In all of our posts here at Aurelian we're looking to simplify things for you in order to make them actionable rather than overwhelming. Last week we outlined three key fitness tips to staying in great shape (link to that article here), and this week we're highlighting something that plays another fundamental part in all of this: nutrition. With Thanksgiving and the holidays right around the corner, what better time to get a handle on this.
1. Eat Real Food
This principle is really as simple as it sounds. Eat real food. If humans didn't eat it 100 years ago, don't eat it now. If it comes in a bunch of packaging and stays fresh for two years, it's probably not real food, so don't eat it.
For the most part, our bodies know what to do with real food and that alone can make a huge difference in how you look and feel. Real food is usually on the outer aisles of the supermarket - we're talking vegetables, potatoes, meat, dairy, legumes, whole grain rices and breads etc. And in the middle aisles we have all the fake food, aka: chips, cereals, candies, packaged snacks etc.
A few years ago a great film on food came out called Fed Up. It looked at the sugar epidemic in our country and the power of big food business to lure people in as early as infants. The film showed that most food sold by these big companies is laced with sugar (even things that aren't naturally sweet, like ketchup, for example) and that sugar can be more addictive than even the most extreme drugs.
The film followed a group of individuals from around the country, many of whom were teenagers, who were overweight or even obese and were working hard to lose the pounds. Many of these kids were exercising twice a day and then eating a bunch of "low fat" food bought by their parents, who thought that was the correct way to help get the pounds off. The reality is, low fat food is filled with added sugar and additives to maintain flavor and consistency since all the fat has been removed. So after months and even years of this routine, none of them were losing any weight, in fact despite all their effort, most were putting weight on.
All these individuals were then challenged by the film's producers to simply eat real food for a period of a month or two. They didn't need to worry about portion size or anything like that, the only stipulation was that it had to be real food they were eating. Well the results were pretty staggering. All the kids lost weight, and they lost a lot of weight, almost like their body was so ready to shed it off once given the right fuel.
The food business, the film argues, is very much like what the tobacco business used to be. They know it's bad, they know it's killing people, but they also know how addictive it is, how much money is at stake, and how to lure in people from a very young age. A lot of the lobbying that goes on in Washington from these companies focuses on pushing exercise as the primary way to shed weight and get in shape, and largely ignores food. They argue that if you're not losing the weight, well then you must not be working out hard enough or long enough.
But the reality is that food is 85-90% of the equation. But I'm here to tell you that it's really not hard. Forget the diets, forget the tiny portions, forget all that crap - just eat real food and that will take care of most of it. Sure, occasionally you can eat something fake and crappy - I for one have a huge sweet tooth - but we're talking about eating real food the majority of the time.
2. Get a sense of how much food you need
The second part of the equation is figuring out roughly the amount of nutrients you need based on your gender, age, height, activity level and goals. Never will I ever be someone who advocates measuring your food or doing any of that time consuming, mundane stuff. It's important to keep your relationship to food healthy and fluid and to live your life! But there is value in getting a sense of how much you need as an individual per day and also a sense of what foods provide what nutrients.
The simplest way to do this is to plug your stats into the TDEE calculator (here's the link). TDEE stands for "Total Daily Energy Expenditure" and it basically measures how many calories you need per day based on your personal stats. It also shows you your BMI (body mass index) as well as your ideal weight range. What's great about the tool is that it tells you how many calories you need to eat every day to stay the same weight. It also shows you how much you should eat if you're trying to lose weight or gain weight. Again, I'm not advocating for measuring your food or keeping a log of your eating, but so many people have no conception of their caloric needs and I think it's valuable to at least know. The calculator also shows you a breakdown of your macronutrient needs. Macronutrients refers to the three main nutrients our bodies need to survive and thrive: Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein.
Having at least a general ballpark sense of your caloric needs and macronutrient needs can be very helpful for keeping fit in mind and body. It's not only interesting to learn, but quickly becomes like second nature (even though in the beginning it can feel a little complicated.)
What's also helpful is getting a general sense of what foods have what macronutrients. Here's a simple chart that you can refer to. Once you have a sense of your caloric and macronutrient needs, as well as a general knowledge of what foods have what macronutrients, then you've empowered yourself with a really useful tool for your body and mind. Even having a general sense of this stuff can be so powerful and really help you take control of your goals. Take the TDEE test, look at the macronutrient chart, and before you know it, this stuff will be second nature.
Last thing I want to mention is that if you're pressed for time or live a really busy life, you may want to consider a meal prep service. There are so many good options out there now, providing meals made by professional chefs that are quality, affordable and designed for your goals.
Here are some of my favorite chef-prepared meal delivery services:
And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, here's a short article that ranks your Thanksgiving foods and sides by how healthy they are.
If you have any questions about any of this, please email us or leave a comment below, we'd love to hear from you!