Why bother looking at a strategy?
Everyone has different goals so having a one size fits all approach to your nutrition should be the last thing you attempt to do. For example the strategy that a Bride or Groom uses to drop some body fat before a wedding in 12 weeks could be completely different to the 52 year old office worker wanting to become healthier and feel more energetic.
Understanding your end goal is important to do before setting off on any journey. How extreme is it? How long do you have to complete this goal? From here we can start to build up a picture of where our strategies need to aline with our goals. It’s worth asking some more questions when it comes to defining your strategy too:
- What are the demands on my life by beginning to implement this particular strategy? E.g. will it require me to learn new skills
- When initial perceptions do I have around nutrition that might impact this strategy? E.g. I’ve always gone low carb, is this doomed to failure because it’s not following that strategy?
- What is my current nutritional understanding, am I starting from scratch or am I relatively clued up on the main fundamental elements of nutrition and can crack on?
- Is this strategy realistic to my lifestyle? E.g. 20-year-old student with lots of free time vs busy professional woman in her 40’s with 3 kids?
We can generally split our strategies up into 3 areas:
- Blindly following e.g. meal plans
Each have their own merits and can be used in different circumstances when the conditions are right. So how do you decide which is for you?
Well let’s have a look at each of them now.
Unfortunately, there are lots of ‘Meal Plans’ doing the rounds out there. Food plans that get passed from person to person because one of their friends managed to lose some body fat eating chicken and broccoli for 6 weeks! The fact is this hasn’t taken into consideration anything about you as an individual and even though you might shed a few lbs with it, it is only because it has put you into a Calorie deficit by luck! So the questions would remain, are you getting enough Calories for health, is the protein levels appropriate for your goals and current training program, is it lacking in micronutrients? These are all important questions to ask before blindly following a meal plan.
Ok so where do meal plans actually fit into the nutrition spectrum?
Well they definitely can have a place when it comes to helping people understand nutrition better. They can be used as example meal planning and by that I mean it will allow people to look at example breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks etc and begin to understand what would be contained within them. They shouldn’t be a prescriptive plan that people just accept and stick to but rather a learning tool that could:
- Help understand portion sizes
- Help with the formation of new habits
- Reduce decision fatigue – remove some of the thinking behind deciding what to cook
In the end, if we’re not learning to implement new habits then a meal plan will ultimately end in failure as it’s generally not sustainable across our ever-changing modern-day lifestyles.
In this day and age alot of people are quite negative about tracking our energy intake. Whether it’s because they say it doesn’t work (it does), or it promotes negative tendencies towards food or even that we should just listen to our bodies when it comes to energy balance (some latest research on this can show energy balance maintenance might be possible from eating intuitively but from a fat loss point of view this is not a viable form of nutritional strategy). From an evidence-based perspective it 100% will work but that doesn’t mean there aren’t different tracking methods that you can utilise as and when you need to.
When would tracking be appropriate?
- When specific outcomes are needed e.g. lose 6kg in 5 weeks
- When you want to lol
- When goals are time-dependent e.g. wedding coming up
- When you have a pretty good relationship with food
- If you like data and numbers etc
- When your motivation and buy into the process is high!
What are the Pros and Cons of tracking?
- The data is there clear as day – can’t make it up
- You can manipulate your intake based on progress with current tracking setup
- With more specificity comes more control
- The ability to feedback on the process is immediate
- It may require you to educate yourself in how to track e.g software etc
- Can be time-consuming
- Potential to become obsessive
- May not always be possible – e.g. out for dinner
- Could take away from Intuitive eating strategies
Forms of tracking
It’s important to note that there are many forms of tracking:
- Continuous food diaries – good for you the client as you can maintain control
- Portion control – great first step into the world of tracking
- Protein tracking – useful for muscle building as it puts the focus on getting enough protein for use with resistance training
- Macronutrient ranges – allows for ranges of macro intakes e.g. higher carb intake on training days or room for higher fat/carb intake at a wedding
- Calorie tracking whether that’s every day or only on specific days. Every day could be used for people with a time-dependent goal or if you’re concerned with performance so you can ensure adequate energy availability. On specific days would be good for people who want more flexibility at say the weekend so they track their weekdays to ensure adherence to a certain Calorie target.
- Macronutrient tracking – good for bodybuilders to hit those vital numbers
So this type of strategy can be implemented pretty much any time any place. If your goal is not time-dependent, if you really struggle with nutritional habits, don’t have much knowledge on nutrition in general or if you just don’t want to actually track your intake then these are the strategies to look at!
- Less education required
- Less time consuming
- Possible anywhere
- Could be considered life long skills to have
- When it works it just works!
- Can be more restrictive
- satiety factors are a big part
- Food variety
- Social situations
- Tasty food! (palatability)
- Can be harder to manipulate and modify
- Hunger can be a major issue with non-tracking for some people
There are so many different ways to implement non-tracking methods for weight loss:
- In an ad libitum environment
- IF (Intermittent fasting) – Windowed Eating
- IF – ADF (Alternate-day fasting, 1 day eat next day don’t)
- IF – Eat, Stop, Eat
- Carb : Fat separation
- Low carb – Johnstone et al. (2008)
- Low fat – Mueller-Cunningham et al. (2003)
- Meal replacements
- Meal skipping
Each of the above will have their own merits and it’s really up to you to have a try to see which if any would work for you. Remember that you generally don’t fail the method, the method just isn’t right for you!
How to reduce Calories in a non-tracking strategy
- Change the food environment – make it harder for you to access Calorie dense foods. Don’t have them in the house!
- Use a smaller plate – the jury is out on this one but worth a shot!
- reduce portion size! May seem obvious but if you tend to have half a plate of chips with your dinner could you try a 1/4 instead?
- Eat at the table. Don’t sit in front of the TV as distracted eating is a surefire way of consuming more calories than you wanted.
- Up your protein intakes! By doing this you’ll feel more satisfied and fuller for longer
- Increase higher volume lower Calorie foods e.g. vegetable quantity
- Reduce tasty food – the more boring it is the less you’ll eat (sad but true)
Swapping food out – e.g. crisps for low kcal popcorn or normal Coke for Coke Zero.
The bottom is line is this – you have a vast array of meal plans, tracking and non-tracking strategies available to use. It’s down to you and possibly your nutrition coach to seek out what works for you. Once you find a strategy or strategies that you can stick and use as and when you need to to reach your goal or implement as a lifestyle change you’re essentially #winning
Go forth and conquer!
If none of this made any sense then eat more vegtables and protein and if you don’t eat oily fish consider taking some fish oil supplements!
Any questions just hit me!