Healthy eating without following a diet plan

When I was 10 years old and decided to not eat meat anymore, my choice to become plant strong was not for a body image, to get healthy or to follow the crowd. I had made a personal decision that not eating meat would be my way of showing respect to animals and thus I titled myself as a vegetarian. 

Almost 23 years ago I made a dietary choice to become a vegetarianism. But unlike the brand of shoes I prefer or my favorite color, choosing to eliminate meat from my diet started a lifestyle change that had no deadline in place. Because plant strong became my new lifestyle, it required commitment and knowledge to make the diet work for my personal health and performance goals. 

I have never persuaded anyone to be a vegetarian athlete to boost performance and I have never told a person that his/her health and performance will automatically improve once meat is removed from the diet. 

All fitness enthusiasts and athletes must understand the importance of consuming a balanced, wholesome diet so no matter where you get your protein from, you should never let your dietary choices keep you from reaching your fitness potential and ultimately improving your health and quality of life. And above all, your diet does not have to leave you unsatisfied, without energy, feeling isolated, requiring an excessive amount of planning and prep and costing you a lot of money. And if your current diet does not leave you with any of the above statements, that's great but just make sure that you are eating for a lifestyle, and not for a body image. 

The cost of getting lean: is it worth it?

When you think about the diets that are marketed to the masses these days, many come across as "eating healthy". Or, perhaps they boldly read that "this is not a diet, it's a lifestyle."

“Healthy eating" is extremely confusing in our food-obsessed society which is supported by a multi-billion dollar diet and health industry.  Therefore, meat or no meat, in our sugar is horrible, carbs are bad, gluten is evil, is soy out or in today, society, many athletes struggle to understand how to consume a healthy diet and fuel appropriately while training for sports. 

Therefore, it’s important to have an appropriately planned diet to support your athletic development. Because any diet that is restrictive (ex. Paleo, Gluten-free) or lacking in variety (ex. you rely on fast food, you don’t like to cook, etc.) may demonstrate potential nutritional deficiencies, all athletes should consider working with a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition, prior to making dietary modifications/swaps. Also, for any athlete who is seeking a change in the diet, be mindful that if there are underlying dietary clinical issues (ex. IBS, food allergies, gluten intolerance/sensitivity, Hashimoto’s, PCOS, etc.) those should be top priority in an effort to create the most balanced, varied diet possible. 

I'm not here to waste my time to discuss every diet out there but let it be known that regardless of what diet name you give to your dietary habits, all fitness enthusiasts and athletes should remember that your personalized style of eating should never limit your performance potential or compromise health. A restrictive, low energy diet may change your body composition but there’s not a lot you can do on race day with an underfueled and undernourished body. 

Because the focus of this blog is not on body image but instead eating a healthy diet without following a diet plan, here are a few tips to get you thinking about food for fuel and for health. 

Healthy eating without following a diet plan

1. What's your motivation to change? - If you feel the need to eliminate or add certain foods to the diet, be sure to have a really good reason to do so. A good reason would be doctor's/dietitian's orders OR lab work that reflects the need to place emphasis on certain areas of your diet. Weight loss is typically a top priority for most people wanting to change nutrition habits but a better focus would be on what you can do with your body when you start eating healthier. Maybe less sick days, reducing risk for cancer, being around longer for your grand kids/spouse, having more energy, taking better care of your body, performing better, having less focus on food and more focus on living life to the fullest? Whatever your reason may be, let a change in body composition be that added bonus as your health is always top priority.

2. Create a positive food environment - stock your kitchen with everything you need to prepare wholesome foods at home and store leftovers in Tupperware. And don't forget the foods that you want to eat as well. I recommend to shop every 3-4 days when you are transitioning to a more real food diet so that you do not overwhelm yourself with a lot of produce and then find yourself throwing it out after 7 days. Think of what you can keep in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer for easy and healthy meal prep. 

3. Don't be perfect, aim for progress - create a very simple lifestyle log to plan your day. The diet mentality is to log your day as or after it happened and this often doesn't initiate change but instead guilt, control and self-defeat. Instead, create a plan for yourself. When you think about what you will eat before/after workouts, for your 3 meals and then snacking with a purpose, you have a better opportunity to set yourself up for success. Not only do you have a plan for staying nourished and satisfied but you are now forced to make sure you have those food items available which reduces the risk for overeating later in the day as well as going long hours without eating (or eating on a whim). This also helps the athlete fuel better so that pre and post workout nutrition isn't an afterthought.

4. Rethink your plate - I'm all about  a plant strong plate. You can pick your protein choice. Fill up your plate with fresh foods, packed with vitamins and minerals. Your plate should never limit fats, carbs or protein so find a way to create that beautiful plate that leaves you satisfied and feeling great about your meals. If you can't do this on your own, have a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition help you plan your diet to support your active lifestyle and health goals.

5. Get in the kitchen! Do I even need to give you a reason as to why you should cook more? Don't find the time to cook, make the time.

6. Give it time - Don't expect to change everything overnight. Focus on a few changes every 1-2 weeks so you can make that lifestyle change. Be sure to have a strong, supportive team around you who will keep you motivated and inspired to learn  how to eat for fuel and for health. Also keep in mind that even though you may find yourself questioning your new or improved eating habits, your diet is created by you and for you. You have your reason for your dietary changes and you are making these changes for the right reasons. You are not chasing a body image or wanting a quick fix but instead, you are taking the time to make a lifestyle change. Enjoy this wonderful journey that you are taking your body on as you learn how to eat for fuel and for health AND how to develop a great relationship with food and your body.