‘Chris, I’m going to eat broccoli and drink lemon water for six weeks! Does that sound like a good diet?”
I don’t quite know how to answer that question tactfully.
Or how about this? “I’m going to take this hormone that I got at the store and eat blades of grass to curb my appetite. After three months I’ll look great!”
If by great you mean sickly, have at it. (By the way, it’s illegal to sell hormones over the counter. What you’re buying is not a hormone unless it’s prescribed by a doctor.)
Hearing about these “diets” gives me pain behind my eyes.
I have never liked the word “diet.” When has anyone ever enjoyed their diet? The diet is always some weird list of do’s and don’ts. If you’re not perfect in your diet then you fail. Who wants to fail all the time?
To me, the D-word implies a short-term method for a given result. Conceptually, it doesn’t make sense. Being fit and healthy are long-term and ongoing practices. Using a short-term “diet” to achieve long-term “health” is like filling your gasoline tank halfway before going on a road trip. Before long, you will be forced to reassess that decision.
That’s why I say, DEATH TO THE DIET! Have a funeral and bury it. From now on, eat right. Just as an exercise program is a process, so is nutrition. Just as you may have bad workout habits and movement issues, your eating habits are no different. Work on improving them one at a time. Think of the dinner table as the gym for your stomach.
I am promoting eating habits for the long term. Fixing your nutrition to make you healthy on the inside will go a long way in keeping you healthy on the outside. True, there are short-term ways of dropping pounds. But I am more interested in creating good habits that go the distance as opposed to hopping from one short-term fix to the next.
Work on your eating habits one at a time. If you’re stuck drinking a case of soda every day, start there. Don’t just switch to diet soda either. If your breakfast could be more nutritious than something you get at a drive-thru on the way to work, that sounds like a good place to begin. Parents, making dinner the most balanced meal your family eats that day may be all you can do. And that’s a good start.
Most people eat two to five times daily. Try to bring more of those meals to the healthful side of the spectrum. Before long, you will be eating healthier and feeling better all day.
You eat far more often than you work out. That means there are more opportunities to make good nutrition decisions. It is easy to undo all of your hard work in the gym with poor eating habits.
Now, I’m not going to tell you how to eat or what to eat or when to eat it; that is for you to determine. But I will help you avoid some dietary pitfalls.
The first pitfall is to continue buying a food you have decided not to eat anymore. If you have decided to eliminate potato chips, don’t buy them “just in case.”
I love Mountain Dew, but having it in the house means that I will drink it. Believe me, I can empty a case quickly. So I don’t buy it. I just pass the soda aisle altogether. If I go out to a restaurant, I will more than likely order one with dinner. That lets me have a drink I enjoy without having to take a step backward in my nutrition.
Adopting a sensible dietary lifestyle makes nutrition simple. Avoid fad diets. In all of my nutrition certifications they always warn against fad diets. That’s because fad diets tend to omit one or more food groups or require such a caloric deficit as to provide insufficient nutrition for the body.
One guideline I tell my clients is to eat real food. You know it’s real food because it can go bad. You can see and smell that it is bad. Pretend processed food looks the same past its expiration date. It is easy to know where real food came from. Tomatoes come from a plant. Cheese comes from milk, which came from a cow. Things like cheese in a can and crackers come from a factory. There is no cracker tree or a cow dispensing nacho cheese. One of my favorite games is to distinguish between real food and overprocessed food.
It’s easy to become discouraged when changing eating habits. Many people think they have to count calories and weigh food like a physique competitor. Techniques like that will get results but may be frustrating to those new to healthy eating. Start slowly. Cut out the most horrible foods first. Substitute a good meal for a bad one. Cut back on the booze. You will find your body works well when it doesn’t have to process large amounts of alcohol.
Make your goal measurable by setting a date. Say, “Today I will cut out soda and next week I will be ready to change my breakfast into a more nutritious version.”
Schedule those days right along with your workouts on the calendar.
After a while, you may find that some guidelines may help you dial in your nutrition a little more. A guideline I use is to eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starches and no sugar. This keeps me away from breads, pastas, candy, doughnuts and my all-time favorite, the Oreo cookie. Following this guideline, I have found that I crave a plate of meat and vegetables more often than I crave doughnuts and cookies. I leave a little wiggle room so I can fit in a cheat meal without sabotaging all my hard work.
To achieve an elite level of fitness, your nutrition will need to be spot- on. At that point you may be ready to start weighing and measuring food. Knowing exactly what goes in will help you determine what foods and macronutrients are best for your body.
After being dialed in for a few weeks, you may decide to experiment with different foods. Adding or omitting various foods can help you understand how your body reacts. A good experiment is to take away dairy or gluten for a few weeks, then reintroduce it. You may discover something you never knew about your body chemistry.
There are many smartphone apps out there to help with nutrition. They count your calories and track your weight. Some even turn your camera into a bar code scanner to make logging food easy. Any tool that makes food logging more convenient is worth a download. In my experience the best ones are free.
The exercise I have for you today is a food exercise. Learn to identify the proper portion size. Another dietary pitfall is to eat larger portions than what you should. Healthful food is good, but don’t go overboard. Learn the portion size of the foods you eat the most. Things such as chicken and vegetables are a good place to start.
Turning your portion into a properly sized serving is simple. Based on a 2,000 calorie-per-day nutrition plan, the average person needs 5.5 ounces of lean meat and 2.5 cups of vegetables. For a meal, that might break down to a 3-ounce piece of meat. That is about the size of a deck of cards. One cup of vegetables is about the size of a baseball.
You may not fit into the 2,000 calorie-per-day model. Caloric needs are based on height, weight and activity level. Your homework is to find out where you fit. Ask trainers at your gym if you’re having trouble determining your caloric needs. They are always glad to help.
Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.