Nutrition

The One Size Fits All Diet

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If only there was one diet that every single person could follow. If only this diet was equally effective for everyone in helping lose weight and keep it off for good. Think about how much easier life would be if that were the case; all of the confusion over eating right and how much would no longer exist. Ultimately it would render the bombardement of marketing schemes obsolete and take out all of the guess work for each person when it comes to nutrition. Unfortunately that’s not the case.

Have you ever noticed that one person may follow aa diet plan and see amazing results while another will follow it exactly the same way, but instead will make hardly any progress? It’s very common. Why? Let me count the ways…

There are so many different factors to take into consideration when it comes to diet and nutrition. You’ve got the standard items like age, current weight and body composition, level of activity and training age (the number of years a person has been consistently exercising), and gender. Then there’s the more specific things like genetics, pre-existing health issues, current lifestyle (for example having a sedentary job or more manual labour), stress levels and adequate sleep acquired on the average night. All of these things play a key role in whether or not a diet plan will work for you.

A prime example of this is when a friend of mine mentioned that she and her husband were going to follow a 30 day diet plan. This particular plan emphasized eating “real food” only with a focus on organic foods including meat, fish, nuts, oils, vegetables and fruits. At the same time it also requires that you do not eat any legumes (like beans or peanuts), grains (even whole grains), any kind of sweetener, dairy or sulphites. What’s more is that it also bans any kind of sweet treat items even if it contains “approved ingredients” only in order to get you out the dessert mindset. Many of the suggested recipes included a high portion of protein along with a high level of fat accompanied with vegetables. Starch-wise your only option is the starchy vegetable such as potato, sweet potato or carrots. Now in theory this diet plan sounds solid as you are eating foods close to their natural state and avoiding things that may cause allergies or sensitivities.

So my friend and her husband embarked on this 30 day plan and followed it to a T while trying many of the suggested recipes along the way. Her husband did great; he lost weight and was no longer bloated, he had great energy each day and never had any cravings. My friend however had the exact opposite experience. She gained weight, felt bloated all of the time and had very low energy, even though her portion sizes were in check. After 11 days, she had had enough and went back to her previous nutrition plan which had worked very well for her in the past. This plan was lower in fat and allowed whole grains along with health treat meals. Not only did she find herself feeling way better and less bloated, but within a few days she was well on her back towards her weight loss goals.

I can also definitely attest to the no one size fits all diet solution. I’ve tried everything from portion control, to calories counting, to IIFYM, to low carb and ketogenic. Well, none of them worked…that’s not entirely true. Some worked, but all were very short term solutions and none of them did anything to improve my body composition. These diets all pretty much left me skinnyfat. What does work for me and what has helped me to get lean, strong and build muscle is a low-fat plant based diet with at least half of my total calories coming from complex carbohydrates including whole grains. Keep in mind though that by low-fat I mean no more than 40-50 grams total per day including those found naturally in food like tofu and tempeh. Anytime that I have deviated from this in anyway, I have always experienced fat gain, bloating and indigestion whether in contest prep or not.

Now what works for me may not work for you, that’s for sure. The best thing to do if you are confused about what’s right for you is start by cutting out added sugar and artificial sweeteners. Then look at any food that may give you an upset tummy or heartburn, try to gradually reduce your intake of this and replace it with a healthy alternative. Overall though, be sure to keep all meals well balanced with all 3 macros while taking into account the naturally occurring sources of fat found in your protein and naturally occurring carbohydrates and sugars found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Don’t ever be fooled by prepackaged snack items. they always contain too much fat, carbs and sugar without enough protein. Even if these items are marketed as healthy take a look at the ingredients, nutritional info and serving size. If you’re still confused or are eating clean/balanced but aren’t experiencing any progress then keep a food journal for at least a week, writing down everything that you eat, drink and how much, and then calculate the macros for each day and nutritional value of your meals. It may indicate some unbalanced eating on your part. I did this exercise a couple years back and my nutrition was way off; too much fat, not enough protein.

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to nourish yourself so don’t put too much pressure on getting it right from the beginning. Seek out help from a nutritionist or dietician to maybe help shed a little light on what you can do and what you want to do for the long haul. Focus on your health first and creating a nutritional way of life that you can easily incorporate into your everyday.

Start Strong, Finish Strong

Fitness, Nutrition

Are you ready for bathing suit season?

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We are well into the fourth month of the year and that can only mean one thing… bathing suit season is right around the corner. If you’re already freaking out, take a deep and remember that no body is perfect and no amount of crash dieting will ever change that. This year instead of going on a super strict calorie deficit let’s focus on creating healthy lifestyle habits that you can incorporate into each day in order to get that coveted beach body that you’ve always dreamed of.

As with pretty much everything else in life, a balanced approach to exercising is really the best way to be consistent without being too strenuous. Cardio-wise be sure to include at least one day of steady-state training (think jogging on a treadmill at the same pace for 30 minutes) and one day of HIIT (think sprint intervals for around 20 minutes) as these are both essential for fat loss and a great way to lean you out. Weight training is also equally important as it will also lead you to a nice toned and lean look. Separate your weight lifting workouts by body part each day (for example Monday is biceps/triceps, Tuesday abs, Wednesday lower body, Thursday chest/back/shoulders) and be sure to never work the same body parts two days in a row as you will end up over training that particular muscle group. You may be tempted to work your abs everyday with the hopes of getting a six pack, but that really won’t happen. Doing endless crunches or even holding plank each day will not do the trick. You really have to combine cardio with strength training in order to get there and yes, it will take time but it is possible. The best thing to do is to keep your belly pulled in whenever you workout as it will not only strengthen that area naturally, but it will also help protect your spine from injury. Always take at least five minutes to warm up with dynamic stretching prior to getting started and finish up with at least five minutes of static stretching, you may want to also add a 20 minute yoga workout to your schedule as well; it will help you work out the kinks, loosen you up and not to mention de-stress you too. Give yourself a minimum of one day off from working out each week to allow your body to rest and recover, that way the next time you do hit the gym you’ll be ready to go and will give it your all.

