How to stop screwing up on your diet (Part 4)
By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor
How to analyze your diet
I left off last time with an introduction to analyzing your diet, the second step to take once you have effectively analyzed, and challenged, your thoughts. In today’s article, I will explain how to do this.
Flexibility: (NOT a synonym for “macro counting”)
With “flexible dieting” now probably the predominant mode of dieting in the fitness world, a lot of people seem to think this is the be-all end-all alternative to restrictive dieting. While from a syntax standpoint, flexible dieting is literally the opposite of restrictive dieting, practically speaking, it is not the only alternative.
Anyone with a baseline comprehension of human nutrition (meaning people who actually study and understand this; not those who regurgitate sound bites they heard on YouTube videos) will tell you the main determinant of weight loss is an energy imbalance. So yes, it all boils down to calories in vs. calories out (CICO), and we can build upon that and say these calories come to us in the form of macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol), which ultimately come to us in the form of foods. This is to say, I do not at all reject the premise behind flexible dieting. This is the only true way to cause a change in body composition.
However, focusing solely on your macro-nutrients is not always enough of a measure, or the right measure, for some people. In fact, for some (although it is not wise to diagnose yourself as such right off the bat), macro counting and even calorie counting can be too restrictive or simply not the best way to do things. In nutrition counseling, the goal should be to find a method of achieving the physiological change I outlined in the last paragraph that works with the client’s personality, lifestyle, available resources, etc.
So when analyzing how flexible your diet is (and make no mistake, I do hold that it must be flexible), the requisite is not that it allows you to eat whatever you want as long as it is tracked. That is one way of doing things (a reductionist one, in my opinion, but for the purposes of this article, acceptable), but it is not the zenith of dieting tactics.
Maybe you have been aiming to keep your meals high in lean proteins and fibrous vegetables, with a portion of fruit for a few meals and some other complex carb source for others. Not a bad way of dieting in and of itself, but perhaps you find you are often on the run and do not have the time to sit down and prepare/cook so many of your meals. In this instance, your current diet might not be flexible enough for your needs and requires some reworking. This brings me to my next point.
Are certain foods “off limits”?
This is where I thoroughly appreciate the intentions of the “IIFYM” movement. Like I said, for some people, an effective means of dieting does not include tracking everything you eat. However, under very few circumstances is it healthy to adopt a “good food, bad food” mindset.
While it is the aforementioned mental aspects that lie at the root of the problem, this false dichotomy can serve as a vehicle for the unhelpful thoughts we want to challenge. By that I mean, if you consider brownies “bad” and carrots “good,” eating that brownie you have been dying for will fuel the voice that says you are not strong enough to follow through. “Oh well, you have already let yourself go, so you might as well stop trying.”
While it does not mean eating energy-dense, nutrient-void, hyperpalatable foods daily is a great idea, do not be afraid to curb some cravings every now and then with the actual food you are craving. Having to make low-carb protein pancakes and sugar-free Jello treats to satisfy a sweet tooth can get old, and sometimes an iHop pancake is called for. This does not justify a full blown “cheat day” or anything like that, but it does encourage you to not just ignore those cravings under some gung-ho, motivational pretense.
The bottom line is that dieting efforts become a lot more sustainable and enjoyable in the long run when they can accommodate real life and do not expect perfection from you.
In next week’s edition of the series, we can move on to the tragically misunderstood and abused concept of “damage controlling.” Make sure to tune in, as this is fundamental in learning how to keep up your dieting efforts in the long term and avoid restrict-binge cycles.