As a young kid I was incredibly active and had a healthy diet. Playing outside and competing in sports become an outlet for me where I could socialize with friends, enjoy healthy competition (and often some ‘healthy’ physicality), and learn new skills.
As I got older, I had the opportunity to start training in the gym as part of the football program I was participating in – and my on field performance skyrocketed. I quickly came to realize that sport performance wasn’t strictly dictated by skill based training alone.
By undertaking gym based training while also paying closer attention to my diet, I could cause huge improvements in my athletic performance (and induce some physique based changes as well, which was a nice ‘by-product’).
It was this realization that led me down the path of becoming a health professional, where I completed an Undergraduate degree in exercise science (with honors), and a Master’s degree in exercise Science (with a major in Athletic Development, and Strength and Conditioning).
I am now working within a rehabilitation and performance setting as an exercise scientist while I undertake my Doctorate Degree in the same field. During this time, I have built a solid foundation of nutritional knowledge that I have the opportunity to use and share on a daily basis (with much success, I might add).
By providing my clients and athletes with the information that I consider essential to maintaining high quality eating patterns, we have seen some excellent results, creating both physique and performance based changes.
While my dietary advice is often simple, it is both extremely effective and easy to implement, something that I believe is integral for anyone who is looking to better themselves through diet and exercise.
Focus on the ‘Big rocks’
When there is so much conflicting information within the health and diet industry, it can become very easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees. To elaborate on this a little further, people often get caught up trying to make large changes to their diet by focusing too intently on the small things.
Whether it be by placing excessive emphasis on counting and calculating macros, trying to avoid all sorts of gluten, or starting a strict food exclusion diet, most people would be much better served by making a couple of simple and generalized changes to their current diet.
By focusing on the big rocks of our diet rather than getting caught up in the latest dietary fad, we can make long term sustainable changes (that actually stick), which leads to a much healthier way of eating in the long run.
So what are these ‘Big Rocks’ exactly? They revolve around my two key dietary principals. Now I should add, while these changes may seem basic in nature, I can guarantee the results that they get.
Eat Vegetables With Every Meal
You see, the vast majority of the population does not consume anywhere near enough vitamins or minerals to promote optimal function of the body. However, vegetables are extremely rich in these same essential vitamins and minerals.
Vegetables serve as an excellent addition to the diet that will cause large improvements in health both quickly and efficiently.
As an added bonus, vegetables are not energy dense (meaning they contain very few calories per gram), but do happen to be very filling. Increasing consumption can go a long way to help us optimize our body weight by reducing excessive energy intake throughout the day.
Eat Protein With Every Meal
Very few of us actually consume enough protein to adequately recover from intense exercise, or to repair damaged muscle and connective tissue. By increasing our protein intake, by eating a portion at every meal, we can improve our ability to recover from exercise significantly.
Protein is actually the most filling of all the macronutrients, meaning that its consumption will reduce hunger throughout the remainder of the day. Eating protein with each of our meals can reduce chances of overeating and snacking throughout the day, which is integral to effective and efficient weight management.
As an added benefit, not only are these ‘big rocks’ easy to implement, they are not particularly restrictive either. As such, the vegetables can come from your favorite sources, as can your proteins.
This makes adherence much easier in the long run, and will promote healthier eating patterns over the long term (making it much more effective than a ’12 day detox’….).
Avoid Processed Foods
Now this somewhat builds on my previous point, but I believe most people would be much better served by limiting their intake of highly processed foods as much as possible.
Research has suggested that individuals who consume highly processed carbohydrates in excess tend to be at a much greater risk of developing heart disease, metabolic diseases (such as diabetes and obesity), degenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s), and even some cancers. This truly suggests to me that they do not really have a place in the human diet.
These highly processed foods often contain excessive amounts of sugar, while also being incredibly high in caloric content. As a result, their over consumption can cause irregularities in hormone levels, while also impacting our weight in a negative manner.
As such, I truly believe that we should build our diets around the consumption of whole foods (such as vegetables, lean sources of protein, and naturally occurring fats).
A simple rule of thumb is to prioritize foods that have either come from the ground or that once had a face (apologies for rather crude simplification), while avoiding anything that looks as if it came from a factory. To further build on this suggestion, I also believe that we should avoid liquid calories as much as we possibly can.
Things such as soft drink and fruit juice are not only very high in energy (most of which typically comes from sugar), but also are not particularly filling. This makes them very easy to overconsume, which can negatively impact the ability to manage our weight even further, which obviously has a number of negative health effects associated.
Don’t Let Your Diet Rule Your Life
I am a firm believer that maintaining a healthy diet is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own happiness. Taking this into consideration, I think most people would be best served by trying to eat well 90% of the time, and leaving 10% open for a little (note: I said a ‘little’) bit of indulgence.
This may mean eating out with a few friends one night a week, having a small glass of wine with dinner, or having a piece of chocolate before bed. whatever your vice is, it ultimately comes down to still doing those things you enjoy and NOT limiting your social interactions because of your diet.
In doing so we can increase our happiness (which I would argue, in the grand scheme of things, is what we are here for), while also improving the likelihood of maintaining our healthy eating patterns throughout the rest of the week.
Both of which are going to greatly increase our results over the long term. Within this, it is also important to take a step back and realize that with any diet we don’t have to eat foods we don’t like, no matter how ‘healthy’ they may be.
Just because a food is ‘healthy’ does not mean that we have to eat it. Often there are many viable alternatives to a given fruit or vegetable, meaning that we can easily find a great option that we will actually enjoy eating. This is going to make it much easier to stick to our healthy eating patterns without ruining our happiness or our adherence.
The most important thing in life is maintaining our health without it impacting our lifestyle or happiness in a negative manner. With this in mind, making a few simple (yet effective) dietary interventions is often an excellent way to create some real results without causing any negative side effects.
Eating a diet rich in lean sources of protein and vegetables is a great way to increase health and promote effective weight management.
Combine this with a reduced intake of processed foods and we are well on our way to a much healthier life. Even though these interventions are unquestionably simple (and not all that restrictive), I believe it is still incredibly important to allow a little ‘breathing room’ every once and a while.
This will go a long in maintaining a high level of happiness, while also improving our dietary adherence significantly. By combining this with a regular exercise, you have a recipe for positive results.
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- Hung, Hsin-Chia, et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of major chronic disease.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute96.21 (2004): 1577-1584. From: https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/96/21/1577/2521033/Fruit-and-Vegetable-Intake-and-Risk-of-Major
- Weigle, David S., et al. “A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations.” The American journal of clinical nutrition82.1 (2005): 41-48. From: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/1/41.short
- Cordain, Loren, et al. “Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 81.2 (2005): 341-354. From: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/2/341.short
- Drewnowski, Adam, and France Bellisle. “Liquid calories, sugar, and body weight.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85.3 (2007): 651-661. From: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/3/651.short