Real Food Fundamentals

Complicated diets are all the rage, but these basic steps are all you need to get started eating well.

People will give you all kinds of advice about what to eat and not eat. Most often that advice is based on something they read that reinforces their personal thoughts, or it’s based on something that works for them. All of it may be good advice in general, but it may not be good for you right at this time in your life.

In my last article, I talked about what real food is and how to be sure it’s what you have in your home. Now I’ll jump into a few things that can help you personalize your eating habits so you get the most benefit from your diet.

If you “shop the perimeter” at most grocery stores, it’s easy to avoid processed junk. [Photo courtesy Pixabay]

Step One: Start With the Basics

The first step is to learn how your body responds to food by eating a balanced mix of macronutrients. There is no one perfect ratio for all people. Some people do better with more carbohydrates. Others do better with a bit more fat or more protein – or maybe a lot more. In addition to the normal differences between lifestyles, you may have other conditions that warrant special consideration, like food allergies.

To start out, make sure you get a good mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet. Then once you have that locked in, you can begin tweaking things one way or the other to see what type of diet makes you feel, look, and perform your best.

Step Two: Pay Attention

As you begin eating healthier, pay attention to how you feel over the few hours after you eat. How you feel after a meal can clue you in to how your body responds to food and help make any diet tweaks you need. For example, you might get hungry an hour or two after eating a healthy meal. Or you might notice you feel sleepy or unfocused after a big meal.

If you feel that way after your meals, you may be eating too many carbohydrates or perhaps the wrong kind. But keep in mind, carbohydrates are not the enemy. You just need to figure out what whole-food carb sources work best for you in conjunction with eating proteins and fats.

Here are some examples of healthy complex carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains – rice, wheat, oats, barley
  • Foods made from whole grains – oatmeal, pasta, bread
  • Starchy vegetables – potatoes, corn, pumpkin, beans, lentils, peas

Personally, I don’t eat a lot of these foods. When I worked on a farm it’s what you fed cattle and pigs to get them fat real fast. I eat them, but in small, infrequent servings. 

If you notice you feel hungry shortly after meals, you might be eating a lot of greens and vegetables that don’t have many calories. So unless you get more calories from healthy fats and some protein, you are apt to be calorie deficient and get hungry sooner.

Step Three: Shop Smart

Once you’ve spent some time getting to know how your body responds to food, it’s time to work on your shopping. As mentioned in the other article, don’t shop while hungry, and be sure to bring a shopping list.

Most grocery stores have a similar layout. Almost all the processed foods are kept in the center of the store, in the aisles. The perimeter is where you generally find the one-ingredient, whole foods. So shop on the perimeter of the store and buy meat, vegetables, leafy greens, as well as some fruit, nuts, and berries.

A few tips for purchasing whole foods:

  • Dairy: If dairy products like milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt do not bother you, feel free to purchase those items. Buy whole-fat dairy foods. Fat-free is usually a code for, “We sneak a lot of sugar in there.”
  • Eggs: The same is true of eggs. If they do not bother your stomach, they are perfectly fine to include in your diet. Yes you can find studies that say they are bad. And yup, you can find just as many studies showing they are good and the cholesterol from them does not harm most people. So listen to your body as discussed above, and let it decide. (And by the way, even though they are stored in the dairy section, eggs are not dairy. Dairy products come from milk. We don’t milk chickens, so chickens do not produce any dairy products.)
  • Added Sugars: Condiments like steak sauce, BBQ sauce, and other condiments and dressings are often full of hidden sugars. I’ve never seen anyone eat a ton of chicken wings for the meat. People eat them for the sugar in the BBQ sauce. Give them a plate heaped up with just wings and no sauce, and see what happens. I make my own and avoid the sugar. Juices are another source of sugar, so if you want to eat healthy, ditch the fruit juices. If you want a real interesting watch, check out this documentary on Netflix. It will open your eyes about sugar and just how big of a problem it is.

Eat With Your Brain

Here’s one last tip a friend shared with me: Whenever anyone suggests some diet habit that sounds weird to him, he asks the person how much they can deadlift. If they don’t know what a deadlift is, he dismisses whatever diet plan they recommend. 

In all seriousness, when it comes to designing your own eating and meal planning habits, look at the complete picture of who you are: your occupation, your activity level, goals, age, physical environment, current health, and your family history. As your life changes, your eating habits may change too. Just remember to always stop and think about what you put in your mouth. That goes for the food you buy in the grocery store and what you choose to eat at restaurants.

I’ve a lot more to say about all of this, but that’s for another day. In the meantime, eat well to be well or eat bad to feel sad. Your choice.

Once you’re eating well, how do you eat to improve?

The Intelligent Athlete’s Guide to Fueling Performance