If I had to choose just one thing about nutrition that is misunderstood the most on a mass level, it is the difference between eating for health, eating for fitness, and eating for physique change. Even these three things can mean different things to different people, so for the purposes of this article I will use the following parameters. Eating for health will refer to improving your overall health through your diet. This includes but is not limited to; increased energy, improved digestion, lowered blood pressure, lowered cholesterol, improved blood lipid profiles, and improved physical traits like clear skin and strong hair and nails. It does NOT include weight loss or muscle gains, even though they share similar benefits. Eating for fitness will refer to maximizing athletic gains through nutrition. This includes but is not limited to; improved aerobic capacity for endurance athletes, increased strength, power and agility, as well as an overall increase in an athlete’s capacity for work. Again, this does NOT include weight loss or muscle gains, although with this one you will get muscle gains as well as a result of strength focused work. Lastly, eating for physique change will refer to the manipulation of dietary intake for the purposes of changing the appearance of your body. This does include weight loss, as well as muscle gains.
Although these three overarching nutritional strategies can be combined, it is often wrongly assumed that because something is healthy for you then it must help you lose weight. On the flip side of that, not everything that helps you lose weight is actually healthy. This is one of the reasons that I don’t give diet “tips” to people when they ask me. Successfully changing your diet to achieve a goal is a difficult and complicated process that is different for every person, even people with the same goal. Trying to pretend that I can distill that down to a single “tip” that could actually help you is unhelpful at best and dishonest at worst.
If you are wanting to make a change, you can greatly help yourself by deciding what it is you want to achieve and then finding a professional to lay out a plan for you. Be realistic about your goals. If you were to lay these three goals along a continuum, eating for health is the easiest. This means that you won’t have to be as strict and you have more flexibility with your foods. Eating for fitness means you will have to pay more attention to portion sizes and macronutrients, meaning your proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Eating for physique change is the hardest and has the least flexibility. This is where most people get frustrated. They are making many positive changes to their diets (changes that fall under the category of eating to improve health) but they think they are eating to achieve physique change. So when that doesn’t happen they get frustrated and ultimately give up. This is where I wish I could make people understand that “healthy eating” won’t necessarily help you change your body. Just because something is “good for you” doesn’t mean it will help you achieve your goals. Eating for physique change will require you to track what you are eating and strictly follow a plan. There is little room for error or extra indulgences and results can be frustratingly slow. In fact, the closer you get to your goal, the more strict the plan has to get to allow you to continue to see results.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone or make you feel like it’s not worth it, because it absolutely is! I just want to save people a lot of wasted time and frustration by giving you an idea of what it will really take to reach your goals. Hopefully this knowledge will help you in your own goal setting and give you something to relate to when you feel like giving up because it’s so hard. Making a permanent change to your lifestyle is one of the most difficult things you can do and it can also be one of the best things you can ever do for yourself. It’s also not a goal that you can “check off” on your bucket list, as it’s ongoing throughout your life. As long as you keep trying you will continue to improve. Maybe you start with eating for health and as you feel better that might translate into eating for fitness because you’ve started to work out and you love the way it makes you feel. Perhaps after this you decide you want more and really get serious about eating to change your physique. This process could take years and that’s ok! Slow progress is still progress. As Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
This article was researched and written by Follow @DaraCoxPT
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