The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective Nutritional Programs
By Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D. - Author of:
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Take a look around the nutrition world. Confusing, isn’t it?
Conflicting advice is everywhere, and you’re stuck in the middle. You wonder
whether anyone out there even knows what they’re talking about, or whether the experts
will ever reach a consensus on anything. You start to wonder whether you’ll
need a degree in nutritional biochemistry before you can lose that stubborn
So what’s the deal? Why so much confusion? Why does one expert suggest that
high protein is best for everyone, while another expert suggests high carb and
yet another expert suggests high fat? Besides, what exactly do high protein,
high carb, and high fat really mean? And why are other experts telling us that
food choices should be based on our "metabolic type," our "blood
type," or our "ancestry"?
One expert says to eat like a Neanderthal and another says eat like a
Visigoth, or perhaps a Viking. But while searching for nutritional Valhalla,
most people just get lost and eat like a Modern American—and end up looking
more Sumo than Samurai.
These days, we have a cacophony of expertise: lots of confusing noise from
the experts drowning out the signal of truth.
On the surface, it appears as if today’s nutrition technology is quite advanced.
After all, we have at our disposal more nutrition information than ever before.
More money is being spent on nutrition research than in any time in history.
Every day, impressive strides are being made in the field. Dozens of nutrition
experts are rising to prominence. Yet simultaneously we’re witnessing a
steadily increasing rate of obesity, an increase in nutrition-related illness
(Diabetes, CVD, and Syndrome X), and an increase in nutrition-related
Part of the problem is that much of the information hasn’t reached the
people who need it. Part of the problem is that even when it does reach those
people, they often don’t use it. And certainly, the problem is
multifactorial—there are probably many more reasons than I can list here.
How much more information do we need?
But the curious thing is that many people try to solve the problem by
seeking out more information. They know it all and still want more. If there’s
one thing of which I am absolutely convinced, it’s that a lack of good nutrition
information isn’t what prevents us from reaching our goals. We already know
everything we need to know. Sometimes the real problem isn’t too little
information but too much.
All the fundamental principles you need to achieve good health and optimal
body composition are out there already, and have been for years. Unfortunately,
with 500 experts for every fundamental principle, and very little money to be
made from repeating other people’s ideas, experts must continually emphasize
the small (and often relatively unimportant) differences between their
diet/eating plans and the diet/eating plans of all the other experts out there.
In the world of advertising and marketing, this is called
"differentiation." By highlighting the small distinctions and dimming
out the large similarities between their program and all the others, they’re
jostling for your next nutritional dollar.
Now, and let me be clear on this, I’m not accusing nutrition experts of
Yes, some programs are utter crap. Those are generally quite easy to pick
out and don’t merit discussion here. But most experts do know what they are
talking about, can get results, and wholeheartedly believe in what they’re
doing. Many of the differences between them are theoretical and not practical,
and on the fundamentals they generally agree completely.
It’s all good — sorta
In fact, many of the mainstream programs out there, if not most of them,
will work. To what extent they work, and for how long, varies. As long as a
program is internally consistent, follows a few basic nutritional tenets, and
as long as you adhere to it consistently, without hesitation, and without
mixing principles haphazardly taken from other programs, you’ll get some
results. It’s that simple, and that hard (as you can see, results depend as
much on psychology as on biochemistry).
But if you’re like most people, you’ll first survey all the most often
discussed programs before deciding which to follow. And in this appraisal,
you’ll get confused, lost, and then do the inevitable. That’s right, you’ll
revert back to your old, ineffectual nutrition habits.
Instead of parsing out the similarities between all the successful plans out
there, the common principles that affect positive, long-term change, you get
thrown off the trail by the stench of the steaming piles of detail.
The Atkins program works for all patients under the direct care of the
Atkins team—as long as patients follow it. The Zone program works for all
patients under the direct care of the Sears team —as long as they follow it.
The Pritkin Diet works for all patients under the care of the Pritkin team— as
long as they follow it.
Yet, not all three plans are identical. How, then, can they all get
impressive improvements in health and body composition? Well, either each team
somehow magically draws the specific patient subpopulations most in need of
their plan (doubtful) or each system possesses some basic fundamental
principles that are more important than the ratios of protein to carbs to fats.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs
Here’s my take on it. I call these principles, "The 7 Habits of Highly
Effective Nutritional Programs," a shameless and possibly illegal play on
Steven Covey’s book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People."
(Great book, by the way—you should read it sometime.)
These aren’t the newest techniques from the latest cutting-edge plan.
Rather, they are simple, time-tested, no nonsense habits that you need to get
into when designing a good eating program.
1. Eat every 2-3 hours, no matter what. You should eat between 5-8 meals per
2. Eat complete (containing all the essential amino acids), lean protein
with each meal.
3. Eat fruits and/or vegetables with each food meal.
4. Ensure that your carbohydrate intake comes from fruits and vegetables.
Exception: workout and post-workout drinks and meals.
5. Ensure that 25-35% of your energy intake comes from fat, with your fat
intake split equally between saturates (e.g. animal fat), monounsaturates
(e.g., olive oil), and polyunsaturates (e.g. flax oil, salmon oil).
6. Drink only non-calorie containing beverages, the best choices being water
and green tea.
7. Eat mostly whole foods (except workout and post-workout drinks).
So what about calories, or macronutrient ratios, or any number of other things
that I’ve covered in other articles? The short answer is that if you aren’t
already practicing the above-mentioned habits, and by practicing them I mean
putting them to use over 90% of the time (i.e., no more than 4 meals out of an
average 42 meals per week violate any of those rules), everything else is
Moreover, many people can achieve the health and the body composition they
desire using the 7 habits alone. No kidding! In fact, with some of my clients I
spend the first few months just supervising their adherence to these 7 rules—an
effective but costly way to learn them.
Of course, if you have specific needs, or if you’ve reached the 90%
threshold, you may need a bit more individualization beyond the 7 habits. If
so, check out my website.
Many of these little tricks can be found in my many articles published here. But before looking for them, before assuming you’re ready for individualization; make sure you’ve truly mastered the 7 habits. Then, while keeping the 7 habits as the consistent foundation, tweak away.
About the Author:
Dr. John M Berardi, Ph.D. earned his Ph.D. in Kinesiology (with a specialization in Exercise and Nutritional Biochemistry) from the University of Western Ontario.
Throughout his education, he has received training in divergent disciplines including his Health Science, Philosophy, Psychology undergraduate studies at Penn State and Lock Haven Universities, Exercise Physiology masters training at Eastern Michigan University, and strength and conditioning certification through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
As a result of this broad educational base, Dr. Berardi’s knowledge extends beyond the bounds of physical preparation and nutrition alone.
Dr. Berardi is no stranger to the demands of elite athletics, having been successful in a number of sports including:
- Power lifting (squat 650, deadlift 600, bench 430)
- Track and field (AAU nationals in 100m and 200m)
- Rugby (medaled @ national under 21 championships)
- Bodybuilding (1st place at the 1995 Mr. Jr. USA)
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