Often when I start someone on the road to a healthy diet, I give them macronutrient guidelines. Like keep your protein, carbs and fat at so and so a level.
I usually also discuss with them carb cycling and that they want to try to make the mainstays of their diet protein and vegetables.
I then let them go on their way.
I don’t want to create too many rules or develop too many restrictive guidelines because that just leads to people giving up (aka cheating and then not recording what they eat).
So I give them these very basic guidelines (hit these macronutrient intake numbers and focus on eating whole natural foods) and send them on their way for the first few weeks.
What I find most interesting is what many people have been coming back with…And not only what they come back with but also their surprise and frustration at WHY they aren’t losing weight.
It is very interesting to see that most people ignore the WHOLE NATURAL FOODS part and get super caught up in simply hitting the numbers.
Actually they use the numbers as an excuse to eat bad…”Well I’m still under calories for the day so I can have these Oreos.” Or “I’m under my carbs for the day so this burrito with this huge flour tortilla is fine.”
I know If It Fits Your Macros has become a very popular diet program, and while I think it is a great program with a ton of benefits, I do believe that QUALITY MATTERS when it comes to food.
I mean carbs from fruit and carbs from a flour tortilla might all add up under your macronutrients as CARBS, but their nutritional breakdown is far from the same.
Even ground beef has a very different nutritional breakdown if it is Grass-fed or grain-fed.
I mean just think about GMO vs. non-GMO corn! One is way better for you than the other!
And I firmly believe that the more chemicals, the more processed CRAP we put in our bodies, the less efficiently they run.
So while macros create great guidelines, and I firmly believe in keeping your daily basic intake of carbs to under 150 grams (and even under 100 grams if you are really trying to lose weight), I do believe that not all carbs are created equal. Not all fat, all protein is created equal.
As I’m saying this, I know many of you are also shaking your heads in agreement. You know there are bad fats. You know that sugars are bad for you.
Yet you are the ones that eat prepackaged burger patties or only eat pre-made meals from the grocery store and expect great results just because you are fitting your macros!
All those ingredients that you can’t pronounce on those labels are BAD FOR YOU! That prepackaged salad with that prepackaged balsamic and the ingredients to preserve it isn’t going to be the same as a homemade salad.
Yes it might be BETTER than going out and getting a burger and fries made in vegetable oil, but that doesn’t mean it’s GOOD.
Better doesn’t equal good. Yes, better is better, but just being better isn’t always enough.
It is like saying, “Well I did half my homework due for class today. That is better than last time when I only did a quarter of my homework for class.”
Yea doing half is BETTER but it still isn’t good! It still isn’t going to get you that great grade!
Anyway…That is my rant.
All of this, diet and exercise and reaching your fitness goals, all comes down to one thing – Whether or not we make excuses for ourselves.
I mean come on…We all KNOW basically what we have to do to lose weight and be healthy. We all KNOW we should eat whole natural foods.
Yet we all find ways to make excuses for why we can’t do that. Or why what we are doing should work even though we are skipping the most basic principle to healthy living.
We all make excuses for ourselves and it has got to stop if we want results.
Heck be it quality of food or quality of exercise, QUALITY MATTERS if we want to be healthy.
So stop making excuses. Stop making things more difficult on yourself.
If you want results, QUALITY MATTERS!
Desserts are my weakness. But now I don’t eat them very often.
I have a piece of dark chocolate occasionally or some berries, maybe even with a little nut butter. But I never really try to make any “healthy” desserts. I save my cupcakes for cheat days thank you very much. If I want a cupcake, I want the REAL THING.
But the other day, one of Ryan’s students, who’s a chef, told him to try to make a frozen strawberry merengue since it would be healthy.
Of course it being summer and me loving frozen yogurt and ice cream, WE HAD TO TRY IT!
Frozen Strawberry Merengue
3 Egg whites
1/3 cup sliced Strawberries
Honey or sugar if you want (we did not include this)
Slice the strawberries up. While they will get sliced up and mashed further by the blender, you want them small enough to start.
