by Holly Cuzzo
Level 1 Trainer, Second Wind CrossFit
First, congrats on making it through yet another week of social distancing! As always, please reach out to the coaches, your friends, and anyone else if you need support or just a chat. We all believe in you!
On top of caring for ourselves and our loved ones and whatever other responsibilities we may have, it can be frustrating to have our eating and exercise routines disrupted. We’re here to help! Here is some information about giving your body what it needs and, hopefully, having a more peaceful relationship with food.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF
I want you to take one minute and think about how the food you’re eating makes you feel. Seriously, set a timer for one minute and think about it…
- Do you feel satisfied after eating?
- Do you feel strong during your workouts?
- Do you feel energized throughout the day?
- Are you drinking water (or other liquids besides coffee and alcohol) throughout the day?
- Are you having daily bowel movements? (You don’t have to tell us, but really think about this one…)
- Are you getting good quality sleep?
- Does eating certain foods make you feel guilty and/or out-of-control?
Food is the fuel our bodies need to function properly. We need calories to be converted into energy, which we use to do the things we want to do (i.e. working out, walking the dog, playing with our kids) and the things we have to do (your body’s growth and metabolism, brain function, etc.). Ultimately, these calories come from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
To put it simply, the best rule of thumb is to eat a variety of whole, minimally-processed foods such as fruits, veggies, grains, meat, and dairy. This is likely to help you feel and function your best, giving you the nutrients and energy (calories) your body needs in adequate amounts. Compared to more-processed foods, we can eat more whole foods and feel satisfied and nourished (rather than weighed down and groggy), which helps us better respond to our cravings and hunger/fullness cues. However, this is not meant to be a hard rule. Food is fuel, but it’s also memories and culture and socialization and so many other things. Minimally-processed food is great for the body, but sometimes more “fun” foods are better for the mind. Allow yourself to find a balance of both and enjoy it!
SOUNDS GREAT! SO … WHAT SHOULD I BE EATING?
Believe it or not, your body will tell you. We have numerous hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate hunger and satiety and coordinate with our nervous system to keep us safe. Together, these work to help us get the nutrients we need and maintain a healthy body weight so we can become stronger and healthier while our metabolism revs on uninterrupted.
TRY: Eating slowly, without distractions.
A highly underrated practice is eating slowly and avoiding distractions at mealtimes. This has two major effects. First, your body’s fullness cues will have time to catch up with your intake. Your body knows exactly how much energy (calories) you need and it will tell you … eventually. This is why eating quickly might not make you feel full until it’s too late and you’re stuffed. Second, your body enters a more restful state, which improves digestion and helps your body’s growth and recovery by reducing stress. Chew your food thoroughly, take breaks to drink water throughout your meal, talk with your loved ones, and take time to enjoy your food!
TRY: Using hand-size portions to build balanced meals
A balanced plate looks different for everyone based on their needs and preferences, but a good goal is to get all major food groups so you’re full and satisfied for hours. Aim to eat 1-2 servings of each of the following at each meal. Add another serving per meal or another meal if you’ve had a really active day, if you’re trying to gain muscle mass, or if you’re still feeling hungry! This method adjusts itself to your physical size (bigger people need more calories and tend to have bigger hands) and is simple to do because your measuring tools are always right there with you.
- 1 serving of protein = 1 palm
- 1 serving of non-starchy vegetables or fruits = 1 fist
- 1 serving of carbohydrates = 1 cupped handful
- 1 serving of fats = 1 thumb
Note the order in which these were written because that’s no mistake!
Protein is first because it helps to build and maintain our greatest asset: muscle. As we love to say, strong people are generally more useful! But if that isn’t enough, remember that muscle uses more energy (calories) than fat. Having more muscle creates a higher fuel (food) need, so you can eat more while maintaining or even losing weight. Also, our bodies cannot store protein like we do fats or carbohydrates, so we need a constant source from food to keep repairing and rebuilding our tissues, hormones, and immune system components. High-protein foods include meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, beans, and soy products such as tofu and tempeh. Try to center your meals around at least one of these foods, and supplement with a high-quality protein powder if you have trouble getting protein in throughout the day.
