In the effort to achieve our weight, physique, performance or medically driven goals, there are two major “players”: Diet and Exercise. I know, I am full of wisdom! But in all seriousness, I find it shocking that, while setting fitness goals and expectations, more than 50% of the people I work with have ONLY exercise in mind as the primary mode of achieving these expectations. There is a very common (yet often ignored) misconception that, “as long as I workout, I can eat anything I want.” I hate to be a Debbie Downer or the one to rain on your parade, but running that 5k the other morning did not give you a free pass to go eat a large “Hot n’ Ready” pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars.
This example may be a little extreme but you know what I am talking about. So, when clients tell me, “I don’t understand why I haven’t made progress. I’ve been doing great with my workouts!”
I say, “Have you been food logging?”
Client: “No, but I think I eat pretty well. I’m just not sure if I’m eating the right things.”
Me: “Ok, well you have to food log so we can see the amount you are taking in compared to what you are burning.”
And then, without fail, at least one person EVERY week says, “Can you just tell me what to eat? If I have a list the serving sizes and types of food I can eat, it would be easy.”
Sound easy enough. But let me tell you, nothing is further from the truth.
The truth is there is NO perfect diet for everyone. Having a “meal plan” created by someone else will not solve your problem (at least not in the long term). If you see a family member, friend, co-worker or celebrity change their diet and have success, it does not mean following the same set of guidelines will lead to your success. The perfect diet IS NOT what works for him, her or them. It is what works for YOU.
Let’s Face the Facts
Our metabolism is a product of many factors, some of which are completely within our control while others are not. This variance in metabolism from one person to another supports the notion that in order to achieve long-term success, we need a more individualized approach. Not only does our body adapt over time to meet the metabolic stress we demand from it, we constantly are at the mercy of what our life has thrown, is currently throwing, or will throw at us. Some of these factors include:
- Current diet: What are you currently eating? Have you been consistent with this diet for a long period of time? Have you lost weight in the past on your current diet only to run head first into a plateau? Are you consistently keeping track of what actually goes in? Has your body adapted to your current consumption?
- Activity levels: More active people require more fuel. If your activity levels and metabolism are not identical to the people you often compare yourself to, your dietary requirements will also fail to be identical. Also macronutrient ratios (protein, carbohydrate and fat) will vary depending on the duration and mode of physical activity you engage in from day to day.
- Medical limitations and injury prevention: A person with a peanut allergy will eat differently than a person who LOVES peanut butter. The peanut butter lover will have different requirements than their friend with Type II Diabetes. The diabetic is going to eat differently than the marathon runner living down the street. The marathoner is going to have a different calorie and macronutrient requirement than the secretary at his doctor’s office who sits at a desk 40hrs/week and does not exercise. The secretary is going to require a different diet than her boss, the doctor, who ironically struggles with high cholesterol….this list could go on forever, I hope you get the point!
- Preferences: If you do not enjoy a certain food, it is unrealistic to tell yourself you are going to consistently incorporate this food into your diet because it is “healthy”. I hate tomatoes. Can I eat them when I need to? Yes. Are they c a “healthy” food? Yes. But I would prefer to not have them at all. I know it is unrealistic for me to say, “I am going to eat tomatoes every day because they are healthy.” I might make it a week, or a month, or maybe even a year. But I know when I fall off the wagon I will fall hard and fail to hop back on. If this is going to be the case, why set myself up for failure?
- Accessibility, Budget and Convenience: Goals can easily get labeled as “unrealistic” if a food is not –
- Easily Accessible: Something that requires you to alter your normal routine to obtain it is not something you can commit to eating every week.
- Affordable: Making healthy, fresh, high quality food choices at the grocery store can add up quickly (understanding the compromise between “I want” and “I need” is a must before setting unrealistic dietary goals).
- Convenient: Ask yourself: is it realistic to prepare a meal for family or friends but make a separate dish for yourself? Or, on the other hand, is it realistic to expect your family and friends to prepare a separate meal for you so you can stick to your diet? Some people may say yes, which is great if that is truly maintainable. But most people (usually through their own experience) find this is not a realistic expectation.
For all of these reasons and more, it is important that you come to terms with the idea of an “individualized meal plan” moving forward. No one can create that for you AND have it be maintainable for the rest of your life. Situations, preferences, health status and goals will continually change throughout our life. You know better than anyone else what is realistic and doable for you as an individual. Getting stuck in a meal plan that worked for “insert skinny friend’s name here” is only setting up your arch nemesis (last name “Failure”) for a slam dunk.
Don’t Throw that Alley-Oop(s)!
So what can you do to avoid falling into this trap? First, ditch this excuse: “I don’t know what to eat.” Yes you do. You know darn well that the wine and chocolate or cake and ice cream you had this week were not “good” choices. You also know that if you replace the junk food and alcohol in your diet with fruits or veggies you will be healthier. You don’t need anyone to tell you that. Just skip to the chase and admit it: “I don’t want to take responsibility for my choices.” Or, “I’m not willing to make that sacrifice.” Either one is ok: at least you are admitting it, and this is an important step. I can assure you ignoring the facts will not make them go away. It’s time to step up and take some responsibility.
My Challenge For You
My challenge for anyone reading this blog is to think of one (or more) rule(s) that can improve your current dietary habits. Here’s the catch. This rule must:
- Be maintainable for at least 5 years
- Not completely “cut” anything from your diet
- Not decrease the quality of your social or family life
I am asking you to please share your rule with me. You can post on this blog, on the AFS Facebook page, email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), or any other method you find convenient. Next month I would love to follow up and compile these rules so we can share our ideas with each other. It is time to create some positive eating habits. Why not share your thoughts and ideas with your peers? Stay tuned for my next blog “Small Rules That Make a BIG Difference”. Let’s see what we can come up with!
CLICK HERE for “The Perfect Diet Part II”!