Why are so many of us constantly counting calories?
Relying on cardio equipment or heart rate monitors to tell us that we have burned enough calories to make up for that chocolate cake we had for dessert? Consider how much time, energy and brain power is used when we are consumed with these thoughts, which for some can rise to the level of obsession!
I learned years ago when training for my final win at the Natural America bodybuilding championship, that calories in/calories out is a myth. My coach, Mike Ashley, who was a natural world champion and who now owns Say Fitness in Deerfield Beach, Florida, taught me this valuable lesson about nutrition. He taught me how to maintain muscle mass while losing body fat to reach my leanness goal for the contest.
We calculated how many calories I was consuming before the three-month contest prep period and then we re-distributed nutrients while maintaining the same calorie intake. We substituted lean protein such as fish, chicken, turkey or egg whites, fibrous vegetables (the non-starchy ones like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, anything without that starchy center like peas, corn and potatoes), and complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index like yams, brown rice and peas.
We eliminated wheat, simple sugars, dairy products, processed foods and fruit for the training period. The result was what you see in the photo above. I moved from 18% body fat to 10%, which is about as low as a woman should go, while maintaining significant muscle mass.
The point here is not that everyone should eat like a bodybuilder in training but that my BMI (body mass index, or the ratio of fat to muscle) changed significantly with no calorie reduction. Did I train every day? Yes, and I increased cardio slightly, but it was really the nutrient content that made the difference. I was more lean and carried more solid muscle than ever before and I used this formula on many clients whom I later trained to successfully compete.
So how can this apply to all of our health goals? Each of us can make significant changes in our BMI without depriving ourselves, starving ourselves or going on strict or weird diets, but by just gradually making some subtle substitutions in our daily food intake.
I always advocate adding instead of taking away to avoid that deprivation/binge cycle with which so many are familiar. The first thing to add is water, water, water. Often we eat when we are really thirsty and we don’t know the difference. I try to drink three liters a day; I do not always make it and—News Flash—I don’t beat myself up for it!
The second thing to add is more fibrous vegetables. A helpful guideline is to have half of your plate filled with these nutrient packed vegetables and to eat them first. Again, fibrous vegetables are the non-starchy ones. The ones without that oh-so-yummy starchy center like corn, peas, beans, potatoes, etc. They are leaves and flowers of plants like broccoli. lettuce, cauliflower, kale, mushrooms; and they are some roots like onions, carrots and beets. If you are unsure, there are plenty of great resources online!
In upcoming blog posts, I will explain in more detail the significance of the glycemic index, glycemic load, micro-nutrients, glyco-nutrients and other gems of information that have helped me free myself from that hamster wheel of food/body/exercise obsession.
In the meantime, these two additions alone can make a huge impact on your energy, overall health and BMI.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s own