By Brad Deiter
I have an ardent belief that what you eat plays a significant role in your health and your performance. In fact, there is little debate that the best thing you can do for your overall health and well-being is to eat well. Also, while some extremely gifted athletes can function at a high level eating whatever they want, I would bet everything I own (which lets face it, isn’t much) that improving their diet would improve their performance.
There is a lot debate on what constitutes the “perfect diet” or the “optimal diet” and I believe that we may never find the perfect diet. While there is and will continue to be debate about specific dietary regimens, let’s keep it simple and state that eating an evolutionary-based, whole foods approach type of diet is a successful nutrition framework. From my perspective, the battle should not be to provide more evidence that vegetables are good for you, too much sugar is bad, fats are essential, you need to eat a certain macronutrient profile etc. but how can we help people change their eating behaviors. My experience as an athlete, coach, consultant, and researcher has shown me that the biggest hurdle in improving people’s lifestyle choices is there nutritional habits. Time and again I have seen people, including myself and my own clients, spend hours and hours in the gym, yet it is their fork that prevents them from reaching their health and fitness goals.
From my perspective, the reason for their inability to “eat healthy” comes not from their lack of knowledge, or a pathological relationship with food. It comes from something rather simple, their perspective on the food choices they are making. Put simply, viewing your nutritional choices as inclusive or exclusive makes a major difference in the choices you make, your habits, and your overall outlook on nutrition.
A Negative, Exclusive Perspective
When you decide what to eat for lunch, you consciously and subconsciously weigh the options of your food choices from an exclusive or inclusive point of view. Let’s start from the exclusive point of view, as it is the detrimental one. I began thinking about what I can’t eat. No bread, therefore no sandwiches (which I love), this associates negative thoughts and emotions toward my meal. Next, I think about the fact I can’t have the delicious smelling pepperoni pizza my colleague brought in to share. Now I have more negative thoughts and emotions about my nutritional behaviors. Now I decide I can’t have that big bowl of fresh fruit because I have some metabolic dysfunction and am trying to cut back on my overall sugar intake for a few months to help regain my health. That’s strike three. I finally decide on a salad with chicken, hardboiled egg, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, pumpkin seeds, and sautéed mushrooms and eat it while daydreaming about the pizza my lab mate is eating.
How do you think you are going to feel about your nutritional habits? Positive or negative? I would venture to guess you are eating that salad with a look of disdain on your face and feeling rather dejected about eating it. Does this sound familiar?
A Positive, Inclusive Perspective
Now let’s look at it from an inclusive point of view. It’s lunch time, I forgot to pack a lunch and I head out to the local co-op for lunch. I get there and I make the decision to adopt a positive perspective about my nutritional habits. I decide to focus on being inclusive rather than exclusive. First, I begin to think about what would be good for my body and what can I eat to optimize my health. This puts me in a frame of mind that the food I am going to eat is going to nourish me, it is not just to please the hungry signal to my brain. Yes, I will please that hungry signal but I can also be healthy and improve myself at the same time.
Now what do I get to eat?! The salad bar looks amazing, it is stocked with fresh produce, farm raised meat and eggs, and homemade salad dressings. For lack of a better term, we have hit the nutritional “mother-load” . I start with a bed of romaine and spinach, this is going to provide me with fiber, iron, phenols, and a lot of other great nutrients I can’t get from that turkey sandwich sitting in the deli. Looks like my leafy greens have a step up! Next I come to the vegetable and nut section. I toss on some toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds to add some healthy fats and give my salad some extra crunch (I am a texture person, so this also increases the experience of my meal over the bland textural note of that pizza my lab mate brought). I have a hard workout later this afternoon and could benefit from a small bolus of good carbs so I grab some roasted beets and toss them on their. The great thing is I also get the benefit of folate, betaine, and some potassium in there that the pizza dough wouldn’t have. For some more texture and to up the micronutrient content of my salad I get to toss on some chopped tomato, cucumbers, and carrots.
This salad is shaping up to be a treat and the colors are nice to look at too! Now I get to load up on some protein so I toss some diced roasted chicken and a sliced up egg on top of my bed of greens, veggies, and nuts. The protein will help me rebuild from my workout, provide satiety, and let’s face it, I really like roasted chicken and harboiled eggs! It’s also nice to know I am getting some choline from my eggs which is beneficial for a ton of things including my liver and brain. Before I head to grab some homemade balsamic vinaigrette, I eye the sautéed mushrooms and thing to myself, “It is winter here in the PNW and I could use some dietary vitamin D” so I grab a small scoop of those as well. I take my salad, sit down and thoroughly enjoy my meal while thinking to myself, “this salad tastes delicious and is providing me with the nutrients I need to reach my goals and improve my health”. I haven’t forgotten about the pizza my lab mate had, however this salad probably tastes just as good; it also has more variety and texture than then pizza and I am much happier in my nutrition choice.
Change Your Perspective, It Will Make A World Of Difference
Changing your perspective is an incredibly powerful tool to any aspect of life, especially when it comes to your nutrition. You have to eat everyday. Why not have each time you eat be a positive experience you cherish instead of something you view as a negative, constricting experience. I challenge you to begin to think of nutrition as inclusive, say to yourself “I get to eat more nutritious food, I get to improve my health and performance, I get to be healthier, and I get to be happier about the decisions I make”. Let go of the ”I can’t” mentality, because let’s face it, you are not really missing out on anything special, besides a roadblock on your way to better health and performance. Next time you are thinking about something to eat, be inclusive, not exclusive and see what a difference it makes for yourself!
Brad Dieter is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Idaho in the Movement Sciences department. He is an athlete and nerd who is constantly pushing himself to be a better athlete, coach, and scientist. He is a nutrition wizard who also happens to love weightlifting and developing athletes. He and Mike Vaccaro run Evolutionary-Health.com and work hard day in and day out to bring next-level information and techniques to the health and fitness scene.