing drunkenness on fewest amount of calories. For me, this would be either bourbon on the rocks, or bourbon and Diet Coke (zero calorie mixers are fine!). Avoid sugary mixers. This website is pretty neat for exploring “healthier” options: http://www.getdrunknotfat.com
- Lastly, alcohol in light to moderate doses IS associated with longer lifespans. So, that’s pretty amazing. NOTE: “moderate” means 9 units per week for women and 12-14 units a week for men, with no single event exceeding 4 units. A unit is typically 12 oz of 5% beer, 5 oz 12.5% wine, or 1.5 oz of drinks with a higher (40%) alcohol content.
SOCIAL SITUATION: VACATION/BEACH TRIP
Whattya know, I made an entire article on this topic specifically. You can read it here.
SOCIAL SITUATION: EATING WITH FAMILY (WHO ISN’T DIETING)
This one is all about the details.
Here’s a quick example: Taco Night
- You choose chicken over fattier beef
- You use low fat shredded cheese
- You double up on veggies
- You avoid sour cream and sauces, but opt for a small portion of avocado
- You use a whole wheat wrap/shell
- You use baked chips
These minor manipulations can save you hundreds of calories without ruining a delicious meal with loved ones.
More examples and explanations here:
What to do next:
Bookmark this page.
Send it to a friend who’d find it useful.
If you really liked it, it’d mean a lot for you to share your favorite part on social media.
Most importantly, use it to make your life just a bit better and this whole dieting thing a bit simpler.
Appreciate you reading.
P.S. This post was originally an email to my newsletter. If you like this, you’d love my newsletter. You can sign up here or drop your email in the pretty box below.