When we examine our health, there is an infinite list of things we can or would like to improve. However, you ought not lose sight of the forest for the trees. At the end of the day, you want to feel good. The foundation for your feeling good is your nutrition. When your nutrition is tight and your relationship with eating and drinking is healthy, everything else (sleeping, brain function, mental health, wantingness to exercise) falls into place.
There is a plethora of strategies, diets, and methods to “lose weight” or “get fit”. Keto or low-fat, vegan, Paleo or carnivore, intermittent fasting or six meals spread throughout the day… It’s easy to feel both inundated and conflicted. Although each of those strategies has its time and place, they’re often restrictive and unsustainable (especially if you’re just starting to devote a lot of mental energy to your nutrition and eating habits). Let’s take a more generalized approach and keep this simple. You eat to fuel your body so that you can live the life that you want. Would you consistently put low quality fuel in a Ferrari? No shot.
We unnecessarily complicate nutrition. Sustenance is straightforward. Humans need oxygen, water, and nutrients to survive. Seriously, that’s it.
Oxygen is crucial for many of the body’s chemical processes. The element “O” fuels our cells, and, thus, our bodies. Oxygen comes from breathing. We can all afford to learn how to do that a little better (long story, short: breathe through your nose and not your mouth), but we can check oxygen off for now.
Water is an essential component for proper function of basically all of your body’s systems. Think back to your August 2-a-days (sorry for the reminder). The amount of water and sweat shed into your cut-off tee-shirt during just one practice proves its necessity. H2O facilitates temperature regulation, waste removal, nutrient absorption, and digestion, among many other processes. Ample water consumption is requisite for proper bodily function. Aim for a gallon or so per day.
Lastly, nutrients provide energy and raw material to maintain and build your bodily structures (tissues, organs, systems). Nutrients consist of two primary groups. Macronutrients include fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. Your bodily functions require energy, hence you must consume nutrients, because your body can not create them. You are a Ferrari. You need quality parts that are powered by quality fuel.
Okay, science lesson over. Bottom line: generally consume well and you will generally live well. You want to focus on the highest value behaviors/guardrails that will square up your relationship with eating and nutrition. Think of these habits like post-practice running. You need to be in good condition to play well, but why run twelve 40-yard sprints, when you only need five to be in game-shape? Your consumption and nutrition should be enjoyable and sustainable, not some form of punishment. Time to explore what methods can help you consume well.
Firstly, you need to draw awareness to your eating. You’ve been groomed to eat until you are stuffed after EVERY meal and then have some ice cream and a protein shake before bed. Linemen grow accustomed to the “Seafood Diet”. If you see food, you eat it. Unless your goals are a major bulk, those are some habits that you will probably want to reverse. The best way to start this reversal is by keeping a food journal/log. I recommend using “My FitnessPal” or “Lose It”. If you’ve never kept a food journal before, you should commit to logging everything you consume for at least 30 days (it can be annoying, but it’s temporary. You can do anything for 30 days). By keeping a food journal, you will better understand the calories and macros associated with what you eat and drink. You will also limit your unconscious eating, because you’ll evaluate the decision beforehand. Lastly, you will have data/records to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your nutrition habits. A food journal is like watching game film. You see what happened, what you should keep doing, and what you should change, and how to fix it.
Once you know what you are actually consuming through a food journal, you should start to understand what to eat more of and what to cut down on. Don’t get me wrong, life is too short to not have pizza and beer when your favorite rivalry game or the Super Bowl is on; however, we can all agree that that should not be the every night norm. I am a firm believer that you can enjoy every piece of food that you eat on a daily basis – it just takes some mapping out of what you like and how to incorporate that into your meals. You should make a list of your favorite, most enjoyable, nutrient-dense foods. Some of mine that I consume almost daily: Greek yogurt, berries, chicken, walnuts, broccoli, etc. You can set yourself up for consistency and success by stocking your ‘fridge and pantry with whatever is on your list. Essentially, know yourself (and what you like) and what is good for you and then try to mostly fuel yourself with those foods. This sort of structure enables you to eat that scoop of ice cream or a slice of cake, when the occasion calls, while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Having some general guidelines for your nutrition will improve and simplify your relationship with eating and allow you to better appreciate more indulgent foods. A few simple principles (listed below) followed most of the time can dramatically impact the quality of your nutrition. Understand that these are condensed and each of these could have whole essays written about them – but here we go. 1) Avoid processed foods and added sugar (conversely, eat primarily nutrient-dense, whole foods); 2) Prioritize proteins and healthy fats (keeps you full longer); 3) Do not drink your calories (water, coffee, and tea are your best friend). If these principles are norms for your consumption, you will be able to enjoy your favorite foods even more, when you choose to do so.
When your nutrition is proper, you have better energy, productivity, confidence, and overall happiness. Nutrition is your foundation because it makes everything else a little easier. By bringing awareness to your consumption, adapting your nutrition to your tastes and preference of healthful foods, and by mostly following those simple principles, you will see positive results in the health of both your body and mind. You will get to the point where you eat when you are hungry. You will conquer any dispositions to unconsciously binge and/or emotional eating. You will build the self-discipline and power to fuel yourself for whatever your health and life goals may be. Life is good.