Before we begin, let’s give a little background to where my nutrition journey began. I’ll bet you may be able to relate in one way or another.
For the first couple years I had no idea what I was doing with my diet. I thought as long as I was eating “clean foods” (I really don’t like that reference) I would hopefully lose fat and gain muscle all at the same time. My diet looked something like a small granola bar or eggs in the morning, some sort of salad or ONLY meat and green veggies for lunch, (chicken, salmon, or steak) and the same for dinner. I would eat this way day after day. I’d get used to the bland food and pat myself on the back because I was “hardcore.” After a week or two I’d end up with insane cravings. Cravings so strong that once I’d get a little taste of something tasty there was nothing I could do but end up in an all out binge fest. When I say binge, I mean I could really take down some food. Once I’d get a taste of something “unhealthy” the flood gates would rush open and there was no turning back. I’d finish my plate, whoever I was with’s plate, and if someone didn’t finish their food at another table…I’d be eying that down too (insert big eyes emoji here). My stomach was an endless pit. I was so strict on myself most of the time that once I’d give in just a bit, there was absolutely no stopping me. The next day would come around and I’d be so disappointed in myself that it was time for punishment. I wouldn’t eat hardly anything all day long to help mitigate the damage I created from the day before. After the following day would pass, I would get myself back on track to nothing but “heathy food” and start down the viscous cycle again.
This unhealthy relationship with food lasted a year or two before I finally decided there had to be a better way to handle my nutrition. If things were going to stay like this, I knew I wasn’t going to last much longer. I was at a breaking point where I was going to give up on this whole fitness dream I had, or I was going to find a more sustainable / enjoyable way to do things. My nutrition was affecting my whole life. I’d go out to eat with family and friends either to hardly eat anything or eat everything in sight depending on how long I’d been depriving myself at the time. Either way, they thought I was a bit of a crazy person. There was really no win for me whichever way I’d choose.
After some digging I came across someone’s blog online who was explaining how it was possible to eat whatever you wanted and still lose weight and gain muscle. He preached a “calories in vs calories out” method. Meaning you could eat anything you wanted and still control your body composition so long as you are accounting for the calories and macronutrients within the foods you are choosing by understanding what your body’s needs were. This one little fact changed everything.
Starting from the top:
Calories are simply energy. If your body takes in more calories than what it burns, you will store that energy (weight gain). If your body takes in less calories than what it burns, you will lose stored energy (weight loss).
So does this mean as long as I eat “heathy” food I will look great like I thought? Absolutely not! This main principle opened up my entire world. Instead of eating ONLY what I considered to be a clean food option, I could choose any food I wished so long as I took into account the amount of calories it obtained and it didn’t overreach my daily requirement. Instead of thinking I failed every time I ate something I thought was bad, I could just account for the calories in that tasty treat and stay right on track to my goal.
Macronutrients, aka “macros,” are what make up a calorie. There are three main macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Each macro serves it’s own purpose, and helps make up the foods we consume.
Protein (1 gram = 4 calories): Helps preserve and build lean body mass.
Carbohydrates (1 gram = 4 calories): Provides the body with energy.
Fats (1 gram = 9 calories): Essential to support cell growth, regulate hormones, and also provide energy to the body.
Basically, instead of thinking of food as “healthy vs unhealthy,” I began to realize I needed to look at food from a macronutrient standpoint to decide what I should be eating everyday to effect weight gain and weight loss. A basic guideline to follow for a macronutrient breakdown of your bodies needs is: .70 gram – 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight (dependent upon current body condition), 20-40% of total calorie intake in fats (dependent upon your desire for fatty foods), and whatever calories you have remaining can be thrown into the carbohydrate category for quick stores of energy for training purposes.
Micronutrients are not something to be taken likely even though they fall to 3rd on the list. Although, keeping your calorie and macro count under control each day is superior in terms of body composition, getting a wide variety of micronutrients is still important in terms of health as a whole. The “clean” foods I was referring to earlier would fall under this category for the most part: veggies, vitamins, minerals, etc. Even though I do/fit whatever food I want into my diet, it’s a good idea to follow a split of 80/20 in terms of vitamin dense foods compared to fun foods.
Learning these three simple keys changed everything for me. I’ve always loved weight training, but for a long time nutrition seemed so complicated and difficult. In reality, it’s quite simple: learn to create a balance with ALL foods in order to maintain a quality relationship with eating. If you lean hard towards “clean food” you may end up on an all out binge every other week like myself. If you never eat anything “clean,” chances are you’re eating too much junk that will cause weight gain over time from excess calories.
Something I find interesting is that it took so long to find this information when I began my journey. In my opinion, this knowledge should be taught to our kids at a young age, perhaps in the school system. If we all had this common knowledge it would help the obesity crisis we face today. I guess that may be part of the reason I started this whole blog in the first place. To help somebody struggling like I was at the beginning of my journey.
Stay tuned, as my next post will go into detail on how to find the correct calorie and macronutrient intake for your individualized needs.