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Figure out your nutrition strategy

This is an excerpt from Eat. Lift. Thrive. by Sohee Lee.

Figuring out your nutrition strategy means finding a way of eating that best suits you. I liken this to dress shopping. You may find a cute maxi that the mannequin is wearing at your favorite boutique store. You eagerly try it on only to find that it extends 8 inches (20 cm) past your feet and hugs you in all the wrong places. It looked promising but simply didn't fit right. So you put it back, keep searching through the clothing racks until you find another dress that has potential, and then you try that on for size. You continue in this manner until you find a red slip dress with a thick belt that makes you feel sexy and confident. As a bonus, it's perfectly comfortable, and it looks as if it was made just for you. This is the one - you've found your dress!

Any nutrition strategy could potentially work if it meets the following criteria:

  • Provides sufficient nutrients
  • Works with your lifestyle
  • Leaves you feeling your best, both physically and mentally

Whatever nutrition strategy you choose to adopt, the common denominator should be that you pay attention to your internal cues (how you're feeling, how the food tastes to you) rather than external cues (the size of your bowl, the time of day, your physical location). Indeed, research suggests that people with a higher body mass index (BMI) tend to rely on external cues to tell them when to stop eating (Sherwood et al. 2000).

This task is admittedly difficult. If eating right were easy, we wouldn't be battling an obesity problem. If it were a cakewalk, we wouldn't be struggling so much with maintaining weight loss.

I have friends who swear by Paleo, and others who are staunch advocates of intermittent fasting. That's all great. Rather than make blanket recommendations for everyone, I want you to stay open minded, experiment with various approaches, and find what works best for you.

Worry less about what you should be doing and start with what you can do and are willing to do consistently. If you're curious about any given nutrition strategy, I say try it out. Give it a solid two or three weeks. What's the worst that could happen? If you don't like the plan, go back to what you were doing before or find something else. No harm, no foul.

Recognize the difference between food noise and food voice. Food noise is allowing your eating decisions be dictated by distractions, peer pressure, and emotions; food voice is paying attention to both what you want and what you need and finding the intersection between the two. Food noise is reactive; food voice is proactive.

Don't be overwhelmed by what the media tell you is and is not good for your health. The flavor of the month used to be raspberry ketones, then it was gluten (or rather, lack thereof), and then it was juice cleanses. Who knows what the fad will be next month?

Meal Timing

You don't have to eat breakfast in the morning if you're not hungry and if you have no appetite. We have one camp that still likes to proclaim mightily that you must eat every two to three hours to stoke the metabolic fire, but that dictum has been proved not to be true (Taylor and Garrow 2001). Then at the opposite end, intermittent fasters are adamant about skipping breakfast (and intentionally restricting the feeding window overall) for extended lifespan, improved cardiovascular health, and enhanced brain function (Mattson and Wan 2005). The truth is that most studies looking at intermittent fasting have been conducted on either animals or people participating in Ramadan, and numerous design flaws have been pointed out in the existing research that makes bold claims.

The current verdict as it stands is this: The data are inconclusive at this time to make any hard and fast recommendations for the population one way or another. In addition, taking personal preference and individual response into account is important. Rather than sticking to dogma, find the approach that works best for you. See what I mean? Food voice.

When you do get hungry, rather than reach for the first edible item you see, take a moment to survey your options. Ideally, you will have done some planning and stocked your home (or your office or wherever you happen to be) with some healthy sources of food. After all, you're going to eat what you have access to and you're going to eat what you see(Wansink, Painter, and Lee 2006).

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to eat?
  • What will provide me with some valuable nutrients and keep me satiated?

Whatever that happens to be, eat that. Try to toss some protein in your meal if you find that it's lacking.

Table 5.1 gives examples of meals I might eat depending on my mood, energy level, and whether or not I'm exercising that day. Note that typically I have a higher carbohydrate intake when I have a workout planned for later and a higher fat intake for days off from the gym. This plan is largely by personal preference.

Even if I do have something on the nutritionally devoid side (hello, pancake syrup!), I'll pair it with some quality protein. And if I do consume a lot of added sugars in one meal, I'll make sure to pull it in at my next meal and add extra veggies. I don't panic or stress out over any single thing I eat; nothing with nutrition is ever unfixable.

Checks and balances, y'all.




Learn more about Eat. Lift. Thrive.

More Excerpts From Eat. Lift. Thrive.