I had a client tell me the other day that they went to a healthy eating presentation that said food is either a medicine or a toxin.
I care to disagree.
Food is not medicine in the way we think of medicine.
Eating well doesn’t “cure” anything, at least not in the traditional way we think of medicine curing something.
It will help our body heal and prevent disease but it doesn’t just simply counter-act the crap we put into our bodies.
I get lots of questions about fruit. Should you eat it? How much should you eat? When should you eat it?
The Food Pyramid tells us that fruit is essential…more essential even then meat and beans.
While fruits do have vitamins and minerals and many have antioxidants that are good for you, fruits are all carbs….
So essential to your diet?…Honestly, not really.
Vegetables can really give you the exact same nutrients you will find in fruits.
For instance, we always turn to oranges or orange juice for Vitamin C. But bell peppers actually have MORE Vitamin C than oranges do.
HOWEVER, fruit is delicious and nutritious so can be included in moderation.
Here are my guidelines for including fruit in your diet.
- Eat seasonally and locally. Eat fruits that are in season and local. When fruits are in season, they are going to be at their peak…aka pack in the most nutrients. And when they are local, you are also get them the freshest.
- Eat organic if thin-skinned. If your fruits have a thin skin that you don’t peel off or can be easily penetrated by pesticides, buy them organic. Or from a farmer’s market since most of the stands there carry local produce even if they can’t afford to pay for the label.
- Treat it as a treat and snack. Fruit is sweet and higher in carbs. Use it as a sweet treat to curb cravings. It can also be a decent snack especially when paired with a fat to help hold you over so that you don’t just get hungry a few minutes later. Try an apple and almond butter…Or a banana and almond butter…YUM!
- Don’t make fruit the basis of the meal or treat it as an “unlimited” food. I personally try to avoid smoothies for breakfast unless mixed with fats and protein. Alone fruit won’t keep you feeling full for very long, which can cause people to consume more calories than they actually need. And again…It has lots of carbs and those add up quickly, which makes it a food you can’t just eat as much as you want of….unlike vegetables…and even protein. It is hard to eat “too much” protein or vegetables. It isn’t hard to eat too much fruit.
- Make lower carb fruit the fruit you consume most often. Just like proteins, vegetables and carbs in general are not created equal, neither are fruits. There are some fruits that should be included more often than others. Tropical fruits, for instance, should be included only every so often. While berries can be eaten more often. They are lower in carbs and are super nutrient-dense with lots of antioxidants. Choose your fruits wisely. As with all foods you consume, you want to get the most bang for your buck possible!
- Eat fruit on carb days. Fruits are great for carb days. They are healthy and nutrient-dense. Cycle your fruit consumption just like you cycle your carbs.
- Fruits and fruit juices are not the same thing. Consume fruit in its natural state. Juices with anything added, even if they say all-natural, contain way more sugar and crap. And it is way easier to consume way too much fruit when it is in liquid form. Avoid juices as much as possible.
The fruits I indulge in most often are berries and apples. They are my favorite…especially apples and almond butter.
What fruits do you include in your diet?
Alcohol comes up often in discussions of health and healthy eating.
Is drinking ok? What should you drink? Is there a certain amount you should drink? If you want to be healthy and lose weight should you drink?
While I believe that alcohol can be a part of a healthy diet, moderation must be exercised.
Here are the guidelines I follow when considering if, when, and how much alcohol to include in a healthy diet.
- Alcohol, in general, is empty calories, which isn’t exactly helpful when trying to lose weight. Yes, wine does have antioxidants, but it is not a necessary, nutrient-dense food. So if your goal is weight loss, you want to keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum. However, if you really enjoy a glass, don’t deprive yourself for so long that you end up binging. Just do not binge on alcohol.
- Do not let alcohol interrupt your schedule. Binge drinking and the hangover the next day really throw your body off and generally interrupts your diet and exercise routine. If you want to stay on track, binge drinking is not recommended. Enjoy a drink or two but be moderate. The pain and horrible feeling the next day really aren’t worth it. And they really do nothing to further your goals, let alone make you feel good.
- If you can, make healthier switches. While a strawberry daiquiri or frozen blended margarita may be delicious, it probably isn’t the healthiest choice. A great indulgence but not a healthy every day drink. Make simple switches and choose healthier options. Wine and even certain hard alcohol drinks (with out the sugary syrups) can be good in moderation.
- A healthy diet should make you feel GOOD. If your alcohol consumption isn’t making you feel good, it is way too much. If it is hindering you from reaching your goals, it is too much. There is no set number, no exact right amount of drinks. Just really consider whether or not it is helping or hurting you.
