Nutrition is the foundation of your fitness. You can NOT expect to make significant progress with your weight loss or muscle gain, WOD times, rep counts, sport performance, etc. if you are missing a good solid foundation in nutrition. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because your workouts are more intense and more frequent than they have ever been before you can leave the box and head to McD's on the way home. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you are at your "ideal" weight you don't need to worry about nutrition. Nutrition should be a top priority to everyone, regardless of your goals.
Everyone fits on the nutrition spectrum somewhere. From those on a first name basis with the drive-thru workers, to those that think reading this blog is beneath them because they have SO got it together with their nutrition. Everyone can improve their health and fitness through their nutrition, from the Drive-thru Divas to the Nutrition Nazi's. Everyone has room for improvement, so don't get discouraged!
First things first, be honest with yourself about what and how much you are eating, what you are feeding your family, and how you feel/ how your kids behave (yes, it makes a difference!) Keep a food log. Yeah, it seems like a pain, but you might be surprised when you see just how much and what you eat. There is a nice little feature on WODtogether that will log meals (up at the top right, looks like a plate.) By the way, writing "chicken" in your food log when you actually ate a 20 piece chicken nuggets from McDonald's isn't exactly being honest with yourself.
Ok, so you keep the log for a while, and see that the majority of your food is yellow and brown and contains the adjective "crispy". Not. Good. Time for some BIG changes. Let's do a major revamp- throw away everything processed that is in your house, totally cut out all sugar, dairy, and grain and put you on a strict protein:carb:fat ratio. Seem like a good plan? Heck no! You are pretty much asking to fail. Ok, plan B: since this is going to be hard, let's just say screw it and keep eating the dollar menu crap. That was working just fine, right? Heck no! How is that even an option?
The way to approach nutrition is the same way we approach a WOD- scale it. You can't do the Paleo diet RX? Then scale it back to something that works for your budget, lifestyle and patience level. (If you even decide Paleo is the way to go- I will expand on that another day.) Your "Paleo" right now may mean you are eating green veggies every day for the first time, ever. Then as you gain confidence and make improvements, you scale up. Just like a WOD.
Take a look at your diet and figure out what you can change, what you can substitute to start making a positive difference. Trying to determine whether to try Paleo or Zone or Atkins or South Beach shouldn't even be on your mind if your breakfast regularly consists of sugary cereal or doughnuts followed by a mid-morning snack of Cheetos. You WILL FAIL at a major dietary change if you cant get the small stuff under control on your own. Don't worry about getting it perfect. Worry about getting it better. Here are some easy tips you can follow even if you are currently on donuts and Cheetos diet:
1. Don't skip breakfast. Ever. Yes, mornings are crazy. Sometimes you aren't even hungry first thing in the morning. Too bad. Get up earlier, and eat anyway. People who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight even though they are eating more calories. This is also why it is important to make breakfast count. Starchy, sugary food- though enticing, (cereal) is NOT good fuel to start your day. You will crash and be starving before noon. MAKE your kids eat breakfast too. Eggs or sausage with some fruit is a much better option over Fruit Loops. And no, there is no Fruit in Fruit Loops. They don't really qualify as food. Homemade breakfast burritos, yogurt parfaits, protein packed smoothies, and veggie omelets are all ideas. Make sure it packs a protein punch. A major portion of your daily protein should come from breakfast.
2. Snack on purpose. Sitting in front of the TV with a bag of chips mindlessly shoveling them into your pie-hole is not what I mean here. Snacking between meals- good, healthy, real food snacks- keeps your metabolism up, and teaches your body to crave healthy food. Again, this works for your kids too!!! You can't eat what you don't have. Quit buying Doritos and Oreos and buy fresh fruit and veggies, tree nuts (almonds) and air popped popcorn. Have them cut up and in bags or small containers ready to go when you need a snack. No excuses.
3. Be aware of portions. We have grown accustomed to value-size and super-sized everything. Bigger is better. More is more. Learn what a "serving" is. Generally speaking, a serving of protein (a piece of meat) is the size of a deck of cards. So that tenderloin you had the other night that was 6 times the size of the bun- that should've fed, like, your whole family. Food was intended to sustain us and provide our body with what it needs to Use smaller bowls and plates. I frequently put my food on salad plates so it looks like I am eating a lot, when I am actually eating what I should be. The plate is full, and so am I. Comfortably- not miserably.
