Over the past 13 years I have spent thousands of hours personal training clients. I have made clients sweat, jump, climb, run, and do things that only the twisted mind of a sadistic trainer would lovingly dish out for any client who wants to reach their goals. Sure, they would moan and complain, but secretly, they loved it. They consciously understood that it is a healthy choice for their body and mind, and they would continue working toward their goals. What became so shocking to me over the years was how everything we would work so hard toward in the gym would quickly become undone by the nutritional habits clients had the other 23 hours in the day. I began listening to clients’ dietary questions. I deciphered information that clients had been given in all forms of media, each seeming to contradict one another. I dispelled myths and fad diets. I listened and tried to understand the reasons behind people’s food choices and the rationale behind their decisions. I was shocked to see how convoluted people’s ideas of what a healthy diet looked like. People were making things so overly complicated and unrealistic that it was no surprise that they were continually failing and sabotaging their own health and fitness goals. Someone needed to simplify this entire aspect of their lifestyle, and that person was me, their personal trainer.
When something is simple, concise, and easy to follow, people will generally adhere to the plan. Once something deviates from this simplicity, people become overwhelmed, frustrated and revert back to their original bad habits. In essence, I had to reprogram the relationship people have with food, and the emotions that are tied to their nutritional choices. So how does one simplify nutrition and make it easy to understand, execute and adhere to? Easy! By breaking it down into these easy to remember actions:
3 meals a day at a minimum and preferably 1-2 snacks. Breakfast is essential! Remember that breakfast occurs immediately after the longest period your body has been without fuel. This is when you need nutrients the most in order to get your body functioning properly and kick-starting your metabolism for the day. Eating meals and snacks consistently throughout the day will keep your metabolism elevated, your blood sugar levels will remain more constant and your insulin levels will be less likely to spike.
Incorporate a complex carb, a healthy fat and a lean protein into every meal and snack. Complex carbs come in many forms but some of my favorites include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, wild/brown rice and sprouted grains. Lean proteins such as fish, chicken, turkey and lean red meats can be prepared in a variety of ways and still maintain their nutritional integrity. Healthy fats should come from sources like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and nuts/nut butters. Just account for the fact that fat is more than two times as calorically-dense as both protein and carbs. All 3 of these macronutrients are essential and each play an important role in your nutritional program.
Maintain adequate calories based on your activity level and goals. Too often I have clients coming to me with incredibly restricted caloric diets. These diets are unhealthy and do the exact opposite of their intended purpose. When you look at the long term implications of caloric restriction you start to understand that by starving your body you are denying it the essential nutrients that it needs to function properly and you are triggering a mechanism built deep into the human brain to store fat. Yes, that is correct, your body has a natural defense from starvation and that is for it to hold on to fat stores in order to keep you alive. Weight loss, much like weight gain, has a cumulative effect. The process needs to be slow and steady for it to be healthy and maintained. On days when you are more active you are going to require more calories to sufficiently fuel your body. Take this into account when making your food choices each day.
Remove added sugar in any form from your diet. Sugar is the nemesis of our overweight and under-active society. Sugar, in its many forms, can be found in so many of the products that we consume today. Processed sugars appear in unlikely things like salad dressings, yogurts and prepared foods. Start looking at food labels and you’ll be amazed at how sugar sneaks its way into so many non-suspecting items. Keep in mind that whole fruit is processed differently by your body than added sugars found in most foods. Whole fruits contain fiber that slows the metabolism of the sugars in your body and provides a slower release of energy. Also remember that fruit contains lots of vitamins and nutrients. When clients get uneasy about eating fruit I remind them that it wasn’t fruit that made them fat.
Limit alcohol consumption. This is the one that no one likes to hear but it has to be said. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Almost as much as fat (9 calories/gram) but has absolutely no nutritive value. It is the epitome of “empty calories.” Also remember that alcohol is often mixed with high sugar drinks like fruit juices and sodas and can lead to poor judgment when making nutritive decisions.
Eat as many vegetables as you like. Vegetables should be consumed heavily and in most of your meals throughout the day. Vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition, contain little calories and are easy to incorporate into so many of the foods we eat. Roasting, steaming, grilling and sautéing your veggies in healthy fats are some of the best ways to prepare them for meals. Try experimenting with different vegetables you haven’t tried before. I have never had a grilled vegetable that I don’t love and I’m sure you can find a plethora of choices that you find palatable and delicious.
Drink water and unsweetened tea. Water is essential in hydrating the body, transporting vitamins and nutrients and helps metabolize food and satiate you during the day. If you’re craving something more flavorful, try making iced tea. Unsweetened iced tea contains no calories, no sugar and will provide you with the same benefits of water alone. As a side note, coffee is fine as long as you don’t overload it with sugar. Coffee also contains caffeine which acts as a diuretic in your body. You’ll need to account for this and add more water to your daily intake.
Prepare large meals and use leftovers for future meals. Stop making dinner for one. When you prepare your meals, think about the big picture. Leftovers are a great way to have lunches and dinners already prepared ahead of time. Make large quantities and then divide the leftovers into portions that can be easily transported, heated and consumed.
Be creative. Try new spices. Experiment with substituting healthier ingredients into old recipes. Integrate new types of foods and cuisines into your daily meals. The more creative you are, the less limitations you are going to feel like you have, and you will be more likely to follow through with your new diet.
Making sure that your body is properly fueled throughout the day is essential to maintaining insulin levels in your body and keeping your metabolism functioning at its greatest potential. Broadening your options with a new and larger range of healthy foods will also allow you to find foods that match your palate alongside your nutritional needs and goals. You have to look at food as fuel for your body and not as the enemy. Once you take a step back, simplify things and regain a new attitude about foods and the way you eat, you will be well on your way to conquering all of your health, fitness and nutritional goals.
Aaron Guy is an Elite Trainer based in Los Angeles with 13 years of experience. His clients have included television producers, CEO’s, high level executives, stay at home moms and Division I college athletes. His specialties include weight loss, strength training, HIIT, sport specific training, corrective exercise and mobilization. Aaron holds several certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine including a CPT, PES, CES, FNS and their highest level of achievement, MT.