How To Stick To Your Diet If You’re Busy: Saving Your Cognitive Capacity
Reducing the number of different meal options in the day can help manage temptation.
03 Dec 2017
In all aspects of my life, I’m a creature of habit.
My nutrition is no exception, and I eat pretty much the same thing day in, day out.
If you’re busy and you’re struggling to stick to your diet, it may be that your diet is too ‘varied’.
This might be counterintuitive to most expert advice.
After all, I thought you were supposed to include as much variety as possible, and rotate between as many different types of meat, vegetables and starches as possible?
And while this makes a lot of sense from a physiological point of view (think digestion, reducing risk of intolerances etc.), from a practical, real life perspective, it might be the worst piece of advice.
The majority of my client base is made up of City executives, entrepreneurs and business owners. They all work long hours with lots of stress and pressure, and on top of this, have families and social obligations that make for a busy lifestyle where a ‘varied diet’ just isn’t on the cards.
If this sounds like you, the best way to stay compliant on your diet and get results is to reduce the number of different meal options you have for the day.
When you get up in the morning, you shouldn’t have to think through which one of 20 options you’re going to have for breakfast.
Or what you’re going to have for dinner tonight.
It’s a waste of time and only serves to burn energy that should otherwise be spent on the creative and demanding components of your day.
The body only has a limited amount of ‘cognitive capacity’ in the day, and if you’re wasting this on non-creative aspects of your life such as breakfast or lunch, you’re setting yourself up for diet failure later in the day.
If we look at willpowerresearch, two things are clear:
1) We use willpower to do everything: make decisions, focus, be creative, etc.
2) We only have a limited amount of daily willpower. If you use too much early on, your decision-making becomes skewed and lazy. It essentially cripples your performance.
Now think about when you’re most likely to cheat on your diet. It’s probably after 5pm, right?
That’s because you’ve depleted your willpower and cognitive capacity.
You’ve spent all day making decisions at work, creating new content and focusing on new projects that your ability to make good quality decisions has diminished.
But what if you already know what you’re going to eat?
Now there’s no risk. You’re on autopilot and you can just execute the plan.
The point here is that if you can standardise all the ‘non-creative’ components of your day, you can save all your thinking for things that do matter.
It’s why Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama all wear the same clothes and eat the same foods on a daily basis.
They want to minimise all the ‘extra’ decisions in their life, and make it so that they focus all their time and energy on their key purpose for their day.
I know none of us reading this are Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Barack Obama, but we can learn from this.
So should I eat the same thing every single day?
This wouldn’t be practical either, so what I’d suggest is that at least 80% of the time, you eat off a ‘base diet’. The rest of the time you can be a little more adventurous with recipes, different foods, or eat out.
I’d save this for the weekends, or periods when you have more time and ‘capacity’.
How I typically do it is alternate between a ‘training day’ and ‘rest day’ diet. They’re very similar, but for breakfast and dinner, there are two options. But because I already know which days these fall on, it’s not an extra decision to make.
This is how I lay my days out…
Meal 1: Eggs & Sourdough Toast
Meal 2: Whey, Oats & Peanut Butter
Meal 3-5: Chicken, Rice & Greens
Meal 1: Salmon & Sourdough Toast
Meal 2&3: Chicken, Rice & Greens
Meal 4: Whey, Oats & Peanut Butter
Meal 5: Lamb Mince, Rice & Greens
This setup works for me, and I go into each day knowing what I’m eating, how much and at what time. The structure it provides allows me the freedom to focus all my mental energy on writing content, training clients, and driving the business forward.
Meal Prepping Advantage
If you’re busy, batch cooking and meal prepping becomes essential to dieting success. If you’re eating very similar things on a daily basis, you’ll be able to prep in advance easily, and save a lot of time in the process.
If you’re not a fan of batch cooking and use foods ‘on the go’ regularly – as many people who work in the City do – then limiting yourself to 1 or 2 ‘go-to’ places allows you to stay on ‘autopilot’.
Decision fatigue is very real, and if you’re someone who chops and changes your diet on a daily basis, a few issues will arise:
1) You’ll burn out from constantly working out new diets while making sure you still achieve your macronutrient and calorie targets
2) You’ll create so many new variables in your diet – which can often mask or slow down fat loss progress
3) You’ll waste so much time and energy while lacking routine and structure in your day that those late night cereal snacks become more tempting and common