There are certain cliches in the fitness industry that have been around probably just about as long as people have been exercising and trying to eat better. If you’ve been in this business long enough, I know you’ve shared in the lamentation of the yearly season of new fitness enthusiasts and “professionals” who spout these tired diatribes as if they were the first people to ever utter such sentiments. At the end of the day many of these supposed “truths” amount to nothing more than bumper sticker sayings applied to fitness. Things like “abs are made in the kitchen,” or “eat clean, train dirty!” are the declarations of the neophytic.
It’s motivation, bro.
One of the statements we often hear is the chiding of those who indulge in foods that are fairly universally considered to be “unhealthy” being accompanied by diet soda. “Whats the point?” I’ve heard many fitness trainers and hardcore gym goers ask, often in sarcastic tones, mocking anyone who makes any attempt whatsoever to limit their gluttony. While I’m not condoning eating massive amounts of processed foods or having a regular intake of diet soda, I think the scenario exposes a fundamental flaw in mainstream logic regarding fitness and nutrition. The thought behind it, is that if you’re willing to eat a massive caloric surplus of highly processed foods, what’s a little extra few calories from a soda, in other words, why bother getting the “diet” version?
There is however, a massive difference, especially when expanded over the long term. For example, lets say a person eats at Subway 3 times a week, we’ll call this person, Jane. Jane is overweight, but her nutritional habits have been mostly the same over the last year, a time which she has gained a lot of her extra weight, which has stalled as of late. When she eats at Subway she always gets a large sub, with two cookies, and a diet soda. Not exactly what you might call a “healthy” lunch. Now we’ve identified that Jane is eating regularly at her caloric “maintenance.” That means any increase or decrease in calories would result in weight gain or loss. Now let’s say that one day Jane decides that she’s going to swap out her diet coke for the regular version. At 20oz a pop, that’s an additional 240 calories a day, at 3 times a week an additional 720 calories a week, and an extra 2,900 a month. As many of you may have heard a pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories, so you can see how it wouldn’t take long for our dear Jane to start packing the pounds on even more just making a small change like switching from diet soda to non-diet.
But I’m not here to talk to you about the importance of drinking diet soda. What I really want to shine some light on is the attitude that once a single “unhealthy” choice is made, that all of your other choices are irrelevant. You know what I’m talking about, it’s called a binge. Google defines the word as “A short period of time devoted to indulging to excess, especially in terms of food or alcohol.” And according to their data the word is being used more than ever, and if I had to guess, I would say that’s because it’s become a bigger problem now than it used to be, in part because of how readily available calorically dense food is to us.
Here’s another cliche you’re probably sick of hearing: Everything in moderation. That one happens to have just a bit more truth to it than some of the others. Does the best diet in the world include things like doughnuts, poptarts, candies, fried foods, etc…? No, it does not. But all of those things exist, and you probably enjoy eating a few of them too, which means you probably will enjoy eating them from time to time. The good news is that if you don’t go overboard you can eat those foods without it devastating your plan, ruining your training, guilt-tripping yourself, and creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
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At Arkitect, we promote a whole food diet. Meats, fruits, vegetables, home cooked meals, and minimal supplementation. Why? Because those foods are nutrient dense, and will help you recover
from your workouts, have better sleep and digestion, and just be your best bang for your buck, but when it comes to body composition, the biggest factor is your calorie and macronutrient amounts. You can over eat on whole, unprocessed foods and gain weight (though it can be hard to do because they are usually more filling), just as you can eat a diet that includes “unhealthy” foods but lose weight if you’re at a caloric deficit. The key is getting the right macro and micronutrients. If I’m supposed to eat 300g of carbohydrate a day, and it’s just before bed and I have 30g of carbs left, it’s not going to make much of a difference if I have a a couple of cookies or an apple, especially if I’ve already had adequate amount of micronutrient intake and fiber throughout the day.
Gotta make sure it fits your macros…
On the flip side, if I ate all 300g of carbs in the form of peanut butter cups, I’d probably be stuck in the bathroom all night, and be on the fast track to diabetes. But all too often a “cheat meal” turns into a “cheat day” and then a “cheat weekend” and then the weekend bleeds into the week. There you are driving to work, you overslept because you feel like crap from all the junk you put in your body over the last two days so you had to skip breakfast. “I’ll just get a sandwich at the drive thru” you tell yourself, and while you’re there you decide to get a doughnut too, because hey, you just spent a whole weekend thrasing your body with thousands of calories, what the heck difference does one extra doughnut make? That’s when you get to work only to find out that it’s Jim’s birthday, and someone brought cake. “Well, let’s be honest” you think, “I had a doughnut for breakfast, this day is obviously wasted.” and you stuff in a couple pieces of cake. All the fat and sugar from the breakfast sandwich and doughnut, coupled with the cake keeps you pretty well bloated for thru the afternoon, until you get out of work, then suddenly a massive hunger pang hits you. It’s bad because the fat has finally cleared your gut, and the quick digesting sugar doesn’t satiate you at all. You panick, you start to think about what you have at home, and how long it’s going to take you to cook everything, so you tell yourself “I’ll just get something through the drive-thru tonight, and tomorrow I’ll get back on track…”
But your body doesn’t take the weekends off, so neither should you. Weekends constitute about 25% of the total days in a month. Imagine if you made 25% less money, would that be a big deal to you? Now imagine how only following your nutritional plan 75% of the time vs. 100% can effect your results. We believe in tracking your food intake. Alone, that doughnut, or that cake, or even that double cheeseburger meal at the drive-thru won’t ruin your diet, and if you had bothered to track your food over the weekend, and worked in those “unhealthy” foods rather than just saying “it’s all bad so what’s the point of keeping track,” that binge may not have happened. I can tell you from personal experience how well this works….
Recently on my 30th birthday my friends and I got together for a 5 hour whale watch off the coast of Gloucester, MA. My nutrition had been going well after a long break of taking care of myself to devote time to getting Arkitect off the ground. I didn’t want to ruin the hard work I’d put in over the last couple of weeks with one day going overboard (pun intended). And trust me, one day of bingeing can negate a couple weeks worth of work. My friends had brought all of the foods they know that I love: Peanut butter cups, licorice, pastries, sour cream and cheddar potato chips, etc… and I ate ALL of those things, but what I didn’t do was eat until I physically couldn’t fit anything else into my stomach. Instead, I ate mindfully portioning everything out based on the serving sizes listed on the packaging, and then tracking my food. The result was coming a little short on my protein, coming very close on my carbs, and staying well within my caloric limit, and of course waking up the next day about a half pound lighter than I was the day before.
Think of nutrition like breaking out of prison by digging a tunnel with a spoon. It’s not any one day of scraping away at those concrete walls that makes the difference…but being patient and consistent, and before you know it you’ve made a small dent, and then a small dent turns into a big one, and before you know it, you’ve got your tunnel. Every time you have a “cheat day” in which you eat whatever you want, that’s like filling the whole you just dug with plaster. But fitting “unhealthy” foods in to your nutrition while still staying within your calories and macros is like digging a tunnel with a dull spoon. It may not be as effective, but at least you’re still moving forward.
If you need help with your nutrition, let one of our nutrition experts guide you to a healthier, happier body. Contact us today for a free consultation.