I am not a nutritionist. I am not a dieter. If you want to lose five pounds in five days, look great in a bikini, or any similar nonsense, stop reading. This blog post is not for you. I am interested in diet as it relates to performance, and this post is about what seems to be working for me.
If you are going to make a long lasting dietary change, you need to have a good reason for doing so. Right now, I follow my diet because it makes me feel good and because I want to do a superman into a shoulder mount and run a Tough Mudder this June. Pick something that you want, and want badly. I recommend staying far, far away from weight loss goals because I think that weight loss misses the point.
Common Sense Is Your Friend
There is a lot of conflicting information about what you should and shouldn’t eat. Read the literature if you want, but common sense goes a long way here. Spinach is good for you. Chips are not. If you eat until you are uncomfortable, you probably ate too much. If you eat so little you are cranky and have an impulse to gnaw on your own arm, you aren’t eating enough. If you don’t like eating something, you probably won’t. Choose healthy foods that suit your values, budget, lifestyle, and culinary tastes. (For links to some diet ideas I like, click here, here, and here).
Expect to be Hungry
When I first started training for pole multiple hours per week, I started craving ice cream constantly. I could down a pint in one sitting and still want a pizza afterward. It took a few months before I figured out that I was constantly craving junk because I was not eating enough food. I started eating more food more often, and the cravings went away.
What I Eat
I don’t eat sweets, desserts, extra sugar, French fries, soda, or chips. I do eat all varieties of vegetables and meats, cheese, nuts, beans, and eggs. In general, I try to avoid grains and replace them with vegetables, but I’m not super strict on this last part.
I recommend cheat days. You will miss junk food, and it will be much easier to say no to unhealthy foods if you know that you can indulge later. Also, everyone should be able to eat ice cream on his or her birthday. I do one to two cheat days per month. If my diet were stricter, I would do a cheat day every week. As an added bonus, all the junk food will make you miss your diet because it will physically hurt your stomach. My last cheat day was around Christmas, and I was never so excited to be eating spinach in my life as I was after all those cookies.
Commit to the changes in your diet that you want to make. Don’t cheat (except on designated cheat days). Be specific about what changes you want to make to your diet and stick with those changes. Don’t make an exception because your co-worker brought in cookies or because you are tired and you didn’t plan ahead. This is a question of integrity as much as it is of diet. To become a person of integrity, you need to do the things you say you will do, even if it’s something as simple as not eating anything in the candy dish at work.
From a practical perspective, committing to whatever changes you want to make will simplify your life, because you only have to decide one time. Some people go on a “diet” and then they waste hours of time and energy deciding if they should or shouldn’t eat something that isn’t part of the diet. Make up your mind once, and then don’t reconsider.
Sorry, but You Did Not “Earn” that Cheesecake
It’s not uncommon for people to start a new fitness routine- and suddenly start gaining weight. The culprit? A sense of entitlement that says “I just trained for two hours and did 50 box jumps and jumping lunges! I totally deserve a cheesecake, I definitely burned that off!” It’s easy to justify eating more when you are training hard, but the reality is that the math doesn’t add up. No matter how hard you are training, you probably won’t burn more than 400 calories per hour. A cheesecake typically has at least 500 calories and makes you a little sluggish for more training. If you want the cheesecake, that’s fine. You are an adult and you can tell if eating the cheesecake moves you closer to the things you want in life or farther away from them. Just don’t kid yourself that you “deserve” it because you are diligently exercising.
Speaking of math…
Little things add up. If you have just one cookie every day, or one extra handful of whatever it is that you tend to take extra handful of, that will add up to a lot of extra calories or sugar over time. Ditto for healthier but also calorie dense foods- I tend to eat a lot of olives. Don’t convince yourself that it’s only an extra bite. I definitely don’t advocate for counting calories, because most people have more interesting ways to spend their time and energy- but it is good to have a general sense of how many calories things you snack on have so that you can figure out that one chocolate chip cookie per day is well over 73,000 calories a year. You can apply this same idea of small stuff adding up to your financial budget in addition to your diet. You can thank me later.
Don’t be an Asshole
Tell people who are likely to cook things for you about your new eating habits before you start the new habits. It’s terrible when someone you like bakes you cookies and you have to tell them you can’t eat them. Avoid the situation by communicating. If someone makes treats anyways, politely decline and remind them of your commitment. Your friends will catch on sooner or later if you are truly committed. If you get a surprise baked good from somebody, thank them, tell them about your commitment, and tell them that you would love to bring it to work/give it to a friend/ donate it. Then don’t reference your diet again- don’t be the jerk who goes off on lecture about how you can’t eat something they were offering in good faith.
While it’s OK to ask a restaurant to hold something (burger and no fries, for example), please don’t ask for substitutions. Your waiter or waitress has better things to do than write a small novella about how to prepare your food. If it’s not going to work for you, order something else.
Don’t comment on what other people are eating. You are making the choice for you. Don’t make the person next to you feel bad about their pizza, because you are a much cooler person than that (why else would you be reading my blog?)
I hope these tips are helpful. Let me know if you have any suggestions, because I enjoy hearing them! Good luck eating better.