By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
Organic or grassfed?
Low fat or full fat?
Will red meat kill me?
To kale or not to kale?
Needless to say, things can get pretty confusing when searching for information on diet and nutrition. Creating a plan when it comes to food can seem like waging a war between good and evil—except nobody knows who’s Batman and who’s the Joker. One day eggs are great; the next day they are the next “silent killer.” One morning mangoes are horrible; by nightfall a nutritional study pops up that shows they have several health benefits.
Let me attempt to simplify this whole process for you.
I’m all about keeping it simple when it comes to these things. Let’s break it down into two components: quantity vs quality. When it comes to changing a number on the scale, you need to focus on your quantity or take in more/less calories. When you are concerned with changing your body fat percentage, you should focus on the quality of the food that you take in and increasing your total body strength. If you are looking to alter both the number on a scale and your body fat percentage, then focus on changing both quality and quantity.
This is obviously a very simplistic way of looking at things, but it’s made things a little more tolerable already, hasn’t it?
Now that that’s out of the way, you may be wondering: how should you go about adjusting your quality and quantity?
The answer to that question is: it varies. We are all unique individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. With these differences in our strengths and weaknesses also come our likes and dislikes of certain foods. Some struggle with chocolate cravings, while others live and die by the vegetable. Here are 4 nutrition strategies that will help you get moving in the right direction.
1. PLAY THE NUMBERS GAME
If you are confused as to where to start, start with this strategy. It is pretty simple and to the point. Start with calculating 0.75 grams-1g of protein per pound of body weight, and set your caloric number at a point where you are losing at least 1 lb a week. Consistent journaling of your food in the beginning is important, as is setting your caloric number. Online food apps like MyFitnessPal work well here because all of the numbers are laid out for you. After reviewing your journal at the end of the week, find out what did work or what didn’t work, and adjust. Once again, remember your scale weight is affected by the quantity of food you eat (calories), while your bodyfat percentage is affected by the quality of food you eat and how strong you are. If you can get the protein and calories right, you will begin to see results.
Once you get the protein and caloric habits in the first sequence down, begin to focus on the quality of the carbs that you are consuming and the amount of good fats that you are taking in. This strategy is the fastest when it comes to getting results.
2. PLAN AND PREP
When it comes to nutrition, most people fail before they even get started by not setting themselves up for success. We all have a limited reserve of willpower. Especially at the end of the day after dealing with crying babies (or bosses), traffic, or whatever else life has to throw at you. You are much more likely at these points of high stress to fall off the deep end nutritionally.
If you plan and prepare for these moments ahead of time, then you are much more likely to stick to your guns. Knowing what you are having is not half the battle; it is the battle. With this strategy, you should focus on building the habits of planning, shopping, cooking, and food journaling.
Let’s say that we eat 4 meals in a day and there are 7 days in the week. That’s 28 meals. With plan and prep, you can set a number of planned and free meals (don’t be so strict where you drive yourself crazy) and focus on doing the grocery shopping and cooking necessary to ensure that your meals are ready when you need them. You want to choose a day where you will have the time to get all of this done in bulk, so that your week is smooth sailing (i.e Sunday, Monday, or whatever day works best for you). It takes time to build habits, so focus on planning out 7 meals in week one, and then work your way up each subsequent week.
3. WAGE THE ONE MEAL BATTLE
For many, going cold turkey and switching everything all up at once can be pretty difficult. With this eating strategy, you change one meal at a time. You can start with the meal that gives you the most problems: breakfast, lunch, or dinner. At first, focusing on changing one meal a day can seem insignificant, but I want you to look at it in a different light. Think about how changing a breakfast on a Monday really means changing 52 breakfasts per year. Building this small change and sticking to it leads to long term change. Long term changes lead to results!Focus on getting adequate protein, good fats, and high quality carbohydrates.
4. MINDFUL EATING
Instead of focusing on macronutrient numbers, this strategy focuses mainly on food quality and your relationship with food. The focus is shifted from weight to health, but you still must track what you eat. Not doing so is like paying your bills without knowing what’s in your bank account. It just doesn’t work if you are looking for positive results with your health.
There are 3 main habits to focus on when employing this strategy: keeping a gratitude journal, eating slowly, and finishing eating when you are about ⅗ full . In the gratitude journal you will focus on writing one thing everyday that you appreciate about your body. Recognizing what you currently love about yourself puts you in a positive frame of mind. When it comes to gratitude, I highly recommend utilizing thefive minute journal. With an average of 5 stars on over 1,000 reviews, it’s a great tool for many. Find out more here,
In terms of actually eating, many times it takes our minds and our stomachs some time to get on the same level. So if you are eating extremely fast, you are probably missing the signals from your body that it’s satisfied. Slow down! Don’t confuse being “stuffed” with being full. We all live such hectic, and quick lives that this can be an issue for a lot of us. Practice stopping at 60-70% fullness, even if it means going against your urge to wipe your plate clean.
In the second part of the sequence (after you have gotten the habits above ingrained), focus on hitting your protein number (0.75-1 x goal body weight to start), make sure you are getting good fats at most meals, and focus on improving the quality of your carbs.
The War On Food….
doesn’t need to be a crazy uphill battle if you find a strategy that works for you. The strategy that works best can also change based on where you are in your journey. No matter what you choose, make sure you find something that is simple and that you can be consistent with.