Weighing It In – 8 Tips to Dialing In Your Nutrition

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Guest post from our own Box badass Marlene with some real talk about her weight loss journey. You can read more from her blog here.

There is a new trend going around on the various news feeds that I follow: nutrition, diet, macros, eating real food. All of it can seem pretty overwhelming for someone who wants to get their nutrition in check and may not have the funds to have a nutritionist or personal chef. Online reading about macros, micronutrients, caloric intake, cycling carbs, and even I can get overwhelmed!

Six years ago when I began my health and fitness transformation I wrote about counting calories for a year. Everything I ate was counted and all of my running was noted. It was a total numbers game. This seriously comes across as an obsession. And for me, I didn’t care what it looked like to others, I was on a mission to lower the number on the scale.

But let’s be honest, most people don’t want to obsess about their calories or numbers. For those that are not counting macros for fitness gains, most of the nutrition sites and diets can be daunting and “too much work” (per the statements I have heard in passing). I get it, and I also know that if we want to live longer and be free of serious health risks, then monitoring what we put into our body is serious business.

Below are a few tips that helped me keep my health in check and my weight at an optimum level since losing 30 pounds of fat (and gaining some of it back in muscle- totally fine by me since my clothing size stayed the same).

1. Know the Serving Size

I didn’t know what a serving size actually looked like until I began to weigh my food and actually eat one serving of whatever I put on my plate. I bought a scale and measuring utensils (and measured my dishware).

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This way I was able to calculate a true serving size (and accurately count my calories). This small bowl pictured (1 cup to be precise) is holding 6 oz of beef for a quick salad that I made earlier in the week.  Measuring can initially be incredibly tedious. But after a few measures typical meals, it can be easy to “eye-ball” the portion.

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2. Portion Control

No matter what nutrition plan we choose, having a scale and measuring tools is incredibly important, so are aware of what one portion looks like. This was unbelievably challenging at first because I used to eat like I was never going to eat another meal again. While sometimes I can revert back to that mindset (old habits die hard), I have to remember that I can survive on normal sized portions. A portion/serving size is what a typical person living on a 2,000 diet “should” be eating. A  person who is 5’3″ who does not exercise consistently and is mostly sedentary, only needs about 1700 calories to function without gaining weight (micro/macros aside).

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Dining out makes portion control even more ridiculous and challenging, because we are often served enough food to feed our entire party of guests (imagine Cheesecake Factory plates). Keep yourself in check with the portions before you sit down for a meal. Buy smaller plates for serving food at home, ask the restaurant server to cut the meal in half and bag the other half to go. This will be difficult at first because your stomach will think it “should” be eating more because of past experience, so be one step ahead of the game and fill it with water. This brings me to my next point.

3. Drink Liquids

Water. Not the sugar-filled, “juices” or sodas that everyone adds to their meals while dining out or at home (the point is not to drink the calories we just cut from food). Most people do not drink enough water. I would have put myself into this category. Liquids are incredibly important for our skin, our internal organs, creating a healthy state of body ketosis (more on how to get into ketosis state of body here) and for optimal daily functioning.

How much is enough? I like the old adage “drink half your weight in ounces.”  For me, this breaks down to 12-16 ounces of water in the morning before eating breakfast (right when I get up), 32 ounces during the work day (I have a water bottle that must come home empty), then 20-24 ounces when I get home and before I hit the gym.  What doesn’t have calories, you ask? Water. Unsweetened tea. Coffee (a controversial one). Don’t take my word for it, read it from the “experts” and make up your own mind.

4. Read the Labels

Lately, I have become much less concerned about the caloric value than with the food product’s actual ingredients. I’m not a food chemist, so I have made it a point to only buy food products where I can actually read and know the ingredients listed (and want in my body). One example of reading the labels comes by the way of marinara sauce. Most store bought marinara sauce has sugar added in. Yes. Read the labels, even some of the “healthy” brands add in sugar. I would not have known this without reading the label. If you really want sugar, why not know that you’re eating it (like having a piece of chocolate cake or a soda in moderation)?

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5. Minimize (Eliminate) Processed Carbs

Yes I said it.  Carbs are not the devil, I am a marathoner and I eat plenty of carbs before and after long runs. It’s not the actual carbohydrate that is the devil, it’s the processed carbs that make me feel bloated, and uncomfortable especially if I don’t immediately burn it off during a long 15-mile run.

