Forget What You’ve Been Told.
You hear it from the time you’re in diapers. There are healthy and non-healthy foods. Soda and ice cream are always bad, while chicken and broccoli are always good. This is perpetuated so frequently that it becomes an accepted truth and dangerously no one questions it. That is about to change.
What is a healthy or, better yet, a “clean” food? Is it whole grain? Is it organic? Is it green? Herein lies the problem with the over simplistic notion of inherently good and bad foods. There are as many definitions as there are food choices.
Your body doesn’t respond to marketing claims or subjective ratings of food, all your body sees are nutrients: primarily fat, carbohydrates and protein (note that micronutrients are extremely important for basic processes in the body as well) and these are referred to as macronutrients. Nutrients are broken down into the body as glucose, fatty acids, amino acids. This means that your body does not see broccoli and say “Oh good, build muscle, lose fat,” instead, it sees the carbohydrates, fiber, and micronutrients found in broccoli, this is no different than any other food. Knowing that our body sees only nutrients is the first step to understanding flexible dieting.
One example of the body’s recognition of nutrients comes from research varying the sources of carbohydrates.
Example 1: Sugar is bad and turns straight to fat… right?
Numerous studies  have shown that when both subjects are in hypocaloric conditions (consuming less calories than burning) and macronutrients are matched between groups, that a high sugar diet vs. a low sugar diet shows no differences in weight loss or metabolism.
Therefore, whether your carbs are coming from sweet potatoes or Sweet Baby Ray BBQ Sauce your body sees the amount of carbohydrates coming from each one. Obviously, these two foods differ in other nutrients. Sweet potatoes have more potassium and fiber, to name a few, but the body sees 50 grams of carbs from sweet potatoes just like it sees 50 grams of carbs from the BBQ sauce. I would never advocate someone getting all of their carbs from BBQ sauce, but this does prove a point.
The same principle can be applied to protein. Your body does not see steak and say “let’s get fat” or see chicken and say “let’s get lean.” It’s rather a matter of quantity. Do red meat, fish and chicken all differ in their micronutrients? Of course, but again, your body will see 50 grams of protein from fish just as it will see 50 grams of protein from chicken. (Note: there are such things as complete and incomplete proteins, as a beginner I recommend not concerning yourself with that and instead hitting an overall protein goal. It’s pretty difficult to eat a high protein diet without the majority of it coming from complete protein sources.) Similar to the carbohydrate example, the overall number of grams of protein at the end of the day is what matters most.
Lastly, there is fat. Saturated and unsaturated fats differ slightly. The fear of saturated fat is largely overblown, especially considering other healthy lifestyle decisions and I won’t get into specifics. If you’ve understood the last two paragraphs this should be easy: 30 grams of fat from olive oil = 30 grams of fat from peanut butter.
It’s All About Context
Labeling foods as inherently good or bad is foolish. It is the equivalent of saying that 50 cups of broccoli a day is good, just because it’s broccoli. Contrastingly, 1 oz of chocolate is bad, just because it’s chocolate. When you put foods into context you really start to understand.
Micronutrients and fiber are very important, which is why I recommend getting at least 80% of your nutrients from lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. So, what about the other 20%? Well, if you’d like, they can be more of the same. Note that regardless of what the calorie source is, if you are in a caloric surplus (consuming more calories than you burn), you will gain weight. This 20% can also come from the “forbidden foods” most people will tell you to avoid if you are serious about your health such as ice cream, Oreos, Pop Tarts, cheesecake, etc. This is also known as “discretionary calories,” a concept even recommended by the USDA. “Discretionary calories” is a way of saying once the basic nutrient needs are met, the additional calories may come from whatever you would like, assuming you stay within your daily allotment.
You Can Do This “Diet” For Life
Hopefully, this article is a helpful introduction to what I like to call flexible dieting. This is not a typical diet for you to “try” for 2 months; this is just basic nutrition and physiology that will help you become healthier and achieve your fitness goals.
You can forget all the fad diets.
Forget having to pack your meals and eat separately from your family.
Learn the content of foods: what are fat, carb and protein contents and learn how to allow foods to fit your needs.
