About 18 months ago someone had imparted on me a savvy bit of nutritional advice. It wasn’t about what kinds of foods you should eat and which you should avoid. It didn’t mention protein, carbs, or fat. In fact, it didn’t really focus on food at all. By focusing on people, the advice carried a bit more weight. And here it is, in its one-sentence glory:
If you eat the same way as everyone else, you’ll continue to look like everyone else.
At the time I was pretty much the average American in appearance: just under six feet tall and slightly overweight. Clearly I wasn’t going to grow any more at age 28. But I could trim plenty of that unnecessary weight. And so began my transition from eating like everyone else to eating sensibly. The process took a while, and it got a bit too extreme at times*, but 18 months later I’m trimmer than ever. My bodyfat is near 10 percent, and I’ve added plenty of muscle in the process. While exercise has played a significant role in this transformation, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without dietary changes.
*I’m not talking bulimia or anything. The extreme part was going the better part of two months without any bread, rice, or other basic carbohydrates. Trust me when I say that this tactic is simply unsustainable unless everyone else around you is eating similarly.
As I mentioned earlier, preparing meals is one of my favorite work-from-home benefits. If I had been working in an office, I’m not sure I would have had the time or resources to prepare the meals that I have during the last 18 months. But it does go to show that at-home workers do have an advantage in this regard. We can more easily control our diets, since our lunchrooms are our kitchens.
After months and months of research and experimenting, I’ve come across what I think is a pretty sensible food blueprint. The foods are pretty basic, so you can substitute nearly anything you want. It’s the tenets that are important. Stick to them and I guarantee that you’ll change the way you look even without the aid of exercise. Just remember the words above: if you eat the same way as everyone else, you’ll look like everyone else.
One thing I have never experimented with, nor do I ever intend to experiment with, is vegetarianism. I love meat and will not apologize for it. That’s not to say that just any meat will do. For instance, I don’t buy ground beef at my regular grocery store, because it contains disgusting pink slime. Whenever possible, in fact, I try to buy grass-fed, free-range meat products. They’re just treated better, so you’re getting a superior cut of meat.
I try to eat a pound of animal flesh per day. Obviously you’ll adjust up or down, depending on your weight and fitness level. But a pound of lean meat per day is plenty. If you can’t stomach that much meat, or if you’d just like to avoid eating that much, you can supplement with protein shakes. The point is to take in a high level of complete proteins, and nothing supplies that in the same way as animal flesh.
Salads are great for so many reasons. The greens provide essential vitamins. The vegetables provide nutrients and are a good source of fiber. Peppers, one of my favorite salad additions, contain plenty of potassium. Plus, you’re getting all those veggies in raw form, so there aren’t any nutrients cooked out.
Not only do salads provide essential nutrients, but they’re also filling and super low in calories. If you stick to an olive-oil-based dressing, you won’t have any problems with fat content or calories. If you eat a salad before a meal, you’ll eat less of the actual meal. If you eat a salad in place of a meal, you’ve replaced a potentially high-calorie dish with a low one. If you’re serious about trimming down, you will jump on the salad train.
You should be eating at least one salad per day. Sometimes that’s plenty. I’ve tried doing a salad for lunch followed by a pre-dinner salad, but it was just too much. So figure out what works for you. The more of your diet you replace with salad, the better off you’ll be.
Fruit and nuts
Fruit contains sugar, yes. But those are natural sugars that your body can break down more easily than processed sugars. I strive for one serving of fruit per day, but find it easy to fit in more. The trick: smoothies. I put a cup of frozen blueberries and a banana in my pre-workout shake, so that takes care of two servings right there. With my post-workout meal I also try to have an apple, a few clementines, or some grapes. That’s a reasonable amount of fruit that anyone can fit into any diet.
Nuts are a bit tougher. While nuts in general are healthy, there are pitfalls. For instance, raw nuts are better for you than roasted, but some people have a hard time stomaching raw nuts. They’re not very tasty, and they can be tough to chew. Typically I’ll go for an off-brand dry roasted or smoked nut, usually almonds. Even then, avoid brands such as Emerald Nuts; I’m not sure what they do, but their almonds are so addictive that I can’t imagine they’re very good for you.
(Oh, and apparently avocados are fruits. I eat a half avocado every day with breakfast.)
Breads and others
No, I don’t cut bread out of my diet. But I do watch the kind of bread I ingest. If it’s a typical bread loaf, it’s whole wheat and preferably double fiber. Even then, I try to keep daily consumption to a slice at most. Lately, however, I’ve replaced my bread serving with Mission brand carb control tortillas. They’re 120 calories each and have something like 14 grams of fiber. They’re great for breakfast burritos.
Typically I’ll limit breads to morning meals. Sometimes I’ll have tacos or turkey burgers for dinner, which means bread. But that happens once per week tops, so it’s not a big deal. I’ve read that your body can process carbs better in the morning, but I’m not sure I buy that. As long as most of my carbs are consumed before working out, I feel good about it.
Oh, and I also supplement my diet with fish oil capsules and flax seed oil. The fish oil comes early in the day, with breakfast. With my salad I have two tablespoons of flaxseed oil on workout days, and one tablespoon on off-days. The omega-3 fatty acids in both, and lignans in flaxseed oil, provide nutrients that are often absent from our diets.
It’s tough to follow even a basic meal plan like this 100 percent of the time. We go out with friends, we enjoy drinks, and yes, we like dessert. If you stick to a blueprint like this 80 percent of the time, though, you’ll be fine. Schedule a day per week where you eat whatever you want. It will benefit you both physically and psychologically. But the other 80 percent of the time eat sensibly. That is, if you want to avoid looking like everyone else.