Everywhere I go, as soon as people learn I am in fitness, people ask me: “Can you just give me a diet?” Diets connote short-term periods of time. Diets are also something Americans tend to go “onto” and “fall off of” often. They are usually temporary, short-lived, unimpressive fads. Since we eat for life as a long-term plan, and since diets connote short-term plans, it seems reasonable that we should rethink the concept of “diet” completely. Instead of “diet”, I prefer the term “meal plan” because it’s a concept that doesn’t intimidate us when we think of following it for life.
Meal plans take into consideration each individual’s realistic goals, tastes, likes, dislikes, and daily life. One size does not fit all. For example, suggesting a meal plan that consists of breakfasts of quinoa-based waffles, low-fat yogurt with sliced and peeled fruit, and a flaxseed power smoothie may be nutritionally sound for one woman who offices out of home because she has a kitchen nearby, but suggesting that same breakfast meal plan to a woman who travels frequently on planes during the breakfast hour would be a recipe for failure. Cultural differences, medical needs, and lifestyle choices can also affect meal plans.
What follows are guidelines for developing a meal plan that’s right for you.
Individuals with specific medical needs should consult a Registered Dietician. If you are serious about finding one in your area, visit www.eatright.org, the website of the non-profit American Dietetic Association. Even though you may see the word “diet” as part of the title, rest assured that the website has to do with all aspects of sound, researched nutrition that helps increase the quality of peoples’ lives every day. It is not a website about “dieting”! A Registered Dietician can help you create an innovative, realistic, doable meal plan that helps you achieve your goals.
As the ACE Personal Training and Group Fitness Manuals state, the body needs about 55% of carbohydrates, 15% of proteins, and up to 30% of fat from every meal or snack. An example of this from the Mediterranean style of eating could be white or whole wheat pasta (healthy carbohydrate choices with some protein) topped with tomato sauce and/or olive oil (healthy choice of fat), mixed with strips of lean chicken, beef, pork, or fish (lean protein choices).
When people ask me what I eat on any given day, I’m happy to tell them. After I explain what I’ve eaten, I always follow up with a breakdown of how active I am, what my general medical needs are, and why I choose the foods I do based on my travel schedule for that given week. It’s important for people to realize that they shouldn’t follow my meal plans exactly, as we are different people with different physical needs, cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, and travel schedules.
When it comes to supplementation (“Should I take vitamins?”), the American Council on Exercise suggests that we always refer clients to their medical care practitioners for supplementation recommendations because only the doctors know things like the results of blood work, possible vitamin-medicine interactions, family history, etc.
Fat often gets a bad reputation. Fat provides great functions in the body: it carries some vitamins like A, D, E, and K, stimulates growth, protects organs, regulates heat, and helps the body digest every type of food. Carrying too much fat on the body, especially when that fat accumulates around the center of the individual, increases that person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Eliminating total fat intake is not the way to decrease fat storage on the body, however, because we need some fat every day just to survive. For instance, the gallbladder alones needs roughly 10 g of fat at every full meal just to engage in all of its functions properly. Getting healthy fat from sound sources in the right amounts is essential to a healthy meal plan.
However, you should limit saturated fats (i.e., fats like lard that come from animals) as much as possible. Read labels. Look for ingredients that say “monounsaturated” and “polyunsaturated” types of fats. You want these. Learn the words “hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated,” “trans fat,” and “fractionated”, and try to eliminate from your grocery purchases all foods listing these words in the ingredients because this process of hydrogenation can increase your risk for cardiac and other diseases. You do not want these.
I’d like to share two final thoughts regarding food meal plans. First, there are no real “junk foods” because the body can tolerate almost anything in the appropriate quantity. While there are no junk foods, from listening to what people have been telling me for so many years, I do believe that there are some really junky meal plans. Potato chips in small amounts won’t ruin anybody, for example, but if that’s all you’re eating over time, then your meal plan is really junky. Although it’s also a trite slogan, it really proves true!
“Good” vs. “Bad”
Remember not to equate ethics and morality with food. We don’t behave “good” or “bad” when we eat certain things. We are “good” and “bad” based on our actions in society. We may follow a healthy meal plan or not, but it doesn’t change who we are inside in terms of morality. My good friend and Hollywood Registered Dietician Dominique Adair suggests using the word “bad” in relation to food only when a food has spoiled or when we are allergic to it. For example, spoiled milk truly has gone “bad”! This keeps morality out of food and will keep us from thinking negative thoughts based on what we have or have not ingested. Whether we eat an apple or piece of chocolate, neither one makes us “good” nor “bad”.
Guest post by Lawrence Biscontini, Mindful Movement Specialist, fitness expert, and Senior VIP Consultant for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Power Music®.