Nutrition is very personal. Some people believe in one type of diet over another, some people have ethical or moral reasons for excluding meat or animal products, others need to take care in what they eat due to illnesses or allergies. I want to show you my way of thinking about food and nutrition.
My private take on dieting: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (I don’t agree with Mr. Pollan in everything he preaches, but this quote is right on spot). As long as you keep things in balance, there is no “good food” or “bad food”. I eat everything; I lost significant amounts of weight that way, too. But, what works for me, doesn’t have to work for you. I was writing about “fuelling” before, mainly in the categories of “I don’t eat enough” or “I should have more protein”. Lately, I was constantly hungry and full of cravings (mostly sugar, trying to satisfy them with fresh fruit), and it came to a point where I didn’t know any more what and how much I am eating, so I went back to my old friend, MyFitnessPal. It’s simple: you can’t change your food habits if you don’t know what your food habits are in the first place.
The previous time I have been using MFP was when I had gained a lot of weight because of an illness, and simply had to lose the extra kilos. That was greatly successful (I am healthy now and my weight is back to normal). Now I have a different goal: to keep my body in balance, make sure I eat just right, make sure my calorie intake doesn’t vary hugely day to day, and get enough of protein to fuel my growing muscles (or at least my hopes for them).
For those unfamiliar with MFP:
It is not just a calorie counter, but, if used right, it also gives a good idea on the balance of macronutrients in the food you eat, as well as the distribution of calories within the day, with up to six meals a day which you can name to your liking (you can personalise the diary this way). The added convenience is the ability to scan barcodes with the phone app, making adding food to the diary very easy. A large database of food is already available, and you can always add new items if you can’t find anything that matches what you eat. However, some foods only have their calories listed and lack the distribution of nutrients; many foods do not list their sodium content, for example. Always use your brain when evaluating your numbers! Whenever I find something largely missing, I look up the contents on the package or the internet and add the food myself. This way, my food tracking is complete and others can benefit from a good database. One very good source of information is the USDA database.
What did it show me?
After just three-four days, I can see I can already observe some points on which I could improve:
- Firstly, I do not eat regularly enough, so let’s start those make-ahead salad lunches already!
- Secondly, I tend to have a high fat and fiber intake while my protein is always under the goal amount. That is directly connected to my food habits: lots of fruit, veggies, yoghurt, nuts, cheese, and an occasional fish or meatballs (I love meatballs). One might say that’s not half a bad a diet, and I agree, but I could swap some fat for protein. Even though I eat a lot of “healthy fats” (fish, avocados, etc), I think my body needs more amino acids to sustain my physical activity needs. I guess it’s time to start making my meatballs from turkey instead of beef, and add some beans in place of cheese. Conveniently, MFP just published a handy Beginner’s guide to protein!
- Also, my calorie intake can vary by 600kcal from day to day. That’s a whole meal! I should be more consistent, so more effort will go into meal planning from next week on, to try to level out the amount of energy I am consuming.
- I need to drink more water! I already started a change on that, bringing infused water (just some mint and lemon) with me to work. It looks great, tastes good, makes me hydrate better, and can be refilled during the day.
- Lastly, I am doing well on the carbs front! With all the fruit I eat, I am still always below the daily limit.
How I deal with cravings
Eat fruit. Eat carrots. I never buy and do not have any candy or cookies at home. If I want cookies, I have to bake them. If I want ice cream, I have to go out to the town and buy a cone. And yes, I will do that from time to time, because rewarding yourself is a part of good and healthy habits, keeping your moods up. Just don’t reward every pushup with a cupcake. Stay mindful of what you are eating and what you are rewarding, and how. Find alternative rewards. Go out of the city for a trip. Visit a museum. Buy a book. Go to a concert. Splurge on new gear or a race. For a big accomplishment, do something BIG you dreamed of for a while; it can be bungee jumping or skydiving or a trip to a distant country.
The important part
Not to get crazy. To be able to stay on a diet, I need to be able to eat the things I like (especially that I have to cook for myself!). On top of that, there is always the trade-off: if you lower the carbs and fats, something else has to increase to fill in the calorie gap, and that thing must be protein, as there’s basically no other choice. Too much of anything won’t be good (including too much of protein), and the goal is to find a balance that fits my body’s needs.
Do you track your food? Do you use MFP or any other solution?
What’s your take on making sure you get enough protein?