Let’s Get Back to the Basics with Food
When we think about food it can be incredibly overwhelming. Should I eat carbs? What about protein? How much do I need? Am I supposed to track macros? Do I need supplements?
Unfortunately, social media and diet culture has completely made knowing what to eat anything but intuitive. We no longer know how to listen to our hunger cues or know what food to eat when. It doesn’t have to be super nuanced to be effective, but it’s hard to believe that when everyone is trying to push a new diet, supplement or product down your throat daily. As Michael Pollan, author of many food related books once said, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” It really is this easy but when put into practice it can be rather challenging.
If you were to go back in time and ask your ancestors what to eat, they’d probably laugh and say “food” or “whatever is available.” There were not difficult decisions on which type of cracker to buy or what flavor of cereal to get. That’s not to say we must go back to the way our ancestors ate but we could learn a thing or two from the simplicity of their diet.
Food is meant to be something of substance that gives us energy and nutrients we need to survive. While many wish it were as straightforward as a set of yes & no lists, it’s unfortunately just not the case. Every single person is unique and thus their diet must be so. We must also realize that food is more than just the quality and just the quantity you take in. It is helpful to take a birds eye view approach for a second to understand all the components of the food basics.
Food Basics Pyramid
This food basics pyramid (way more evolved than the old Food Pyramid itself) shows that you must think of many different factors as it relates to your overall intake and not overcomplicate it. First, and foremost, the foundation of which we should focus our food intake on is food quality.
This, of course, means increasing the amount of whole and unprocessed foods in our diet to ensure we are getting enough micronutrients (i.e. vitamins & minerals) day in and day out. This is not to say obsess over every last bite of food, but if you can take that birds eye view of your diet and say that 70% or more of your intake is based around whole, unprocessed foods, you’re doing pretty good.
Next up, is the amount of food we take in. This doesn’t have to be so calculated that you feel attached to a set of numbers or a macro counter. Instead, it’s focusing on that “Eat food, not too much” approach from Michael Pollan. Fill your plate with whole, unprocessed foods, sit down, relax & enjoy yourself, maybe even chew your food and you will realize how much more satisfied you are. Still not sure where to start? Here’s a good visual for your daily plate:
As we move up the pyramid we realize there is more on here than just food. That’s because we are not living in a vacuum, we are constantly having to make choices, deal with stressors and find time to sleep. You can have a solid foundation with quality & quantity but if sleep is not prioritized, movement is not a part of your day to day or stress is not managed, it often wrecks havoc not only on how we feel but the food choices we make. Ever been so sleep deprived that you end up eating like a kid in a candy shop? Yeah, we’ve all been there, it’s not just your willpower it’s also your body’s biological response to lack of sleep.
What do we focus on in this tier of the pyramid? Prioritize sleep (7-9 hours a night), get daily movement (from walking, working out or stretching, and manage your stressors to the best of your ability.
The next step on the pyramid is Ease & Sustainability. Why? Well, so often we find ourselves going down the rabbit hole of one diet fad only to end up frustrated and jumping ship to another. This is often because that way of eating was to constrained, time consuming or just not realistic so we end up back where we were or *gasp* worse off then when we started.
So, while we aren’t saying just throw your hands up and order take out daily, what we are saying is that you must find ways to make eating healthy easy and sustainable for you. Maybe this means just focusing on water intake for the time being, or perhaps it’s focusing on getting 1 vegetable a day instead of trying to overhaul your whole diet. Maybe it’s just focusing on the weekly Nutrition WOD. Small baby steps can seem trite but if you look back a year from now you’ll be surprised how small changes can add up quickly.
Finally, the last part of the pyramid is supplements. So often people want the quick fix to get their vegetables or the magic pill to undo all their late night snacking mishaps. While supplements have a time and a place, they are not what you should build your food basics on as they are expensive and often just not necessary when real food is prioritized. Working little by little on building a strong foundation in your food basics pyramid will go a long way and save you money and the hassle of replenishing your monthly supplement supply.
It’s easy to forget the basics. We often forget that we had to learn to walk before we could run, and nutrition and your diet is no different. Figure out what area needs the most attention on your food basics pyramid & start finding ways to prioritize it so that you can feel your best both inside the gym & out.