- Do not drink alcohol before food right after a workout or competition. The alcohol will prevent the absorption of nutrients your body needs and reduce your ability to recover.
Alcohol CAN be a part of a healthy diet but only in moderation. It can be enjoyed but should never leave you feeling anything but refreshed the next morning.
You want to eat and DRINK to support your goals.
I get asked often what I eat.
And it’s funny sometimes the assumptions people make.
They totally assume I eat whatever way the last read, or heard, was healthy. If they heard about Paleo and their friends have been getting results on that, I must eat some form of that.
If they lost weight on a lower fat diet, they may assume I do that.
They will asked me detailed questions about some of the most random, and in my opinion, unimportant dieting details ever!
When really my diet is nothing fancy.
I keep things simple. The simpler I keep things, the easier it is to create habits that last.
So here are MY SECRETS to a successful diet:
1. Prepare your grocery list before you go to the store. This prevents you from buying random crap or forgetting an ingredient you need for a meal. (I find that often people use the fact that they don’t have all the ingredients to make a meal as an excuse to go out and eat badly.)
2. Use the same basic grocery list every week. Keep things simple. Don’t reinvent your list every week and try to make new and fresh things all the time. Stick with the same basics and vary your diet every once in a while. It may sound boring, but it really isn’t and it makes things EASY, which is key to creating lasting habits.
3. FInd a few staples to keep around in case you need a QUICK and easy meal. For us, staples are things like tomato sauce and tamari. If I have either of those two things around with a protein, I know I can easily make a meal. Tomato sauce can be used for chilis or meatzas or even fake pastas with meat sauces. Tamari can be used to make an easy stir fry or fried rice with whatever meat and veggies you have!
4. Keep your meals centered around protein and veggies. I always make protein the center of my meal with veggies as a side. I don’t worry about having a certain amount of side dishes or even about the exact macronutrient break down. I focus on meat and veggies, knowing that focusing on those things will get me the nutritional profile I want. Then after that I worry about condiments and or other little additives to make the meal taste delicious. (And of course if it is a carb day, I’ll focus on healthy carbs).
5. Get high quality ingredients. Basically what this means to me is “READ THE INGREDIENT LABEL!” People buy the cheapest ingredients or fall for labels such as “healthy,” “gluten-free,” “low-fat,” “organic.” Those labels don’t equal healthy! There are tons of organic creams out there that have a ton of crap in them! And gluten-free foods can be highly processed! Don’t fall for sales labels. Read the ingredients and get quality stuff. I 100% believe that the quality of your ingredients affects not only your health, but also your fitness goals, be they weight loss or strength gains.
6. Avoid vegetable oils and gluten. Honestly, if you avoid these two things, I think you are on the road to a long, healthy life. While yes, I do try to eat grass-fed beef and organic, locally grown produce, I don’t even think that is near as important to your health as simply avoiding the two things above (although I do like supporting good farming practices to help encourage their spread and growth). So if you ask me what the most important component of a healthy diet is, other than listening to your body, I would say it is this – avoid vegetable oils and gluten! Aka avoid inflammation causing foods!
7. Listen to your body. I wrote a whole post on this recently, but it is probably the most important rule I follow and governs ever other tip listed here. I listen to what my body needs/wants. If I worked out more, I give my body more calories and more carbs. If I wasn’t very active, I will eat fewer carbs and calories. I respond to what my body needs. And yes, if my mind needs the break, I will even indulge in a cheat meal or two!
8. Know what restaurants around you have HEALTHY options. While eating in is ALWAYS better, it is good to know what restaurants around your home and work DO have quick and healthy options in case you need to eat out or your routine is really thrown off and eating home cooked food isn’t an option. Plus, I find by just having the option to eat out if you really want/need to, makes you even less likely to want to cheat on your diet.
9. Don’t be afraid to adjust. My diet is continually evolving. I’ve gone through periods of complete low carb. And periods of carb cycling. I’ve gone through periods of fasting and periods of eating 6 small meals a day. And as I settle more and more on things that work, the changes have become smaller…But my diet is still always changing. There are periods of time where I go super strict and then there are periods of time when I indulge in dark chocolate every single night and use a little extra cheese. I’m not afraid to make slight variations because I have a consistent base. I’m not afraid to LISTEN TO MY BODY and adjust instead of forcing my body to follow a set plan that may not be working. If you are flexible and listen, you are going to be more consistent than if you force yourself into a pattern that doesn’t really work (because you won’t be able to force yourself to do something for very long if it doesn’t seem to flow with what your body needs!)