People go through extremes from carb-starving to carbs-on-carbs. Last week at my work cafeteria, the lunch menu consisted of breaded chicken, potatoes and mac and cheese (no joke). Carbs on carbs on carbs.  No one needs that much sugar in their life. Yes, carbs translate to sugar (again) in our body. Pasta, potatoes, and rice are often the culprit of these carb-witch hunts. Here’s my suggestion, consider a better brand of pasta-whole grain, quinoa, almond flour. Yes, it may cost more than traditional pastas, but I can either pay more now, or suffer later (by weight gain, bloated gut, or health problems).  Consider transitioning to sweet potatoes and monitor the rice intake. It’s all about priorities.

5. Breakfast!

Eating in the morning kicks off our metabolism and helps us burn those calories faster. If we don’t eat in the morning, our body transitions into a storage mode so whatever we eat later in the day is used less efficiently. What I do daily is make breakfast and take it with me, eat my hardboiled eggs and bison bratwurst in the car (on the way to work) and then have my 1/2 cup of oatmeal with bananas and dates at work.

The more calories eaten earlier in the day, the longer the body has to burn the calories more efficiently. Consider enlarging breakfast and lunch and having a small dinner.

6. Monitor Snacks

I am a snack queen. I love snacks, all kinds of them, but chips mostly. I have been known to sit and eat an entire bag (of 6 servings) in one sitting. While I am well aware this is bad, I have gone into harm reduction mode on this one. Rather than buying a bag of regular barbecue chips, I opt for bags of chips that are less bad and that I know all the ingredients used. I am a fan of salty snacks, so I buy nuts, seeds, and vegetable/root chips, or bars like Larabars with no more than five ingredients listed on their label (thanks, Jessica for that tip).  While snacking is also known to be important to maintain a faster metabolism, it’s all in the *how* and *what*.  Yes, the better foods may cost more, but again I’ll pay for it now so I don’t have to pay for it later in my health.

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7. Treat Yourself in Moderation

I love chocolate cake. I also know that a piece of chocolate cake contains about 700 calories of mostly sugar. Rather than binge on one or two pieces of cake because I have been limiting myself from cutting out all sugar, I will give myself a 200 calorie limit on the cake once a week or twice a month. I try to share a piece with one or two people, eat a small portion slowly, savor every bite, and pat myself on the back for maintaining self-control. If soda is the drug of choice, drink the real thing (artificial sugars are a whole different blog post) but limit to one a week (or every two weeks) since it has been known to cause obesity and death. Same thing goes for alcohol. Portion control your treats and enjoy the flavor of a small portion.

8. Seek Support

Seek support from friends, online communities, or those that you know have been successful in losing weight and keeping it off.  There are plenty of fitness and food monitoring apps out there to help log meals, count calories, count macros, whatever one wants.  Once I started writing down everything I ate, my whole world changed.

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I had to be honest with myself, especially now with knowing that I have new goals and now place a strong emphasis on maintaining my high levels of functional fitness.  I couldn’t do that without properly fueling my body. Maybe one or two of these strategies can help the journey of others to maintain optimal functioning whatever the goals may be.

Additional Resources

IIFYM
Lose It!
My Fitness Pal
Fit Bit
RP Strength

Workout of the Day 7/16/2015 – Thursday

CrossFit

Speed/Power.
5 Rounds:
45 sec – Max Calorie Row
15 sec – Rest

Mobility.
5 Rounds:
30 sec – Back Squat Bottom
30 sec – Rest

Met-Con.
For Time:
6 C2B Pull-Ups
6 Cleans (185#/115#)
6 C2B Pull-Ups
6 Snatches (135#/75#)
6 C2B Pull-Ups
6 Shoulder to Overhead (135#/75#)

Optional scale up to bar muscle-ups, and the following weights: cleans (225#/135#), snatches (155#/85#), s2o (155#/85#)

CrossFit 101

Strength.
Clean 5-4-3-3-3

Met-Con.
EMOM 15:
Min. 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 – 10 Slam Balls
Min. 2, 5, 8, 11, 14 – 15 Sit-Ups
Min. 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 – 5 Burpee Broad Jump