When it comes to losing fat and gaining lean mass, nutrition is key. Weights and crunches alone won’t get you to a beach body, a slimmer waistline, defined arms or bum… whatever your fitness goal may be. Those results you dream of will only happen through a combination of training and well thought-out meals.
So it’s crucial that you know what makes a meal so dirty it can make you gain fat immediately. This is what I’m going to share with you today. Better yet, I’ll show you how you can improve a meal by doubling down on the good choices you’re already making – no need to add kale to your diet if you hate it! Small tweaks here and there will make all the difference, because we’re in it for the long run – for the results that will last.
Below you’ll find 5 real photos of meals submitted by my clients (who consented that I share them with you). I analysed their meals pointing out the good stuff, the bad stuff and the downright ugly you want to avoid. I also explained how each meal can be improved further to make you into a fat-burning machine.
[Meal 1, Client A] Breakfast: Sweet potatoes, eggs and bacon
You might think this is a healthy breakfast combo compared to sugar-loaded cereal. In a way it is: there’s a clear intent to have a balanced and healthy meal here. However, what concerns me is that the macronutrient ratios of this meal are completely skewed. Remember that having a balanced meal means not just counting calories but also making sure you get the right amounts of macronutrients (i.e. fat, protein and carbohydrates) in every meal. This makes the difference between losing weight and gaining it.
Includes whole eggs (protein and good fats) and sweet potatoes (complex, low GI carbohydrates).
No leafy greens. Sweet potatoes alone won’t do the trick to ensure wholesome nutrition, a healthy gut and overall wellness.
Macronutrient ratios: the majority of this meal is protein. There’s very little fat and carbohydrates. High amounts of protein can be pro-inflammatory. While lots of protein might seem desirable if you’re a bodybuilder, those who want to lose weight sustainably should be cautious of its negative effects like stomach distress, indigestion, etc.
How to upgrade:
Leafy greens should take as much place on the plate as eggs and bacon do now. Eggs, bacon and sweet potatoes should then be reduced to fill the rest of the space in approx. similar amount. Seasoning eggs with turmeric and black pepper will also make this meal more anti-inflammatory, supporting your overall health and wellness.
[Meal 2, Client A] Lunch: Fried salmon, leafy greens and rice
Well, this is much better. Leafy greens now take up more space on the plate and the macronutrient ratio (in particular carbohydrates and protein ratio) is improved. Both make this a good choice for a light lunch that won’t drag your mental or physical performance afterwards. Sounds almost perfect… almost.
Salmon (especially wild caught) is always a great option for adding protein and good fats (essential fatty acids and omega 3s) to your diet. Leafy greens make even the worst meals great – this is the amount you should be looking for in every single meal!
Salmon has been fried in vegetable oil. Vegetable oils are highly processed to begin with, and heating them leads to the release of high concentrations of chemicals called aldehydes. Aldehydes are oxidised free radicals which means they cause inflammation, damage cells throughout the body and contribute to development of cancer.
Easily digestible carbohydrates, i.e. white rice. Client A is not an endurance athlete, so having carbohydrates that are easily broken down into sugar isn’t necessary.
How to upgrade:
To fry your salmon, don’t add any oil whatsoever – instead put it in the oven. Salmon already has plenty of oils. As for the white rice – don’t be too quick to upgrade to brown or wild rice either. Instead, replace rice with sweet potatoes. Again, season with turmeric and black pepper for a natural anti-inflammatory effect. Now you’ve got yourself a clean meal to help you lose fat and get lean.
[Meal 3, Friend of Client B] Breakfast: Bagel, whole eggs, bacon avocado and ketchup
At any point in time, you’re either losing weight or you’re gaining weight. Weight maintenance isn’t a thing. Every choice you make in a day, from your training to your meals, contributes towards burning fat or storing it. Although this meal has some great components, it’s sure to tip you over into the unwanted weight gain territory.
Avocados. It’s also seasoned with pepper – a quick way to make a questionable veggie/fruit like avocados taste better and become a favourite. Whole eggs are good too as they add good fats and protein to the meal.
Where to start… What makes this meal a ‘weight gainer’ is the bagel. Whether it’s gluten free or whole wheat, the bagel is still full of simple carbohydrates that are broken down in the body too easily. Alongside this, the amount of phytates and other anti-nutrients contained in grains can cause gut inflammation. This sort of inflammation will keep your stomach bloated and puffy, regardless of muscle definition.
