29 November 2013

Integration, Part Four: Diet

I've covered simple ways to be more active that don't divert you from your day-to-day goings on. But all the tread-desking in the world can't fix a bad diet. Unless you're 23 years old and on the track team, eating on the fly will catch up with you fast.

This is the area you may have to make an initial investment, because you need to get control of what you eat and when you eat it. A lunch cooler sack, water bottle and a set of glass or plastic reusable containers are a MUST.  You can spend $20-$50 on this stuff, depending on what you need and where you purchase it. But it pays for itself in the long run, especially if you are eating out a lot. 

Forget about all the diets out there for the moment. We are just beginning this journey and we want to make gradual changes we can stick with, not sudden overhauls that send us to the bathroom every other hour and poison our co-workers with our noxious health food gasses. No, your body takes time to adjust and will go through withdrawals and possible fits of intestinal rage. I like to keep that part to a minimum. So, let's focus on initial, easy changes.

RULE #1: Eat to live most of the time and live to eat on special occasions. Simply put, eat clean six or seven days a week. When a party or holiday or special dinner rolls around, indulge. If you find there is a "special occasion" more than twice a month, then scale back how much you indulge. If your job has to do with taking clients to lunch, order healthy options off the menu as much as possible to maintain an 80-90% to 20-10% ratio. Do not deprive yourself completely, but don't justify every meal out as a "special occasion." 

RULE #2: Eat small meals every 3 hours or so that are predominantly composed of complex carbohydrates (aka vegetables) and protein. Your metabolism gets sluggish if you starve and gorge all day. You should eat something within an hour of waking, and throughout the day to keep the furnace burning and your blood sugars level. 

RULE #3: Get the extra, empty calories out of your life. Do you drink pop every day? Do you stop for a scone and 3,000 calorie coffee beverage in the morning? Do you grab a bag of chips or candy bar from the vending machine more often than you'd care to admit? Stop it. This is the hardest part, because you are addicted. Not only are you stuck in a bad habit, but your body waits expectantly, like Pavlov's dog, for it's treat at the given time.

One way to begin to make better food decisions is to download an app that tracks your diet. MyFitnessPal and Livescape are two comprehensive, user-friendly options that not only count calories and nutrition, but what you burn during activity as well. You can see in real time where your weak points are and watch your progress as you become savvier about the quality and quantity of your food intake.

Remember, no crazy diets just yet. And no "mega" supplements. Seriously, there is plenty of research coming out that points to mega-dose supplements as being linked with higher levels of cancer and disease. A regular multi is fine or if you have been diagnosed as deficient in a particular area, a supplement is safe as long as it's not one of those 2,000x the RDA dose pills.

Some good ideas for meals and snacks are: 
a few egg whites and whole grain toast with peanut butter
a large salad with dark leafy greens and chopped veggies with a little grilled chicken on top
a cup of Greek-style yogurt
A piece of baked, broiled or grilled fish and a cup or two of steamed vegetables.
carrot sticks and hummus
A protein bar
an apple with a few tablespoons of nut butter
A chicken breast and half a baked sweet potato
Grilled vegetables and a half-cup of quinoa
A smoothie made of almond milk, Greek yogurt, a banana and some frozen berries with a scoop of whey protein powder

If you make sure you are getting protein at every sitting (lean meat, fish, natural peanut butter, legumes, whey protein), you will feel sated longer and avoid that shaky feeling that inevitably sends you to the vending machine or the breakroom to chow down on whatever office treat has been lying on the countertop all day. (Or the cookies in your kid's snack packs.)

If you are drinking a caffeinated pop and want to quit, you can switch it out for iced tea once a day, so you don't suffer headaches. Get unsweetened and add a tablespoon of organic sugar or honey. I don't care if it's natural or not, I avoid all sugar substitutes. They taste awful and some of them, like agave nectar, spike your sugar levels just as bad (or worse) as the real thing. Sugar, like gluten, is being fashionably demonized at the moment and I wouldn't put too much stock into the hysteria if you are consuming small to moderate amounts. A lump in your tea is not harmful. The cups you were drinking in the form of pop, however, is.

Speaking of drinking, one more thing. Raise your hand if you know what it is. 50-80oz of water a day, depending on how much tea or coffee you drink and how active you are. That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-10 cups a day. Buy a water bottle. Contigo makes a great 24 oz. one with markers on the side, so you know how much you've downed. Water is essential for your bodily functions and has the added benefit of making you less hungry. Did you know one sign of being dehydrated isn't just thirst but a mistaken feeling of hunger? Now you do.

So, to recap: quit your bad habit, eat small, balanced meals every few hours, track your input and output with an app, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Brown bag your meals and snacks for complete control and try as best you can to limit fast food and temptations. Most importantly, don't treat a setback as a failure. If you accidentally slip, and your mouth falls around a breakroom doughnut, don't beat yourself up or wash it down with a bag of chips because your diet is ruined anyway, just enjoy the doughnut, track the calories on your app, and carry on. 

No comments: