Have you ever read this quote?
“Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
What if you are actually obsessed? Would you be able to recognise that your behaviour is unhealthy? It’s easy to justify obsessive ideas about food if you follow a strict diet. You might think that your refusal to ever eat ice cream or cookies makes you better than everyone else, but what if you could enjoy those things and still achieve your physique goals? There’s no reason to restrict your ability to experience life, to eat meals that don’t involve chicken and rice, but you might still do it anyway because your attitude to food has become unhealthy, despite the food you’re eating being healthy!
Have you ever become anxious and distressed when you’ve missed a scheduled meal? Or have you told yourself when you’re dieting that you can continue eating doughnuts late into the night, because you’re carb backloading, irrespective of the fact you’re eating a huge caloric surplus? These are potential issues that you might want to address to ensure that you can make training and diet a healthy part of your life.
If you’ve read the Propane Protocol then you will know that you can enjoy the food you eat and still get the results you want. If not, keep reading and see if you recognise any of your own behaviour.
Binging and Purging
Justifying Dubious Eating Habits
Fasting and carb backloading are popular diet protocols with a cult following. Both approaches encourage periods of underfeeding and either complete calorie restriction or carbohydrate restriction. This is followed by a period of relative overfeeding. There is room for dangerous thinking errors here:
“I have to fast longer because I ate too much last night.”
“It doesn’t matter if I eat endless amounts of sweets, cakes, and ice cream, because I’m backloading. I’m supposed to eat junk!”
Fasting (or low-carb period of CBL) is not intended to be a punishment, and the eating window (carb backloading window) is not intended to be a binge! Both protocols are designed to structure your eating pattern to achieve fat loss and lean mass preservation, or lean mass gain. Fasting is a psychological tool to manage hunger, to segregate it, so that when you are dieting you can look forward to more satisfying meals than if you ate throughout the day. There are other potential benefits (and risks), but that’s the primary one. Carb backloading is similar, in the sense that the backloading window allows you to take advantage of the satiating, rewarding aspects of carbohydrate consumption, often leading to a deep, satisfying sleep.
“I’ve eaten one slice of cake, I’ve ruined my diet. I may as well eat the whole thing now!”
This is the kind of damaging, black and white thinking that will limit your progress and stress you out. If you make a mistake with your diet, stop yourself, if you haven’t finished eating the pastry, or the tub of ice cream, take a moment to put it away and don’t blame yourself. Everyone makes mistakes and gives in to temptation, it’s how you deal with it that’s important. Don’t think that it’s a disaster, because one bad day on your diet does not ruin anything if you’re consistent!
Clean Food, Junk Food, and Limited Food Choices
Almost everyone will have somewhat of a different answer to the question. And every answer all boils down to some kind of belief system they’ve created – how they view certain foods. One person, perhaps a Paleo dieter, might actually say that fresh orange juice is off limits because it has too much sugar. However, they might feel a piece of fruit is okay, even though the amount of fructose and sucrose is very similar when comparing the fruit and the OJ.
Another example is someone who labels whole grain foods clean and foods like white bread dirty or off limits. While the whole grains may have a bit more nutrients or fiber, the impact is minimal and hardly an issue as long as your diet isn’t completely out of whack.
Many people think that clean eating will produce the muscle gain and fat loss results you want, while a diet full of dirty food will give you subpar results at best. However, this makes no sense when looking at the macro composition of foods that are often referred to as clean or dirty.
You should emphasise quality, whole foods as the core of your diet, but you should vary them. That means including different types of protein sources, for example. Don’t stick to egg whites and fish every day when you could try venison or something more exotic. Do the same for carbohydrates and fat. Have some sugary cereal after training instead of putting carb powder in your shake. Try having coffee with cream instead of adding EVOO to your chicken and brown rice. Learn to include food that is usually labelled at junk by counting macros.
Here’s a quote from another excellent article written by Alan Aragon:
For those hoping that I’ll tell you to have fun eating whatever you want, you’re in luck. But, like everything in life, you’ll have to moderate your indulgence, and the 10-20% guideline is the best way I’ve found to do this. There currently is no compelling evidence suggesting that a diet whose calories are 80-90% from whole & minimally processed foods is not prudent enough for maximizing health, longevity, body composition, or training performance. As a matter of fact, research I just discussed points to the possibility that it’s more psychologically sound to allow a certain amount of flexibility for indulgences rather than none at all. And just to reiterate, processed does not always mean devoid of nutritional value. Whey and whey/casein blends are prime examples of nutritional powerhouses that happen to be removed from their original food matrix.
Meal timing is often a problem when you’re trying to follow a strict diet. You expect to be able to eat your scheduled means, even if you aren’t having six of them a day, at the times you expect. Every hour that goes past when you’ve missed a meal is like an eternity, and you wonder exactly how much muscle you’re losing with every additional minute. But really, you know that meal frequency isn’t that important, it’s more that the disruption to your routine has made you panic.
I’ve experienced this. I remember clearly a day when I was stuck in a seminar, and I had gone 3 hours without eating. This was a disaster. And when it got to 3.5 hours, and the seminar was over, I rushed to get some McDonalds to avoid catabolism. What a ridiculous thing to do, and yet it seemed perfectly rational to me at the time, believing that I needed to eat every 2-2.5 hours or I’d waste away.
Meal frequency and timing must fit into your lifestyle, or you will be miserable a lot of the time! That doesn’t mean you can’t follow your diet, but you have to allow yourself flexibility to make it a healthy part of your life, not your entire life.
Have you ever tried to weigh out food precisely and found yourself playing about with individual grains of rice, trying to get the amount exactly right? I’ve done that. And I don’t think it’s a problem, I am like that with everything I do. But what about situations where you realise you’ve messed up? For example, you were supposed to have 150g of carbs today, but you didn’t account for something and ended up eating 160g. Will that 10g of carbs make a huge difference? Maybe, but is it something that you can’t adjust for and correct? No!
Don’t strive to be 100% perfect. If you nail your diet and training 100% for 3 years and burn out, you will never make as much progress as someone that gets it right 80-90% of the time for 10 years.
Developing a Healthier Attitude to Food
- Allow junk as part of your diet, even 10-20% of your food intake. Fit them into your macro or calorie targets for the day, so there’s no regret or guilt when you eat them.
- Think ahead for situations where you might miss a meal, or where you can’t prepare food yourself, to avoid anxiety. Learn to accept that you can’t always anticipate every change to your plans, and adjust your eating as necessary when changes have to be made, don’t despair.
- Enjoy cooking, and try to experiment with new types of food and variations on your default meal choices. How about using protein powder to create healthy cakes, muffins, and ice cream?
- Plan cheat days or refeeds where you are allowed to indulge. Every time you have a strong craving for a particular food, make a note of it for that day. If you find yourself buying snacks or treats, put them away somewhere and make a mental note that those are for your cheat day.