Now let’s talk nutrition. There is so much information out there when it comes to eating right, and there is always some “guru” popping up saying that they have found the ideal diet or secret ingredient that will make you lose weight in no time. It’s all very confusing, in fact it gives me a bit of headache just thinking about the info overload. Truthfully, the only thing that really works is whatever works best for you and your lifestyle. We’re all different, we all lead very different lives and therefore nutrition is not one size fits all; there is no one right way to nourish yourself, so just go with what you’re comfortable with. What works best for me is a plant based volumetric diet with small meals every two to three hours, meaning I consume big portions of nutrient rich food that’s not too high in calories, so lots of non-starchy veggies , lean protein, whole grains and a bit on unsaturated fats at each meal and one to two fruits each day. Maybe for you it’s different, maybe you’re more comfortable with three larger meals a day, or intermittent fasting where you only eat during a certain timeframe. If you’re not sure, try a few different options on for size and see what works best and what feels right to you, just make sure that you are eating enough each day and each meal is balanced (1200 calories is not enough for anyone, no matter what size you are or how much weight you want to lose). A good way to know if you’re eating enough is to pay attention to how you feel after you eat dinner each night; if you’re still genuinely hungry and you can’t stop thinking about food then you are not eating enough. As a general rule, try to stay away from prepackaged meals and snacks as often as possible as they are expensive and tend to have added sugar/salt/fat that you really don’t need. Although these are convenient when you’re in a pinch, try to stick to the homemade stuff whenever you can, there are plenty of recipes that you can find that are easy to prep and are delicious. Don’t forget to enjoy a treat meal each week if you choose that way it’ll give you a little something to look forward to and remember to keep hydrated.

Whether you are getting ready for a beach vacation, pool party or family get together, don’t let your diet take control over your life, remember this is your life and you are in control of it. Love the body that you have and always strive for the body that you want.

Start It, Finish It

Nutrition

Getting too much salt in your diet?

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I have always loved savory foods in fact I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth. To a certain extent that’s a good thing, but too much salt or too little can wreak havoc on your health. But how do you know what’s right for you or if you’re getting too much in your diet? A few years back, low sodium everything was all the rage, but now there’s mention that you can actually consume more salt than initially thought…it’s very confusing.

To get started let’s look at what sodium actually is. Sodium, found in salt, is an essential micronutrient that every human being must consume in order to function. It is a mineral and electrolyte that helps the body maintain its fluid balance and can also aid in digestion. Sodium can be found naturally in some foods, but for the most part we tend to get from foods where it’s added in order to enhance the flavors of the dish. Foods with the highest amount of added salt tend to be cured meats and cheeses, salted fish and soya sauces, not to mention fast food and frozen meals. If you’ve ever watched a cooking show then you already know that chefs tend to add a lot of salt to their meals; it always makes me laugh when they say “Salt to taste” or “Pinch of salt” only to watch them add a handful to whatever they are cooking. Much like sugar, your body will process salt the same way regardless if it’s pink Himalayan, fleur de sel or table salt, so don’t fool yourself into thinking the expensive stuff is better for you, the only real difference is the taste.

The range for the daily sodium intake is 1500-2300 mg, but most of us tend to get more than this, around 3200 mg per day on average and there could be some serious health risks with consuming too much salt in the diet.  The first and obvious side effect is water retention and therefore bloating (see my previous post “Bloated Much?” for more info), another effect is dehydration which overtime can lead to kidney and urinary problems, and finally hypertension which can lead to blood pressure disorders and a whole slew of other health issues as well. If sodium is restricted too much then it can also lead to health issues including an increase in hormones in the blood, changes in blood pressure and possible cardiovascular related problems as well. Clearly this is one mineral that needs to be consistently well in balance over your lifetime.

Take a look at what your diet looks like now; how you prepare your meals, how often you eat out and how much salt you typically add to what you cook. If you eat out often then chances are you’re probably nearing or going over the upper limit of the daily recommended amount. The same goes if you eat a lot of prepackaged meals and snacks, check out the nutritional facts on the back of the package; it may surprise to see exactly how much you are actually consuming per serving. If you notice that you eat a lot of these meals regularly and you really can’t change it, say because you travel for work or have lunch meetings regularly, then be sure to choose meal options that are as balanced as possible and drink lots of water throughout the day to flush out excess salt. As always, be sure to choose meals with lots of vegetables and stay away from fast foods as much as you can. That being said don’t get all crazy the next time you go to a restaurant and start asking the waiter how much salt is in everything, just make the best decision you can and be mindful of what you’re putting in to your body. When cooking at home, start paying attention to how much salt you add to everything and consider reducing gradually overtime so that your consumption is within a healthy range. You always have the option of choosing low sodium versions of your favorite cooking ingredients like broths, canned beans or soya sauces, so if you haven’t already made the switch there’s no time like the present. I usually don’t add much salt to anything that I cook except when I salt the water for cooking pasta or add a splash of soya sauce when making an Asian stir fry; I want to be able to taste the natural flavors of the ingredients in my meals instead of just tasting saltiness.

Keep in mind how important your health is and that even if something tastes good now, if it causes you problems in the long run it’s probably not worth it. Speak with your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have and for tips on how to keep your sodium levels in check. There are a lot of little things to think about when it comes to nutrition, but in general as long as you keep everything in moderation and focus on a balanced diet, you’ll be good to go.

Start It, Finish It