There are many things you can do to start fixing up your diet, and it can be very confusing to try to work out where to start, especially when you are trying to get a 'fresh start' off the ground. In this article, I want to give you some solid information to get you started, and a nudge in the right direction as to what you should be doing if you really want to get the best results possible from you training.
Before we get stuck into the action steps that you can take to definitively improve your nutrition and build great habits for the future, I want to briefly touch on your perception of how long it takes to change your body for the long-term. The notion that you can take some high-tech/ cutting edge shortcut to get a 'beach body' in 6, 12, or 16 weeks is absolute baloney. Sure its possible to make some gains in a month or two of training and eating the right way, and sure, if I wanted you to focus simply on getting your body weight down then I could just get you to eat nothing but 2 eggs a day and in a few weeks you'd be as skinny as a skeleton. However, and this is a major HOWEVER, losing weight does not equal being healthy. Its more accurate to aim for health and watch the body weight drop, than simply dropping the body weight, and expecting your health to follow suit. The problems with dropping weight dramatically are many, but chiefly include the following:
- Being on a very restrictive diet can leave you deficient in nutrients
- Doing something excessive for a short period of time more often than not causes a backlash of overeating and falling back on old habits
- Extreme approaches that are not based on learning new habits mean that you don’t have the software built into your system to maintain the gains. Enter weight re-gain.
- Eating like a rabbit, or being dependant on processed foods, and/ or supplements takes the enjoyment out of eating food. Hands up who wants to eat mainly protein powder for the rest of your life?!
Basically what I am saying here is that there is no real shortcut to this. What I am going to show you in this article is the shortcut! All be it a shortcut that requires real effort, dedication, consistency, and a bit of thinking. The results however. will be worth it. Believe me.
As a final note before getting stuck in here, it is crucial for you to know that you are responsible for the food that you eat, and what you drink. You alone are responsible for your health, and the sooner you realise these things, then the sooner you are going to get to where you want to be. Followed consistently, the information here will eliminate the need for ridiculous diets, and will take you off the vicious cycle of losing weight and putting it back on. It will stop you from look for the next diet or program, and will put the joy back into your food.
So here goes. 19 Things you can do to fix your crappy diet, roughly ordered by priority.
1. Drink 2-3 Litres of Water Per Day
The single most important and most effective thing that you can do, in my opinion, is to drink water every day. There is not a single system in your body that will not be enhanced by keeping it watered. Get a bottle, fill it up, and sip on it throughout the day. Drink more when you workout. Before you ask, tea, coffee, sports drinks, or any other drink does not count. Water. Drink it.
2. Eat a Breakfast
The most important meal of the day as they say. Personally speaking, I prefer to eat egg based breakfasts such as omelettes, scrambled eggs, or boiled eggs. Porridge is good too. Keep the protein content of your breakfast high, and the sugar/ carbohydrate count realtively low by scrap the juices, smoothies with lots of fruits, and cereals. Eating a breakfast is crucial as it sets you up for the rest of the day. Skipping it means you will be super hungry later in the day, and more likely to eat rubbish.
3. Find a source of 'good fast food'
In the ideal world, we would all bring a few lunchboxes to work with us, and eat great food that has been prepared in advance all day everyday. However, this can be hard to achieve in the beginning, especially if you are on a tight schedule. To tide you over until you are organised and ready to prepare food in bulk, suss out the local food outlets. Find the healthy places that do salads and high quality food. Going to the local deli for a wrap or roll is going to set your progress back bigtime, so its time to find a substitute. Look out for local businesses that specialise in great quality, healthy food. Being healthy is trendy these days, so these little local shops are popping up everywhere. There are companies who even deliver a weeks worth of great food straight to your door. If having the food delivered in lunchboxes, cooked and all, floats your boat then check out this option. If you have a canteen in work, then work something out so that you can get meat, salad, vegetables, and fruit from there. The bottom line is; Don’t eat fast food and expect to be in shape.
4. Shop once per week
Having good food in the house is the first step to actually consuming good food. Set aside 1 day per week where you go and do a big shop. Stock up on vegetables, meat, oats, and other whole foods. Creating a shopping list that you can just bring with you to the shops every week is a great step. In fact, here is a shopping list for one person that will get you enough food for a week for under €40. http://www.aclai.ie/blog/1066/eat-like-an-athlete-for-under-e40-per-week-2/ Shopping once per week will reduce your overall food bill for the week massively, and give you a much better chance of eating more good food, and less bad food.
