Nutrition, like fitness, is a heavy swamp to wade through, particularly if you’re going it on your own. There are so many different approaches, techniques, diets, “lifestyles” and so much contradictory information, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, confused, and possibly give yourself a case of ADD, where by you will jump from diet to diet in search of results. At Arkitect we focus on personalized training programs for the individual based on their needs, goals, and schedule, so it makes sense that our approach to nutrition follows suit. There are no two people who are completely the same, your age, body weight, body composition (fat to muscle ratio), exercise level, exercise intensity, height, gender and previous nutritional habits all play a role in what your body needs for fuel. We make specific recommendations as to the amount of calories, carbs, fats, and proteins each client should eat, and highly encourage that clients track those numbers and hit those numbers with 90% accuracy or better, below we’ll discuss why we do what we do, and more importantly how it works. Please keep in mind this article is written under the premise of weight loss as a goal, as that is what the majority of clients/exercisers are after.
Food Quantity vs. Food Quality
This has been a huge debate in nutrition since the advent of highly processed food. Humans love to label things, and food is no different. Many people villify foods as “good” or “bad” or “healthy” or “unhealthy” or as old school fitness gurus love to say “clean” or “unclean/dirty” foods. The idea being that the unhealthy foods make you fatter, and the healthy foods make you leaner, or at the very least don’t add to your fatness. This has been proven to mostly false. I say mostly, because some foods are more easily converted into stored fat than others, but this doesn’t mean eating those guarantees fat gain, it is still dependent on a whole host of other factors, most importantly: Does your body need the calories for anything else at the time of digestion?
Sadly there is little left in our food supply that hasn’t been in some way tainted by human hands. Fruits have been bred to be bigger, juicier, sweeter. Vegetables have also undergone a similar process, and have been treated with harsh pesticides, even when raised organically. Our chickens, cows, and other meat products are raised in inhumane conditions and fed unnatural diets, and are often treated with drugs like antibiotics to keep them alive while living in these sickening conditions. Things like orange juice that used to be the juice squeezed from oranges now have an ingredients list that includes preservatives, food dyes, and vitamins or minerals that were put into the juice through heavy processing. With that said it’s still important to eat a diet that consists of whole foods that are minimally processed.
Whole foods are more nutrient dense than those that are processed. While macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) play the biggest roles in our body composition, our micronutrient intake (vitamins and minerals) play a huge role in our body’s functions, our energy levels, and our general health. It is also much more difficult to overeat on whole foods. Processed foods are very calorie dense, meaning despite not being super filling they have tons of calories in them, which makes it easy to blow past your calorie and macro goals if you’re not paying attention.
Why People Think Their Special Diets Worked
There are a lot of different diet approaches out there. Vegetarians claim that meat is making us fat, and use their weight loss was a result of its removal. Low carb dieters swear that it’s the lack of carbs that did the trick, paleo people say it’s the lack of grains, detoxers say it’s the lack of solid foods, followers of the Standard American Diet claim that it’s the removal of dietary fats, and so on…But in reality all of these groups of people lose weight for the exact reason: They remove a food or food group from their diet, and typically don’t replace it with anything else which=reduction in calories. Studies have shown that a reduction in weight loss will occur in with a reduction of calories, regardless of where the reduction comes from. It’s important to note that while all fat loss is weight loss, not all weight loss is fat loss. Meaning that getting your macronutrient ratios correct will determine whether your weight loss is from a decrease fat tissue or muscle tissue.
According to a google search a typical can of soda has 69g of sugar in it. Let’s say Johnny drinks a can a day, and he reads an internet article about how bad sugar is for you and your health. Johnny decides that he’s not going to drink soda anymore. That means when Johnny stops drinking his soda, he’s consuming 279 less calories per day (as there are 4 calories per gram of sugar). There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of fat. So that means just by removing this one food item that takes Johnny less than 10 minutes to consume, he will lose about a half a pound a week. Johnny is thrilled with his weight loss after a few months of not consuming any soda, and starts telling all of his friends that sugar is the devil and is making everyone fat, but it wasn’t the sugar specifically, but the calories from the drink itself. This is a perfect example of why you can enjoy “unclean” foods while still achieving your body composition goals…but it requires you to be aware of what you’re eating and fitting those unhealthy foods into your daily allotted calories/macros. Change this example to someone removing meat from their diet, and the exact same scenario occurs. Reduction of calories and thus reduction of body weight.
