Avoid Autumn Gluttony

October, November, and December mark that time of year where holiday celebrations (at least in the United States) feature unending sweets, heavy dinners, and savory deserts. This is also when people say they're either putting off their fitness plans, or putting their fitness regemin on hiatus, "so they can enjoy this time of year". This is always said with a straight face and with every intention of hitting the gym three times as hard come next January. 

Don't be this person!

  • Keep true to your fitness and nutrition routines. 
  • Enjoy the one-off treat, but don't fall prey to multiple trips to the candy bowl each day. While those miniature-sized sweets are only 1/3rd the calories of the real deal, it's easy to get fooled into consuming multiple servings without realizing the consequences. 
  • For example, if you eat one snack/fun-sized serving a day, at an average of 70 calories per serving, by the end of the week it will total an extra 490 calories! 
  • Average three servings a day? Then that's 1,470 calories from sugar waiting to be transformed directly to fat.
  • The keys here are awareness and moderation. Read the packaging or gain an understanding of how these holiday snacks will impact your goals, and choose to partake in moderation.  

Believe me, you will "enjoy this time of year" all the more if you stay healthy, stay moving, and not having skipped a beat come next January when it's time to pay the piper.  

Meal Prep...Preparing to Succeed

The key to successfully maintaining a nutrition plan is preparation.

You see? If you wait until you're hungry to think of nutrition, the cards are already stacked against you. It's inevitable that you're not going to have the time, availability of ingredients, or proper quantities or measures.

The fix? You guessed it. Preparation.

  1. Plan your meals out on paper for the upcoming week. Know what you are going to eat, when, and what nutritional needs are being met.
  2. Use this plan to purchase all of the ingredients when you do your grocery shopping. 
  3. Spend some time over the weekend preparing your meals for the upcoming week, and package them in the correct quantities for each day. (Refrigerate when applicable)
  4. Buy a food scale to make measuring easy. A basic food scale will cost $10-$20. 
  5. Save your plan and and recipes for future use. You will find that your prep time will get shorter and shorter, while your meals will become elaborate and diversified as you go. Just like anything, practice makes perfect.
  6. Make meal preparation part of your routine. 

*Please consult with a certified/ licensed nutritionist or your doctor before beginning any nutrition plan. 

Where you spend your time in the supermarket...

Where you spend your time in the supermarket selecting food is a good indication of where you are with your nutrition. 

Let me explain.

A former version of myself spent time in the following areas selecting food:

  • 50% at the deli counter
  • 20% in the frozen foods section
  • 20% in the snack aisle
  • 10% in the butcher section

In short, despite a very active lifestyle split between soccer and tae kwon do, my main fuel was:

  • Sandwiches (bread, processed meats, and cheese)
  • Potato or Corn Chips
  • Frozen Pizza
  • Chicken/ Beef/ Pork (with some kind of marinade slathered on for flavor)
  • Microwaveable Mashed Potatoes
  • Microwaveable Vegetables
  • Cookies
  • Soda or Sports Drinks

And when it was my turn to 'cook', it was generally take out. 

No wonder I couldn't lose the size and weight despite a cardio-intensive lifestyle. 

Compare the above with where most of my time is spent now:

  • 70% in the fruits and vegetables section
  • 20% in the butcher section
  • 10% in the frozen food section

After a couple years of gradual change, substituting bad for better, and general experimentation, my meals consist of:

  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
  • Some Microwave Vegetables (no added ingredients or sauces)
  • Fresh, Lean Meats for Protein 
  • Rice or Potatoes for Starch/ Carbs
  • Seeds for Good Fats

The most important thing I've learned along the way is that one can make dishes at home that are healthier and taste better than most restaurants, and certainly better than snack foods, in about the same time. Plus, nothing is more satisfying than putting a healthy dish together yourself. It is literally art that you can taste!

More on how to be comfortable in your own kitchen later. Until then, think about how to switch out one bad snack item, like a pastry, for a better one...perhaps a Honeycrisp Apple. 

Kicking Cola to the Curb

Soft drinks are the devil. 

Marketed as thirst-quenching, fun, refreshing, and safe, soft drinks pack a caloric bomb loaded with sugar, sodium, and carbs. 

Consider the nutrition label of a popular cola.
1 Serving = 12 oz.
150 Calories
30mg Sodium
41g Carbohydrates
41g Sugars

Between the high fructose corn syrup and the sodium, these drinks are engineered to overwhelm your brain's pleasure response to sweetness and keep you coming back for more. Throw in a perceived need for caffeine and we've got the makings for a nice little addiction.

Let's assume one soda per day. In 1 weeks’ time, that will equate to 1,050 calories per week. This is roughly half of the daily caloric intake for the average person. Two cans per day put that to 2,100 calories per week and 3 will take you to 3,150!

Bear in mind that these are empty calories. In other words, they provide no nutritional value. 

Cutting soda out of our lives is tough because our brain and taste buds have become conditioned to crave their ingredients, which makes us dislike other drink options. I, myself, was one of the many people who claimed that even water just didn't taste good once I was under the spell. 

When sparkling fresh water no longer sounds good, it's time to re calibrate those taste buds!

Here is a suggestion:

Infused Water

I replaced my 2-3 can / day soda habit with ice water infused with various fruits. You can stick to lemons, limes, oranges, etc... even cucumber! Or you can mix your fruits/ vegetables for a unique taste. The only limit is your imagination, plus you get the nutritional benefits of the juices with minimal calorie load. 

If you find yourself dining out without the ability to infuse, then ask for some slices of citrus fruit and squeeze the juice into your water. This works just as well.

I'm not going to lie; cutting soda from my diet was tough. It took me about two weeks to overcome the cravings, and then a few more weeks consciously avoid falling back into the habit. However, within about a month after switching my mindset (and maintaining my activity level), I found that I had better digestive health and was no longer continually thirsty. Most importantly, people began commenting on how much thinner I started to look! 

I invite you to take that first step to re-calibrating your taste buds and ditching the empty promises of soda.

Using Your Food Journal to Effect Positive Change in Nutrition Habits

You've been diligent on keeping a detailed food journal for a few weeks now, and, if you're like me, there probably are some surprising results! 

Without a journal, we rely on a memory that is selective at best. We congratulate ourselves for ordering a salad for lunch, and forget that it came with fried chicken strips and a half a cup of ranch dressing. We feel great about our breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit while disregarding the doughnuts we munched on. We also tend to remember the big stuff while overlooking impulse decisions, such as taking a piece of candy from the bowl at the office each time we walk by... and we walk by it 15 times a day!

So? What do we do with this journal information?

First off, I would recommend approaching nutritional change through baby steps. Small changes, one at a time, over time, will most likely result in better decision making and long term adaptation to lifestyle habits.

Let's use the sample listings in the previous post, for example. 

In the first journal listing, a few opportunities jump right off the page; and to get yourself started, only pick ONE:

  • Eliminate one of the two Glazed Doughnuts - Equates to 1,344 calories per week
  • Exchange a small order of French Fries in place of the large size. - 1,960 calories per week
  • Replace either the Large Soft Drink or the Can of Soda for a water (you'll see huge results by eliminating all soft drinks) - potential of 3,010 calories per week
  • Only have 1 Chocolate Chip Cookie rather than 2 - Equates to 700 calories per week

These results assume one eats these, or comparable foods, each day.  However, it drives home the impact of one small tweak. 

Just like increasing weight or reps when exercise becomes easy, once you've managed your first change, then move on to another. 

This way, we are controlling our change without the feeling like we're depriving ourselves. As you see from the examples above, even a small change can equate to some pretty big numbers over a week's time. 

Bear in mind, the information I've provided is an example on how to effectively change nutritional habits, and not meant as a recommended nutrition plan for any particular goal. Please consult your doctor or a licensed nutritionist for more information on the specifics of nutrition that meets your individual needs. 

Getting a Handle on Nutrition

Many people are sold on the untruth that nutrition is an all-or-nothing proposition. One either consumes pizza, bacon, beer, and cookies, or survives on raw carrot sticks and brown rice; there's no in-between.

This mentality makes nutrition, commonly referred to as the dreaded "diet", a very unpopular topic that most gladly avoid. It's the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room. 

The truth is, swapping one set of eating habits for another overnight just doesn't work. By going this route, it doesn't take very long until we feel deprived, hungry, and miserable. This is when one treat leads to two, two leads to three, and before you know it, old habits return with a vengeance. 

How do we change this mindset?

First, start a food journal. 

Eat as you normally would and write down everything you have. Do this for 2-3 weeks to establish your baseline. Be honest and keep it simple. I started mine by noting what I ate, the quantities, and the calories. As my goals evolved, I started tracking protein, sugar, fats, and fiber as well. 

A food journal can be a notepad, a spreadsheet, or even a smartphone app; whatever is easiest for you! 

Here is an example:

Hint: You can easily find nutrition information online, and, after a couple of weeks, you'll probably notice a lot of repetition. At that point, it becomes mostly copy and paste.

Why a food journal? 

1. It's a great way to actually understand our eating habits and pinpoint easy opportunities for change.
2. Like our method of tracking our workouts, a food journal will help in monitoring our progress.
3. We can link effects of various types of food on our fitness goals and and overall health.

Here is where I invite you to begin your food journal. In upcoming posts, we will cover what to do when our nutritional baseline has been established.


Nutrition: The Other Side of the Coin

We've invested the sweat, spent the time, and yet the results just aren't there. At least not those we would expect given the effort. Prolonged periods of limited results only increase the chances of us giving up. How do we get over this hurdle?

Rather than look for new exercises, or spend additional time exercising, let's think about nutrition

Many people will continue to consume their normal meals, snacks and all, thinking that a good workout can overcome bad dietary choices. Not true.     

Becoming fit on exercise alone is a myth. 

Becoming fit on nutrition alone is a myth. 

The fact is, we need to manage both sides of the equation in order to be successful.

Right now, you probably think the word 'diet' is going to enter the picture. 'Diet'; as in small portions of vegetables, grains, and all of that 'healthy' stuff that isn't fun to eat. Well, fear not. That isn't going to happen.

What we need to do first is understand how we're fueling our bodies, and then make small adjustments to maximize the quality and manage the quantity of what we eat. Finally, we need to do this in such a way that we do not deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of the culinary experience. 

Let's break this down next time. Hint: If you've been following the blog, you already have the tools to hit the ground running on this one.