Many of us have come across people who have lost weight and kept it off for a long time (at least 2 years). Some have lost twenty pounds and some have lost two hundred pounds. Barring any sort of medical procedure, most of these individuals will tell you that they changed their eating habits and embarked on an exercise journey. In other words, they made it all part of a lifestyle change.
If we use exercise as an analogy to nutrition, you most likely wouldn’t go from sitting on the couch to all of a sudden training for a marathon. I’ve seen this process start and end very quickly with many, many people as they get frustrated or possibly hurt by trying to do too much too soon and now following a process and consistent habits. We can start by building a habit of walking 30 minutes every day. Eventually that 30-minute walk turns into a walk/jog, then a full on jog. Add in some bodyweight strength training and then that builds into a habit of training with free weights 3 days a week and viola! We have the foundation for a very good exercise program that can be built upon for marathon training.
Now let’s look at nutrition. Jane (or Joe) has just finished off the last of the pumpkin pie (now their second piece of the day) and washes it down with a glass of wine, or two. Normally not a big deal on Thanksgiving Day, but it’s now March! They vow that this is the end and tomorrow starts the new “diet” of fasting in the morning, measuring out all of their food, taking fish oil caps, taking cream out of their coffee and not eating anything after 8 pm. This looks very much like the person trying to go from zero exercise to running their first marathon. No foundation of good habits and processes to build upon.
Cleanses, intermittent fasting, fasting (for more than 16 hours), carb cycling and other “diet” strategies have their place in a healthy program and relationship with food. Most of the time these strategies are used to increase athletic performance or decrease body fat (below what is considered a healthy range). These approaches can last from a couple of days to 3 months depending on what you are looking to achieve. The problem lies where we try to do these approaches as a “lifestyle”. The long-term psychological and physical side effects can be extremely detrimental. These include but are not limited to:
- Increased cortisol levels
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Inability to recover from exercise
- Loss of hair (or gain in places you don’t want it)
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Decreased sex drive
- Lower thyroid function
- The list goes on
Our recommendation is to use advanced techniques listed below and when you have mastered the basics and do it consistently, then, and only then should you practice with other advanced areas of nutrition and do it for a short time period to see how your body and mind respond.
Food Choices – eat mostly non-processed foods with at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruit throughout the day. Meet basic macro and micronutrient needs by getting lean protein, plants and healthy fats at every meal. Stay hydrated by drinking mostly non-caloric beverages throughout the day.
Exercise – Do 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days per week. 3 days should be breaking a sweat. Do resistance training.
Recovery – Sleep 7-9 hours per night
Life Skills/Environment – Plan and prepare meals, establish clear priorities and boundaries (no, eating birthday cake for your bosses birthday is not a priority). Create and maintain a supportive environment. Make thoughtful, informed choices (if it’s coming out of a box or package – you better know what those ingredients are). Ensure that good options are available and convenient.
Mindset and Psychology - Have a growth mindset – know that where you are today didn’t happen overnight and where you want to go won’t either, work to continually improve. Repeat a quality process – find something that works well and see if you can continue to repeat that in other areas or improve upon it.
Once we have these foundational processes in place, we’ll have set ourselves up for success for the long term. We’ll have built a process of habits that lead to long-term health and wellness.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefor, is not an act, but a habit”. – Aristotle
If you’d like more information or would like to learn about how we run our nutrition program, Precision Nutrition, please reach out to us.