Next are non-starchy vegetables and fruits are next because they provide us with vitamins, minerals, and other valuable nutrients. They also add volume and slow-digesting carbohydrates to our meals so we feel fuller longer. Finally, and importantly, they give us fiber. Fiber keeps our bowel movements happening regularly, which helps us dispose of waste that we don’t want in our bodies … and tends to be more pleasant than the alternative.
Fruits and veggies are carbohydrates, but we also want some slow-digesting, high-fiber carbohydrates (think: root vegetables, legumes, whole grains) throughout the day. These are our body’s fastest-acting fuel source, which is why our bodies prefer to use carbohydrates as fuel—especially for high-intensity mid-duration physical activity (like CrossFit). They are also important for liver and brain function as well as immunity.
Finally, fats provide us with long-lasting energy, help us feel satisfied, and contribute to our body’s recovery and adaptation processes. Healthy fat sources include nuts and seeds, eggs, fatty fish, full-fat dairy, coconut, avocado, and oils. These foods have the smallest serving size because high-fat foods are high in calories (which is why some say that eating a lot of fat causes fat gain), but don’t be afraid of fats! They help our hormone function and provide us with vital nutrients that we can’t get otherwise. That said, getting most of your calories from fats might not be a good idea simply because you can eat a lot more food if it is mostly protein, plants, and carbohydrates. More food sounds good to me!
Don’t Forget to Enjoy Your Food!
Hand-size portions are helpful for building awareness of your intake, but food is not that black-and-white. If your favorite foods are high in fat, consider subbing an extra serving in place of a serving of carbohydrates. When cooking meals where you can’t measure their components this way, think of this as a guide for preparing the food—try to get at least some protein, plants, carbohydrate, and fat in each meal. Or make sure you get some plants in before or after a meal if it’s lacking. Maybe experiment with trying to “healthify” your favorite meals by making them more protein- and plant-heavy.
DON’T FORGET THE BASICS
Exercise is a great way to build muscle and use the fuel you give your body. It helps your body process nutrients more productively, putting them towards growth and repair rather than storage. However, your daily life movement (think: more than sleeping but less than intentional exercise) can be a game-changer for your wellbeing and/or weight maintenance/loss, especially during this quarantine as we tend to move quite a bit less. Take plenty of breaks from your desk throughout the day to walk around (even if it’s just a lap around the living room). This is likely to improve your focus and productivity, keep your metabolism grooving, and improve your health and wellbeing in many other ways.
Water helps deliver important nutrients where they are needed and keeps your bowel movements regular, among tons of other benefits. Most adults need 2-3L per day plus an extra ½-1L per hour of physical activity. If that sounds astronomical compared to what you currently drink, better start drinking!
Set reminders in your phone, start your day with a glass of water, keep a bottle or glass of water nearby at all times. Carbonated or flavored water and other fluids are fine, but try to avoid too much unnecessary sugar or other ingredients where possible.
Get Adequate Sleep
“Adequate” quantity is relative, so focus on quality. Poor sleep can impact your body’s fullness cues, cravings, and behavior control—all of which make it difficult to make smart food decisions. Sleep is also incredibly important for our body’s repair and adaptation processes, which is highly valuable if you want to build muscle. Find ways to relax before you go to sleep to get the most out of the time you have.
If you are feeling especially stressed lately (or always), try to find ways to relax more often. Even once a week is better than never! Our bodies are designed to adapt to moderate physical and mental stress so we can become stronger and more resilient against similar stressors in the future. If we are chronically overstressed, this adaptation can’t happen. Instead, we stay in a constant fight-or-flight with our bodies spewing enough stress hormones to help us lift a car (because the body can’t tell the difference between a physical and perceived threat). These hormones can impact your hunger by making you ravenous, nauseous, or anywhere in between. This makes it difficult to give your body what it needs because it’s harder to stay in touch with your body’s hunger, fullness, and cravings.
It is also important to remember that dieting (being in a calorie deficit) and exercise are both stressors. We need to take time fueling our bodies with plenty of food and taking breaks from exercise so we can heal and continue to feel/function well. These are not times to throw health out the window by not moving at all and eating only junk, but take some time to reward your body with rest and it will reward you back!
We hope this information has been helpful! Again, let us know if you need any support. And don’t forget: normalcy will resume eventually.