A good shell game is magical... and a lot of fun. Which shell is the nut under? It works because we accept the rules of the game. What would happen if we stepped back and said, "The nut is under one of those three shells. I don't really care which one."? It wouldn't be any fun, but on the upside you'd be right... every time.
To me, focusing on macros (protein/fat/carbs) is like playing the shell game. Just look back over the past couple of years. Low fat... no, wait... high protein... no, wait... low carb... no, wait... high fat. The food companies like it when we play the shell game. It keeps us distracted from the real issue (processed foods) while spending money on their products. The health & fitness industry likes it for the same reason. Consumers like playing the shell game, too. It's more seductive and fun than practicing the basic principles of healthy eating.
So what is the dietary equivalent of saying, "The nut is under one of those three shells. I don't really care which one."? Eating only whole foods... all the time... any time you open your mouth. The human body is incredibly flexible and any diet consisting of whole foods (of a reasonable variety) is going to provide a sufficient amount of protein, fat, and carbs. More importantly, you will achieve energy balance and nutrient density in a manner that is sustainable. It isn't sexy. It can't be sold nor profited from. And for that reason you won't be given this message by most sources, but it works... and it is the only thing (in the absence of obsessive self-control) that works long term.
One of the ways certain health products get marketed is by claiming that they make your body more alkaline (as opposed to acidic). Here's the deal. Your body maintains a tightly controlled pH level within the range of 7.35 and 7.45... always. If it didn't, you'd be dead. Nothing you ingest is going to make you more alkaline, so any product claiming to do so is being disingenuous.
There is something to keep in mind, however. Most of the food you eat will either be more acidic or more alkaline than your body's pH level. This isn't an immediate problem. Your body has buffering systems that counteract the pH level of the foods we eat to maintain the body's overall level. In order to neutralize acidic foods the body's phosphate buffer system uses calcium from the bones, which can weaken them over time if your diet is overly acidic. The calcium is then excreted through the urinary system which can lead to an increased risk of developing kidney stones.
Meat, dairy, sugar, and grains are acidic foods. Fruits and vegetables are alkaline. Your long-term health is best served by a diet that balances the foods from these two groups.
Our approach to nutrition is typically rooted in the question, "What am I missing?". What is the magical ingredient? This mentality drives the constant search for superfoods. The term is alluring. We all want to be superheroes... so give us the superfoods. I remember back when I got serious about fitness. I'd see the lists - salmon, blueberries, kale - and try to jam as many of them into my diet as possible.
By and large, the issue for most people is not one of deficiency... it is one of excess. After a decade of experience trying every diet under the sun, it's clear to me that there are no superfoods. All foods are super if they are whole and unprocessed. Why? Because a whole food diet is the most sustainable way to achieve energy balance... and energy balance is the most important aspect of nutrition. Simply put, when we eat whole foods we tend not to overeat.
Eating whole foods isn't sexy, and there isn't any way for the corporations to make money on it, so you will continue to get marketed all kinds of crap. Don't buy it. Just buy whole foods and make time to cook. That's the recipe to be a superhero.
Recently, a client shared with me the challenge she is having implementing a healthy diet for herself when her spouse is not interested in making changes. I quickly realized I had no experience in this area. What do you do in that situation? So I did some research. Short answer? It isn't easy.
First, you have to be very clear about your "why". Why are you doing this? To feel better, to move better, to get the most out of life. If you know your "why" you can bear almost any "what". Now it's time for a heart-to-heart. If your spouse doesn't support you at this fundamental level then, "Houston, we have a problem". Your spouse doesn't have to eat the same as you, but they do have to respect your decision to do so.
Once you clear this relationship hurdle there are some practical tricks you can implement. When cooking meals use common ingredients to produce individual dishes. For example, when making a stir fry remove your chicken and vegetables from the pan before adding the sauce and rice to your spouse's. Designate a separate space in the pantry for your foods so you don't have to sift through unhealthy processed stuff looking for yours... and tell him, "Hands off", so you know it's there when you need it.
Over time as your spouse sees how committed you are and the positive impact it's having on your life, he is likely to jump on the wagon. But be ready to pull that wagon by yourself for a while before he is ready to make the leap.
An interesting thing happened the other day. My daughter came home from the gym, and I suddenly noticed that she was freaking shredded! She's been serious about working out for over a year now, so I knew it wasn't that. It had to be due to something more recent. We eat a whole food diet and have for years, so that wasn't it either.
I was concerned, so I asked her what was up. She confessed that she had always snacked on processed junk at school and after school at friends' houses, but that in the past month she cut that out and only ate the foods she brought from home. I laughed because I had been unaware of her little snacky snack ways. Kids hide a certain amount from their parents. They operate under the principle that the less you know... the better off they are. Haha. I was the same way.
