"I'm on a special paleo diet - which means no gluten, no dairy, no wheat, no potatoes, no nightshades, and no alcohol"
My heart sank.
"But I only stick to it sometimes"
At this moment, I realised, after all these years of study and coaching, that nutrition is still spiralling rapidly downhill.
Perhaps there are too many 'food rules'? Perhaps there are too many people with an agenda - to sell a book, a supplement, or a program? Perhaps the only way forward for human beings is to be on a strict diet?
Or, perhaps, as human beings, we have lost sight of the basics of eating well?
I'm the absolute first person to admit that eating well, for the general person, is so bloody hard.
We are bombarded with advertising. We are sold stories of new diets that rapidly shred fat from our body. We are blessed with convenience - drive-throughs, grab-and-go snacks, fast-food.
We have also lost touch with why we eat, and the absolute fundamentals of human nutrition.
Today, I don't want to dive into these points. Today, I want to outline the absolute fundamentals that we should be striving towards to become a healthier person. A healthier person can then become a leaner person, a stronger person, and happier person... the list becomes endless.
So here we go:
If I took 50 random strangers into Woolworths, and asked them all to fill their baskets with healthy food, I bet every single one of them could do it.
I don't think there is any argument that an apple is a healthier choice than a packaged, processed food item.
But, once we fill our shopping baskets with healthy food, whats next? How do we actually eat it? What balance should we have at every meal? How do we know if we're eating too much, or too little?
Fundamentally, the food we eat is comprised of 3 macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
All foods contain these 3 macronutrients to some degree. Some are primarily one macronutrient (e.g. Steak is primarily protein, with little carbohydrate. A grain is primarily carbohydrate, with little fat) and some are quite balanced (e.g. A legume is a mixture of protein and carbohydrate).
These 3 macronutrients serve different purposes within the body. They are all important, hence why for the general person, all 3 should be consumed as part of eating well.
So, the first point to eating well, is ensuring you are getting all 3 of the macronutrients in a meal. Let's look into this a little deeper:
Protein, found in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy and plant products such as legumes and lentils, helps to keep you full. Of course, feeling full in between meals means we eat less food overall. A win right there for eating well!
Protein is a great thing to base your meals around. And, if you include it at every meal, you'll eat less throughout the day. But just how much should we eat at every meal? Well, as a general rule, look at the size of your palm. If the protein source you are consuming is around that size, it's perfect (for women. For men, it's 2 palms).
Carbohydrates, found in grains, veggies, fruits, and dairy, are our energy building blocks. Have you ever noticed that you crave sugary foods in the afternoon? That's because your energy levels are dropping - and sugar is a quick energy fix. Luckily, now that we're introducing a palm sized portion of protein to your meals - which will keep you full in between meals - your energy levels won't be dropping in the afternoon!
Carbohydrates, in the form of grains (breads, rice, pasta, noodles etc) are an important source of fuel. But just how much should we eat at every meal? Again, look at your hand. If you make a cup with your hand, imagine you're using that cupped hand to pour the cooked grains onto your plate. There's your grain amount (for women. For men, its 2 cups).
Carbohydrates, in the form of fruits and veggies, are a little different. The wonderful thing about these foods is all the nutrients they contain. They are vitamin, mineral and phytochemical rich - which - for eating well, is incredibly important.
But just how much should we eat at every meal? Yep, look at your hand. Make a fist with it. Your veggie portion will be around the size of your fist on the plate (for women. For men, its 2 fists).
Lastly, we have fats. Fats are another important part of the process of eating well, however we don't need as many fats as we do protein and carbohydrates to be healthy. While some fats are healthier than others, we still only need a small amount of healthy fats per day, in comparison to the other macronutrients.
But just how much should we eat at every meal? Generally, the fats we prepare and cook our food in is enough. Think the olive oil you dress your salad with, or the coconut oil you fry your meat in. Again, look at your hand. Take your thumb, and measure your fat source against it. This is obviously difficult to do for oils, which are liquids (the thumb is about 1 tablespoon), however for foods such as nuts, it works perfectly (for women. For men, it's 2 thumbs).
So, if we put all of that information together, your 3 meals per day will look something like this:
This is all good and well, Drew, but what about my Friday night pizza night? Or my double chocolate muffin I LOVE to have every Sunday. Or beers with the guys when we catch up?
You know, funnily enough, this is all part of eating well.
Eating well isn't about strict rules. It isn't about deprivation. And it certainly shouldn't overtake your entire life.
Eating well implies that most of the time, you're getting your protein at every meal, your serving of grains, your veggies.
Some meals won't look like this at all. Some meals will be ALL carbohydrate (pasta, anyone?) and some meals will finish with dessert.
This is ok.
Remember, eating well means you follow the guidelines most of the time. And when you don't, you don't beat yourself up. You just move on.
Eating well means the majority of your shopping basket either needs to go in the fruit bowl at home, or in the fridge, not the cupboard.
Eating well means variety, not the opposite as most people think. It means trying different veggies, different cuts of meat, different herbs and spices, different cuisines.
Eating well means that most of the time, you've got a combination of protein, carbohydrates (grains) and veggies on your plate.
And, lastly, eating well means getting back to the basics. You're not on a diet, you're eating to feel lively. You're not following strict rules, only eating the best way to set yourself up for success. And you're not obsessing or failing for eating dessert, you're learning, accepting and moving on.
Let's eat well.
Drew is a personal trainer and nutritionist and is the co-founder of Evexia Wellbeing. Drew specialises in long-term habit change, body composition training, and mindset.