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Fitness

My Food Philosophy

How to eat. It doesn’t seem like this should be an issue for us grown-ups, but let’s face it: it’s a huge deal, and most of us struggle with it, if not frequently, at least every now and again.  Even though we all know that a good, balanced diet is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle, it’s all too easy to put off taking care of ourselves. There’s plenty of reasons to let a diet get away from you: you’re busy with work, you’re always running your kids around, you’re stressed and the last thing you want to do is cook a meal then clean it up, you’ve tried ‘diets’ before and they haven’t worked…the list goes on and on. Personally, I’ve often struggled with my diet as an adult. My issue has always been moderation; not necessarily eating moderate amounts of food, but moderating my diet as a whole. When I’ve been fit (which I’ve usually thought of as when I’ve been thin), I’ve pretty much always overly restricted my diet. When I’ve been unfit (we’ll call it “soft”), it’s usually caused in part by totally unrestricted eating and drinking.

Over the course of my adult life, I’ve tried quite a few diets: I’ve tried eliminating carbs, counting calories, juice cleansing, counting macros, going vegan (ugh), going vegetarian (slightly less ugh) using ‘cheat meals’ as incentives for sustained periods of healthy eating, and pretty much everything in between. In terms of weight loss, I’ve always experienced some modicum of “success” with each of these options, but I can tell ya right now that it didn’t last. That kind of restriction just wasn’t sustainable for me. Currently, I don’t follow any strict ‘diet,’ and I’m eating more calories in a day than I ever have before when I’ve considered myself to be ‘fit,’ yet, somehow, I’m leaner and stronger than I’ve ever been before, and I think that’s mainly due to the freedom my current attitude towards food and diet affords me.

Currently, I don’t follow any strict ‘diet,’ and I’m eating more calories in a day than I ever have before when I’ve considered myself to be ‘fit,’ yet, somehow, I’m leaner and stronger than I’ve ever been before, and I think that’s mainly due to the freedom my current attitude towards food and diet affords me.

The best part about my newfound food philosophy and style of eating is that it’s the easiest ‘diet’ I have ever been on, without a doubt. I hesitate to give my food philosophy a name, but it’s probably best described as ‘intuitive eating’ or ‘intuitive dieting.’  At age 32, I know what food is healthy, clean and nutritionally beneficial, and I know what food serves no real, nutritional purpose. Every day, my goal is to use a majority of my food intake on the former category, and a smaller amount of my food intake on the latter category. It’s that simple. Most days, I’d say my ratio is 80/20 in favor of ‘clean’ food but, some days, it’s more like 60/40. I don’t beat myself up about the days where the ratio isn’t quite as healthy, because I view my food intake and calorie surplus or deficit on an arc: to me, it’s not a day-by-day thing, it’s week-by-week, and that gives me a little calorie cushion to work with, which makes living a fun, full life a helluva lot easier.

Speaking of calories: while I do pay attention to the amount and kind of food I eat, I hardly ever count my calories very closely. Viewing food as strictly numbers DOES NOT work for me – it’s too objective. To stay sane, I have to look at food in terms of both fuel (calories) and nutrients (regardless of calories). That means that sometimes, I will choose to eat a higher calorie snack or meal because the lower-calorie alternative is totally lacking in any nutritional value. For example: when I snack, it tends to be a fairly high-cal situation. I could buy 60 calorie bags of the thinnest ‘cookies’ you’ve ever seen, I guess, but what does that for me? Other than temporarily filling a void, absolutely nothing. If I choose to eat a banana with peanut butter and some raisins or nuts, however, I’m satisfying my hunger AND providing my body with protein, fiber and vitamins, and even though it’s more of a 200-calorie snack, I’d (almost) always rather eat real, nutrient-dense food instead of a 60-calorie bag of chemicals and artificial sweetener. At the very least, I get satisfaction from making the decision to try and take care of my body in the face of low-cal cookie temptation.

Like I said, to stay sane, I can’t view food as just numbers. That’s why the recent macro-counting trend, for one, really does not work for me. Of course, people have been counting macros forever, but it’s gaining tons of popularity now, and I get why: the idea behind counting macros is that you give your body exactly what it needs to be properly fueled based on your health and fitness goals. It’s attractive because it’s an individually-tailored breakdown of what a person should do to see the results they wanna see. I think that aspect of macro-counting is wonderful. Unfortunately, there’s still the issue of eating whatever the heck you want so long as it “fits your macros,” regardless of whether it’s an even remotely healthy food, and the other issue I have with macro-counting is that it’s still counting.

I know I’m harping on this, but I just don’t like mixing math and food (or math and anything, for that matter). For me personally, it comes down to mental health: I do not like to view my day as a success or a failure based on whether I kept my calories to a certain number or got all my macros right. There are plenty of people who have no problem living that way, and that’s great for them, but it’s never worked for me: I would easily become obsessed with the numbers, and that would just be trading a physical issue for a mental one. No thanks. For that reason, I also have no strict rules eliminating any foods: I eat anything and everything, I’m just responsible about how and when I eat it. Once again, if the success or failure of my diet depended on completely eliminating carbs, dairy, fat or anything else, I’d be beating myself up constantly.

If the success or failure of my diet depended on completely eliminating carbs, dairy, fat or anything else, I’d be beating myself up constantly.

