This is going to be a long one. I get asked this question a lot. Many of my friends and clients and occasionally random people will come to me for diet advice. To which I say: I DON’T KNOW! I want to shout from the rooftops that I have no fucking clue what you should be doing with your body. It’s taken me years…scratch that…nigh onto a decade to figure out what works for me. I’m still figuring it out, really. I’ve found a way to eat, live, and workout in a way that is supportive, healthy and fueling for my body. I’ve been at both ends. I’ve eaten next to nothing and danced all day. Eventually I burned out on that (hmmm…wonder why?), and took 3 years off from diet and exercise. Yes, you read that correctly. 3 years. I ordered pizza almost every night, and literally moved as little as possible. It was glorious for a while, but 20 pounds later I felt unwell. This wasn’t me. I was so used to being incredibly active my entire life and it just started to feel wrong to be so inactive. I started by walking. I walked my happy ass around my neighborhood. Then I began going to pilates and jumped right into a 600 hour comprehensive pilates certification. During that time I became hooked on yoga and started to practice everyday. I started making better food choices, but it still wasn’t rigid or forced. I mostly ate healthy and then when I wanted pizza or whatever I just had it. As my physical body changed, I can’t even begin to tell you how my mental state changed. Yoga was the game changer for me. I just felt happier and lighter. I floated on like this for a while and then all of the sudden Crossfit made it’s way into my life. Hehe. I learned about Paleo. I learned about lifting. I learned the difference between skinny fat and lean muscle. I learned that you need to EAT to fuel your body. I learned about macros. I learned that you need to be eating ENOUGH to maintain and build muscle. I learned that I was nowhere close to eating enough. I learned a lot of really great things and I also slipped into a bit of rigidity. Let me back up. Right before starting Crossfit I was having horrendous digestive issues, I was breaking out like a teenage boy, and waking up 2-3 times a night needing to use my inhaler. My asthma was getting really aggressive—I couldn’t even go for a short evening walk with my husband without my inhaler. Something was definitely up, but my doctor just prescribed a steroid medication for the asthma and a face cream for my breakouts. I was told to use laxatives as needed to deal with my digestive issues. Pretty much as soon as I started Crossfit, the gym (I refuse to call it a box, sorry…) I belonged to was holding a “Paleo Challenge” where you kept a journal all month and for 30 days straight ate strictly Paleo. A few days into it I felt like hell, but was assured it was a sugar detox (they were right), and after that literally every single one of my problems melted away. My skin cleared, my digestive issues were gone, and best of all I didn’t need to use my inhaler ONCE. So I went from using it multiple times a day and night to using it zero times. I went to a food allergist and my fears were confirmed….I had a wheat allergy. Not just a bullshit gluten intolerance. Like a for real, straight up allergy. I was so crushed. But I learned to adapt and it’s totally not a big deal anymore. So after this paleo challenge I kept wheat out of my diet, as well as a few others things that I felt affected my digestion negatively like soy, fake and real sugars, anything I couldn’t pronounce, and a ton of dairy. I’ve basically eaten like this since October 2011. I have added beans, gluten free oats, quinoa, and brown rice back into my diet because I do NOT do well without carbs. Some people can, I can’t. So that’s my story. I eat the way I eat because if I didn’t I would be miserable, broken out, bloated, constipated, and short of breath. I don’t know about you, but to me, pizza just ain’t worth it. I think a lot of people simply don’t realize how well they can truly feel if they just listen to the signals their body is sending. When I was younger I didn’t have these problems. They all developed around my mid twenties. I don’t know why—I guess on some level I always had digestive issues..I was even a colicky baby… but steroids, laxatives, and creams that burned my face were certainly not the answer. So fast forward to now. How do I eat? I eat a lot of cooked vegetables because raw ones are tough to digest. I eat lean meat—all kinds, red included. Eggs galore. I eat fruit but always by itself and not mixed with anything else (it’s an Ayurveda thing…) I eat a lot of starchy vegetables; I love all kinds of squash and sweet potatoes. I definitely enjoy the convenience of protein bars but I’m very selective with the ones I eat. No garbage or fake sugars. I eat certain flavors of Quest Bars (the ones without sucralose), and B-Up bars. I mix protein powder into oatmeal because cold protein drinks and smoothies ravage my stomach. I like wine. I like dark chocolate. I like all kinds of nut butters. Soups and stews are my jam. I actually try to avoid large salads because, again, the raw/cooked vegetable thing. Avocados all day errryday. Coconut oil and ghee (clarified Indian butter) are awesome to cook with and olive oil is great as a marinade. No matter what I always try to look at my plate and ask myself where are these three things: 1)protein 2)carbs 3)fat. You should always have a bit of all 3. That’s really all my advice. I’m not a nutritionist, a dietician, and I’m not even all that great at science. Try not to let yourself get super hungry because that can lead to overeating. I eat about every 3 hours and I can’t even remember the last time I binged. That whole “don’t eat before bed” thing is stupid. You’re about to fast for 6-8 hours. Fucking eat. It’s ridiculous. You know what is not smart? Going to bed hungry so you get a shitty night’s sleep. Don’t become so rigid that you forget to enjoy your life. So you had one too many drinks, or whatever. Brush it off, move on, wake up the next day and start fresh. You don’t need a Monday, a January 1st, or anything like that to just say “hey. I’m going to do better.” And remember less is NOT more. If you’re really active and have a bunch of weight to lose you may want to get an idea of your TDEE and track what you’re eating just for a little while until you can start to eyeball and gauge how much you’re actually taking in (or not). I think a lot of women in particular will be surprised at how much more they can eat. Be smart, eat enough, and even if something is considered healthy but you consistently feel like shit after eating it, then it’s not healthy for you. I can’t digest raw vegetables well. They bloat me and constipate me and it’s just not fun. Since I’m not actually digesting them, I’m not getting the nutrients. So yes, in theory raw vegetables have more nutrients than cooked veggies, but for someone like me who isn’t actually absorbing most of those nutrients, it’s much healthier for me to cook my vegetables. Make sense? Took me years to realize salads were not a menu item for me. So be intuitive. Stop looking to diets, quick fixes, and other people’s opinions. Look into yourself. You have all the answers if you just listen.
Some helpful resources: