I got into fitness late. I was 27 and skinny. Not skinny-fat, just skinny. Like, my BMI was in the low single digits, skinny. But, I wanted to make a change, so I started working out and focusing on what I ate. At the time, I knew next-to-nothing about exercise and even less about nutrition. Despite that, I was in the gym 6 days a week doing something and I tried to eat right. Through a process of determination and dumb-luck, I was able to make some progress.
Fast forward 8 years and what was once daunting and foreign has now become my profession. I’ve learned more about fitness and nutrition than that scrawny newbie thought possible. Even then, there are some rules that skinny 27-year-old stumbled on that still work today.
If you find nutrition overwhelming, if you’re not sure what food advertising to believe and what to ignore, if you’ve bounced from one diet to another, or if your biggest challenge is knowing what to eat and what not to eat, stick with these simple rules:
Make small, sustainable changes
You’re not a rollercoaster, so stop treating your approach to diet like one. Enough with the 21 day fixes and 30 day challenges. Although they mean well and are presented as a way to “kick-start” healthy living, they’re usually not realistic for a long-term diet strategy, meaning there’s very often a backslide once the challenge is over. Instead, make a small change and stick with it until is becomes routine. Then pick another small change and stick with that until it becomes routine. Make enough of these small changes and pretty soon you’ll be eating well enough that won’t have to worry about the next diet challenge.
Avoid the obvious garbage
Despite what you might see in food advertising, if you’re trying to lose weight, there are some really obvious foods you should stay away from. Period.
Soda – Regular, Diet, Sugar Free, Zero Calorie, Whatever, don’t do it.
Candy, Cookies, Cake, Milkshakes and other sweets.
Potato Chips, Crackers and other junk food.
Burgers, Fries, Pizza, Fried Chicken and other fast food.
No one needs to tell you to stay away from this stuff, but we’re doing it anyway. You might hear things like “it’s okay in moderation” or “if it fits your macros.” But if your goal is weight loss or to hit a target body fat percentage, eating this nonsense will stall your progress at best or potentially cause a backslide.
And the worst part is that rarely do you consume one of these obvious foods in isolation. That’s why McDonald’s packages it’s crap in meals. You can get a 2,000 calorie gut buster in one sitting with a burger, fries and a coke. Just don’t.
If you find yourself eating something off the list above, go back to point 1 and cut it out of your diet. Focus on making just that one change. Do it until it becomes routine.
Cut out High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
I know what you’re thinking. “Here we go again with the High Fructose Corn Syrup,” or “I just read something online that said HFCS isn’t any worse than regular sugar.” Fair enough. There have been numerous studies on the subject, for and against HFCS. And sure, in super small doses, your body may not respond any differently to HFCS than any other type of sweetener. We’re not here to debate the science; we’re here to keep it simple. And the simple fact is nearly everything that you probably SHOULDN’T eat has HFCS in it AND almost nothing you SHOULD eat has it. So this seems pretty simple, right? Avoiding HFCS means you’re going to eliminate a lot of stuff you shouldn’t eat anyway. Keep it simple. Avoid the crap. And if there’s ever a question, just err on the side of caution and avoid it.
This is where I see people struggle more than any other. When you’re at home, you control what you eat, what you keep in the house, etc. But what happens when you travel? Or when you have a work lunch? What about vacations? Or holidays? The key to staying on track when you’re not in control is planning ahead.
When you travel, bring healthy snacks with you. Whey Protein Powder, Raw Almonds, and a handful of Quest Bars or Larabars make excellent travel snacks. When you’re on the road for vacation or work, do some research before you eat out. Find a place that offers healthy options. At worst, you can always go to a nearby grocery store and get veggies and hummus with deli meat. It’s not the most convenient or ideal, but it’s worlds better than any fast food option.
Before big holiday meals, drink a protein shake or eat a healthy snack. This will keep you satiated and naturally cause you to take smaller portions. Plus, it’ll curb the desire to go back for seconds on the pecan pie.
What are the biggest reasons people eat fast food? Convenience and cost. But what if cooking at home could be just as efficient and cost effective? It can be if you meal prep. Planning ahead isn’t just for travel and holidays. Simply your life by planning your meals ahead for the week. Cook big portions that will keep for a few days and never be stuck thinking fast food is a good option.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes for meal prepping. If you have a favorite, share it in the comments.
Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
Makes about 2 13x9 baking dishes, cook one, freeze one. Boom. Easy.
3 spaghetti squash (cooked)
2 lbs ground mild italian sausage
1 yellow onion
3-4 large tomatoes, sliced
1 5.5 oz can tomato paste
lots of fresh basil
1 tbsp minced garlic
salt & pepper
- cooked spaghetti squash
- sliced tomatoes
- fresh chopped basil
- salt and pepper
Stupid Easy Chicken Breast
Use this during the week for fajitas, lettuce wraps, salads, whatevs
Preheat oven to 425. Oil a cookie sheet with a thin layer of olive oil. Score the top of the chicken breast with a sharp knife. Season both sides of the chicken breast with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Place on the oiled baking sheet and bake for 30 min. Done. Stupid easy.
If you feel like getting fancy. Cover the top of the chicken breast with raw bacon before baking. Holy crap.
Flank Steak Roulade
This is a little more time consuming but it's really good. And it keeps well for a few meals.
Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin
Here's one we do quite a bit. Get the whole pork loin, not the smaller tenderloin. Preheat oven to 400. Score the fatty side of the loin. Rub both sides with a BBQ seasoning (brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper). Wrap with Bacon! (I cut the bacon strips in half and cover only the top half of the loin - the fatty side that you scored). Season the bacon with bbq rub. Place in a dutch oven or baking dish. Bake fat side up at 400 for 55-60 min. Remove, rest, and slice into pork chops.
Sweet Potato Souffle
This is one of our staple side dishes.
Another side dish that's super tasty. One of our favorites.
Got a favorite? Let us know!
NASM - CPT, CES