The Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions, Part One: Perfecting The Guess

The Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions, Part One: Perfecting The Guess

If you want your transformation to be long-term and embedded in your lifestyle, there has to come a point where you’re not tracking every single food in your diet to the gram.

You have to let the reigns of control go and just like a kid leaving their parent’s grasp for the first time, you need to test yourself in the big, bad world out there.

It’s a little crazy of a comparison to be made, but being able to perfect the ‘Art of the Guess’ – which is the first of our two-part series covering the ‘Art of Long-Term, Lifestyle Solutions’ – is absolutely critical if you want to enjoy life long body composition success.

This topic is something that’s never openly spoken about. We’ve yet to encounter any qualification or nutrition course willing to talk about ‘guessing’, and how it can either lead you down the road of long-term sustainability, or the road of stagnation and disappointment. There very rarely is a middle ground, which is why you need to perfect the art of it.

Picture this conversation…

Coach: So how was your day?

Client: Great, thanks, and yours?

Coach: Very well so far, thanks. How has your food been?

Client: Solid, no slip ups.

Coach: Good. What was the change in bodyweight this week?

Client: I’m the same as last week, no idea why because I nailed it.

Coach: Strange.

Client: It’s stagnated three weeks in a row, and I don’t really understand why. Getting a bit frustrating to be honest.

Coach: And no deviations at all.

Client: None at all.

Coach: How’s your digestion been?

Client: Been good some days, bit weird other days. Few instances of bloat or similar.

Coach: Why’s that?

Client: I think it was this chicken skewer I ate at a family event.

Coach: Oh, there was an event. I didn’t know?

Client: Yes, but don’t worry, I just guessed the calories and made sure it was similar to normal.

Coach: Any other instances of this?

Client: On the weekend I was at my mother-in-law’s so I had to guess what was on the plate. But all good I made sure I was within calories.

Coach: Oh.

Client: Yeah, and then on Friday I was with a mate and we were out so I just guessed the calories and made up for it next day. Completely fine though, and I know I’ve hit my calorie and macro targets for the week.

Coach: I see. Well, I think I know what’s been happening…

Sound familiar?

If you’re a coach, you’ve been here a million times.

If you’re going through the journey yourself, you’ve likely been part of this conversation at least once.

The problem?

You’ve been incorrectly ‘guestimating’ parts of your day.

Instead of thinking you’re staying in a calorie deficit, you’re cancelling it all out and achieving maintenance, or worse yet, a surplus.

It can be a little disheartening to hear the first time, and the most common culprits we run into are:

– Guessing how much veggies you’re having per meal and then complaining of hunger.

This is so easy to undercut when you’re guessing. The amount of people that are not used to eating the required amount of veggies and so therefore reduce it is very common.

– Having a large disparity in values between the ‘guessed buffer amount’ and the ‘guessed meal calories’.

Whilst we know that you can’t accurately record the calories of every meal, you need to understand that there’s a big difference in dropping a protein shake and an apple, for an evening meal of risotto and veggies. Thinking the calories spared in your shake and apple is enough to buffer for a risotto and veggies is misguided, and a discrepancy we see regularly.

– Guessing how many calories you’ve got left for the day.

This is the scenario when you’re out at some point in the day, you ‘guestimate’ when you’re out, and then when you’re back, you ‘guestimate’ the remaining allocation for the day.

You’re eye-balling everything.

This is the classic ‘I know what 50g of rice looks like’. The truth is that if you’ve only been meal prepping and weighing your food for less than 6-9 months, you don’t.

If you’re guilty of one or a few of the above, the first tip you can implement today will be to reconfirm your measurements and ensure that they are as per the plan given.

The ‘guestimating’ usually begins in the latter phases of your journey (Phase 2 and beyond), and it’s at this time it can be valuable to hit ‘reset’ with your nutrition, and dial in the numbers.

99% of time, and we’ve all been here before, you get comfortable with meal prep and it becomes a habit. Habits are great, but one aspect of habit formation that isn’t discussed is that the more prone to inaccuracies a habit is, the more habitual they become – given the lower level of thought process required.

So how do you Perfect the ‘Art of the Guess’?

The Art of the Guess is simply getting the perceived value over time closer to the actual value, while raising your baseline education to form your guess with.

It’s a skill that takes a long time to learn, and you could argue it’s the ‘holy grail’ of nutrition practices – being able to eyeball what’s on a plate and get it close to 100% correct.

It can be likened to any field of work, but property valuation is the closest.

Picture this scenario…

You’re buying a house, and you’re on house viewings.

This time you’re taking a different approach and going into each house unaware of the price (shocking, I know!).

Anyone in this situation can have a punt at what the perceived value of the house may be. Some may be close, and some will be way off. But either way, it’ll be a guess based on prior knowledge. The more of an expert, or the more education and prior knowledge you can accumulate, the better guess you can make.

If you’re a newbie to the game, you may not know that the new kitchen increases the price by £5000, or that the lack of a garden in this particular area is one of a kind, and reduces valuation by £1000.

Or you may not have the knowledge of the area and the other relative house prices to compare against.

The bottom line is the more specific information you have, and greater your knowledge base, the more you can make an educated guess and perfect the art of it.

How do I Make an Educated Guess in Nutrition?

One question we always get asked early on is: do I need to weigh my food?

