“New year new me!”. And so once again we embark in a journey of all-in dieting to ease up the guilt of holyday excess and in hope to keep on the momentum throughout the year. Somehow we became specialists in setting unrealistic and radical goals that ease our spirits but all it does is set us for failure right from the beginning. Let’s try and provide some reasonable strategies to avoid this:
1. Don’t set yourself for failure from the beginning – No one expects you to lose weight over the holiday season. There are more and less favourable phases to lose weight and this is clearly not one of them. Since you are going to eat sugary and salty foods more frequently, it is perfectly normal for you to gain weight because the glycogen you store in muscle, salt and insulin spikes from high sugar intakes which are all reasons for this temporary increase in water retention. But going all-out and cut on entire food groups, engage into a detox plan or go “keto” on January might set you up for failure and condition your workouts. No need to be radical here!
Instead: Take this opportunity to set a balanced but consistent eating routine that includes eating fruit throughout the day and include more vegetables. But the foundation would really be to engage in a high protein diet to not only help with weight reduction and but increase satiety. This can be done by including lean meats, fish and low fat dairy which can also include other sources of vegetable protein such as legumes such as peas, beans, chickpeas that not only provide protein but also increase your satiety. If you do these small changes in a consistent way, along with a good training routine, you can easily shed your extra pounds in a couple of weeks and set on the right track for the rest of the year.
2. Avoid “diet tribalism” – This is a big one and a classic. It appears that nowadays we can’t make small changes in our diet and need to not only engage in diets with names but also demonize and point fingers to all those who don’t eat like us. As if we’re have this sense of belonging to some exclusive cult. Let’s face it… Balance doesn’t sell books! Radical ideas do! As pointed out by my good colleague Pedro Carvalho, some years ago, some patients asked questions about interesting sites / blogs where they could find credible information and healthy recipes because there was a shortage of such content. In 2020, there are people who say that they have to stop following some Facebook / Instagram pages/ profiles and certain celebrities so that they can have peace of mind in their diet and not feel daily guilty about the food choices they make. Being a fundamentalist of healthy eating is not being healthy.
Instead: Focus on point no. 1.
3. Set up realistic goals in advance – If you’re goal-driven, then setting up goals may benefit you. But even this goal setting can backfire if you set unrealistic goals set you on a radical path to achieve a fast weight loss and frustrate you if you can’t achieve on the time you’ve set.
Instead: Set your goals with enough time to make small and gradual changes. If you need to lose 3 kgs (around 6.6 pounds) it might be advisable to start the process at least 2 or 3 months before with a flexible approach and identifying which points of your diet routine need improving (late night snacking, overeating after long rides).
4. Breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day – Although radicalization is not advisable, there are specific strategies that when performed correctly and in the right moments can provide a small contribution to your efforts. The benefits of training in a fasted state in some low intensity rides can be one of those strategies to increase fat oxidation and increase training adaptations have been presented here on Pez. But this doesn’t mean a thing if you overeat on subsequent meals and don’t achieve a calorie deficit.
Instead: If you feel that skipping breakfast even in days of no activity can get you through the rest of the day with your hunger under control and doesn’t backfire into making you eat even more at lunch or dinner, then by all means include this strategy in your diet as this might help you achieve a lower calorie intake at the end of the day. Still, if you struggle with skipping breakfast and your appetite feels disrupted, then this strategy might not be for you. But remember, don’t idolize a specific strategy just because it works for you!
A time to eat and a time to exercise
5. You don’t have to underfuel every single ride – While this may be valid if you’re performing a fasted training session, we can often see that a lot of folks intentionally underfuel even longer rides. What’s wrong about it? Well, not only you might compromise your training quality but you might be also increasing your appetite in after training period. Consequences? Overeating in the recovery period and ultimately falling into the dreaded late night snacking mist when we clearly feel like anything but fruit and low fat dairy.
Instead: Bring bananas, consistent cereal bar that might even pack some protein on them and hydrate well during your long rides. Then aim for a high protein recovery meal at lunch and dinner that also packs lots of cooked vegetables, your carb source and fruit as well. If necessary, include low fat dairy as a snack in the afternoon before dinner.
What if the late night bogeyman is still roaring? In a perfect world, the obvious choices in blogs around the web would be oatmeal, low fat yogurts, nuts, dark chocolate and some fruits. But we must be realistic and flexible at the same time. If this a typical moment of weakness for you, then you should first focus in getting the previous meals correctly in order to be as sated as possible. Then we think of alternatives that can satisfy you the most without a high-calorie price to pay. Modern high protein dense flavoured yogurts are definitely a good choice. You can even add some oats or granola to add in some texture and do the trick. But if for any reason you’re craving a chocolate, potato chips, or any other demonized food, go ahead and do it and don’t feel bad about it. A good relationship with food must be encourage and that includes being able to make exceptions and don’t feel bad about it.
6. You don’t need to have oatmeal and granola for the rest of your life – No doubt that oatmeal is great food by itself with decent amounts of protein and fiber. But a flexible diet allows us to understand that oats are about the same calories as other sugary cereals. If we’re aiming to reduce the glycemic impact of cereals, then a reduction in total carbohydrate content and an increase in fiber content is required.
Instead: As such, you are not required to eat oatmeal for the rest of your life. You can eat your milk with chocolate or honey cereals occasionally, as if you eat the same amounts you will also have the same calories and you will certainly be happier with your diet.
If you’re interested, I have a podcast on a related topic on how our relation with food is being conditioned over the years and the obcession with healthy eating (orthorexia) and the irrational fear of anything chemical (chemophobia) might be affecting our mental health and braking our progress in achieving a healthy lifestyle.
About Gabriel Martins:
Gabriel Martins is a Portuguese Nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Sports Nutrition. He currently lives in Spain where he works with cycling teams and integrates the research group on sports physiology at the University Camilo José Cela in Madrid. Additionally, Gabriel is the Host of Fuel the Pedal Podcast. A show where he interviews researchers, sports nutritionists and cyclists discussing topics related to nutrition and physiology.