Add egg whites and sliced strawberries to a standing mixer or bowl and blend. Keep mixing until stiff peaks form.
Scoop into a bowl and freeze. The frozen merengue comes out with a fluffy almost snow cone-ish icy texture.
It is super good! Obviously this won’t be super sweat unless your strawberries are so you can add sweetener if you want.
A great low cal, healthy dessert and perfect for our high carb days since we do lower fat on those days!
And since I’m cauliflower obsessed, and love our homemade fried rice as well, I wanted to share this delicious dinner to go along with your dessert!
Cauliflower Fried Rice
1/2 head of cauliflower
1lbs chicken breast
3 garlic chives
4 tbsp Tamari
Garlic, salt and pepper to taste
Rice uncooked cauliflower in a food processor and set aside.
Season chicken and place in a hot skillet coated with a bit of sesame oil.
When chicken is starting to cook, add tamari and chives. (You can add more or less of both depending on your taste.)
When chicken is just about cooked, add cauliflower to pan and then add one egg at a time. Scramble the eggs in the pan and mix in with the cauliflower and chicken.
Serve! And then eat the merengue after…Or along side…Whatever floats your boat!
As one of my clients always says about the cauliflower mash, “The cauliflower tastes like CARBS!” So I guess if you are craving carbs (yes…veggies are carbs but I take it to mean starchy or even maybe bad for you carbs) but don’t want to eat them, this and the cauliflower mash are great options!
I’m a bit obsessed with cauliflower. I mean I could literally just eat a whole head of it raw.
Is that strange?
But anyway, since it has looked so amazing at the farmers market, we’ve gotten it the last few times and the other night, Ryan created a cauliflower mash with it that was absolutely amazing.
So because I’m cauliflower obsessed and this was a super delicious meal of Wild Caught Salmon steak and Cauliflower Mash, I wanted to share the recipe! (Maybe I should call this the Un-American meat and potatoes…even though I do like grass-fed steak and mashed potatoes…)
Salmon Steak and Cauliflower Mash
2 Salmon Steaks
1/2 tbsp Paprika
2 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp diced garlic
1/2 tbsp dill
1 tbsp cream
3/4 head cauliflower
Salt and pepper to taste
For Salmon Steaks:
Sprinkle with spices and then sear in a skillet (with 1 tbsp olive oil) on high heat for 1-2 minute each side. Then lower temperature to medium/low and cook to medium/medium rare. About 8-10 minutes.
Steam cauliflower until soft. When you transfer the cauliflower to the food processor, try to get rid of all extra water first. Put into a food processor with butter, garlic, dill, cream and salt and pepper. Blend until everything is mixed and there are no cauliflower chunks.
Then serve steak and mash together. If you are like Ryan, you may even enjoy a bit of hot sauce on your cauliflower mash!
The salmon steaks made one portion for each of us, but the cauliflower mash actually made about four servings…however, it was so good (and low-calorie) that we ended up consuming all four portions! (YUM!)
What random food do you love to consume…like raw cauliflower?
Also, since I’m into self-experimentation and have actually tried a number of the diets on Free the Animal’s list (and happen to agree with his findings), I thought it was interesting to share. What diet have you found to be most effective?
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!
I’m sort of sick of being called Paleo with a negative connotation attached. I’m sick of having my diet dismissed because of a term someone else attached to it.
So while I’ve discussed the great components of both the Primal and Paleo diet, but I’m really not either.
I mean let’s face it, no one really eats Paleolithic food so no one is really Paleo.
It is just a name. A way to describe a “philosophy.”
The name has either become a source of pride or something to mock. People either blindly follow the name or won’t give the diet a second look because of it.
BUT, even though I wouldn’t define myself as perfectly Paleo or Primal, I respect the message of both of the diets – EAT WHOLE NATURAL FOODS!
All diets THAT ARE ACTUALLY HEALTHY, no matter what you call them, should follow that basic rule – Eat whole, natural foods. Get plenty of healthy fats, proteins and vegetables and avoid process crap and gluten.
