Last Wednesday it was about noon and my BFF called me on her lunch break.
She was contemplating what to have for lunch.
“Hey!” I said, “Random question, but what is your favorite thing for breakfast?”
“Hmmmm,” she replied, “waffles, pancakes, donuts, eggs–bacon, and well, bacon.”
She noted those items like they were sacred and forbidden; they were a prize; they were the greatest things on earth but yet things she couldn’t have.
The question I asked elicited the exact response we all give when we think about our favorite foods.
Our “favorites” are the bad things, right?
We list the indulgent, decadent, sweet things we think are off limits because they are deemed “sinful” or “bad.” These are foods that might make us feel bad physically, and mentally, they defeat us. Thus we we try our best to avoid them.
Then she asked me the same question.
I thought for a second before I answered. I contemplated. I know I love my kale protein shakes but lately I have been hooked on these protein pancakes I love…
Before I answered, she answered for me.
“You love your green shake don’t know?” She asked.
She knows me well.
I literally LOVE what I eat every day.
I get excited just thinking about the foods I eat because they taste good and only enhance my body.
Not only do I eat foods that please my palate, but also, I eat foods which are tolerable digestively and foods that fuel me.
Then it occurred to me– I think one of the biggest struggles people have with fat loss is striking the balance between approaching food scientifically and enjoying food without being emotionally attached.
What I mean by approaching food “scientifically,” is to view food as chemical compounds which are to be consumed for life, used as fuel and consumed as a means to an end.
Some people would benefit if they could think, “chemical or compound ‘x’ yields ‘y’ results,” when planning meals.
So how do you find the balance?
Find the foods you love and then be scientific with your strategy.
Have you ever known someone (or been the person) who is so extremely focused on a goal that they become militant about it?
This is when you exude ridiculously strict behavior and/or diet strategies to see fast results, (i.e. tilapia three times a day, broccoli, no carbs or measuring every calorie/ounce of food).
You (or someone you know) go into what I call “robot mode:” you eat to survive, have no enjoyment from meals and often have to skip social outings, not partake in restaurant meals or skip happy hours.
Being a robot would be nice.
In fact, some people who are too emotionally invested in food could perhaps benefit from “robot mode” if it were possible. However even if it were possible, robot mode is NOT sustainable or fulfilling in life.
Also, robot mode would not be easy.
It is important to taste, to feel, to connect, and to engage in life– and as humans we traditionally do this over meals, sharing food with others.
So how exactly, do we find the balance of enjoying (or in my case absolutely loving) the food we eat everyday while ensuring that food also keeps us in line with our goals and propels us in the direction we seek?
The key is to find balanced strategies rather than practice militant behavior.
Set parameters with calories and macronutrients, and then eat foods you love that fall within the parameters.
Some may call this flexible dieting–that is a topic for another time. However I am going to give you five tips to help find that balance.
Disclaimer: this stuff takes time to figure out. It does not happen over night. It takes practice and experimenting without losing sight of the goal. It will be frustrating at times. And yes, it will take more planning (when you first begin) than you are used to.
However, before you click away out of frustration, just know that my client, Shannon, figured it out. If you remember, I wrote about her and her quest to be healthier, look better and feel better last summer. I helped coach her with nutrition as she began a new training program at Enrgi Fitness in Chicago. Looking back, she said it took over a month to find a groove with daily, healthy eating habits.
But for now, apply these five tips– just like Shannon did to figure out what to eat everyday.
And, one more thing– let me remind you just a little bit about Shannon:
“….Shannon loves pizza. She prefers Papa John’s most days, but Jet’s Pizza makes her very happy too. At McDonalds, biscuits or plain cheeseburgers are her go-to, —but bacon is the real key to her heart.”
With passion and focus she found a system and so can you. I hope these five tips will help!
Five steps to know what to eat every day
1. Ask yourself a question
What is your goal? Will this food detract from your progress? How much weight do you want to lose? Does this goal line up with what you really want: see my article on “What are you training for?”
Seriously. If you want abs– say it. If you want a smaller dress size, write it down. The goal matters. If you just hope for better or hope for “progress” how will you be able to measure it?
Make sure you set a goal so you can own that goal and never for a second lose sight of it.
I am serious.
That goal will remind you what you SHOULD eat every day.
2. Take a lesson from Chipotle
I am sure all of you reading have been to Chipotle or Qdoba. You walk up to a food bar, right? You see tons of yummy, deliciously smelling foods right under your nose– and YOU have to pick items.
First rule: pick your protein. Most of you know I am all about variety, most of the time. However when I find what works for me or a client, it makes fat loss easier.
In Shannon’s case, because she is a picky eater, the key to her consistency was first knowing what she would “pick” at Chipotle nine times out of ten. I bet most of you reading have a “usual” order at Chipotle, the one you know will satisfy you. In the same vein, find out what whole foods you love. This way, you don’t feel like you have to eat “diet” foods to stay lean. And, you don’t have to experiment too much, wasting precious time.
You know what you know, and you know what you like. Don’t over think it. Don’t eat tilapia if you hate tilapia.
If you know you love chicken– stick with that; from there you can figure out 500 different ways to eat it. But trying a million different meats throughout just one week makes it harder to figure out what works best for you. It takes too much planning and brain power to juggle veggies, micronutrients, fats AND what protein you should consume every day– so let’s simplify it when you first start.
It’s crucial to nail down your protein because it is so important in the diet. Your protein should always stay constant. That means when calories drop a little or in general you want to eat less, protein intake must stay the same no matter what.
