“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.” Spanish Proverb
One of the most important, yet oft overlooked aspect of a health is what you eat. This has been one of my mistakes for the longest of times. When you take a step back and look at nutrition, it should really be simple. Since the start of our evolution, we’ve been eating to survive and been doing it quite well (it’s gotten us this far hasn’t it?). We didn’t need a food pyramid or a food plate guide to let us know how to eat. Apparently our species has devolved so much that we need the government to advise us on how to eat and we’re no longer understand the concept of ‘healthy’ eating.
When did we as a species lose this connection with our food? When did we base our food choices on bright coloured packaging and value meal deals? Humans have come to a nutritional impasse where we no longer know where our food comes from anymore or what it is we are actually eating. Chicken isn’t meant to come in a pink paste from MacDonalds, breads shouldn’t be made from grains that are bleached and polished beyond recognition, our food shouldn’t be laced with artificial colourings/flavourings 102,239 or 2983, ‘fruit’ juice should not be made from 10% concentrate (what’s the other 90% made from?), cheese should not come out of a spray can.
Low-fat, low-sugar, low-sodium, fortified with extra vitamins, chicken nuggets, fish fingers, vacuum sealed pre cut fruit and veg, pre-cut pre-washed pre-assembled salads, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oil, genetically modified foods, hormone enhanced animals, milk that sits on a shelf for five years without spoiling; the list is of what we consider ‘food’ is unbelievable. Our ancestors would be horrified at what we’re eating.
Just like we wouldn’t put sub-grade gas in our cars, why do we insist on putting sub-par food in our bodies? Our bodies are not magical food-alchemy machines that turn rubbish food into amazing health. Logic dictates that if you put garbage in you get garbage out. Is it any wonder that obesity, diabetes, CVD, hypertension, high blood pressure, fatigue, restlessness, lack of overall energy and mental function are just some of the ailments plaguing us today that weren’t as big an of an issue thousands of years ago. In a time when we were fighting off sabre tooth tigers and hunting wooly mammoths, our ‘foods’ weren’t slowly killing us from the inside out; instead they would have quickly tore us limb from limb if we weren’t quick, strong or smart enough to kill them first; if we did come home triumphant hunters our fresh kill was nutritious, natural, unprocessed and fresh; and the gatherers of the tribe would have brought back equally nutritious sustenance.
We weren’t paying doctors and other professionals to tell us how to eat, instinctually (like every other animal in the wild) we knew exactly what to eat to survive and thrive as a species. Sadly, the state of our food supply today is not exactly ideal for how we have evolved as a species. Instead of jumping in the car, walking a couple of feet to and from the car, then slowly meandering down the fluorescent lit aisles of our supermarket and picking up prepackaged, preprepared items we consider food; our ancestors would have spent hours on the hunt expending thousands of calories trying to catch whatever animal was out there, nerves on edge, adrenal glands pumping, al the while not knowing if they would make it back to the cave alive with food or end up dead in the wilderness. They didn’t know when their next meal was coming, so the body adapted to crave the highest caloric food available. This predisposition to consume as many calories as possible meant the difference between surviving for days on end without food or dying from hunger. On the map of evolution, we’re just a scratch of insignificance and this instinct of ours is not beneficial in any way.
What has now arisen is a lifestyle where we sit at a desk all day; food is in abundance; said food is high in calories, not natural & super easy to acquire; and our main source of physical activity (if lucky) is an hour spent in a gym. Now in a perfect world we would still be eating from the earth and letting mother nature take care of our nutritional needs and ‘bad’ foods would not exist; sadly that’s not the case. People that know me, know exactly how ‘bad’ and how much I can eat. I also know exactly how bad it is (depending on my goals). But I also know how to eat well 80% of the time and how to control and moderate my intake. I’m not saying to never eat the foods you enjoy, you would go crazy if you couldn’t. Exclusionary diets often lead to yo-yo weight fluctuations as we gorge on said foods once the diet is over or we succumb to temptation. The key is moderation and everybody needs to indulge (within reason & limit) when the need arises. Common sense is what it all boils down to, we all know what constitutes good and bad food, how much to eat and when to stop. Listening to your instinct and body goes a long way, we’ve relied on both for centuries and I don’t know why we have stopped now.
