5 Ways to Tell if Your Diet is Bad
The world of good nutrition isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be. Getting in shape isn’t as simple as ‘good food’ or ‘bad food.’ Just because you don’t live off of fast food doesn’t mean you have a good habits. It may have been years since your last slice of pizza but it’s possible your diet game is weak.
I’ve talked extensively about how the perfect diet doesn’t exist. In short, your body is constantly adjusting to stress. Find one way to eat and the body will eventually adapt. But just because perfect doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t improve. “Good” is certainly better than “average.” Frankly, people are a little too narrow minded about the food they eat. People tend to think in absolutes that look like this:
I don’t live off of fast food, so my diet is good
I don’t have an IV of Pepsi running through my veins…..so I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight
A big area of conflict is that everyone gets caught up in the here and now. They step on the scale and get upset as to why they’re not losing any weight. I didn’t even eat any donuts on Saturday so what gives? But it doesn’t really work like that. The scale is a reflection what you’ve been doing the past few days, weeks, and potentially even months. If the needle isn’t budging the way you want it, it’s not because you skipped out on pizza Saturday night and thus now deserve to look like a Greek God. Think beyond just passing on junk food.
It really comes down to two things:
1. You don’t burn enough calories through purposeful exercise and shift the body into burning fat
2. Your diet is really, really bad.
Yes, these two things work in conjunction. But let’s hold off on issue number one – I’ll save that rant for another day.
Revisiting the concept of food quality allows us to dig a little deeper. I mentioned before that people think in extremes: just because it’s been months since you’ve touched a beer doesn’t mean that your diet is up to snuff. Chances are that you’re so focused on the extremes you’re missing all of the little things you should be doing that make up good nutrition.
I’m glad to hear that you’ve ditched hitting up the drive-thru for dinner. But here are 5 other ways to tell if your diet is really bad. Fixing these things negates the need for those other pesky things we all hate about dieting; counting calories, starving yourself, and scouring the internet for the latest celebrity diet.
1. You Rely on Supplemental Fiber
A supplement is just that – something that supplements your diet. If this was four hundred years ago and you were a pirate at sea, scurvy would be an issue (this happens from a lack of Vitamin C). If you had plenty of oranges and berries around, you’d be all set. Otherwise, you would need some Vitamin C tablets. You’d take the supplement because you really don’t have a choice.
Supplements should be taken in terms of a deficiency. In the case of being a pirate, your food supply is dwindling. In any other case, the foods you’re eating should do most of the heavy lifting. I’m not anti-supplement, there’s just a time and a place for them. And supplemental fiber is low on that list.
Fiber is good stuff – it helps lower cholesterol, leaves you feeling full, and makes potty time a pleasant experience. It’s nothing that should be supplemented with, extreme medical situations being the exception.
There are two major classes of fiber: soluble and insoluble. But there are a ton of types too; pectin, resistant starch, and cellulose to name a few. They occur in foods in conjunction with other vitamins and minerals the body needs. That’s how nature intended it.
I usually see supplemental fiber with clients who don’t take the time to cook food, rarely grocery shop, and live off of nutrition bars as a major staple of their diet. They might have an extreme phobia of carbs or are simply scared of eating food for fear of gaining weight. But they’re missing out: again, the whole food combo of fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals helps prevent nutritional deficiencies that give people the vending machine cravings. It also means a healthy digestive system and the sensation of feeling full between meals – all things that can get you lean and mean.
Of course you can find fiber in fruits and veggies but the heavy hitters are beans, peas, lentils, oats and sprouted grains. Which leads to my next critique…..
2. You Avoid Carbs Like the Plague
While some would have you believe that carbs are the super villains of the fitness world, the answer isn’t as simple as people would like to believe.
Cheap breads, breakfast buffets, Pop-Tarts (to name a few) are all bad carbs that will make your waistline blow up. Sadly, this makes up most people’s carb intake. They eat these foods and then claim that carbs are the bad guys. It’s like driving a car on the wrong side of the road and screaming at everyone else that they don’t know how to drive.
Potatoes and whole grains like oats, rice, and quinoa are all good carbs that very few people eat. In fact, it’s estimated that only 7% of the U.S. population gets half a cup of whole grains per day (the bare minimum serving to reap their benefits). What about those pesky bad carbs? Americans easily get over a cup of those per day.
Insulin is a hormone that drives nutrients into our muscle and fat cells. Where that energy goes it’s dependent on the type of food you eat and the health of your body. It’s not insulin’s fault someone plows through a bag of Doritos after a workout. But much like our fiber example, whole grains have a complex system of nutrients and energy that work together. When you eat them, you help your body fight off heart disease and cancer.
