“Don’t eat like a 12-year-old”
That’s what my friend said to me when one of my overweight friends was asking how he should approach a diet.
I mean, if that shit isn’t fundamental I’m not really sure what is.
It makes a lot of sense. Most 12-year old’s don’t care about what they eat. They eat junk food or fast food. When I was in high school I didn’t think twice about eating whatever was in front of me, healthy or not.
If you think about it, that quote is probably one of the best insights when it comes to your diet. And look, my bud isn’t rocking a six-pack. He certainly isn’t the poster child for the healthiest lifestyle of the year. But all in all, he’s in good shape and eats relatively well.
The reason I bring up that story is that what you should know about nutrition, is pretty much boiled down into 7 words. And I know what you’re thinking.
Is that really it?
If that’s the case, why is nutrition and dieting so hard?
Because when you don’t know much about a healthy diet, everyone has the same fundamental question:
Where do I start?
And that’s where you get into all the tactics. Juice cleanses, detoxes, and fasting. Diets like keto, low-carb, and paleo.
It’s no surprise that the diet industry is a whopping $72 billion dollars a year. It’s growing too. It’s because everyone focuses on the tactics, the newest trends, the fad diets.
That shiny “new diet” people can’t wait to start goes through a rollercoaster of emotions.
But then real life happens.
- You’re stressed at work.
- You’re out with clients and friends.
- You’re craving that snack.
- And then you break.
- And then you indulge.
- And then you yo-yo.
Everyone wants a shiny new object. But the fundamentals are what always get you the results.
And that’s not to say that the tactics and diets above are necessarily bad. It’s never a one size fits all. But realistically, anyone who has the questions of where should you start – should first focus on building a solid base for nutrition, focus on the fundamentals, and avoid the misconceptions.
So let’s get back to the basics bitches.
Fundamentals of Nutrition Everyone Should Know
When thinking through this, the real basics I put together are for people who really aren’t sure where to start, or are confused about diet. It’s been my experience that the following helps people make some pretty big strides in their own personal diets.
If you have a solid understanding of dieting, you probably stopped reading a while ago. If you’re still reading then these things will be pretty obvious to you.
Stay away from fads and dogmatic trends
When people want to make a change, they tend to go “all in”. Then it’s back to the same old routines. And you know what I’m talking about. Summer is just around the corner, so you need to get in “beach body” shape. The New Year brings a “new you”.
Those same people hit the gym, and their new diets, for … two weeks. Literally.
Then once that two-week mark hits, gyms clear out like weights were a plague. Salads stopped getting ordered like there was an E.Coli outbreak. And it’s the same thing over again until next year or next summer.
Sometimes the “all in” mentality manifests itself differently. The bodybuilders, the cross-fitters, the novices, etc. People who become so obsessed with their diet they sacrifice their social lives to stay away from the temptation of eating poorly. Or people who follow a specific diet/routine within a fitness circle who preach about how (insert name of the diet here) is the right and only way.
Stop following the crowds.
Big changes often require many small steps. Small changes don’t require you to go “all in”. Build momentum. Before you know it, whatever it is you’re working to improve, including your diet, has transformed.
Don’t make a New Year’s Resolution on revamping your diet. Don’t get so obsessed about your diet it becomes unhealthy. And don’t think that there is only “one way” to diet.
Instead, take one small step towards making a change in your diet for the better and then build on that. And don’t wait until the New Year or next summer. Do it now.
Which is why I think that …
Eating More Veggies and Drinking More Water is Typically a Good Place to Start
Anybody who knows anything about nutrition will never argue this. Veggies and water are great staples to anybody’s diet, no matter how advanced you are, or if you’re a novice.
Having more vegetables on your plate benefits you for a few reasons:
- They contain fiber which is not only good for your digestive system and bowel movements but fill you up.
- They’re low in calories.
- They’re nutrient-rich.
And there are a lot more benefits. Obviously, eating vegetables is just a part of the equation. Water is the other half. You need to be hydrated. Aside from the benefits below, survival is the most obvious.
- Staying full. Hunger pangs are sometimes disguised as dehydration.
- Water has no calories, unlike other beverages that you might consume.
- Water also helps with making nutrients accessible and lubricate the body (think tissues, joints, skin).
This doesn’t necessarily mean drinking a gallon of water a day. It just means to minimize the calories you consume via drinking. Sugary drinks like lemonade, iced tea, and soda are culprits for adding unnecessary calories and sugar into your body.
