Are you ‘watching what you eat’, or simply, not eating?

In conversation with many people, I hear the phrases, “I watch what I eat,” or “I know how to eat ‘clean’.” I always listen with skepticism, but I resist my righting reflex and probe further to find out exactly what people “know.” The reason I listen with skepticism is not because I think people are not smart enough or completely unaware of what they are doing. I listen with skepticism because learning how to eat for optimal health, optimal body composition, and optimal performance takes practice, and you may or may not already know this, but it is not practice that makes perfect nutrition, but perfect-ish practice makes perfect nutrition! Overall, it is a life long journey, and it is well outside of the norm for people to practice great nutritional habits consistently.

Additionally, humans are creatures of habit and most often products of their environment. One thing that I say to my clients, and to myself when I find myself doing what someone else is doing, is that if there is one thing that is empirically proven it is that we do what others are doing. Therefore, how can I assume someone who is a member of a society that is overwhelmingly unhealthy with continually rising numbers of obesity and associated metabolic disorders “knows how to” do anything associated with good nutrition?

While reading through the Precision Nutrition Success Guide, they mentioned that the idea of “watching what you eat” has become interchangeable with simply eliminating certain foods from your diet. In my experiences, starchy carbs such as breads, pastas, rice, and oats are eliminated, and subsequently weight is lost. SUCCESS! This makes sense, people take out the supposedly “bad foods”, and they lose weight. Is it because they started “watching the bad food intake” or because they just stopped eating as much. Without a doubt it is the latter, and the reason a person would lose weight by doing this is simply because she would be following the first rule of good nutrition which is controlling energy intake. There is no magic there.

The problem with elimination strategies is that nothing replaces those lost calories or “bad” calories, so although body composition may have been positively affected, do you think cutting out macronutrients and simply eating less food is going to enhance health and performance? One of the things I hear from clients and gym goers all the time is that they desire more energy. Do you think cutting out the one macronutrient that our body derives the majority of cellular energy from is going to cause higher energy levels?! Indeed, to lose body weight you MUST be at a caloric defecit. In other words, you have to eat less than you are currently eating right now, and simply resorting to cutting out carbohydrates, in the form of bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, and cereals, is an easy way to do that. This elimination strategy needs zero thought or understanding of any great nutritional habits; only will power is needed!

I have to break it to you, our will power is a limited resource, and carbohydrates are extremely important for our energy levels. So your chances of reaching your goals and sustaining them by only cutting out carbohydrates or any other singular macronutrient are very slim.  Over all, it suffices to say that simply eliminating something like carbohydrates from your daily diet is not the entire answer for optimal health, optimal body composition, and definitively not optimal performance. Additionally, carbohydrates are not inherently bad for every single human being. Those starchy carbohydrates eaten at the right times and amounts can provide us with nutrients and mental satisfaction that are essential to our health, muscle growth, and mental state of being as well.

Here is what I suggest you should do:

  1. Stop listening to mass media sources about nutrition strategies. More times than not they are just down right sickening to listen to.
  2. Go to precisionnutrition.com and order a copy of the Precision Nutrition System and Gourmet Nutrition books. Yes, I am whole heartedly promoting these as sole resources for the lay public, personal training and strength coaches alike. No gimmicks, just well put together strategies by unbiased, true professionals.
  3. Find a reputable and qualified strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer that care more about movement than bicep size, and making people throw up.
  4. Stop thinking fitness has a final destination. If you don’t and if you do reach the destination, you will lose much of what you gained because you did not plan on making the journey a lifestyle, and you did not engrain the positive behaviors you adopted during the destination.     

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