12 Secrets to Nutritional Greatness
Ok, it’s really only one secret, and that secret is that there are no secrets, pills or magical programs that are going to make you healthy, vibrant, full of energy and/or have the ripped abs that you might be seeking.
The individualized nutrition coaching that we provide is tremendously successful, and more importantly, tremendously sustainable for the long term. For clients seeking weight loss, the average loss is around 15 pounds after 90 days. While that may not seem dramatic or anything like the promises of thousands of books, supplements or infomercials, it is important to note that the vast majority of those who have lost that much continue to move towards their goals without any further assistance or coaching from us.
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the plan that we use for almost every single one of those clients. Why would I do that? Wouldn’t it behoove me to keep it all a “secret” and only share it with people willing to pay me? Maybe. However, in general, the reason people should reach out to coaches like us is for coaching, not because we're the gatekeepers to magical secrets. A good coach should be able to interpret the available data and information that is out there and convey it to their client in ways that aligns with their priorities, assisting in getting through the road blocks that are preventing them from achieving the steps listed below. Besides, the answers most people are seeking are not as sexy or complicated as most people want them to be.
Anyways, on to the important stuff. These are the initial steps, in order, that we’ll use with almost every single one of our clients. If they can’t get past one, we don’t move on. If they get through all of them, and are still interested in refinement and improvement, we can get into some more complicated stuff, but honestly, it’s rare that we see people nail these steps and not reach where their goals and priorities meet in a sustainable way.
Determine Your Goals and the Motivating Factors
First and foremost, before embarking on this new challenge, you absolutely must figure out your goals and motivations. Often, you’ll hear that your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely or SMART. This is great advice for most people, but in all honesty, if you’re intending to look better, feel better, have more energy, be sick less often, sleep better, and all of the other benefits that come from eating a more nutritious diet, it’s going to be a needless exercise to iron out specific goals related to an overall life improvement.
If, however, you are looking to lose or gain weight, improve specific performance or improve certain health markers, you need to iron out what that means. How much weight, how much improvement, by when, how are you going to do it, is that realistic, etc.
Finally, and most importantly (and this is where a coach comes in a lot of the time), you need to figure out the why for this goal. Making a statement of, “I’m going to gain or lose 15 pounds in 3 months” or “I’m going to improve my 5k time by 3 minutes through better nutrition and fueling” is really, really easy to say and believe in when you settle on it as a goal. Yet, when it gets tough or you find yourself at your inevitable crossroads of good decision/bad decision, you’re going to have to have something powerful that speaks to you and your attainment of those goals. If it’s 15 pounds, what does that number mean to you? Why 15? Is that actually realistic? Do you have 15 pounds to lose? What if you lose 15 pounds of fat, but gain 5 pounds of muscle (netting a loss of 10 pounds, but look incredible) will you be satisfied? In other words, are you fixated on some arbitrary number instead of potentially much more important things?
If it’s performance related, the improvements you seek need to be important to you for a reason other than an arbitrary number. The feeling you can imagine when you are standing there after achieving your goal better fill you with butterflies and excitement just thinking about it.
If you’re doing it “to have a six pack”, it's going to be a butt load of work for the occasional time you are able to show that off. If you’re doing it to feel sexy and confident again, that’s an entirely different conversations, but may not relate to a tangible number.
If it sounds like I’m being negative on certain types of goals or motivations, I’m not. My intention is to help you find that factor that will make this important to you. Most of the superficial or insignificant motivations that I hear lose their potency after a few weeks. If you really want to make changes, you’ve got to find something powerful and lasting.
You can consider advancing when: You get your goals written down and you are confident that you have a great “why?”
Throw away the Crap
For the most part, I don’t need to define “crap” to clients. They know what they have in their pantry that they shouldn’t. Here's a few hints; “crap” is usually in a bright package, has lots of sugar, will survive the apocalypse, and isn't something you can grow or harvest in nature. Just throw it away and don't lament the waste. I’m sure you’ve had vegetables and fruit rot in your refrigerator and you didn’t shed a tear. As soon as you can, throw it all in the garbage (the outside garbage, so you aren’t tempted to rummage through it later that night). If you have it in your house, it will get eaten. Remove the temptation for good.
You can consider advancing when: All of the temptations, sweets, sugar and artificial stuff has been disposed of.
Slow Down and Embrace Your Food
Instead of sitting down in front of the TV and eating until your plate is empty, or worse, eating as fast as you can between appointments or at your desk, slow down and pay attention to your food as you eat it. Set aside 20-30 minutes for the consumption of your meal. Chew slowly and make sure your food is completely mashed up and ready to swallow. Chewing is a large part of the digestive process and it should become an important habit of yours to take it slow and do it right. In addition, it should be noted that the reactions in your digestive system that tell you when you’re full take a full 20 minutes to kick in and send you those signals, so by slowing down, you allow those to react and do their job instead of bombarding the system with as much as you can handle at a time.
