You’re not going to see a lot of posts from me about diet and healthy food. Don’t get me wrong, I think a healthy diet is really important. But here’s the problem: my healthy diet might not look like your healthy diet.
I truly don’t believe there is an ultimate, one-size-fits-all diet. That’s because we all have our unique likes, dislikes, and body chemistry. If avocados make you ralph, then your diet shouldn’t include avocados. Not to mention you can drive yourself crazy debating what healthy foods actually are. You can Google “is [any food] healthy” and “is [same food] unhealthy” and get any number of articles supporting both sides.
And I find that food is a bit of a heated topic for some people, especially if they’re loyal to a certain diet. So, I will preface this by saying that if you’re sticking to a certain diet and it’s working for you, all the power to you!
I’m not here to argue that my way is better because it’s not. It’s only what’s better for me.
But I see so many people stressed out about trying to stick to a strict diet, and then feeling discouraged or guilty when they inevitably cave and eat a french fry. And that bums me out because I used to be like that too.
Of course, it also depends on what your goals are. My goal isn’t to enter a bikini model competition. My goal is to get fit, strong, and healthy – and my diet is supporting that.
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So instead of counting every calorie (although I do use Cronometer so that I have a general idea of my intake vs. calorie burn.) or depriving myself of chocolate and bread, here’s what I do instead:
I track protein
This is akin to tracking macronutrients, but simpler. While tracking macros takes carbs, fats, and protein into account, I decided to just focus on the protein. This nutrient is key for building muscle in combination with strength training. I aim to get at least 1 gram of lean protein per pound of body weight every day.
A high protein diet keeps me feeling full longer which helps keep me from caving to unplanned snacking. I try to get at least 20-25 grams of it in the morning, and another serving of the same amount after a resistance HIIT session. Foods like greek yogurt, eggs, chia seeds, nuts, chicken breasts, tuna, protein shakes, and protein bars to help me reach my target daily.
I cut habitual “calorie bombs”
A couple of years ago when I had 20+ pounds to lose, I started tracking my calories to try and keep within the caloric “budget”. But calorie tracking is a pain in the butt and I couldn’t be bothered to keep it up. So instead of trying and failing to keep tabs on every morsel that passed my lips, I looked back at my log and studied my eating habits. I was able to single out the biggest habits behind my weight gain:
Almost every day when I got home from work, I would eat potato chips and drink one or two big glasses of wine. That’s about 500-600 calories right there, which adds up to about a pound a week. (And I wasn’t exercising then either, so no wonder I was gaining!) As soon as I cut out the chips and limited alcohol to weekends, the pounds started melting off.
Yes, sometimes giving up certain food habits can be tough. God knows I enjoyed my glass of red wine at the end of the day. But honestly, it only sucked the first couple of days and now I don’t think about it anymore. Plus I appreciate it that much more on the weekends!
I do eat carbs
When you exercise a lot you absolutely need carbs. I find that on the days I go too lean on carbs, I have no energy after my workouts (which I do first thing in the morning) and that tends to make me really sluggish and unproductive at work. (Not ideal for the self-proclaimed careerist!)
Carbs get a bad rap but for me, I couldn’t function without them. I do try to get most of my carbs from whole/fibrous sources like oatmeal and whole grains. And I try to go lean on sugary or refined carbs, mostly because they tend to fall into the “calorie bomb” category. 😉
I make strategic swaps
Rather than veto snacking altogether, I substituted some of my habitual calorie bombs with lower-calorie alternatives:
- Coffee with a little milk instead of a specialty coffee: A 16 -ounce cup of coffee with 1% milk is about 30 calories, vs. 220 for a 16-ounce latte. (And that’s just a plain latte, some of those crazy sweet specialty drinks from Starbucks can be 500+ calories!)
- Halo Top instead of Haagen Dazs: if you haven’t tried this stuff yet, get on it! It’s amazing! (But I do recommend you stick with the simple flavors like chocolate. <- Amazon affiliate link.)