The food you put into your body has a direct correlation on how you feel and perform in life, work, play & exercise. Eat the right things and it’s like night and day; you have more energy, you feel less lethargic as the day goes on, your mood improves, your concentration levels are high, you’re not as moody; you have an overall sense of well being when the right foods are being put in your body. This won’t happen overnight when changing a diet, the body needs time to remove the waste that has accumulated over the years of bad eating, nor will it be easy (I believe there is truth to the addictive nature of modern foods) however, a change in food choices should be a lifetime commitment. A diet is nothing more than a temporary change in your eating habits, it establishes an end point to healthy eating, which reinforces bad eating habits (I’ll be able to eat whatever I want after this 2 week ‘detox’) and your weight and health will be back to a suboptimal state. An easy way to do this is to make small changes over time since we’re not looking for quick fixes. The results will show over time, good health and performance aren’t achieved in a week or two, they take a lifetime to accomplish.
So what to do? Now I’m not a nutrition expert, but I think my reading, research and common sense on the topic allow me to present some points that are hard to argue against:
- Eat the rainbow. Different coloured food gives our bodies different nutrients. So eat as many colours as possible to expose the body to as wide a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. And besides, eating the same thing everyday is BORING!
- Don’t think of your food intake on a daily basis. Instead take a weekly based approach. It’s near impossible to eat the amount of food required for the variety required over a single day, instead look at eating as many different things over the course week. This also applies to your calorie intake.
- Read! Educate yourself about how food used to be, how we used to eat, what is real food, where it originates, other cultures’ food. The more you know about your food the less disconnected you will be with the food and the better your choices will be. This also goes for vitamins, minerals, macro & micro nutrients.
- Think about how our ancestors would have eaten. This goes with the above point about educating yourself. With knowledge is power… the power to eat right. A common approach is to perform the grandparent test: If our grandparents couldn’t make it or recognize a product as food, don’t eat it or limit your intake! (What exactly are non-dairy creamers, Snak Paks or Cheetos?)
- Think about where your food came from. I’m not talking about whether its locally grown (but that is important). I’m talking about if it could actually have been grown in nature by a farmer or was it created in some medical lab by a scientist.
- Read!! (x2) This also goes for recipes, preparation, nutritional information and cooking techniques. The best food is the food you make yourself, you’ll know exactly what’s in it and how it was prepared. Good food doesn’t have to be complicated or long winded to prepare. A good nutritious meal can be prepared in as little as 15 minutes with the right tools and know-how.
- Listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry and don’t when you’re not… Simple right? Don’t eat just because time says you should, because friends are eating out, because societal norms dictate a meal time, because you’re bored, sad or happy.
- Don’t believe the hype of every new diet that comes out. The truth is: almost any diet will work if you follow it. Firstly, a reduction in calories is the basic tenant of any diet and this will work in the short term. Secondly, these diet fads do have some truth behind them. Most of the pop-diets are based and built around one small fact that is blown out of proportion. Aitkin’s, South Beach, Low-GI, high protein, low fat, low carb, Paleo, etc., have all been based on a grain of truth, so you should also take them all with a grain of salt (pun intended). Marketers and money makers have turned these into programs that aren’t exactly the best thing for your body or your wallet.
- Moderation is key. Even moderation itself shouldn’t be taken to an extreme. Indulge every now and then.
- Hydrate! Our body is two thirds water, everything gets better with more water. Use your urine to judge how hydrated your body is, the paler the better.
- You can’t out-train a bad diet. No matter how hard or long you exercise, this is will not offset bad eating habits.
- Sleep! Studies show that people who lack sufficient sleep are more likely to be overweight. Have you noticed that one side effect of having a bad night’s sleep is to crave caffeine, simple carbs, fatty foods and an overall increase in appetite for more food.
- Your food composition will vary depending on your goals. It’s inevitable that when lifting heavy weights your body requires more carbohydrates and fats for energy and repair and this will differ if you’re doing higher repetitions where your body will need less carbohydrates and more protein. It will also depend on how you want to look, powerlifters, bodybuilders, marathon runners, cross fitters all have different bodies not only because of how they train, but more importantly how they eat.
- 80% of how your body looks will be a result of your diet.
- When planning your caloric intake and macro nutrient breakdown, base your numbers on the weight you want to be at, now where your body currently is. Be it weight loss or weight gain, your nutrition will get you there if you adjust it accordingly.
“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” Alice May Brock