Dieting without a Diet


The hardest part about starting a diet is knowing where to start.

There are an insane amount of gurus offering their secret programs and life hacks.  All they require is your email address to spam you intensely with science sounding phrases and blurb to confuse you into buying their thing.

Most people's perception of diets is a horrible and arduous task filled with special routines and colour coded days.  Some foods are bad, some are good. It's all very mysterious.

The truth is that starting an eating plan to lose weight can be very easy.

The method that universally works for all weight loss plans is to create a calorie deficit which means that you eat less calories from food than you expend from exercise and daily activity.

It's a very simple premise, but one that is completely over complicated by many people trying to make money from the lack of knowledge of nutrition of the majority of the population.

Let's break it down into the simple elements.

1. You need to eat less than you do currently

2. You need to move more than you do currently.

The combination of these factors will essentially burn the candle from both ends.

Eating less than you do currently

All we need for this is some kind of log of our eating.  This is where many people get tied up because they tend to be OK at logging their intake for a few days and then get bored and forget to do it consistently.  The result is that they present an inaccurate food diary to their coach (me).  This is one reason why I don't use food logging as a standard tool with clients.

Some clients will be meticulous about this process and as a result can see right away where their issues lie in their intake.

However, these are the minority of clients.  I'm incredibly bad myself at food logging and it's my job as a nutritionist to do that sort of stuff, so what hope do the majority of my clients who know very little about nutrition have?

Initially then we need to find a way of logging a food restriction without a full food log.

This is where the STAR Challenge comes in.

The STAR Challenge is a kind of reverse food log.  It logs what you DON'T eat.

Most people tend to eat similar stuff each day, they will have 1-2 breakfast options and then a similar lunch that they prepare or buy from a shop at lunch time.  Evening meals may vary but will generally rotate around 5-6 variables.

So if we think about simply taking OUT some of the regular items we will have created a calorie deficit right away, or at least less calories coming in than normal.

The STAR Challenge premise is very simple and all you need is a pen and paper.  You draw a grid with 7 'day' columns and 3 'Star' rows plus a 'steps' row.  This is illustrated below.

Once you have your sheet then all you need to do is restrict yourself by 3 things every day and log it in the sheet.  This is best done by printing it out and pinning it on your home noticeboard.  We respond well as humans to visual achievements and this is a daily motivator of your progress.

The restrictions don't have to be big, we aren't talking about taking our a meal.  To do so would be too impactful and that may push you back the other way to binge as you get hungry.  You aren't ready for that size of restriction right away.  

Instead look at small items such as reducing your portion of chips by half, having only one beer instead of two while watching the TV.  Don't have the biscuits with your cup of tea in the afternoon.  Stuff like that.

This accomplishes two crucial factors.

1. It gives you CHOICE in what you reduce.

When you decide how to make the change then it becomes incredibly empowering for you.  The control of your diet is in your hands and not someone telling you that you can't have something.

2. You will hardly notice the drop

It's something that you perceive that you can do without.  Therefore you are not likely to miss it that much.  You won't take out anything that you will miss greatly at this stage.

You continue this for a week and aim to take out 3 items per day leading to 3 stars.  However only getting one star is also good as it means you've restricted yourself in some way.  Some of my clients are happy starting small this way as they are still achieving something however small.

Once you've done this for a few weeks you'll already be starting to see changes on the scales and then your motivation will be high to go into a properly structured meal plan.

Then we come to....

Moving more than you do currently

On the STAR Challenge there is a slot for steps. Each day you should aim to beat your previous days total. This is very simple and effective as steps are a measure of your NEAT activity.

NEAT stands for 


Basically this is the energy that you burn moving around in the day.  Anything you do in the gym or scheduled exercise is, not surprisingly, called EAT.  Energy Activity Thermogenesis.

Your daily energy expenditure is made up of


RMR - Your Resting Metabolic Rate, what it costs to keep you alive

TEF - Thermic Effect of Food, the energy you burn digesting food.  This is about 10% of the calories that you ingest, eg. 2500 total calories in = 250 calories burned in digestion.

You can only really affect NEAT and EAT as the others are based on all the basic functions you need to live and so are pretty standard.

This is why NEAT is so important as it forms the majority of your daily movement calories.  Anything that you do in the gym is only for about an hour and so 1/24 of your day.  NEAT forms the other 23 hours and so maximising this output is key.

Moving around more, increasing your steps by small increments each day will have far reaching effects on your total calorie expenditure and help you increase the calorie deficit that the STAR challenge begins.

All of these methods require only 3 things

1. Pen
2. Paper
3. A step counter (most smart phones have this, and a lot of us have watches now that do it)

Therefore it's nothing that every single one of us can't start doing right now, everyday.

If you are not sure where to start dieting but have the desire to start losing weight then this will be the perfect beginning for you.  If you want some extra accountability then post your STAR chart on instagram and tag me in it @tomblackman_nutrition and use the hashtag #targetlean.  I'll make sure to follow up with you a few days later.

You can also take part in my free Target Lean Challenge Week where we walk you through the STAR Challenge and you can learn other techniques for good habits around losing body fat.

Good Luck

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