So you wanna eat healthier...
Let me rephrase, so you’re going to start eating healthier; because truth be told you probably don’t want to. If we could eat pizza and ice cream all day and achieve the same results as chicken and broccoli, well, we would all probably opt for the first option. But because it doesn’t work that way (damn), you’ve taken it upon yourself to spruce up your diet. Whether you want that 6-pack you’ve been thinking about, to fit into old jeans, impress your peers at holiday gatherings, or just feel better, the list of motivators goes on.
People contact me all the time wanting to improve their physique and performance, but are clueless as to where to start. To no fault of their own, they usually ask the wrong questions and ignore important factors in their success and make changes to ones with small impact. Based on common mistakes, here’s a couple examples of what I’m talking about: being worried about your post-workout recovery drink when you aren’t eating at all (or are eating crap) before you workout; being concerned about the aspartame in your diet soda, when you are still drinking that high-calorie, sugar-saturated coffee beverage in the morning; obsessing over calories, rather than quality.
Look folks, getting in a groove with your nutrition isn’t an easy feat. It takes time, trial and error, self-motivated education, planning and the forming of good habits, amongst other things. That’s not at all to say it’s too difficult for you to accomplish, however it is a tremendous lifestyle change and mindset shift, and especially if you’re new to the “healthy eating” concept, getting it perfect right off the bat is both unlikely and overwhelming. Shoot for excellence, not perfection.
Pick your battles: identify your largest barriers to success, and attack the biggest threats first. Create good, sustainable habits there, and then move forward. It’s like how in the Chinese Olympic Weightlifting methodology, they’re forced to execute movements time and time again with an empty bar, achieving flawless technique almost mindlessly, before graduating to adding weight. In your kitchen, make sure you’re focusing on the most important components of your diet first, before worrying about the smaller stuff. Think of it like a pyramid, the smaller stuff at the top (supplements, micronutrients, nutrient timing), doesn’t matter much if your foundation (quality, quantity, consistency) is rocky.
Okay, soap box rant over, on to the good stuff.
Cut the crap
Identify the worst parts of your diet and fix those first. If there are several, it’ll be pretty tough to eliminate multiple unhealthy behaviors simultaneously. But work on them one or two at a time, and replace them with better habits. If you always eat Taco Bell for lunch and you cut fast food, then you won’t have lunch; by replacing Taco Bell with a more nutritious lunch, now you’re cultivating healthy habits. Before I give you my list of what to “cut”, I must mention the disclaimer that an expectation to eat clean 100% of the time is unrealistic — I’m not saying to never eat fast food again, what I am saying is that it should not be a regular thing, rather an indulgence, and a very infrequent one to achieve an overall healthy lifestyle.
Now, these are your biggest offenders:
Fast Food (including delivery, pizza, or frozen meals)
Soda (including diet)
Sugar (candy, desserts, fruit juice)
Snack foods (chips, for example)
High-fat dairy (butter, 2% milk)
Processed carbohydrates (white bread, bagels)
I encourage you to try and eliminate these behaviors (slowly, if needed), as they are inhibiting your progress holistically. Going back to the introduction, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting all your supplements in and having a healthy dinner once in awhile if you’re eating/drinking all of the above on a regular basis.
Challenge: Cook more! If you’re intimidated by the kitchen, start slow and easy. I’m in the process of writing a post on what I make week to week, as it’s simplistic and definitely indicative of my lack of chef skills. By preparing your food at home, you know what’s in it and it’s immensely cheaper than eating out.
Do you eat breakfast because it’s morning, or because you’re hungry? Do you eat chips and salsa while watching football, just because the game is on? I advocate that you live deliberately, and less out of mindless habit when it comes to eating patterns. Give your metabolism a chance to work, and it will return the favor by expending the energy you intake. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. I realize that’s much easier said than done, here’s some tips to help:
Eat dinner at the table, not in front of the TV
Don’t eat in your car (unless it’s a quick, pre-planned snack)
After serving your plate at home, put the rest of the food away
When eating out, ask that half of the entree be placed in a to-go container
Wait 15 minutes before grabbing a second helping at home
ALWAYS drink water with your meal
Drink water when you feel hungry, before grabbing food (often we think we’re hungry, when we’re actually just dehydrated!)
In all my time helping friends, family, clients and members of my gym, this has, without a doubt, been the most common barrier to success. Eat the same amount, day to day. Notice I didn’t say “foods”, but rather quantity. Your body can’t get in a groove if you’re starving it one day, and overfeeding it the next. Get in a routine so it can balance the energy and use the excess calories for fuel. Furthermore, if you’re doing something consistently, you can tell whether or not it’s working. If your quantities are all over the place, it makes it practically impossible to identify what needs to be changed to foster success.
Especially if you’re new to a healthy lifestyle, I strongly recommend tracking everything you eat. Whether that’s in the MyFitnessPal app, a notebook, whatever your preference. Results are generated by analyzing data. Create the data.
Note: generally speaking, the above explains why macro “dieting” works so well for people, especially over time. To understand more about this topic, read my previous posts about what they are and how to count them.
I hope you find this information helpful. Share with a friend who might need some ideas, and I sincerely appreciate any comments/feedback.