I am in my first week of teaching kettlebells–at the local parks and rec center, and in my home–and already the question of nutrition has come up.
Caveat #1: I’m not a doctor.
Caveat #2: I’m not a nutritionist.
Caveat #3: It’s only been in the past two years that any of this has mattered to me, so in every important way, I’m still learning myself.
But. The question came up anyway. So here, in a nutshell, is my Gospel of Food, which is so basic and common-sense that I’m almost embarrassed to post it! But here it is:
- Don’t focus on dieting. One thing I can promise my students is that I will never suggest that they go on a diet, of any kind. Ever. There is lots of research out there showing that time and again, the people who “go on a diet”–with the focus on a short-term quick fix, usually involving an unnatural and unhealthy restriction of calories–almost always end up heavier than before. Heck, forget the research. I’m twenty-plus years of proof. Don’t make me show you the Jabba D. Butt picture again!! Instead, let this be your focus: improve the quality of the food you put in your body. That’s it. See? Who could argue? How does one do that? Read on . . .
- Learn to recognize and prefer real food. Signs you can look for: it is itself. No processing, minimal packaging. One-ingredient foods. Butternut squash. Kale. Steak. Clarified butter (yes, real butter!). Fish. Almonds. Combine them yourself as you like, in wonderful concoctions as often as possible, and in as great a variety as possible. But the KISS principle applies to food, too: Keep It Simple, Silly.
- Learn to recognize and minimize non-foods masquerading as food. Listen up. If it comes in lots of packaging, with a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and don’t know what they are? It ain’t food. It’s a chemistry experiment in your pants. I believe we are learning more and more–and will understand better before long–the connection between the standard American diet, consisting of lots of highly-processed, chemicalized food products, and the soaring rates of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other ills. Again: keep it simple.
- Once you’ve gotten the nutrition side sorted out and simplified, you need to move, and move in a way that makes you strong. Long hours of steady-state cardio have their place, but nothing gives you the bang for the health buck like lifting heavy stuff. Do it safely–find a qualified instructor–but don’t be afraid to grow some muscles. They are more active metabolically, meaning that they continue to burn energy even when you’re done exercising. They take up less space in the body than fat, so (women, ahem!) everything gets tighter and smaller and firmer. (Ahem, I say.) The persistent and long-mistaken fear women have of “getting bulky” has less to do with too much muscle (which is hard to develop even if you’re a guy) than it does with continued poor nutrition choices, which keep a layer of (bulky) fat over the (sleek) muscles. Combine good nutrition with heavy lifting–oh my. Your body will thank you. Your pants will thank you. Whoever’s walking behind you will thank you.
- You’ve likely heard this before, and if you have, you know it’s true. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet. Purveyors of popular fitness methods, tools, and get-slim-quick fixes love to tell you that if you invest the time in their product, you can eat whatever you like and still meet your goals. Let me put this bluntly, because we’re all adults here: Hogwash. Malarkey. Baloney. Garbage in, garbage out–that simple. Your body needs good nutrition, real food, especially if your body is at work with strength or bodyweight training. You will not enjoy the full benefit of the work you’re doing if you are not being just as careful and mindful about nutrition at the same time.
Clean eating–sometimes a jargon-ey phrase, tossed about by fitness and nutrition folks who mean well. But for me, it’s really boiled down to the items I’ve listed above.
Here are some links that might serve as great reference points for you, if you’re ready to improve in any of the areas above:
Lifting heavy for women will NOT make you big and bulky. (Nia Shanks)
Focus on eating real, whole, simple foods: It All Starts With Food and the Whole30 challenge. (D and M Hartwig)
A great way to move: kettlebells, baby. (Pat Flynn)
Go strong, friends.