Print Edition: March 14, 2012
In any sport that deals with the technical aspects of a person’s form, such as moving your arms while running or keeping your toes pointed while swimming, there are two kinds of adjustments that can be made. The first is a simple adjustment, and usually involves only a small group of muscles. In these cases it’s not difficult to break bad habits, and the new change in technique takes almost no time to develop: maybe only a couple training sessions are needed. An example would be to keep your chin up while cycling (don’t quote me there; I have no experience in proper cycling technique). The change is small, it’s easy to understand and easy to implement.
The other sort of change, well… it takes a little longer. The other sort of change involves large overarching movements and uses many large muscle groups. These sorts of changes take months or even years to fully develop. Generally coaches will spend much more time dealing with these sorts of changes because the athlete must not only be able to produce the movement, but also be able to understand the biomechanics behind the movement. An example would be maximizing the surface area of your arms while pulling towards yourself in swimming. Clearly these kinds of changes are more complicated than just having to “keep your chin up.”
Sometimes, coaches will break down large changes into many small changes. This way, the athlete doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the large change, and less stress can be placed on fundamentally understanding the biomechanics behind the change, which can take some time.
In a lot of ways, the kinds of changes that I’ve just described can be applied to nutrition as well. People are hesitant to make large changes in the way they eat, because they see a massive change in front of them that will take a long time to understand and implement. It takes more work than they’re really willing to give. It can be especially difficult when you’re dealing with a plethora of other concerns, such as school, work, relationships, etc. There are, however, many small changes you can make that take very little time to implement, and take very little work on your part. Hopefully, if you slowly take on each change, one at a time, you’ll get to your nutrition goals without ever facing that massive change that deters many from even trying.
Read what you eat
On the back of the packaging of practically anything you eat or drink is a section labeled “Nutrition Facts.” Here’s the change you can make: read it. Any time you eat or drink something, read up on its nutritional value. Generally, anything that has a fat or trans-fat amount of over 20 per cent of your daily value should only be eaten on occasion, and then only sparingly. Any drink that contains more than 25 grams of sugar per 250 mL should also be avoided. The rationale behind this change is that just by knowing what you’re putting in your body, you’re much less likely to eat it if it’s not good for you in large quantities. Fast foods, such as McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s, should provide you with a nutritional information sheet if you request it, though you probably already know what’s on them. You’re just in denial.
Write down what you eat
In order to gauge how well you’re currently eating, take a food diary for two weeks. Write down everything you eat every day for two weeks, in terms of servings. A serving is roughly the size of your fist: some examples would be a slice of bread, half a bagel, or two eggs. For liquids, a serving is 250 mL. Then, you can see how much bad food you’re actually eating, compared to the amount of good food. It may be an eye-opening experience. You probably don’t realize what your intake of bad food, such as cookies or chips, is until you write it down. For reference, here are the quantities you should optimally be seeing per day in your food diary, in terms of servings: try to write a two-week food diary every two months or so to benchmark how your intake is shaping up.
Don’t eat before bed
As we discussed last week, not sleeping enough increases hunger and appetite, as discovered by research conducted by Dr. Eve Van Cauter. If you eat right before you go to sleep, your body won’t rest properly, as its digestive system will be active because of the recent meal. You can substantially improve the quality of your sleep, and therefore diminish your appetite, by not eating two to three hours before you go to sleep.
Don’t listen to your mother
Unfortunately old habits die hard, especially when they’re constantly being reinforced by your mother. The old adage of “finish what’s on your plate” may have been useful before the invention of fridges, but it’s truly an unnecessary ideal now. This is especially true in restaurants where the portions (and plates) are super-sized. It’s better to simply gauge your own hunger. If you feel satisfied, you should stop eating. You shouldn’t feel bloated at the end of a meal. I repeat: don’t finish what’s on your plate if you’re not hungry. If you find this habit too hard to break, just buy smaller plates.
Eat multi-functional foods
This ties in well with reading the nutritional facts of what you’re eating. Try to eat only foods that do a lot of things, as in, gives you a good source of carbohydrates and vitamin D – or gives you fat, fiber, vitamin C and iron. Make sure what you eat gives you more than just fat and/or sugar. If you see that note on the bottom of the Nutritional Facts that starts off with “Not a significant source of…” then it’s probably not something you should be eating or drinking on a regular basis (besides water).
This eclectic group of tips and tricks for eating better actually amounts to a big change. If you’re able to implement them one by one, you should be on your way to meeting your nutrition goals in no time.