Part I: Eat to Thrive
For the past year, I’ve been eating with the mindset to maintain a lean physique. Prior to the past year, I competed in four figure competitions that kept me in either extreme discipline mode or at least an awareness / habit maintenance mode.
Under the coaching of Carter Schoffer, my nutrition has entailed protein, vegetables, fruit, starch (oats, rice, sweet potatoes, legumes), healthy fats, super shakes and supplementation. Along with that, I drank a ton of water and a fair amount of coffee (usually sweetened with splenda or stevia and a non dairy creamer – soy, almond or coconut milk).
Throughout the recent holiday months, I permitted myself some flex after last year’s holiday season was dedicated to the round-the-clock preparation and discipline for the Arnold Classic. I knew however, flex in my habits (read: alcohol and dessert) equaled a slightly softer physique which is fine, but not the physique I ultimately want for myself.
In a casual email exchange, Carter and I were discussing the disparity between my goals and my efforts. Carter is a special coach and he knows how to get through to me. The following is an excerpt from a larger email exchange Carter and I had. I have cut and pasted portions of his thought process because I think it‘s fair to say, even I, need a kick in the pants at times and I thought you all may benefit as well, from his thought process regarding “elite”
“For you to get to and stay at what I call “walk around” leanness, there needs to be shift from a project mindset to a process mindset and you need to identify Alli McKee… Eating in a productive manner and avoiding counterproductive foods or portions need to be incorporated into your value system and your integrity needs to ensure that those values are upheld if you’re going to transcend to the next level of body mastery and your goal of an everyday elite physique.…Getting and staying lean can’t just be something that you do but rather something that you are….We’re talking about transcending from advanced to elite – both in terms of behaviours and goals. I want to make that clear because I agree, you DO have very good habits. What we’re talking about is going from very good habits to great habits (along with the shift in your value system or hierarchy of priorities). So definitely be proud of your efforts. Just don’t rest on them if you want more than what you currently have.
Shortly after that exchange with Carter, a client of mine came to me and asked my opinion of the Paleo lifestyle. I told her I wasn’t familiar enough about the Paleo strategies to give an educated stance, so I began asking around to other Fit Pro’s for their experience and feedback. After liking the responses I received, I soon ordered Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solutions book. Robb’s book coupled with Carter’s coaching and his above thoughts lead me to a paradigm shift.
Over the past few years, Carter taught me a tremendous amount on nutrition and positioned me with great habits for grocery shopping, meal prep, food timing, food pairing, mindset / discipline / dedication and much more. It’s because of working with Carter (and perhaps my type A personality) that I have the habits I do today. Carter is the kind of coach that COACHES, not just supplying a program.
That said, Robb’s book began to fill in some gaps for me and shifted my way of thinking. My thinking recently went from “Eat To Be Lean” to “EAT TO THRIVE“. The Paleo Solutions book explained the reactions our food choices have on our insides from the hormonal responses, digestion, inflammation, sleep, energy, etc. I stopped thinking about how my nutrition was effecting my outside and started thinking about how my nutrition was effecting my insides. Let me be real, my body composition is STILL important to me, but it’s a bit more of a by-product of the eating habits.
Leading up to NYE, I planned to make some radical changes in my nutritional habits beginning Dec 31st, 2011 to launch the new year off solid. I decided I was going to take a hybrid approach of what I developed with Carter and what new information I acquired from the Paleo lifestyle. It was a no brainer that I was going to cut the alcohol from my holiday season, cut the sugar, anything processed and all dairy. What I was furthering to eliminate were any artificial sweetners (bye bye splenda / stevia in my coffee) and no grains at all (no rice, no oats, no legumes and of course, no gluten). What that leaves in my current nutrition plan is protein, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats.
Granted, individuals thrive with different foods and different approaches. I find I do best with black and white parameters (ie: protein, vegetable, fruit, fat = Yes. Grains, dairy, sugar, processed food = No). That route is most simple for my understanding and compliance. I have also played with intermittent fasting in the past but found that I enjoy starting the day off with breakfast too much to omit it and found that my results in body composition are about the same either way. For me, it’s more about consistency in compliance.
So what do I eat and how do I structure it?
Since Dec 31st, I have kept my food parameters to proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. My liquids are water (lots of it), coffee and green tea. I usually eat about every few hours. If it’s a weight training day, I incorporate more fruit. If it’s not a weight training day, I dial back my fruit to one serving if any (aiming for fat loss, watch the sugar from fruit). I make sure I have a green and colored vegetable with every meal and get a mix of fats throughout the day. All the variety in my nutrition is in an effort to avoid food ruts, developing food allergies and above all, to get a variety of nutrients in!!
Since eliminating the holiday treats, I have found my body to be reverting back to a tighter physique quickly. Since eliminating the grains, legumes, dairy and artifical sweetners, I have found digestion to be MUCH better and no bloating whatsoever. I go to bed and wake up feeling even better. It’s much easier to stick to this now because it’s a matter of FEELING GOOD and getting leaner is an awesome perk.
Do I “Cheat”?
Sure, I’m not a robot. I enjoy red wine from time to time but I’m thoughtful about it. Fortunately, it’s not throwing off my digestion as gluten, grains or dairy might… it’s just not going to work towards the six pack abs.
So far, this seems to be a good scheme for me. I will say, it was a rather easy transition to make these changes due to the history I’ve been fortunate to have with Carter but I encourage you all to educate yourselves on nutrition, understand the WHY’s to nutrition suggestions and then manipulate your nutrition to see how YOU feel and respond. Give yourself time for your body to adapt and time for the adjustments to take effect. Be CONSISTENT at least for 30 days. One interesting point I read in Robb’s book was that gluten lasts in your system for 10-15 days. That is a long time if you consider how hard the first two weeks can be to adjust to new restrictions. Imagine if you accomplished the first two weeks, are feeling great and decide to treat yourself to a piece of cake at dinner… whoops, you’ve just negated your first two weeks effort and reintroduced gluten again for the next two weeks to come.
To me, eating to be lean is important but eating to promote the best hormonal responses, digestion, sleep patterns, daily energy levels, disease prevention, anti-inflammation and more.. Now that’s Eating to THRIVE.
I may not have covered everything here so if you have questions or want to generate more posts on nutrition, meal construction, recipes, etc. feel free to leave a note.
Stay tuned for part II, Training to Thrive.