Over my 15 years in this industry, I’ve heard this question so many times:
“You’re a trainer, so you must eat really healthy, right?”
Uhhhh yeah... sure.
The truth is, eating clean and “healthy” means different things to different people. Some people eat to lose weight or gain muscle, reduce blood pressure or cholesterol, go on a vacation, or fit into a wedding dress... the list for why people eat the way they do literally goes on forever!
I used to be one of those people, and then I just started eating for health. Real, genuine health. It took a really long time to figure it all out, but as a reformed picky eater, I figured I’d share six tips that helped me, and I’m sure they can help you too.
Step 1: Acknowledge the foods you enjoy and the ones you don’t
When I say acknowledge, I mean REALLY think about the foods you enjoy - all of them, even the so-called “guilty pleasures”.
Literally, nothing is off the table (no pun intended).
It’s much easier to experiment with foods you already enjoy, rather than try to force yourself to eat foods that you don’t (more on this later). It can be anything! Mexican, Italian and Lebanese are some of my absolute favourites.
From there, think about what kinds of ingredients you would need to make it yourself. If you have absolutely no idea, Google it. It’s pretty easy to find a recipe. Then, think about possible ways you could add to the recipe to make it more beneficial for your health - not just your waistline.
My personal go-to’s are to think of ways to add protein and fibre to every meal. For two reasons - it fills me up, and they are both beneficial for my health.
No more to it than that.
Step 2: Prep the Kitchen with a Few “Staples” and Proper Tools
Before you can cook anything, you need to make sure your kitchen is ready to rock. You can count on things like onions, garlic and ginger. That stuff makes everything taste good. Diced tomatoes and tomato paste go in a lot of things too. Olive oil is always a solid go-to for cooking.
While this part is totally personal, the easiest thing to do is have a quick look at the recipes from Step 1 - you’re probably going to notice a few repeats.
I’ve also learned that you need to invest in a couple of sharp knives and a wooden cutting board. Food prep sucks unless you’re armed with the necessary weapons. A nice pan or two will also help immensely! If I can learn to do it, believe me, anyone can! You just have to YouTube and practice!
Step 3: Prioritizing Quality foods over Quantity
Much like prioritizing quality movements instead of just lifting heavy, adding “nutritionally dense” foods to your diet is a great way to improve your relationship with food.
There is more to eating than just calories, protein, carbs and fats. Look to make the most of what you put in your body! I’m a fan of proteins of all sources - chicken, beef, eggs, fish, beans, tofu, lentils, nuts, seeds, legumes - it’s all great, so long as you find a way that you enjoy it.
If you’re not a fan of green veggies - broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans - garlic and olive oil might just change your life (see Step 2 again).
You can’t only think of your nutrition as just an accumulation of calories - because then you might miss out on fantastic foods like salmon, avocado, almonds, cashews. The list of healthy, higher-calorie foods is also a very large one!
Step 4: Learn to Cook the Foods you Enjoy
I learned how to cook - very slowly and not a whole lot, but enough to enjoy the foods I love with the assurance of knowing everything that goes into it. As I mentioned in Step 1, it’s pretty easy to access recipes nowadays, you just need to find a good resource. If the first try doesn’t go well, don’t worry about it. Most times you start something new, it’s usually challenging.
But you never know, you might just surprise yourself!
Step 5: Track your Eating for Education, not Obsession (*Trigger Warning*)
I don’t track calories, except for a 3-day assignment in university, and that was enough for me.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy gathering data - because believe me, I absolutely love biofeedback and knowing exactly what my body is capable of - it’s just that food tracking is usually a slippery slope that leads people down a path of unnecessary obsession.
If you want to track for education, absolutely do it.
Curiosity? Sure, giv’er.
But if you want to do it with the intention of using calories in/calories out (CICO) as a simplistic math equation, I don’t recommend it. The minute you start using the scale as a means to an end, you’re in trouble.
The only way a long term diet works is to acknowledge the foods you like and the foods you don’t. If the foods you don’t like are considered “healthy”, then try to experiment with different methods of preparing them.
Research states that it can take up to 10 exposures to a taste before you may enjoy it. I never enjoyed beer or coffee my first time I had it - that sure isn’t the case now!
Step 6: Work Smarter! Not Harder!
I would also say a slow cooker is probably the best $40 you can spend for those recipe-confused, time-strapped days. I got one in University and I still use it consistently, primarily because you can make large batches of high-fibre, high-protein food that usually freezes really well. I can’t say enough about it!
A major resource for me is buying things in bulk. Even though they are more commonly thought of because their delicious snack aisle, places like Bulk Barn are actually a one-stop shop where you can get so many items that will provide a staple for your diet...
Although I do love me some chocolate covered almonds.
Anyway.. I literally stock up for multiple months at a time - spices, herbs, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, black/pinto/kidney beans, red/green/brown lentils, all kinds of grains - rice, quinoa, couscous, bulgur. All things that keep well and can be the base for TONS of different meal ideas. Possibilities are literally endless. And the best part is that it’s way cheaper. When you buy that stuff at the grocery store, more often than not you’re paying more for the plastic wrapper, and not the product itself. Get yourself some mason jars and - BOOM - you’re saving the planet and eating healthier! Two birds with one stone!