Despite the wealth of information out there about eating for health, weight loss and muscle gain, I believe that most people are still confused when it comes to nutrition. That they think there is some magic formula for eating correctly and reaching their health and fitness goals.
The evidence? Almost daily, in the gym, in the grocery store, after teaching a group fitness or indoor cycling class, someone approaches me and asks “but what do you eat?”. I’m assuming that they want my opinion because I teach fitness classes and look strong and lean (feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong).
I don’t follow any specific diet. Not Atkins or Weight Watchers or The Zone. I don’t count calories or points. I have a cookie when I feel like it (but only one). I have a weakness for chocolate. What, then, do I eat?
For the last three years, I have been following the tenets of Clean Eating;
- eating 5 or 6 small meals per day
- drinking lots and lots of water
- consuming whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats at each meal
- limiting my alcohol consumption (no more than 2 glasses per week)
- avoiding processed and packaged foods (no crackers or store-bought cookies)
- attempting (ahem) to eliminate white sugar (this one is really hard for me)
I didn’t always eat this way. My husband is Italian and we used to eat lots of pasta, often with creamy sauces and fresh-from-the-bakery bread. I would happily eat a Starbucks muffin for lunch, thinking that because it was a ‘bran’ muffin, it was good for me. Cheese and crackers were a common evening snack (with a glass of vino, of course!).
After the birth of my third child, I started lifting weights. My body responded quickly to this new (to me) form of exercise (although I went from a size 12 to a size 6-8, I lost virtually no weight on the scales!) and I began to get serious about the nutritional side of fitness.
So, what do I eat?
I always eat breakfast (the best way to lose weight and maintain muscle). Usually it’s the remains of my children’s home-made, whole-grain waffles (I add quinoa flakes and whey powder for extra protein, flax seed, wheat germ and wheat bran for fiber and healthy fat), dressed with a bit of non-fat yogurt and some fruit. I don’t drink juice; water is much better for you!
Mid-morning snack is usually fruit and nuts (and only a few; although they are a great source of healthy fat, nuts are extremely high in calories), although if I’ve had a tough workout, this is when I’ll have my fruit and whey powder shake.
Lunch is always veggies and lean protein; cottage cheese or turkey or left-over chicken mixed with a cup or two of whatever raw veggies are in the fridge (my favorites are red and yellow peppers, cucumbers and spinach). No dressing, but a handful of unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds for crunch and healthy fat.
Mid-afternoon snack might be an apple or banana and peanut butter (no salt, no sugar added), or a brown rice cake with almond butter.
Dinner is always lots of greens (I’m loving kale, right now) and lean protein (about 4 oz). If I’m needing a bit more energy (days I teach and train, or when I have to teach in the evening), I’ll add a whole grain (couscous, quinoa, brown rice) or starchy vegetable (sweet potato, squash) to the meal. During the week, I usually make a fruit salad for dessert.
Some evenings I find that I need a snack (whole grain cereal and 1% milk or fruit and yogurt), some evenings I don’t.
My daily splurges? A teaspoon of chocolate syrup in my coffee, a ‘clean’ cookie or muffin that I’ve baked myself.
My weekly splurges? A glass of wine on Friday and maybe Saturday night. A small piece of some decadent dessert on Friday and Sunday evenings (those are ‘dessert nights’ in my house, without which my children would not be so patient with the rest of the healthy foods I present them with during the week).
There’s really nothing magical about eating healthily; eliminating white sugar and white flour is tricky at the start, but with practice and some good recipes, you’ll be eating clean (and losing fat!) before you know it.