Optimum Nutrition – My Personal Nutrition Philosophy

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These days, everyone has an opinion on proper nutrition.  We have diets and “lifestyle changes” (wouldn’t want to call them diets, right?) that will allow you to eat just about anything you want or restrict you from eating everything you like.  There are extremes like the Primal/paleo diet that won’t let you eat grains or legumes or dairy, and Vegan diets that won’t let you eat any animal products.  Could these two diets be any more different?  One is basically telling you to eat any animal product you can find except dairy (even really fatty stuff like bacon) and the other tells you to stay completely away from all animal products.  Which one is better?  Neither?  Well, how about the South Beach diet, the Zone Diet, the Atkins diet, the cabbage soup diet, the chocolate chip cookie diet (stop looking that up on google and get back on point here), or whatever else comes out in a magazine this month?  Are those any good?

Seriously, the information that is out there is VERY confusing.  It is no wonder that our nation is the fattest it has ever been.   Sometimes just trying to figure out what to do or even which book to buy and read about nutrition is enough to drive you to just saying “forget it” and ordering a beer and a burger.  If you haven’t said that out loud in the last few years, my guess is that you have said it in your head. Now you are probably googling the “Beer and Burger Diet”, aren’t you?

I’ve done most of these diets myself.  I’ve done primal/paleo, vegan, Atkins, cabbage soup, etc.  I’ve also lost a bunch of weight just counting calories without much concern for nutritional content.  I’ve lost weight while also drinking diet soda, lost weight after quitting diet soda altogether, lost weight while having a beer EVERY night, and lost weight while not having any beer.  While I am sure there are people out there that have tried more extreme diets and more different types of diets and tweaks than I have, I would consider myself pretty well seasoned in dieting experimentation having success and failure with many different things.

However, there is one philosophy that has made me feel better, perform better, and have better results than any other nutritional philosophy or diet that I have ever come across.  It is the philosophy that I built my 90/10 Nutrition Challenges around.  Now, I want to be clear that you don’t have to join a group or even use the 90/10 plan to adopt this philosophy…that is not my intent here.  I just want to share the philosophy with you.  It probably won’t be earth shattering or terribly profound when you think about it, but maybe you just haven’t thought about it or heard it this way before, so here it is.

The Philosophy

The simplest thing to do with all of this information, in my opinion, is to EAT the foods that most of the major “extreme” but successful diets seem to agree are good, DON’T EAT the foods that they all seem to agree are bad, and moderate the foods they can’t seem to agree on.

I have summarized the foods you SHOULD EAT that we can probably all agree on with these few points:

  • Eat Whole Foods:  This can be summed up with the old saying of “shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store”.  For the most part, if it comes in a box, has a long ingredient list, or has ingredients you don’t recognize, then you should not eat it.  Eat as many foods with 1 ingredient as possible.  If what you eat has lots of ingredients, it is best if that is true because you made it that way by combining single-ingredient foods yourself.  At the very least, you should have a strong grasp of what every ingredient in your food actually is.
  • Eat LOTS of Fruits and Vegetables:  Fruits and especially veggies should be the largest part of your diet.  When you look at a plate of food you are about to consume, the largest part of the plate should be made of fruits and veggies, not meat or even starchy veggies like potatoes as is the custom in America.
  • Drink Water:  Your primary drink throughout the day should be water.  Not soda (diet or regular), coffee, tea, or juice.  Notice that I said “primary”.  I did not say you couldn’t have coffee or tea.  It is simply a fact that you should be drinking more water than anything else throughout the day if you want to be healthy.

I have summarized the foods that you SHOULDN’T EAT with these few points:

  • Sugar:  As a normal part of your diet, refined sugar has no place.  This means that candy bars, sodas, cakes, brownies, cookies and all other foods with ingredients such as “sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, cane juice or evaporated cane juice, sucrose (or any other “ose”), etc” should be removed from your diet…or at least removed as a regular occurrence.
  • Trans Fat:  Trans Fat is the modified form of fat that is found in many processed foods because it pretty much has an infinite shelf life.  It is in margarines, cookies, candy, and other boxed and processed foods.  You will see it in the ingredients list as “partially hydrogenated oil” of some sort.  Your body does not recognize it as food and doesn’t know how to break it down.  I singled this one out above all other processed foods covered below because it is an extreme offender.
  • Processed and Artificial Foods:  This is covered pretty well above, but just for clarity, just about anything with an ingredients list that comes in a box or bag can be considered processed food.  It is probably fine to eat some processed foods where they are simply whole food recipes that are cooked and then frozen for convenience and so they have an ingredients list.  You can find examples at stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  You should expect that it is processed in a bad way if you read the ingredients list and the things on it are not things you could go buy all by themselves somewhere else in the store.  Artificial sweeteners and colors and flavors should be removed from your diet as well.
  • Deep Fried Foods:  Take anything (even vegetables) and deep fry it and it goes right on this list of things to stay away from.  I know those asparagus fries at the restaurant seem healthier than regular fries but that doesn’t mean they are actually healthy.