The truth is that if you want to learn what’s in your food, you absolutely must do. Weighing your food is not some form of obsessive disorder when done at the right time. When you’re learning about your body, how it responds, and learning portion control, it’s the only way you can learn.

How else will you truly know what 50g of rice is, or just how little 15g of peanut butter actually is?!

It’s the first step in educating yourself, and this education is absolutely paramount for long-term, lifestyle solutions.

In life, we’re big believers in looking for ‘domino effects’ to create, whereby one thing executed well can make everything else better. Nutritional education is one of those. What else in our lives do we have to do each day to survive (besides drink water) that contributes as much as it does on so many levels?

Nutrition impacts your physical, mental and emotional well-being in every single way.

Learning about nutrition is one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Not gaining knowledge around it’s values and being ignorant about it will only hinder all the potential benefits, and potentially put you in a worst spot. This is why in our phasic approach to transformation, the first three in particular, are vital in learning how to bridge the gap of disparity between the perceived amount and the actual amount.

The Triphasic Approach to Mastering the Art of the Guess

Phase 1 – Knowledge Acquisition 

This is where you track your food to the gram. It’s where you imagine your ‘future self’ in social events, track, and understand from the ground up what a raw weight food looks like. You want to build self-awareness in this phase and understand:

  • How long does it take you to eat?
  • How long does it take to make you full?
  • What associations do you notice with different foods?

You then want to add variety over time to expose yourself to different food sources and amounts for the same calories.

For example, if you compare 250g potato to 45g rice, you’ll see differences in volume, satiety and hunger, despite both containing 35g carbs.

Using various cooking methods will allow you to see when the time comes how the food looks in a restaurant, and how different it looks when you make it at home. You can ask yourself:

  • What cooking methods have been used?
  • What has it been cooked in (butter, sauces, goose fat, etc.)?
  • Are the portion sizes much bigger or smaller, and if different, how do the calories stack up when you consider the ‘little things’?

You want to note any disparities here against your baseline of single ingredient cooking weighed out to the gram by yourself.

If you’re on the RNT journey, this is all part of the triphasic approach to a transformation, and will typically come between Phase 1 and Phase 2 with the RNT Interactive Meal Planner.

Phase 2 – Education Acceleration

This is the phase where you draw comparisons in social events to foods you’ve had previously, and ones you can gather from the Internet and more ‘calorie controlled’ restaurant menus. You’ll quickly learn how ‘off’ your guestimating has been in this phase!

We like to use various baseline readings here as follows:

Any type of pizza– use Domino’s website (because you’ll want to overestimate)

Any type of burger and chips– use Five Guys provided you’re getting one patty, and if you’re getting two, add 350 calories to baseline.

Steak and Veggies– make it 1000 calories for a steak being 250g on average, and not always being fillet. For every side above steamed veggies you have, add 500-700 calories.

Indian Cuisine– if it’s a main, rice and naan, factor in 1500-1800 calories.

‘Normal’ main meals like Risotto / Salads / Turkish Chicken Shish / Salmon and Veggies / Seabass and Veggies – make it 800-1000 calories as you have to account for variables you don’t see like oils, sauces and protein quality. Even if you’re overestimating, that’s a good thing where fat loss is concerned

Mixed Grills– the lamb is lethal for calories, as is the high amount of rice, so make it 1200 calories.

These values are only for mains. If you get into the realm of olives, hummus, bread, and various other starters, it’s a much tougher game. We’d only ever suggest having them if you’ve been through ‘Phase 1’ and used them yourself in your everyday diet, as you’d be surprised the calories in these kinds of food.

Phase 3 – Database Formation

This is the toughest phase, but the one which pays the most dividends in investing your time in. It’s where you build your lifestyle solution for long-term sustainability.

The basic premise is to repeat Phase 1 and Phase 2 with other new foods you have no nutritional concept of, and moving through the process with those foods over time so you have a bigger database to work from.

For example, you may use our Interactive Meal Planner or MyFitnessPal to learn the nutritional information of olives, hummus and bread. You weigh it out, factor it into your diet, and gain knowledge on their portion sizes

When you’re next out in a few weeks, you can then order some for starters, and know it’ll roughly be X calories.

If you repeated this phasic process consistently over 4 to 6 months, you’ll gain enough education that you’ll be able to guestimate around 60-80% of your food to ‘maintain your weight’.

Around 40% of our food will generally come with some level of nutrition values on the packages, or will be part of a recipe that gives you exact amounts to work off. This is assuming a 100% ‘guestimating’ diet (worst case scenario), which isn’t necessarily recommended.

If your goal is to maximise your results in a fat loss phase, you’ll do best to minimise any guestimating, and assume as much control as possible.

But life will crop up, and there will be circumstances you’ll need to navigate around, which is where the approaches used here become so valuable.

You won’t be in fat loss forever, and ultimately, the real results come in the Consolidation phase and beyond (reversing out of the diet, shifting to muscle building, maintenance etc.) This is where most fail, and why we have so many ‘diets’ and quick fixes out there. It’s easy to lose body fat in 3 to 6 months. It’s very hard to keep it off, which is why it’s so critical that you work through the phases, and you aim to achieve a lifestyle solution that works for you.

Flicking through Phase 1 and Phase 2 (learn at home > test in the world) of perfecting the Art of the Guess is an important part of this. The more you can raise your baseline and build your database, the easier it’ll be to not only get into incredible shape, but maintain it for life.

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