“Hi. My name is Lo and I’m a paleo-pescatarian.” Not really…and in fact, I don’t even really know what that would look like, but disclosing your “diet affiliation” is the 2020 version of a handshake. Even our first interactions with new groups of people inevitably lead to (heated) discussions about someone’s stance on bread. In the next breath, you’ll learn who is a self-taught nutrition guru thanks to their Netflix documentary binge on vegan diets. Take these all-to-common conversations as a perfect example:
- “What do you think of the #keto diet? My sister swears by it – she lost 15 lbs, but I just feel miserable, bloated and constipated.”
- “A doctor once told me too much protein is bad for your kidneys, so I went vegan. But I’m actually gaining weight and can’t sleep.”
- “I read how eating beans reduces acne so I started eating beans for every snack and meal, but just for 2 weeks. I don’t want to do this forever.”
- ”I’m SO good all day, but at night, I just want all the sweets! I always drink a sparkling water, chew a piece of sugar-free gum, and sometimes allow myself a pint of Halo Top – but it’s only like 100 calories so it’s fine.”
The concept of basic nutrition practices has been thrown out the window, and many of us struggle to identify what to eat, when to eat it, and how to feel about it. All of this confusion leads us down a frustrating path of one failed diet to the next. But that ends today. There is one over-arching reason why your diet fails you every time. You try to outsmart your metabolism by bypassing the basics. You have not earned the right to diet until you pass “Master Your Maintenance 101.“
So sit down, grab your notebooks because “Master Your Maintenance 101” class is in session.
Topic #1: Understand Macronutrients
Your metabolism is a well-oiled machine that constantly adapts to the internal & external environment. It will not under any circumstances allow you to threaten it’s survival so it doesn’t take kindly to drastic changes in food intake. If you want your diet to work, you have to first learn to give your body what it wants – CONSISTENT ENERGY.
We know energy as calories. Calories come in three different forms called macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Our bodies use each macronutrient strategically and too much or too little of a certain category will cause perceivable issues. Carbohydrates are our body’s most readily available energy source so limit them too much as you’ll notice a decreased exercise performance, and overconsumption will lead to inflammation. Fats add flavor to our foods and are essential for optimal hormone production. Low fat diets can lead to sex hormone & thyroid issues, whereas too much fat can cause chronic digestive issues. Protein is essential for muscle maintenance and repair. Deficient protein intakes blunt recovery from exercise and decreased metabolic rate.
The human body responds best to a balanced meal that has each of the three macronutrients represented.
Yes. You read that right. Before you go jumping on some low-carb-keto-bandwagon, or some vegan juice cleanse, your body must feel that is getting enough of each macronutrient on a daily basis just to operate at peak capacity. There are a number of different ways to calculate your maintenance macronutrients, but the most simple is Total Daily Energy Expenditure calculator tools, like this one linked here.
Topic #2: Optimize Food Quality
Once you are eating a protein, carbohydrate, and fat at each meal, you can begin optimizing the quality of each of these food groups. We can all understand that an Oreo cookie and an apple both fall in the ‘carbohydrate’ category – but both offer very different responses to our body when consumed.
When choosing the best sources of carbohydrates, find the fiber. Fiber is a specific type of carbohydrate that is known for it’s benefits in lowering cholesterol, balancing blood sugar, and keeping digestion running smoothly. Opt for sources found in nature such as fresh vegetables, whole fruit, oats, potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, lentils, and beans.
There are also some sources of fat that are better than others. The best types of dietary fats come from wild caught fish, nuts / seeds, avocados, coconut, and olives. Some fats cause high levels of inflammation in the body, such as fried foods, canola oils, soybean oils, and any partially hydrogenated oils. Minimize or eliminate packaged processed foods like chips, crackers, cookies, cured deli meats, and even non-natural peanut butters.
The best proteins come as close the source as possible. Depending on where you live, buy local meat and fish, or shop a local butcher. Chicken, pork, beef, fish, and eggs – take your pick and consume a palm-size serving 3-4x/day. Protein bars, powders, deli meats, and canned fish should play a very small (or non-existent) role in your overall protein intake in a given day.
Topic #3: Fuel Up at Regular Intervals
The third and final lesson in “Master Your Maintenance 101” is the concept of meal timing. Once you are eating balanced macronutrient meals from ideal sources 3-4x/day, we can now consider how to use strategic meal spacing to manage blood sugar and energy throughout your day.
The key to mastering weight maintenance and overall health lies in managing blood sugar. To keep things simple, understand that we want to minimize blood sugar spikes and blood sugar crashes as much as possible. We minimize spikes (and therefore insulin) by eating balanced macronutrient meals. We can minimize blood sugar crashes (and unnecessary cortisol) by eating a balanced macronutrient meal every 3-4 hours throughout our day.
So….when can you safely diet? I recommend spending a minimum of 12 weeks learning how to consistently consume balanced macronutrient meals every 3-4 hours before starting any dietary strategy that restricts a particular macronutrient. Why? Because you will know what your baseline looks like and feels like. That way if / when you try a diet and you feel like trash two weeks in, you always know how to transition back to maintenance eating.
Dieting is not a goal to be achieved. Not everyone needs a diet. Everyone first needs education, and you need to learn how to consistently fuel your body with protein from animal sources AND vegetables for fiber AND carbohydrates for energy AND fat for hormone balance. Learn to live (and love) how your body looks and feels when you “Master your Maintenance.” Then you can explore other dietary strategies and feel confident transitioning back to the maintenance you mastered at any time!