Can we get real for a minute? You are too damn old to still be following the BS messaging of the diet culture and worrying about what you should and shouldn’t eat. You have too much going on in your life to stress about “good foods” and “bad foods”, and to spend hours calculating macro proportions and the like.
Let’s be honest. We know what we should and shouldn’t be eating. Yes, we may need some guidance on the specifics of food and our unique body chemistry, but that’s usually not where we need to start. Even back in the 90s when Susan Powder told us all that potatoes were the key to weight loss, my teenage self had a red flag go up. Or when friends suggested the cabbage soup diet. Of the countless “two shakes and a healthy dinner” options that we’ve all tried. Deep down we know - this isn’t the answer. This is the easy button and it might get us to a perceived goal but where we end up is just back at the end of the line for another ride on the diet roller coaster.
Now is the time to acknowledge that you need to make a change, but the good news is that all of your experience on these other diet plans have laid a foundation for you. You know now what to do, and the underlying theme of them all is the foundation of a healthy meal.
Let’s go back to elementary school health class. What we know is fruits and vegetables, healthy protein, plant-based fat. That is the staple. Grains and starches have been the base of the pyramid and the top of the pyramid over the year, but the fact is that we need some carbs. Gluten or no, dairy or no - that’s something we can get into another time because there is not a universal answer as this may change for you during different cycles of the month and seasons of your life. The same goes for starches. We use them a bit more during the first half of our cycle, and also when planning long, endurance exercise and recovery. However, our brain loves carbs - they are its fuel. So, if you’re having a craving for the sweet and savory, check-in with yourself. Has your movement warranted some extra starch boost today, or are you over-stressed, over-anxious, or over-tired? I brains are very good at letting you know.
I know that many people do need a guideline to reference when making nutrition decisions, and so I’m going to give you that but we’re going to keep is simple.
- Eat the rainbow. Focus on vegetables and fruit that are on the low end of the GI index, but really any colorful fruit or vegetable is good. Make this the foundation of your nutrition and meals. Eat organic as you can, and try to at least stick to the Clean 15 and avoid the Dirty Dozen when you can’t. Local is best.
- Lean protein. Meat or plant-based, that’s your choice. If choosing meat, aim for more lean options and make sure to bring some fish into your week. Grass-fed pastured raised, and if you can meet the farmer then that’s a bonus. For fish, limit the high-mercury options. If you choose plant-based, make sure you’re getting your full amino acid profile each day (you don’t have to worry about this as much if you eat meat). Consider supplementing with a plant-based, sprouted BCAA to fill in the gaps.
- Plant-based fat. Fat has a place in our diets for sure and is essential for the working of our body and even for weight loss. Bring in animal-based fat sparingly, and instead focus on fat sources from plants like avocado, coconut oil, nut, seeds, and olives.
- Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods. We often look at supplements for these, but getting this important gut biome from our food is best. Include fermented foods in your day, like sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha. Foods like onion, apples, oats, and asparagus are also great sources of prebiotics to support out gut flora.
- Grains. These are not bad, although some people have a sensitivity to them. This is where your detective skills come into play. Small services on grains add protein, fiber, and valuable nutrients to your diet. Play around with amounts, types, and timing. For some women, grains, and starches in the morning give the energy to get them going, while others prefer some starch at night to help with sleep.
- Water, water, water. Drink it. Flavor it with fruit. Just drink it.
A note about coffee, alcohol, and supplements.
Again I remind you that you’re a smart woman who has been experimenting with food for probably at least 30 years. We know that too much of anything is no good, and this goes for caffeine and alcohol. You know how much you drink of each, and you know if you might be pushing that upper limit. So it’s up to you to decide if you’d like to scale back or not. I will say that limiting each to 1-2 glasses per day is the best way to go, but we all have our days. Take a good look at your health and weight loss goals, and how these two things fall into your diet. If you’re drinking two smoothies or shakes a day, or drastically cutting calories only to enjoy a bottle of wine each night, then it might be time for a “come to Jesus” chat with yourself about prioritizing your overall health and make some shifts.
Supplements can be tough, but I will say this.
Before shelling out a lot of money of all of the random supplements, metabolism enhancers, special shakes and powders, and the like, do a dedicated food journal and look at your overall intake. Your body wants nutrients from real food and uses these best. Supplements are not a substitute. If you want to spend your money, do so on a nutrient profile based on bloodwork to clearly see where you are deficient. Then try to adjust your diet to make up for those deficiencies. Then look at supplements as a final step. That being said, most women can benefit from a daily Omega-3, Vitamin D, and Magnesium supplement.
But what about amounts, Beth?
Let’s wait on that. Use this graphic as a guide, but really when you focus on getting the foods mentioned above in your diet, especially if you are focusing on those rainbow foods, you’ll find that you naturally regulate what you eat.
Also, pay attention to how fast you’re eating. Try to slow down and chew your food - aim for 20-30 chews per bite. Not only does this slow you down, but it helps to stimulate digestive enzymes in your mouth which helps to regulate that feedback loop with the brain to tell you when you’re full. If you’re still hungry after 30 minutes or so, try adding in some extra protein first - you can pair it with vegetables too. Give this a few weeks and see what happens. If your hunger stays low, your energy is stable, and you’re not having cravings between meals, then you’re probably on the right track.
I know there’s a lot of other questions and approaches that I didn’t mention, but I just wanted to cover the basics and bring us back to simple ideas for now. Don’t worry about fasting or macros right now. Instead, let’s turn your attention to what you’re eating and ensuring that it’s high-quality, filling, and of course, delicious. Once we return to the basics and regain a bit of balance, then we can start diving down deep and make the minor tweaks to help you reach your goal. The fact is that many of us have been fed a lot of BS over the years when it comes to how to approach our health and weight by removing food from our diets when instead we needed to learn more about how to use food to fuel these goals and what to add in.
Let's make a pact to reframe our relationship with food to focus on the positive, the good, and the simple. Are you in?
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