As a plus, “good” carbs get stored in the muscle instead of your fat cells. That means more energy to get through your workouts. They’ll also make your muscles full and round, giving you that athletic look most of us seek.
3. You Don’t Eat Breakfast…..or Your Breakfast Sucks
I know, I know – you just don’t have an appetite in the morning. I hear that a lot. Oddly, over 90% of Americans agree that breakfast is important…..but only half of us eat it. Kind of odd how that works out.
Here’s the thing: while intermittent fasting is all the rage, every single of us do some form of it every night. Between dinner, bedtime, and breakfast (or lunch, if you skip breakfast) you could go 10-16 hours without eating. Your stomach needs some relief, but going more than half a day isn’t good for your metabolism. You eventually want to give your body some sort of fuel to work with. Otherwise, your body will go into starvation mode at some point. One this happens, there’s potential to lose muscle mass and mess with some of your hormones.
What you eat in the morning also sets up your neurotransmitters for the day. That’s the stuff that can give you drive, focus, and avoid any feelings of morning crankiness.
Of course, there’s also the issue of having a breakfast based on convenience rather than good nutrition. Having a cup of sugar with some coffee sprinkled in isn’t the best start to the day. When you look at the countries that have lower levels of Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression, we notice a pattern of a good breakfast:
-Consists of a lean protein
-A small serving of whole grains
-A smart fat
-A vegetable (or two)
4. You Eat the Exact Same Way, Everyday
When I was younger, there use to be a running gag about my Grandpa:
“Everyday for the last twenty years, I start my day…..”
Then grandpa would list off how he ate all the steak and eggs he wanted and would end his day with some mini nutter-butters (true story). I love my grand-daddy, but he also swore that Smarties cleared up his constipation (another true story). Great man as he was, I don’t think nutrition was his strong suit.
The point here is that everyone has their routines. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; those who are the most fit have developed good habits overtime. But what we want is sensible variety. You shouldn’t rely on just chicken breast as a protein. There’s a few reasons for this:
1. Different foods provide different nutrients. A steak is compiled of different amino acids (the building blocks of a protein) than salmon.
2. Redundancy with food is a good way to develop intolerances. While not as strong as a food allergy, intolerances can spell trouble for you digestive and immune system.
3. It makes you resistant to change. There’s a saying: habits outweigh desires. If you want to change your body, you’ll have to change your habits. And this is easier said than done. I have a client that won’t add a protein to her morning oatmeal. I don’t think she does it out of defiance (I hope not). It’s just that she’s ate a bowl of oatmeal first thing for 15 years so she’s kind of on auto-pilot in the morning. This war to change her breakfast has been going on for a year now.
5. You Don’t Chew Slow
Okay, so I’m kind of cheating here. While it’s not a bullet point like “eat this, not that” chewing slow is vital if you want to be lean and strong. It doesn’t really matter how fancy your diet is – if you’re not taking your time to enjoy your food, you’re missing out on a lot of benefits from using those chompers of yours.
For one, the digestion process starts in your mouth. In fact, a good home cooked meal can trigger your digestive system the second your nose picks up on the scent. There’s digestive enzymes in your mouth that begin working once they pick up on the scent; and they break food down as you chew. For example, salivary amylase is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates long before that rice gets to your stomach.
There’s also a lag between your gut and your brain. It takes about 20 minutes for your organs to send the signal to your brain that “hey, we’re full. Shut the kitchen down!” A lot of damage can be done in twenty minutes, especially if you’re eating food that dissolves in your mouth with very little effort from chewing (I’m looking at you Pringles). Chewing slow helps you pick up on the cues that you’re stuffed long before you’re overstuffed.
You also run the risk of developing leaky gut syndrome (LGS). LGS happens when you swallow large particles of food without chewing. In this case, you can create little spaces between your micro-villi; these are little brush like objects that absorb food in your small intestine. As a result, food stuff floats around in your bloodstream and can trigger an immune response.
Of course, chewing slow allows your senses to pick up on the food and actually enjoy it. Just because you’re eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. So slow time and savor that meal.
What you can start doing now….
When you grocery shop, stock up on fiber rich foods. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Beans in a can or frozen peas will work just fine. You can have sprouted bread with your breakfast.
Speaking of breakfast, if your mornings are a sprint to the door, try making your meal at night and heating it up in the morning.
Getting back to grocery shopping, make your shopping cart as colorful as possible. We call this the rainbow diet. Fruits and vegetables are different colors for a reason. A lot of clients claim to struggle with eating produce of different colors, but try this: broccoli, plums, carrots, cauliflower, apples, blueberries, and blackberries. That was 7 different colors right there.
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