At CrossFit Texas, the trainers stress that nutrition is more important than the WOD (CrossFit speak for Workout Of the Day). If you don’t fuel your body the appropriate way, you aren’t going to get the results you want, even if you are killing yourself in the gym everyday. They recommend both the Paleo and Zone diets, or a combination of the two. Paleo focuses more on the type and quality of the food, where Zone focuses more on quantity.
When I started, I decided to try following the Paleo diet because I thought I ate pretty good and didn’t want to be hungry all the time by limiting how much I could eat. I cut out all grains, dairy and anything processed and forced myself to eat more fruits and vegetables. I ate whenever I was hungry. I lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks. I read Robb Wolf‘s book, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet (in two days) and, having a degree in biochemisty, it made complete sense to me. Especially the part where he goes into detail about grains and why they are bad:
Grains, particularly the gluten-containing grains, contain molecules that fit into the opiate receptors in our brain. You know, the same receptors that work with heroine, morphine, and Vicodin?
Throughout his book he challenges people to try it for a month and see how your body reacts. What happens when you add stuff back in? Hi, my name is Wendy and I’m a grain addict! I don’t have allergic reactions to grains, no gluten sensitivity, only the nagging feeling that I need more. If there is bread, crackers, cookies, pretzels (even the gluten-free variety) in the house and I know about it…you can be pretty sure that I will eat it, as quickly as I can sneak it, and I will be thinking about how to get my next fix for the rest of the day. I had no idea! I now limit myself to the occasional corn tortilla at a Mexican restaurant, and maybe some rice here and there, but never at home.
Another thing I did was to start tracking my meals on dailyburn.com. It’s a free website that allows you to track your nutrition, body (weight and other measurements), workouts and sleep. It’s amazing what you can learn from your own body when you start paying attention. I started playing around with my macronutrient (carb/protein/fat) ratios to see what works best for me. I followed a Paleo version of the Zone diet for a month or two. It’s a 40-30-30 diet, which means 40% of your calories come from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from fat. You can view the CrossFit Journal’s Zone Issue here for a more detailed explanation. I followed the 11 block plan. It was a little more calorie-restrictive than I like, so I would be strict during the week and eat whatever I wanted, while still staying Paleo, on the weekends. It worked really well, but as my weight went down and my workout intensity got higher, I wasn’t getting enough fuel and was having trouble getting through a workout.
While doing some research, I looked more into the Primal way of eating, via marksdailyapple.com. Mark Sisson suggests keeping your protein to .5-1.0g of protein (or more depending on your level of activity) per pound of lean body mass per day, carbs to 100-150g per day, and the rest of your calories from fat…the good kind, that is. For me, that means a 20-25-55 diet. That’s right, 55% of my calories come from fat. Even with these numbers, I still eat less than 2000 calories per day (on average). Fat is NOT a 4-letter word, people! Robb Wolf says in his book:
A few enlightened folks recognize that fat is important as a fuel and is a building block for many of our cell membranes and hormones. However, the reality is that fat is far more than just fuel or raw materials. It is us. Our brains are mainly fat, most of our nerves are fat. Reproductive hormones, yep, fat. Now there are different types of fat, and we will look at those sub-types because, if you can believe it, there are even essential fats. Fats that if you do not get enough of, or the right ratios, you will become sick or die.
A low-fat diet can be dangerous. For me, it caused my gall-bladder, whose main function is the digestion of fats, to become inefficient. Over the years, I developed gall-stones, which eventually caused gall-bladder attacks, which led to the surgical removal of my gall-bladder. Now I’m not saying that that is the only reason my gall-bladder had to be removed, as both my parents had gall-stones, but I did not start to have problems until I started increasing the fat in my diet. Side note: Some people continue to have issues digesting fat after gall-bladder removal. Fortunately, I am not one of them. Fat digestion is no longer a problem for me.
People have asked me what kinds of snacks I eat. Honestly, I don’t really feel the need to snack anymore. I do keep a Larabar in my purse on the occasion that I can’t get home in time for a meal, but I rarely find the need to eat it. I have found that if I eat a good breakfast of mostly protein and fat, I don’t need to eat until lunch. My afternoon ‘snack’ is Advocare Spark, a sugar-free energy drink that helps with that afternoon lull. Protein and fat are what keep you feeling full. Keeping carbs to a minimum keeps the hunger away. I also try to eat at approximately the same time every day and at home. I know that is not possible for everyone, but it works for me.
Fruits and vegetables are carbs! Did you know that? Would you believe that 2 1/2 cups of steamed broccoli has the same number of carbs as 1 slice of bread…just 1. I’m sorry, but 2 1/2 cups of steamed broccoli is gonna fill me up a lot more than one slice of bread! Can you eat just one slice of bread? I know I can’t…grain addict here, remember? For those of you concerned with fiber and think you have to have your whole grains to get enough fiber…try eating more fruits and vegetables! You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Do I ever cheat? Of course I do. I’m human and I have a sweet tooth, although it’s not near as big as it used to be. You have to be able to enjoy life and food, otherwise you’ll be miserable. You will find, as I have, that once you change the way you eat, your tastes will change, too. Some of the foods that I used to crave or have trouble staying away from no longer appeal to me. I try to only ‘cheat’ once a week. Whether it is a whole meal, or just adding a yummy dessert to a regular meal. Recently, Jeff and I have started using a ‘cheat window.’ Every Saturday night from 8-10pm, all bets are off. We make a special run to the store to get whatever cheat food we desire. Ice cream, cookies, brownies…anything we want…as much as we want. But you know what? I used to be able to eat a pint of ice cream in one sitting, no problem. Now, I can barely get through 1/3 of a pint before I start to feel sick. Jeff has found he has to stay away from the gluten. Oh yeah…at 10pm anything that is left gets trashed.
What matters is how your body responds to the food you eat. Do you really want to make yourself feel sick just because something looks or sounds good? Honestly, those sweets just don’t taste the same as they used to. So my advice to you is to pay attention to your body, find what works for you and change your life. It’s a lifestyle change…not a diet…and it’s a lot easier than you think. Try it for a month and see what happens!
So, let’s recap:
1. Food is fuel. The better the fuel, the better the body works.
2. I’m an addict. You can’t NOT eat, but you can make the conscious decision not to eat certain things.
3. Find what works for you. Pay attention to your body.
4. Fat does not make you fat.
5. Carbs are not just breads and pastas. Fruits and vegetables are carbs, too.
6. Nobody’s perfect. Cheat meals are OK every once in a while.
7. If you’re not sure about something…ask. I’m willing to help in any way I can.
Disclaimer: The logic behind the Paleo and Primal diets talks a lot about how our ancestors ate and how we have evolved over time. Being a Christian, I am not advocating evolution, I am advocating a way of clean and healthy eating that works for me.