In my line of work one of the things that probably guides the results of people more than anything else is proper eating habits. Just like exercise, this means eating in a way that your body will respond towards reaching your goals of changes in body composition, whether that be losing bodyfat, gaining weight, gaining lean mass, or growing a vestigial tail. For the vast majority of people they think this means scale weight. First of all, here’s a tip – throw your bloody scale out of the window. Right now. Scale weight literally means very little in the world of body composition. For health reasons like obesity, you can certainly consider it but for most of the general population who just want to lose some body fat and look better naked it is a useless tool. So let’s talk about eating in a way that will help you get healthy first.
The general goal of my clients is to increase their lean mass and reduce their level of body fat. However, usually what I try to start with is simply getting them healthier and feeling better and 99% of the time, the body composition changes as a nice side effect. There are a few key things that basically anyone can do in order to accomplish this that I try to get my clients to do, and they are actually quite simple but require a bit of discipline and time management. And don’t worry; this isn’t your typical “eat 6 times a day and get 1 gram of protein per pound” crap. Let’s take it from the beginning:
1) Track your intake. There are so many free tracking programs out there right now there is really no excuse not to be doing this. I have two free apps downloaded on my phone I can update anytime, and there are probably dozens of free web sites that will allow you to simply track your calories and macronutrient ratios every day. It takes ten minutes a day once you know what you are doing and this is absolutely vital to your long-term success in body composition. Do you know how many times I hear “I don’t have time” or “I need to start doing this”? Garbage. If you can’t do this every day and your body composition is a priority then you’re lying to yourself or you are a terrible time manager.
2) Figure out what your body reacts to. I’m a believer that we all have food insensitivities, and some of us have full blow allergies as well. With the amount of evidence out there right now about people’s reactions to things like gluten you can’t help but think that most people have a bad reaction to it. So if you’re following point #1, all you have to do is make a note on how what you eat makes you feel. If you eat something, and you immediately feel sleepy, or an hour later you are bloated, or (to be more extreme) something gives you bad gas or bowel movements odds are that your body didn’t like it. So stop eating it and see if that goes away. Pretty simple, right? This might mean you have to give up eggs, or gluten – but you will feel a lot better, and this leads to more energy, which means your body can deal with other things, like getting fitter.
3) Clean everything up. When my wife was ill we for a time went on a fully non-inflammatory diet. This meant no sugar, wheat, dairy, soy, nightshade vegetables, tomatoes, eggs or red meat. So basically you’re eating lean protein, lots of fruits and veggies, and things without any processing or chemicals. Things that once came from the earth and were good quality bioavailable foods. Amazingly enough, after about two weeks we both felt amazing, slept better and had more energy – plus I dropped a few pounds and shed some body fat. For most people you certainly don’t have to be this extreme, but if you simply start with cutting out sugar and anything else that makes your body react in an adverse way then you’re doing well. If you are following point #1 and #2 you will hopefully know what you need to get rid of and where your bad habits are so it makes it easier. You just need a bit of discipline. Often once you cut something out you don’t even notice it’s gone.
4) Hit your numbers consistently. This means getting more consistent with your calorie numbers and macronutrient numbers every day for at least 2 weeks, and then finding out if you are heading in the right direction or not. Most people eat barely at all during the week because they skip breakfast, barely eat lunch and then have a massive dinner because they are starving. Then they are home on weekends and have a couple of days where they increase their calories by 50% or more and add things like alcohol. No wonder they can’t lose weight or gain it. Many of my clients when I tell them how much I want them to eat claim they simply can’t eat that much or don’t have time. Again, I go back to point #1 – poor time management and priorities. If this is something you really want, then just put the habits in place. This is also just a good general health tip to not stress your digestive system. If you can do this for a period of weeks (not days) you will be able to see if your body is reacting and then tweak things in order to head in the right direction.
5) Be real about your habits. If you drink too much, stop drinking for a while. If you snack at night, find a new habit that prevents it. There are TONS of food addicts out there who actually have a serious problem because food can trigger emotions through hormonal response. This requires more than just tracking and cleaning up – it requires changing the way you think about food and how you deal with situations in everyday life. Change your patterns and get yourself thinking about food as fuel and energy – not a warm hug when your partner is ignoring you or a stress reliever when you have had a rough day. Get some other strategies in place. Once in a while, it’s fine – and won’t completely derail your goals. But if your choices are bad, have a serious conversation with yourself about why, or find a partner that will help you out.
6) Don’t stress about what you’re eating. If you are tracking, eating real good quality bioavailable foods, not eating things your body doesn’t like and hitting your goal numbers then believe it or not, what you eat doesn’t really matter in the long run. Eat things you enjoy. Eat things that make your body feel alive, because at the end of the day, food is energy and forms the basis for your body to produce great things or feel crappy. The choice is up to you. 100 calories of broccoli isn’t the same as 100 calories of Frosted Flakes. And you will notice that by the way your body reacts to it. However, if you indulge one day, don’t beat yourself up. Get back on track right away and just start again. You’re still better off than where you were before.
Please, please, please don’t ask your trainer for a “diet”. Your trainer is not a dietician. If you have health issues or want a specific food outline, go to the people who have taken many years of education about it, not somebody who got their knowledge from a diet they were given themselves by someone and thinks it applies to everyone or got it out of the latest magazine. I can almost guarantee you if your trainer gave you a diet that this is precisely the case. Plus, if you follow something for a little while and then go back to the way you were before, you’re going to go back to the way you were before. To make a change, it has to be permanent and consistent, just like your exercise program. Remember, we want long term permanent change – not a quick fix. The reason so many people fail on “diets” is because they never put into place the good habits that will move them towards their goals, just like with exercise. People want results immediately, and aren’t willing to give their body the time it needs in order to get healthier. Stop being one of those people and resolve to do better for a period of 4-6 months. I guarantee at the end of that period you will look and feel remarkably different.
I hope that this helps you think more about what you are doing and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Comments and questions are also welcome.