How do you lose fat and get stronger? There must be a secret, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, there are techniques. No, they aren’t secrets.
I get at least an email a week from people who want to know what my secret to getting in shape is, assuming that since I’ve managed to make progress in that direction, I somehow have knowledge that eludes them. Inevitably, they want to know what kind of diet I follow and what foods they could eliminate that would magically make them melt into one of those mythical Fitspo physiques that circulate through Facebook.
There’s no secret. And there’s no diet. I just eat and train. And I am my own on-going experiement in that regard.
Yep, you heard that right. I don’t diet. I don’t eat paleo. I don’t follow Weight Watchers. I’m not vegan, vegetarian, low-carb, or anything else restrictive.
I eat and I train.
I eat pretty carefully most of the time and I train consistently and with attention to giving the optimal intensity and effort to the appropriate things.
When I say “eat pretty carefully”, here’s what I mean and the order in which I generally prioritize what enters my mouth:
1. I pay attention to what I eat and to how my body reacts to it
2. I drink lots of plain old water every day and keep myself hydrated.
3. I try to hit 155g-225g of good protein per day. This comes from fish, eggs, chicken, red meat, milk products (including whey protein) and basically any source of lean animal protein. (While I eat beans and tofu occasionally, for me, they have not proven to be as productive for muscle-building, so I focus more on animal proteins. This is also why I am not vegetarian; it does not work for my body or goals.)
4. I eat green vegetables with most meals. I have made my peace with broccoli.
5. I eat carbs that have proven to give my body the energy I need to train hard. For me, the very best ones seem to be sweet potatoes & rice. I have learned that these really work well for me and I respond well to them. I also eat bread products (I am not gluten-sensitive), but try to make sure that they don’t constitute the bulk of my carbs because other sources just work better for me.
6. I don’t worry about how much fat I eat. I neither avoid it nor pack it into things. I simply choose healthy fats and use them without neurosis. The ones toward which I gravitate are generally olive oil, avocado & avocado oil, walnut oil and occasionally sesame oil.
7. I eat as much as I can get away with. This means anywhere from 2100 to 2500 calories per day, usually around 2300. I sporadically track my food so that my guesses on portion sizes and so forth get a reality check. I also have a tendancy to undereat when faced with hormonally-coloured mirror gazing and I need to keep a check on that.
8. I eat birthday cake at birthday parties. I have a glass or two of wine a week. I like chocolate sometimes. I enjoy meals that I don’t have control over at other peoples’ houses and do not stress about them.
9. I have learned to make my own sauces and toppings for things, so I can control more readily what extras I’m eating. And I’ve come to enjoy the results.
10. I judge my results by multiple sources of data: my training results, my mood and mental state, the mirror, my tightest jeans, my bra size, the scale, the measuring tape, and bodyfat percentage devices (i.e. DEXA). I also periodically take videos of myself lifting things or running so that I can see and celebrate the progress made.
I enjoy food and life.
And here’s the rub. Once you’ve worried about getting enough protein into you and picking healthy and beneficial carbs along with good fats, there’s not a whole lot left to fill with stuff like donuts and chocolate bars, if those are a weakness for you. When you’ve filled up on chicken, ice cream’s screams are much softer.
Also, when you see the results your efforts yield, resolve hardens into something rather impressive.
I focus on what I have to eat to workout well. I rarely fixate on what I shouldn’t eat (or as I term it, what is counter-productive to my goals to eat). I just don’t have brain (or stomach) space for it.
So a day for me usually starts with a couple of whole eggs, scrambled, some turkey bacon and Omega 3 capsules. And coffee. Sometimes I toss in vegetables and cheese. Mostly I just want to get food into me so I keep it simple.
Snacks are Greek yogurt, nuts, the odd piece of fruit, raw veggies or a protein smoothie. Depends on how hungry I am and when my next meal is.
Lunches are a flatbread pizza and a salad or, most often leftovers. So stew, chilli, stir-fry, grilled chicken on rice or noodles, grilled fish, leftover sweet potatoes, etc. On days when I know I’ll have a particularly intense training session, I generally don’t snack at all and just make sure to have good quality lunches.
Supper is the same stuff as lunch. Fish, steak, a homemade burger, etc. with some sort of carb, some veggies and a dollop of a fat source.
After supper (and yes, I eat in the evening) is either a portion of the supper that I couldn’t finish or something from the snacks list.
A few other salient points:
- I don’t worry about sodium. I sweat enough and drink enough water that it’s not an issue for me.
- I’m not fond of energy or protein bars, so those aren’t on my list simply because I don’t like them.
- I don’t drink soda pop or much juice. I occasionally will have fruit juice when I feel like my blood sugar has plummeted. Or when I want some as a treat.
- I lift heavy weights four times a week and I make those workouts count. They take anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on what’s involved, whether I add sled pushs/pulls/sprints after, and whether I count the warmup as part of that time.
- all of my cardio comes from sprinting, weightlifting and interval training off some sort. It is all of substantial intensity, but not every workout leaves me dripping in sweat. This is a process, not a punishment.
- I sprint at least twice weekly, sometimes as many as six times (including tempo runs). I balance out my ability to do these workouts well with my need to recover. When I need an extra rest day, I take it. Without feeling the need to do today’s workout tomorrow.
- I rest on rest days. I don’t do a spin class or power yoga. I might stretch, go for a massage, and do foam rolling, but my focus is on recovery. I don’t cut calories or nutrients on rest days. My body needs to heal and my mind needs not to fret.
- Every so often, I take a really light training week. My body needs it, but so does my mind.
- I also occasionally take a fuss-free eating week. This usually serves to remind me of how much better I fee when I eat well.
I try to get the bulk of my nutrients from real food, but I do actually use the following supplements: whey protein powder, creatine, Beta-Alanine, vitamin D (to address a diagnosed deficiency), BCAAs, carb powder in my workout drink, and, when sick, Glutamine.
Each one of those I added to my diet sequentially. Protein powder was the first and I needed the help in increasing my protein intake, particularly post-workout when I often don’t feel much like eating. After a few months I added creatine and spent a couple of months seeing how that worked for me. BCAAs were next over a couple of months, followed by carb powder (made from sweet potatoes) in my workout drink, and most recently, Beta-Alanine. Taking time to add each one bit-by-bit was a really good idea, because now I know how my body reacts to them individually.
All of the supplements serve only to augment what I’m already doing. None of them is a magic pill. None would make a real difference without the work I’m putting in at the gym and track. None is in anyway a substitute for real food of appropriate quality and quantity. They are *supplements* and not the main show.
But if I had to boil down my eating philosophy into one quick statement?
Do what works for you and learn what that is. Start with one thing at a time and make changes that you can keep up. Don’t be neurotic about it. Focus on what you need to eat, not on what you want to avoid.
Don’t diet, live. And live for the best you possible.
And most of all?
Don’t give up on it.