- Perrier/sparkling water instead of wine/martini: This was the hardest swap to get used to. In the beginning, I poured my sparkling water in a martini glass to maintain the illusion that I was having a drink, and somehow that appeased my brain. #truestory.
- Lightly salted popcorn instead of potato chips: As long as you aren’t slathering it in butter or eating that gross microwavable stuff, popcorn actually makes a pretty decent snack. It’s only 31 calories per cup, compared to 120 calories for just 18 baked potato chips. (and I was definitely eating more than 18 chips at a time) Popcorn also has a respectable amount of fiber and micronutrients.
- 1-2 squares of dark chocolate instead of sugary dessert: Sometimes I like something sweet and chocolatey when I’m watching TV so instead of diving into a bag of brownies, I’ll opt for 1-2 squares of 70% dark chocolate, which only nets about 100 calories and has a couple grams of fiber to boot!
Because a lot of my previous eating habits were just that – habits – I found (for the most part) that it was relatively easy to make these swaps.
I keep it as simple as possible
In the beginning, I would get super motivated about eating healthy, research a ton of healthy recipes and go shopping for all the ingredients… And then end up not eating 80% of it. Which was not only discouraging but a horrible waste of food. 🙁
If there’s one thing I have learned about myself, it’s that I loathe food prep and will do pretty much anything to avoid it. I have accepted the fact that I will never be one of these people who makes a weeks worth of meals on a Sunday afternoon. These days, I cringe every time I load up a delicious looking Pinterest recipe only to find it has 35 ingredients in it.
But I knew I needed to prepare my own food if I was going to take control of my health. So I started simplifying things as much as possible.
For breakfast and lunch, I now have something I call the “3:5 rule”: Nothing I make for breakfast or lunch contains more than three ingredients, or takes longer than five minutes to make. I’m talking Kimchi and (precooked) rice in a bowl. Tuna and mayo in a wrap. Greek yogurt, honey, and chia seeds. Protein powder in a glass of water.
No fuss, no muss, no excuse not to eat it.
Dinner is a different matter since I’m cooking for my family and not just myself. But even then, I keep prep and ingredients to a minimum because when I get home from a long day at work, it’s not going to take much for me to throw in the towel and place an order with Skip the Dishes. (What a simultaneously wonderful and horrible invention Skip is!)
I don’t freak out over the occasional calorie splurge
Every now and then, I go to a restaurant, or a potluck lunch at work, or a big family dinner. I eat what I want, and I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. First of all, I’m convinced that a bump in calorie intake now and again isn’t the worst thing for your metabolism. Secondly, I’ve decided that a healthy lifestyle should include foods you love.
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I will say that my splurges are usually anticipated and not spur of the moment, which helps moderate how often I do it. But even if I do have a moment of weakness and eat an unplanned, 1200 calorie burger from The Works Burger Bistro, I don’t beat myself up over it. Because a healthy lifestyle is ongoing and big meals from time to time are part of that.
Some people call these “cheat meals”, I call them a crucial component to a sustainable lifestyle.
The individuality of diet
Just like exercise, I believe a healthy diet starts with the right mindset. The one thing that I really had to wrap my head around was that no one food is “good” or “bad”. There are foods that fuel fitness and support your goals while other foods are for enjoyment. Striking a balance and finding something that’s actually sustainable has been the key to success.
And while these are the strategies work for me, I get that it’s not for everyone. Whether your diet is vegetarian, vegan, keto, paleo, low carb, or anything else, if it’s working for you then there’s no need to fix what’s not broken!
But if you’ve been stressing out over your diet or feel like food is working against you instead of for you, then an approach similar mine might help!
What are your thoughts on diet?
PS – Need some ideas for a quick and nutritious breakfast or lunch? I’ve put together a quick guide for you with 10 recipe ideas that you can whip up faster than you can say “I hate food prep.” Check it out!