In the “Metabolic Shit Hole” I talked about the dangers of under eating and the damage it can do to your body. In “Eat More, Not Less” I talked about my frustration with women I coach refusing to eat more despite not seeing any improvements while bouncing around from diet to diet. I’ve also addressed how many calories a person needs to eat in my article “Exactly How Much Should I Eat?”. This article is the last piece of the puzzle. I’ve taught you the how and why, now I want to teach you the what.
When it comes to advising people on how they should eat I rarely put people on a diet plan. They are often to restrictive and set people up for failure. It’s nice sometimes to have a sheet that tells you exactly what to eat each meal but long term that is not sustainable. What happens when you eat at a restaurant? Or go to dinner at a friends? You need to learn to eat in a productive and healthy way in any situation you find yourself in.
Instead of putting people on a strict diet I give them some rules to follow. Let’s take a look at each one of them below.
Rule 1: Figure out how many calories you should be eating.
Everything you need to know you can find here in my article "Exactly How Much Should I Eat?"
Rule 2: Eat Real Food
Food today isn’t real food. It is genetically modified, filled with preservatives and chemicals, covered in pesticides, and injected with hormones. The bread you eat today isn’t the same as the bread people ate 200 years ago. The milk you drink isn’t the same either.
If there was only one rule I could tell people to follow it would be to simply eat real food. Look at ingredients and make better choices.
Start reading labels and stay away from chemicals. Buy organic when you can.
Here are a few simple rules to follow to help guide you to make better choices; The closer to nature your food is the better. The less hands that touch your food the better. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients don’t put it in your mouth. If it wasn’t food 100 years ago it isn’t food today. If you can actually visualize the ingredients it is okay to eat it but if not then it doesn’t go in your mouth (i.e. I know what a tomato or a leaf of basil looks like but have no clue what a soy lecithin looks like).
Rule 3: Eat frequently and often
This is a really simple rule to follow.
People often over eat at a single sitting. They go too long without eating and then when they do eat they make poor choices and over indulge. A good way to manage how you eat is to eat small meals/snacks throughout the day. This will boost your metabolism and will help you make better eating decisions when hungry. We all make bad food decisions when we are starving. Have you ever tried to grocery shop while hungry. Every flavor of ice cream ends up in your shopping cart.
You should aim for between four and six meals/snacks per day. Ideally they are all about the same caloric total. You shouldn’t snack all day and then have a giant dinner. You’ll put on the kind of weight you don’t want to put on. If any meal was to be bigger it should be your breakfast or lunch so you have all day to work it off.
Some people complain that it is difficult to have food around at all times and eat throughout the day but really how hard is it to throw a good meal replacement bar, a snack like an apple or almonds, or a little ziplock bag or container in your purse or backpack. It just takes a little bit of planning. I hate to say it but if you find this to be too much work then perhaps you just aren’t as dedicated as you think you are.
Rule 4: Eat a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
You should have a good mix of fat, protein and carbs in your diet. Don’t be scared of any of the macronutrients.
Eat some protein. It’s a building block. You need it for numerous bodily functions. Make sure you eat enough good quality protein. You can’t do without it. Women need extra protein to put on muscle because we lack testosterone and that leaves us with a more difficult time with muscle gain. Many women lack in protein intake and that is normally the biggest change I make in the diets of women I coach. And don’t be scared you’ll just sprout muscles either. It doesn’t work that way. Trust me, I wish that it did.
Eat some fat. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact the more fat you give your body the more efficient it becomes using it as a fuel source. Fat also helps make your skin, hair, and nails beautiful. Mono and poly unsaturated fats are necessary in many bodily processes. Don’t shy away from fat ladies.
Eat some carbohydrates. You do not want to be on a no carbohydrate diet. You will be constantly flat, cranky and frankly exhausted. Do you really want to be tired all day? As wives, mothers, and career women we need all the energy we can get. Make sure you get enough of these energy giving carbohydrates. Choose from fruit and vegetable sources when you can and choose sources that are high in fiber. Potatoes and rice are fine choices. That said as long as you don’t have a gluten issue don’t be scared of a piece of bread or a bowl of pasta. Remember you need to keep your energy up if you are going to manage the demands of your day.
When it comes to assigning percentages for these macronutrients people often get into weighing, measuring, and calculating. While this can be valuable for some, it ends up being a burden for others. You need to know what you are eating before you can make changes so weighing and measuring food is a good place to start, yes, but until you have a handle on eating real food and your calories are adequate you don’t have any business worrying about the difference between 25 and 30 grams and protein. To be really blunt counting macros is probably way above your pay grade. If you aren’t a world class figure model or professional athlete you don’t need to worry about things like percentages of macros. Each meal just make sure that protein, fat, and carbohydrates are well represented from high quality sources. As a staring point I’d recommend about a third of your calories from each source and make sure you always prioritize protein.
Rule 5: Get A Good Calorie Counting App
It’s nice to say that you need to eat more or eat less but do you even know how much you are eating. I have met plenty of women who think they are eating enough food and are coming nowhere close. I have also met women who think they eat 1500 calories a day and are daily eating triple that.
A good calorie counting app can help you really track how many calories you are eating. Personally I use “My Fitness Pal”. I can look up various foods, scan bar codes on packages, and I can save my meals for easy counting in the future.
Most people think I use the app to help me lose weight and manage my calorie intake but it is quite the opposite. The app helps me make sure I am eating enough. It’s a great tool because when it comes to food sometimes I lie to myself about how much I am actually consuming.
**Remember that any calorie counter is not 100% accurate. For example, if you log 4 oz of chicken you need to think about white meat or dark meat, what it was cooked in, and was it 4 oz before or after cooking it? Same goes with salads and salad dressing. It can get pretty complicated, so try to be accurate as possible but know there is some inaccuracy in there which is another great reason not to worry so much about your macro split because unless you cooking and meal prepping every meal, then there is no way you can be that accurate.
Rule 6: Allow yourself the freedom to enjoy yourself and be flexible
In my opinion the more restrictive the diet, the harder someone eventually falls off the wagon. Weighing, measuring, only eating certain types of food that your dislike, or eliminating food you love will only lead to eventual failure. People will follow diets religiously for months and then when they do come off of them they have no self control left, they eat everything in sight, and they end up in worst shape than when they started.
I don’t think you need to completely restrict yourself to have a good diet. You should feel free to enjoy the odd drink, dessert, or other food that you enjoy. It all comes down to accountability and how bad you want to achieve your goals. I’m not giving you free license to just eat whatever you want here. Remember your eating should be consistent with your goals. All I am saying is that you should have the freedom once in a while to indulge or eat something that you enjoy. Who wants to be miserable? Remember this is a long journey, so have your eye on the prize for 6 months down the road. one dessert won’t make or break that.
Rule 7: Individualize and listen to your body
Just like you shouldn’t blindly follow someone else’s training program you shouldn’t just follow someone else’s diet. Each and every one of us has individual needs. Some of us can’t tolerate gluten. Others are fine with it. Some of us have an issue with dairy and for some of us it causes no issues at all. Some of us need to go to bed on an empty stomach and some of us sleep better with a little snack before bed.
The big point here is do what works for you. Pay attention to your body. Note how it responds to certain food choices. Note how you feel. Pay attention. No book should tell you how you should feel and there will always be some pencil neck with a pocket protector and a calculator to tell you that you are doing things wrong or that they know a better way. The best judge of whether something works or not is you. Educate yourself, make your own decisions, and be your own person. Just make sure you have high standards and make choices that actually influence your goal in a positive way.