In the first compliance article, I talked about why people have trouble seeing results from their prospective fitness programs. In review, this usually stems from what they are doing outside of the gym rather than inside the gym, and it has to do with their compliance/adherence to a nutritional plan. In this article, I want to expand on this idea and give more thoughts/tips on how to develop a more disciplined nutrition plan for better body composition.
A common question is “so then what do I eat?”, “what is healthy eating?” “what is considered clean eating?”. This is a hot topic in the nutrition today: what really is clean eating or what is healthy? Honestly, I don't think there is an accurate description of what clean eating is and if you asked someone to give you a formal definition, I don't think they could. That's one of the major flaws with the clean eating concept: it means something different to everyone. There was a very good article just written about this topic and I suggest everyone checks it out. You can find it here. Basically, the article debunks the notion of “clean” eating; meaning there aren't actually groups of clean and dirty foods respectively. For example, the body doesn't have different processes for digesting, utilizing, and storing nutrients from so called clean foods vs. dirty foods; i.e., fat from cookies isn't digested and stored differently than fat from avocado. Your body doesn't know the difference between the macro nutrients it receives from these different foods. Obviously, there is a difference between the complete nutritional profile of a cookie and a vegetable, and you shouldn't use this as an excuse to eat as much cookies and ice cream as you want even though it still fits your macro nutrient profile.
So what can we do with this information to make educated decisions about our nutrition? It doesn't really change anything but the mindset, meaning you still should concentrate on eating nutrient dense foods a majority of the time. The 90% rule still applies but now your outlook on those supposed cheat meals is different. There is nothing unhealthy with enjoying a treat for 10% of your meals IF it is planned properly and accounted for in your total caloric intake. This way you don't have to worry about it completely derailing your progress. Keep in mind though that something that is “unhealthy” might be “healthy” for someone else based on their goals or medical condition. Its all about the right context. HOWEVER, once again we are talking about 10% of your meals, which still means only about once a week. The biggest point I want to make is that your focus shouldn't be on the 10% of meals, it should be on the 90%. The other thing I want to emphasize is the fact that these are planned single meals and snacks that must fit within your weekly caloric intake, not all day binges that some suggest.
The 90% meals should be a combination of protein, fat, and carbs in ratios that help you reach your goals. For weight loss, that means about a gram of protein for every lb of your targeted body weight. (The same is true if you are trying to put on muscle) So if you weigh 200 lbs but you want to weigh 185 lbs you would consume about 185 grams of protein. Fat intake would be up to half of your protein intake and carbs will vary based on your goals and activity level. For example, someone trying to put on muscle mass or an athlete will need more carbohydrates in their diet than the average person looking for weight loss. These are all estimates and can be adjusted as needed; they are just a good basic guideline to start with.
The sources of your protein, fat, and carbs for the 90% of your meals should be your main focus. Whole food sources including quality meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables and certain healthy starches and grains (depending on the goal at hand). A good rule of thumb is if it didn't grow, run, fly, or swim then don't eat it. For most people starting out, this is a challenge just in itself. Changing 90% of their meals to some combination of these foods will be enough to make a large difference. This is why in the previous article I talked about making small progressive changes that can lead to long term habitual change. I want to make another point clear however: calories DO matter. This means that besides quality, the QUANTITY of food still needs to be monitored. It doesn't matter if you only eat things that I just mentioned, if you still eat too much you will not burn as much fat or lose as much weight, if at all.
What a typical meal should look like:
About a palm size portion of protein of your choice ( Grass fed Beef, Eggs, Chicken Breast, Pork, Salmon, etc., some type of vegetable, and a starch like a potato/sweet potato or some oats in equal portions. You should get your fats from the meat sources, eggs, avocados, and cook with things like grass fed butter, olive oil, or coconut oil.
This article is supposed to be about compliance right? So now lets talk about more ways to help with compliance within the framework of ideas I've been talking about. I think the best way to stay compliant within your 90% meals is to have a plan of attack and stick to the plan as much as you can. One of the best ways to stick to a nutritional plan is to limit your choices. Find a few meals that you like, are easy to make, and fit within the framework of your macro nutrient intake (carb, protein, and fats) and stick to them. There will always be ways to spice things up later or add more choices in. Limiting your choices early on helps you take the guessing work out of preparing food and inherently keeps you more disciplined because you only have a couple of meals to choose from. This also forces you to develop good habits. If you eat just about the same things everyday you can form a routine around these meals.
Preparing of multiple meals is also a great way to increase nutritional compliance. If you prepare all your meals ahead of time it keeps you on a plan, and like limiting your choices, you are forced to stay on your plan because the food is already prepared. A big barrier for a lot of people to stay compliant is meal preparation. There is work involved in preparation of meals, and when people are short on time or they just don't feel like cooking, they look for something quick and easy. What types of foods are usually quick and easy to make? Not usually things that fall into the grow, run, fly, or swim category.
Decrease the amount of times you are eating out. This goes hand in hand with preparing meals ahead of time, which will limit the need for eating out as much. Lets face it, as I already mentioned, most people don't enjoy meal prep so going out to eat or ordering something is an easy cop out; however, once you decide to go out your chances of sticking to a plan diminish quite a bit, because you really are no longer in complete control of what you are eating. It is easy to get off track when there are so many restaurant and menu choices out there. Not to mention, now you really are not in control of the portion sizes or what exactly is being used to cook the meal. By limiting the times you are out, you avoid temptation, stay on track, and best of all save money.
Limit alcohol consumption. This might be the biggest nutritional hurdle for a lot of people. They don't realize how many extra calories they are consuming just from alcohol alone. For some it means getting rid of half a day's worth or even a full days worth of meals in calories each week just by dropping alcohol consumption down! I am not saying to never drink alcohol, but it should be limited to a couple drinks a week or special occasions.
Drink Super Shakes. Even If you prepare all your meals ahead of time there will still be those situations where you need some nutrition in a pinch. Having a few go to super shakes that are quick and easy to make are a good way to stay on track and satiated until you have time to eat more whole foods. But remember, you shouldn't just live off of shakes, it is necessary to eat whole food as much as you can.
Find out what a super shake includes here.
If all else fails try preparing all your meals from a lean eating cook book. There are many good options out there these days but I would recommend:
Practical Paleo (Disclaimer: You would need to add in more carbs when using this one.)
4 hour chef ( Disclaimer: This is more than a cook book but a very interesting read.)
With this information in hand I don't think anyone should have a problem making some healthier choices, especially if you take the time to make a plan and follow through with it. Using just some of the tips I've outlined in these two articles should give you everything you need to be successful. The key is actually making the time not taking the time. You make time for things that are important to you and what's more important than your health?