This is day 4 of the first edition of the book 2 Weeks to Health, a 2-week course designed to kick start a healthier life. The expanded and reworked second edition is set to be released in the summer of 2018.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Today and tomorrow is all about understanding and writing down what you are currently eating and drinking. I am not asking you to change anything about your diet yet, instead you first need to understand whether or not your current diet is going to work for your goals. But why does your diet matter? Your body can be compared to your performance at work, you get out what you put into it. If you put in the time and effort at work to do a good job, you are rewarded with bonuses, promotions, and that great feeling of achievement. If you are the person who is reading this article at work and commonly procrastinates and does the bare minimums, then you should expect your pay check and nothing else. Just like work, if you put good food into your body you will be rewarded with better health, better performance, and even a happier mind. If you put in the bare minimums, i.e. eating unhealthy food, you should expect nothing but a pay check that will go straight to your thighs. And you probably will not like any bonuses you receive. A common rule of thumb is when you are trying to lose weight, 80% of your weight loss comes from your diet while 20% comes from exercising. You cannot discount the importance of nutrition.
Before you start changing your diet, I want you to understand the basics of food and what you are currently putting into your body. Do you remember learning about the food pyramid in your high school health class? Well, the food pyramid model was replaced by a new model called MyPlate. This model shows what your plate should look like in order to have a healthy, well-rounded meal. It splits your diet into fruits, proteins, vegetables, grains, and dairy, and visually shows you what you should be eating. One of the biggest differences between MyPlate and the food pyramid is the new model does not have a fats, oils, and sweets group. Many of the foods you already eat are prepared in fats and oils, so any additional sweets and desserts aren’t doing anything good for your health.
How does your current diet look when you compare it to MyPlate? If you are exclusively a ‘steak and potatoes’ eater then you are going to be a bit off balance. Also, if you’re a vegetarian it might be lacking in some areas. The goal is to have a well-balanced meal that benefits your overall health. But making your plate look like this one isn’t always enough, especially if you want to lose weight.**
You often hear about counting calories, and how if you only eat a certain amount of calories you will lose weight. Yes that is true when strictly talking about weight loss, and we will actually talk more about that later on, but for overall health you need to dig a little bit deeper into what you are eating. The calories you eat can be broken into three categories called the macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Proteins come from your meats, eggs, and dairy. Fats also come from meats, nuts, oils, sweets, desserts, and many other sources. Carbohydrates are in fruits, grains, vegetables, and sugar.
Depending on your health goals, you need to eat a certain number of calories from each of these macronutrients. We will talk about how to monitor these nutrients tomorrow, and we will discuss the specifics of your nutrient needs on day 8. For now, I want you to recognize that to be healthy, you need all of them, fats, proteins, and carbs. Many people believe that carbs are what makes you fat, or that fat makes you fat. This is untrue, an excess in calories are what makes you fat, and calories come from all of the macronutrients, protein included.
There are also micronutrients, which are your vitamins and minerals. We won’t talk about micronutrients much during these 14 days, but I want to bring them up because they are very important to remain healthy. If you follow the MyPlate model, the chances are you will consume enough micronutrients to stay healthy. If your diet doesn’t quite match up to the model there are plenty of companies that would love to sell you a multivitamin to supplement your current diet. Multivitamins are fine and often needed if you do not eat a balanced diet, but if you eat well then you do not need one. Unless your doctor wants to put you on a supplement for an illness, I recommend that you save your money and put it toward your gym membership and try to get everything you need through what you eat. The main exception to this is if you are a vegetarian then you may want to supplement vitamin b12, which is a discussion to have with your doctor.
Now think about your current diet again. Does your plate look like the MyPlate model? Are your calories primarily coming from proteins and carbs, not fats? Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables to consume enough micronutrients? We are going to learn the answer to all of these questions by monitoring your diet for the next few days. Tomorrow you will learn how.
Remember to keep working out every day!
**Note: The MyPlate model is the government’s guidelines on what you should be eating as part of a well-balanced diet. However, everyone is genetically and physiologically different. What you need to eat to maintain weight may be slightly different than other people. If you are trying to lose weight, a lot of people find that eating a higher proportion of protein and a lower proportion of grains will help them lose weight quicker. Other people such as vegetarians and vegans cut out meat altogether and will say a diet low in protein and high in starches will help with weight loss. Also, dairy is often not considered to be essential for one’s diet. This is why it may be beneficial to meet with a dietician to discover what works best for you. We will talk more about the individuality of diets as we go through this course.