Think about a car; gas may decrease and the car still runs, but the oil always stays in the car. I will say it again, your protein should stay constant in your diet.
Side note: if you already know that you are not picky and you know what works, then just make sure you prioritize protein.
So each day imagine you are just getting up to the Chipotle line– tons of food options– and you have to pick one meal; one you know you will enjoy, that will have protein and that will fill you up. Make it easy on yourself.
3. Pick your carb
Carbs are important. Carbs can be tricky. Why? because the media tells us they are the devil; we listen, then we are starved and then we binge, right?
To avoid this– commit to a carb that works for you.
I know for a fact that I love sweet potatoes. I digest them well, I love the taste and I can make them many different ways.
Some people like oats, but don’t digest them well. Instead of powering through something uncomfortable, find a carb that is easy to digest and feels good. Then staying consistent will be a cinch because it will take minimal will power to eat it everyday– and with happiness comes consistency.
In Shannon’s case– she worked on committing herself to less processed carbs. Because she had a tendency to eat a lot of pizza, we chose quinoa as her carb; she liked it. Quinoa was novel for her and she wanted to make it a priority.
Shannon added quinoa to salads, ate it as a side and made it several different ways to incorporate it often without getting bored.
Not to say she went cold turkey on pizza, but her serious efforts to consume quinoa resulted in less pizza consumption. She also worked on adding sweet potatoes to one meal most days. It was all about adding more whole foods tolerable to her picky palate than anything else.
Think about carbs like a tank of gas. You do not have to eat carbs all the time– just like you don’t have to get gas every day. On a day you lift weights, you may feel the desire for more carbs– so listen to that feeling. As a gas tank approaches empty, it doesn’t run as well or accelerate as fast. When your body runs low on carbs, any type of physical activity becomes difficult.
Figure out what makes you feel good and eat it. Don’t eat carbs you don’t like. Don’t worry about eating it at every meal, or even “____” amount every day when you first begin.
Pick your carb for a week. That entire week, try and stick to it. It may make meal planning easier. It may make grocery shopping less stressful. It may make measuring progress simpler.
This tip is key for me because I genuinely do love eating low-carb. However, I know carbs are important for fueling my strength training sessions and I notice that if I don’t prioritize good carbs I feel less energetic. Therefore I consistently work on adding carbs to my diet which I know will ONLY make me feel better and stronger.
What carb will you choose?
Here are some suggestions:
-fruits, whole grain bread, sweet potato, quinoa, millet, oats, yams, squash, amaranth.
4. Mix and Match
Just like the gas tank metaphor– don’t worry about getting everything in all the time. Know what you like and then pick some items from your “list of favorites” each time it’s meal time and you will be set.
The simpler the meal, the fewer ingredients, the easier to track and stay on track.
But that does not mean a fat loss journey is boring.
Even more, if you like to get creative, look at a list of your favorites and try to devise some recipes. That is, in fact, how I came up with my favorite protein pancakes.
When Shannon and I first discussed this stuff on the phone we were both frustrated with each other. I kept suggesting foods that generally work well for fat loss and she hated them… every single one.
When I first spoke to Shannon I learned the following:
-she did not want to give up alcohol
-she had never heard of quinoa
-she didn’t know that only eating a big cup of grapes from breakfast was not ideal for fat loss
-she didn’t like fish
-she doesn’t like most vegetables
-she didn’t really like yogurt or oatmeal
-she doesn’t cook much
-she loves biscuits, bacon and waffles
To get her on track we tried to think of things she loved and would eat, if in front of her. While there may be no single fat loss secret or trick, there is a simple way to find out what to eat– for Shannon it was making a list of healthy foods she liked and applying the mix and match strategy.
Fat loss is personal.
5. Plan like you pack for a trip
I call this “planning without planning.”
When you go on vacation, you spend thirty minutes to a few hours packing depending on who you are and the trip ahead. Nobody ever knows exactly what they will need on each given vacation day but they have a general idea of where they are going and what they like to wear, am I right?
Maybe you know there will be two fancy dinners so you pack two nice outfits.
For your diet, plan to eat two veggie packed lunches in one week.
Another way to look at it: just like your suitcase only holds so many items, your fat loss diet should only contain so many calories. Plan to get enough food you need and omit extra snacks or pointless foods. This way you are less likely to get distracted and veer away from your goal.
Once a week go to the grocery, think about what you LOVE to eat and only get those things– be smart; remember you made a list of WHOLE FOODS that you love.
This way, throughout the week you can mix and match the healthy foods you really, truly like.
Speaking of “packing,” a lot of people pack a bag for the gym “…in case I get out of work early and I can run by the gym.”
“…if my conference call ends and I can workout on my lunch break.”
“…if my spouse can pick up the kids.”
Most of you still pack even if there is only a slight possibility you will make it there. You plan ahead, right?
Why not plan for your macronutrients/micronutrients that way?
If you company is catering lunch and you know there will be zero veggies– eat them at breakfast time. If you are going on a work trip– eat your veggies in the morning before the flight. Going to a meeting right after a workout? Pack a protein shaker to get some quick fuel to tide you over.
If you haven’t had any veggies at all for two days, make them the priority of your meal the first time you do catch a break and you can plan ahead, cook, or sit down to eat.
These five ways to know what to eat everyday are basically ways to get personal with your food and find good habits.
You know the end goal.
You know which protein will make up the majority of your diet.
You pick foods which are WHOLE, NUTRITIOUS and FILLING (especially carbs)!
From that list you should eat what sounds the best.
Think about nutrients over a one week span– don’t get caught up on perfecting each day.
You got this!
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