Let’s talk about underwear for a minute.
I have a drawer — and I bet you have one too — full of unworn, pretty much brand new, underwear.
The problem with the underwear isn’t color, or brand, or material, or even style.
It’s the size.
For some reason, makers of women’s workout underwear have decided that size doesn’t matter, and they put out “performance” underwear in just one size option — one size fits all (OSFA). Given that most “performance” fabrics stretch, that might sound relatively reasonable, especially if you don’t wear an odd or hard-to-find underwear size to begin with.
Inevitably, however, the material never stretches in the right ways to fit the glutes and hips of a girl who lifts. All these “OSFA” underwear make me look like an overcooked sausage, busting out of its casing, with a muffin top so deep it can be seen right through my Lulu pants.
Thus these OSFA underwear get relegated to the drawer, teasing me with the lost possibility of workout comfort heaven until I finally decide to throw them away so I no longer have to face their taunts.
My underwear woes have taught me that OSFA is rarely a good idea, and I apply that to all areas of life. OSFA sucks for clothing, for workouts, for medical recommendations, and most of all, for food.
There is no OSFA food rule that works for everyone.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no general food guidelines that we should follow. In fact, I would argue that while there is no OSFA food rule, there ARE several one size fits most guidelines that apply to 99% of us.
The few simple guidelines that apply to everyone, regardless of whether your goals are fat loss, muscle gain, general fitness, or overall health, are:
- Eat enough protein.
- Emphasize vegetables.
- Drink water.
The only people who have valid reasons for NOT following these few simple guidelines are people with rare, but legitimate, medical and health reasons.
Despite this, the biggest excuses I hear for why people cannot eat right have to do with these 3 simple guidelines.
Here’s why those excuses are bullshit:
1. “It’s hard to get enough protein.”
I hear this often, and I hear it most often from women.
I’m not sure if this protein difficulty stems from years of reading diet articles that reduce women’s fat loss to a diet of nothing more than plain salads, packets of saltines, and a few pieces of fruit, or if the difficulty stems from simply not being accustomed to eating the correct amount of protein. But regardless, once you learn how much protein you need to eat, there is no good reason not to hit that amount.
In other words, getting your protein isn’t actually hard.
The average woman needs around 22-35g of protein per meal (assuming 5 meals per day), depending on her activity levels, goals, and current body composition. That amounts to around 3-4 ounces of chicken breast, which is just about 1/2 of a moderately-sized chicken breast.
That’s not that much.
And chicken is obviously not the only protein option. Ground turkey, lean ground beef, steak, seafood, pork, eggs, low-fat plain greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, and protein powders will all do the trick as well.
The likely problem when someone says she “struggles” to get enough protein is a lack of prioritizing nutrition over habits. When protein is your first priority, you build your meals on the proper amount of protein, then add components to that; by doing so, you will always hit your needs.
Prioritizing protein, however, might mean that you have to sacrifice your habits for your nutritional needs. If you’re accustomed to having a mid-morning meal of a granola bar and an apple, for example, you’re going to have to change that habit to meet your protein needs.
And this — having to change food habits — is what’s really behind the protein struggle.
We don’t like to change.
We want to reach our goals. We know, rationally, that changing the way we eat will change our bodies.
But habits that we’ve built up over time and our personal tastes in food are strong motivators, and even when we know, logically, that we should be making different choices, we continue to adhere to our habits and routines.
And so we say that “it’s hard to get enough protein,” when really, what we mean is that it’s hard to change our habits.
Habits — and our reluctance to change them — are really the core of all three of these food excuses.
Including this one:
2. “I don’t like any vegetables.”
That sounds like it’s about taste, right?
It’s about being unwilling to change habits.
There are hundreds of varieties of vegetables to choose from in most supermarkets. You only need to eat 1/2 cup of most vegetables at each meal to fulfill your needs for the day. And most of the varieties you can easily buy cover several of your necessary vitamin and mineral needs in one serving. So while it is great to “eat the rainbow” and choose a variety of veggies, if you can find just 3 vegetables you like, you can meet your veggie needs easily.
Besides, saying you’ve tried “everything” to get yourself to eat vegetables is a bit of a stretch. What you really mean is that you’ve allowed yourself to rationalize NOT eating vegetables, when really, you should have just sucked it up, put on your adult pants, and chowed down on some broccoli.
The truth is that even a veggie lover, like me, doesn’t always vary her veggies. I typically eat only a handful of varieties of vegetables on a daily basis:
- Broccoli slaw
If it’s a good week, and I have time to cook more veggies, I add in cauliflower rice, brussels sprouts, and romaine lettuce. Many weeks, however, I’m on a constant rotation of these 3 staple veggies. And that’s fine, because I also get lots of vitamins and minerals from my protein sources, whole grains, and some roasted potatoes.
Eating sufficient vegetables doesn’t mean your crisper drawer needs to look like a farmer’s market.
Find a handful of veggies you like, find easy ways to cook them, and eat them daily.
#3. I can’t get myself to drink enough water.
Like eating protein and vegetables, failure to drink enough water is a matter of habit, not taste.
Taste can be changed via exposure. We know this — we use this very idea when we tell our children to keep trying a food they dislike. Children’s tastes change over time, and so do adults’. As a child, you have a parent or other guardian there to hold you accountable for your food and drink choices.
As adults, we have to provide our own accountability, and many of us fail at this.
(By the way, this inability to hold ourselves accountable is precisely why we hire coaches and succeed more in group fitness.)
Unlike protein and vegetables, however, there aren’t a lot of varieties of water. Sure, there’s seltzer, or sparkling water, and there are a number of spring and mineral waters to buy too.
The water habit, though, doesn’t need to start with finding an appealing source.
It needs to start with a routine instead — a daily pattern of water consumption that you can stick with.
There are lots of tricks you can try to get yourself to drink water more — drink a glass as soon as you get up, switch to ice cold water, set water goals for your workday (like finishing one bottle before lunch and one after), drink a glass every time you go to the kitchen — but the biggest trick is that you have to repeat this behavior. Often.
And in order to repeat it, you have to do the hardest thing — you have to suck it up and drink the water, even if you think you don’t like it.
Ultimately, that’s what ALL of your food issues come down to:
You have to suck it up and willingly choose the food or the drink that’s going to best help you meet your goals. And the fact that all of these things — protein, vegetables, and water — are in your control, are choices that you get to make, is both the most awesome thing and the most difficult thing at once.
You already have the power to make the changes that will lead to results, but you have to actually make the changes to get the results.