Nutrition is a science, and therefore should be treated accordingly. However, when it comes to tracking calories and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat), some people may not be suited to the world of MyFitnessPal or other calorie counting apps. In this article I will address the scenarios where this nutritional approach should be avoided and offer a number or alternative solutions for you to develop a healthy yet educated relationship with your nutrition and aid you towards your goals.
When first discussing nutrition with people I often aim to get them using a calorie counting app to get them to get an overall better understanding of the foods they eat on a day to day basis. I encourage them to do this for 2 weeks. After these 2 weeks (if they make it that far) it is quite evident who may or may not be suited to a using this tool for a long period of time. There are generally 3 categories which people fall into:
- No way – hate this S**t
- No problem, fits my analytical mind
- Obsessive – unhealthy
So no.2 is good to go, tracking using myfitnesspal does not hinder their lifestyle, they are not obsessed with tracking to the gram and they enjoy eating the foods they love every now and again whilst fitting them into their target calories and macronutrients. This method is my preferred method as it allows people to gain a greater knowledge of food and allows them to be accurate yet flexible with their nutrition. Keep in mind, whole foods should still make up the majority of the caloric intake in order to supply the body with the necessary minerals, vitamins and fibre for long term health. Processed “unhealthy/dirty foods”, typically low in fibre and micronutrients should be limited to 10% of caloric intake, allowing for this controlled intake of “junk” foods aids adherence to the long term plan and creates a healthy relationship with food, minimising, “cheat days”, binges and blowouts.
But what about our friends in groups no. 1 and 3? What do these people do? Meal plans? Clean Eating? Paleo? Some crazy restrictive fad diet?
None of these options are fantastic as they all have their pros and cons, lets just list out a few to set the scene.
Pro – Handed to you on a plate, will get desired result if adhered to.
Cons – Teaches nothing about nutrition, all or nothing approach. You are either on the plan or off the plan, can promote obsessive behaviours, what happens when off the plan? short term solution to a long term goal?
Pro – eating primarily whole foods, high fibre, micro intake good for health
Con – Quiet restrictive, unsociable, hard to follow, excludes foods that you may love and may promote binges, an all or nothing mentality, yo-yo dieting – of course everyone should aim to eat primarily whole foods, however once you have reached your RDA of fibre, minerals and vitamins there is no added bonus to eating excessive amounts.
Paleo, again similar to clean eating except more restrictive, excluding beans, dairy and grains, all of which are essential to a healthy balanced diet (unless allergies exist).
Fad Diets, this doesn’t need much of an explanation, again it can be summed up as a restrictive protocol, usually restricting entire food groups. A short term success that will result in weight regain and begin the dreaded diet cycle and a yo-yo dieter is born. These short term results may lead to developing poor relationships with food and body composition whilst doing no favours to your mental health and confidence. People are not the problem, these fad diets are made to get people on them long term (on the diet, off the diet, back on the diet). Do not allow yourself to fall for these traps. My rule, if it has a name, brand, book, products or requires you to buy supplements, stay away. Diets should not have a name. Eating healthy will do just fine.
Ok but what good is pointing out the problems if we cannot offer a solution?
Let’s dig in. Calories do not need to be counted, but they do need to be taken into consideration. Particularly when weightless is the goal in question.
So here is the deal, you do not want the hassle of tracking long term? But you will have to put in the grind for at least 1 week. What I suggest is you track on MyFitnessPal for 1 week. By doing this you will be able to identify where you are getting your calories from, what foods are low or high in calories or certain macronutrients. This is extremely important as it can aid you in identifying hidden calories (avocado with breakfast 300cals, cooking with oil at each meal 1 tbsp 120 cals, peanut butter on toast 20g= 170 cals etc etc) there are a number of calorie dense foods you may be eating or a regular basis that you will not identify unless you go through this process. So when these foods are identified what do we do? Cut them out? Nope. We have 2 options, reduce how often or how much you eat these foods, or else opt for a lower calorie alternative (full fat milk – skimmed milk, butter – low far spread, white loaf – slimbo, cheese to Philadelphia spread) the options are endless. This process is educational and effective, by simply making these few alterations to your food choices you have already reduced you calorie intake significantly.
The next factor to address is eating behaviours. This will require you to keep a food diary including 2 extra columns, how you felt and a comment. This will highlight eating behaviours you may be practicing, for example when you eat on the go or when you are feeling down you tend to make poor food choices, it may highlight “trigger foods”, foods which cause have a domino effect or poor food choices etc. Following this process will then allow you to be aware of these situations and allow you to put strategies in place for when these situations occur.
Then finally regarding macronutrient intake, by working with a coach or nutritional advisor or if you want to get the pen and paper out yourself you will be able to calculate your ” Ideal” calorie and macronutrient intakes, with this done you can simply compare your ideal to your past weeks tracking. From this you can take away simple changes, I must eat more protein, I must reduce fat intake slightly, I must reduce my carb intake etc etc.
From here then you can work on portioning and plate make ups. (2 fists of fruit and veg, 2 thumbs of fat, 1 handful of carbs, 1 palm of protein) this is just as an example, as well as following the guidelines provided below.
- Eat 3-6 meals a day every 3-5 hours
- Prepare Meals
- Eat protein at each meal
- Eat a variety of fruit and veg (think colour)
- Eat the majority of your carbs around exercise
- Drink 2-3L of water a day
- Be flexible, don’t restrict food groups and no yo-yo dieting
- Be realistic
So in conclusion, you do not have to follow a diet, this is a healthy eating change for life, you can still eat the foods you love on occasion, but eat primarily wholefoods, you want to be flexible enough with this that you can see yourself implementing these habits for the rest of your life whilst still seeing progress towards your goals. And of course, if you implement all the points discussed in this article and you are not seeing desirable results, make a change (looking to lose weight and the scales hasn’t moved for 1 month, be mindful at eating that little bit less, reduce portion size at a meal etc). This is not a quick fix, and rightfully slow. We are aiming to change lifelong eating habits, and this will take time, but we are aiming to do so in a healthy manor that will change your attitude, mind set and behaviours towards food and eating. Step up and take responsibility for making a change with your health, you only get 1 body and 1 life, treat it with respect and make it a quality one.
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Yours in Health,
Owner and Operator