10. Don’t be afraid to eat. This rule has numerous meanings. I think all too often people become afraid to eat bad foods. They eat clean for fear that one cheat treat will completely derail their process. There are also those people who watch all the documentaries and become afraid to eat anything that isn’t extremely naturally raised….like conventionally raised beef. But you can’t be afraid to eat! You’ve got to enjoy life and you’ve got to buy what you can. While yes, I do love buying grass-fed beef because the omega ratio is better and it is NATURALLY RAISED, conventional beef isn’t the worst thing out there! For one, it is still better prepping your food at home than buying pre-made crap. And two, conventional beef can be made healthier by simply cooking it in a good, healthy fat like pasture butter or coconut oil. So don’t think you can’t eat well just because you can’t get grass-fed beef or buy all the super expensive local and organic ingredients (although farmer’s markets are good if you are on a budget). Also, you can’t starve yourself to lose weight. More isn’t always more as we’ve discussed numerous times. Dieting is a balance. Everything in moderation! Just focus on eating whole, natural foods.
If you notice, none of these are things you haven’t heard before. Heck, they are things I’ve even stated numerous times before!
And none of them are exact magic foods you need to eat. There is no secret superfood for weight loss. Leaner meats, fattier meats…They can all be a part of a healthy, clean diet. It’s finding out what YOUR BODY NEEDS.
Honestly, if you take away only two things from this post, I hope they are, KEEP IT SIMPLE and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
I got into an interesting discussion last night with clients about diet and what they SHOULD be eating every day. Women especially seem to get very obsessed with restricting their calories when they are trying to lose weight.
My simple answer when they asked me what they should be eating and how many calories they needed was:
Your body’s needs change daily.
They of course rolled their eyes at me and shook their heads because they knew I loved giving that very vague answer.
Some days you are super active and require more fuel while other days you aren’t as active and don’t need as much. Some days you are super hungry while other days you aren’t.
Yet so many people restrict their calories (and their carbs) to the exact same level each and every day.
And that maybe why they aren’t getting the results they want.
You need to fuel your body’s needs. And those needs aren’t the same day-to-day.
If you do an intense workout, YOU ARE GOING TO NEED TO EAT MORE. If you deprive yourself of food when your body needs it, you are going to hinder your progress – be it weight loss or strength gains.
Just like if you eat too much on days when you aren’t active you are going to hinder your progress.
Eat when you are HUNGRY.
People are often shocked when I say this, but…IF YOU AREN’T HUNGRY DON’T EAT! And if you are…THEN EAT!
There is really no most important meal or the day. If you aren’t hungry for breakfast, then don’t eat it!
And if you are hungry at 10 p.m., EAT!
You aren’t going to get fat just because you ate after a certain time of night. If your body needs the fuel, it will use it no matter when you eat. It isn’t like your metabolism decides to just shut off because it is 8 p.m.
Your body is pretty good at telling you what it needs.
You just need to learn how to listen because most people don’t really pay attention. They mistake boredom for hunger or even thirst for a need for food. They can also get caught up in thinking they need to eat every few hours or their metabolism will just shut off so they force down food even when their body isn’t really asking for it.
So how do you learn to listen to your body? How do you know when to cycle your calories and carbs?
HOW TO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:
Think before you eat. It’s really that simple. For example….If you just ate like an hour ago (and it was a filling healthy lunch) and you are sitting at your computer doing some boring work and are struck by a desire to just eat, ask yourself, “Am I hungry or am I bored?” I’m guessing more often than you know, your answer will be BORED. Maybe try drinking some water before you dive in. Dehydration is also another common trigger of “hunger pangs.” And so is stress. Think before you eat.
While I know many people may be shocked by what I will say next….Fasting can be a great way to get in tune with your body. I’m not suggesting you start starving yourself, but occasional intermittent fasts can be a great way to realize how often you eat for reasons unrelated to hunger. I found I became way more in tune with my body when I did intermittent fasting.
I no longer NEED to eat at certain times. And some days I don’t eat till late in the afternoon while other days I need to eat something the second I get up.
The point is though that I can RESPOND to my body’s NEEDS. I don’t just have to eat because I’m conditioned to mentally want something at a certain time of day.
Another great way to get in tune with your body is to keep track of your diet, activity level, emotions and lifestyle.
I know this sounds super annoying, but it can be super helpful if you are really struggling to make a healthy lifestyle stick. There are going to be common trends. Emotions may trigger eating binges. Or you may find out that on certain days when you were more active and ate more carbs you had better results than on days when you worked out intensely yet forced yourself to continue to restrict your carb intake.
