By Jeff Tomko
Sometimes we fall off track when it comes to keeping our nutrition goals on point. Too much celebrating, stress, or just getting too comfortable sitting around in the winter months can be the cause of erratic eating. But the sooner you get back on track, the better.
Obesity is reaching epidemic levels in the United States. According to the CDC, obesity rates increased from 30.5% to 42.4% between 2008 and 2018. Millions of Americans have resorted to some type of diet – from Mediterranean to flexitarian – in their quest to drop weight. How effective are these? Psychology Today says that on average, most of us last 4-6 weeks on a restrictive diet before we go back to bad habits.
Meeting your nutrition goals doesn’t have to mean taking extreme measures. A few long-term tweaks can make a big difference, and knowing precisely what you’re putting into your body can help you improve your overall wellness.
Do the Math
Your eyes have likely been lying to you if you’ve been eyeballing your portion sizes. This may be the calorie culprit that’s keeping your gains in the gutter.
For example, a cup of cooked white rice may seem like an innocent extra for your meal. But it carries over 200 calories and around 53 grams of carbs. That’s 6,000 additional calories per month if you eat it every day for one meal. If these are all extra calories in your diet, that can add up to a 2-pound weight gain per month, which could mean you’ll be adding belt sizes in no time.
Don’t know where to start? Get a food scale and begin measuring portion sizes for each meal. It’s also wise to check out fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal and Freshbit as tools to help keep track of your daily calorie intake. Don’t forget to read labels to get an accurate measurement of each serving size. You’ll save yourself some calories in the short term and some pounds down the road.
You should also get an idea of your macronutrient (proteins, carbs, and fats) intake to ensure your total daily energy expenditure is within your nutrition and training goals. You may find, for example, that even though you’re sticking to your calorie goals, you’re eating too many carbs and not enough protein. And yes, it will be time consuming, even boring at first, to count and measure each meal item, but you will probably be really surprised at how off your measurements actually were. Some fitness apps will calculate macros for you, which can save you time and headache.
Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time
There’s nothing worse than coming home from a long day at work only to realize that you hadn’t thawed out chicken or fish for dinner, so you just whip up something quick and high-calorie at the last minute — or worse, hit up Grubhub and order a burger and fries, with a vow to get back on track “tomorrow.” (We’ve all been there.)
Meal prepping has caught on over the past few years for this very reason: your meals are ready for you even when you’re short on time. A 2017 French study found that meal planning could be attributed to a healthier diet and reduced obesity. All it takes is a food scale, a measuring cup, and a good supply of sealable plastic containers. With an hour or two of prep work, you can be prepared with your favorite healthy meals that can be stored in the refrigerator for three to five days.
Don’t have enough time to prep? There are plenty of meal service companies willing to do the work for you, including counting the macros. You can pay per meal or for a monthly plan. Meals can be frozen or fresh and are shipped to you regularly. Whichever way you choose, prepping has become a game changer for many people when it comes to resetting nutrition.
Check for Food Intolerances
Feel like your calories are on point, yet you’re still feeling bloated and lethargic? Are you experiencing fatigue, acne, and brain fog? It could be from a food intolerance you didn’t even know you had. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, nearly 32 million Americans suffer from some sort of food intolerance.
A good and relatively inexpensive way to find out is to do an elimination diet. For three to four weeks, eliminate foods you suspect might be causing you trouble – for example, coffee, soy, eggs, dairy, chicken, pork, and certain vegetables. Then begin putting these foods back into your diet, one at a time, about every two to three days. Monitor and record how each food interacts with your system. You may be surprised at what you discover. It might be that a favorite food you once thought was good for your diet was the cause of your discomfort. We recommend checking with your healthcare provider before beginning an elimination diet.
When it comes to hitting your nutrition goals, bigger is not always better. Big changes and restrictive diets are so hard to stick to, and they can actually increase your odds of failing. Instead, try a few little tweaks, and once those changes have become routine, add another tweak or two. Before you know it, your nutrition will be dialed in, and you’ll have created a routine that lasts.