As a personal trainer, I have always considered nutrition my biggest weakness. Sure I know I eat pretty healthy on average and I can certainly tell my clients whether or not what they are eating is healthy. I can even tell them why. But when it comes to creating a balanced meal plan and calculating calorie intake vs expenditure, well… I’d rather do burpees.
As a naturally lean person, diets and calories have never been something I have had to consider to maintain my health or weight so I’ve never given much thought to diets in general, I just eat healthily. Recently I thought to myself, ‘As a personal trainer, I really should make this more of a priority for me’, so I set about brushing up on my nutrition knowledge.
I looked at my old notes from when I started doing personal training, I read some nutrition and sports related articles on the ever-helpful Facebook, and downloaded some audiobooks on the topic to listen to in the car on my way to and from work. I found myself getting frustrated, because the more I read, the less I felt I knew!
THERE IS SO MUCH CONFLICTING INFORMATION ON DIET!!!
“Calories are everything, You can eat what you like as long as it fits your macro’s”
“Calories don’t matter, it’s what you eat that’s more important”
“Meat and animal products give you cancer”
“Gluten is bad for everyone"
“Eat only what our ancient ancestors ate”
“Diet shakes are the solution”
“Don’t ever diet or exercise again, here’s the best, newest, greatest most expensive pill on the market... It’ll solve all of your problems!”
The contradictory list goes on!
I thought ‘if I work in an industry that is so closely related to nutrition and I’m getting confused, how on earth is your average Joe/Josephine going to feel when they want to lose weight or improve their health?!’
So I read more. I listened more and I researched more. I listened to experts on Raw food, Cooked food and Paleo food. I read about diets that cut out sugars, grains or meats. And listened to scientists talk about additives, ageing and microbes. They all had great points, they were all slightly different and they all claimed to have a significant benefit, whether it be lose weight, prevent disease, live longer or cure diseases, including cancer. So what did I learn?
Well it came down to two major things.
1: Don’t trust everything you read, even if the author is a well educated science professional.
As well meaning as all of the authors and scientists may be, it’s human nature to find evidence that confirms something you already believe (especially if that belief makes you hundreds of thousands of dollars!) and while they may be right in a lot of ways, it’s easy to skew a statistic here and there (intentionally or otherwise) to solidify a convenient conclusion. Most of us as consumers don’t have the time or the resources to dig into the original research and make our own evidence based conclusions, so we assume the best and take it at face value.
2: No one diet is perfect for everyone.
We are all different. From our genes to our environment, from our gut bacteria to our body shape to our economic status. All of these things are factors that influence our weight, health, size, the ability to start and stick to a particular diet, and the likelihood that it’ll be effective long term. What may be a perfect diet for one person may be disastrous for another.
These two things aren’t all that helpful when choosing a diet, right? So... how do these realisations help me or my clients?
After reassessing my perspective, I realised that I’d over-complicated everything and missed the most important theme connecting all of the diets I’d researched. I am a personal trainer. I don’t have to fix anyone’s skin conditions, predisposition to diabetes or hormonal imbalances. I don’t have to choose what diet is going to work best for someone (I can leave that to the experts!). All I have to do is teach my clients to eat better food to get the most out of their training and keep healthy so that they can reach their goals and live a healthier, happier life.
Even though it’s difficult to decipher which authors had their research right, and which diets actually did what they claimed to do, they did all have a common theme that was fundamental for health and vitality. Each of the diets recommended these things in one way or another, and as is often the case, confirmed what we already know, just in a bunch of different ways! These things are something I will always be happy to recommend to anyone wanting to change their lifestyle and they come in the form of simple principles to follow in your daily life.
1. Eat predominantly vegetables (5 - 8 serves a day), with a wide variety of colours, flavours and textures, both cooked and raw.
2. Eat good quality, natural proteins including lean meats and fish, nuts, seeds and legumes. Animal products are best raised free range and fed what they would naturally eat.
3. Drink plenty of fresh water (and a little bit of red wine!) definitely reduce sugary drinks, including fruit juices.
4. Eat less processed and packaged foods, especially artificial additives and processed meats.
5. Find the right foods for you. As I said before, there are numerous factors that make us each unique, and as such, our bodies will react differently to different foods. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! It does tell you things! Bloating, cramping, gas, tiredness and irritability are just a few signs that something you ate isn’t right for you. You can start to find out by keeping a food diary and writing down what you eat and how you react afterwards.
6. Enjoy your food! (I may have added this one myself) I like to say to my clients, ‘There’s a fine line between health and happiness’. I will never tell someone not to eat chocolate ever again, because when you feel deprived, you’ll just want and eat more of it. There’s no use having a perfect diet if it makes you miserable! Find a balance that is sustainable long term and fully enjoy the finer things in life. Savour them, make them last, and appreciate them. And then enjoy the rest of your nutritious diet too!
These days we have so much new information available to us everyday and its easy to get confused by it all. It’s best to just keep it simple!