Make Your Diet Fit Your Life, And Success Will Be Yours
In an ideal world, you would nail your nutrition every day. Fat loss would be easy—or better yet, you would have a bangin' body without having to think about what you eat. There would be no traffic jams on the way to the gym, and you'd follow up an awesome workout every afternoon with perfectly cooked filet mignon that night.
But that's not how it works. Welcome to the real world, where we make mistakes—and we make them often. We wear our yoga pants inside out, fart while deadlifting, and accidentally slip cookies into our mouths. But whatever the reason, people tend to beat themselves up over that cookie more than anything else.
If you approach every day struggling to succeed at the perfect macronutritional experiment, I've got news for you: You're chasing a dream. But, I can tell you what is not a perfect nutritional day. It's eating out of Tupperware in a bathroom stall so no one comments on the broccoli stench emanating from your cubicle, saying "no" to a social event because you're afraid of being tempted or judged, flipping out because you're ravenous but you didn't bring your cooler with you—in short, revolving your life around your diet.
Make your diet fit your life—I insist. Need some ideas on how to plan your day? I'll go first.
I normally devote about 10 minutes before I go to bed to getting everything in order for the day ahead. I spend two minutes playing around with MyFitnessPal on my iPhone to decide what and how much I'm going to eat. I finalize my to-do list, make sure my alarms are all set, and put my keys and watch by the door. I pick out my outfit, pack my work bag, and glance at Google Calendar one last time before I hit the sack.
As I drift off into dreamland, I've got a pretty good idea of when I'll be doing what. I don't want any worries or uncertainties getting between me and my rest. Notice that I didn't spend any time preparing or packing food.
I hit the snooze button a few times before I peel my face off the pillow and roll out of bed. There's nothing like going back to sleep as my first decision of the day.
I'm up and out by 5:15 a.m. to open the training facility where I work. When I'm not sipping Scivation's grape-flavored BCAAs, I'm double-fisting coffee and Diet Mt. Dew. I coach clients, joke around, and build camaraderie with the other fitness-minded people in my life. Then, I wrap up my morning shift at 11:30 a.m. and start warming up for my own training session. I lift for an hour—with a PR or two—and then drive back home, stopping to run quick errands along the way.
You may have noticed that I still haven't eaten anything at this point—only BCAAs and coffee. I practice a method of eating called intermittent fasting, and while I'd argue that it does have scientific merits, my primary reason for practicing this is that it works for me and my lifestyle. I'd prefer not to prepare my food ahead of time, and there's nothing like hurriedly choking down some grub at work to make me feel frazzled and out of control. The BCAAs are there for when I'm training in a fasted state, which happens often.
I'm usually home by around this time. I check my mailbox and flip through bills and newsletters as I ride up the elevator of my apartment complex up to the third floor. The first thing I do as soon as I walk through my front door is to change into some comfy at-home clothes. Then I give my boyfriend a quick phone call as I fire up the pan to prepare my first meal of the day.
I initially plan on eating broccoli, but it turns out I'm not in the mood, so I pull a bundle of asparagus from the fridge instead. I heat up another cup of coffee and proceed to Tweet, cook my food, and answer emails at the same time. Twenty minutes later, I sit down at the table with a plate of chicken, rice, and asparagus and chow down while I read through fitness blogs and goof around on Facebook.
Now is my time to be creative. I found through past experience that my writing juices really get flowing after I've given my mind a couple of hours to wake up. I'm well fed and feeling alert, refreshed, time to type away furiously on the keyboard.
I bang out about 1,000 words on an article before I allow myself to take a 10-minute breather to go to the bathroom, get a drink, and shoot a silly text to my best friend, Melissa, in California. Then I'm right back at it.
It's almost time for my afternoon work shift. Before I leave my home, I blend up a protein frappuccino made of coffee, ice, Stevia, sea salt, and Gaspari Myofusion chocolate protein powder. On the way out the door, I grab a container of Greek yogurt and an apple.
I blast some "Gangnam Style" on the road as I pull into the parking lot at work and waltz into the facility with a goofy grin on my face. I find it hilarious that I hear more Korean music at work in America than I ever do when I'm back in my home country.