5. Eat Slower
Eat, chew, and swallow one forkful/ spoonful at a time. Chew your food until it is mush. This will make you feel fuller sooner, and most importantly, break your food down enough for your body to be able to extract the goodness from it. If you eat a plate of food, wait 10 minutes before going for seconds to allow your body to work out if you are actually still hungry.
6. Build your 'food awareness'
Start learning about food. You don’t need to become a nutritionist, but start building an awareness about what foods are best, when to eat certain foods, and most importantly how to cook a few things! Quick lesson to get you started;
There are three major food groups. Carbohydrates are the first. Of carbohydrates there are two types. Simple (found in fruit, chocolate, sweets, sugar etc), and complex (found in grains, potatoes, rice etc). You need carbohydrates in your diet each day. Picking the right sources is important. Protein (found in meat, eggs, dairy, fish etc) is the building block of our body. I recommend getting a portion of protein rich food with every meal. Fats are the third food group. Found in meats, nuts, eggs, dairy, and pretty much anywhere that you have a natural source of protein. An absolute requirement for health. Beware of the fats in processed foods (crisps, pastries, fried foods etc)as they are not the same as the fats found naturally in high quality meat, dairy, and fish.
7. Eat REAL FOOD
Doing the same things as you have always done, and expecting a different results has been called insanity in the past. Eating REAL FOOD can mean some tough love, and a bit of an adjustment period. Its normally at this stage of the conversation that I start to hear people say: 'But my <INSERT CEREAL NAME HERE> says its very healthy on the packet', or, 'I eat well except for my scone and biscuits at night time'. If you want real results from your training and your diet, then it is time to realise that what you have been doing up until now is not the right way. Eat whole, unprocessed foods, and be honest with yourself about the choices that you are making and the results that you can expect.
8. Learn to cook.
Having a few easy recipes in the back pocket is a winner every time. Learn how to make a stir fry, a curry, a chili, and a stew. When you have mastered the these, you can play around with them as much as you like, and are guaranteed to have an easy to cook meal, that you can cook a lot of in one go. Eat a portion for your dinner, and divide the rest into lunchboxes for later.
9. Build consistency (recipes, routine, meal plan)
This is the key. Consistency, consistency, consistency. Build yourself a routine around breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinking water, training, and being generally active. Start on Monday, and plan through to Sunday. Once you have a routine that works, and that ties in with the other information presented here, stick with it. If you fall of the wagon, simply get back on the wagon afterwards. At ACLAÍ, we don’t usually do 'meal plans' except in the most exceptional circumstances, and especially not before the action steps in this article have been acted upon for a realistic time period. Here is a great article from Precision Nutrition discussing meal plans, and how you can build yourself a routine to fit your individual situation, goals, and lifestyle. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/this-plan-makes-you-fat. Personally speaking, I am working on building my routine to look like this on weekdays: Porridge and 2 eggs for breakfast, tuna salad after first training sessions, meat and vegetables after second training session, meat and vegetables at 4pm and 7pm, and maybe a protein shake in there at some stage as well. I train at 7am on weekdays, 10am on Saturday, and whenever I feel like it on Sunday. After training on Saturday is my time to have some ice cream from the farmers market!
10. Fix your portion sizes
Eating the right foods is a great start. The next thing is to make sure that you are eating the right amount to fit your goals. Its good to have some kind of idea how many calories you need based on your activity levels and fitness goals, but to be honest, were not big on counting calories at ACLAÍ. Food is to be enjoyed, and if you are eating the right foods, in the right amount, on a regular basis, then you are doing pretty well! Check out this awesome portion control guide for men and women by Precision Nutrition right here. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/calorie-control-guide
11. Time your carbohydrate sources
Without getting too technical here; carbohydrates are an easy source of energy for us humans. That’s part of the reason you reach for something sugary when you are hungry. The problem is that we can easily eat too many carbohydrate rich foods, and subsequently store the excess as fat. Having said that, we still need carbohydrate rich foods (rice, potatoes, fruits etc) to fuel our day. The best time to eat them is after training. This is why your 'post training meal' can contain a good carbohydrate source. Other meals shoud contain mostly meat and vegetables. Precision Nutrition have put together a great post on the composition of your meals after training, and at other times. Check it out here. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/pn-my-plate If you know that you are going out for a meal, to a party, or another social gathering that you cant avoid, as a damage limitation strategy; take the carbohydrates out of our diet for the day in question, and do a training session before you head out.
