Preparing yourself for meals and one-off situations is a topic that comes up in the Science Lab a lot. The Science Lab is a service I offer CrossFitters that are looking to reach their body composition goals. The classes work in a similar fashion to the way WOD’s work; they are scheduled and our coaches walk you through what you need to do to achieve your goals.
When determining what you should and should not put in your body, there seems to be never-ending confusion not only in deciding, but also in answering to other people who do not understand what real food is. The messages we get are not always clear; what is real food?
In short, if you can pick it, grow it, or kill it, you should probably eat it. (Chia pets not included.)
- Protein: Chew it! Protein should come mostly from real food and come bundled with Omega 3s. Include grass fed/pastured livestock and wild-caught salmon, herring, or sardines.
- Carbohydrates: You need carbs to fuel your performance. Glucose is king but you need your veggies as well. A colorful diet will provide you with plenty of fiber and vitamins!
- Fats: Use them as a vehicle for vegetables, fruits and lean meats. It adds flavor, density, and libido! Fatty meats obviously do not need to be covered in butter.
How to Get your Vitamins
Do not use a multi-vitamin as a blanket for a crappy diet. Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly, and although a multi-vitamin taken with a meal can be effective, real food is where it’s at!
The Epic Humongous Salad (proper noun): It’s a bowl of everything: lots of flavors, lots of colors, lots of textures. Humongous salads are the best way to throw a ton of vitamins, minerals, and good fats into one big bowl.
¡WARNING! You may need to purchase a new bowl specifically for epic-sized salads. Eat To Perform.com cannot be held accountable for the mess you make trying to shove all of this vegetation into a less-than-epic-sized bowl.
This is not a premixed bag of iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of carrots for appeal. One of my favorite additions is roasted vegetables; warm vegetables on cold salad greens is a win. The list of possibilities is never-ending, but to get started:
- Red leaf, green leaf, romaine, butter lettuces
- Red cabbage
- Bacon crumbs
- Grilled sirloin
- Roasted chicken
- Avocado slices
- Sweet Peppers
- Sesame seeds
- Summer squash
- Roasted vegetables
- Dried fruit pieces
- Hard boiled eggs
- Almond slices
Salad dressing options are endless as well. First, you need a fat source (olive oil, butter, tallow, bacon grease), vinegar if you like the kick (white, apple cider, wine vinaigrette, fresh squeezed lemon), and your spice assortment (chili, onion, garlic, fennel, paprika, cumin, coriander, sage…). Fresh herbs work wonders too (basil, thyme, marjoram, cilantro…). Someone should program a salad generating app…
Now that’s a salad! Eat it for size; it might take a while too. Time of day does not matter for this beast but I would suggest that your first meal should have a lot of substance. A lot of people have trouble eating breakfast and most of us are told that breakfast is the most important meal so they start the day off with nutrient-deficient grains and very few foods that fill you up.
My suggestion is that if you do not feel hungry, do not eat. When you feel hungry you should eat. The epitome of a healthy lifestyle is living in harmony with food. Don’t fear it, and do not become inhumanely excited over it. I do not know anyone who is addicted to real food, but I know plenty who are addicted to junky, chemically laced and alerted food. You may be able to overeat on a 12-hour standing rib roast, but it is not the same as overeating on a triple family-sized bag of Doritos with a side of Big Gulp Slurpee and Twinkies for dessert. When you are FULL on the rib roast, and you know it- your body now requires time to assimilate and process all the vitamins and minerals in the meat. This is why your appetite is depressed for a long while. No questions asked, and you lose your interest in food. When you’re full on the junk, your stomach is huge and expanded, but your brain is not content. It keeps searching for something that isn’t there. Many overweight individuals are NOT addicted to food as they are led to believe; they are addicted to junk food. Your ghrelin receptors adjust to the crappy food you give your system, which alters your reward path to your brain from your gut. If it doesn’t get nutrients, it does not function properly.