Tracking reveals patterns so that we aren’t just guessing at what is going on. Guessing generally leads to frustration and failure.
WHEN/HOW TO CARB AND CALORIE CYCLE:
To put it simply as I stated above – eat when you are hungry and listen to what your body craves.
If you don’t workout, your body won’t need the carbs and calories that it does on days when you do workout. And more intense workouts, especially cardio workouts that really deplete your glycogen stores, are going to require more carbs and more calories.
Respond to your activity level and what your body is craving. (And just because your body is craving carbs doesn’t mean you have to give in and go eat a bunch of crap. There are lots of ways to do a carb re-feed without eating unhealthily.)
Plan days of low carb (around 50 grams) for days when you don’t workout or workout lightly. If you have a super hard intense workout, don’t be afraid to up your carbs to even 200-300 grams. Keep the carbs healthy, but fuel the workout.
While you don’t want your carbs to be up at 200g every day (because if you need that many every day you are probably OVERTRAINING), having a few days where you do get up over 150g is ok and even go.
Also, play around with carb timing. Have some carb refeed days and then have some days where maybe you just have carbs AFTER your workout when your body will quickly grab them up to rebuild.
Generally I break down my diet into three days.
Low day – Around 50 grams of carbs, high fat, high protein.
Medium day – Around 100-120 grams of carbs, medium/low-fat, high protein
High day – Around 200-300 grams of carbs, low-fat, medium protein
This basic plan works for me and I always feel energized.
But there are lots of ways to carb cycle – you can do whole day refeeds or just specific meal refeeds after your workouts.
I must say that there are times where I fast, workout and then basically just have carbs after my workouts and that is my refeed for the day.
The point is to listen to your body and not be stuck believing that the only way to get results is to restrict your diet completely.
While low carb can be a great way to kick-start your diet and may even have help you have great success, you may just find that carb and calorie cycling is what you need to get over that last little hurdle. Sometimes a little more can be better when it comes to weight or fat loss.
And while I have no problems running a half marathon fasted and after a week of low carb, you may just find that your body requires MORE carbs to fuel your activity level and help you reach the strength and performance gains you desire.
Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to eat more calories or carbs especially when your body is asking for them! You may just find your goals are easy to reach when you aren’t so militant about restriction.
So I’ve always known days or meals where you indulge in foods that aren’t necessarily healthy as cheat days or cheat meals.
But recently there has been a lot of talk about whether or not “cheat” is really the proper word to describe the meal or day.
CHEAT implies that you are doing something wrong…something bad…something breaking from what you shouldn’t be doing.
There can be a negative connotation to calling a day or meal a “CHEAT.”
So I’ve heard some people call it a TREAT meal instead.
But personally, TREAT almost bothers me even more. You aren’t a dog…You don’t need a treat for eating well. Eating well is what you should be doing.
Both can really imply, in a way, that eating well isn’t really all that fun, tasty or enjoyable.
Which honestly really isn’t the case.
Healthy food can be delicious. And it not only makes you feel good but helps your body and mind truly run well.
BUT as good as healthy food is and as great as you really do feel when you eat well…there are just times you want to indulge even if that means your belly is going to grumble a bit the next day.
Like for me, a vacation isn’t a vacation if I’m worried about finding something healthy on the menu – If I’m more worried about eating well than on trying new things.
Cheat days, treat days, whatever you call them, are about more than eating bad food. They aren’t even about indulging in things you are “deprived off” otherwise.
They are more about a mental release and enjoying something in life that you don’t necessarily get to do every day.
Maybe a more apt description of cheat days is VACATION.
I mean think about it…Why do you take vacation?
Because you need a break. You need a break from routine. A break from exercising self-control day in and day out. Because you need both a mental and physical rest.
A VACATION is a chance to recharge!
For me…a “cheat day” is exactly that…a chance to re-charge.
It is a mini vacation from self-control and it can mean a ton of different things.
It isn’t always about eating food that is bad for me. I mean sometimes it is…Sometimes it is indulging in those nachos because they just take so good and I really really love food. Sometimes it is getting to try new foods when I’m on vacation and really let go.
But most importantly it is about relaxing and enjoying be it nachos or simply a glass of wine. It is about enjoying something and taking a mini vacation from the normal routine.
It is about “cheating” for the sake of cheating. It isn’t about eating something bad just because it is there or because I’ve had a bad day or because someone else pressures me.
It is about doing something, eating something, that I enjoy because I WANT it.
