Diet Variety is the Spice of Life

Ultimately, the goal of any diet is to be sustainable and to see the best impact on health and body composition.
I can recall numerous experiences with people asking me why I was eating certain things while I was “dieting.” The mantra held for the longest time that if you were dieting to lose weight it automatically meant you had to eat boring and bland foods.

When it comes to bodybuilding, this was seemingly taken even further and if you weren’t eating lean chicken breast, broccoli, and brown rice,  you certainly wouldn’t be getting into contest shape.

The goal of this article is to break down some of those misconceptions and, especially for non-competitive physique athletes, to realize that there is a whole host of food options out there for you to choose from.

Diet Variety and IIFYM

The most important variable in dieting is calorie balance (calories in vs calories out).

What this means is that if you want to lose weight, you’re going to have to eat less calories than you are burning and if you want to gain weight then you are going to have to eat more calories than you are burning. Once you nail this down, you should focus on determining your macronutrient breakdown (how many grams of protein, carbs and fats you should have in your diet). When these two large variables are figured out, options are nearly endless to see anywhere from modest weight loss goals to pretty spectacular.

There’s a good reason that IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) has gained so much popularity recently. This diet does incredibly well at nailing calorie balance and the macro breakdown. IIFYM pretty much states that once you have your macro breakdown figured out, you can literally eat whatever you want to fill in those macros, and still be able to see results.

This is certainly an appeal for a lot of individuals that want variety in their diet (don’t we all?). With this variety comes sustainability. Not many individuals out there can diet on lean chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli year round. The lack of variety or options can even be stressful for some individuals and that is something that should surely be limited.

This is even more truthful for the general population. It would be great to be able to go out and interact with your friends and family on a Friday or Saturday night without it interfering with your diet. This flexible dieting approach allows people to see short term results, long term results, and gives them the confidence that they can sustain a diet to reach their desired results.

diet variety

With diet variety, you are able to go out and interact with your friends and family on a Friday or Saturday night without it interfering with your diet.


Let’s take a closer look at each macronutrient and see if we can come up with a rather extensive list of choices for each.


We’ll start with protein as it likely has the least conflicting choices. Protein choices should for the most part start with lean protein sources.

The list of lean protein sources can be made up of lean chicken breast, lean turkey, seafood, eggs, dairy, protein supplements and lean red meats. All of these options are complete sources of protein and should be the primary focus of the diet in terms of your protein selections.

That’s quite the list to choose from already. It should be stated as to why we choose the leaner cuts is to reduce the amount of saturated fat. This is not to say saturated fats should be avoided, but we believe they should be consumed in moderation. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is about a one third split of your daily fats come from saturated fat sources. This abundance of options sure beats the plain ‘ol lean chicken breast choice that seems to be the stereotypical protein source for a lot of dieters out there. 


Carbohydrates are next, and there is a bit more conflicting information on these choices.

The conflict largely stems from the Glycemic Index and how these choices impact it. The glycemic index of a food is technically a measure of both how fast that food raises blood glucose levels, and how much it elevates insulin levels.

diet variety

Will eating donuts help you lose weight? Photo courtesy of Holey Donuts.

Since proteins and fats have a much smaller (sometimes zero) ability to alter insulin or glucose levels, the glycemic index only applies meaningfully to carbohydrates. Ranked from 0 to 100, all carbohydrate sources appear somewhere on the glycemic index.

Faster absorbing and more insulin ergic carbs appear closer to 100, and slower absorbing (and digesting) carbs appear closer to zero. Because fiber and fat slow digestion and absorption, they have a lowering effect on the glycemic index of any co-ingested carbs.

Our choices here range from more stereotypical carb choices such as brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and most fruits on the lower end of the GI spectrum to higher GI carb sources (think more tasty ones) such as sugary cereal, Gatorade, and some other more traditional “junk” food types such as donuts and pop-tarts.

When calorie balance and your macro breakdown are taken care of, the GI of a food becomes largely irrelevant for general weight loss and that’s why you see so many flexible dieters or IIFYM’ers having a great deal of success with losing weight and improving their body composition despite eating more untraditional food choices. This gives a tremendous amount of freedom to those seeking to diet, as who wouldn’t want to have the occasional (or even daily) pop tart or donut while still losing weight.

Carb Timing

For the purposes of this article on general weight loss, we won’t dwell on the intricacies of the timing of carbohydrates around activity.

There are some subtle nuances with more advanced athletes, whereas higher GI carb sources can be timed around workouts to see some possible benefits (not huge, but enough that more advanced athletes should be looking into it). The general population can easily not worry about this and simply match their macros with their choice of high GI carb or low GI carb sources throughout the day.