Are you addicted to carrots? No.
Are you addicted to strawberries or oranges? No.
Are you addicted a piece of grilled salmon with broccoli? No.
Do not wallow in your own misery; the only change can be made by you when you accept the difference. You CAN go cold turkey, just like an alcoholic can. But you must eat, right? Yes, obviously you do but you don’t need moon pies and Little Debbie’s all day – you do not NEED them ever…But if you make the conscious choice to sit and enjoy one once a week with control and confidence in getting back to your regular routine, then use it to your advantage. Choose the real food the rest of the time.
After a while, your body will establish patterns that will make this process a lot easier. Remember, you have no addiction to real food; you have an addiction to crappy food. Eat when you feel hunger, eat a lot, and make it real food. Do not be scared to prepare yourself a huge plate of real food. When you are full you are done, put it away but promise yourself when you get hungry again, the real food is coming out again in full force. It will ALWAYS be there, and there is nothing to fear or hold back on. Freeing, isn’t it? Don’t go around being a grumpy Buddha, you and only you have the power to change!
“But I Don’t Like Vegetables”
Okay let’s just be honest; acting like an adult entails eating like an adult. When you chose real food, a whole new sensory pathway will open you up to new tastes and textures. You need to shut off the excitatory, over-enhanced, MSG-laden, chemically-pumped-and-altered, flavorless (in reality) parts of your brain that were predominant before. You need to fill your cells with nutrients to appreciate the well-being that is possible. There are very few vegetables that do not taste good cooked in lard, or roasted with butter and a good seasoning blend, or natural spices. If you need to wean yourself into vegetables, try stuffed peppers with a Tex-Mex ground beef seasoning, or bacon fried cabbage. Two sure fire flavor-yum bombs.
Preparation Over Precision
Many people find comfort in precision and pay dearly for the privilege. Weight Watchers is an example, and so are many of the “boxed systems” that you can buy to help you lose weight. They all work; the problem is that for many people, these diets leave them hungry and/or ill prepared once the box is gone. “Rules” become “limitations”; what if that 2 point bar doesn’t leave you satisfied and you have no points to spare? Sorry, but your appetite doesn’t run on points; it runs on neurochemical impulses. What if the Nutri-System bean burrito tasted like crap? You are left unsatisfied, and your brain is looking for something to fill that void. Even with such systems, you need to remember to bring the food or prepare your meals ahead of time. Eating well will always entail this.
If you can nail the preparation part, the precision part should follow naturally. It would be a very difficult argument to make that those people would not benefit extremely from preparation. Preparation is the answer to succeeding in a lifestyle change. How can you eat a big ass salad with no vegetables? How can you promise yourself to eat big when you are hungry if you do not have any food waiting for you? Preparation takes out the worry of making food choices; it leaves you calm and determined and in power. There is a confidence in looking into a refrigerator full of nourishing food, ready for when you are hungry. Again, promise to feed yourself well with such foods when you do get hungry. Preparation, execution, confidence.
“Breakfast” simply means the time in which you break your fast. Anytime you are not eating, you are fasting. Fasting has such a wide array of benefits that an entire book would need to be published simply to detail its benefits. Most people relate breakfast with eating upon rising – hunger or no hunger. Others would prefer not to eat when they wake up. There is no right or wrong here, no benefit or lack thereof; eat when you are hungry but do not allow yourself to become ravenous. Preparation is the key. Your first meal should be filled with nutrition. If you are the type that says, “I cannot eat a lot when I first wake up.” then great. You do not have to eat then. If you choose to eat upon waking, be sure to get a good amount of protein and fats. Remember that if you prefer eating when rising, you need to remain consciously aware of this as night time draws. Instead of forgetting about hunger signals and going straight for your old couch-and-chips routine, remember that as soon as you wake up you’ll be eating again. This leaves nighttime and saying no to junk easier by rest assuring you hunger will be met.
