I’m not a registered dietician, but as a fitness and lifestyle coach I’m often in the position of giving general nutrition advice. More often than not, the people who come to me aren’t seeking advice on managing a disease. My clients usually just want to feel and look a little better.
I’ve been trying to do more thinking lately around my process with people and the patterns I see with clients. I realized that when it comes to nutrition, probably the advice I give most often might surprise you.
People are shocked to hear this. They think they can’t “lose weight” because they’re eating too much. “What am I doing wrong?” they’ll ask me. Then they’ll show me a food log that indicates skipped breakfasts, an iceberg salad for lunch, and then a low-carb (or virtually all carb) dinner. And they’re coupling this woefully inadequate amount of food with cardio. Lots and lots of cardio. Sure, this method of starvation and sweating on the treadmill might help them lose weight initially, but usually they’ll plateau. Why?
1.) Don’t try to lose weight
The first problem is that they’re trying lose weight in the first place. A nasty drug habit can help you lose weight. Losing weight shouldn’t be the goal. Strength should be the goal. And if strength is the goal then you need to eat well to be strong.
Starvation means you’re losing body weight, but a lot of it’s going to be muscle. And if you’re a woman this vicious cycle of starvation and cardio could be wreaking havoc on your hormones, ensuring that you retain body fat and work against your goals.
2.) Eat more, but eat well
Eat more. You mean, I can have the donuts?
Not so fast. Eat more, but eat more vegetables, eat more good sources of protein, and more of a variety of foods. If you’re eating for strength, you need nutrient dense foods to ensure your body is functioning properly. If you’re eating for strength, you need to make sure your body has a ready pool of amino acids from which it can draw to build muscle. If you’re eating for strength, you need to be eating at regular intervals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).
3.) Cardio is for stress relief and heart health, not fat loss
If you like to run, run. But don’t try to run off your excess pounds. The goal with body composition is to change your metabolic environment, which is a complex stew of hormones, tissues, biochemical reactions, and gastrointestinal function. You’re not going to run off that piece of cake you had a Janet’s going away party in the conference room. But you can, with the right combination of strength training, sleep, stress management, nutrition, and conditioning work ensure that the piece of cake won’t make much of a difference in your overall body composition.
4.) It’s difficult to overeat (actually) healthy foods
If you fill more than half your plate with vegetables at every meal, you’re going to have a difficult time eating too much food. This is where a little education goes a long way. I coach people all the time who tell me during our first meeting that they “eat healthy.” And then they proceed to tell me about the healthy spaghetti meal they ate for dinner the night before.
Spaghetti doesn’t seem unhealthy, does it? And since I’m not an advocate of low-carb dieting, I’m not hating on it because of the pasta.
But the way most of us eat pasta is terrible for us from the most basic plate composition standpoint. Few vegetables. Little fiber. Way more starchy carbs than is advisable. Probably not as much protein as we need. See how quickly that healthy spaghetti dinner becomes a starchy sugar bomb with just a little understanding?
If you think you’re eating healthy now, check yourself. Gluten free does not necessarily equal healthy. Low fat does not necessarily equal healthy. Homemade does not necessarily mean that it’s good for you. “All natural” doesn’t mean anything at a all.
So yes, eat more, but make sure you’re eating well with an eye toward strength and fitness. The rest will usually take care of itself–as long as you’re eating your veggies. And lots of them.