Don't Diet: A Fitness Faux Pas
One of the biggest failures of the health and fitness industry is this idea that you need to "diet" your way to health and wellness. Every summer you can count on a new fad diet or magic pill that will give you all the results you want without any of the struggle commonly associated with changing your body composition.
That is a major value that I instill into the personal training clients that I work with. Rather than "diet," we focus on building sustainable healthy habits, one small step at a time, into a lifestyle that supports health and fitness; without all the juice and kale.
When most people come to me, they have an idea that "diet" is a dreadful, white knuckling, buckle down and work sort of experience. They expect me to tell them about all the foods they can't or shouldn't eat, and then expect to be punished when they falter even a little. In fact, this is what most people want. Everybody wants a "diet plan" or "meal plan" that they can follow. Asking for a cookie cutter, one size fits all meal plan that works for the genetically gifted guy/girl that trains hard 5-6 days a week and expecting that it'll work for you, is a recipe for frustration. The hard working, busy, father/mother in their 40's who hasn't been to the gym in 6 months and eats out 5 nights a week because they're to tired to cook, needs a better solution.
A quick dictionary search of the term "diet" reveals that a diet is:
The kinds of foods that a person habitually eats
A special course of food to which one restricts oneself
Most people are familiar with the second definition of the term, but I like to turn people attention to the original definition. Your "diet" is simply the foods that we eat on a regular basis.
I once heard somewhere that most of us eat the same 14-20 food items every week. Now here's a challenge - list out all the foods you eat in a one week span. I'll bet you eat the same 2-3 breakfasts, the same lunch, and the same couple of dinner options every week. Maybe you'll get variety if you go out on the weekend. But the majority of the food you eat is the same.
Now imagine this - what if you took that list of 20 foods you eat EVERY WEEK, and numbered them in order of "healthiness," 1 being most healthy, 20 being least healthy. What if you started to REPLACE the least healthy foods on your list with some healthier alternatives? *gasp* Why, if every week you replaced a not so healthy food with a healthier alternative, within a couple months I bet you'd be eating more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole foods, nuts and seeds. AND, even more amazing, you'd still be able to eat the not so good for you foods guilt free, because they're not a regular part of your diet.
When I coach people on diet, weight loss, health and body composition, I have a long term outlook. Yes, I teach people how to count their macros. And if a client has a specific weight loss goal with a deadline, you better believe we're gonna track and put them into a caloric deficit to start losing weight immediately.
But that's short term.
Most of us don't want to track and log food for the rest of our lives. Eventually we get into practicing healthy habits, and building a lifestyle that supports our health and fitness goals. There is a trade off between how you want to look and how hard you have to work to get it, as well as what you have to sacrifice to get there. Most people think they want to look like the cover of mens/women's fitness, but don't want to put the work in to get there. And I don't blame them - THAT'S FREAKING HARD.
Most people just want to build some muscle so they have more shape to their physique, lose some body fat so they look more "toned," and not be embarrassed to wear shorts in the summer or take their shirt off at the pool. This is a reasonable goal and expectation to have. Unless you get paid, you should not revolve your life around your diet and exercise regiment.
Let me paint you a picture of a balanced healthy life
- imagine you can enjoy a delicious breakfast, one that's full of protein to keep you satisfied
until lunch, and that only took you 5 minutes to make. Then at lunch you can enjoy eating your meal slowly, not only because it tastes good, but because it also allows the hunger hormones in your body to ramp up and help you sense when you're full. Then you stop eating when you feel 80% full, because that's enough and your life is not ruled by food. 3 o'clock rolls around, and your coworkers are inviting you to the break room for a midday snack - but you politely refuse the snack but enjoy the company because you're not feeling hungry. You've mastered your hunger, you are not controlled by it. You head to the gym after work to get in a quick hour workout that is effective and time efficient. You have a positive association with working out because it makes you feel better, you enjoy pushing your body and improving your abilities. You set personal bests regularly, and look healthy. Sure, you won't win a physique competition, but you feel confident in your strength, and your husband/wife thinks you're a sexy beast anyways. You head home to enjoy a fulfilling dinner, full of vegetables, protein, and your favorite - carbs (potatoes, rice, bread, you pick!). After dinner, you indulge in a treat, guilt free. After some R & R, you head to bed, fully expecting to get a good nights sleep.
As a Master Personal Trainer, That is the kind of lifestyle that I help you create. One that supports a healthy mind, body and soul. Notice there was no shakes, pill, powders, hardcore workouts, suffering through hunger, avoiding temptation like the plague, or guilt-ridden feelings of self loathing and inadequacy.
This is the type of lifestyle that I encourage my clients family, and friends to work towards. It's not perfect, you're allowed to mess up. But through my virtual personal training, or my online workout programs I will help you build the consistent growth and refinement over time to create something that's in line with your values, and goals for a full life.
Kyle Cook, MS