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A few years ago I would have loved to click on a blog post that was titled something like ’10 Food Rules For Getting Lean’. I’ve always been a voracious reader of all things health and fitness, but when my priorities started to shift and I began to work on getting leaner rather than running around like a chicken with my head cut off (teaching a million classes, running a business, running marathons, running…all over) I started to read a lot more about what I needed to do to in fact, get leaner.
I began to follow a more scripted way of eating including:
– having a 12 hour fast between my last meal of the day and my first meal of the following day.
– not having a large helping of starch and a large helping of fat at the same meal.
– eating about 1.5 grams per kilogram of protein each day
– drinking 2 litres of water a day
– eating tons of green veggies every day
– avoiding most packaged foods
This strategy of following food ‘rules’ helped me to get leaner.
The photo above was taken in June 2014, probably the leanest I’ve ever been.
Over the past year or so my priorities have shifted away from getting lean being one of my biggest areas of focus. I spend more time building my coaching business The Blast Fitness Lifestyle Club, more time with my family, more time relaxing and more time creating true life balance for me. The best part is that I don’t actually think I could have gotten to a place where I feel physically great, enjoy what I eat, am healthy and am not thinking about getting leaner all the time without being where I was in the photo above. It was fun to put all my knowledge into practice and I whole-heartedly enjoyed my daily habits at that point in my life. I was only working out 4-5 hours a week and still drinking wine and eating chocolate, but I thought about food and followed rules a lot more than I do now.
This photo was taken in Nicaragua last month with my girlfriend Emily. I am lifting a lot less these days to take care of a neck injury and am still eating well, but have definitely lost some strength. I describe my eating these days as following guideposts, not rules. After years of following rules, a lot of them became common practice and now they are guideposts. It really has become a way of life. Eating well takes a lot less effort these days.
I’m not against food rules. They served a great purpose for me at a time in my life when getting lean was one of my top priorities. But now that I’ve been practicing the ‘rules’ for years, I’ve figured out for myself what give and take my diet can handle. The key here is that I’ve figured it out for myself. The first rule of fat loss needs to be ‘its all individual’ because it is. Some people do better with eating in the same increments every day, while others, myself included, see better results from listening to our hunger cues.
Saying that what we need to do to see results is individual is not about frustrating you, it’s about telling you the truth straight up. I’ll share my experience and what I know from my university studies, but I’m not about to pretend it is the only way to see success because it is not.
This may be the single most frustrating thing to someone who is trying to change their body composition. They want to know what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat and the answer to those questions is the same, it depends!
One non-negotiable when it comes to getting results from how we eat whether it be health-related or body composition related, we have got to be consistent with what we practice. Whether we are following hard and fast rules or have moved on to a more relaxed approach like I have, consistency is key in order to see any result.
Just like Gary Vaynerchuk says: “If you want to do something for the rest of your life, you don’t give up after 4 months.” So today I am going to share my guideposts for consistent healthy eating. Regardless of where you are at on your healthy eating journey, these guideposts represent the foundation of a healthy diet. I think it is easier to be consistent in the long run when we learn to ease up on the rules and live in the grey area. It’s not about eating dessert every single day or stuffing ourselves when we aren’t following ‘the rules’ it is about personal responsibility and acknowledging which strategy will work best for you and where you are at in life.
This is a non-negotiable for health and body composition goals. Adequate protein balances our blood sugar which is vital for our health and being more effective fat burners. If we eat a diet low in protein (and fibre – it is a blood sugar balancer too) we have to release a lot more insulin to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Over time our insulin becomes less effective and this puts us on the path to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Whereas a food rule would be ‘eat 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight’ now I focus on getting some protein at each meal. It takes me much less effort compared with when I was counting protein grams because I have a good idea of how much protein is in a chicken breast (about 25 grams) or a can of tuna (about 30 grams) or some hummus (about 5 grams). The point is not that counting macronutrients is good or bad, it is about what works in your life. I am not willing to spend that much mental energy counting grams at this point, but I do want to stay healthy so I ensure that I get protein at each meal of the day, and usually around 25 grams. This keeps me fuller for longer and helps me to keep the muscle mass I have left!
I love it when people suggest that all I do is eat protein all day long…come take a look in our fridge! Eating tons of veggies is paramount to healthy living and this is definitely a guidepost that is worth paying attention to. When I was putting more effort into eating lean, I would eat mostly greens, celery, cucumbers, asparagus, cabbage, brussels sprouts, peppers and zucchini. Now my vegetable haul each week includes the items listed above but also has turnips, carrots, parsnips, spaghetti squash, potatoes and yams.
It’s actually pretty easy to eat a ton of veggies if it is one of your guiding principles. There are salads everywhere, if you eat vegetables in your scrambled eggs in the morning and make a stirfry or big salad at dinner its easy to get upwards of 7 servings each day. I think it’s about seeking out all opportunities to eat veggies because it is a way of life rather than thinking ‘I have to eat vegetables because it is one of the rules’.
This one is tough because one of the most popular ‘get lean’ rules is to eat every 2-3 hours. There is research that supports frequent eating and a higher metabolism, but if we are overeating because we are eating too much each day, this is not great for our health or body composition.
I strongly support listening to your hunger cues rather than using the clock to eat because it is a practice in mindfulness. We become much more aware of our body’s signals. We learn to snack less because we eat when we experience physical hunger, not because there is food around or because the clock says it is time to eat.
This was almost an impossible task for me when I was exercising upwards of 20+ hours a week from 2008-2012. I ate all the time because I was hungry all the time. Eating every 2-3 hours was no problem because I literally felt hungry that often. Now I eat 3 or 4 times a day and rarely snack because our hunger levels do decrease when our activity is more balanced. Finding my hunger cues was a practice that took me a couple years to feel more comfortable with, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be able to get it right away as it can be a big shift if you have been following an eating schedule.
Of course real food is healthier for you. Of course eating an apple and a boiled egg is a leaner and cleaner choice than a packaged protein bar, but sometimes you need to be prepared for eating on the go, traveling or when you do not feel like meal prepping and cooking.Eating food that is minimally processed is one of the best things we can do for our health and body composition, but as always, I think it is a balance. I eat chocolate, salami, blue tortilla chips and ice cream, I just choose to eat real food a lot more often! When out for dinner I do not stress about sauces or extras, and I use balsamic reduction on every single salad I eat.
Rather than be obsessed with eating completely unprocessed, I choose to live in the middle. Mostly real food and a few packaged items a few times a week. Things like protein bars, salad dressings, chocolate and salami help me to stay consistent with my guideposts.
At the end of the day we are all on our own food journey. Food is more than fuel, it is social, affects our physical health, has psychological history and can be a comfort during stressful times. The more mindful we are of how we interact with food, the better. I got to the point that thinking about food all the time, counting protein grams and eating to get lean were not top priorities for me. The take home message is that changing priorities can still mean a healthy, strong body. It’s not like we have to let our great habits go to waste when we crave a different way of relating to food.
We work on finding the ideal balance between using food rules when we need them and transitioning to guideposts when we are ready for a more flexible way of eating in my ladies only online coaching program, the Blast Fitness Lifestyle Club. The Club is open for registration until the end of the day on January 2, 2017.
To you and wherever you are on your journey with food, thanks for reading!