The diet should fit your life, not the other way around.
Simple Rules of Flexible Dieting (for those who skim):
Zack Feeney NASM PT - Fitness Artist Body Sculptor
National Level Powerlifter
National Level Strongman
USAPL NYS Referee
For dieters, the holiday period from around October through to January can be a true minefield. Between the specific holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with endless goody baskets and parties, folks can run into problems maintaining the habits they strive to follow the rest of the year.
A lot of strategies exist to deal with this time, although I’d consider few of them particularly healthy from a mental or psychological standpoint. One is to skip all food during the holidays. While this might avoid food issues, it’s also a way to make sure you won’t fully enjoy the holidays and the time with your family and friends.
I’ve even heard the need to take a meal or food with you in a Tupperware bowl. Newsflash folks, not only are we talking about a borderline eating disorder at this point, that kind of insanity just makes your family uncomfortable. So don’t do it. Better to stay home than be that person.
Of course, at the other extreme are the eaters who just go completely crazy and eat everything in sight, gaining a considerable amount of weight and fat in the three months of holidays. It can happen and I’m not saying that it can’t. Of course, if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter, you can just say “I’m bulking” as you shovel down the third piece of cake but I’ll assume that you actually want to keep a lid on weight/fat gains during this time period. Balance please.
As always, being a middle of the road kind of guy I am, I’m going to suggest some strategies that, while not quite as disturbed as taking broccoli with you to Thanksgiving, also doesn’t put you in the trap of gorging on fudge. In no particular order of importance, here are some tips to deal with holiday eating to not let it get out of hand.
1. Make Better Bad Choices
I forget who I stole this this idea from offhand but it’s nothing new. The simple fact, and I’ll come back to this point later, is that many people fall into the trap of “If I’m going to eat junk, I might as well jam as much of the worst stuff I can down my food hole.” That’s silly.
Instead, try to make better bad choices. Limit portions (you know that you don’t really NEED three pieces of cake to be satisfied). Pick the lower calorie or lower fat/high-carb stuff at the dessert table. People training hard can handle an influx of carbs acutely better than fat so pick that stuff. Maybe have a little bit of two or three different desserts, just get a taste and move on. You get the idea.
2. Take a Lowered Fat/Calorie Dessert or Dish to the Party
Whether a work party or holiday dinner, it’s not uncommon for people to bring their own thing to add to the food table. So make something that you’ve de-fatted or lowered in calories, there are zillions of recipes out there. And, please, I’m not talking about black bean ‘cake’ that you think tastes like the real thing.
Find a happy medium between the high-sugar/high-fat stuff and clean eating. Most American desserts have about twice the sugar and butter that they usually need and, who knows, you might even convert someone into realizing that they can eat sweets without it having to be 1000 calories per piece.
3. Train with a Bit Higher Volume Prior to the Event
One of the best ways to increase the ‘sink’ for incoming calories is to deplete muscle glycogen. When you do that by using a higher volume (more sets, higher reps) of training, not only do you increase fat oxidation, you give incoming carbs somewhere to go for storage instead of being use for energy.
You can simply bump up your volume a bit in the days before a specific event where you know there will be junk. Even a heavy training session on the day of the party can be beneficial here.
Train in a nice hypertrophy zone (get about 40 reps per muscle group) and you’ll increase protein synthesis so that incoming calories will support recovery. Training also tends to acutely blunt hunger so if you train right before the party, you’ll be less likely to overeat. Well, unless you’re a dis-inhibited eater who falls into the trap of “I trained, I deserve 10 pieces of fudge.”
4. Start with Lots of Lean Protein and Vegetables Before Hitting the Dessert Table
Lean protein has the highest short-term satiating power (this means it keeps you full) and the high-bulk of vegetables helps to fill your stomach which also sends a fullness signal. I’ve yet to be at a holiday party that didn’t have a vegetable plate (limit the high-fat dip) or plate of cold cuts. Load up on that to get some fullness going before you hit the desserts. You won’t be as hungry and, assuming you don’t like eating yourself sick, this alone will do damage control.
