It's the pink elephant in the room. The thing that we try to get around having to really pay attention to. We figure.. Hey I workout hard so I deserve to enjoy myself a little when it comes to my food. While I totally agree with the previous statement the term "a little" needs to be clearly defined. If we are talking about 1-2x a week having something outside the boundaries of clean eating then sure, however.. if we are talking about enjoying some chocolate on Monday, having some chips on Wednesday, having a few cocktails on Thursday, a slice of pizza on Friday, and some ice cream on Sunday this is unfortunately not clean eating.
So what the heck is "clean eating" anyway? I hear people say things like "oh it's the 80/20 rule" or "well it's no sugar or flour" and even "no beer and processed food". So when it comes to dieting what is right????
Dieting is NOT glamorous
No matter what Hollywood starlets are raving about or whatever the new bestseller is promising dieting is not fun, sexy, awesome, or easy. In fact it takes work... like HARD work. Maintaining a consistent diet that is focused on achieving a weight or performance related goal will be much and I mean much harder than your training. Really? You ask with obvious skepticism... Think about this when you workout you give it all you got.. for about 45 minutes then you are DONE and you can leave it alone for the next 24-48 hours. It's an outta site outta mind thing. Not the diet though... The diet never goes away. It is an all day everyday event and there is always something that is trying to trip you up. It could be your friend that wants to meet you at CPK for lunch, or that early conference call that popped up last minute, or insert a hundred other annoying things that are messing with your desire for an impeccable physique. That's right the diet is the staple, the rock, the make or break component of your fitness program.
I believe in the frequency model of eating..
There are thousands of "diet programs" out there that include taking detoxifying pills, putting spice mixes in your water, eating nothing but soup, and plenty of other odd combinations that are packaged and marketed in a way to get us thinking "Hey! this just might be the thing that I have been missing". I see the best results when people eat frequently throughout the day (5-7 meals evenly spaced) and focus on whole quality unprocessed homemade food. There really is no other secret. A healthy breakfast, a conservative healthy snack, and solidly balanced lunch, another small snack, a healthy dinner. The goal should be to make the primary focus of each meal quality protein. Around your proteins build in healthy omega rich fats, veggies, and conservative servings of complex gluten free carbohydrates. The final piece of the puzzle is to make sure to intake LOTS of water thought the day. The total number of calories you need and the quantity of food you must consume will depend on your goals, genetics, and of course training intensity and frequency.
Dieting is a mind game if nothing else. Foods like many other substances effect pleasure and reward centers in the brain which makes it very easy to fall into the habit of craving flavor profiles (salty, sweet, fatty, sugary). The key to developing solid clean eating over time is by attacking 1 bad habit at a time and taking the necessary time to truly build the newly acquired "good" habit. Once the new habit becomes unconsciously practiced you attack the next thing. Examples of this can include "eat a protein rich breakfast", then "eliminate beer from my diet", then "eliminate bread from my diet", etc... One thing at a time until it becomes second nature then move on, this way you do not become overwhelmed and still have a sense of remaining in control.
Again, every diet program will be different depending on the individual and you should seek the guidance of a qualified professional when assessing your own goals. For myself I am currently following a muscle gaining focused diet that accompanies 3 days per week of full body heavy compound lifting and my food journal looks something like this:
Meal 1: 5 whole eggs, 2 cups cooked oats, black tea
Meal 2: Whey protein shake with almond milk and crushed ice
Meal 3: 6-7oz of turkey or chicken, 1 cup rice, small salad, iced tea
Meal 4: 3 hard boiled eggs, 1 Larabar - natural food bar
Meal 5: 4-6oz steak or chicken, 1 cup rice, small salad, 1 glass wine
It's important to take away from that last paragraph the word journal. Things always become much clearer when you write them down. It is a practice I suggest getting in the habit of until you have completely worked out the kinks and feel comfortable "free-styling" again. Remember the diet isn't easy you have to be calculated, consistent, and often times patient but if you get it dialed in your program will surely reach new heights.