In my experience, one of the hardest transitions clients make during their fitness journeys is in the kitchen. With the amount of misleading information there is out there about “good” vs “bad” foods, diets, fasts, and detoxes, it’s no wonder that so many of us struggle with where to start in shifting eating habits towards a more balanced, active lifestyle.
I, myself have tried just about everything: restriction, calorie counting, macro counting, low carb, low fat, gluten free, paleo, etc. They were interesting for a while, but I often found myself “giving in” to cravings much more frequently, which in turn would keep me from sustaining any of these things long term.
For mothers, there’s an interesting balance that needs to happen. It’s funny because, we’ll buy organic berries, make bone broth purees, and try to eliminate all processed sugar in our baby's diets, but on more than one occasion during the week, we’ll forget to eat until 3pm much less finish our second cup of coffee that we left in the microwave…Yesterday.
So here’s what I’ve found works best for us. This is what we practice in our Strength for All Seasons training group. I am by no means a nutritionist, but I’m a mama, just like you, trying to find a way to have my cake and eat it too.
Do NOT Restrict. I repeat, do not restrict. The second you completely take something away like bread, sugar, etc. that’s all you’ll think about. Nothing will taste as good as what you tell yourself you can’t have. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should go crazy and overindulge all the time. Just be conscious about what you’re eating. Think about how that food is going to fuel you for the rest of the day. Will it help you or hurt you during your workout? Will it give you energy?
Eliminate Good vs. Bad. The good vs. bad mentality is what I think has caused a lot of negative relationships with food and goes hand in hand with restriction and deprivation. Instead, think of it this way… You can eat anything you want. Seriously. You can eat anything you want. You’re an adult. But do you need to? Are there certain things that you absolutely need every day? Yes, water, protein, veggies, healthy fats, and good, whole carbs. Are there things you want to eat every day that may require just a bit of moderation? Absolutely. It’s still food. Food is good. There’s just some food that needs moderation. That’s all. Now let’s move on.
Drink water. I know, simple, right? But seriously, our bodies are over half water. We need water for our brains to function properly and for our energy levels to be up. Water also helps with liver and kidney function, not to mention digestion. Shoot for half of your bodyweight in ounces per day. You’ll feel the difference when you’re properly hydrating your body.
Think protein. Protein is a key component in muscle building and recovery. It also breaks down a lot slower in our bodies and therefor makes us feel satiated longer and curbs cravings. So, for every meal, make sure you’re including a bit of protein. And I know some fitness professionals would recommend focusing on only lean meats. BUT going back to that no restriction rule, make sure you get your red meat when you need it. Choose high quality protein, and make sure it’s tasty!
Energy comes from carbs. Did you know that? Then why is everyone cutting out carbs first over anything else? Carbohydrates are the only true fuel source we have. Yes, we could live off fat for a while and get our energy that way, but the most efficient method is by breaking down carbohydrates. Keep in mind however that not all carbohydrates are the same. There are some crappy ones out there that don’t help us as much as others.
Simply put, go for the natural, whole sources like whole grains. Choose high fiber for digestion—I love avocadoes and sweet potatoes for this reason. When choosing your carbs, make them count. Make sure they benefit you and give you the energy you need to complete every task you’re asking your body to do for you that day.
Keep it simple. I think a lot of us tend to overcomplicate things when it comes to eating more healthily. But honestly, it doesn’t have to be. The three things I always try to include in my meals: Protein, produce, and high fiber, whole ingredient carbohydrates. Make it even easier by just throwing it all in a blender for a smoothie! Here's one of my favorite recipes. One of my go to's when baby girl was breastfeeding. (You can omit brewers yeast if not currently breastfeeding.)
Plan for 3 days at a time. I used to try to prep my meals a week at a time. But I found by the fourth or fifth day, I was either tired of the taste, or the prepped food was getting kind of old. So, if you are planning to prep for the week, plan to prep your meals on Sunday and Wednesday. Even if that means just chopping veggies, hard boiling eggs, or sautéing some ground turkey, planning for 3 days at a time keeps things fresh, keeps things interesting, and will make life a whole lot simpler.
Don’t wait till you’re starving to eat. If you’re already starving, then you’ve waited too long. Your body is already freaking out and is telling you that you need to consume everything and anything ASAP. We don’t want to get to this point. When our bodies go into starvation mode, it doesn’t matter what you choose to eat because at that point our bodies are just trying to survive. Most often, this results in storing anything and everything as fat. If you regularly let yourself get to this point, try setting an alarm on your phone for a small snack or meal. Some people like the idea of eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day. I usually tend to be somewhere around 4-5 per day. Find what works for you.
Consider a multivitamin and probiotic. For well-balanced nutrition and digestion, I recommend finding a good daily vitamin and probiotic. Think of it as just another way to show your body a little bit more love!
Enjoy the food you’re choosing to eat. This is a big one. Maybe even the biggest one. You must enjoy your food. It must taste good. It must make you feel good. Don’t mistake eating healthily with bland, boring food. Because if you’re doing it right, it will be vibrant, full of flavor, and anything but boring!
Eat well my friends. Be well.
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