Have a High-Protein Snack with some Vegetables or Fruit about 30 Minutes Beforehand
If you’re in situation where Number 4 won’t work or won’t be available, have a small snack before the party or dinner. Some lean protein, veggies and fruit about 30 minutes will give you a feeling of fullness and help to limit overconsumption of ‘junk’ at the party.
6. Consider Intermittent Fasting on the Day of the Event
Intermittent Fasting (IF’ing) is a recent dietary approach that involves not eating for 14-18 hours per day and then either having an ‘eating period’ or roughly 4-6 hours or even a single meal. There’s some interesting research on it which I’ll save for another article. But it’s one good way to deal with holiday parties.
Know that you’ve got a 7pm dinner party where there will be lots of good food? Try IF’ing (or only have small meals of lean protein and veggies) most of the day. Unless you go completely berserk, you’ll be unlikely to exceed your entirely daily caloric requirement in the one meal. If you can train beforehand, that’s even better.
7. Consider a Short Mini-Diet in the Days Before the Event
Let’s say you have an event or two coming up on the weekend and you know that there will be lots of food and you may have control issues. Well, consider doing a short, possibly hardcore diet in the days before. Four days of a rapid fat loss style diet can actually reduce body fat by 1-4 pounds (depending on your size). Call it pro-active damage control.
8. Ok, I Was Actually Kidding in the Introduction About the Tupperware
Let’s face it, you know that nothing tastes as good as lean feels. You know how good discipline feels. You know the truth. You know that 50 years from now, you’ll know that it was worth it, sticking to your diet 365 days a year and never actually enjoying a moment of life.
So you go ahead and take your Tupperware with chicken breast, broccoli and sweet potato and eat it while everyone else around you actually gets some joy out of life.
No, really, I’m seriously kidding about this, don’t do it.
9. Stay Off the Damn Scale
No matter what happens, we often see the scale spike up after a big party; this is especially true after Thanksgiving. The typical carb-depleted trainee is especially prone to this; the high-carb intake of your typical holiday event along with extra sodium both can jack up scale weight a bit. But you know deep down it’s not really fat. The simple fact is that, unless you go nuts, you can’t eat enough in a single meal to put on appreciable fat. It’s only water and it’ll come right back off in a few days.
But stay off of the scale anyhow.
10. Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy
This goes back to what I alluded to in point 1, a lot of people fall into a dreadful trap over the holidays, figuring that if they’ve eating a little bit a junk food, clearly they’ve blown it and might as well retire to the corner with the entire tray of fudge and eat themselves sick.
The above is amazingly prevalent and exceedingly destructive. Extremely rigid dieters fall into a trap where they let events such as the holidays become a problem because of their own psychology. They figure that one piece of dessert has ruined all of their hard efforts so they might as well eat ALL the dessert. This is, of course, nonsense. Say that piece of dessert has a few hundred calories, or say, 500 calories. In the context of a weekly plan that is calorie controlled with training, that’s nothing.
Unless the person lets it become something. They figure 500 calories is the end of the world and eat an additional 5000 calories. Instead of just taking it in strides and realizing that it’s not a big deal, they make it a big deal with their own reaction.
Simply, don’t do that. Realize that there is only so much damage you can do in the short-term. Apply the other strategies in this article and realize, at the end of the day, what you did for one meal that week simply doesn’t matter if the rest of the week was fine. Not unless you make it.
And that’s that, 10 strategies I hope will help you to enjoy the holidays. Eat a piece of cake for me.
One of the most challenging aspects of any diet can be knowing what to eat day in and day out. While flexible dieting is designed to be, well, flexible, some people may still struggle with knowing what to eat to satisfy each of their macros as accurately as possible.
This all gets easier with time and, like most new things, this takes practice. But, here are some meal suggestions that will help the beginner get started, or even give the veteran flexible dieter some meal suggestions that they may not have thought of.
The following meal plan lays out the first three days of a ten day meal plan is for a person requiring 2088 calories per day, with Macro totals of 222 g carbs, 170 g protein, and 58 g fat. Keep in mind that flexible dieting is highly customized to your individual statistics, so portion sizes in these meal plans will have to be adjusted to suit your macros.
