Paleo, The Zone, The Whole30…what am I supposed to be eating?
Paging through health and fitness magazines, checking websites and reading books may lead you to think that nutrition science changes daily. Eggs are out, eggs are in….fat is out, fat is in. How are we supposed to know what to eat? Nutrition seems to contradict itself for two main reasons. First, research in this field is constantly changing and makes us aware how food works in our bodies. Second, this research is often picked apart with choice pieces highlighted in the media without regard to what conclusions the researchers came to. If someone tells you that “this” or “that” diet is the best and the way you should eat, always pause to consider who knows your body the best…the answer is you!
Paleo, The Zone, and The Whole30 are diets that may sound familiar to you, especially within the CrossFit community. Maybe you have even tried one or two. What was it like being on this diet? Was it easy? Hard? Impossible? Doable for a few weeks? The difficult part about diets is that they usually aren’t sustainable. You may wonder why it matters whether a diet is sustainable when it comes to goals of weight loss, muscle gain, and feeling amazing and confident in your own body. Not one diet is the best, not one diet works for everyone regardless of what proponents of the diet may say. Instead of thinking diet, think lifestyle. Do you still want to be counting calories or thinking about blocks when you are 70? What is stopping you from eating the foods you love and enjoying your meals right now? When you support your body with a variety of nutrient dense whole foods, you don’t need to count calories or food groups, you get to just eat!
In the end, some people just want to know what they should be eating. For this I say, examine what your plate looks like. Does it look like something humans would have consumed not only hundreds, but thousands of years ago? Our bodies have been engineered to thrive on foods we could harvest and hunt from the earth, not open from a package in the grocery store. A whole foods diet provides our bodies with the fuel it needs to get through the day, along with the WOD! I use the list below to help me choose foods that keep me feeling great:
- How many ingredients does your food have? The less the better (one is best!)
Egg = egg
Protein bar = whey protein isolate, natural flavor, too many to list!
- Can you pronounce, or do you recognize these ingredients? If not, stay clear.
- Can you imagine yourself picking the food from the earth? It’s hard to imagine picking Oreos from a tree and pulling Mac & cheese boxes from the ground.
- How much of your plate is plant based? I try to aim for 50-75% – think vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Lean meats can be a great source of protein, but can take the place of important nutrients from plants.
- Eat the rainbow. The colors of foods indicate the different phytonutrients they contain; these colors all have beneficial effects within your body and decrease your risk for all types of illness and disease. Concentrate on dark, leafy greens, red/orange veggies & fruits, and dark blue/purple veggies & fruits.
To be clear, I do believe many of the foods that certain diets promote are very healthful and beneficial to our bodies. But following a “diet” can be restrictive, and can make it seem like foods not in this diet are not healthful for our bodies. When you restrict foods and calories, your body naturally craves them, because in its infinite wisdom it knows what it is missing. You may be able to reduce the amount you eat now, but your body keeps tabs. When you are stressed or in a social situation with an abundance of delicious looking and smelling food, your body may be shouting at you and resisting may prove too hard. If this sounds like you now, or in the past, try another approach, kick the diets and start exploring all types of whole foods mindfully, with intention and attention.