I wrote on Friday about making your diet work for you instead of miserably slaving away to follow a diet just because you think you “should”. I mentioned that I have tried several different dietary styles over the past couple of years, a few for my own personal well being, and a few just so that I could provide some first hand commentary on the blog. Throughout this process, I’ve learned a lot about how my body responds to certain foods, how I feel with variances in food timing, and things that I just like and don’t like.
As I mentioned on Friday, this is not one set of hard and fast rules from one specific diet or plan. This is a mashup of foods and habits that make me feel by best, and also allow me to live my life without stressing too much about when and what I’m eating.
The basics of my personal plan are as follows*:
- MOST of my daily intake comes from whole foods such as veggies, lean meats, cage free eggs, wild caught fish, nuts, some dairy and fruit. (And peanut butter. Because, let’s be real, I don’t go a day without the stuff). I eat a lot of salads (big, hearty salads), and dinner is usually a mix of meat/fish and veggies.
- Keep bread products to once per day (if that much). Like I said, I don’t have negative symptoms related to gluten, but I do feel sluggish and get heartburn if I eat too much in the way of bread, grains, pasta, etc. If I have an english muffin for breakfast, lunch will be a salad and dinner will be a mix of veggies and meat. If I know I’m going out for dinner where there will be a delicious bread basket, I’ll skip the english muffin at breakfast. It’s all about balance, folks.
- Include a significant source of protein at EVERY meal and most snacks. I have no carb-phobia, but a carb heavy meal with little protein will leave me crashing and hungry without a doubt. This is especially important for lunches — most of the time my lunch at work is a hearty salad (I’m not talking just lettuce here!) topped with a homemade turkey burger or grilled chicken. Rarely I’ll have just a piece of fruit as a snack if I’m not very hungry, but usually that will be paired with some nuts or nut butter to increase the protein and keep me full longer.
- Intermittent Fasting on off days**. For the past few months I have been following a loose IF program on days that I don’t work out, and I’ve been loving it. It takes away the stress of following a strict timeline every single day, but also keeps me from snacking a ton on my off days. I’ll usually follow a 14-16 hour fast from the night before into the off day (say, if I eat dinner at 7 pm on Wednesday night, I won’t eat on Thursday until 11am). For the record, IF does not mean “skipping meals”. Even after a fast, I still get all my calories in for the day, just in a shorter period of time. For whatever reason, I really respond well to this, where I know some people do not. It’s all about knowing your body!
- Carbs are not the enemy. Your body needs carbs, my body needs carbs. We all need carbs, just how much of them you need is entirely dependent on your activity levels and goals. If you go from sitting on your couch to sitting in your cubicle and back again in the course of a day, you probably want to eat fewer over all carbs. If you’re a highly active person or athlete, your body actually needs carbs to fuel all of that awesome activity. What type of carbs? I try to stick with grains such as rice (I eat both brown and white varieties), potatoes (more sweet potatoes but also white on occasion), fruit, and limited bread products. I strongly prefer sprouted grain bread such as Ezekial over other options, but if I’m out at a restaurant with some warm, freshly baked rolls, you better believe that I’m going to have some!
- Time high-carb meals strategically. I try to eat my higher carb meals immediately pre and post workout, so that I can optimally time the influx of glycogen into my muscles. This is not a hard and fast rule that I stress over, just a general guideline that I follow. If I’m trying to lean out, I’ll follow this much more strictly.
- Balance my indulgences. If someone brings me a delicious treat at work, I won’t also have dessert that night after dinner. I do occasionally go out to a delicious meal where I’ll enjoy both a drink and dessert (horrors!) but that is the exception, not the rule. Generally, an indulgence such as dessert or drinks is enjoyed on it’s own, without the others, and most importantly without any guilt.
The thing is, these are all things that I’ve found work wonderfully for me, and most are also things that I would recommend to people who are trying to clean up their diet. I would never tell people to avoid certain macronutrients or foods “just because”, as long as they are real, nutritious foods and not chemically processed crap. If you don’t have a negative reaction to gluten, there is no reason to eliminate it completely from your diet. Likewise, if you know that almonds give you a stomach ache, there is no reason to eat them just because someone told you that they are a health food! It can take a lot of work to figure out what works and what does not for your body, but in the end, the hard work is well worth it. Whether you respond well to IF or to another style of eating, it’s important to do what’s best for you and not what’s best for the people around you.
*Like I said before, these are general guidelines that I follow, they are not hard and fast rules. I do not beat myself up if I enjoy carb heavy meals for both lunch and dinner — I just take it in stride and try to balance out a little more the next day. I do not obsess over the restaurant bread basket, but I will generally make a decision on which indulgence is more worth it to me (bread or dessert? wine or bread?) But let’s face it — sometimes I just end up getting all of the above, and that’s okay too as long as it’s not an every day occurrence.
**I just want to clear up any misgivings that people have about Intermittent Fasting. This does not equate to “skipping meals”, but rather timing food within a smaller window throughout the day. If I fast until 11 am, I’ll eat breakfast at that time, lunch around 2:00 or 3:00, and dinner generally around 7:00. I still consume enough calories throughout the day, I really just eliminate the mindless snacking since my meals are a little bit closer together. I really enjoy doing this a few days per week; I find it helps keep me in better control of my hunger and my ability to control my hunger rage.
Readers: What are some general rules that you try to follow with your diet? Have you ever tried Intermittent Fasting or variations on your food timing? Does any of this sound totally crazy to you?