by Jessica Schmidley
It’s March, we’re still in winter, and many of us are still trying to get on track with those resolutions we made at the beginning of January. We see clients every single day who want to improve their health and body composition in some way, but they overcomplicate it.
“I just need to stop eating sugar”
“I’m only going to eat between 10am and 6pm”
“No more carbs”
Or any combination of those. These concepts seem simple in theory, but they require cutting out entire food groups, specific timing of when we can or cannot eat, or eliminating certain macronutrients (carbs/protein/fat). We also end up demonizing food, which just hurts our relationship with food in the long run. Food is fuel. There are better options and worse options depending on your goals, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate those things you enjoy forever.
What if we looked at it from a different perspective? What if instead of focusing on what we need to cut out, we focus on what to add in?
Most Americans eat a diet that is high in carbohydrates and fat, and low in protein. Protein helps many of our major body systems function effectively, most importantly helping us to grow and maintain muscle tissue.
Why is muscle important? Quite simply, when we talk about metabolism, muscle is a huge part of that. Muscle even at its resting state requires energy. The more muscle we maintain on our bodies, the more calories we burn daily without even lifting a finger. Plus as we age we lose muscle mass, so a diet rich in protein plus regular strength training is super important.
To get more protein in your diet, aim to have a good quality protein source in each main meal and at least one of your snacks. Sources like lean chicken/beef/pork, seafood, eggs, yogurt/Kefir, cottage cheese are good places to start for the bulk of your protein intake. Protein also takes longer for your body to digest and requires energy to digest as it moves through your digestive tract (meaning you burn calories just to digest the food!). Protein also helps to keep you full longer in between meals.
You can also supplement with protein powders/bars, beans, grains like quinoa and nuts but try not to make these your only sources of protein.
To put it simply, most of us don’t get enough vegetables in our diet. Vegetables add fiber and nutrients that our bodies need, and don’t get otherwise. Vegetables also help to fill you up with generally low caloric values. Basically, your stomach feels full because the vegetables take up a lot of space but don’t add a whole lot of calories to your daily intake.
Adding more vegetables to your daily meals can be challenging for some, and may take a bit more planning if you don’t usually do it.
Start easy, buy pre-prepped vegetables or salad mixes from the grocery store. Many stores like Heinen’s even have pre-cooked veggies that only require reheating at mealtime. Another great option that we utilize often is frozen veggies! Many come in microwave friendly bags, all you have to do is heat for a few minutes in the microwave, add a little seasoning and you're ready to go. I prefer frozen veggies to canned (better flavor and texture, and less salt), but that’s just me.
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of eating more veggies, branch out! Seek out new plant based recipes, different ways to sneak veggies into the foods you already eat (for example, whenever I make meatloaf of meatballs I chop up carrots, spinach and mushrooms to get more nutrients), or just new methods of preparing and cooking vegetables to bring out their best flavor and texture. Or, I’ll sub part of a higher calorie food for vegetables, like cutting my pasta portion in half and adding vegetables like zucchini or spaghetti squash to make up the other half.
Ditch the scarcity mindset:
Focus on adding more protein and vegetables to your diet and you’ll find you reach less for the other stuff. Fill your plate with good, nutrient dense foods most of the time. Feed your body what it needs and then enjoy those other foods in moderation.
When I was a kid, we always had to do our chores and homework before we could watch tv. It’s kind of like that. Eat your veggies and protein first and you can still have those other things in moderation once you’ve given your body what it needs. Beyond that, listen to your body and your hunger cues. Most often, once you’ve gotten those good protein and nutrient sources squared away, you’re naturally not that hungry for those things you were focused on leaving out!
Cutting out entire food groups or macronutrients usually only makes us want them more anyways. How will you ditch the scarcity mindset and improve your health this year?