Photo series by Courtney Charles @mrcourtneycharles
Willpower for me is following the plan. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” I look at my week in advance and plan out where I’m going to get to the gym, and put it on my google calendar. I make sure all of my students, travel time, and social events are on my calendar. EVERYTHING! I look for the nights when I’ll have time to cook (meal prep), and I make sure I place a grocery order, so I have the supplies ready. I usually do all of this on Sunday—a “Weekly Review.” Then, through the week, as I’m busy or stressed, I just look at the calendar and follow the plan.
I was working out consistently at Mark Fisher Fitness for a few years, and I was still not getting the lean body I wanted despite my strength gains. I knew that the opportunity was not in the workouts I was doing, but in the nutrition I was using to fuel my body. I signed up to be a coaching client of Precision Nutrition, and in 6 months, I had made such progress toward the body I wanted that I got certified to help other people make these changes. In April 2017, I completed my Precision Nutrition Level One Certification, and in August, I got my NASM Certification so I could also answer my clients’ questions about working out.
Rather than a specific “diet,” I have a fairly flexible diet. My meals always include some kind of lean protein, vegetables, and a healthy fat. Some of my meals also contain complex carbs (usually potatoes). Breakfast might be eggs, spinach sautéed in grass-fed butter, and some grape tomatoes on a low carb day, and add some sweet potato hash if it’s a higher carb day (depending on how heavily I’m planning to train that day or not.) Lunch is often a salad at a restaurant like Dig Inn, Dos Toros, or Sweetgreen. Again, mostly lean protein
(chicken breast) and veggies (greens, tomatoes, etc.) Dinner is often protein & veggies that I grill in the backyard (I love pork tenderloin and eggplant on the grill) or cook at home with my boyfriend. We try to keep a wide variety in the veggies from week to week and try different seasonings and combinations to keep it fresh. We always cook enough for 6-8 meals when we cook so we have some “meal prep” to put in the fridge! In general, my “diet” is mostly minimally processed foods, prepared as simply as possible. You might say, “foods our grandparents would have recognized.”
The word diet is pretty charged, but everyone has a diet. It’s just “how you eat.” Most diets aiming for weight loss work because they restrict one of the major macronutrient groups. For more on the “best diet.”
check this out: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/best-diet
I gave up diet soda in 2017 for a whole year to kick my habit. I felt it made me crave sweets, but there’s not really any science to support that. I mostly drink flavored seltzer now. I love all kinds of cookies. There’s not a world in which I won’t occasionally have some chocolate chip cookies. I consider myself an expert on the best bakeries for chocolate chip cookies in NYC! If someone tells me there’s a better one I haven’t tried, I’m all ears! The best diet for me is one I can sustain. There has to be some joy in eating, so when I’m working with a client and they want to try something restrictive, I will always encourage them to keep some of their favorite things in their diet to make it more sustainable.
If you don’t have hard rules against something, you never have to “cheat.” I think “cheating” has such a negative connotation, and the words we use in our self talk are so important, so I never use the word “cheat.” Who are you cheating? Yourself? If I have a cookie, I do my best to really enjoy it and call it a “mindful indulgence.” When diets are too restrictive, we run into restrict and binge cycles.
What works for me might not work for someone else. A sustainable diet has to be packed full of foods the person actually enjoys eating. I love eggplant. Other people love broccoli. This is often why meal plans don’t work: you’re eating what someone else told you to eat, not what you’ve explored and found that you enjoy. Even 2 people with similar body types who play the same sport may be able to achieve similar success on a completely different dietary makeup. There’s no one diet that works for everyone, or we’d all be on it!
The worst diet trend is any one that is so restrictive that people can only follow it for a short time and then come crashing off it into pizza and ice cream worse than before. That’s going to be a different diet for everyone!
Clean eating can seen as “expensive,” especially if you insist on eating only organic and purchasing everything from the Whole Foods. Most ordinary people don’t need to do this to get the results they’re looking for. Most of us can just upgrade our diets to be “a little better” and get results. Choose a salad for lunch instead of burger and fries. Cook dinner at home one more night a week instead of ordering takeout. Eat yogurt for breakfast instead of getting a pastry at the coffee shop. Small adjustments add up.
I don’t use the phrase “clean eating” because it implies that 1) there is a binary right and wrong way to eat. As with many things, food exists on a spectrum. Some is healthier than others, but there’s not a “clean” category and a “dirty” category. And 2) it implies that people who can’t afford to eat healthier or choose not to are somehow “eating dirty.” I like to talk more about “foods I should eat more of” and “foods that support my goals.”