The best bet here is likely a mixture of the two for variety and enjoyment purposes. It should also be noted that consuming all of your carbohydrates from the higher GI or junk food category is not the best idea. Some of the more traditional, healthier variety of carbs have a better micronutrient breakdown and help people feeling fuller (more satiated) than their higher GI counterparts.

diet variety

Some of the more traditional, healthier variety of carbs have a better micronutrient breakdown and help people feeling fuller (more satiated) than their higher GI counterparts. Photo courtesy of Just As Delish


Our last macronutrient group we’ll touch on for variety is fats.

This was mentioned a bit in the protein talk about saturated fats vs unsaturated fats, but it is likely a good idea to consume saturated fats in moderation and get most of your fats from the healthy fat variety.

Healthy fats would be your poly and monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and nut butters. In our opinion, it is a good idea to get most of your healthy fats from the monounsaturated variety (avocados, nuts and nut butters).

diet variety

Jason’s bane: cashew butter.

Vegetable oils can account for a smaller portion of this and the rest should come from saturated fats. It should also be noted that there are some healthier saturated options here as well such as coconut oil and fats from grass fed animals.

The last section of the table below is about your trans fat consumption. This is a cause for concern if you’re a true IIFYM’er and fast food or store bought baked goods are a part of your diet. It is likely a good idea to limit your consumption of trans fats to as close to zero as you can.

What we end up with in terms of fat choices is a chart that looks something like this:

Fat Type

Recommended Intake

Example Foods

Monounsaturated               60% Avocado, nuts and their butters, olive oil
Polyunsaturated               15% Vegetable oils
Healthy Saturated               15% Coconut/macadamia nut oils, grass fed animal fats
Conventional Saturated               10% Fats from conventionally farmed bacon, eggs, cheeses, butters
Trans               0% Store-bought baked goods, most fast food

Sample Meal Plan

Let’s take a look at what a sample meal could look like with some rough macronutrient guidelines for this meal of 25g protein, 50g carbohydrates and 15g healthy fats. This will be our sample of a more traditional meal:

  •         4oz lean ground turkey as our lean protein selection
  •         1 small handful of chosen vegetable
  •         ½ a bagel and 1 small piece of fruit as our carbohydrate selection
  •         1 small handful of your favorite nut

Now, we’ll take a look at what could be a more untraditional (IIFYM) meal with some food options that are likely a bit more enjoyable from a taste standpoint:

  •         Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from local shop or airport while traveling. This bacon, egg and cheese combination puts close to the 25g protein that we’re aiming for.
  •         1 small piece of fruit. This combined with the bread from the sandwich gets us to our 50g worth of carbohydrates
  •         Adding your choice of vegetable to the sandwich (spinach, tomatoes, etc.) covers your vegetable requirement
  •         We’ll likely add no fats to this meal as the cheese and the fats from the bacon probably get us somewhere around the 15g worth of fat that we were aiming for.

This meal is a bit more untraditional, but as we see it aligns with the macro targets we have for this specific meal. Something of this sort for a meal can easily be purchased on the go and it gives a good deal of flexibility to somebody dieting.

diet variety

With diet variety, you can eat this delicious sandwich and it’s not considered “cheating”.

There ends up being anywhere from 5 to 10 choices for each category here (some macro groups, such as carbohydrates have even more).

This is an extremely liberating idea when a person sits down to plan their diet. They begin to realize that dieting won’t be handicapped around social engagements or work functions.

As long as they have a rough idea of their macronutrient goals for the day and meal, they can choose options that fit within the parameters of their meals and can still successfully stay on track. When choices are nearly endless, the stress and worry that accompanies these functions can be thrown out the window, so to speak, and dieting suddenly becomes that much easier. When dieting becomes easier, sustainability increases and results are typically much easier to come by.

Wrap Up

When we break each macronutrient group down and take a closer look, we end up with a ton of choices to choose from.

No longer are we left with just chicken for protein, just brown rice for carbs, and just broccoli from vegetables. Instead, we have an abundance of healthy choices to make that can easily fit your daily macronutrient breakdown to help you reach your weight loss or body composition goals.

Remember that variety is the spice of life, and when dieting the more options you can have, the more likely you are to stay on track in the short term, and most importantly in the long term. If diet success can be sustainable in the long term, a healthier lifestyle is suddenly that much easier to stick to.

About the Author

Nick ShawNick Shaw is the Founder and CEO of Renaissance Periodization, a training and diet services company for world class athletes. Renaissance Periodization has worked with some of the top strength athletes in the world. Nick is also a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter. He currently resides in New York City. For more information on the Renaissance Periodization dieting eBook please visit the link here:

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Park, Madison. “Twinkie Diet Helps Nutrition Professor Lose 27 Pounds.” CNN. Cable News Network, 08 Nov. 2010. Web. 02 Oct. 2014. <>.
“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.
“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.
“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.
“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.