12. Prepare food in advance
Having good food at hand is a great way to make the right choices from day to day. If you set aside a bit of time on one day per week, you can really save yourself time, money, and heart ache! First, get a lot of small- medium lunch boxes. Second cook as much food as you can, and divide it up into the lunchboxes. Store some in the fridge and more in the freezer. You can also chop up all of your vegetables to speed up cooking time during the week, and make a very large salad to store in the fridge and use with meals.
13. Sit still for 5 minutes
Bad food choices are often down to eating erratically, and/ or eating on the run. 5 minutes per day spent sitting quietly, focusing on your breathing will give you the headspace to be calm and collected, and as a by product you are more likely to be mindful and conscious of the food that you are eating. Build the 5 minutes into your routine, and do it consistently. After a week or two, you will miss it if you don’t do it.
14. Find more people like you!
A problem shared is a problem halved, or more appropriately as they say as Gaeilge 'Giorann beirt bóthar' ('two shorten the road'). Find a friend or family member who is on a similar path and help each other out. Join up with a club that has a supportive environment, and use you initial motivation as the push to get in with like-minded people. The initial motivation that you get upon realising that you want to change is absolutely great, and should be used to turbo boost your efforts in building the right kind of environment around yourself that will sustain your efforts. Staying highly motivated for long enough to achieve your worthy and substantial goals is very difficult. Like the rest of us, you will have good days and bad days. Being in a supportive environment helps you get back on track asap, and also helps keep the number of 'bad days' you have at bay.
15. Don't Eat in Front of the Telly
It is scientifically proven that eating in front of the TV, or while on a computer, tablet, or smartphone will result in you eating more, eating less mindfully, and hence, eating too much. The distraction from eating will trick your body into keeping on eating even after you ave had enough. Eat with you friends, family, or alone, but turn the electrical equipment off and enjoy your meal.
16. Dump Your Scales
Its not about the scale. The focus therefore should not be on simply losing weight. The important things are having more energy, your clothes fitting better, having the freedom in movement to be able to sustain an active lifestyle, building positive eating, drinking, and sleeping habits, sharing fun times with your friends and family, and enjoying the beauty of food. If you have a weighing scale at home, do yourself a favour and get rid of it. Healthy, sustainable, and long-term weight loss is never linear. You will weigh more on some weeks compared to others. If you are dependant on the scales to let you know how well you are doing, you will loss that drive and motivation to keep going in no-time. Focus on the things in this article and the results will follow.
17. Get back on track when things go south
As I mentioned just above, you will have good days and bad days. Some days, you will nail your food prep, your training, and your sleep. That will probably be a very productive day in work as well! On other days, you will feel like you have gone completely off course. Don’t worry about it. It happens to all of us. Just get back on track the next day. Beating yourself up about your nutritional misdemeanour will only cause you to stay in the negative cycle for longer than required. Cut yourself a break and get back to building your healthy routine asap. As far as 'treat meals', feel free to give yourself a bit le leeway once a week, but be honest with yourself about this one. If you have been off course with your nutrition all week, then having an additional 'treat meal' at the weekend is a bad idea.
18. Get more detailed coaching/ help
Most people these days want the more detailed coaching and help BEFORE covering the basics. To be honest, this would be a waste of time and money. Spend some real time and effort implementing what you can from the list described here, and after that, if you want more detailed help, then get on board with a nutrition coach that you trust. Meal plans, macro nutrient breakdowns, and detailed nutrition logs are pretty much putting the cart before the horse if you have not addressed the basics presented here. Remember that the responsibility if yours. It may not be easy, but it IS simple. Do the basics. Do them consistently. Get back on track when required.
Another 'cart before the horse' topic. Supplements can be useful as a cherry on top of good nutrition habits. Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc, Fish Oil, Creatine, and a Protein Supplement can have their place from time to time, but only after you have nailed the basic
This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.