I have gone back and forth in the last few years with one simple question. Often times, I wonder if I’m doing any good with my nutrition consultations with my clients and the advice I offer on this website. Does eating “healthy” really make a difference? The answer to this question is a little more difficult than you might imagine. And it also may surprise you!
First things first, I want to throw out there that there are a large number of elite athletes that seem to eat everything under the sun (including the so-called “bad” foods) and still manage to live an extremely healthy life. What does this tell us exactly? As a nutritionist, I would argue that it’s not just the food that we eat that makes us healthy. At the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is the largest nutrition school in the world based out of NYC, they teach a concept known as “Primary Nutrition”. Other non-related food categories under IIN’s Primary Nutrition concept included things like Relationships, Physical Activity, Career, Spirituality, etc. So going back to the question at hand, Does eating healthy really make a difference?, you can clearly see that the answer is not a difinitive yes or no…….
Think about this situation for a minute. Take someone who eats extremely healthy. For this explanation’s purpose, lets say they eat impeccable. This person eats 100 percent organic, eats loads of fruits and vegetables, takes high quality supplements, takes plenty of time to chew and enjoy their food, grows a lot of their own foods, fishes for their seafood, hunts for their high quality wild game, etc. This person’s diet is too good to be true. So let me ask you a question? Do you think this person lives a healthy life? From reading the example, most people would answer with a yes faster than a cheetah could run. But what if this person worked a 40 hour a week job that they absolutely hated? What if this person was in an abusive relationship that they couldn’t get out of? What if this person never had time to get any physical activity or exercise because they were too busy?
When Michael Phelps was training for the Olympics, he ate a 10,000 calorie a day diet. Part of his daily eating regime included things like fast food and large cheese pizza’s. But how could he be so healthy? The answer is a spends 6 hours a day in a swimming pool and probably burns all 10,000 calories that he consumes. Imagine what would happen if the “average” American ate that many calories a day? My guess is that person would be extremely obese given that the average person doesnt even get 30 minutes of exercise a day. Most people sit on their asses at a desk all day!
Watch the comical Saturday night live video of Michael Phelps 12,0000 calorie diet by clicking this link: http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/michael-phelps-diet/656342/
I also know many people in the rock climbing world who have extremely ripped bodies and eat like shit. Pardon my french but there is no other way to put it. My roommate (who is a diehard climber) manges to spend less than 2 dollars a day or 60 bucks a month on food. He often eats white potatoes for breakfast and sometimes again for lunch and dinner(talk about a high glycemic load). He also eats the largest plates of pasta that you could ever imagine and then smothers it with processed parmesan cheese. If the average American ate like this they would have Type II Diabetes virtually overnight and have major problems with maintaining a healthy weight. Ironically, my roommate is super ripped and has a flat stomach like you would see on the cover of a mens health magazine. So what gives? There is also another climber I know of who is a professional and he eats loads of junk food. In fact, his preferred choice of food at the start of a big climbing day is a box of Oreo Cookies which he calls “Sending Biscuits”(I’m not joking on this none). Imagine that, an elite athlete eating Oreo Cookies before a major athletic endeavor. And this person happens to be one of the strongest climbers in the world. What gives right?
Truth be told, I got to experience this for myself first hand during a recent climbing trip to Mexico. I usually eat extremely healthy but where I went in Mexico there wasn’t exactly a Whole Foods on every street corner like I am use to. I not only skipped a bunch of meals and ate some things that I normally wouldn’t even consider “real food”, I also drank a half a bottle of tequila or a 6 pack of beer every night. And you know what? I came back from the trip more ripped and stronger than ever! Maybe this should be my new diet regime? But if you look a little closer at my vacation, you will learn that I got about 10 hours of strenuous physical activity each day. I hiked hours upon hours each and every day, climbing sometimes 20 pitches in a day from daylight to dusk.I also had zero stress and woke up each day with the biggest smile on my face. Sounds like an average day for a typical American right?
So your probably wondering where I am going with all this. How can so many elite athletes be so ripped and perform so well and have a perfect body while most American’s have been on every diet under the sun and they are still fat? It doesn’t seem fair does it?
The answer lies in balance. I truly believe that having a balanced life is the ticket to feeling happy and healthy. If you eat like shit but exercise 10 hours a day, they both probably cancel each other out. If you work tons of hours each week and make tons of money but never have time to spend with your family, again they both probably cancel each other out. Balance is the key here! What you’re looking for here is to have a balance in every aspect in your life. If you are low in one, you have to be higher in another to help balance it out. So think about this for a minute? What areas of your life are going good? What areas of your life need improvement?
For most people, they are not as healthy as they could be because their life is completely out of balance. They may eat really healthy and exercise a lot but they hate their jobs and their marriage is falling apart. I believe this is the reason why so many people struggle with their weight year after year! If you want to be super healthy and have your dream body, you have to find balance in all areas of your life. So how do you do that?
Follow these simple steps to help identify what’s lacking in your life.
1. Draw a large circle on a blank piece of notebook paper.
2. Then draw 6 lines all going through the center point of the circle to create 12 evenly spaced sections.
3. This will be your Circle of Life. In each divided section(there will be 12 total), you will write the following words: Spirituality, Confidence, Education, Career, Finances, Health, Physical Activity, Home Cooking, Home Environment, Relationships, Social Life and Creativity. Each Word will have its own piece of the pie.
4. Look at each section and place a dot on the line marking how satisfied you are with each area of your life. A dot placed at the center of the circle or close to the middle indicates dissatisfaction, while the dot on the periphery indicates ultimate happiness.
5. When you have placed a dot on each of the lines, connect the dots to see your circle of life. You will have a clear visual of any imbalances in primary food and a starting point for determining where you may wish to spend more time and energy to create balance and joy in your life.
So does eating a “healthy” diet really make a difference? The answer would be “that it depends”. Find balance in every aspect of your life and you will find that eating a clean diet will make you feel better about yourself and give you more energy in the other areas of your life where you need it the most. Remember, the more extreme you are with physical activity, the more “flexibility” you will have with your diet. I am sure that we have all met someone who thinks they can just look at junk food and they get fat. In reality, most extremely fit and well exercised people could eat a burger and fries, a large cheese pizza, a whole box of girl scout cookies, an entire bucket of ice cream, etc and they will not look any different or gain a single pound! You want an honest answer to your constant diet struggles? Exercise every single day with something you enjoy and you will never have to worry about your weight again. Not to mention, this leaves more room for food indulgence and naughtiness…….
Find out how to get balance in your life by scheduling a free Health History with Curt MacNeill, CHC,CNE, CPT
Call 720-261-5426 or log onto www.rocksolidhealthcoach.com to learn more about my programs.
Certified Health Coach through the prestigious Institute for Integrative Nutrition NYC
Certified Nutrition Educator through the Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts
Certified Personal Trainer through 24 Hour Fitness North America
Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise
Former Professional/ Sponsored Athlete
Current Elite Trainer and Nutritionist for the Boulder Rock Club and Colorado Mountain School