Forget about perfection, focus on progression.
How often have you woken on a Monday with intending to make all the positive changes that are going to make your life better? A spreadsheet with your macros calculated, meals planned, a fridge full of Paleo meals, five days of workouts booked and you’re ready to CRUSH IT.
Monday is a breeze, you did everything perfectly. Same for Tuesday. On Wednesday you’re sick of mixed vegetables and grilled chicken breasts. Thursday has morons in it, goes rapidly downhill and because you didn’t sleep well last night you’re ready for a beer and pizza on the couch with Netflix. Ah well, may as well make it an extra-large and you’ll try again on Monday.
This “all or nothing and it must be perfect” approach to implementing positive changes to our lives is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving our goals.
The aggregation of marginal gains is a theory that’s explained as the “1% improvement in everything that you do”. Instead of placing so much emphasis on one big defining moment of success, we should rather focus on making small and manageable improvements on a daily basis.
In 2010, Dave Brailsford, the General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky, Britain’s professional cycling team, applied this theory with the goal of winning the Tour de France within five years.
He looked at all the metrics that could possibly affect the team’s success and set about making small improvements across everything, including the minor details overlooked as being of little to no consequence.
Team Sky won the Tour de France within three years.
We don’t need to be training for the Tour de France to apply this theory to our lives. Small daily improvements in the areas you are looking to change, which you often don’t even notice, are meaningful and add up to big changes over the long term.
This theory can be applied to your nutrition, training, relationships or any aspect of your life that you’re looking to excel at.
So what does this theory look like for us? Instead of whole-scale overnight changes to your diet, try add some green vegetables to your dinner each week night and on Friday, have one beer instead of three. Try that for a week. Once you’ve successfully applied these changes and they’ve become a consistent habit add another small improvement like replacing the mindless after-dinner grazing with a five minute stretch session instead. Try that for a week.
Excellence is the gradual result of always wanting to do better – Pat Riley
Aim to be just 1% better, every day.
There has been a trend across the industries, since forever, to reintroduce past approaches. The automotive industry has the modern classic–old aesthetics with modern technology. Clothing manufacturers are always bringing their old lines back. Architecture finds a way of holding on to both antique and modern elements.
Old school is cool, yeah? Aside from the sentiment there’s a lot of marketing behind it. That’s partly how existing customers are retained while attracting young blood. Old school also works, which is why there is a growing trend in the food industry to push ingredients and recipes that were found to be beneficial centuries ago. It’s a trend I’m picking to be the big new food/health/wellness trend of the year.
It’s because old school works, and now science is able to evaluate why certain ingredients were so prominent in diets from particular regions. However, it’s not changing the message. The message is still to eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and minimal sugar; keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat; use herbs and spices to flavour.
And that’s what you should be doing most of the time. Do not fall into the trap of purchasing products that contain these ingredients. Yes, turmeric is a wonderful anti-inflammatory spice that’s been used by populations of the subcontinent in their cooking for decades. But you don’t need a pill that contains turmeric. How about you find ways to cook with it?
Food and supplements are BIG industries and that means they’re in it to make money. Fair enough. Your nutrition, however, doesn’t rely on what most big food industries are peddling. You’ve just got to eat real food, the way your ancestors did. Do what your great grandmother did!
You’re fired up! It’s the start of the new year, you either beginning a new health and fitness journey or carrying on from last year, and you have goals. Your momentum is high, so you’re dialing in your nutrition and getting stuck into training. You’re doing everything you need to, all of the time.
That might not be the best approach.
You certainly need to work towards your goals, but perfection is impossible. Balance, however, is sustainable. What I’ve experienced over the years, in both nutrition and training, is that almost everyone who goes “strict” all the time, even if just for specific periods, ends up going the opposite way. And that usually happens at the end of their set period or after some sort of event–birthdays, holidays, parties, etc.
Whereas those who find a healthy balance of good food and treats experience ongoing results, and are generally happier.
It’s kind of a kid-in-candy-store analogy. A kid who has never been exposed to all those amazing colours and smells is likely to lose their sh*t in a candy store. But a kid who has had some exposure to candy over time is more likely to know what they want and don’t want, find it, and if the parents are smart enough they’ll be out of there!
If you try to keep it strict all of the time, you’re probably going to lose your sh*t like that first kid.
In my opinion, it’s a simple approach. Eat good food (veges, a variety of meats, nuts and seeds, some fruit and starch, a bit of dairy) MOST of the time, and go for less healthy foods (processed foods, takeaways) and sugary treats SOME of the time.