4. Friends don't let friends drink...whatever is in that. If you're gonna watch what you eat, you've gotta watch what you drink too. It kills me to say this. Drinks are my downfall. I'm a fountain drink lovin' fool even though I KNOW what is in them- empty calories, sugar and chemicals. Yeah, drink up!!! Think you are in the clear because you drink diet? No way, Jose. You are actually worse off. You are doing more damage drinking diet than regular. You may not get the calories, but you may get cancer. (There is no getting around it- there are actual studies linking aspartame to cancer.) So quit keeping it in the house- that's going to cut WAY back on your soda consumption. Refrain from stopping to get one because "it's only a dollar". They are always ginormous and you will probably be more likely to order some other form of crappy food you don't really want while you are there. Am I right? If you absolutely can't break the addiction to soda, let it be a special treat. Something I have done before is force myself to drink X amount of water (like 1/2 a gallon or more a day, for a week) before I can have a soda. If I fail, no Dr.Pepper for me. I've also done something similar with burpees. I set a goal of a gallon of water per day (which is a crap ton of water if you aren't used to it). For every ounce I fell short, I did a burpee. You had better believe I got those ounces in!!! Drink water. It's kinda boring, but it's the best. Flushes out the toxins, keeps you hydrated, and it's cheap. If you want to get really crazy you could cut up lemons, lime, oranges, cucumber or mint and put in. But keep away from those pink and blue packets. More chemicals. Coffee is fine, but I am referring to plain ole brewed coffee- not a double caramel mocha frappucinno. That is no longer coffee- it's dessert. Tea is good too. Use honey to sweeten.
5. Eat more whole food and less...lab created ones. If you want to eat healthy but don't really know what to buy at the store other than spinach, keep this in mind: The shorter the ingredient list the better & the easier to pronounce said ingredients, the better. As an example- there is a shake at Baskin Robbins with 73 ingredients. Last I checked it takes about 5 to make a milkshake- and that's including the whipped cream and cherry on top. So why all the ingredients? Chemicals. Preservatives. Oh, and 3 days worth of saturated fat. Avoid all that. Please. Pay attention to the labels. Also, many people find that shopping the perimeter of the store helps them avoid the processed, chemical laden junk. Processed means food that has been altered from its natural state (pasteurization, preservatives, heat, and so on) to extend the shelf life or make it more convenient. Hold up- did you catch that? "Altered from its natural state". I for one, prefer my food to still be food when I eat it. Unfortunately, processed, refined and enriched constitutes most of the food in our grocery stores and restaurants. Be aware of label buzz words like "all natural", "sugar-free", "low-fat", "fat-free" and so on. They are pretty much code for "we filled this with chemicals and poison and we are throwing this label on it because we know you won't read the ingredient list." Note that organic is completely different from "all natural". Organic means no pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, growth hormones, etc were used, which is good. It doesn't necessariy mean a dude with dreds lovingly plucked each green bean from his garden while barefoot and singing Bob Marley. "All natural" can pretty much mean whatever they want it to. Take a look at a product labeled "all natural" next time you are at the store. I will almost guarantee you there will be ingredients you don't recognize. That's not natural, folks and your body knows it.
6. Eat at the table. This is hard, I know. Schedules are crazy, meal times are hectic. Really TRY to make this a normal part of your week. At least a couple of times a week. And on those nights, get the whole family involved in cooking. Everyone will be much more "into" this new healthy food if they have had a hand in preparing it and spending the time together at the table takes the focus off the food and onto your family. Eating in the car or in front of the TV? Not so much.
7. Sugar has to go. Go get your loaf of bread, ketchup and....whatever candy you have around. Now look at the labels. Three different foods, but they probably all have the same ingredient in their top 5: high fructose corn syrup. HFCS now accounts for nearly half of all caloric sweeteners in the US. In the early 70's, it was less than 1%. Why is this so bad? Well on top of HFCS being incredibly chemically altered and therefore difficult for your body to recognize and break down, they are adding it to EVERYTHING- things you would never imagine would need sugar. This makes you crave those foods like an addict craves crack. Cleverly, HFCS is cheaper than sugar and has a longer shelf life. It is a win-win for the food industry but a lose-lose for you. You would have to completely eliminate all packaged food to completely eliminate HFCS, but learning how to read labels can help you avoid it.
