Within the world of health and fitness, nutrition exists in a multitude of separate vacuums and sliding scales. There is a laundry list of popular diets everyone has heard of such as, keto, paleo, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, the list goes on. And through my own experience as well as reading research on nutrition, I can tell you that any of these popular diets can either work, or not work, depending on the individual. I can also tell you that, based on research, following popular diet trends tend to have poor long term outcomes. Simply because most are extremely restrictive and therefore hard to adhere to for long periods of time. What gets positive outcomes is consistency over time, and most people can’t stay the course with extremely restrictive diets. With that being said, if you follow a specific diet and/or restrict certain foods because it works well for you, then keep on keepin’ on! However, I know this is a tough subject for a lot of us, me included, so without making things too complicated, I’d like to offer some advice. Maybe saying it aloud, or typing it rather, will be a way of helping you and keeping me accountable at the same time.
Nutrition, especially on an individual level, is a nuanced topic. But a complex topic doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated in practice. Keep it simple. I think most of us know our diet should be rich in lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and that we should limit highly processed foods to a small percentage of our total caloric intake. I also understand complying with that is easier said than done. For me, I tend to be a little more lenient with what I eat, but I try to stick to the 80/20 rule. That means for my overall caloric intake, 80% consists of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, but I allow myself more flexibility for the other 20%. This will help with compliance and adherence over the long term. To help me keep that 20% to 20%, or less, I fill the 80 or more percent with what we call:
- Nutrient-Dense Meals. This is your proteins, fruits, and vegetables, in combination. The “healthy” stuff. Most vegetables tend to be very low in calories but high in micronutrients, so you can eat them in high volumes without overdoing it on calories. Paired with lean proteins of your choice, you can create satiating and nutrient dense meals. These are the meals that will make up your 80%, they will keep you feeling full while giving your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs to thrive.
- Hydration. Make sure you’re staying on top of your water intake. Not only will this help with satiety alongside your nutrient dense meals, it aids in digestion, and many other bodily functions. Recommended Daily Allowance(RDA) for water intake is anywhere from 2.7 to 3.7 liters, depending on individual needs. I try to drink at least an 8oz glass every hour on the hour, and have found it very helpful.
- Protein. Most people don’t meet the RDA for protein intake, which for the average person is about 0.8-1.2kg per lb of bodyweight. Everyone is going to be different when it comes to protein needs but, just like fruits, vegetables, and water, everyone can probably be better about consuming a little more. Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue, as well as assisting in many other biological processes. Try eating a serving size of protein with each meal in order to get in a sufficient amount throughout the day.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. As humans, we are not perfect. Indulgence is okay! This is another reason why restrictive diets aren’t always helpful. They make people feel bad about themselves when they “fail” and indulge because, like I already pointed out, you can’t cut out fun foods forever, just keep them within the allotted 20% if possible.
I know during this time, our nutrition is probably something that is suffering the most. For me, I’m not as active and I don’t feel as hungry, so I’m eating much less. I think this is affecting my energy levels. I’m also not eating enough protein, which is something that is super important when it comes to preserving and maintaining muscle mass, especially in a time where I’m not training as frequently. It’s also a stressful time for everyone, and I know that snacks can be a go to for stress relief. I’m not going to sit here and guilt or shame you into trying to eat better, but I do think we can use this time we have as an opportunity to implement some simple practices into our daily lives in hopes of creating some healthier habits.