04. Adapting Diet To Your Life


How do you stop counting calories forever? You make your decisions about food intuitive. How do you do this? Experience, learning, time, and patience.

Consider when you learned to drive a car. At first you had to use a lot of willpower and effort, consciously thinking and acting. But now…you almost drive instinctively and it is likely you do not drive like you were taught. You have taken what they taught you and adapted it to your personality (e.g. you may drive slightly faster than you were taught, you may turn corners one handed). The same process happens when starting a diet.

At the beginning of a diet, you are learning. It takes a lot of willpower and discipline. However, as time goes by, you learn a lot more about the diet and begin to adapt it to your lifestyle. In addition, the amount of discipline and willpower needed decreases. Let’s explore what this journey looks like.

Rules vs Principles

I know some people love writing every calorie down, it gives a real sense of reward that they have stuck to their diets religiously. Whereas I know others (myself included) who find that to be a massive chore and would prefer just to eat within tolerable margins of error. This is where the principles versus rules comes in.

Attempting the diet by ‘rules’ entails recording all your food, how many calories and the types of foods (carbs/protein/ fat) and monitoring these on a regular basis.

‘Principle’ based dieting is adhering to certain guidelines while being tolerant of adaptations that may be required (no more counting calories!). This comes from experience, knowing roughly how many carbs are in each food, and how to stay near the carb limit while staying within the total number of recommended calories.

I personally prefer principle based eating. I know that I am within 80% of my total calories and carb intake, which is good enough to keep me healthy and happy.

The key question is what is “good enough”? Are you preparing for a wedding/holiday where you feel you have to be in your “best” condition, or are you just looking to be healthy and are happy with a few tolerances?

I would always recommend people begin with rules as only experience can provide you with the “principles” that you need. For example, how do you know how many calories are in a bit of cheese unless you have been recording it (rules based) for a few weeks? I would recommend using a rules-based approach for about 3-4 weeks and then moving to onto principles based. This will provide you with a strong fundamental knowledge and also confidence to follow your diet.

“80% is good enough in 80% of situations, 80% of the time.” Dan Sullivan – 80% Approach

80% Approach – No More Counting Calories

If the rule based method is working well for you (it has become habitual and is natural to you now), I would suggest continuing with it. If it isn’t broken then why fix it?

However if you would like a more relaxed variation of the diet then this may be for you. By now, you should have two things:

  • An optimized diet plan, where you know how many carbs and total calories you need to achieve your goals (whether this goal is simply to maintain weight and be healthy or lose weight).
  • A good grasp of the types of foods and their calorie content.

With the two above bits of knowledge, you can now operate within certain tolerances. However the general principles of the ketogenic diet still need to be adhered to:

  • Low enough carbs to remain in ketosis (likely 30-50 grams)
  • Adequate protein
  • Enough fats to make up the rest of the total calorie count
  • Eating enough calories overall

From this you can create your own guidelines which fit in with you lifestyle.

Unless you are competing in a sport, calorie counting will be excessive and unsustainable in everyday life. I recommend using the 80% Approach which states you can have a 20% margin of error with your nutrition:

  • Total calories – Allowing a 20% variance in daily calorie intake.
    • If you require 2000, then eat between 1600 – 2400 calories.
  • Eating clean foods – 80% of the calories are “clean” – the remaining 20% are a cheat meal (usually chocolate in my case).
  • Calories from carbs – Allowing a 20% variance compared to my usual carb intake.

The above must be used with your own judgement though. Eating 120% of everything (20% more calories, 20% from junk food, 20% more carbs) every day for a month is not recommended.

From a physical and psychological point of view, I recommend continuing to measure yourself every 2 – 4 weeks, in terms of body measurements, weight, and photos. Psychologically this retains a sense of accountability to yourself (e.g. you know the weigh-in is next week so you will maintain some discipline). It will also tell you whether your principles are working or not.

The Next Level – Creating Your Own Rules

You can then take this one step further and develop your own principles based on your knowledge of food and how your body works. This is only recommended once you have followed the diet for at least six months.

This will involve moving away from calories and toward food being units (which you get to make up!).

For example, my principles are on a daily basis:

  • Carbs – below are my either/or principles for any one day (e.g. beans or quinoa)
  • Eating as many beans as I like
  • No more than a cup of a grain (mostly quinoa)
  • No more than 1 slice of bread
  • Protein
  • At least one piece of meat a day
  • At least one piece of fish a day
  • At least one protein shake a day
  • Fats – This is more from a feeling. I will eat three meals a day, and I eat enough just to feel satiated. I have learned over time how big my portions should be for me to feel satiated at the end of every meal.