Diet: The Basics
I have come to the realization that most people have no idea how to eat…healthy. Diet is the single most impactful thing someone has direct control over. The best part about adjusting your diet is it’s just that, an adjustment, no schedule manipulation required. For a long time I assumed everyone had a general understanding of how to eat; however, after having been around multiple different communities, athletic circles, etc. I have realized that is not the case. I have also realized it is not exactly their fault or for lack of effort. Walk through any bookstore, magazine aisle, or supplement store and you’ll be overwhelmed with a plethora of inaccurate information. So while I could get very nerdy and scientific with different diets of various goals, my hope is just to cut through the fluff and provide some basics for those humble enough to admit they really don’t know how to eat right.
As hinted to above, the initial step of any dietary intervention is to recognize and admit that a problem exists, whether from lack of knowledge or lack of discipline. First, you must diagnose and understand the exact nature of the problem; whether its excessive weight gain, poor performance, low energy etc.. Next, take a hard honest look and figure out how long it took you to get to your current state. If it was a five-month slump you fell in, expect at least that long to undue the “damage.” If a 15-year history of abhorrent behavior made you what you are today, why would you think 30 days could possible undue the causes of that? Furthermore, you’ll just become discouraged by a lack of immediate progress so take the long view. Most legitimate diet solutions begin producing results after about three months (due to blood platelet changeover). For the generalist, how to eat is pretty simple: eat your vegetables, eat your protein, and no, fat doesn’t make you fat. Furthermore, eat clean, eat for an objective (when there is one), and occasionally enjoy a damn slice of pizza.
“Frank, You’re supposed to spread your meals out and eat six small meals a day.”
“Really, why is that?”
“That’s what they say.”
“Ok, who’s they?”
A diet needs to be able to be sustained and fairly convenient or it’s just a matter of time until you fall off the bus. So no, you don’t need to spread your meals out and eat them at exact intervals, there’s plenty of science out disproving this. While it doesn’t work exactly as calories in versus calories out (due to about 30% of particular fats being absorbed by the brain), it is an excellent place to start looking.
Fasting has its benefits, I do it here and there based on training load and intensity mainly to allow my GI system to rest a bit; however, I have seen many people overcomplicate and over think this too. You don’t need to set an alarm to remind you when exactly 16 hours since your last meal was. If you want to play with fasting, simply don’t eat first thing, skip breakfast, have a cup of coffee and eat a later lunch. We used to call skipping breakfast lazy so it shouldn’t be too hard.
The zone is a great diet for most athletes; Paleo is fine too (just stop telling all your friends, they’re tired of hearing about it). Remember, everything works (to a point). It’s hard to mess up if you just aim to eat natural foods, cut out the liquid calories, junk food, and extra cardboard starches.
If your goal is weight loss do some fasting, eat a large spinach salad, an avocado, and some protein at lunch and some sautéed vegetables, an avocado and some protein for dinner. Where’s the carbohydrate you might be asking? First off, vegetables are a form, just not the form most people envision when they think about carbohydrates. If you truly do require more carbohydrate (endurance athlete, someone pushing their glycogen stores to E and your not very keno adapted nor have any interest in being one – a debatable topic for another article entirely), eat some sweet potato. Most nuts are fine, no peanuts.
I used to think the above advice was sufficient but have been impressed as to how we still manage to mess up:
“Frank, check out my lunch, I’ve got my carb, protein, and fat!”
“Great, what’d you pack?”
“Chicken breast for protein.”
“Chocolate covered almonds for fat”
“Slice of pizza for carbohydrate.”
“Well…Improvement not perfection I suppose.”
The truth is, this individual truly thought this was how to break things down. Ergo, I’ve since realized further explanation is required so here is a sample to play with:
Sautéed spinach with olive oil
2 soft-boiled eggs
*Depending on what’s on deck for the day can add ¼ cut up papaya
Handful of almonds
Steak (typically leftovers)
Sautéed Zucchini & Squash (again, typically leftovers)
Apple + Almond Butter
Big Juicy Steak cooked with butter
½ Sweet potato or ½ Avocado
Grilled chicken breast covered in olive oil
Vegetable of choice
Fage’ Yogurt + flax seed
Note there are a hundred different variations that work but notice this follows the dieting “truths” laid out above: Eat clean, eat your veggies, eat your protein, and some clean carbohydrate when you need it.
Try this out for a few months and if you have any additional questions, use the contact form. For performance-based diets, there will be more articles to come, as they quickly become very deep rabbit holes.