You can consider advancing when: You've eaten at least 80% of your meals throughout a week sitting down, not in front of a tv or computer.
Keep a Food Log
It’s important to know where you are starting and what that all looks like on a daily and weekly basis. Most people find this process incredibly educating, as they had no idea what the foods they were eating were made up of or how they are reacting in their bodies. Keeping an accurate food log allows you to keep tabs on yourself, learn about what you are eating, maintain consistency, and see the relationship between how you are feeling and what you are eating.
I highly recommend myfitnesspal.com. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. Just know that the preset percentages, recommended calories and warnings that will pop up from time to time are useless without some guidance and/or context, so ignore them.
After you get myfitnesspal.com dialed in, you may realize you need to go back to Step 2 and throw away some things that you didn't realize were more unhealthy than you thought. (Fruit juice is often one of those things that people realize are way worse than they thought it was).
As you move through the steps in this process, and you develop the knowledge necessary to fly without your log, you should try to remove it from your life and maintain progress, occasionally returning to it to make sure you are in fact eating what you think you are. Some people never get to the step that sees them discard the log forever. Some people get rid of it almost immediately and do great. It’ll just depend on how you’re wired and what works best for you.
You can consider advancing when: You've accurately measured and logged at least a week's worth of reality.
Base your meals around protein, and intake roughly 1g per pound of lean body weight per day of high quality, minimally processed protein (this is where your log will come in handy). This number will change slightly based on your lifestyle, but it’s accurate for a majority of people. When you try and implement this, it’s going to feel like a lot of food. It is and it isn’t. For one, because a lot of our culture’s diet is based on cheap, convenient, sugary food, we tend to eat a lot of carbohydrates and base our meals around those instead of protein. In general, it's easier to consume a greater amount of carbohydrates than it is of protein. I’m not going to demonize carbohydrates, as they have a time and a place, but your priorities should be on consumption of protein first and foremost. Protein consumption will help with tissue repair, blood sugar management, satiety, and generally speaking, will not convert to stored body fat. Use your food log to ensure that you’re getting this number in, then get in a routine of that daily. You should be forewarned that to hit your target, you'll most likely need to be getting some good, high protein snacks outside of your meals. If you need a primer on some good sources of high protein meals and snacks, print out the image below and stick it to your refrigerator.
You can consider advancing when: You've hit your protein number at least 10 out of 14 consecutive days.
Vegetables with Every Meal
After you’ve based your meal around protein, match that serving size visually (or more) with vegetables. By visually, I mean, if half your plate is protein, half should be vegetables. Again, because a lot of us tend to base our meals around cheaper, more convenient, possibly more tasty (depending on your cooking ability) sources of food, vegetables seem to get left off of a lot of plates these days. While they aren’t incredibly sexy on a macronutrient profile level, they are extremely beneficial on a micronutrient level and contain vitamins and minerals that are essential to your vibrance and vitality (as well as your 6 pack). If you don’t believe me about vegetables and your 6 pack, remember that the vitamins and minerals contained within them assist with digestion and absorption of the rest of your meal, and when you’re lacking in those vitamins and minerals, your body seeks them out through sending you signals that tell you to eat more food in an effort to attain them. If you're uncomfortable in the kitchen, start by getting a few vegetables and convenient leafy greens that you are confident you can prepare. Try and branch out with something new every time you shop.
You can consider advancing when: You've matched your protein portion with vegetables 32 meals out of 42 consecutive meals (assuming 3 meals a day for 2 weeks).
This actual amount and necessity of daily water consumption can be debated, but a good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces daily. An easy way to do this is to buy yourself a nice water bottle that will represent a portion of that amount of daily ounces. Drink and refill your water bottle as many times as necessary until you achieve your target every day. Additionally, if you are working out or sweating for a significant period of time, you should weigh yourself before and after you workout, drinking water until you’re back to the weight you were before you worked out. (You didn’t actually think you lost that much fat during that session did you?)
You can consider advancing when: You've consumed half your body-weight in ounces 14 days in a row.
Sleep and Lifestyle Changes
While not immediately nutrition related, proper sleep, lifestyle and recovery strategies are paramount to long term success, health and vitality. While the term “recovery” would most likely be identified with someone who is in an athletic training setting, it’s incredibly related to those who need to improve their ability to function in a normal rhythm of sleeping, eating and living. In our current day and age, it seems to be somewhat of a badge of honor to work 60 hours a week, sleep 5 hours a night and eat in the middle of meetings and/or at your desk. This is insanity and a recipe for an early grave as well as the accumulation of fat stores in the places that no one wants. The scope of this article is broad, and each individual will need different approaches for each area, but suffice to say that everyone should be sleeping 8 hours in a row (without any interruption or waking), sitting down to eat meals and chewing slowly, and having some sort of stress management protocol that isn’t actually more stress (intense exercise, alcohol, common “relax and unwind” activities an often cause more stress than stress relief).