8. Rainbow food! Again, not Fruit Loops. I mean eating fruit and veggies in every color, as much as possible. It will become easier to cut out the bad when you have already added in the good. When your meals are filled with healthy, high quality food, the junk becomes less and less desirable. Being picky isn't an excuse. For you, or your kids. You just do it. If you want what is best for yourself and your family, you make a real effort here. Every color has plenty of fruits and veggies to choose from, all loaded with various nutrients and vitamins that you NEED and can easily get from fresh produce. Eating the rainbow ensures you are getting a good variety of the nutrients and vitamins they have to offer. How to do it? When you go to the store remember ROYGBV- Red, orange, yellow, green, blue/violet. Try to grab either a fruit or vegetable from each color, every time you go. If I walked out with tomatoes, carrots, bananas, spinach and grapes I have something from each color AND flavenoids, folate, potassium, carotene, lycopene, and vitamins out the wazoo.
9. Go raw. This is a very in-depth topic, but to keep it brief- the more fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and even milk and eggs you consume in their raw, uncooked state, the more health benefits from those foods you will see. Please note, raw milk can only be obtained through local farmers, it is not legal to sell in stores. Eggs should be from a local, organic source when consumed raw. In his book "The Raw Truth" Jordan Rubin asks would you rather eat an apple or applesauce? An apple, obviously. The apple, picked ripe from the tree has more nutrients and is more "alive" than the applesauce, which is cooked and pureed. Cooking a food source, like the apple, depletes that food source of its vitamins and nutrients. Cooking an apple takes away the antioxidants, pectin, nearly half the vitamin C, enzymes and probiotics. The applesauce may come from the apple, but you don't have to be a genius to figure out which one is more nutritious. Easy swap- instead of a can of fruit cocktail, which is not only highly processed but packed in syrup, make a fruit salad using fresh fruit. It will taste 10 times better, and your body will actually understand you are feeding it fruit.
10. Learn how to eat out. Everyone loves to eat out, regardless of the fact that restaurant food is both overpriced and typically not healthy. I recently read that in the US restaurants account for 25% of our meals yet take up 1/3 of our calories!!! Whoah! Not to mention nearly 50% of our food dollars! We are spending a whole lotta time and a whole lotta money on a whole lotta crap food. And the scary part is, we have no idea just how bad this stuff is! Im not even talking about the fact that it is excessively processed and chemical filled, Im talking just the nutrition facts. Example: an entire bag of Tyson Chicken Tenders (breaded) has 880 calories, 48 grams fat, 1440 mg sodium. That's an entire bag- 20 chicken tenders. ONE SERVING of chicken fingers at Chili's has 610 calories and 41 grams of fat. ONE. Serving. That's 3 Chicken Crispers. Oh but we aren't done! We haven't added in condiments! Throw in the ranch dipping sauce and voila- you might as well have eaten half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. Really- that takes the calories to over 1K. Who would've guessed? My point here is be very aware of what you are ordering. www.calorieking.com has the nutrition facts for lots of chains as well as examples of how long you would have to jog, bike, swim, etc. to burn that off! I for one feel like I work too hard in those WODs to blow it all on some queso at Applebee's (which has 100% of your daily allotment of saturated fat, per serving, just so ya know. Shocking? Shouldn't be. Restaurant food isn't made with your benefit in mind- it's made with their benefit in mind. Whatever they have to add or create to make you a returning customer, you had better believe they are going to do it. So if you are serious about improving your health, either cut back on eating-out or equip yourself to do it wisely.
This is just scratching the surface. I have SO much more to say, but I promised to keep it brief. For now. If you get nothing else out of this- please take this away: do NOT attempt to drastically change your diet overnight. Make small changes. Wean yourself from your poor eating habits. When you are feeling confident in your abilities, then "scale up". You wouldn't try to squat 300# when you have trouble with the bar, right? Work your way there and be proud of the accomplishments you make along the way.