As trainers we used to get this particular question all the time. Unfortunately it’s one of those questions best answered with, “It depends.” The simple truth is that there isn’t one perfect diet for everyone because, being human, we all have different and often specific wants. Some want to bulk up, others desire to lean out, ripped or soft and subtle, and even combinations of them all. “Oh, if I could just have a bigger rump, toned tummy, sculpted legs, but not too much arms… don’t want to look all manly!” Luckily most of us just want to be healthy, and on that note I would like to give you some pointers that we believe make sense.
First the basics: Whole foods. That was easy! If its been broken down, ground up and chemically altered by cooking before being thrown in a plastic wrapper and stuffed in a box with its identical brothers and sisters to give you that quick fix out the door, fresh from your microwave kind of meal, then it’s not a whole food. My advice, learn to cook!
On that note, eating should not be done in a rush if at all possible. Religious or not, take time to worship that food and give thanks to the taste buds that tell you it’s good. Research has shown that gratitude while masticating is beneficial to your digestion.
Speaking of your stomach, build a relationship with yours beyond, “Are you full yet?”
“How bout now?”
“Uughhh. I feel queazy.”
“Finally. Taught you a lesson!”
I watched an interesting Ted Talk once that described how the stomach has almost as much grey matter as the brain of cat. In short it thinks a lot and with a little honest self-reflection you can learn a lot from it. What this new communication looks like is a series of trials and errors, which like a child playing, will develop into an understanding of what truly satisfies you.
And like a child, I will now tell you to, “Be careful”. There are some preprogrammed habits of our nature that can play tricks on us. For instance, most of us will always love the smell of fatty foods. That’s right, to this day French fries still smell good to me. A friend explained to me once that the amount of time when fatty meats have been readily available has been so short in our recent history that the idea that we always want to stock up on them whenever they are around hasn’t left our instinctual make up. Simply put: Our body will tell us to eat as much as possible of that delectable deep fried goodness to get us through the winter of scarcity which happens to not exist anymore. Plus we have fancy things called jackets that can keep us warm now.
What’s not a new invention is the idea of grazing. The director of NCEP, the holistic health school where Marin and I received our personal training certifications, introduced us to the concept of eating smaller meals more often. Now I will tell you up front that this is an area of great controversy, but we have found it tremendously helpful for us and our clients who are trying to lose the pounds and keep them off. The idea is to keep the metabolism from going into “starvation mode”, something it supposedly does around every 3 hours. This theory takes us back again to a time when food wasn’t on the corner of every dusty hunting trail. The body tends to want to store food in the form of fat when it doesn’t expect to be fed for a while, much like hibernating bears. The theory goes that if you eat small every 2 to 3 hours you will keep your metabolism working, rather than shutting off.
To keep your immune system from shutting down on the other hand, you’ll want to stay away from sugar as much as possible, except for that which is found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Even still, you can overload on fruit which contains high levels of fructose, especially if you are juicing and removing all the fiber that would ordinarily help process the natural sugars. To understand more about sugar and its effects on the body I highly recommend this lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Not exactly a block buster film, but extremely informative, and motivational toward your goals. And lets face it, your going to need it when your going up against one of the strongest and most debilitating addictions known to modern man: Sugar. Bottom line is that the average “westernized” individual eats enough sugar to seriously crippled their immune defenses and cause increased inflammation, leading to scores of other issues.
On the topic of habit forming, here are some new ones I’d like you to try if you are willing to be my guinea pigs. Don’t worry we have tested it hundreds of times 😉
Start making your morning meal more substantial and tapering down the size throughout the day. Again there are varying views on this. Our philosophy is to eat for your activity not in response to it. So if you are preparing for a long day at work or school give your body the energy it needs to perform rather than skipping breakfast, having a bar to get you through the afternoon before gorging yourself at dinner. Make any sense? Nighttime snacks should be at least a couple hours before bedtime and hopefully be something raw that packs some of its own enzymes to help in the digestion. Same goes for waking. That old steel furnace needs to be lubricated and fired back up with something that will warm up that metabolism again. Try drinking 16-32 oz of water to help the body flush out all the toxins and dead cells it has been processing while you slept. Then hit it with a nice, sweet piece of whole fruit to wake it up. Wait a little bit, around a half hour, before your Big Bang breakfast (not gorging yourself just a hearty meal to prepare you for your active day).
While certain synergistic foods are good, we believe the KISS method goes down best when it comes to meals. Certain combos are more problematic than others. For instance: meat and dairy, fruit and grain or meat for that matter, melon and citrus have nasty reputations for being mixed with anything, etc. Again, how you approach this will come down to honesty about how things make you feel.
These are guidelines, pointers, clues… tid-bits of collected experience that We have found valuable. As I said before though, our goals and desires are widely varied, as are our bodies. Learn to communicate effectively with your own body and follow some basic principles that make sense to you. Take what you can swallow from the piece of mind I’ve shared and see how it makes YOU feel, then let us know and ask any questions you might have. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong in this instance, just the building of a cooperative partnership that can lead you to the experience that we all seem to strive for!