I'm excited to coach kids for the next few hours, and I've had enough caffeine to make sure my enthusiasm matches theirs. When the young ones arrive, I'm slammed in the side with a bear hug from little Jack, who tells me he's been waiting all day to come here, and can he please work on his chin-ups before the session begins, and are we going to be working with kettlebells today? With the teenagers later in the evening, I give a nod to Alex and tell him to grab two chains—he's ready for weighted pull-ups—and he bolts over to the end of the gym to show off for his friends.
I choke on my BCAAs as I turn around just in time to witness Nick drop a dumbbell on his toe and yelp in pain. It's a minor injury, nothing out of the ordinary. Kids will be kids, right?
The young athletes have all left for the evening and I've just finished cleaning my side of the training floor. My legs are tired from being on my feet all day, so it's a relief to finally get into my car.
On the way home I find myself craving something sweet, so I pull into the McDonald's drive-thru and order vanilla soft serve—unfortunately without the chocolate shell. It takes everything I have not to "cone it" from the employee at the window.
Cone-ing Is The New Planking
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As I park my car, I'm chomping down on the last of the sugar cone and I receive a notification on my phone: a girlfriend from high school who lives the next town over wants to grab dinner this weekend and catch up. It's a date.
My phone vibrates again as I fumble for my keys in my bag—why do I shove it in a different pocket every time?—and it's a picture of a baby pug, sent over from my boyfriend. D'aww.
In my kitchen, I slap some top round on the grill and steam some green beans. I planned on eating russet potatoes as well, but I have to tweak my meal plan due to the sweet tooth detour in order to meet my macros for the day. No big deal.
While I wait for my food to cook, I sit back at the kitchen table and quickly take care of some busywork: paying bills, answering emails, ogling New Balance Minimus shoes. My brain is fried at this point, so any task I can execute without mental exertion fits in perfectly during the evening.
As the night draws to an end, I wash my dishes and tidy up the kitchen. Then I devote an hour or so to reading, either for leisure or education, depending on my mood. FaceTime with the boyfriend to de-stress, and then it's back to my nightly preparation.
The Lessons of the Day
My idea of a perfect nutritional day is probably not quite what you expected it would be. But I managed to be highly productive, meet my macros for the day and do everything I want. Sure, there were some bloopers along the way, but I worked around them.
Notice a number of key points:
My work schedule is a little out of the ordinary, isn't it? Imagine how much my day would be interrupted if I had to stop every three hours to scarf down a meal in less than 10 minutes. I'd much rather sit down, take my time, and eat enough to make me feel satisfied.
Sure, I only ate during an 8-hour window—that goes along with the intermittent fasting. But on the other hand, I got to feel full, and I actually ate at a table for both lunch and dinner. Can you say the same?
The old idea that you must carry your food with you at all times in order to be in shape is no longer true. I find it to be more of a hassle than anything, and more than once I've completely forgotten about it. I like my meals freshly cooked whenever possible, so I take advantage of the time I have to prepare my food at home.
Note, however, that I approached my day knowing full well what my plan of attack for my diet was. I didn't just wing it. That is key.
How many times do I mention a food item or a snack of any kind? Very little. I've got a hundred things going on in my life, and many times, I have no choice but to think of food as sustenance. I eat to fuel my body then I go on with my day.
Intermittent fasting allows me to eat until I'm full and then go for longer hours without having food cross my mind. Not everyone can pull this off, but for me, it allows me to eat to the point of satisfaction without hitting the brakes on everything else in my life to obsess over every morsel of food.
You may have noticed that the first thing I do in the morning is not spring enthusiastically out of bed, but hit the snooze button. That's who I am. I also change my mind about what veggies I want over lunch, and I sometimes swap potatoes for soft serve at night.
This is life; you're allowed to be whimsical. Be kind to yourself and recognize that you're not a damn robot. You have desires, you change your mind, and sometimes you just have a hankering for something cold and sweet.