A big part of making a healthy diet into a lifestyle is about also realizing that you don’t have to be perfect all the time.
You need vacations from work…from family…from daily life…
So why wouldn’t you need a vacation from eating well or working out every once in a while?
We need chances to recharge and indulge be it a glass of wine and dark chocolate, a piece of bread with butter or a whole pizza and pint of ice cream. Shoot maybe it isn’t even eating something unhealthy…Sometimes it is just about telling yourself that you can do WHATEVER that day IF you end up really craving something.
Sometimes you just need a break from your daily habits because those daily habits do wear down your self-control no matter how ingrained they seemed to be.
So whatever your cheat/treat/indulgence/splurge/break/vacation/(whatever you call the snack, meal or day) is, make sure it is something you are going to enjoy to the fullest without guilt.
Do you include a “cheat” something into your daily, weekly or monthly diet plan? What do you prefer to call that “treat?”
I frankly think that developing a healthy diet is simple.
People make it seem like it is super complex. Heck companies want people to think it is complex so they can sell supplements and weight loss products and processed foods that supposedly have all these health benefits.
But honestly, you really only need to remember one thing when it comes to eating healthily – eat whole, natural food!
Cut out all the crap!
Don’t worry about freaking supplements even if they were on Dr. Oz. Don’t worry about your micronutrient intakes. Don’t worry about exactly how many fruits or vegetables you eat or how many omega-3s you are getting.
Just cut out all of the processed crap!
If you started focusing on just eating natural foods, so things that spring out of the ground and aren’t processed…aka usually have a short shelf life unless frozen, your healthy and the way you feel will improve exponentially.
Just by starting to even cut out one processed thing a day, like the crackers you eat for a snack (even if they are supposedly “healthy” crackers), you will be cutting out a ton of crap from your diet.
Processed foods are loaded down with vegetable oils and sugars. I mean take a look at any nutritional label on any pre-packaged food at the grocery store. I bet there are a ton of things listed in the ingredients that you’ve never heard of.
AND I bet all of them have way more sugar than you expected…but then again you were probably more worried about the fact that they were supposedly advertised as low-fat or “all-natural,” right!?!
But seriously, those pre-packaged foods can do some damage.
Here we are worried about the amount of saturated fat in an animal product and yet people are consuming a TON of simple sugars and vegetable oil (which is SUPER bad because it causes inflammation because it contains a horrible ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s) in all of the processed crap out there!
Anyway, the point is if you cut out processed, pre-packaged foods and focus on eating whole, natural foods, you will instantly cut out a TON of bad things.
Once you do that and have a good diet baseline, then start looking at ratios and exactly what natural foods are best and how you react to gluten, dairy and carbs, in general.
Don’t make it complicated to start!
At work we constantly talk about getting back to basics. And that is exactly what you’ve got to do here. Don’t make a ton of changes and complicate your diet.
Make one simple change and get back to the basics – eat whole, natural foods!
Today Lois and I were talking about her daughter trying to change her diet and how difficult that can be.
Lois didn’t think that her daughter could make the transition to Primal like she did.
But I told her that her daughter most definitely could.
Everyone goes about starting a healthy diet in a different way. And even once we’ve settled on a healthy diet, we are constantly editing it – we are constantly changing it to fit our lifestyle better, make us healthier, help us reach a fitness goal….
No one’s diet is exactly the same as anyone elses.
For some people, making a drastic diet change is simply impossible. They have to ease themselves into it.
That is exactly what Lois’s daughter will have to do.
It may start with cutting out soda. Then vegetable oils. Then gluten until she finds a diet that not only makes her healthy but allows her to reach her goals and enjoy life.
Yes that’s right…ENJOY LIFE.
Most people don’t consider “enjoying life” when they start a new diet.
You have to create a diet that works for you! And you won’t stick to a diet that you don’t enjoy!
While you want to eat what’s healthy, you also have to allow yourself foods that you enjoy.
While you don’t want to eat a ton of bacon or a ton of cheese, if you enjoy those foods ALLOW yourself to have them. If you deprive yourself for too long, you will just fall off the wagon and have the hardest time getting back on.
If you enjoy pizza, while you don’t want to eat it every day, you can give yourself meals to eat pizza at…and I’m not talking about some Paleo/Primal pizza…I’m talking about the real thing.
I think that all out cheats once a week really work for some people.
There are just so many things that can work. You just need to find out what you enjoy the most while staying in line with what is healthy.
Only if you enjoy the diet will it really work for you!
And if a diet doesn’t work for you? You won’t stick to it no matter how healthy it is!