the joy of strength training


October 10th, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Dieting rules of thumb

» by in: diet


diet food
Photo by trekkyandy

Whichever diet you are on, whether it is one you have devised yourself or one from a book, there are quite a few things you can do to increase your chances of success.

I call them rules of thumb because they are:

– not specific to any one diet;

– easy to remember;

– things that you can turn into habits not just something you do for 2 weeks before your summer holiday.

I’ve tried all of these while dieting and find them really helpful. I believe it is these small things that make the difference between making your calorie target and not.

Rule 1: Don’t give up what you like completely.

It’ll make you feel very virtuous for about five minutes but after that you’ll feel miserable and resentful and start sneaking behind your own back to get some. You want to eat better for the rest of your life, not just see how long you can go without your favourite thing.

Rule 2: If you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll buy that huge bar of chocolate but make it last a month”. Three-time World Ironman Champion Peter Reid takes this rule to extremes: always keen to be as light as possible for his endurance event, when dieting he would literally only buy enough food for one meal at a time. So there was never anything in the fridge, never anything in the cupboards to tempt him.

Rule 3: Out of sight, out of mind.

Food has a very strong visual attraction and the mere sight of food can make us want to eat. I suffer from this one in particular. Simply catching sight of a tin of biscuits makes me want to have some. So I put food away in cupboards out of sight. Buffets are a nightmare because everything is laid out in front of you. You just have to be prepared and exercise some self control.

Rule 4: Stay hydrated.

Often when you think you are hungry, you are actually just a bit thirsty. Have a drink of water or a cup of tea first and see if that deals with the hungry feeling.

Rule 5: Take your own lunch to work.

It is normally the meal we have the least control over because we are not at home. It’s also the meal that British people in particular seem to be most careless about. We rush out and grab something random from the nearest sandwich shop (or Cornish pasty shop, where I live!) without thinking about what’s in it. Making your own lunch gives you complete control over how many calories goes into it and you also save a lot of money each week. Bonus!

Rule 6: Distract yourself.

A lot of people (me included!) eat when they are bored or doing something very passive like watching TV. So avoid this situation by getting involved in other things. Now’s the time to take up that new hobby or pastime that will get you out of the house (and away from the biscuit tin).

Rule 7: Have smaller portions.

Rather than denying yourself all the foods you like, just have less of them. The only thing you don’t have to have smaller portions of is vegetables. In fact, you can use these to fill you up. It really works, especially if you eat most or all of the vegetables before you eat the other elements of the meal.

Rule 8: Go to bed early.

It is a great way to avoid late night snacking – plus your body will benefit enormously from the extra rest. Another good trick to avoid eating late at night is to brush your teeth after you have had your evening meal. This makes you feel a lot less like eating. Oh, and don’t have a blog either – it will keep you up till all hours!!

Rule 9: Count your calories.

This is the safest way to diet. If you religiously count everything you eat, you know for a fact that the ginger biscuit you want to have with your tea is going to take you over your target for the day. If you don’t know this, it is all too easy to think, “It’s only a little biscuit, it won’t matter”. But if you did that every day for a week, the calories would mount up. By the same token, you don’t want to undereat because you’ll just get tired and grumpy and eventually want to give up the diet. Eating as little as possible is not the way forward.

Rule 10: Avoid marketed ‘diet’ foods.

They are expensive, not very nice and they generally don’t work. What you need is proper food, just less of it. You need to make better food choices and have a grasp of the calorie and nutrient content of foods. Diet foods take that ability away from you. They also use all sort of synthetic methods to replicate the taste and sensation of high-calorie foods, rather than getting your palate used to the clean, fresh taste of healthy food.

Whichever diet you are following, these simple rules can be applied. But the most important advice is to take an interest in food and learn about its nutritional value. Dieting is only difficult when we don’t know what to look for, and this is precisely the confusion that companies exploit when they claim to produce food products that will help you diet. Find out for yourself and you won’t need them.

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  • 1

    Another practical, down to earth list to help people achieve their diet objectives! Let me add two methods, which could also support this effort.

    1. Eat salads, vegetables or fruits, which have a high fiber content, together with nutritional value. This way one achieves a filling sense which helps avoid eating more.

    2. Have always (at home, at the gym, or anywhere else), healthy snacks, which will let someone eschew the trap of the high-carbo-easy-to-find-everywhere poison. Of course then you have to discover your own favourite nutritious snacks, which is a difficult challenge, but eventually will let you pass by the hunger attack unscathed and well fed!

    Keep lifting, keep blasting!

    Demetre on October 11th, 2008
  • 2

    Excellent points, thanks Demetre!

    On the second point, it can be quite hard to find something that is snackable, not too carby and easy to carry around. I am a big fan of boiled eggs as a snack. Together with an apple and a handful of almonds, you have a filling, balanced snack that won’t leak in your bag!

    gubernatrix on October 12th, 2008
  • 3

    I don’t think being careless about lunch is exclusively a British trait. We Americans aren’t exactly adverse to hitting the junk at noon time either. lol

    MonkeyMan on October 13th, 2008
  • 4

    I definitely agree on not having “bad” food in the house to tempt you but that’s not always possible when you co-habitate. If I find myself getting a tan from the fridge light I count to 5 before opening whatever is in my hand. It gives me a chance to break the food hypnosis that I sometimes suffer from.

    If that doesn’t work. I’ve been known to do 10 push-ups. Sometimes the exercise reminds me why I’m not eating junk all day.

    MattM on October 15th, 2008
  • 5

    I like the push-ups idea. Wonder what people would think if I did that at work before rummaging in my desk drawer for food…?

    gubernatrix on October 17th, 2008
  • 6

    It depends…Do they already think you’re a bit nuts?
    If so, then it probably wouldn’t phase them too much. lol

    MonkeyMan on October 21st, 2008
  • 7

    Good point, well made 😉

    gubernatrix on October 21st, 2008
  • 8

    […] Dieting rules of thumb […]

  • 9

    […] Dieting rules of thumb […]

  • 10

    […] Dieting rules of thumb […]

  • 11

    Good idea for a post. I’ll write one!

    gubernatrix on June 21st, 2010
  • 12

    […] Dieting rules of thumb Staying focussed over Christmas What’s your food personality? […]

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    […] Dieting rules of thumb Staying focussed over Christmas What’s your food personality? […]

  • 14

    Hi Sophie,

    All foods are “diet” foods, depending on what you’re looking for (living off junk food is also a diet, but not one that anyone would recommend). My point: in stead of looking at food in a negative way, calling it diet food, try looking at food in a way that is positive, giving your body fuel and your tastebuds something real to taste.
    It will make your food choices easier and your mind happier knowing that you’re not denying yourself by dieting, but giving your body what it needs and truly wants.
    For a good list and some more useful information on nutrition, next to what Gubes is listing, try

    Lieke on July 19th, 2010


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