Tomato syrup.. I mean ketchup. To some, ketchup is essential to make food appetising, however it actually has as much, if not more, sugar than the icing on that fattening chocolate cake you’ve kept yourself from eating. The same applies to BBQ sauce, mustard and most other commercially available sauces. A good rule of thumb to suss out the modern, highly processed foods is: if your grandma didn’t have it in her pantry, you probably shouldn’t be eating it either.
How to upgrade:
Ok, let’s jump to the fun part. Let’s replace the bagels with leafy greens and vegetables. E.g. two handfuls of spinach with a splash of apple cider vinegar. The ketchup will be unnecessary thanks to the vinegar adding flavour. What about the bacon? Bacon is good, especially if it’s from free range, grass-fed and grass-finished animals.
[Meal 4, Client B] Brunch: Corned beef with potatoes, poached eggs, potato fries, toast and butter
This meal is a disaster. Sometimes we’re locked into choosing a meal from a seemingly terrible menu. Be it social pressure or just unpreparedness, running into limited options when eating out can kill the diet of even the most self-controlled person.
Poached whole eggs. They’re full of nutrients, good fat and a great source of protein.
There are multiple bad things that make this meal a kryptonite. First of all, potato fries (chips in UK) are soaked in heated, oxygenated and therefore highly inflammatory vegetable oils. They might taste great and fill you up (as fats do), but it’s the bad kind of fat that’s a shortcut to gaining weight.
Toast and butter. Misguided dieticians and nutritionists backed by sugar-ladden cereal corps will tell you that eating a lot of fat leads to high cholesterol and heart disease. What they won’t tell you is that cholesterol is actually an essential (meaning primary) building block for your cells. You couldn’t live without cholesterol. Where the difference lies is in the type of cholesterol: there’s good and bad. For example, the combo of bread (simple carb easily broken down into sugar) and margarine (bad, highly-processed fat) turns cholesterol bad by turning it into LDL particles. These are the particles responsible for calcification and plaque in your arteries which leads to heart disease. In an older article as well as in my FREE ebook on losing fat by eating more fat, I listed other useful information to help you understand the differences between good and bad fat, as well as the good and bad cholesterol.
How to upgrade:
It’s not the end of the world… What you can do is eat only the good stuff on this plate and order a side salad alongside it. Even McDonald’s these days can serve you a handful of leafy greens. So here’s what you should skip: the bread, the franken-butter, potato fries and even that orange slice, which obviously escaped someone’s fruit salad. You will be left with the side salad you ordered, beef with some potatoes and a poached egg on top of it. And that’s a helluva fat-busting combo if you ask me.
[Meal 5, Client B] Lunch: Gluten free pizza with a variety of toppings
Gluten free makes even the worst meal offenders good food choices? Nope. Gluten free is a nice-to-have, because it helps to avoid the harmful and pro-inflammatory properties of grains. However it’s not a safe zone, as it can often still make for a carbohydrate-rich (sugar) meal packed with fat (not the good kind).
Olives, artichokes, mushrooms and ham – added to a different vegetable rich bowl could make for a good and tasty salad.
Why is this pizza glistening? It’s most likely because of melted cheese and oils. Which in combination with the next point will lead to unwanted weight gain.
The base of this pizza as mentioned above is easily digestible carbohydrates that will be broken down into heaps of glucose. Unless you are planning to run a marathon afterwards to burn all that sugar off, this will contribute to weight gain.
How to upgrade:
If your goal is to lose weight, then I’d strongly recommend to remove pizza from your meal plan. Alternatively, if you have some cooking skills, you can make a healthier pizza base out of mashed cauliflower, coconut or almond flour. As mentioned in my previous posts – a slice of pizza will not hurt once in a while (as per the 80/20 approach to getting lean and staying that way), but it shouldn’t become a snack or a meal you treat yourself to weekly or even monthly.
Would you like me to do a breakdown like this of one of your meals?
Feel free to email me a photo of your meal to firstname.lastname@example.org or tag me (@hiachieverdiet) in an Instagram photo of your meal and I will make sure to include it in an upcoming article.