As a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I get a ton of questions about healthy eating. It should be known right off the bat—I am NOT a nutritionist or a registered dietitian. What I am is a perpetual reader, experimenter, and studier of the most recent nutrition science. I’m also an avid runner, and I’ve done bikini bodybuilding—two very different sports with very different nutrition requirements, but I’ve learned how to fuel my body to feel good for a variety of demanding activities. I’ve also learned to not get so hung up on rules and numbers, which is an easy thing to do when you participate in physique contests! Instead, focus on eating REAL food, eating mindfully, and developing a healthy relationship with food.
Eating REAL. Most consumers are finally beginning to understand what REAL means—if it’s in a package, odds are high it’s not 100% real. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, it’s definitely not REAL, unless you’re just a terrible reader. Real food is fresh, delicious, and makes you feel connected to the Earth. Nothing is more gratifying than making a salad purely out of food items I grew in my own backyard. Ethically, I do try to purchase "happy" meat and poultry and fish; economically, this isn’t always feasible but I definitely avoid processed meats, as they tend to be high in sodium and nitrates and have been linked to cancer and listeria (Healthcastle.com).
Eating mindfully. When it comes to eating, all too often we are similar to dogs. We will put anything into our mouths, anytime, no matter what it is. We need to stop and think. Is this actually benefitting my body? Am I already satisfied? Is this an emotional craving or do I truly need this nutrient? Do I need to SLEEP or EAT? For my clients, I always ask: what are your sleep habits? If I can fix their sleep patterns (or lack thereof), I can help them drop 5-10 lbs easily. Late night eating is often a result of people ignoring their bodies, which are telling them to CONSERVE calories and go to sleep. Instead, they interpret is as, "CONSUME calories. You need energy." I’d guess this is the number one detriment to clients reaching their weight loss goals! The number two detriment is the misguided belief that you should always be full. You should NEVER feel full, even after a meal. Aim for 70% full, and eat when you’re 70% "starving". Typically, this translates to eating every few hours, small but satisfying meals.
Develop a healthy relationship with food. Food is not the enemy. It is not your friend. It is not your reward or your punishment. Food is fuel. Because it fuels us—gives us energy, heals our bodies, feeds our cells—we should put the best foods into our bodies. Food is also part of our cultures. Often, we celebrate with food, but the focus should still be on the people and moments we are celebrating, and not just about the food. When I first got into physique competing, I did find myself obsessing over food and viewing food negatively. Inevitably, my strict dieting and deprivations led to full-on bingeing episodes. These in turn led to guilt and negative self-image (how could I have no willpower?), and the cycle repeated itself. I had to re-establish healthy thought patterns. I had to let go of the "fruit after noon is a sin" and "bread is for fat people" mindsets. I now focus on the 90-10 rule: how do you eat 90% of the time? 90% of the time, I eat clean, no refined sugar, tons of lean protein, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and small portions. But 10% of the time, I enjoy splurges! I eat a chocolate chip cookie; I chomp down a gourmet burger; or I imbibe a sugary alcoholic beverage. And I don’t beat myself up. I move on easily to my 90% healthy eating lifestyle.
Now, the above tips are all fine and dandy. But I know my clients want some specific steps that work when trying to lose fat pounds. Here are the basic guidelines I give my clients to get them started on their healthy eating journey:
In a nutshell . . . Be SMART.
S- Simplify meals. No need for tons of ingredients & complex recipes. Think easy, fresh, real.
M- Make it mindful. Decide if you’re hungry. You may actually be thirsty, bored, depressed, stressed, etc. Eat slowly. Eat to satisfaction. Never ever feel FULL. Don’t ever let your blood sugar levels drop too low, either. The second you feel full is the second you’ve put on another pound. The second your blood sugar levels drop is the second you’re going to binge & make poor food choices.
A-Active all day. Seek ways to move more, especially after meals. A calorie is not just a calorie. Your metabolic rate plays a huge part, & activity is the easiest way to increase it. Also thermogenic: spicy peppers, green tea/coffee, & muscles ;)
R- Replace rather than Remove. Avoid thinking that you’re giving up foods; instead focus on replacing foods. Replace one bad habit at a time—try not to get overwhelmed with every change at once. Unless you do better cold-turkey approach!
T- Time. Time, time. Time your meals & stick to them. Make time for your workouts. Make time for YOU. Spend less time hiding out in your pantry & more time playing with your family ;)
Smart & simple meal formula :
Meal 1: 1 serving starchy carb, 1 serving fruit, 1 serving protein
Meal 2: 1 serving fruit/veggie carb, 1 serving dairy protein, teensy serving of healthy fat
(post-workout or mid-morning snack)
Meal 3: large serving leafy greens/fibrous carb, 1 serving protein, 1 serving fruit/veggie carb, teensy serving healthy fat
Meal 4: 1 serving fruit or veggie carb, ½ serving protein, ½ serving healthy fat
Meal 5: large serving veggie carb, small serving starchy carb or large leafy carb, 1 serving protein, teensy healthy fat
Meal 6: ½-1 serving protein, 1 serving fruit or veggie carb, teensy healthy fat
(post-workout or pre-bedtime snack)
Christy Stevenson is a Fitflicks personal trainer, IDEA Fitness Journal writer, a high school English teacher, and mom of three. She teaches fitness classes and supervises the land aerobics program at American Fork Fitness Center. Learn more at www.fitflicks.com/trainer-profile/15 .