Periodizing Your Nutrition
Periodization is a powerful training tool that plans incremental changes to keep your body progressing. If you bench press 150lbs for 3 sets of 5 reps every week, eventually you won’t make any progress. Your body will adapt to the work, and no training effect will be gained. So we periodize or “plan” for the stimulus to change. Maybe we increase the reps, or we increase the weight week by week. Nutrition works in exactly the same way. If you cut your calories to a fixed lower amount, you will lose weight, but eventually your body will adjust to that smaller amount and the weight loss will halt. What then? You can cut your calories more, however if they are already too low you won’t have much place to go. That’s why it is so incredibly important, if you’re trying to lose weight, to do it eating as many calories as you can. Many people hear “eat less than you burn to lose weight” and begin to aimlessly reduce the amount of food they eat. This can be dangerous because reducing your calories too much can trigger a hormonal response that suppresses your metabolism. Ever hear of someone gaining all of their weight back (or more) after they end a diet? That’s because when they resume eating in a “normal” way, their metabolism is so suppressed that it actually makes their normal eating a huge caloric surplus. This has been shown in studies, and scientists are still trying to understand how to best overcome this hurdle, but practical experience with people in fitness have shown that losing weight with the smallest caloric deficit is best. And this is also the exact reason many people gain weight when they begin to follow the guidelines of a knowledgeable coach. It has been my experience that most people under eat, the problem isn’t that they eat too much, but their metabolisms don’t work efficiently enough, and one of the best ways to boost your metabolism, is by eating more food. Only once we have repaired your metabolism, can we begin the process of creating a small caloric deficit to lose weight. If you try to cut your calories on a broken metabolism, you are in for a life time of frustration, and long term weight gain. We periodize your nutrition by fueling your body properly to rebuild your metabolism, then slowly and incrementally changing your calories/macros to keep weight loss going.
Obsessive vs. Aware
Many people say that counting your calories is obsessive, and people who weigh or measure their food are borderline clinically insane. They say that it’s unnatural to track your food like that. “I don’t want to be one of those people who is sitting there at a restaurant table on my phone seeing what I can or can’t eat for dinner,” is what a friend said to me recently. Last time I checked people didn’t want to be over weight, either. There is hardly anything “natural” left about our lives these days. Even the concept of exercise is unnatural. Exercise is synthetic human movement used to replace the movement we would do if we still were hunter/gatherers responsible for capturing our own food, building our own shelter, evading predators and environmental dangers…all of which consists of hard physical labor. But we don’t do those things any more, so we exercise to keep our bodies from falling apart. We have more food and more types of food available to us at any time in almost unlimited quantities, it only makes sense that we manage our intake and build an awareness of what we’re putting in our bodies. Saying that weighing your food is obsessive, is like saying it’s obsessive to count how much weight is on a barbell before you lift it. If you want specific results, be specific with your methods.
Long Term Success
A big problem with many diets is that when you come off of them, and go back to “normal” you gain all of the weight back, and that’s because these diets are not sustainable for the long term. It’s cliche, but nutrition is about lifestyle changes, not temporary fixes. It’s easier than ever be aware of exactly what you’re eating. Almost everything comes with a label on it so you can see exactly what’s in it, there are dozens of food tracking websites that have corresponding phone apps to log your intake. You can buy food scales that nearly fit in your pocket. Most food items can be searched and entered in a tracker in less than 30 seconds, and the more you follow this process, the more you learn about the food you’re eating, that’s why many people eventually find a healthy balance and intuitive approach that requires little to no effort on their part. It’s difficult to call tracking what you eat and striving to eat certain amounts a “diet” because it doesn’t really follow any specific rules other than the rules of science. Your body needs certain amounts of food to thrive, much in the way it needs a certain amount of sleep, oxygen, sunlight, etc… Macro tracking is merely the process of giving your body exactly what it needs.
Getting a Coach
Most people say they “know what healthy eating is” they just have a hard time doing it. In my 11 years of coaching, I can confidently say that’s not even close to the truth. Most people have NO idea what a proper nutrition plan looks like, because again, everyone has their own definition of what is healthy and what’s not. The best diet for you is the one that has you eating the right amounts of calories, carbs, fats and proteins, based on all the factors that make you, you. It’s difficult for people to stick to a nutrition plan because the methods they choose only work for a short period of time, and when results stop, so does motivation, and if you haven’t been in the game long enough to have solid dedication and discipline, you’re doomed without motivation. A good diet coach will teach you how to properly fuel your body while making the changes you want to see in your physique, but also help you find a happy and healthy balance in your life so you can enjoy the foods you like, and remove the guilt you feel when you eat them. If you need help with your nutrition, we offer our nutrition coaching services to our members and non-members.