Filter out the crap
Being told what not to eat, what's bad for you and what's good for you. What will make you lean and what will make you fat? It's forever changing and leaves a lot of us completely baffled at what we should be eating for our gains.
Getting a workout done can sometimes seem like the easy bit. We watch a video as to “how to”, get our home equipment ready and tie our laces. We try our hardest; move our bodies as fast and as powerfully as we can. After 10-20 minutes we wipe our brows and go home to refuel.
But with what?
Make it simple.
There is no good and bad. No black and white. Olive oil causes cancer, try the potato diet, IIFYM (if it fits your macros)/all calories are equal, low-fat high-carb diet, and saturated fats raise cholesterol and cause heart disease. There are so many nutritional approaches and myths, it can leave us staring blankly into our cupboards not quite sure what to reach for.
It can be more about your attitude and mental approach to fuelling your body that can hold us back rather than the diet/nutritional approach we want to follow.
CrossFit promotes paleo and the zone diet. Both which have some great concepts and help with that healthy lifestyle change we are after.
However, it is how people read and interpret these approaches that can be their downfall.
Paleo diet – primitive – primal……problematic?
Let's look at paleo nutrition as an example. Promoting grains, fresh meat, vegetables, nuts and fruit. If you couldn't hunt it 100 years ago then you shouldn't eat it. Nothing processed, nothing man made. Awesome idea and great way of shifting your plate focus to a fist size of meat, two fist sizes of vegetables and half a fist of starchy carbs.
However, through consultations with clients, they tell me the paleo approach didn't work for them, a lot of the time it is due to feeling lethargic, not enough variety and can lead on to cause IBS or vitamin deficiencies.
People read the paleo diet as black and white. They go on the internet and read people's OPINIONS on how you shouldn't eat rice, white potatoes are the devil, eliminate all sugar and only have one piece of fruit a day. You become a label Nazi checking ingredients, eliminating huge food groups and not consuming enough vitamins and minerals for good health.
There needs to be a balance of nutrients for the body, and a balance of some of the "good" foods and "bad" foods for the mind.
We don't live in a cave; we don't have to hunt our foods. Our bodies don't digest food as black and white as "this is bad and this is good". It goes in, uses the carbs, proteins and fats as fuels, rebuilding blocks as recovery, functioning bodily systems and what ever it doesn't need it stores as body fat. We need that bit of body fat so when the body goes on the move it can chip into it, allowing us to still function and get our gains.
Ok, I have massively over-simplified here how the human body works.
I am not saying that a 200-calorie portion of fruit is the same as a 200- calorie portion of chocolate. Different foods go through different metabolic pathways and have direct effects on fat burning and the hormones and brain centers that regulate appetite.
But by following a strict diet that doesn’t allow room for error can send us into a food focused frenzy.
Having your lunch and dinner based on paleo is a great idea, as long as you put some starchy carbs on your plate with it. Don’t see any foods as “the devil” or “a disease”. If you feel good and can tolerate diary, then have a dash of cream in your coffee or some grated cheese on your salad.
Then, breakfast, dessert and snacks can be your time to have a bit more of a variety. Oats, eggs, home-made pancakes, fruit, rice cakes, yogurt, dark chocolate, honey, nut butter all make for great tasty snacks. I have so many great quick and easy snack recipes to try out, whether it be muffins, fruit bars, smoothies or granola. There are loads of options to eat something tasty whilst hitting your goals and not starving the body. As long as you don't over eat on snacks and plan out your day you will succeed with your goals.
For those of us that accuracy and portion control is part of the problem, I highly recommend apps like Myfitness Pal for a short period of time so that you can give yourself a macro breakdown of carbs, protein and fats and put your food in for the day to see how you are breaking your day up. If, like me, you struggle with that portion control (my eyes are way bigger than my belly), then this is a great way to get to grips with HOW MUCH is on your plate. You can over eat on the good stuff guys.
Zone diet – protein adequate or precarious?
Another great nutrition template to follow is the zone diet as it gives you an idea of portion control, with 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs. This approach can be easily followed using an app like Myfitness pal.
The zone diet was created by Barry Sears more than 30 years ago and promotes eating adequate portion of protein and promotes eating carbs mainly through fruit and vegetables, leaving starchy carbs to be consumed sparingly. If you are weightlifting and/or doing CrossFit, sparingly having starchy carbs is not a great idea. These carbs are our energy source and allow us to lift big and heavy.
I have read on the Google search of “Zone diet” an example of a diet starting at 1500 calories.
If you are lying completely still and not exerting any energy, then fantastic! This calorie intake will help you lose weight. But if you are a moving body, wanting to feel good and lose weight, this is a recipe for disaster and be a high risk of you going into a crash and binge.
Again, filter out the crap! Start at a maintenance level of calories, start big so that you can lose weight eating loads of food and not feeling starving hungry. (For example, if you are a 140lb woman and you begin your health journey on 1500 calories, you will get to a point, as we all will, where you will plateau. Where’s your wiggle room? What’s your next step? Well, you have no-where to go other than taking those calories down again. Hungry much?
Whereas, if you started on a maintenance level with good, nutritious foods, think 2,200-2,400 calories, then when you hit that plateau you can drop your calories by 50 and slowly take those calories down every time you stop seeing the progress you desire. There may be times you might feel hungry, you won’t be starving your body of the fuel it will need, maintaining a strong and functioning body).
The zone diet is great as it gives you a higher than normal protein portion and promotes carbs. But it over-simplifies matters and looks at starchy carbs rather than including the all-important vegetables and fruit (see my blog on fiber to get an idea of why you need these colour-tastic foods in your diet).
You can’t cheat and achieve
The last thing I want to touch on is a cheat day or cheat meal.
I really dislike this concept. It again promotes food as being naughty and nice.
I don't believe this to be a healthy approach. As soon as we get to that Saturday or Sunday and see it as a cheat day all kinds of strange behavior happens. Doughnuts for breakfast, cake for lunch and buckets of ice cream in bed. You send your body into overdrive and leave yourself feeling sick and frustrated.
That food hangover lasts for days, leaving you feel recovered for about three days until you do it again.
Rather than binging your body on sugar, why not have a mid week dessert of ice cream, fruit and drizzle some honey and sprinkle of nuts?
Or, craving a pizza, have one on a Thursday night with a glass of wine?
I encourage people to make homemade pizzas/spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna or fish/cottage pie (check out my recipe page). If that is what you fancy and crave, then eat it.
It breaks your week up, allowing you to appreciate your food and gives you the option of going out for dinner.
Then have something similar on the weekend, allowing you to create a healthy lifestyle for yourself rather than splitting your week into "good" and "bad" eating habits.
Consistency with food is key. It puts your body in a rhythm and you will notice yourself getting hungry around the same times and craving the foods that you have on a daily basis rather than spiking your sugar levels and craving the whole confectionary isle in Tesco.