Have you ever woken up after a day full of eating all sorts of food (some good and some junk) feeling absolutely miserable? I’m not talking about feeling guilty (even though that’s part of it). I’m talking about actually feeling physically ill. Maybe it’s stomach pains or maybe it’s a headache. Even worse maybe you feel a cold coming on or a sore throat from all the excess sodium you consumed. As soon as your eyes open, you know all that food was a bad idea.
Well, I’ve woken up like that before. And to be honest I’ve felt crappy due to my diet choices many times. It’s not a fun feeling waking up and immediately knowing the day ahead is going to be a tough one because I’m physically not up to par. It’s truly a motivation killer to realize that getting through the day’s activities is going to be an uphill battle from the start.
At times we don’t even realize that our lack of energy or enthusiasm for the day is due to our diet choices. We eat like total crap on a Sunday and wake up wondering why Monday is so daunting. It’s no wonder that getting to the gym feels like an impossible task when our bodies hurt and our energy is on zero due to all the stress we put our digestion system through.
This is such an important topic. I hope that you walk away from reading this with a better understanding of where we’ve gone wrong with nutrition as it relates to our health, fitness levels, muscle and fat loss goals, and our enjoyment of life. I’m just as guilty as the next person of making huge mistakes with my personal nutrition at times over the years. I’m writing this blog to open your eyes to how unbelievably powerful our eating habits can be.
If you google “The Best Diet to Lose Fat” be prepared for an overload of information. Hundreds of diets, meal plans and products will be shoved down your throat before you even start eating. You’ll be stuck in an avalanche of product pushers, strict meal plans, and the latest and greatest diet strategies. Save yourself the trouble and forego the google machine. Today’s world is truly the most confusing it’ss ever been when it comes to diet and nutrition. It’s also a battlefield between who’s right and who’s wrong when it comes to their diet “methods”. The truth is that nutrition is actually quite simple so there’s hope, but it’s going to take some work.
The common theme for most online “gurus” or “coaches” is to take on clients and start them off on a very strict meal plan. They tell them what to eat and when to eat it each day to lose fat, build a toned body, and feel great. This is all based off their “expert” analysis of the client’s needs and goals. The client comes to them with the attitude of “tell me what to eat and when because I don’t want to think about it” so it makes perfect sense that these coaches cater to the clients demands. The client jumps on the meal plan and immediately starts to see results. This may go on for a month or maybe a few months before the client realizes that it’s just not sustainable for them to eat the same foods day in and day out. They start to get irritable and they feel ashamed when they report to their coach that they’ve cheated on their diet again and again. After all, following a meal plan is what all the top fitness competitors do so it’s the best way to get in great shape…right? Wrong.
Strict meal plans that limit your food choices and force you into a set regimen each day can cause more harm than good long term. It’s been proven that meal plans can set people up for a terrible relationship with food, create a desire to binge, and severely limit the healthy aspects of a diet full of variety. Not to mention, it’s pretty hard to live an enjoyable life when you have to follow a meal plan to reach your goals. Most people who follow a strict meal plan end up reverting back to their old diet habits once they realize that their meal plan just isn’t feasible for their lifestyle.
For the longest time, if you wanted to lose weight or build muscle you would hire a coach or nutritionist and they would immediately put you on a meal plan. However, after many years of severe restriction, the fitness industry fought back.
Enter: If It Fits Your Macros.
Counting calories has been around for quite some time. Arnold Schwarzenegger was known to count calories (and he actually had a pretty well rounded diet plan). However, counting calories has recently made a huge comeback. It’s gone one step further too. We know now that it’s not just about calories. It’s about the type of calories you eat too. Having the right amount of protein, carbs and fats in your diet is crucial for overall health and wellness. We all have our unique needs when it comes to these nutrients so just counting calories won’t cut it. We need to figure out where we get our food from so tracking macros has become all the rage.
However, as we’ve seen in the past, the fitness industry can take a good idea and turn it into a very bad one very quickly. Macro counting has been dubbed IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) because the new rule of thumb (keep in mind this is in response to the strict meal plans) is that you can ANYTHING you want as long as it fits your daily numbers for protein carbs and fats.
This could literally mean eating ice cream every day along with some candy because it fits your daily numbers. Ok confession time. I’ve been known to promote this type of eating over the past couple years. Why? Well because I count macros each day and my mind was blown a few years ago when I dieted down to 5% body fat eating ice cream just about every day before bed. Was this a healthy approach? Heck no! I would wake up and hit the toilet with a very irritable bowel movement just about every day. I didn’t feel great every day because I was eating way too much junk food simply because it fit my macros. I was rebelling against the severe restrictions of meal plans (an understandable reaction) but I wasn’t paying attention to my health.
