One of the questions my clients ask me the most is, "What exactly do I eat??" The answer to this is complex, so I thought I'd tackle it with a blog post. First, we need to recognize that every BODY is different. And that's not just hearsay, it's the truth. We have to remember that ALWAYS when discussing nutrition and fitness habits. Comparing can be dangerous. Everyone comes into the game with different injuries, genetics, past experience with dieting and fitness, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. So my first tip is to make your own way and stop comparing yourself to others. I know, it's easier said than done. But that is a great practice for life, so we might as well start working on it now.
Okay, now that THAT'S out of the way, let's get into the meat of this post. I think there should be an order to how you make changes to your diet, so that you can establish a baseline of success before moving on to the next thing. Upper level strategies are great, but it's better to have a solid foundation first. So let's go through the steps, in the order in which I think they should be applied:
This is where it has to begin. You can't worry about carb cycling and intermittent fasting and paleo, etc. if you are eating tons of chemicals, additives, sugar, and crap. Eating clean means minimally processed, very few ingredients, no alcohol, no sugar, no white flour. And the goal would be to eat clean 80% of the time. This is a strategy that I cover in depth in my 4-Week Slim Down Program.
There are so many resources on clean eating, and our society is making this a a much easier solution for people. Restaurants and grocery stores are cognizant of our desire for chemical free foods. Pinterest and Google are LOADED with pictures of delicious food that is clean. I even have a new cookbook called "Sugar and Spice" that's full of clean recipes for busy families! So this type of eating is really accessible for everyone and makes for a great place to start when you're dialing in your nutrition.
This is where I started. And this has gotten me a long way, guys. JUST THIS. No fancy eating plans, no portion control, no tracking. Just this. For at least two years my body gave me results from eating this way. And then I was ready for more :) On to the next strategy...
This is a great strategy for beginners, but I think to really benefit from tracking your food, you should mostly be eating CLEAN foods. Not all calories are created equally. A Snickers bar and a sweet potato with butter have roughly the same amount of calories, but which is more beneficial in your body?? So while counting calories will produce results, if you want to get healthy, not just skinny, you have to eat clean first. That's why I listed it before tracking.
There are lots of ways to track your food. One of the most widely used is My Fitness Pal. It's super user-friendly and can be used for looking at macros, keeping track of your water, setting fitness goals, and so much more. If you want to know specifics about the foods you are eating, give MFP a try.
Another way to track your food is by keeping a food journal. For some reason, I find this to be my favorite way, but I track portions, which I'll get into below. In a little notebook I keep on my counter I write down everything I eat each day (and note their portions). It's super fast and super simple. But the act of writing it down causes me to think about what I'm eating instead of just mindlessly grabbing food all day.
I also PLAN my meals in advance, which I would consider another type of tracking. In my calendar, I write out the meals for our family so that I am prepared for the week. Being prepared is key to achieving health and fitness goals!
If you have gotten the eating clean part down, but you feel your portions may be off, finding a good portion control program might be a good next step. If you have more than 10 pounds to lose, I would recommend the 21 Day Fix to establish some good parameters with your portion control. The guidelines I learned from completing that program are still with me today, nearly two years later. I have better understanding on how to fill my plate, how many servings of each food group I need to lose or maintain my weight, and what a correct portion size is. When I track my food, I track it using the food groups I learned about during the 21 Day Fix. My journal looks like this:
Yellow (carbs): X X
Green (veggies): X X X X
Purple (fruits): X X X
Blue (healthy fats): X X
Red (protein): X X X X
Orange (oils and seeds): X X
Each time I eat, I circle an X in the food group it's from. These are approved foods only, so I try to keep it clean (not circling a yellow for tater tots, for example). The colors stand for the containers the foods go in. I have long since abandoned those containers, but I still refer to my foods in those terms! I have added more fats and oils and seeds to my goals than I originally had in my 21 Day Fix plan because the research I have done shows how beneficial those are to our diets. So I tweaked it a bit for my needs and goals. BUT, the rest of it is about the same. I try not to go crazy with carbs, and work super hard each day to get my veggies in. If I didn't track, I could go days and days with one serving of veggies each day, and that just isn't enough.
This system is simple and it works for me. But perhaps you need more structure and guidance. If so, than using MFP or the 21 Day Fix program would be a good solution for you.
Intermittent fasting is not new to me, but the term is. For a few years now, I have tried to stop eating after dinner, which is usually around 6 pm. And then I don't eat again until breakfast the next day. Occasionally I will have a snack if I'm really hungry, but for the most part I'm finished eating for the day. This strategy has helped me stay lean and wake up with a flat midsection because my body was able to go into fat burning mode while I slept. You see, it takes our body quite a while to digest a meal, and then enter into fat burning mode, so if we never give our bodies downtime from eating, it's a bit harder to get to our fat stores. Enter intermittent fasting.
This is a great strategy to use if you have already tried the strategies listed above and you want an extra PUSH in achieving your fitness goals.
*Note: It is my personal opinion that if you don't have much weight to lose, and if your metabolism is good (meaning, you haven't yo-yo dieted for years) then this strategy will only work for you short-term. Try it and play with it to see what about it works best for you. It's fun to experiment and determine what your body needs. And once you get to this strategy, you are likely in a pretty good place with your fitness, so you'll really be able to see how it works for you!
Tracking your Macros:
Once you are comfortable with the above strategies, but you want to see more results, more muscle and a lower body fat percentage (who doesn't, really?) you might look into macros. The world of macros is complex and varies widely depending on your specific goals. My advice would be to read up on macros before starting to track them closely so that you know where to set your targets. It's a super effective way to lose body fat, but definitely requires more effort and attention than the previous strategies. This is one I haven't gotten the nerve up to tackle yet, but it's on my to-do list! I want to become proficient at it myself so that I can share results and methodology with you!
I hope that you find this overview of strategies helpful, and that you can see how they build on each other. As with all advice I share with you, I truly want you to be successful in achieving your health and fitness goals. So start where you're at-maybe that's at the beginning of my list. Or maybe it's in the middle. But you will be more successful if you build on these strategies, rather than adopting them all at once, or jumping straight to tracking your macros.
Let me know if you have questions for me!