Anyone who I’ve worked with or asks for diet advice will make huge strides by just doing the above.
Long story short, drink that water up.
Knowing how to Select Quality Food on a Consistent Basis
A lot of people will make food choices thinking that they are healthy choices when really, they’re not. A lot of it goes back to your understanding of what constitutes “healthy food” and knowing how to make choices when you’re not cooking (i.e., take out, eating out at a restaurant).
A lot of rules that are easy to live by when it comes to selecting food:
- Stick to the ends of grocery stores (ie produce and meat)
- Read ingredients (if it’s got a lot of shit in it, think twice about what you’re putting in your body)
- Ask how it’s made if you’re eating out or just select a salad with dressing on the side (and add a protein)
Again, a shitload to unpack there. Generally speaking though, these are pretty solid pillars that will hold you up when it comes to sound nutrition.
Now let’s talk about some common misconceptions …
Common Misconceptions of Nutrition
This is the fun stuff. And it really kind of echoes what I was saying above.
You don’t have to stick to a diet. Ever.
We tend to look at diet as minimizing unhealthy food, or a caloric deficit. There’s another definition too. “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.”
And yes, I googled that shit. But it’s super simple. Good eating habits? Good diet.
If I want to have that pizza, ice cream, or burger, I’m having it. It shouldn’t be a staple in everyone’s diet … or should it 😏.
Totally kidding …
Everything in moderation.
I don’t think that there is a hard and fast rule to this but generally speaking, on a weekly basis, most of your week should be composed of primarily healthy meals. And if you’re not sure what “healthy” means, read above. Eating more veggies and drinking more water is a decent place to start.
There are other ways where you can start eating healthy, and I’m a firm believer that it all begins with some type of baseline and education. It’s a little bit much to dig into here, but feel free to check out some resources that will do the quick and dirty heavy lifting for you:
And here are some excellent books that I’ve round great for practical diet advice:
There’s obviously a lot more great resources. But those are solid starting points.
I think that people tend to look at a specific diet and think that it is the right or only way. This leads you down a road of dogma. Or you follow a diet in such a prescriptive manner without you miss the bigger picture.
It’s worth noting that, yes, there are diets like Paleo, or Keto, which do work for some people and are valuable. I’m not going to contest that. But if you’re saying that eating a certain way is the right way, or the only way, to reach your health goals – then you’re on the wrong path.
You’ll See Results Fast
Probably not. I wish that was the case. I’m sure everyone else does too haha.
If you’re on the far end of the spectrum of being overweight, you’ll definitely see results fast. And if you’re doing an extreme diet where you’re drastically decreasing your daily caloric intake then yes, you’ll see results fast. But if you want to have sustainable long term results that don’t take you from one extreme to another then no, you won’t.
That’s why you’re run of the mill 7-day juicing detox, or no-carb, and get ripped in 30 days is just a bunch of bullshit. If you want a diet that is sustainable, then you’re going to have to put in the work to get the long term effects. That looks more like a six month to a one-year timeline. The benefit of taking the long term approach is that you don’t yo-yo or fall right back into a vicious cycle of failing and never getting anywhere.
I wish that wasn’t the case but at the end of the day, there is no magic diet or pill that substitutes hard work. If there was, you wouldn’t have read this far.
You Should Stay Away from “Unhealthy” Foods
Yes, you do have to eat the right foods consistently.
But that doesn’t mean never having a slice of pizza or eating ice cream again. For your own sanity, you should be eating foods you enjoy. This goes into that 150% mentality that everyone has when they start a diet and I was referring to before. That “all in” mentality loses steam fast when you’re 2 weeks into this new “diet” and you’re not accustomed to the drastic shift in your eating habits. It takes time. Small steps are the best way to go. If you’re depriving yourself of foods you enjoy, it’s not sustainable or even realistic, quite frankly.
At the end of the day, I’m eating healthy and working out so that I can have a good quality of life and feel good about myself. Physically and mentally.
If having a few glasses of bourbon at a party, cheeseburgers at a barbecue, or late-night pizza and that ends up shaving off a couple of years off my life, so be it.
We all work hard to have nice things and nice lives. I take the same approach to nutrition and fitness. There has to be room to enjoy yourself too you know. If not, then what’s the point? Hope that makes sense and that these fundamentals and misconceptions help.
As always, thank you so much for reading!
PS – if you’d like to learn more about how to eat right and get fit all while managing your day to day as a knowledge worker, sign up for my newsletter at deskjoblife.com
Photo Credit: Create and Share Awesome Images