So make it fit into your diet and don't be afraid to be flexible. A rigid and uncompromising diet isn't going to last long.
If you think that just because you're on a fat-loss quest your diet must take priority over everything else in your life, I kindly recommend that you take a step back and regroup. No diet is worth losing relationships over—ever.
What's going to stand out to you five years from now: that time you gave your boyfriend a cooking lesson over FaceTime, or the night you stayed in by yourself and watched Netflix with a bowl of egg whites?
I'm a functional cook; it works great for me and I have absolutely no complaints. In my mind, I'd much rather spend my time catering to my clients at work than trying to make my meals look pretty. If you're going to scowl over a chicken breast that's not perfectly seasoned, then either lower your standards or make more time for it. Eating thoughtfully is a difficult enough process as it is; remove as many barriers as you can.
What does that mean? Don't force yourself to choke down foods you don't enjoy. Experiment and find a meal pattern for yourself. Just because Jamie Eason eats five times every day doesn't mean you have to do the same thing to look hot. Try to cram yourself into anyone else's system—including mine—and you'll end up resenting and dropping it in no time.
Now it's your turn. What does your day look like?
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Wow. What a great article, Sohee. I think that the people dear to you is the one that suffers if you get all worked up with your diet. I learned that the hard way. Now I just try to chill out a little, and realize it's not the end of the world if I don't get my lean beef cut or my seasoned chicken. Really, stressing myself about food takes out a lot of mental energy.
Though, as you can see in my profile picture, I have been slacking in my eating habits haha. I'm nowhere near the shape I want to be, but I can wait. We must learn to love our bodies no matter how they are.
This was such a wonderful article. Normally you see how people have 6 perfectly planned meals and devote all this time and this perfect schedule; but i can't do it. Living in college that stuffs not going to happen. but this had great ideas to help reach your goals but actually make it doable and flexible to work it into anybody's life.
Thank you so much! :)
good and bad. i dont care for how she eats or her comments about not having to tote around a cooler. personally if i am off to work i love packing a bunch of food because i know for me my body gets hungry every few hours. but that isnt the point being made. it is that you have to know your body. as you progess you kind of get an understanding as to what works for you. and i think food makes up such a great part of the day. your in the gym for about 1/24 or so of the day that other 23/24 is very crucial. i kill it in the gym but i havent been eating half of what i needed to be to make some gains. so i dont completely agree that food is a small part.
as for the relationships thing it is crazy how to many people forget to live life outside the gym for sure. . to much of one thing means your missing out something else. i dont know how the actual saying goes lol
If you plan for 10 minutes after 10 pm and take 10 minutes to fall asleep then you only geting 6 hours and 10 minutes according to the posted schedule. That seems too little for medical recomendations.
You look amazing though.
well written, It is a good message not to stress about your diet, and to make sure you eat clean. But when most people dont eat for long period of time, they end up getting so hungry that the eat the easiest quickest thing, (fast food). I like to have snacks at work, and I try to use food for energy in the morning by making a smoothie, not by drinking coffee.
Sohee, do you ever get the annoying hunger pains between waking and your first meal of the day? I haven't tried intermittent fasting because I'm almost certain I'll go batty w/o food within an hour of waking. How do you deal with that?
Holly - During my first few weeks of intermittent fasting, yes, I did have some serious hunger pangs. I've been practicing IF for a year now, though, and at this point, my body's become accustomed to it. Hot coffee (w/ heavy whipping cream) and hot tea helps, as does just keeping busy during the morning hours.
This article is great. I'm glad ot see something about IF. It simplifies life so much. It's a million times easier to sit down 2 or 3 times in a few hours and eat than having to constantly figure out what you're eating and constantly stopping work to eat.
Fantastic article, really nice writing and a good representation of intermittent fasting. Out of curiosity, do you cycle your fats and carbs on non-workout/workout days or do you just follow IF?
Jon, I definitely go higher carbs/lower fats on training days and then lower carbs/higher fats on off days. (As a side note, I train 3-4x/week for 40-60 minutes with 2 or 3 conditioning days thrown in there.) But the IF is everyday :)