Fitness Artist specializes in creating personalized diet programs to help our clients reach their fitness and weight loss goals. Click below to email us for more on the meal plan below, recipes, and how we can help tailor a plan to your individual macros.
This meal plan was designed by Fitness Artist Zack Feeney.
· Veggies scramble
· 2 kiwi fruits
· 23.1g protein, 16.8g fat, 34g carbs, 15g fiber
· All Natural Vanilla Protein Shake
· 2 cups red grapes
· 36g protein, 3g fat, 54g carbs, 1.3g fiber
· Chicken Burrito
· A large apple
· 44.2g Protein, 24.4g Fat, 59.3g Carbs, 18g Fiber
· Large Banana
· 1.5g Protein, 0.4g Fat, 27.6g Carbs, 3.5g Fiber
· 6 oz “jerk seasoned” grilled chicken breast
· 1 medium baked sweet potato
· ½ tablespoon of butter
· 3 cups steamed broccoli
· Homemade fruit sorbet
· 64.3g protein, 13.4g, 50g carbs, 17g fiber
Daily Macro Totals
· Calories: 2,098
· Protein: 169g
· Fat: 58g
· Carbs: 225g
· Fiber: 56.8
· Cinnamon & Raisin Protein Oatmeal with Greek Yogurt
· 34g Protein, 6g Fat, 77.6g Carbs, 9.3g Fiber
· Apple Pie Larabar
· 1 medium orange
· 5.3g Protein, 10g Fat, 33.5g Carbs, 8g Fiber
· Tuna and Kale Salad
· 36.4g Protein, 11g Fat, 16g Carbs, 4g Fiber
· Banana Protein Shake
· 39.7g Protein, 2.4g Fat, 27.9g Carbs, 3.4g Fiber
· Low Carb Turkey Burgers (2 burgers)
· ¾ cup non-fat frozen yogurt
· 50.5g Protein, 26g Fat, 64.4g Carbs, 6g Fiber
Daily Macro Totals
· Calories: 2,039
· Protein: 166.3g
· Fat: 55.4g
· Carbs: 219g
· Fiber: 35g
· Spinach & Onion Omelet
· 2 strips crispy bacon
· 1 medium orange
· 27.9g Protein, 23.7g Fat, 24.4g Carbs, 6g Fiber
· 1 large apple-dipped in-1/2 cup vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt with 1 scoop vanilla protein powder mixed in.
· 28.6g Protein, 1.4g Fat, 39.8g Carbs, 5.9g Fiber
· 4 oz. smoked salmon
· 1 cup brown rice crackers
· Blueberry Protein Smoothie
· Protein 72.5g, 7g Fat, 78.6g Carbs, 3.8g Fiber
· 1 large banana
· Protein 1.5g, 0.4g Fat, 27.6g Carbs, 3.5g Fiber
· Grilled Chicken with Almond Alfredo (1 serving)
· 6 dried figs
· 45g Protein, 21g Fat, 46.8g Carbs, 14.4g Fiber
Total Macro Totals
· Calories: 2,051
· Protein: 175.5g
· Fat: 53.5g
· Carbs: 217g
· Fiber: 32.2g
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, according to the American Cancer Society (lung cancer kills more women each year). Every October brings an annual awareness campaign, stressing the importance of regular self-exams and getting screened for breast cancer. While early detection can led to a more favorable prognosis, cancer treatments, and even surgery, are often needed.
Studies on the breast cancer recovery process have indicated that exercise and dietary choices may play a role in improving the quality of life and lowering the risk of reoccurrence for survivors. These studies point survivors toward diets that are:
- Packed with carotenoids (orange-colored fruits or vegetables, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale, tomatoes, and salmon)
- Low in starchy carbohydrates
- Limited in saturated fats and alcohol
- Rich in whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Include the spice Turmeric to your diet (you may need a supplement to get enough curcumin)
Aerobic exercise is also recommended to help maintain an ideal weight, improve cardiovascular fitness, increase energy levels and help alter the activity of your body’s enzymes. As offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this can include 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly such as walking briskly, jogging, biking, tennis, or any continuous activity that raises the heart rate and causes you to break a sweat. Strength training is also recommended at least two times per week.
Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy lifestyle habits and changes. It’s important to understand what you can do to lower your risk.
While the sympathetic system is great when we need to respond to a stressor, it's not ideal to be bathing in it's hormonal milieu all day.
I simply call this "being on". I think we can all relate to that feeling. Feeling rushed to work, forgot to bring your textbook to class, pressing hard in the gym, getting stuck in traffic, then we get home and have to figure out what's for dinner. Our inability to turn off can quickly add up and lead to a feeling of burnout. Stress on stress on stress.
I've been playing around with meditation post-workout in an effort to help me turn off. The results are worthy of suggesting the practice to others.
It's not long. Normally 5-10 minutes and can easily be incorporated into a normal cool-down routine of stretching and self myofascial release.
Why? Exercise is high-stressor, especially if you're a competitor, pushing your limits mentally and physically everyday. Post-workout meditation is a tool that can allow you to quickly turn off after training. Switch from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic state. Heart rate slows down, catecholamines (norepinephrine and epinephrine) decrease, digestions is stimulated.
The faster you can switch states the more you'll recover. The more you can recover, the better you can train. It's a circle of success.
Becoming a better athlete isn't only about crushing yourself in the gym. It's about recovering enough so you can train hard the next session. Under recovering leads to underperforming. A circle of crap.
There's also supporting research showing that mindful meditation can decrease sensitivity to psychological stressors. (1,2,3)
This works in two ways.
First, mindful meditation can alter what you actually perceive is stressful. Maybe after a few weeks, waiting in line at the grocery store no longer makes you anxious.
Second, the same stressor you're presented with causes a lower arousal. Maybe sitting in traffic still sucks, but sucks less after meditation.
Meditation could also help improve empathy and coping skills. (4)
In trend with my message, we can't look at our life stressors in a vacuum. They accumulate. Learning to cope better with everyday stressors will ultimately improve your sport performance.
This tip can be used by everyone, but especially critical for those who knowingly have a hard time turning-off. You know who you are. It's those who want to write down every word the teacher says, checks their email 50x per day, always has to be doing something or they feel unproductive.
If you train early in the day, a simple 5-10 minutes can change the trajectory of everything that day. Finishing a workout, rushing a shower, eating while driving to work and screaming at the slow people in the left lane is not ideal for switching to a parasympatetic state.
If you train later in the day this method can calm you prior to bed. When I get home I have 3-5 hours of my day left.
I found that post-workout meditation after my nightly training sessions clears me. I can think easily about what's for dinner, what I need to get done that night and what is an appropriate time to get to bed. Post-workout meditation allows me not only to recover, but have more productive hours after training.
How? My post-workout meditation is simple.
Limiting external stimulus as much as possible. If you're gym is loud you may need to plug in some headphones to indulge in some relaxing tunes.
For position, I prefer to lay with my feet on the wall in the 90-90 position (90 degree angle at the hip and knee), but there is no correct position. Sit, lay, whatever is comfortable for you to breathe.
For breathing, focusing on big breaths into the belly. Inhaling through the nose, hold the breath for a slight second and then calmly exhale everything through your mouth. I find it helpful to place my hands or phone on my stomach to help feel my stomach expand and collapse.
No doubt the most difficult part of any meditation is controlling the mind. If you're a newbie this will feel like torture. Your thoughts will scatter and that's okay. Recognize that thought in your mind and then return to focusing on your breath.
What helped me get over the scattered thoughts was actually visualizing my breath - like it was tangible. I'd close my eyes and envision, then exhaling the air out into the open.
If this is too difficult you can focus your attention more directly toward your goals. Use this time to acknowledge how your technique felt, what you did good, what you can improve on, how fortunate you are to be doing what you love.
It's all about recovery. In the end - we can only train as hard as we can recover. We can only work as hard as we can relax. Use post-workout meditation to enhance recovery, your training, and your life.