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As a busy dad, you’ll likely have a few requirements for any diet you’re considering. First and foremost, it shouldn’t be a huge hassle to stick to it. You need something simple and straightforward that works. If the diet is too hard to stick to, you’re more likely to go off plan and not get the results you want.
Secondly, it should be flexible enough to account for your busy lifestyle. Any diet that’s too rigid is unlikely to be sustainable long term. After some research, here are the top three diets for busy dads and why we think they’re worth considering.
1. The Mediterranean Diet
When you consider your diet is with you for life, it makes sense to choose something that includes most foods rather than makes food groups off-limits. If you’re looking for longevity, the Mediterranean diet has been around for just about forever. The focus is on including a broad range of whole foods, favoring minimally processed foods, and rich in healthy dietary fats.
The emphasis with the Mediterranean diet is on including as many different foods as possible. This means it’s packed with not just macronutrients - protein, fats, and carbs, but high-quality micronutrients too. Micronutrients are the vitamins your body needs for making energy, a healthy immune system, and the ability to manage blood functions like clotting efficiently. It also includes the minerals required for strong, healthy bones and balancing many biochemical processes in the body.
The Mediterranean diet is no fad; it ranked as the best overall diet by the U.S. News and World Report. One of the best things about this diet is that the foods are readily available in mainstream grocery stores. Because they’re minimally processed, they’re very affordable.
The Mediterranean diet pyramid gives a good overview of how to get started. The emphasis is on including local, seasonable produce like fruit and vegetables, small amounts of dairy like eggs, cheese, and yogurt, regularly consuming lean protein like poultry and fish, and saving red meat for special occasions. The diet is rich in whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and cooking with olive oil and adding flavor through herbs and spices.
In particular, we endorse the Mediterranean diet because of the emphasis placed on making a social event of mealtimes. It’s not uncommon for mealtimes to last for over an hour because of the conversation and focus placed on time with family and friends around the table.
2. Intermittent Fasting
If you’re looking for a simple diet for busy dads, it doesn’t get much easier than intermittent fasting. IF is almost an “anti-diet”. The idea is that you have periods of intentional fasting throughout your day, which makes it perfect for a busy dad who might forget to prepare food to eat anyway!
Most intermittent fasting versions involve having an “eating window” where food is consumed and a “fasting window” where you consume no calories. Water and zero-calorie drinks like black coffee are allowed in the fasting window - which is lucky because as a busy dad, you’re likely to be relying on caffeine!
One of the most common intermittent fasting ratios is 8:16, where you have an 8-hour window of eating and then a 16 hour fast. Still, like anything, this is highly personal. You may want to experiment with the ratios that work best for you so that you can avoid getting “hangry”.
During your eating window, there’s no need to count calories or eat any particular foods. Anything is permitted, and this diet is based on time rather than keeping track of other metrics. However, if you’re using intermittent fasting to lose weight - and by not tracking anything, you’ve found your weight loss has stalled, you may want to pay more attention to your calories during your eating window.
We particularly like the intermittent fasting diet for busy dads because it’s super simple to understand and doesn’t require extra work. Not eating for more extended periods during the day as a way to minimize the number of calories you consume is, by definition, going to be less work than following a particular diet. So the intermittent fasting approach could be perfect if you’re looking for a straightforward, “minimal effort” approach to losing weight.
3. Low Sugar Diet
The low sugar diet is one that we particularly like because being aware of how much sugar you eat is likely to give you an insight into why you may be gaining weight in the first place. It puts some of your attention on your existing eating habits, and that’s the first step to making lasting positive changes around your diet over the long term.
It’s common for dads to be eating more sugar than they realize. Particularly if you have young kids, there’s more likely to be sugary treats in the house. With a disrupted sleep routine, you could be using sugar to give you the energy boost you’re craving.
Recommendations of low sugar diets are straightforward; limit the amount of sugar in your diet by first becoming aware of how much you’re consuming and then taking steps to reduce it. If you’re eating candy and lots of sugary desserts, you’ll be mindful of these dietary sugars already, but there can be hidden sugars in some foods, which can be harder to spot.
Consider replacing alcohol or sugary soft drinks with lower sugar alternatives. You can replace beer with spirits to save calories if you don’t want to ditch alcohol altogether. Diet soft drinks can be an excellent start to full-sugar alternatives. The artificial sweeteners are no calories in them, so they definitely won’t lead to weight gain, despite what glossy magazines would have you believe.
If you find yourself always reaching for sugary foods after your meal, consider if you’re eating enough protein at your meal. If you’re still hungry, this is the macronutrient that makes us feel the greatest sense of satisfaction. Including a protein bar as a snack can satisfy that sweet craving and boost the protein intake that you might be missing.o
We support a low sugar diet for several reasons. Firstly, because you do not need sugar in your diet. In many ways, these are empty calories that provide no nutritional value. Calories from sugar are also “hyper-palatable” - meaning they’re so tasty, they’re challenging to stop eating. It seems like anything we can do to make our diet as tricky as possible to overeat, and we should do while the goal is weight loss.
More specifically for dads, though, the energy spike and crash from sugar can lead to peaks and troughs - cycles of dips and highs in energy. It may be familiar to you: You get woken up too early by the kids, you’re tired and reach for something laced with sugar, and you get a short-term boost. But then you have a sugar crash soon after - and that leads you to go for more sugar. This cycle leads to excess calories being eaten way too quickly.
There’s nothing wrong with you - that’s a usual way for your body to process refined carbohydrates. It’s not limited to candy and sweets either - it includes all simple carbohydrates, including pasta, bread, and even rice. Swap your refined carbs for complex carbs, your soda for a diet version (or even better: water), and slowly reduce your intake. Your energy will be more stable throughout the day.
The three diets here are carefully selected with busy dads in mind. It was important that nothing here would be so labor-intensive in the kitchen that it took considerable time away from your time with your family. While the Mediterranean diet is probably the most cooking-intensive option, the ingredients involved are readily available, and nothing is off-limits. The focus is also on including the family in the process as much as possible.
The intermittent fasting diet might be the best option to improve the fitness for dads if you have lots of kids and you’re so busy you forget to eat anyway. Or if you find it challenging to make time to eat more than once a day. Some dads prefer one big meal rather than multiple mealtimes throughout the day. It limits preparation and cleaning up for one. This one meal a day (also known as OMAD) approach is a more extreme version of intermittent fasting that works well for dads with limited time.
Finally, the low sugar diet is the one that has the right mix of the benefits from the other two diets discussed. Sugar is unnecessary in your diet, with no nutritional value, and creates elevations and dips in energy that busy dads are better off without, and often leads to a self-perpetuating cycle. Limiting sugar and opting for whole foods minimally processed is a flexible and habit-forming way to diet for busy dads that suit every budget and almost every schedule.