Knowing how much food we eat is very crucial to our long term success when it comes to taking care of our health and feeling/looking great! However, simply applying numbers to our day and eating whatever we can fit in is not the healthiest choice. We’ve taken a great concept (counting macros) and turned it into a cult following. It’s become all about what sort of junk food concoction we can create that fits our macro needs. Health and feeling awesome is secondary to hitting perfect numbers with as much variety as possible. We forget to take into account whether or not we are getting enough vitamins and minerals. We ignore how our bodies feel when we fit in some McDonalds simply because it fits our macros. This is a dangerous path to go down.
If you’re still reading this…it’s not too late.
You might be confused at this point and that’s normal. It’s a very confusing topic for most people! However, let me simplify it for you. I’m very fortunate that I was born with the strong desire to learn as much as possible. Plus, I’ve been super lucky to be surrounded with very smart people who have helped me craft my current approach to nutrition and now it’s my job to pass along that help to you.
I want to walk you through my approach with my clients when it comes to setting up a successful nutrition strategy. Some of you reading this will be more advanced than others, but I still think its important to cover the basics as a refresher. You’ll be pretty amazed to see that we often forget about the basics.
Let’s say I have a married couple come to me looking to lose fat. They aren’t happy with their appearance and how they can’t seem to get motivated to get in shape. They’ve been eating a ton of food and not working out for about 6 months. They’ve tried all sorts of diets but nothing seems to work. We won’t address their workout plan in this blog, but let’s jump into the diet strategy.
First things first, I want to know what they’re eating now. I would like John and Jane Doe to write down everything they eat for a few days and report those food journals to me. Now, I would also keep in mind that working with a coach can cause some food journals to look better than an average day so I would also ask them to write down exactly what they ate (if they can remember) the days leading up to working with me. This gives me an accurate idea of what their nutrition looks like now so that we can start to implement new habits.
So, the next logical step is to write a meal plan right? Wrong. Taking a client from zero to 100 in a day isn’t realistic. We need to implement good habits one at a time while building momentum to increase motivation.
One of the first habits I want people to implement is to avoid drinking their calories as much as possible. I’m referring to sodas, sugary drinks and the lovely Starbucks menu that is jam packed full of sugar and high calorie drinks. Having a diet soda here and there down the road is fine, but for now I would suggest that John and Jane stick to water, coffee sweetened with Truvia, and tea. If my clients enjoy alcohol consumption, I would recommend cutting out alcohol for the initial portion of the plan. I also want to educate them on how alcohol works. If cutting out alcohol completely isn’t an option due to work demands or upcoming events — I would outline a simple strategy to control their alcohol intake.
While we implement the liquid habits, I also want my clients to start to track what they are eating in an app or food journal. Tracking calories and macros for a period of time can truly be eye opening. Most people severely underestimate their calorie intake. It’s important to gain the knowledge and information so that we are educated on what we are putting into our bodies.
The next habit I like clients to utilize is getting 2–3 servings of green veggies and 1–2 servings of fruits per day. Obviously I want my clients to listen to their bodies and take note of how they are feeling after they eat certain foods. Most people feel a lot better after getting into the fruits and veggies habit due to increase in fiber and vitamins and minerals. Eating more of these amazing nutrients will also help curb cravings and help most people feel more satisfied. Health is our number one priority and fruits and veggies are a tremendous source of health benefits.
Now comes the only time that I utilize meal plans. I never instruct my clients to follow an exact meal plan each and every day. However, it can help to write out a “perfect” day of eating a wide of variety of healthy foods to show clients how it can be done. This usually means 3–4 meals that contain a tremendous amount of nutrients but also provide the client with meal options that could be eaten at a restaurant if needed. To make things even easier, I like to provide my clients with 3 or 4 options at each meal to ensure that they never feel tied down to a meal plan. Plus, I want my clients to continue to track what they eat so they can learn how much food they are consuming and they can plug other foods in to ensure they are getting adequate variety.
Educating ourselves on how much food we need each day can help guide our food choices. Learning to eat properly for health and wellness takes time. Plus, there may be goals or events coming up that require us to change course and implement new strategies. There may be times where our bodies just aren’t feeling right and we need to make changes to our nutrition to ensure we feel our best at all times.
This leads me to the most important point that we all need to understand. If we aren’t feeling right, something needs to change and often times it’s our eating habits. Having a meal plan or macro numbers to hit every day doesn’t take our health and how we feel into consideration. If we are feeling overly full at a certain caloric intake then we probably don’t need that many calories. If our energy is terrible on low carbs and we feel super weak, then we probably need to add some carbs into our diet. The same can be said for low-fat. If we try out a keto diet, but we just don’t feel great — then it’s not the diet for you!
I hope this blog sheds some light on nutrition. I’ve made all the mistakes so want to help you avoid them if possible! There is no one-size-fits-all method that works for everyone. If that existed then this blog wouldn’t be necessary. You have to find a strategy that you can follow every day and make small tweaks to as your goals change. Going from binging every 3 days to eating “clean” meal plan is not a tweak. That’s an eating disorder and we need to stop creating more problems for ourselves by going from one extreme to the next.
Let’s stop eating things if they fit your macros — instead let’s eat things if they fit your social, taste, mental and physical health (IIFYH).