You can consider advancing when: You've slept 8 hours/night for 10 out of 14 days.
Prepare Your Own Food (grow and harvest it if you can)
I'd like to say this one is higher on the list as far as where to put it in the steps, but this is a realistic placement for most. This is certainly the most difficult step for a lot of people, but I also think that it is the most important for a variety of reasons. For one, the fewer people that touch your food, the better. Your food will have less of a chance for contamination with germs, sugary sauces and other steps in the process that make your food taste better for less money (but have less nutritional value). When you eat a meal prepared by a restaurant, they are going to make your food taste as good as possible with as much food as possible while still making money. This is not conducive to you eating high quality, nutritious food. In addition, preparing your own food provides you with the accountability of knowing what is going in your mouth. And on top of that, going through the process of preparing your own food begins the digestive process in a more efficient and effective way than having someone place it before you does. Don’t believe me? Think about how your stomach growls and you begin to salivate by smelling food when you're hungry. That is your digestive system kicking on and preparing for the oncoming nutrients. When you drive through a local burger joint and tear into your meal, you don’t get that process. It’s like being woken up from a dead sleep and forced to sprint as fast as you can; not all that effective or efficient.
Yes, this step means that you will have to learn how to cook. That’s ok, you'll live. I went through the process too, and it was a little overwhelming at first, but now it’s much easier, and I actually enjoy it. Plus the benefits make it much easier to continue doing.
You can consider advancing when: You've prepared 32 out of 42 consecutive meals.
Develop a Routine, Maintain Consistency and Stay Prepared
Once you get the basics down, it’s important to develop a routine and stick to that routine. This allows you to deter yourself from last minute choices or panic moments that lead you to nutritional peril. If you eat a variety of nutritious foods that you keep stocked in your pantry, have a handful of meals that you can prepare with those foods, and have an arsenal of quality, high protein snacks on hand, you don’t give yourself the room for error that comes from that “I’m starving and have nothing in the refrigerator” moment.
You can consider advancing when: You've consistently doing all of the above for a majority of the time for at least a month.
Earn Your Carbs, Watch Your Fat and Dial in Your Macros
It should be noted that this is step 11, and only after you’ve nailed the other 5 should you even be looking at this with interest. Carbohydrates and Fat and whether or not they are “good” or “bad” is incredibly en vogue right now, but a majority of the people I work with never even get to this point and still see incredible results. Without going into a drawn out analysis of how carbohydrates interact with your body, lets suffice to say that if you are interested in body composition paramount to anything else, it is important to earn your carbohydrates, and that when you do have them, they should be from high quality, whole food, unprocessed sources.
When I say this, I mean that if you find yourself craving something dense with carbohydrates, you should get through a workout first, then have a reasonable serving of a high quality source. What I did not say is that if you go for a light jog, you get to have ice cream, nor does it say that you should never eat anything with carbohydrates. It’s a moderation thing that will be largely dictated by your lifestyle and fitness goals.
Regarding Fat intake, the demonization of dietary fat during the latter half of last century was largely misguided. In and of itself, on a broad scope, fat does not make you fat, nor is it directly responsible for the health risks that were purported during the fat-free craze. What should be noted, however, is that on a macro nutrient level, fat is very calorically dense. That means that you are taking in more calories with less content when you eat foods in the fat column. This isn't necessarily good or bad, it's just important to note. The Paleo movement had everyone eating all the coconut oil, nuts and avocados they could stomach. For people getting through the first steps of this process, that's ok, as it represents a largely positive food choice change. Unfortunately, as you refine your dietary profile, you must recognize that the over-consumption of such foods will make you fatter. Again, we're talking in generalities here, and I'm not telling you that almonds and avocados will make you fatter, but if you're eating 5 cups of almonds everyday, you should probably re-evaluate.
You can consider advancing when: You've got your macro profile absolutely dialed and consistent, and you've reached a point where your goals require you to delve further into this process into some more advanced techniques.
Once you've reached this point, you've got some higher level goals and aspirations that will require some more advanced and potentially challenging techniques. These involve carbohydrate cycling, intermittent fasting, elimination diets, supplements, steroids, etc. I'm not really going to go into any of these, as if you're gotten to this point, you'll likely be in need of professional guidance and honestly it's just too broad for this article.
So there you have it.
That's a great blueprint on what you need to do to get your nutrition dialed in. As with many things in life, it's easy to read but harder to execute.
If you're interested in getting started on this journey and need some accountability, please email Kenny@crossfitsandpoint.com or call 208-610-2220 for more information.