The more I hear about people trying some new found diet, the more I feel like people are constantly being misguided about their nutrition. 30 day challenges, Atkins diets, Ketogenic diets, Paleolithic diets, vegan diets, vegetarian diets, a magic pill that will help you shed body fat, the bashing of how bad carbohydrates are for the body, etc. It seems like there's a new diet fad popping up almost every few years and it’s the “one that will work.” They all have their explanations as to why this diet is the best and why it will help you feel and look better...and some of them will for certain amount of time. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone wanting to lose weight say “I’m starting Keto.” Or I’m doing a 30 day Paleo challenge.” In almost every case, the individual will start the diet, see results and lose weight for a month or two and then either plateau their weight loss or fall completely off the diet and begin to gain weight once again.
As a society, we want things now! If an individual is overweight and starts a diet, they want immediate results and unrealistic weight loss. If an individual is small and wants to gain lean muscle mass, usually the same unrealistic expectations occur. Dieters want whatever advantage we can get from supplements and new diets. In this new day and age, the old adage “slow and steady wins the race” seems is irrelevant for many of us...but it should be the staple of a healthy diet.
The main reason many of these diets work for the interim is because they put the dieter at a caloric deficit. If it’s the “Keto” diet, the absence of carbohydrate puts the dieter in many cases in a caloric deficit because they are almost purely relying on Protein and Fat as energy sources. The most popular myth or notion these days is that “carbs are the enemy and will make you fat!” Not true at all. It’s not the carbohydrates themselves that are the enemy, but rather over consumption of them, and they are very easy to over consume as a dieter who tracks their food will soon come to realize.
Almost everyone who has started a fad diet and had success will tell you that initially they lost a substantial amount of weight in a couple of months, but then everything slowed down. “I lost 10lbs in the first month of this diet, but now I’m stuck and my weight loss has slowed way down.” This is where nearly everyone either gets frustrated and stops their diet plan and either tries a “new diet” or goes back to their old diet which usually consists of overeating. Here is the reality. Recomposition of the body takes time, consistency, training and planning. The dieter must be a student of his or her own body. This takes time!
Let’s get right to to the point. In this series of write ups, I will break down the steps on how to start a healthy diet that can be used throughout an individual's life. Most of it can be done with some simple arithmetic.
Step 1: Track what you eat.
Tracking in this way is beneficial in four main ways.
It establishes a routine of understanding exactly what the dieter is consuming
It teaches serving size (portion) and control
It teaches total caloric intake on a daily/weekly basis
It teaches macronutrient breakdown of specific foods- Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat & Alcohol
Routine- This sounds so simple. Download a food tracking app and put everything you eat on a daily basis into the app. Here’s the catch...you have to actually track and put the food into the app! Athletes come to me all the time asking me what they should be eating to perform better, and lose or gain weight. I always tell them to start by tracking their food. They usually do it for about 3-4 days and then forget or get bored with it or make some other excuse as to why they haven’t been tracking. Then I get asked again, “what should I be eating?” Again, I tell them to track their food for a week consistently and show me what they have been eating. If that athlete comes back and shows me that they have been diligent about tracking their food, then I began to give them small recommendations on where things could be improved or altered based on what they are consuming at the moment. If I ask the athlete to see his or her food log for the last few days and he or she says “I forgot.” then I know they aren’t ready to make a change and aren’t serious about implementing dietary change. My point is, the athlete or “dieter” needs to take initiative and responsibility for themselves about what they are consuming. Establishing this routine give the dieter control over what he or she should eat on a given day/ If we don’t have a baseline measurement of the diet now, how can we devise a plan on how to improve?
Serving Size- This is one of the most overlooked things that people constantly do. They either don’t know what a serving size is or they underestimate a serving size constantly. The dieter must be realistic about recording the correct serving size of what is eaten. A cup of rice looks a lot different then 2 cups of rice calorically. Use instruments for measuring serving sizes. Measuring spoons, measuring cups, scales, etc. The more precise and accurate the better.
Caloric Intake- Logging each and everything that the dieter consumes will give the dieter instant feedback about what he or she is consuming. From this, the dieter can begin to understand if he or she is overeating, under eating or eating the correct amount of food. Done overtime, the dieter will begin to understand if he or she is constantly eating the same amount of calories daily/weekly or if they are low one day, high the next etc. Is the dieter at a caloric deficit or a caloric surplus or maintaining their weight.
Macronutrient Breakdown- Finally, tracking food in this manner will give the dieter their breakdown of macronutrients for the day/week. macronutrients include Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat and Alcohol. Most apps break these macronutrients into percentages of daily caloric intake.
Dieter had 2500 calories on Monday
Carbohydrate- 800 cals 32%
Protein- 800 cals 32%
Fat- 900 cals 36%
Alcohol- 0 cals 0%
When food has been tracked for an extended period of time, the dieter will begin to notice what types of food contain which types of macronutrients and how much of them they consume on a daily/weekly basis. This information can establish a baseline of sustainability or change that can be implemented to improving general health, performance, weight loss, weight gain or weight maintenance. This can only happen when food has been tracked! This is the first step in developing a sound nutrition.