Nutrition is a tricky thing. It’s like a holy grail in many people’s lives. Whether we follow a fad diet, our favorite cookbook, a cleanse and detox cycle, this doctor, that chef, or just whatever is convenient… we all have a tendency toward ‘normal’, whatever that ‘normal’ is for each of us. Now look in the mirror. What you see is a reflection of your ‘normal’ nutrition. Sure, exercise and genetics have some input to what your body looks like, but trust me, what you’re eating has more input than what you give it credit for.
Once again, our gym is in the midst of our annual nutritional challenge: 5 Whole Weeks– a nutritional challenge that’s designed to get our participants eating both ‘clean’ and ‘balanced’. The first thing we do is define what ‘clean’ and ‘balanced’ means, then we get to work at identifying and correcting our ‘normal’ nutrition by applying the challenge rules. Of course, the rules aren’t perfect, but they never will be, especially because science and dietitians have so much conflicting evidence floating around that we don’t know who to believe. Aside from the obvious questions like “Should I eat a rubber tire for lunch?” (Answer: No.) , many questions end up being answered with “that depends on your goals and your body’s response”. However, there are some principles that DO apply to nearly everyone, whether you’re doing a challenge or not.
Principle 1: 85% often beats 100%.
Being a CrossFit coach has put me in contact with a good number of VMPs (very motivated people). They workout 8 days a week, eat perfectly 110% of the time, and see incredible results very quickly! That is, until they don’t anymore. I’ve seen most, if not all, of my VMPs burn out at some point. Their willpower and sheer determination eventually runs out of gas because what they were trying to do was unsustainable. The real winners tend to be the athletes that work hard, give themselves time to recover, and keep coming back consistently week after week, month after month. Nutrition is the same way; if you’re shooting for perfection, you’ll likely find that it’s no fun and your nutritional plan isn’t sustainable. Why are you trying to eat better anyway? Lose weight, improve your performance, be healthy? Try eating clean and with good balance 85 percent of the time, you’d be surprised how much more achievable and enjoyable your transformation can be. Look at it this way: if you break each day into 3 meals and 2 snacks, 85% adherence means you still get 5 ‘cheat’ meals or snacks each week. That sounds like a plan that anyone could manage.
Principle 2: If you’re in it only for the end goal, you’ll miss the impact of the journey.
This one is for my ‘perfect’ eaters out there. They want to win the grand prize. They aren’t going to sacrifice a single point over the entire 5 weeks of the challenge… and they might just drive themselves crazy doing it. On the last day of the challenge, they may very well put themselves into a cheesecake coma with a side order of nausea and splitting headache. They will have seen tremendous results for exactly 5 weeks, and then will toss all their progress out the window by reverting back to the old ‘normal’. After all, eating ‘clean’ and ‘balanced’ wasn’t fun, it was torture. Don’t miss out on the real benefits of your journey (new knowledge, new habits) because you’re chasing after the shiny goal.
Principle 3: Be the master of your Cheat Meals.
I’ve already established WHY a cheat meal is important, but here’s one more layer: make sure you plan your cheat meal ahead of time. There’s two types of cheats out there: one that you take, and one that takes you.
Type 1: “I’m taking a cheat meal on Wednesday evening.” I love pizza. I’m going to make myself a pizza on Wednesday night, a nice little reward for the good run or workout that I did on Wednesday afternoon. I’ll make it with my favorite ingredients, but make sure I eat an appropriate amount, timed to when my body can best use those extra carbs. I’ll enjoy the pizza, in fact, it almost feels like a little celebration of doing such a good job at life!
Type 2: “I’m crazy hangry after cutting bread all week, I’m ordering a family-sized bread sticks, I’ve earned it!” Congratulations, you just let your emotions make an 800 empty calorie decision for you. And since you’ve fallen off the track, you might as well have a few beers to wash those carbs down. And it’s good… for roughly 15 minutes, until the guilt and ill-feelings set in. “Maybe I won’t write those in my food journal, I’ll just remember.”
You tell me, which one would you rather have?
Principle 4: Plan ahead.
Having good nutrition doesn’t just happen. Planning and preparation are key to your success. Clean out your fridge and pantry to only contain foods appropriate for your goals. If it’s in there, you’re going to eat it. Not doing this is the same as trying to quit smoking with a pack of cigarettes in your pocket.
Even when the good foods are in stock, you’ll still need to plan ahead to make sure you have those good foods when you need them. Prepare meals in bulk ahead of time. Package and freeze meals so they are always ready to go. Have some good snacks ready to go when your schedule suddenly changes on you. If you prepare your meals ahead of time, the rest of your week is a breeze. You may have one busy day of cooking, but you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to just grab a meal that was prepared beforehand. Spending 60 minutes on Sunday to prepare your week’s meals is less time than spending 15 minutes each morning trying to scrape a lunch together. Healthier, too.