I'm actually glad things went down the way they did. She learned a valuable lesson that she'll never forget because she learned it herself. Processed junk can really sabotage your efforts. Once you mindfully balance the pleasure and pain associated with a behavior it's easier to take control. Props to you, Maia. Oh... she is going to be sooo embarrassed when she reads this.
Water was a vexing issue for our ancestors. It was heavy and awkward to carry - no convenient containers except... their stomachs. So, upon waking they took a big, long draft from the nearby stream before heading out to hunt for the day.
Like other primal behaviors, there is wisdom in emulating this practice. Our bodies are accustomed to the rhythm of sleep followed by an influx of fresh water. While sleeping, our body is busy at the cellular level putting all the trash out onto the street for collection. Taking in a good amount of water (about 20 oz) allows all these toxins to be flushed out of our system. If we don't do this, our cells have to drag all those stinky garbage bags back into the house and wait for another opportunity to get rid of them. Yuck.
Bodybuilders follow this practice as do the Japanese. I find that interesting because I respect both groups - one for their attitude of self-experimentation in finding things that just work, and the other for the wisdom of their traditions. So, wake up, drink water, and go.
I'm not a huge chocolate lover, but I've dallied in it over the years mainly for its purported health benefits. However, it became a daily practice when I started following a ketogenic diet because the dark stuff (85%) is high-fat, low-carb. Pairing it with macadamia nuts is a nice, little fat bomb.
Turns out this stuff may have benefits in the gym. Researchers did a study where they divided mice up into four groups.
The mice that exercised and were given chocolate developed more capillaries and mitochondria in their leg muscles. When they put them to the test, these mice were able to run 50% further than the control group. And here's the kicker - the mice who ate chocolate and watched TV performed the same as the ones who exercised but didn't get chocolate.
It doesn't look like you need much in order to get the benefit. The amount given to the mice would be the equivalent of 5 grams for us non-rodents. I typically throw down 25 grams a day. That's about a quarter of a standard size bar. Remember... chocolate first, and then Crossfit.
Hormones are the master switchers. They regulate every process in our body. We often think of insulin and cortisol as "bad" hormones, but that isn't true. Both are essential to our well being, but context is important. Cortisol ramps up the immune system when foreign invaders are present. Insulin is needed to convert T4 into the active hormone T3 used to regulate metabolism. The interplay between hormones is complicated, so it's important to minimize things in our diet that can disrupt their activity. The following foods either have direct or secondary impacts. It's best to avoid them.
I'll be honest. I used to eat all this stuff. I thought all that mattered were calories and macros, but that isn't the case. Anything that messes with your hormones undermines your health in unpredictable ways.
The ketogenic diet has risen in popularity lately. It can be very useful, but it's important to keep in mind that it isn't a natural diet. As such, you should view it as a tool rather than a permanent way of eating. At its core, the keto diet is a hack. It tricks the body into thinking you're in starvation mode by restricting carbs. This is a stressor on the body that triggers several positive adaptations. The main benefit is that it improves insulin sensitivity which can help to correct the hormone imbalance caused by a carb-heavy, processed food diet.
You have to be careful, though, because tricking your body into thinking it's in starvation mode permanently has some negative side effects. Cortisol (the stress hormone) levels will typically rise. Most importantly, keto can lead to a hypothyroid condition - low T3 hormone production - which will lower metabolism. The thyroid damage can be permanent, so this is a real concern.
Once you are keto-adapted (ketone bodies over 0.5 mM with low and stable levels of insulin and blood glucose) it's a good idea to introduce some weekly days where carb intake is high. This will help to avoid the negative side effects I detailed above.
If you workout daily at a fairly high intensity (ahem... crossfitters), you can try an advanced technique that takes advantage of a certain biorythm. In the morning fat cells are more insulin sensitive, while muscle cells are more insulin sensitive in the evening - especially if you have depleted them of their glycogen via exercise. Therefore, keep your diet ketogenic during the day, but for dinner enjoy a serving of carbs. This hybrid approach allows you to benefit from daily periods of ketosis while still providing the swag you need for your daily workouts.
Remember this classic episode? Of course, what George really meant was, "It's not me... It's YOU". If you struggle with weight, it's not you. It's the world you live in. You are an incredibly advanced biochemical machine optimized through millions of years with tools that maximize your ability to survive. You are a marvel.
One of the tools you were endowed with is something called optimum foraging strategy. You are hard-wired to seek out food with the highest caloric payload while minimizing the effort used to obtain it. This strategy guided us through the harshest of environments allowing us to provide for ourselves and our children.
However, you have been dropped into a world that turns everything on its head. The conditions have become too favorable for acquiring calories. You are perfect... but the world you live in is not perfect for you anymore. So, take the emotion out of it. There is nothing wrong with you. The challenge is simply to develop an understanding of your hard-wired instincts so that you can create a personal environment conducive to maintaining your health and reaching your fitness goals. I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying there is absolutely no reason for feelings of guilt.