Now, the trickier part.  Seems easy enough to go along with what we all can agree on as healthy and stay away from what we can all agree on as unhealthy, right?  Now, what about the stuff that vegans and primal eaters don’t agree on at all?  Or the carb stuff from Atkins that vegetarians don’t follow?  That is the stuff that you need to eat in moderation while following the rules above.  So, for each of these things, they shouldn’t be the center of attention at any meal.  They should be something that accompanies the veggies as a small portion.  Here are the bullets:

  • Grains:  Primal/Paleo says no, vegan says yes.  Who is right?  In my opinion neither.  I think vegans might have a bit too much grain and paleo eliminates it when it isn’t necessary.  First of all, the grains need to be whole grains (100% whole wheat, brown rice, etc) and more than just wheat in the form of processed bread full of sugar.  The common meal of white pasta spaghetti with garlic bread on the side is not going to help your waistline.  NOTE:  Obviously, if you have a known gluten allergy, you need to get rid of wheat altogether.
  • Meat:  Vegan says no, Primal/Paleo says yes.  Who is right?  Again, I think they are both too extreme on this one.  Make sure it is a whole source (not processed meat like hot dogs and bologna) and moderate it as a small portion.  Lean meats are the best in my opinion but if you moderate the amount to a small portion, it won’t matter as much if you pick a cut with a bit more fat.  In my house, we go at least a couple of meals a week without meat in favor of vegetarian or vegan recipes but we don’t stay away from meat altogether.
  • Dairy:  While both vegan and Primal/paleo agree that you shouldn’t have dairy, not all mainstream diets do.  In fact, dairy is often praised as healthy.  I don’t buy that it is necessary or extremely healthy (and think the industry should be put in jail for the chocolate milk recovery commercials that have athletes chugging sugary chocolate milk for recovery) but I think it is fine to have a little bit of it.  Again, it just can’t be a staple or something that you eat at every meal.  Think about what many Americans do…cereal with milk for breakfast, sandwich with cheese for lunch, more cheese at dinner, and ice cream for dessert.  Have a very small amount of cheese maybe once a day and try replacing your milk intake with coconut milk or almond milk (unsweetened).  Basically, just limit dairy to a little bit a day.
  • Alcohol:  Most diets will tell you to stay away from alcohol when trying to lose weight.  However, just like dairy, it is often praised as having health benefits as well.  Again, here, I think the key is moderation.  What does that mean?  Means something different to everyone so I will just give you my definition:  Try to limit it to 4 drinks a week and not all on the same day.  For some of you, that may be extremely low and for others that is no problem.  I think it is a reasonable number.  It allows you to have a beer a few nights a week but you have to have at least 3 days without any alcohol.  Feel free to define your own moderation here but just know that too much alcohol will affect your waist line and your performance.

That doesn’t cover every little question about nutrition…I realize that…but it covers the main differences.  Here is a summary to go by:

DO EAT:

  • Lots of Veggies and Fruits
  • Whole Unprocessed Foods
  • Lots of Water

DO NOT EAT:

  • Sugar
  • Trans Fat
  • Processed Food
  • Deep Fried Food

MODERATE:

  • Grains
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Alcohol

 

There is a saying that I heard once that stuck with me:  “Everything in moderation but moderation”.  That is a great piece of advice.  You can have everything in moderation except your moderation…you have to be strict about that.  Whatever you know you need to moderate, make sure you do it as perfectly as possible.  Decide what you are going to have in moderation and what moderation means for that particular thing and then stick to it.  “Everything in moderation” can easily turn into “everything in excess” if you don’t.

In reality, I think each person is different and their bodies react differently to different types of foods.  If you like, try cutting the moderation foods (and maybe some other known allergens) out of your diet 1 at a time and see how you feel.  However, I think with the exception of those with food allergies they may not know about, this philosophy will work for most people.  I know many that it has worked well for including myself.

Of course, it is important to remember that, while I have a lot of experience with weight loss in my own life and with helping others lose weight, I am not a certified nutritionist or a doctor.  I am just telling you what I think about nutrition and what I have seen work.  “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA”.  LOL.  In the end though, this philosophy is simple and effective for the average person.

I would love to have your thoughts in the comments section…critical comments or otherwise.  Thanks for reading.

3 Comments

  • Adam Rodriguez

    December 7, 2012

    Makes pretty good sense to me! I’ve been on Weight Watchers since about July or August and have lost thirty pounds in that time. They recommend two servings of 1% or non-fat dairy a day. They also recommend at least six servings of water, five of fruits and veggies, and two tsp of healthy oils. I’ve been trying to at least stick to that guideline.

    • BASEtraining

      December 7, 2012

      Awesome job, Adam!

  • Luis Mordan

    December 7, 2012

    Great info Ryan! I’ve lost almost 50lbs. overall since I started working out (2 years ago). I’ve seen the best results since I got serious about my nutrition. The 90/10 plan as you outlined is what I (mostly) stick to with the exception of cheat meals… I find it the easiest to follow as the overall goal is to always eat as healthy as possible and avoid the extreme fad diets.