This is striving for sustainable. Excellence is sustainable.
“I can have dessert because I’ll burn the calories in training tomorrow. That’s why I like to do lots of exercise–so I can eat anything.” It’s a culture, and not a surprising one given that people in the developed world are hedonistic eaters. In general, people eat to feel good. When you do feel good your body’s reward system encourages you to repeat the behaviour that’s providing the pleasure.
So you keep eating, whether it’s too much good food or lots of bad food. You know that even too much of a good thing can be bad, but it feels so good that you just “can’t” stop. But that’s okay, because you’re training! As long as you expend the same amount of calories that you consume you’ll be good, right?
Not quite. The calories in versus calories out equation is far more complex than that. More importantly, your body needs nutrients to function healthily. So all the training may be offsetting some of the calories you consume while making you fitter, all the bad calories are affecting both your health and body composition.
It’s similar to the effects of too much steady-state cardio coupled with insufficient food. In that case you end up slimmer but with a high percentage of body fat. In both cases, dietary habits outweigh the effects of training, leaving you with a less than ideal body composition and lacking in health. Those sorts are pretty easy to spot in the gym too. You’re either looking at a slim athlete who crushes bodyweight and endurance based workouts but gets crushed by any form of load. Or a well built athlete with a big engine, and a beer belly!
I’m in favour of eating for pleasure too. You’ve got one, short life so you best live it well. But you want to live it well for as long as you are around, and that’s why health and fitness are placed on the same continuum. You can, and should, be both fit and healthy. And you can enjoy food while still being fit and healthy. It comes down to your mind set.
Eat for health and performance, instead of training so that you can eat. Give your body the quality fuel it needs to support your levels of activity while not supporting body fat, and do so most of the time. You won’t be able to out-train a shitty diet for very long.
Something I’ve learnt over the years is that the silly season isn’t just defined by the period across Christmas and New Years when most people are away. The silly season starts in November and carries on through to some time later in January. So let’s revisit some silly season nutrition and training tips.
For me, it’s pretty straightforward – if you’d like to hold on to the changes you’ve made until now you simply keep doing what you have been. But I get it, it’s a festive time, it’s been a challenging year and you’d like to kick back. You should!
I always say that you’re going to be away for a month at the most. That’s just one month. It’s nothing relative to your lifetime, and about 5% of your training time during the year, IF you were consistent throughout the year. If you weren’t consistent, then you shouldn’t be worrying about losing all your gains during the holidays…..because you don’t have any gains!
So relax, enjoy your food and live well. But at the same time, I’d like to see you keep at least one foot on the wagon because if you do come off it entirely, it can take a very long time to get just that one foot on again.
Here are some tips to help you. Remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and keep it simple.
Protein and Fat
Aim to get a moderate amount in at all meals and snacks. It keeps you satiated so you’re less likely to snack, and protein has a thermic effect so it keeps your metabolism ticking over. If you’re not doing any physical activity that day, have a bit less than you normally would.
A reminder: All veges and fruit, all starches, fruit juices, baking, sweets and chocolates, ice-cream, and all grain-based products end up the same way – as sugar. The goodies, however, spike blood sugar and therefore insulin, stimulating the storage of fat, especially if you aren’t exercising much.
Have the goodies, but make that your carb for that meal or snack. If you are training, have your goodies after training. Put simply, if you plan on having treats, have less or none of the ‘good carbs’ to keep total carb intake similar to what it would be normally. But don’t avoid the veges, roots, tubers and fruit entirely because you need the fibre, mineral and nutrients.
There isn’t a particular amount of water that you should be having. Drink if you’re thirsty and avoid sports drinks and off-the-shelf fruit juices. Opt for a freshly squeezed juice and avoid sodas as much as possible. Tea and coffee does contribute to your fluid intake. Alcohol does not so avoid using it as your hydration 😉
You don’t have to train as much or as intensely as you would normally to maintain your fitness. In fact, the down time will do your mind and body good. But keep active as a way of expressing your fitness. Play sports, hike, cycle, swim, and try different stuff. Walking can be especially beneficial. Go for brisk, long walks every day if you aren’t doing any other physical activity.
Eat for Yourself
If your mates or partners can have a burger, fries and milkshake for lunch everyday without much ill-effect, it doesn’t mean that the same will happen to you. Be realistic about your body’s response to foods, and eat accordingly.
I personally consider holidays a time for (more) food and lots of sleep. So don’t geek out too much about what you’re eating while away!
Posts tagged with ‘diet’