Nutrition - filter out the crap
Being told what not to eat, what's bad for you and what's good for you, what will make you lean and what will make you fat… it's forever changing and can be completely baffling. In fact, going to the gym can sometimes seem like the easy bit: Either your coach tells you what you're doing that day, or you simply follow your program. You give your sessions your all; moving your body as fast and as powerfully as you can, and after that hour you wipe your brow and get off home to refuel.
But with what?
The government food pyramid or plate is what we are lead to believe will keep us healthy and live a long and lustrous life. However, as society grows outwards and obesity levels rise, the media are covering more and more about what we should and shouldn’t eat. Every week there is a food that will kill us on the spot and make us massive. We are left to feel confused and tend to revert back to old habits.
Make it simple.
There is no good and bad. No black and white.
"Olive oil causes cancer, it becomes carcinogenic”, "You should try the potato diet if you want to lose weight ", "All calories are equal so try IIFYM (if it fits your macros)", " With all that exercise, you need a low-fat high-carb diet", "Avoid saturated fats as they raise cholesterol and cause heart disease". There are so many nutritional approaches, and facts mixed with myth, that it can feel impossible to get to grips with what's really "good" or "bad". It can leave us staring blankly into our cupboards not quite sure what to reach for. It's that attitude, that belief that fuelling the body is as simple as right or wrong, that prevents us making the right choices, rather than the diet/nutritional approach we want to follow. The trick is to do your research, take on board the advice, but filter out the crap messaging.
CrossFit promotes Paleo and the Zone Diet, both which have some great concepts and help with that healthy lifestyle change we are after, however, it’s how people read and interpret these approaches that can be their downfall.
The Paleo Diet: Primitive, primal… problematic?
Let's look at paleo nutrition as an example. Promoting grains, fresh meat, vegetables, nuts and fruit, the rule is basically “if you couldn't hunt it 100 years ago then you shouldn't eat it” so nothing’s processed, nothing’s man made. I think it’s an awesome idea and great way of shifting your plate focus to a fist sized portion of meat, two fist sized portions of vegetables, and half a fist of starchy carbs.
Through consultations with my clients, I’ve found that for many the paleo approach didn't work. I’ve had reports of feeling lethargic, getting bored as there’s not enough variety, and some even showing symptoms IBS or vitamin deficiencies. Why? Because people read the paleo diet as black and white, and thus it becomes restrictive and unrealistic.
Go online, and there’s loads of literature about the Paleo diet. Loads of OPINIONS about how you shouldn't eat rice, that white potatoes are the devil, that you must eliminate all sugar and only have one piece of fruit a day. Follow this advice and you’ll soon become a label Nazi checking ingredients, eliminating huge food groups and not consuming enough vitamins and minerals for good health.
There needs to be a balance of nutrients for the body, and a balance of some of the "good" foods and "bad" foods for the mind. We no longer live in caves; we no longer have to hunt for our food. Our bodies don't see food as black and white, or as "this is bad and this is good". Food goes in and the body uses the carbs, proteins and fats as fuel for rebuilding, recovering, and simply getting our bodily systems to function. Whatever it doesn't need the body stores as body fat, but shill; we need that bit of body fat so when we’re on the move we can chip into it, allowing us to still function and get our gains… Ok, I appreciate I have massively oversimplified how the human body works here, but you get the jist!
By following a strict diet that doesn’t allow room for error can send us into a food focused frenzy, so understanding how you to be lenient with Paleo may be the answer.
Having your lunch and dinner based on Paleo is a great idea, as long as you put some starchy carbs on your plate. Stop seeing foods as “the devil” or “a disease”. If you feel good and can tolerate dairy, then have a dash of cream in your coffee or some grated cheese on your salad. Stick to this, and breakfast, dessert and snacks can be your time to introduce a bit of variety. Oats, eggs, home-made pancakes, fruit, rice cakes, yogurt, dark chocolate, honey and nut butter all make for great tasty snacks. Try out different recipes, whether it be muffins, fruit bars, smoothies or granola for something tasty whilst hitting your goals and not starving the body. As long as you don't over indulge with snacks, and plan out your day, you will succeed with your nutritional goals.
If accuracy and portion control is part of your problem (myself included!), I highly recommend apps like MyFitnessPal for macro breakdowns for carbs, proteins and fats. Just put your food in for the day to see how you are breaking that day up.
The Zone Diet: Protein adequate or precarious?
Another great nutrition template to follow is the Zone Diet. Created by Barry Sears more than 30 years ago, it provides an idea of portion control, with 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs - which mainly come through fruit and vegetables, leaving starchy carbs to be consumed sparingly. Again, this approach can be easily followed using an app like MyFitnessPal.
Thing is, if you are weightlifting and/or doing CrossFit, having starchy carbs “sparingly” is not a great idea. These carbs are our energy source and allow us to lift big and heavy. A quick Google search reveals an example Zone Diet starting at 1500 calories, which is fantastic, if you’re lying completely still and not exerting any energy! This low-level calorie intake will help you lose weight, but if you are a moving body, it could be a recipe for disaster with a high risk of crashing and binging.
Getting in The Zone
It’s time to filter out the crap! Find a maintenance level for calorie intake, and start big so that you can lose weight eating loads of food and not feeling starving hungry. The Zone Diet is great because it gives you a higher-than-normal protein portion and promotes carbs, but it oversimplifies matters and looks at starchy carbs verses fruit and vegetables, rather than carbs as a whole.
You can’t cheat and achieve
The last thing I want to touch on is a cheat day or cheat meal. I really dislike the concept as, again, it splits foods between being naughty and nice, and I don't consider that a healthy approach to nutrition. As soon as we get to that Saturday or Sunday, and see it as a cheat day, all kinds of strange behaviour happens: Doughnuts for breakfast, cake for lunch and buckets of ice cream in bed. You send your body into overdrive, leaving your feeling sick and frustrated.
That food hangover lasts for days, too, which means you feel recovered for all of about three days until you do it again. Rather than binging on sugar, why not choose ice cream for dessert with fruit, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of nuts? Or, if savoury’s more your thing, treat yourself to a homemade pizza, spaghetti bolognese, lasagna or fish pie. I encourage my clients to do this so although they’re indulging, they still know exactly what they’re eating.
Consistency combats craving
Rather than splitting your week into good or bad eating, these choices help break up your week, which helps you to appreciate your food and even gives you the option of going out for dinner!
Consistency with food is key. It gets your body into a rhythm, so you will notice yourself getting hungry around the same times and craving only the foods that you have on a daily basis rather than spiking your sugar levels and craving the entire confectionary aisle at the supermarket.
Written by Karrina Howe