Mantras Be Damned: The Two Principles of Good Nutrition

I find nutrition fascinating but not confusing.  Slogans like "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" make sense because it's easy to follow. "Eat like a grown up" and "everything in moderation" are ambiguous but we know where it leads - unlike the current Star Wars trailer which has me stumped.  All I know is Han shot first!

 #forthenerds #lolwut

#forthenerds #lolwut

Anyway, I'm lucky to have a healthy relationship with food.  It's a big reason why I'm never confused by the eyewash and fads out there. But that doesn't mean I always knew what I was doing.  

Five years ago I was 40 pounds heavier and nowhere close to consulting others on the topic. Before there was Tatum, my goal was to #getmychanningon but I was failing miserably. I was skipping the important tenets of nutrition.  It's as if I thought I was close to deadlifting 600 pounds....when I could barely do half.

I see shades of my old self when I talk to others about their nutrition and it got me thinking:  how can I boil down what I've learned into a few, digestible (pun intended) nuggets? There are plenty of ways to eat healthy but the most successful ways are more similar than not.  Further, what I've written below can serve as an appetizer (I am a pun machine) to anyone seeking more information about nutrition.

Having said THAT, I'd like to start by saying that much of nutrition is incredibly simple.  Most 3rd graders know the difference between healthy and unhealthy.  But where nutrition gets complicated is when we need to pull our complex relationships with food out of our decision making process.  Food is part of our culture, our personalities and our past.  It's only natural that it influences - and at times, hinders - our fat loss efforts.

 #getyourchanningon

#getyourchanningon

As our relationship with food can muddle our progress, we usually turn to specific diets to help us control it.  Too often this leads down a path of counting calories, fat, carbs, or thinking we just need to find the "right" way of eating.  Ironically, there's no right way of eating - only the right principles.

What are those principles?  First, let's talk about what they're NOT.  It's not counting macronutrients as this way of eating is inherently flawed.  For example, counting calories is based on assumption that all calories are equal - which we know by science and common sense is not true.  Can it work?  Yes.  But there's a healthier and more satiating way.

When we try to count carbs or fat we hit the same road blocks.  A carb is not just another carb (a banana is not the same as an oreo), and all fat is not the same fat (olive oil is not the same as Crisco).  Quality always trumps quantity.

Good nutrition is also not believing there is only one way to eat.  The science of nutrition is still in its infancy, but a well-planned paleo diet might be just as beneficial to us as a complete vegan diet.  So mantras and zealots be damned, here are the two universal principles of good nutrition:  

1. If you're looking to lose weight - and even if you aren't - you need to eat more plants.

Here's a quick anecdote.  Five years ago I thought I ate a pretty healthy diet - because who in the world thinks they don't eat healthy!? But it's depressing how few fruits and vegetables I actually consumed.  I'd usually have a banana with lunch, a small salad and maybe a cooked vegetable with dinner.  My goal was to lose weight and I was focused on cutting my total calories, cutting back on carbs, and gulping down protein - any protein! - immediately after my workout.  If you asked me about nutrition back then, I would've told you that I knew everything!  It's not surprising that I wasn't succeeding.

The simplest solution was right in front of my face - consuming more fruits and vegetables helps balance out calories, cut out the "bad" carbs, and keep you satiated.  Better yet, there's universal agreement among science and successful diets that fruits and vegetables should be the foundation of your diet.  And anyone who contests that the sugar in fruit and vegetables is harmful may be well-intentioned, but is clearly misinformed. We don't get fat off of eating too many bananas, but we do get fat after eating too many banana sundaes. 

I laugh when I think about how I ate five years ago.  Just today I've consumed 10 fist-sized servings of fruits and vegetables by 4 PM.  Yes, I'm serious.  And I have the orange palms to prove it.

2. You need to love what you eat.  Otherwise we're shoveling against the tide.

One of the worst ways to think of eating is transactional: "I need to eat X to look like that!" Or conversely, "I can't eat that if I want X."  I'm not an expert in child psychology, but doesn't telling a kid they can't have something only make them want it more?

The same can be said about our own diet patterns.  If we're super strict about a way of eating, it may work for a while.  But we only have so much willpower.  Our lives, families, workouts all deplete ourselves of willpower so we're going to cave in eventually.  If the unhealthy food options are still more appealing than the others, we're going to be in trouble. 

What's the way out?  Enjoying the food you eat and starting good habits.  Get in a daily routine with foods you like and that are good for you.  If you don't like a food, don't eat it.  As long as you've covered point #1, you're setting yourself up for success.

 

I wanted to expand this list beyond two points but realized that would be unfair.  Instead of staying neutral, additional points would sway this post towards my preferred way of eating.  And in a country that has 320 million other nutrition experts (yes, that's the population of the United States) that's the last thing we need.  After all, nutrition is simple when we boil it down.  But only if we choose to make it that way.