“I eat so healthy”, she says.
And it’s true, she does.
About 5 years and 40kg ago, I would have been confused too.
The problem with ‘healthy’ and ‘clean’ eating
The first problem is the fact that these are words that don’t really mean anything, like ‘natural’. What is healthy food, anyway? What’s good for one person, isn’t going to be good for another person.
Personally, I have an issue with the idea of ‘clean’ eating just because it positions itself in a place of moral superiority (or seems to). If one thing is clean, then the other thing is dirty, right?
Okay, so even if I play the game and we put the food we are talking about into the ‘unprocessed’ category of food, or at least less processed – which will probably include meat, fish, vegetables, fruits but then I guess dairy, oils and grains are probably a grey area.
It’s not specific. So it’s hard to know if you are doing it, or not doing it, because it’s just so abstract.
Why a style of eating won’t get you to your goals
While not all people come in with the same goals, most of the time they can be boiled down to a few things:
- Better fueling/energy/performance for life or fitness
- Improvement in body composition
And that’s the problem. The basis of any goal is finding the right energy balance, which at a base level is you getting enough energy, but not getting more than you need or less than you need.
No style of eating is going to help you with that.
If you want to lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit.
If you want to maximise performance, you need to be eating to a calorie maintenance.
A style of eating can definitely help to support either of those goals, by making them easier to maintain, but that is it.
Once you’ve got your energy balance locked down, then you can start making sure your macro nutrients (protein, fats, carbohydrates) support your muscle mass, your activity and your hormones and that you are geeting enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to support your body as well.
The truth is, without tracking it you won’t know
I really believed I was eating a ‘healthy’, fairly balanced diet until my nutrition coach got me to track my food for two weeks without making any attempt at a behaviour change.
And that was an eye opener. Not only was I mindlessly eating a whole lot more than I thought, I was probably getting about half the protein we would ultimately be aiming for or less.
You think you know, until you write it down.
But there are things you can start with, even if you don’t want to track that are more beneficial than trying to eat ‘healthy’.
There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to track your food. Maybe it feeds into a disordered pattern that isn’t helpful, maybe you have other priorities right now, but whatever it is there are a few things you can do.
- Sit down to eat without your phone and without a device or watching TV. This is a whole lot harder than it sounds.
- Use some simple portion sizes for your meals (like making sure you are having a palm size serving of protein at every meal for women and two for men)
- Try adding in more vegetables to every meal
- Just drink more water
Marketing hype has sold us the idea that fat loss and performance is linked to a particular style, but it’s not true.
How often have you head that the secret to instant fat loss is keto or paleo or low carb or zero sugar or whatever the flavour of the week is? I’m betting a lot. And it’s attractive right, because nutrition is hard and someone is promising you a magic bullet. But the truth is, if your goal is fat loss everything works exactly the same way calorie deficit.
And a certain style of eating is definitely going to help you with that. In a fat loss phase I might start off having around 180g of carbohydrates per day (protein and fat stay pretty much constant because they are needed to maintain muscle and regulate hormones). If I’m eating calorie dense foods I’m going to run out of food for the day pretty quickly and I’m going to be starving.
I could eat a packet of chips with 50g carbohydrates and 20g fat which will keep me full for about 5 minutes, or I could have a huge bowl of tofu and vegetables with buckwheat noodles.
One of those things is more sustainable than the other.
But, I could also easily over-eat any ‘healthy’ or unprocessed food and gain weight on any style of eating too.
Match your eating to your goals, not the hype
You know how it’s often assumed that if you are thinner you must be healthier? This is the same thing. It might be ‘healthy’, but it also might not get you anywhere near where you want to go.