At the end of 2013, I planned to gain 20 pounds over a three-month span; I would attempt to do so by drinking calories and adding grains and dairy back into my diet. My point was to show how much diet regulates our mental health and physical appearance. I managed to gain 10 pounds in under one month before throwing in the towel. I started to break out in pimples, my energy levels were shot, I was irritable as hell and I generally just felt like crap. The picture below shows the results of switching back to my regular diet of lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats with no dairy or grains, A.K.A.“The Paleo Diet”. In three short months (without changing my workout routine or doing cardio) I dropped back down to my previous physique and feel better than ever. The way I did it was actually quite simple and only involved a few nutritional guidelines. Here they are:
- Eat 30 grams of protein for breakfast
- Don’t drink calories
- Avoid grains and dairy
- Have an occasional cheat day
Brush your teeth, take a shower, eat 30 grams of protein- this is your new morning routine. We all know “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” but there’s more to this, as it comes down to the type of breakfast you eat too. Eating a breakfast high in protein does two things for your system; One, It fires up your metabolism, which is responsible for energy production and fat burning- add some healthy fats to your meal and your body also begins burning fuel stores (fat). Two, proteins increase your sense of satiation, keeping you fuller for longer. This will curb your hunger later into the day- you will generally eat less and not feel as hungry. If you’ve ever eaten just cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, you’ve probably experienced the 10:30 a.m. hunger pains that accompany this type of early morning feeding. It’s also important to remember that when you eat simple carbs (such as cereal or oatmeal) for breakfast, these foods immediately turn to sugar in your bloodstream. Simple carbs act as instant energy for your system. When you go to work, sit down and don’t burn that energy, it turns into stored fuel (and remember, by this I mean fat). For great ideas on how to get lean proteins into your morning routine click here.
Besides upping your protein intake up in the morning, ceasing to drink calories is by far the easiest change you can make to your health and physique. It saves you money, improves your general well-being and sheds the pounds off of your waist line, fast. Drink water, lots of it. I can’t repeat how important this is, as we are made up of mostly H2O. Drinking lots of water will increase your energy levels, improve your mood and even help you eat less; our brains have a tendency to mistake thirst for hunger. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re feeling hungry, drink a glass of water and watch what happens. If you need a pick me up, drink tea or coffee, skip the sugar and go for cinnamon instead, its a natural spice which increases your metabolism. Recently, I’ve been hooked on “bullet-proof coffee” which gives a sustained coffee buzz and assists in vitamin and mineral absorption thanks to the added butter- it’s a game changer. Stay away from juice, especially fruit juice. An orange juice alone can have over 50 grams of sugar in it, and guess where that sugar goes? Right to your waist line. I’ll skip talking about soda, since you already know it’s bad for you, and if you must drink a diet-soda, don’t! Studies have shown that people who consume diet-sodas gain even more weight than those who consume regular soda. Seems counter intuitive right? Well, according to Dr. Brooke Alpert, author of The Sugar Detox, sugar stand-ins have been shown to have the same effect on your body as sugar. “Artificial sweeteners trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode and leads to weight gain.” Limit the amount of calories you drink, it’s easy and extremely effective.
Nutrition rule #3, is by far the hardest to follow; avoid grains and dairy. If you’ve read some of my blogs you know I love burritos and hamburgers just as much as the next guy, so what I’m saying may sound contradictory. Remember this; it’s not the occasional treat that makes us unhealthy, it’s eating poorly on a daily basis that does. It’s all about healthy habits and balance. So why no grains? As I briefly explained before, simple carbohydrates (breads, pastas, bagels, wheat, rice, corn) are in essence sugar. They contain high amounts of calories (energy) which immediately turn into sugar when they hit the bloodstream. This is why runners “carb-load” the night before a race. Sugar is very a accessible fuel source for the body, the problem is (and especially for those who have office jobs) that we really don’t need that much of it. When sugar doesn’t get used, it gets turned into fat. Combing high amounts of refined carbohydrates with limited movement is a recipe for disaster. Limiting the amount of simple carbohydrates you consume will signal your body to switch over to a new source of fuel; stored fat. It takes a week or so for you and your body to get used to your new source of energy and can cause some initial irritability. The good news, however, after you get over the hump, your energy levels will increase and you will start burning fat. It’s really just simple science more than anything. If you’re interested in the facts, I’ve found this great source explaining the fat storage process. The second caveat for rule #3 is to avoid dairy, here’s why; dairy is loaded with sugar AND increases the amount of mucus in your system. I’ve personally been dairy free for about 10 years. Eating dairy can really pack on the pounds and think about this- no other mammals drink milk in adulthood or drink the milk of other mammals besides humans. If there were a missing gene in our biology which required us to drink milk after childhood, we wouldn’t have survived as a species all of these years. Cut milk from your diet, watch the pounds come off and you’ll even see allergies and colds decrease from preventing mucus build-up in your system. There are plenty of other great substitutes to milk, such as almond, rice or coconut milk. All are naturally sugar-free, high in vitamins and contain healthy fats.
The final nutrition rule, which I have devoted a whole article to before, is my favorite– cheatday (I won’t go to far into it as the link provided does). Briefly know this; a cheat day is fun, keeps you motivated throughout the week to eat healthy and can actually help burn more calories when accompanied with a clean diet (rules #1-3). Implementing a cheat day into your diet should only be done if you are eating a clean and healthy diet and getting daily exercise; it is not an excuse to pig out, it is rather a reward for being healthy and achieving your goals.
It’s important to remember that when we talk about health and wellness, 80% is really nutritional. Exercise, positive thinking and life balance are all important. But, the type, quantity and quality of food you put into your body sets the tone for how you feel, how you look and how long you will live. I’m by no means claiming that the rules I’ve suggested are the only way to eat, but I am suggesting the way most of us eat is broken and needs to be changed. With 2/3 of the American population being overweight or obese, something is wrong and something needs to be changed. I say it starts with diet and it starts with four big, yet simple rules.
Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.