Dieting: Which 'Layer' Are You In?

Read on and see how you compare in the world of dieting.

Dieting has many layers and we are peeling them off. Just like an onion. NOT like a parfait (although everybody likes parfaits!).

Dieting means different things to different people.

When someone says 'diet' to me, I think of calorie and macro tracking whereas someone else may think about cutting back on the junk food and boozing less. (just like when someone says 'layers' to me and I think about Shrek and an onion, whereas most normal people wouldn't).

"There is no correct answer to what a diet is, but most answers revolve around acknowledging what you put into your body."

Below, from easiest to hardest, are the layers of how much detail you would like to go into your diet. The deeper down you proceed, the more effort is required to succeed at that layer but the higher your results will be.

To advance down to the next layer you first must master your current layer.

Yes, believe it or not, that is an onion...

Layer 1: Healthy food choices

The easiest level and always the best place to start. Swapping out those pizzas for some chicken and vegetable stir fries, eating out a little less and minimising soft drinks and alcohol is easily done.

Consuming a diet consisting mainly of lean meats and vegetables, some grains, fruit and dairy will decrease your overall calories, make you feel fuller for longer and give you much more energy.

This level also brings your mindset into play. As seen in this post, a growth mindset must be encouraged, in which people believe anything is achievable through hard work, smart choices and dedication.

HINT: A simple way of doing this is to own your weekly food shop. Make a list of healthier foods which fit the above and stick to those foods. Set up your kitchen for success. Try not to buy many snack or desserts. If you don't have any of these things in the house it's much harder to eat them!

Layer 2: Portion sizes

I bet you probably guessed this one. After choosing to eat healthy foods the next 'layer' is to look at how much of this food you actually eat. This is a form of calorie controlling which is still easy to most people.

For this stage to work you need to know which foods contain protein, which contain carbs and which contain fats. Click here for a common list.

Then I want you to use your hand as your portion guide. A fist, a palm, a cupped hand and a single weird-looking thumb.

For men consuming 4 meals a day, each meal consists of:

2 palms of protein-rich food (such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs etc.)

2 clenched fists of vegetables

2 cupped hands of carb-dense foods - only 2 meals a day (grains, starches or fruit)

2 thumbs of fat-dense foods (nuts, nut butters, oils or seeds)

For women, it is the same recommendation but 1 of each category. This is your starting which can be easily adjusted as necessary.

Precision Nutrition has some awesome infographics on this layer of dieting if you're interested! AMAZING RESOURCE

Feel like you're ready for the next level? Keep on reading!

Layer 3: Calorie counting

Now it gets a little harder, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Learning how to count calories is one of the most important skills to develop if you want to be able to control your weight easily. Once you get the hang of it the whole idea of dieting becomes laughable.

It's a well-known fact, you cannot lose weight without being in a calorie deficit.

"A calorie deficit is expending more energy than you take in through food"

By tracking your daily intake of calories you can GUARANTEE that you are in a calorie deficit. We add a layer of measuring to a diet which ensures you will lose weight.

I have a guide here, which is a beginner introduction to calorie counting and a worthwhile read.

To break it down:

  • Use software (such as the myfitnesspal app) to make tracking quick and easy.

  • Know your caloric maintenance level (the amount you need to eat each day to neither lose or gain weight). Guide here.

  • Set the software to 10-15% below that level.

  • Adjust the calorie level each week so that you find the correct amount of calories in which you are losing around 1% of body weight per week.

If you feel like just counting calories is getting too easy and you're looking to take it up a notch, well then have a crack at...

Layer 4: Protein counting

In addition to counting total caloric intake, the next level would be to monitor the amount of protein you eat daily.

There are plenty of studies (such as this one) which show that there is an optimal range of daily protein intake which will improve body composition (which is fat loss and lean muscle gain/retention).

My guide on calorie counting has a section on protein tracking which will give you a good idea of where to begin.

Once you have started calorie counting, taking the next step to include protein is not a big deal (as software such as myfitnesspal does this automatically) but can improve your results substantially.

For best results, you want to be consuming 2g per kg of your body weight each day.

Layer 5: Fat and Carb counting

We are getting reeeeaaal deep into dieting now. This level may increase results by that little extra bit but is also the cause of much debate.

Some people hate carbs while others think that low-fat diets are superior. Much of this will actually come down to you as the individual. Do you eat a bowl of pasta and after feel bloated and heavy? Then a lower carb and higher fat approach may be better.

As long as your protein level stays high and you are eating the correct amount of total calories this level is about optimising the diet for you as a person. We are just building up your ceiling of results. The more effort you put in the more you will get out of it.

Current recommended guidelines are to get about 25% of your calories from fat. So if you eat 2400kcal/day, 600ish should come from fat (that is 600/9= about 65 grams).

As for carbs - you can fill up the remainder of your calories with them.

Layer 6: Nutrient timing

The final layer of our precious 'diet onion'.

It is the layer at which most people never need to reach into, but if ultimate 100% results is your goal it is another area in which you can optimise. This means organising your daily intake of protein, carbs and fat throughout the day/week to improve things like neurotransmitters and insulin uptake. Upon this layer I would also introduce supplements too (ensuring all of the previous layers are mastered first). See here for the best 5 bang for your buck supplements.

Without going into huge detail:

- Consume the majority of your carbs pre and post workout.

- Every meal should contain protein, especially those around your workout.

- Consume fewer fats pre and post workout and more during other meals.

- Introduce refeeds and carb cycling into your diet.

If this layer intrigues you feel free to contact me and we can chat more about it :)


You must decide how important your body composition is to you and start at a layer which you will be able to be consistent at; day after day, month after month.

Yes, going straight to level 5 will probably get you the best results. But if you cannot stay with it for more than a week, it's not going to work.

Ideally, you will start at an easier level and work towards progressing down the layers as you become more experienced, knowledgeable and confident in what you can achieve.

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