There are no shortages of new diets or nutritional experts that can help with your health and body composition goals these days. With expanding science and the ability to self monitor the effects of certain foods or macronutrients on your body, we can now effectively pin point what is going to be best for optimal results. Measuring biomarkers, such as blood work, body fat % and monitoring energy levels can give you factual evidence on what works best and doesn’t work at all for your body.
Much like training programs, there is no one size fits all solution for any individual. One exercise or food could put someone in hospital, whilst on the other hand it could put another person in the Olympics with the right dose and genetics! Food can be a polarising subject for debate, as it has environmental, political, economical, religious and has cultural significance to people.
Setting that aside, the optimal diet is the one that is followed and is sustainable for long-term health and results. The “best” diet that your trainer or nutritional expert is trying to get you to eat is often too hard to comply with your regular lifestyle demands vs. the required effort for the long run. This is a very big reason why 95% of all diets fail and any weight that was lost, is regained within the first 1 to 5 years. 1 The trainer might be able to show you fantastic before and after photos of their success stories, which is impressive none the less, but it is the longer-term results you should be asking them about. How many of the before and afters are still in shape several months and years after their transformation?
For a longer-term approach it must be done with lifestyle in mind and the foresight for years and decades to come. Training for an aesthetic goal such as an event, photo shoot or specific date to look a certain way can be done with the correct planning and execution, however the wheels often fall off after the event or date because the person’s reasons WHY for following a strict protocol has passed, making it harder to maintain in the long term.
There is nothing wrong with striving for an aesthetic goal, however if the goal doesn’t have something of meaning or significance in the longer term, then much like a impulse purchase, it won’t change your life permanently!
Be careful taking advice or idolising certain trainers or sources of body inspiration from Instagram or fitness magazines without establishing credibility. Unfortunately this can be very misleading, with an image that is portrayed on social media or in magazines being photoshopped or the model preparing for the photo shoot taking certain performance or aesthetic –enhancing drugs to achieve a certain (temporary) look without revealing this to the audience. This gives people a false sense of what can be possible by simply following their program of “clean eating” and consistent exercise. I don’t have an issue with people taking drugs or touching up photos, if that’s what they want to do, but it becomes deceitful when giving advice on “how to look like me simply by eating green vegetables and lifting weights.” Look for consistency, humility and honesty in peoples messages without a self-indulgent promotion – this will keep you from being misled and having unrealistic expectations.
Having a longer-term approach doesn’t necessarily mean you will stick on a diet or protocol for +10 years. Rather you will see the bigger picture of health as an evolving process that you will improve upon year on year. No one gets it perfect 100% of the time and as new research comes out, learning what works for you as an individual will move you in the right direction. You mustn’t let the mistakes defeat you, use them as feedback for improvement.
Think of your health and diet much like financial investing – it’s a marathon not a sprint! Sure, there are get-rich quick schemes, much like there are drugs and short cut nutritional protocols that will get you from point A to point B quickly, but there are risks associated and health gets traded off for short term results. Play the long game and invest wisely!
Here are five steps to make sure your nutrition and food work for you:
Step 1: Start with the end in mind. Knowing where you would like to be will determine the steps required to get there. Take a long-term approach, with the view of learning and adapting along the way. It’s fine to have short-term milestone goals, but don’t neglect the big picture.
Step 2: Health must be a priority. Like I have said before, it’s ok have an aesthetic goal but make sure that it doesn’t come at the cost of longer term health. It most cases, if you make health a priority then the body will respond accordingly. Body composition, weight loss and appearance goals will come to fruition as a by-product of health.
Step 3: Establishing reasons why. Creating enough leverage on yourself to stick with it when temptation presents is critical. It’s ok to step off your eating plan for cheat days or special occasions. Plan for incidental mistakes or slipups, just make sure they don’t become a frequent habit. Good habits are hard to keep and bad habits are easy to start.
Step 4: Measure. Measuring is the best way to track progress and gain feedback. Don’t just leave it to the subjective mirror or your partner to give you feedback. The more data you track, the better you can establish what works for you individually and you can adjust accordingly. Tracking everything can be a chore, so just focus on the basics unless you love analytics. The basic things to track are blood tests (blood glucose, cholesterol etc.), body weight, body composition, energy levels and sleep.
Step 5: Pick a method and follow through. There is no way to know if something is going to work unless you follow and test it. Remember it’s not a one-size-fits -all approach. Just because your neighbour lost 10kg on a Paleo diet doesn’t mean it will work for you. Assess and never guess. There will be certain genetics that will do better with specific macronutrients ratios and types of foods. Seek professional unbiased help to accelerate the learning process.
- The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, ‘95% of Diets Fail and Most Will Regain Their Lost Weight in 1-5 Years’, Statistics on Weight Discrimination: A Waste of Talent, (2011).