I personally believe that if you avoid gluten and vegetable oil, you will avoid the two leading causes of inflammation, which can cause serious health problems.
I also believe thought that it doesn’t mean you can just eat a ton of gluten-free products.
You also need to avoid as much processed food as possible because frankly, it is CRAP.
But whether or not corn or dairy or peanuts or beans are bad is all up to you. Certain diets say they are bad, but honestly, I think it comes down to how you feel when you eat them and the studies you choose to believe. Because, let’s face it, you can find studies to basically support anything.
At some point you have to make an educated decision about what studies to believe. And then you experiment to find what works for you.
I’ve found that corn tortillas are something I really enjoy. And they can be all natural with no crap. I find that they help me get the perfect amount of carbs to perform well and feel great.
The Primal diet doesn’t promote eating corn, but it works for me.
I also like to include full-fat cheeses and minimal cream in moderation. I don’t have a problem with dairy SO I EAT IT.
Of course, if you have a problem with dairy or follow strict Paleo, you probably won’t.
Then the amount of fat and types of fat you choose to consume are also up to you.
I’m not afraid of some saturated fat. NATURAL products contain it.
HOWEVER, I’m going to choose grass-fed or naturally raised animal products because they have a natural, appropriate ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s. Just because I’m not afraid of some saturated fat doesn’t mean I’m going to eat grain-fed, conventionally raised animals.
They do not contain the same healthy ratio of fats!
But again, it is up to you and HOW YOU FEEL! Maybe you are still a bit more fat-o-phobic even though you eat whole natural foods.
Anyway, stop worrying about the name of your diet.
Whatever you call it, if you eat whole natural foods, you are on the right track! Then it just comes down to exactly what foods you choose to include.
Also, this leads me to a quick fasting update….I used to do intermittent fasting almost every day. Now I’ve varied it up more and I’ve found I’ve gotten even better results. I train fasted still, but only in the mornings. At night, I generally train after eating a small meal.
I’ve found that I get the best results training in this way. I also find that I’m listening to my body more by not forcing myself to fast till a certain time every day.
Again though….it is up to you to find what works! You can find a bazillion suggestions, articles that tell you to never fast and articles that promote fasting for 24 hours at a time. But it comes down to what works for you – to self-experimentation (which I’ve written about so many times!).
Conventional wisdom will tell you that it is almost impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time.
But we all know that conventional wisdom is wrong 99% of the time.
Conventional wisdom states:
- To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit.
- To gain muscle, you must be in a calorie surplus.
But actually, there is a way that you can!
Through calorie cycling, fasting, eating whole, natural foods, and doing strength training , you will be able to accomplish both goals at once – gaining muscle and losing fat.
Calorie cycling means eating more calories on the days when you workout (calorie surplus) and eating fewer calories on the days when you don’t workout (calorie deficit). By cycling days of higher and lower calorie intake, you will be able to lose fat without catabolizing your muscle or slowing down your metabolism.
Lean Gains has a great post called “Maintaining Low Body Fat.” In it he states the importance of calorie cycling to be both muscled and lean. He also states that, unlike with calorie restriction, calorie cycling will not only help you accomplish your fitness goals but will also have behavioral benefits as well!
Surplus calories should not be consumed each and every day, but in conjunction with training – when they are likely to be used for repair of damaged muscle tissues and recovery of glycogen stores. Conversely, slight underfeeding on rest days may have benefits mediated via mechanisms that kick in during calorie restriction (on top of the independent and positive effects of intermittent fasting), such as improvement in blood lipids and other health markers.
And then there’s the fact that people simply get more productive with a lessened focus on food on rest days – they get stuff done. But this effect is unique for the short-term. It’s certainly not something that occurs with prolonged dieting, where thoughts of food may become overwhelming and obsessive. I actually prefer to have a few dieting days now and then. I’ve noticed I am at my most productive during those days and I certainly don’t experience “dieting” symptoms such as increases in hunger.
So, cycling between overfeeding (training days) and slight underfeeding (rest days) is another excellent strategy to remain lean regardless of your goal. The benefits are not only physiological, but also behavioral.
