Disclaimer: Although I am certified through Precision Nutrition, I am not a registered dietician or doctor. I am a strength and conditioning coach with a vested interest in seeing my clients succeed. If you have a pre-existing condition, please consult a certified professional. The information I share below represents my current understanding of research and what has worked best for myself and my clients. For most people, this will get you 95% of the way there.
It starts with food. Whether your goal is weight loss, performance, or improved health, it all starts with the fuel that we give our bodies to run on. “You are what you eat” may be cliche, but there is more than a little truth to it. Eat healthy food, feel healthy. But what constitutes “healthy food”? This can be a tricky especially with all the mixed messages in the media. Below are my best recommendations to get you started.
Focus on whole foods.
To me, whole foods are foods that needminimal to no processing to make edible for human consumption. They are not chock full of added sugars, added fats, preservatives and other chemicals. They will probably spoil if you don’t freeze them. These foods also tend to be the most nutrient dense, meaning you get the most bang for your buck.
“How many ingredients are in a tomato?”
Healthy Habit: If there was only one habit I could impress upon my clients, it would be this. Read labels. You’d be surprised at how many ingredients go into food, even the “healthy” ones. Long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce or are unknown are best avoided. Processed foods are not only nutrient poor, but they can override our normal satiety feedback system in the body, causing overconsumption of food, and promote systemic inflammation.
Intuitively, we’ve all experienced this at some point. Imagine you sit down to a big meal, and part way through you just can’t take another bite. Then someone brings out cake and ice cream, and you suddenly find your “second stomach”. That’s because the sugar, salt, fat, and other rewarding tastes we associate with ice cream highjack our brain into wanting more. Historically, these qualities were associated with vital nutrients in our diet (i.e. reward). Nowadays, they are combined in nutrient poor, hyper-rewarding foods that never truly satisfy us because they aren’t providing the fuel we need to thrive.
So how do we make good choices? To go back to my original example, “How many ingredients are in a tomato?” By looking at ingredients and making conscious decisions about what you put in your body, you are taking a HUGE step to improving your health. The more basic, whole foods you can build your diet around, the better you’ll be. I.E. meat, seafood, veggies, fruit, healthy starches, and some nuts.
Note: Refined grains, seed oils, sugars, soy, etc. are not considered “whole” foods by this definition because they are highly processed and can be hyper-stimulating. They are also nutrient poor when compared to meat, fruits, veggies, and other starches such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, yams, plantains, carrots, yucca, etc.
It’s More than Just Calories
Calories in, calories out simply does not compute. This does NOT mean that calories don’t matter, just that our ability to accurately count calories in/out is, at best, nearly impossible. Unfortunately, weight loss, and fat loss in particular, are much more complex. Or perhaps, thankfully so.
Our bodies are self-tuning machines. We adapt to our environments and the demands placed on our system. Fat regulation is controlled by an incredibly complex cascade of checks and balances between the brain and the body, as are the other biological processes that keep us alive.
I’ve listed some of the key hormones involved in body fat regulation in this post.
But as I mentioned earlier, this feedback system can be hijacked. Hyper-rewarding, nutrient poor, inflammatory foods lead to leptin resistance, insulin resistance, and ultimately increase our body fat set point beyond what it normally would be.
Our goal is to hit the reset button. To allow the body to correctly regulate our energy levels, appetite, and metabolism based upon our daily activity costs. The best way to do this is to do the opposite of what aggravated this situation in the first place. Eat nutrient dense, normally stimulating, non-inflammatory foods. (Again, meat, seafood, veggies, fruits, healthy starches, and some nuts.)
Bottom line: Our bodies are built to respond to the demands of our environment. Hunger and satiety are key ways for our bodies to communicate with us about our needs. By eating highly nutritious foods, we will begin to re-tune this communication system and allow for appropriate fat loss and regulation.
So what does this mean in practice? Here is the best piece of advice I can give you – start small. Pick a health habit to introduce into your lifestyle, and keep at it until it IS your lifestyle. It is no longer a chore or something the drains your energy rather than fills it back up. For example, you could:
- Remove processed foods from your home environment so they are available options.
- Carry around a water bottle and regularly refill it throughout the day.
- Eat three square meals a day.
- Eat protein with each meal. (2 palm-sized portion for men, 1 for women)
- Eat veggies with each meal. (2 fist-sized portions for men, 1 for women)
- Experiment with healthy fat sources, fish, pastured meat, coconut, olives, and avocado. (1-2 thumb sized portions for men and women)
- Learn to use some basic spices. This will keep food fresh and interesting! You should NEVER be bored with your food. That’s not what “eating healthy” means.
- Buy some pyrex to store leftovers and practice cooking in large batches.
- Practice asking yourself these three questions before one of your meals a day.
- Eat a meal with loved ones away from distractions.
There is no limit to what you can do, and no “right” order – there is only the journey that you will take and how you decide to navigate the inroads. This is the most important part about nutrition: it has to work for YOU, and only YOU can decide what that means.
The 90/10 Rule: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
This is something I continually emphasize with my clients. If you feel overwhelmed and are thinking “there’s no way I can do all of this”, then I’ve already failed you as a coach. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING all at once. Try picking ONE habit to start with, and build from there. This is the easiest way to create a lifestyle that will stick, not just a diet that will run a short course in your life.
Now let’s get cooking!