Nutrition after 40: 5 Principles for Success!
Quick, name me the MOST important component of success for losing weight, gaining muscle or energy, or even managing a health condition.
Did you say EXERCISE?
WRONG! Nutrition is responsible for 70-90% of your success. Most people think it’s exercise, and obsess about finding the perfect program, or just doing more and more. Then they wonder why they’re not getting results. In my experience, it’s the nutrition!
But there are a couple of challenges here.
The first is UTTER CONFUSION when trying to decide what’s best. With so many diets out there: Atkins, Mediterranean, French, Paleo… all claiming failures and successes, how do you choose?
Secondly, we love to eat! Not just for the taste, but also the psychological and social rewards we associate with eating. The thought of any kind of control just screams rebellion doesn’t it?
Believe it or not, I’d say 90% of my clients find exercise so much easier, and for many it actually becomes enjoyable! But the diet was always the challenge until I teach them how it too, can be practical, enjoyable, and even very tasty.
So this post is a primer on how to eat. We’ll forget the bullshit and pseudoscience. Instead let’s get real and talk SUCCESS PRINCIPLES.
Which do you think is the best diet? If you went online and do some research, you’ll read raving reports by accolades of Akins, Keto, and Paleo! Then there’s the Mediterranean, the French, the Okinawan….
Which of these diets make sense? All of them!
Which ones work? All of them!
Here’s the answer to that mystery, and I’m going to write it in bold, so that you’ll always have something to remember when considering any new diet.
Effective diets work because of what they have in common, not because of their uniqueness.
And here we derive the AA35 approach to eating.
We will use common success principles to develop a frame of understanding. Then, you’ll fill in the detail with your own choices, according to your ability, preferences, environmental reality, cultural influences. FRAMEWORK + OWN CHOICES = LONG TERM SUCCESS.
Principle 1. Eat a VARIETY of REAL Foods
This is probably the single most important guideline to improve your nutrition, and get all the benefits like lower body fat, more stable blood sugar, more muscle, more energy.
Notice there are two parts to this. REAL, and VARIETY.
What’s REAL food?
Food that hasn’t been processed or refined and loaded with chemicals and preservatives.
Something that grew from the ground or on a tree. Fruit and vegetables.
Anything that swims, runs, flies. Meat and fish.
What about VARIETY?
You need it to first, avoid boredom. But secondly, it actually simplifies things! You see when you eat a wide range of the good stuff, you won’t have to try to figure out what food’s got which nutrients using a database or an app.
Variety for meat and fish like beef, chicken, tuna, salmon, plus some organ meats like liver means you’ll get complete protein, good fats, omega-3 oils, vitamins, iron, and other minerals.
With fruits and vegetables, eating all the colours of the rainbow means you’re getting a variety of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
If you can do just one thing that will have a mega impact on your health, fitness, energy, waistline, this is it. Eat real food, and more of it.
Principle 2. Reduce or Replace Refined Foods
Remember I said that effective diets have some principles in common? One of them is eliminating processed, refined, convenience foods.
How do you know what’s refined and processed? Here’s an easy way.
- If it came in a wrapper, tin, can, vending machine
- It if has an ingredients list with unpronounceable names
- If it took many steps from the raw product to what you eat
Refined foods give you empty calories, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, cravings, overeating, and we all know where. They’re linked to diseases like diabetes, and heart problems. Trans fats do the same, and are found in many foods we enjoy, like donuts, cakes, frozen pizza.
Now at this point you might get into panic mode and hit the REMOVE button.
If you merely REMOVE foods you like, there’s a vacuum of deprivation just begging for something to fill it. When the cravings get too great, you’ll rebound with a vengeance.
Instead, think REPLACE. Replace white flour with wheat flour. Replace frozen TV dinners, with weekend meal preparation. Replace white rice with brown rice or something different like quinoa. And – this is really big if you want to lose weight – replace soda drinks with water!
For example here we have an unhealthy cereal loaded with rubbish. 13g sugar, artificial flavours galore…
This can be replaced by muesli and topped with fruit. Still very tasty!
Other ideas are plain yoghurt topped with real fruit instead of fruit flavoured and coloured yoghurts like these.
What this does is to reduce any sudden shocks but rather, use slow controlled steps to create sustainable change.
Then there are fun foods that may not be completely bad in moderation. You know what I mean! Things like alcohol, chocolate, ice cream coffee. If you can, try to REDUCE these, but keep a little in your Life because you need to have some happiness, and not develop a negative association with your nutrition.
Principle 3. Be Aware, but Don’t Count Calories!
There’s a saying that I want you memorise. Ready?
You can’t outrun your fork.
Most people cannot burn off calories faster than they can eat it!
Sure, I could help you burn 500kcal in about an hour. But you could put that all back in 5min with the ‘wrong’ foods! See the contrast?