At age 32, I’ve done enough eating to intuitively know how I should go about fueling my body. I know that, if I eat plenty of veggies, protein and healthy carbs, and balance that caloric intake with daily physical activity, I will maintain, if not lose, weight, and maybe even put on some muscle. I also know that, if I eat carelessly and fuel my body with processed white sugars, salty snacks and soda, that I’ll most likely remain where I’m at, if not gain weight, bloat, or both. I also know that one or two days does not a diet make or break: from time to time, I indulge. I have the freedom to do that because my food isn’t tied to a number, and because I know that things have a tendency to even out over time.  The mental freedom to live in that balanced space without constantly thinking about it is priceless to me, and I won’t be trading that in for a macro calculator or week supply of green juice any time soon.

The mental freedom to live in that balanced space without constantly thinking about it is priceless to me, and I won’t be trading that in for a macro calculator or week supply of green juice any time soon.

Of course, none of this means that I eat healthy, clean foods exclusively. I eat and drink stuff on a daily basis that offers me no nutritional benefit – just pure enjoyment –  and, in the words of Cardi B, I like it like that. That being said, it’s these small indulgences (chocolate pudding at night, wine with dinner) that keep me from binging on crappy food on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t go off the rails every now and again and eat plates of nachos at midnight in what’s best described as a hormone-induced stupor. I’m human. When that happens, I just re-calibrate the next day, maybe spend some extra time at the gym (gotta put those cals to use!), and move on.

Below is a 5-day snippet of my eating habits. I went ahead and tracked my calories since I knew I’d be recording my diet for this post. Though my calories varied day-to-day (I recipe-tested this week, which throws off any semblance of a normal eating schedule, and I had a day where I just couldn’t say no to late-night nachos), my average across all five days (which is what I really care about – it’s all about balance and long term sustainability) came out right where I was hoping it would, at about 1830 calories/day, which is the perfect amount for me as I try to trim fat and build muscle. 1800+ calories/day is also not a small amount of food per day, which just goes to show that extreme restriction should never be on the table.

*You’ll also notice that I’m something of a creature of habit: my dinners vary a ton, but my breakfast and lunches usually look the same over a 5-7 day period, because I always try to eat what I have on hand rather than throw it out. If I’d have kept this log two weeks ago, you’d have seen that I was on an epic leftovers kick involving daily doses of chicken chili. This week, I had two cartons of eggs in the fridge (though I cannot tell you why), so veggie scrambles were on heavy rotation.

Day 1:

Breakfast: Organic wheat cereal with blueberries and almond milk. Coffee w/ cream and sugar.
Snack: Protein shake with collagen peptides.
Lunch: 2-egg veggie scramble with broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, capers and feta cheese.
Snack: Rice cake with PBFit, banana, honey, raising and raw walnuts.
Dinner (out): Chips and salsa, about 2 tbsp of queso dip, one grilled shrimp taco on a small corn tortilla, one grilled steak taco on a small corn tortilla, 1 tbsp guacamole per taco, skinny margarita.
Dessert: Sugar Free Dark Chocolate pudding cup with cool whip and coconut flakes.
*Snacked on grapes throughout the day

Calories: Approx. 1575

Day 2:

Breakfast: Organic wheat cereal with blueberries and almond milk. Coffee with cream and sugar.
Snack: Protein shake with collagen peptides.
Snack: Protein bar.
Lunch: 2-egg veggie Scramble, same as day 1, above.
Snack: Pumpkin-dark chocolate muffin with honey.
Dinner: Pasta Carbonara, 2 glasses rose.
Dessert: Sugar Free Dark Chocolate Pudding Cup with cool whip.
Cup of chamomile tea with honey.

Calories: Approx. 1865

Day 3:

Breakfast: Organic wheat cereal with blueberries and almond milk. Coffee with cream and sugar.
Snack: Protein Shake with collagen peptides.
Lunch: Half jar overnight oats and Everything Bagel scone.
Snack: 2 glasses of rose {*I was recipe testing on this day, which means weird food schedule and early Happy Hour}
Dinner (out): 1 chicken spring roll. Spicy eggplant with crispy tofu and veggies in garlic sauce. Singha beer.
Dessert: Halo Top PB Cup ice cream with whip and chocolate sauce.
Dinner #2: Homemade nachos with tortilla chips, cheese and salsa. {*recall what I said about hormone-induced eating binges. Sometimes, ya just need ‘chos.}
Snack: Pretzels

Calories: Approx. 2455

Day 4:

Breakfast: Coffee with cream and sugar, {didn’t exactly wake up hungry…}
Snack: Protein shake with collagen peptides.
Lunch: 2 egg scramble with mushrooms, capers and feta cheese.
Snack: Beef jerky, low-fat string cheese, raw almonds.
Dinner: Shrimp sauteed with spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes. Eveything bagel scone. 2 glasses pinot grigio.
Dessert: Pudding cup with cool whip. 1 square Lindt dark chocolate.
Cup of Chamomile tea.

Calories: Approx. 1487

Day 5:

Breakfast: Shredded wheat cereal with banana, blueberries and almond milk. Coffee with cream and sugar.
Snack: Protein shake with collagen peptides.
Lunch: Wild rice with tuna, carrots, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese and balsamic dressing.
Snack: Protein bar.
Dinner: Chicken breasts with sweet potatoes, cranberries, leeks, nuts and gravy.
Dessert: Halo Top PB Cup
Cup of chamomile tea

Calories: Approx. 1830

 

 

 

 

 

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