Whatever your health and fitness goal is, working out on its own is simply not enough.
You also need to eat according to your goals.
Healthy eating isn’t only important when you are trying to lose weight – it is also important if you want to lift more, feel more energized, run faster, live longer and FEEL BETTER.
And while each goal may require you to eat in slightly different way, there are some guidelines you need to follow no matter your fitness goal.
Below are the 10 Healthy Eating Guidelines you need to follow if you want all your hard work in the gym to pay off.
1. Don’t get caught up in what worked for someone else. Track and change your diet when necessary. The first thing you must realize when it comes to healthy eating, is that no one diet is going to work for everyone. That diet that your friend has been raving about for months may not work for you. You may want to try your friend’s diet but don’t blindly follow it if you aren’t getting results. Take your time and experiment. Track your diet and then make changes based on what works and what doesn’t work. Track and experiment until you find something that works for YOU.
2. Eat whole, natural foods. No matter whether or not you believe in eating meat, dairy or grains, your diet needs to revolve around whole, natural foods. The more local and seasonally you eat, the better. Cut out the processed crap. Cut out the foods with a hundred different ingredients that you can’t even pronounce. Cut out the pre-cooked meals. Cook as much as you can with whole foods that you know where they came from.
3. Don’t fall for labels. Just because something says “All-Natural,” “Low Fat,” or “Gluten-Free,” doesn’t mean it is healthy. Do not fall for labels that are just meant to sell you a product. If something needs a label to tell you it’s healthy, it probably isn’t! Stick with whole, natural foods as much as you can and read the ingredient list to determine for yourself if something is healthy.
4. Keep it simple! All too often we overcomplicate our diets. We get stuck on tons of small details when we don’t even have the main pillars of our diet set. Start with the basics. Then worry about the details. When we get bogged down in the details, we get overwhelmed and generally give up on our diet. And on top of that, don’t get too worried about variety. Keep things simple. Pick out a few healthy food you enjoy and build your diet around them. Pick out recipes around these foods. Try to pick recipes that require many of the same ingredients so your grocery list is short and simple. You may even want to stick with the same recipes for a month before switching it up so that you aren’t constantly having to figure out what to make. You can also then get in a rhythm for prepping meals, which will make sticking to your healthy diet even easier.
5. Preparation is key. When we aren’t prepared, we give ourselves an excuse to deviate from what we know we SHOULD be doing. Meal prep and planning are extremely important especially when starting a new healthy diet. The easiest way to be prepared is to cook meals that make more than one serving so that you have leftovers for later that week. Crockpots and crockpot recipes are great when it comes to healthy meal prep because you can not only make large quantities of food, but you can also let it cook all day while you go about your normal business. Preparation is also key for when you travel and even plan to eat out. Decide ahead of time how you are going to eat. Are you going to “cheat?” Or are you going to stick to your diet? If you make up your mind ahead of time, you will have an easier time not deviating from your plan. A great way to prep for trips or meals out with friends is to look at the menus or at least know what your basic healthy options are when you dine out. The more you can prepare yourself for different situations, the better off you will be. Being happy with your decision is also key even if you aren’t completely prepared. If you do end up cheating, don’t regret it. Enjoy and get right back on track the next meal or next day!
6. Don’t expect perfection – the 80/20 rule. You don’t need to stick to your diet every day all day. Expecting perfection out of ourselves is what usually leads us into a binge cycle. However, by allowing ourselves to indulge every once in awhile we can stave off disaster. However, like guideline #1 says, “don’t get caught up in what worked for someone else.” For some, “cheat days” or “cheat meals” work well. While for other little treats every single day work. Know yourself and experiment until you find out what works for you.
7. Listen to your body and feed your activity. A good rule of thumb is to eat when you are hungry. If you aren’t hungry for breakfast, don’t force yourself to eat it. However, that doesn’t mean skipping breakfast and starving yourself until you end up binge eating out of sheer hunger. The goal is to listen to your body and eat when you are hungry. For example, if you workout more one day, you may find you are hungry and need to eat more. You may even crave more carbs. While on days when you don’t work out, you won’t need as many calories so shouldn’t necessarily eat as much. Don’t feel the need to eat the same amount at the same time every single day. Eat when you are hungry. Eat based on your activity level that day. If your craving carbs or fat, you may need to consume more that day. If all you do is sit on the couch, you shouldn’t eat as much as on a day when you are super active. Listen to what your body needs.
8. Cycle your carbs. Carbs are not evil. While some people may function better on a lower carb diet, other people may find they function better with more carbs. Find what works best for you. Also, you may find you need more carbs when you workout super intensely and fewer carbs when you don’t work out. Don’t be afraid to cycle your carbs. You may even find that you feel best when going low carb all week and simply doing a single day refeed. Experiment and test out different cycles to find out what works best.
9. Stay hydrated. Often we feel hungry when we are actually thirsty. Often we eat out of boredom. Sometimes water is all we need. Plus being properly hydrated means a well functioning metabolism. So not only can drinking water prevent us from eating unnecessary calories it can also help us properly burn the calories we do eat!
10. Don’t avoid fats. Fat doesn’t make you fat. Actually fat may be the missing component to your diet especially if your goal is weight loss. Fat keeps you feeling full for longer, which means you won’t eat unnecessary calories during the day. And fats are also very good for your health. Some great foods for healthy fats are fish, olive oil and coconut products (among many more).
There are two underlying principles of these guidelines that I would like to note. First, when you decide to eat a healthy diet, you need to UNDERSTAND why you choose to eat the way you do. Be you Paleo, Primal, Vegetarian or Vegan, understand why your diet is healthy. Don’t just follow a diet blindly because your friend says it is healthy.
Also, EXPERIMENTATION is key to finding something that works for YOU. How we incorporate all of the guidelines above will vary from person to person. Experiment, and as you do, track what you do so that you can make changes as you go. If you don’t track, you won’t know what to change and what to continue doing.