So to sum it up – calorie cycling helps you get the calories you need on training days to build muscle while calorie restriction on non-training days helps you create a calorie deficit so that you can lose fat.
Fasting is a great way to create a calorie deficit while also maintaining your lean muscle mass and even increasing it! Mark’s Daily Apple actually had a post about fasting the other day in which Mark states:
[Fasting] increases fat oxidation while sparing lean mass. Since what we’re trying to do is lose fat (rather than just “weight”), the fact that fasting increases hormones that preferentially burn fat and decreases hormones that inhibit fat burning is extremely desirable.
Fasting increases hormones such as the growth hormone, which is not only one of the “premier” fat burning hormones, but is also involved in muscle growth!
How does growth hormone promote both?
Growth hormone promotes lipolysis, which is the breakdown of lipids and involves the hydrolysis of triglycerides into free fatty acids followed by further degradation. This process produces Ketones, which are found in large quantities in ketosis, a metabolic state that occurs when the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies, which can be used by the body for energy. AKA…the body starts using fat for fuel!
So during fasting more growth hormone is released which promotes lipolysis and the body begins to burn fast for fuel so that you lose fat!
The growth hormone increase during fasting also means increases in muscle mass. It stimulates both the differentiation and proliferation of myoblasts, which are a type of embryonic progenitor cell that gives rise to muscle cells. Growth hormone also stimulates amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in muscle and other tissues.
What all this means is that growth hormone helps your muscles absorb what they need to repair and grow while also helping your body use fat for fuel!…AKA fasting helps you gain muscle and lose fat!!!!
Whole, Natural Foods:
So when people tell you it’s all about calories in vs. calories out to lose weight, they are to some extent right. If you just want to lose weight on a scale, yes…you just need to eat fewer calories. BUT if you want to lose fat and retain lean muscle mass, the type of calories you consume DO MATTER.
There have been numerous studies proving that eating more protein helps people looking to lose body fat retain lean muscle mass.
After 12 weeks, our study found that the group of women who followed a reduced-calorie eating plan while consuming a higher level of protein was more effective in maintaining lean body mass during weight loss compared to those who consumed the same amount of calories with less protein.
So if you are in a calorie deficit, eating protein will help you spare your lean muscle mass so that all you are losing is fat.
Protein is also essential for muscle growth. The amino acids that make up protein are needed to help repair muscles after a strength training workout so that they grow.
And guess what more muscle means? More fat burning! When you gain muscle, your body has the ability to burn more fat.
So by consuming protein you aid your body in the preservation and ADDITION of lean muscle mass, which, in turn, will help you burn more fat!
How do you build muscle? Through strength training! What can help you lose fat? Strength training!
So what can intense workouts help you do? Gain muscle and lose fat all at the same time! Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen one of the top Crossfitters? Enough said.
Anyway, lifting heavy weights for fewer than 12 reps will help you gain strength and add muscle. The ideal rep range for muscle growth or muscle hypertrophy is usually considered to be between 8-12 reps. I however believe that if you use challenging weights no matter how many reps, will gain strength and therefore gain muscle.
No matter what rep range you believe to be ideal, stressing the muscles through strength training will cause trama to the muscles which will cause them to repair themselves and grow bigger and stronger in the process (especially if you eat the right type of calories!).
And not only does strength training help you gain muscle but it is better for fat loss than spending hours on a piece of cardio equipment. Even Women’s Health Magazine says so!
When you skip the weight room, you lose out on the ultimate flab melter. Those two sessions a week can reduce overall body fat by about 3 percentage points in just 10 weeks, even if you don’t cut a single calorie. That translates to as much as three inches total off your waist and hips. Even better, all that new muscle pays off in a long-term boost to your metabolism, which helps keep your body lean and sculpted. Suddenly, dumbbells sound like a smart idea.
So start lifting those heavy weights! Strength training will help you build muscle AND burn fat!
See? Conventional wisdom is wrong again. You can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. I know I did!