What a small meal looks like:
2 egg omelet with a coconut milk smoothie. If you followed that meal up with the humungous salad at noon, you are well on your way to a healthy nutritious day where your appetite is self regulated.
What a big meal looks like:
A 10 ounce grass-fed rib eye, big ass salad and sweet potatoes followed by a bowl of full fat greek yogurt with strawberries and cacao nibs. It is extremely filling and since I delayed my meal timing it allowed my body to detox and heal a bit better, promoting cellular repair.
Getting fat has nothing to do with when you break your fast for breakfast; it has to do with learning to listen to your body and choosing real food. Most people like to go until they are ravenous and somehow justify pounding through a sleeve of Oreos dipped in milk. “It’s okay, I was hungry…I really needed to eat!”
Going hungry inevitably leads to grabbing the most convenient options which also lack nutrition. Why? Hunger leads to low blood sugar levels, and low blood sugar levels force the brain to use less glucose, which is the only energy source the brain can use. So, when you are hungry, your brain is lacking glucose or in need of it. A piece of junk candy bar or cookie will send a high to your brain of satisfaction, which lasts…maybe 5 minutes followed by the same scenario on repeat. Up, down, high, low. Behavior is a result of what the brain perceives (aka the reaction to unreal food). The behaviors you are addicted to, the bad patterns you get caught up in, are all direct results of the information you are giving your brain and how it reads such signals. However, when hunger hits and you feed on protein and fat alongside some vegetables, your rise in the blood is slower, longer, and controlled. This is because both glucose and glucagon are released when protein is eaten. It leads to a steady supply of energy for the brain and a happy content body.
In the book “Nutrition Against Disease”, author Dr. Roger J. Williams points out that like all other living cells, brain cells often receive less than perfect nutrition. He goes on to observe that brain cells get nutrition from blood, which in turn gets its nutrients from the food we eat each day. At first, it takes a while to get past that and let your body readjust to a new way. Psychologically, your brain may want to get that rush back, even at the expense of feeling bad later. It’s the same reason why people like to smoke. They cultivate an addiction and then enjoy the pleasure of satiating that addiction.
So you need to deal with feelings of:
- Fear of change
- Fear of deprivation
- Hyper self-criticism
It has to do with healthfulness, and mindfulness, and gratitude, and forgiveness. It has to do with having a free mind, and using food to fuel that beautiful capacity.
You get back whatever you put out, so don’t think about what you don’t have or what you didn’t get. That is unhealthy thinking in itself. Think about the possibilities because they are endless. Perhaps learning to let go of baseless misconceptions like ‘”artery clogging saturated fats” and the necessity of eating every other hour is the best thing to do. To be satisfied with what you have, and what you receive, are aspects of success not to be overlooked.
- Although taking a multivitamin every day can help you get the vitamins and minerals your enzymes need to function properly, you can’t beat eating real food.
- A great way to get your micronutrients is to have a humongous, colorful salad for lunch.
- Salads are also a great way to get some extra fat in. Olive oil and vinegar is a common dressing choice, but don’t be afraid to throw in some seasonings and herbs like paprika and cilantro.
- Making sure you have a kitchen stocked with nutritious, whole foods is one of the best ways to make sure that when you’re hungry, you don’t make bad decisions and go for convenience/junk foods.
- There’s a big difference between binging on a slow-cooked, bone-in roast and eating a whole bag of Doritos. Real food will satisfy you whereas junk food will typically make you hungrier; don’t be afraid to eat when you’re hungry!
- Don’t force yourself to eat breakfast if you’re not hungry in the morning. Listen to your body, and break your fast with quality nutrition rather than processed foods!
- Cravings for junk food and relying upon poor food choices to fuel your body can lean to negative body composition changes as well psychological hang-ups that reinforce the bad eating behavior.
- Satisfy your nutritional requirements first, and then consider satisfying your taste buds.