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.
Controlling your nutrient intake by way of calculating your macronutrient (macro) or caloric intake undoubtedly helps to ensure you’re eating enough to support your levels of activity while preventing excess body fat, if you have the right mindset. There are an array of methods to determine those numbers, but today I’d like to touch on two ways of managing those numbers.
Prospective management involves calculating your macro/caloric intake numbers and then ensuring that your food is weighed and counted before you consume it. Aside from the calculation, this of course requires preparing meals and snacks ahead of time, having a food scale in the kitchen, and knowing how many of each type of macro you’ll be consuming for a particular amount of food.
With retrospective management you calculate how many macros/calories you consumed after having the food. As the day goes on you try to meet your intake requirements based on what you have already eaten and what you ‘have left’ to eat. In this instance you do still need to calculate your intake numbers in advance and have that plugged into an app or at the very least a spreadsheet, and you do still need to use a resource that provides the nutritional information for the food you’re eating.
As with everything, there are pros and cons to both methods. With prospective management you know what you’ve got to eat and you have either have it prepared in advance or you have your plate on the scale while dishing your food up. You’re less likely to eat more than you should. But, that does require some ‘work’ on your behalf.
There’s less prep work with retrospective nutrition management. The work comes in ensuring that you log the food you ate after every meal and snack. The downside is that you might end up with a big deficit in one of your macronutrients at the end of the day. You then end up ‘making it up’ with convenient sources of food, and convenient is rarely healthy.
A big plus to both methods is that they teach you about portion control. You eventually learn how to eyeball your portions and you also get better at listening to your body–you learn to eat when you hungry and stop eating before consuming too much. More importantly, both methods have the potential to work.
It all comes down to you, though. Which method suits your lifestyle and personality traits better? The better the fit, the more likely you are to sustain the habits. They aren’t quick fixes either. If you adhere to either method for at least 80% of the time, you’ll be setting yourself up for ongoing success.
Neither approach is laborious. You just need to understand the hows and whys, and that’s why we offer individually tailored nutrition coaching. Get in touch to enquire about that.
While we are a fitness facility, fitness is the service and the business is people. We are here to help make people better, and make better people. Much of that coaching, in both nutrition and training, is based on adapting behaviour. And that is based heavily on habit formation.
Habits are the small decisions and actions you perform daily. What you repeatedly do ultimately forms who you are. Therefore, if your nutrition is poor it’s a direct result of bad dietary habits.
Likewise, if your nutrition is on point, it’s a direct result of good dietary habits.
Habits are thought to be developed through a 3-step loop.
- Step 1 is a trigger – an event or action that reminds you of and initiates a habit. Example: Becoming “snacky” between meals.
- Step 2 is the habit itself – the behaviour you (repeatedly) perform in response to the trigger. Based on the above example: Eating a sweet treat.
- Step 3 is the reward – the benefit associated with behaviour. Following on with the example: Energy levels and mood are lifted for a bit.
You can layer any habit, dietary or otherwise, onto these three steps. While people may display the same behaviours (habits), their triggers and perceived rewards will all be different depending on their personality traits.
How rewards are perceived are especially different between individuals. For some, the reward from that sweet pick-me-up is better energy levels for the next 40 minutes. For others, the reward is more psychological – a comforting feeling. Either way, the reward keeps refueling the behaviour.
So how do we improve dietary habits? I think that reverse engineering the 3-step loop works like magic.
- Start with the reward. What will your reward be for eating better? Improved performance, losing body fat, greater self confidence, fitting your wedding clothing perfectly, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There are many, but you have to pick one to three rewards for YOU.
- Now look at what habits you need to change and develop in order to get you to that reward. This will again be different for everyone, but make them relevant to the reward. If you know what the benefit will be, it motivates you to maintain the habit.
- Find a trigger that initiates the required behaviours. Triggers can be a time, location, event, emotion or other people. Set an alarm for each meal and snack. Associate the work canteen (location) with bad food to prevent you from eating there. Post-exercise (event) is a good time for a more high GI meal or snack.
Emotions are typically triggers for bad behaviour (like comfort eating) so implement an exercise behaviour for when you’re feeling down. The people one is more powerful than you realise, so surround yourself with people who are at the very least supportive of your goals.
There’s a fourth step that I think fits in under the rewards step – visualisation. Visualise how you will feel when you attain the reward. “I will feel [insert emotion] when I lose some body fat.” It’s a well proven method.
It’s all a bit easier said than done, though. And that’s exactly why we run lifestyle challenges. Sure, we teach you a bit about good nutrition, but more importantly, the challenges are a method of instilling better (sustainable) lifestyle behaviours. So, if you need to tidy up your health and fitness, sign up for the Summer Lifestyle Challenge. If you’ve done a challenge or two but feel like you need more individually tailored advice, we do have one-on-one nutrition coaching too.
Whichever route you choose, “I struggle to eat well” is the poorest excuse you could have for not optimising your health because all the tools you need are right at your finger tips!
Posts tagged with ‘food’