Amount of Food vs. “Bad” Food

*Disclaimer: much of my nutrition philosophy is based on following Layne Norton and Sohee Lee. I feel they bring the right amount of science and personal experience to the topic and thus the “slant” of this blog post.

I had a post similar to this one (Snacking and “Bad” Foods) macronutrients-7-health-1024x1002but I want to reiterate what I have found to work: controlling the amount of food trumps whether or not you eat a bad food literally every time. While there can be further discussion about what’s used to make food, (GMOs, hydrogenated oils, organic etc.) from a fitness and weight loss standpoint it just comes down to carbs, protein, and fats. Focusing on the three elements or macro-nutrients (macros) as the primary element of a nutrition plan is known as “If It Fits Your Macros, IIFYM”, “Flexible Dieting”, and “Counting Macros”. So we’re on the same page, here is my list for what this means:

  1. Set a budget for your macro nutrients and hit that budget consistently
  2. Eat enough whole foods to hit good fiber numbers (35-50g) and micro nutrients from veggies
  3. Work in treat or “bad” foods into your budget instead of cheating
  4. Enjoy foods you normally wouldn’t see on a diet list
  5. SUSTAIN THIS FOR LONGER THAN 6 WEEKS! (It’s a lifestyle change that’s sustainable)

This seriously works – I have used it for a year and a half and when combined with consistent exercise – have had great results. It all comes down to controlling amounts consistently but not necessarily drastically. This is different than “clean eating,” which simply put, is saying that eating any amount of “good food” is fine and avoid “bad” foods (an extensive list). Here is a video discussing the two concepts by Layne Norton. Layne is a huge advocate for IIFYm and thus it is certainly slanted that way. He also works with bodybuilders so he bring up “shows” and “stage weight” but the same concepts still apply to anyone looking to get more fit. That said, he has a PhD in nutritional science and I trust what he has to say because it is backed by both research data and anecdotal accounts:

Tracking your macros also puts you into a position to accurately gauge the correct amount of food for your budget even if you’re on the go. I wrote a post regarding eating out if you haven’t gotten to check it out. In that post I bring up “guesstimating” once you’ve tracked macros for a little while. The video below explains this very well!

Eat Out Example – Restaurant with no macros listed:

(Menu item at a nearby restaurant)

My macros as calculated with “My Macros+”

– 6oz of salmon as the menu states
– 1.5 buns because I have seen buns similar in size at more calories
– Mayo sauce on the side so I could eye it more accurately
– Fruit side, roughly a cup by eye
– Bun seemed buttered lightly

Now I come to the point of this post. That is, spreading the word that there needs to be a paradigm shift from thinking of foods as “healthy”, “good”, “low-fat”, “clean” or “bad”, “fatty”, “sugary”, “unavoidable cheats” and rather as foods to simply fit into a daily budget. Is it healthy to eat Twinkies, protein powder, and peanut butter 24/7 if it fits your macros? No. If you hit your fiber, have some left over carbs and really like Twinkies, can you work one in? Absolutely. You just have to think of your food as if it’s on a budget and eat to those guidelines. Planning is important and you might notice me turning down a surprise doughnut but those of you who know me well know that as long as I can plan, I can fit most food choices (within reason) into a day.

I will say that as much as it gives flexibility, it’s not necessarily “easy” to start. It takes work to track, especially at first and it means that you have to plan ahead. You won’t be perfect at first but it gets easier over time (from personal experience) and the more you do it the faster you get at figuring out how to fit your food in correctly.

Lastly, this obviously something that I haven’t always done. I have learned how to do it and made mistakes along the way. I started with a simple free app and basic tracking and now have graduated to a more advanced tracking app and try to hit exact grams. I say that because I am happy to help anyone from beginners to more advanced who are interested in knowing more about counting macros.

Changing Your Path: My Story

Here is my story as concise as I can make it:

Unlike some people, I wasn’t in the “best shape of my life” coming out of high school. I wasn’t too into sports and didn’t work out at all. My nutrition wasn’t great but I was also benefiting from a youthful metabolism that nullified most of the poor eating habits I developed. Starting college, with a diet worse than before, I realized that my metabolism was no longer immune to my food choices; I had definitely put on some weight without really realizing it.

From a fitness perspective, I still wasn’t doing a lot and decided to start going to the university rec center. I played basketball and lifted weights here and there — inconsistent at best. Outside of the gym, I found water and snow skiing incredibly enjoyable. While the extra activity was great, I was still out of shape and was 165lbs (top left picture) at my heaviest weight in 2007.

I started realizing that I didn’t have a plan and didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I tried fixing it with just “eating better” but it was inconsistent and unsustainable (not eating breakfast, small lunch, gigantic dinner…continually fluctuating and not having the know how or answers). Knowing what I know now, I can’t believe I made that work for so long.

In the summer of 2010, I decided to try P90X. I was a little skeptical and knew that I would not be able to do a lot of the exercises out of the box – I couldn’t even do more than two real pull-ups. Two rounds later I found a lot of positives. I was able to do more pus-hups and pull-ups than I ever thought possible and I was enjoying working out. I went three more years only doing P90X in the summers and found it to be enjoyable. From a results standpoint I found that my weight stayed about the same after an initial drop 150-155lbs mostly because of my nutrition and lack of consistency in both nutrition and working out (once the school year resumed).

In the summer of 2013, I decided to commit more to the workouts and did a round of P90X and P90X2 (top middle picture) in a row. I dropped 5lbs and increased my weights in all of the strength training workouts. I felt good but decided to commit to better nutrition at the start of 2014. I tried to follow the P90X3 nutrition guide but didn’t have a lot of support. I certainly didn’t lose my progress but after 3 months, I knew I needed more help — just in time for me to find TD Nation. Three more months with proper macros and hitting my calorie amounts daily I finally got results I was proud of (bottom left picture). More importantly though, I felt connected to a group of people with the same goal who I could relate with, help, and collaborate with moving forward. With the momentum from TD Nation, I decided to make new goals. The goal of “just getting fit” transformed into seeing how far I could push myself. I realized the next step was to add muscle mass. I am currently back up to 150 lbs but feel much stronger after doing P90X hybrids for 6 months and almost 4 rounds of Body Beast.

Fitness has truly become an integral part of my life and I can’t imagine it any different. I stay locked in because I am involved with a group of people who make it fun, and because I enjoy helping other people reach their goals with the information I have come to use in my new way of life.