The BIGGEST culprit for this? Liquid calories!
They’re easy to consume, and don’t make you full, so you drink a lot. A can of coke has 140cal. That’s already 7% of your daily calorie needs. As for ‘healthier’ fruit juice? That’s still sugar! A cup of orange juice has 120cal.
So what you put in your mouth, especially sugar, has a bigger, faster impact on calorie balance than what you can do in the gym. You can’t kill yourself in the gym so you can eat whatever you want!
But as important as calories are, I don’t want you to count them! That would be tedious and torturous, your psychology rebels, and you won’t sustain it.
Instead, the approach I recommend is use your hands!
If you’re a lady, aim to have this for each meal:
One palm = protein (meat, eggs, fish steak)
One fist = vegetables (broccoli, carrots, spinach)
One cupped hand = carbs (berries, rice)
One thumb = fat/ oil (nuts, seeds, oil, butter)
If you’re a man, double the portions.
Using this quick guide will already put you ahead in terms of portion control. You can then finetune based on whether you’re reaching your goals. For example if you’re not gaining enough muscle despite good training and rest, maybe add another palm of protein to one meal. If you’re not losing fat fast enough, perhaps remove a thumb of fat from two meals, and so on.
But if you had no baseline, you have no basis for making adjustments!
Oh by the way, because it’s about caloric balance, in GENERAL, it doesn’t really matter what time you eat.
These three principles together do something all successful diets have in common: make you pay attention, and notice what you’re eating. AWARENESS!
Principle 4. Make Sure to Get Protein
All three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates (or carbs) and fat are important, but build your meals around protein.
Protein’s important for repairing and building muscle and other tissues, gives you greater satiety so you feel full longer, and contributes to something called TEF (thermic effect of food) the caloric cost of digestion. Yup, you do use calories to digest food, and protein more so than fat and carbs.
Of course, you need balance. Carbs supply energy to the body and brain. Fat’s also for energy, and it’s an important component of cells. But most of the time, you don’t have to consciously add them. Think about the common foods you get on the go. Burgers. Pasta. Rice. Believe me the carbs and fats are in there!
But what I can almost guarantee you won’t have enough of, is PROTEIN. Even if there’s meat, there’s usually too little, or it will be poor quality, fatty meat because that’s what’s cheap to sell and still tastes good. So you need to take care of this macro. It might be a packed lunch of chicken, a high quality protein shake to go with your purchased lunch, or ensuring the meals you cook, like dinner, will have enough of it. If you’re a vegetarian, learn to combine different veggies to get a complete protein, such as grains and legumes, or nuts and seeds plus legumes.
Principle 5. Convenience and Enjoyment
A common hook of many popular diets is that you can still eat what you like! Obviously that’s too good to be true, but the fact remains: the best diet is the one you will sustain! And for that to happen you need to have enjoyment and convenience.
Enjoyment is obvious. If you enjoy the foods in your diet plan, you’ll find it easy to eat them. But if your plan is full of restrictions or bland, tasteless food, you won’t be able to keep up.
Convenience is equally intuitive. If your diet plan is really complex, and the foods difficult to get or prepare, it doesn’t matter how amazing the recipes are. You just won’t do it. A good plan makes it easy to eat well.
How do we make it more enjoyable? Learn about food, where it comes from, why it’s good. Then pick real foods, and prepare them with the many easy, delicious recipes you’ll find online. Eat mindfully. Chew. Learn to cook, perhaps with a special other, and it will actually become enjoyable!
And convenience? Have good healthy food readily available in the pantry and the fridge, so that when you want a snack it’s right there. Prepare easy-to-cook meals on the weekend, put some in the fridge for the next couple days, and maybe freeze another few for emergencies that you can zap in the microwave. Your own healthier version of a TV dinner!
We want to enjoy LIFE! So nutrition, if it’s a big part of it, HAS to be enjoyable!
It’s a Lifestyle!
So these five principles give you the big picture of how to eat.
But you also need a PHILOSOPHY. A MINDSET.
And it’s this: We’re not on any special diet for a hit-and-run purpose. Almost anyone can do that. Get in shape for a reunion, a wedding… and then let it all explode again. We’re building a LONG TERM LIFESTLYE by making small, steady, sustainable changes. Not huge, not dramatic, not extreme!
Don’t underestimate little changes. If you’re overweight, did that belly appear overnight? No! But over the years, many little choices you made accumulated, and like a frog being boiled slowly to death, you put on 10, 50, 100lb.
So we’re going to do the same but this time, in reverse. Now it might be as simple as eating an apple a day. Cutting down your regular 10 cans of coke a week to 8. Halving your usual serving of sauces and dressings. Start there. Do it consistently. When you’ve mastered on little change, add another. Then another. Keep chipping away, and these small changes will accumulate for BIG RESULTS!